“Conversing with God”
Scripture Text: Isaiah 55
January 1, 2023 – Morning Services
Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez
The Reading of the Word
Isaiah 55:1 “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.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Is. 55:6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 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.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Is. 55:10 “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,
11 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.
Is. 55:12 “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.
13 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.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
New Year’s Resolutions
Every New Year’s, people do their best to plan for a better year. They sign up for gym memberships, set goals to eat better, to have less screen time, to read more books, to travel more, to spend time with family and to be overall better people.
Yet some studies show that many New Year’s resolutions don’t make it past January. One survey showed that only 6% of those polled followed through on their resolutions throughout the whole year. And this is likely not that surprising to you, because cultivating new healthy habits is difficult work! [Faith Hill, The Atlantic]
What about spiritual habits though? How many of us are resolving to spend more time in prayer and in reading God’s word? How many of us want to give more of our time and resources to the Kingdom? To grow in our witnesses and to grow in holiness?
But this is easier said than done. Not only are we fighting the difficulty of cultivating better habits, but we are also fighting the passions of our flesh and facing the powers of the prince of the air.
Even the Apostle Paul could chime in here when it comes to pursuing holiness: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” [Romans 7:15]
Jonathan Edwards, a man who was intent to kill the sin in his life, kept pages and pages of records of his resolutions, his struggles and also of his failed resolutions. In one of his entries, you can see the defeat he felt against sin when he wrote, [I am] “Very much convinced of the extraordinary deceitfulness of the heart, and how exceedingly affection or appetite blinds the mind, and brings it into entire subjection.” [Edwards, 30]
Seeking to grow in holiness is a serious duty. God calls us to it, Satan opposes it, and our flesh fights it. But here in Isaiah, we are reminded that God calls us to come to him for hope.
Now one of the reasons our resolutions fail, and why faithful Christians fail and fall into sin, is because we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we are strong enough to overcome temptation. We evaluate the circumstances that are before us, gauge our resolve, and decide that we can endure whatever trial we may be facing.
But we deceive ourselves if we think that we can overcome our own carnal desires in our own strength. I find one of Edward’s entries helpful here.
“Jan. 2, 1722. There is no dependence on myself. Our resolutions may be at the highest one day, and yet, the next day, we may be in a miserable dead condition, not at all like the same person who resolved.” [Edwards, 24]
“There is no dependence on myself” is an important statement. Edwards identifies the fact that he has nothing in and of himself to accomplish his resolutions. No matter how many times he has resolved to change – to avoid sin, to fight bad habits, or to grow in holiness, when he sought to change in his own power, his own might, it was always a failure.
Robert Murry M’Cheyne also came to the same conclusion: “Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence upon self or upon creatures, but upon Jehovah our Righteousness. We must be driven more to our Bibles, and to the mercy-seat, if we are to stand in the evil day.” [M’Cheyne, 619]
While this is all true, it is also true that we struggle to see the need to depend on God until that evil day arises and that crisis hits us.
God Speaks to Us
The problem is that too many Christians have a low view of Scripture. See, some Christians live with the expectation that God will supernaturally reveal himself to them in some way or another. They put the fleece out, so to speak, hoping to find dew that will signify to them what they are to do, who they are to marry, or where they ought to go to school.
They expect some sort of private communication, visions, or signs.
But as Calvin put it, “God will not in future, as in ages past, speak from time to time by one and another. He will not add prophecