Joy for the World
Passage: Isaiah 55:1–55:13
Joy for the World
Hope, as you know, is a powerful idea, and this is not limited to those who profess faith in Christ. Simply look around at our culture and notice the many ways hope is marketed as the solution to any number of problems. Everything from exercise equipment to presidential campaigns is presented in terms of hope. Just the mention of the word has power to shape people’s hearts and minds, doesn’t it?
But this actually gets to the problem with the world’s view of hope. Most of the time, when the world speaks of hope, it does so not in specifics, but in platitudes. There’s no substance behind it, no reality to uphold the feeling the idea produces. The culture’s marketing of hope is strikingly vague. For example, consider this quote from a one-time famous actor. “Once you chose hope, anything is possible.” Now, that sounds nice, but does it actually mean anything? No, it doesn’t. I spent my entire childhood hoping I would play for the St. Louis Cardinals, but hope doesn’t help you hit a curveball. That’s the trouble with the world’s presentation of hope. It rests on nothing, which at the end of the day, means it doesn’t amount to much more than an inspirational quote.
But when we come to the Scriptures, brothers and sisters, we find a much different picture of hope. The Bible does not speak of hope in vague terms that stir the emotions but then quickly fade. No, in the Bible, hope is always presented in connection with God. In fact, you could say that hope, according to Scripture, is a sense of certainty that is grounded in who God is, specifically who he is in himself and who he is in relationship to his people. There is nothing vague about that. The Bible doesn’t deal in quotes and memes. The Bible deals in the rock-solid reality of God, and it’s in him that we find hope.
And our passage this morning is a good example of how the Bible does this. Isaiah 55, as you heard in our reading, is wonderfully encouraging passage. In the entirety of Scripture, this is the chapter that has sustained me the most throughout this year. This text is full of hope. But what is the foundation of that hope here in Isaiah 55? What is the reality that upholds all this encouragement? You heard as we read. It is the reality of God. It is the foundation of his Word. It is the unchanging nature of his promises and the steadfast love he maintains for his people. Those are not mere platitudes. There is substance here in Isaiah 55 that makes hope more than a feeling. It is a reality, a certainty that flows from God himself.
And so, what I would like us to do this morning is to work through Isaiah 55 and have our vision of hope redefined in relationship to God. Let’s consider these 13 verses in order that we might live with a biblical understanding of hope. Specifically, there are four hopes in Isaiah 55 that we should note, and each one comes in connection with God.
The Hope of Satisfaction in God
The first is found in vv1-5: The Hope of Satisfaction in God. Right away, you sense the encouraging tone of the chapter. Notice the gracious appeal of v1 – “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Now, you can hear the hope there, can’t you? God’s people are presented as spiritually poor. They are hungry and thirsty, yet they have no money, no way to satisfy their needs. But incredibly in v1, the people’s poverty is no match for God’s grace. God implores them to come and drink.
And that is what stands out most powerfully in this opening section. It is the freedom of the feast God provides. Come without money, God says. In fact, that is the only qualification for enjoying God’s feast – you have to recognize your poverty. You have to acknowledge your need and then trust that God’s grace is sufficient to bring you to his table. From the very first verse of this encouraging chapter, we hear the hope for spiritually poor and bankrupt people. Those are just the kind of people God calls to enjoy the feast only he can provide.
Now, of course, this raises a question. One of the things my Dad told me over and over growing up was that nothing is ever free. Somewhere, there is a cost that somebody paid. What about God’s feast here in Isaiah 55? Somebody had to buy this wine and milk. To put it even more pointedly, someone had to pay the way for spiritually bankrupt sinners to come into God’s presence. Who paid the cost? Who purchased this freedom for thirsty, hungry people like us?
Think of our passage from last week, Isaiah 53. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” That’s the cost paid, brothers and sisters – paid by the Servant of the Lord. That’s where the purchased was made – in the wounds of the Redeemer, who by his own blood purchased the feast God lays out for his people here in chapter 55. We can come without money and without price because the Servant of the Lord paid the cost in our place. This feast is free to sinners like us, but it’s free because a Substitute stood before the Holy God and said, “I’ll pay their way, and I’ll pay it through my own sacrifice.” If your thirsty soul is encourage by v1 this morning, then give thanks to the Lord Jesus. It was his work that spread this feast for hungry sinners like us.
Now, let’s think a bit more about this feast God provides. Clearly, the feast is more than actual food and drink, but what exactly is it? In v3, we begin to see the substance of this meal. Notice again v3 – “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” Now, you’ve got to follow the progression in God’s imagery here. V1 began with the image of a feast, but what physical sense gets the emphasis in v3? Not eating, but hearing. Incline your ear, God says. Hear, and your soul will live. This actually began back in v2, where God said listen diligently to me. Three times in the span of three lines, God calls his people to listen to him.
Do you see the reality at work here, brothers and sisters? The feast is not something other than God, some thing God gives. No, the feast is God himself! And we eat this feast by hearing God’s Word in faith. This is the Bread that satisfies the human soul. This is the Living Water that quenches our spiritual thirst. It is to know God through his Word. As we feast on the knowledge of God in Scripture, we find that our souls are satisfied. Our hearts are full. And our spiritual thirst is quenched by the God who purchased us for himself.
Brothers and sisters, I’ve often said from this pulpit that faith feeds on the Word of God, and Isaiah 55 is one of the clearest places where we see that truth. Listen, this is foundational to walking by faith. Faith is never merely intellectual assent to the truth. Faith is much more like eating, isn’t it? We eat because we depend upon food for life, and that is a good image for faith. We eat the Scriptures, we take them in by faith, believing that our souls are sustained and satisfied in the very act of taking God at his Word. You wouldn’t expect a person who eats sparingly to be very healthy, and in the same way, you shouldn’t expect your soul to be healthy apart from the food of God’s word. In the Scriptures, God holds out life to you – life that is found in himself. And he promises to satisfy your soul as you take in his Word by faith. Above all else, brothers and sisters, we need the Word of God because in and through his Word, God gives us himself.
Now, even as I say that, there are some who struggle to believe that such satisfaction is possible. It’s just a book, you might say. How can I be sure the Word will satisfy my soul? That’s a good question, an honest question really. How do we know that this feast satisfies? Notice what God says at the end of v3 – “and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Then in vv4-5, God goes on to describe how the Messiah, who is David’s heir, will fulfill God’s promise that a Son of David would reign over a global kingdom. Now, there is a lot of biblical theology in these verses, but for our purpose right now, we need to see the promise God is making to those who trust his Word. In essence, God says to those who trust him, “You know the promise I made to David, the promise of a Son who would reign forever? I’ll share the blessing of that promise with all who trust in my Word.” Again, these verses are rich, but the point we need to grasp is that God’s faithfulness is our encouragement to faith. Since God will not be false to his Word, we have certainty to build our lives upon that very same Word.
Armed with that encouragement, we go back to the feast in v1. How do we partake of this feast? Where do we look to find this satisfaction? Scripture tells us that we look to the gospel. We go to Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah in David’s line. In fact, Jesus himself presents his ministry in the terms of Isaiah 55. Do you remember the moment in John ch7, when Jesus stood up in the temple and cried – “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Or in John 6, when Jesus declared – “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” That is the language of Isaiah 55 echoing out in the words of Jesus Christ. Those who are hungry and thirsty shouldn’t waste their money on bread that doesn’t satisfy. Instead, they should come to the gospel of Christ, and find the satisfaction for their souls in God. Go to God’s Word and take it in by faith. Believe what God has revealed about himself. Trust that his promises are true. If your soul is weak, frail, and hungry today, don’t delay! Go to the Word of God, and eat that you may be satisfied.
This is the first hope that God holds out in Isaiah 55. It is the hope of satisfaction in God, and with the eyes of faith, we can see how that hope is realized in Jesus Christ.
The Hope of Repentance
The second hope of this chapter comes in vv6-9, where we see the Hope of Repentance toward God. V6 makes clear what was implied in vv1-5. Notice the clarion call in v6 – “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” What is it that God’s people must do in response to God’s grace? They must seek him – not like someone seeks information or someone looking for what is lost. No, the seeking here is the seeking of certainty. It’s like the passenger on a sinking ship who seeks the lifeboat. He knows that lifeboat will save him, so he seeks it out. That’s the point of v6. When we hear God’s Word in faith, we respond by seeking with certainty the One who will save us. All of that to say, v6 makes clear what vv1-5 said in imagery – seek the Lord, and do so today through his Word.
But the clarity continues as we come to v7. Here, the Lord tells us how we seek him, and it begins with repentance. Notice again v7 – “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” This is the kindness of God. The Lord doesn’t leave us to wander around on some vague spiritual quest, hoping to find God. No, the Lord tells us where to start, and that starting place is to turn from our sin and follow him in faithful obedience to his Word.
And notice that repentance involves both thought and deed. V7 calls us to forsake wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts. That’s convicting, isn’t it? Holiness involves our whole being – thought, word, and deed. It’s not true holiness to only say, “I haven’t broken that commandment.” That’s good, but true holiness goes deeper, down to the very desires of our hearts and the thoughts of our minds. To be a holy people, we need repentance inside and out.
Is that true of you? Are you seeking to turn from sin in both thought and deed? Are you confessing sinful attitudes against others? Anger, bitterness, resentment? Are you walking purely before God even in how you think? Lust and greed begin as thoughts, don’t they? But what we think never stays internal. Eventually, that angry thought becomes an angry word. One day, the lustful desire takes on flesh and blood. Soon, greed manifests itself in dishonest, unrighteous action. That’s why v7 is so urgent. This is God’s mercy to say, “Don’t delay! Seek me today, and do so by turning from sin!” I pray we hear that exhortation, brothers and sisters. If there is something in the dark corner of your life, won’t you find a fellow church member or grab one of the elders, and let’s live in the light together.
Now, I said the theme of this passage was hope, but all this talk about repentance might have some us feeling anything but hopeful. Maybe that’s you. You know there is something to confess, you know there is repentance to pursue, and the thought of that saps your hope. If so, I can relate. Repentance can be daunting, but that’s only when we forget who God is. And that’s why the end of v7 is so powerful. Here comes the hope and it comes from the character of God. Notice what the Lord says, v7 – “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Oh, is there anything sweeter than those words, brothers and sisters? Why should we seek the Lord in repentance? So that God may have compassion on us – that’s why. The end goal of repentance is not for God to crush us under guilt. No, the end goal is forgiveness. God calls his people to repent because God’s heart is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
There is something uniquely beautiful that happens in repentance. Think about it. It’s only in repentance that God’s mercy and grace shine most clearly. It’s only in that moment of confession that God’s heart to forgive takes center stage. Far from being frightening, repentance is the doorway to life! Repentance is the pathway to pardon! Repent and live, God says!
And notice that the pardon God provides is abundant. Do you see that there in v7? Return to God for he will abundantly pardon. Not halfway pardon, not maybe pardon – no, abundantly pardon. There is more than enough pardon to meet your need. That may not make sense to us, but God’s ways are not our ways, as verses 8-9 remind us. You may bring the most baggage of any sinner in the world, and God says, “I have more than enough grace for that.” You may bring the same confession time after time after time, and God, in his mercy, says, “I forgive repeat offenders too.” That’s not to excuse our sin, but it is to encourage our repentance. Don’t delay. Don’t wait. One of the most hopeful things a Christian can do is repent. Won’t you hear God’s hopeful word to you today, and wherever his Spirit is calling, won’t you walk before him in repentance?
The Hope of Provision from God
That brings us to hope #3, this time in vv10-11. It is the Hope of Provision from God. In the flow of the chapter, God is still giving his people reasons why repentance is good for their soul. And the encouragement here has to do with the power of God’s Word. Notice the creative image that God employs in vv10-11 – “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The image here makes use of the way God created his world. There is a certainty, an effectiveness that marks the natural order of life on earth. Rain comes down from heaven, and when it does, it waters the earth, which produces a harvest. And from that harvest, we receive both bread to eat and seed to sow. But the key to the image is the effectiveness of the rain. Once the rain falls, there is no stopping the provision. By nature, rain comes down and waters the earth, just as God intended.
And God’s point is that his Word works the same way. Just as the rain will not fail to water God’s earth, so also the Word will not fail to accomplish God’s will. The rain brings life, and God’s Word does the same. God’s Word comes down from the Father, and it waters the soil of human hearts. It breaks up the hard ground of our souls, and it causes new life to spring up. And the harvest it produces is life.
But the point here is the certainty of that harvest. God’s Word will not fail. Think about how this differs from our words. When you and I speak, the effect may or may not come to pass. Just ask any parent, right? Sometimes you speak, and your kids don’t respond. Our words are not sovereign. Our words are not power put into action.
But when it comes to God’s Word, the situation is different. As we said a few weeks ago, God’s speaking is his doing. It is through God’s Word that God acts to accomplish his will. And since God is the sovereign Creator, his Word will not return to him void. God never has a moment when he speaks and nothing happens. What God says, he does. What God speaks, happens, in accordance with his will.
This is why week after week, the pastors of this church make it our aim to give you the Word of God – because that’s where the power is found. That’s the means through which the Holy Spirit works. I hope you see why it is absolutely vital for God’s people to gather each week and hear the Word of God. Without this Word, we have nothing. But through God’s Word, we receive the Father’s provision for life and godliness.
And that means, brothers and sisters, that we should be hopeful and expectant about what God is doing in our church. As you pray for our congregation, ask God to keep us centered on his Word. And then, with the words of Scripture behind you, pray boldly from v11 – that God would honor his Word. That’s the takeaway here. Let’s take in the Scriptures by faith, and let’s trust that just as the rain does not fail to water the earth, so also God’s Word will not fail in our church or in our hearts. It’s the hope of provision from God.
The Hope of Restoration with God
And so we come to vv12-13 and the final hope from Isaiah 55. This is actually the hope of the entire Bible. It is the Hope of Restoration with God. Here in v12, God speaks of the redemption of his people, but he does so in very exalted language. Notice v12 – “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Now, clearly, God speaks here of redemption, of return from exile. But the creation language clues us in that something cosmic is in view. God speaks here not only of the redemption of his people, but also the restoration of the entire world. Remember that sin corrupted both humanity and the creation. Genesis 3, God cursed the ground, so that thorns and thistles made life difficult on earth. Creation itself, then, suffers under sin’s curse. When v12 speaks of mountains and hills breaking out in praise, we know that God has something massive in view.
And then v13 seals that conclusion. Notice how the curse of Genesis 3 shows up in v13 only to be completely transformed. V13 – “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” The thorns of a fallen world are replaced with the strength of evergreen trees. Barrenness gives way to deeply rooted life. The transformation of creation signals that redemption has come, the greatest exodus has occurred, and God’s people will no longer live in exile under sin.
And the end result is the glory of God. It shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. What Satan and sin sought to ruin, God has redeemed. And for all eternity, God’s glory will shine in the lives of his redeemed people who live forever in a restored creation. This is the hope of God’s people, brothers and sisters – that one day very soon, there will be joy to the entire world, and the blessing of God’s glory will spread as far as the curse is found. That is a hope unshakeable. Every trial, every tear, every struggle against sin in this fallen world – all of those heartaches will end, and God will reign among his people.
And how will this work come to pass? How will this restoration be accomplished? Through the Word of God. It does not return to him empty, remember v11? God’s Word will bring about this restoration.
Now, throughout the sermon, we’ve focused on God’s Word written, his Word given to us in the Scriptures. But there is another sense in which we can speak of God’s Word at this point, and it’s this other sense that we should remember as we close. This is the great hope of Advent, brothers and sisters. God will restore all things through his Word. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Incarnation of the Son of God is the reason for our hope. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made Flesh. He has come down from heaven to do the Father’s will, and just as Isaiah anticipated here in chapter 55, that Word will not fail. That Word will not return to the Father void.
Indeed, the Son of God has returned to his Father, having finished the work his Father gave him to do. And one day soon, the Son of God – the Word made Flesh – will return to gather his people together. And when he does, the mountains will break forth in song, the trees will clap their hands, and creation itself will rejoice that the sons and daughters of God have been revealed! Oh, what a glorious day that will be! Come, Lord Jesus!
And it all begins, brothers and sisters, with the good news we celebrate at Advent. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. This is our hope – not vague, but revealed in flesh and blood. And so, we close our Advent reflections this year with the encouragement of Isaiah 55 married together with the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come…If anyone thirsts, let him come to [Christ] and drink.”
May your hearts be satisfied in the Lord Jesus, brothers and sisters. And may you be hopeful today and everyday, for the Word will come again soon and all will be well in him. Amen.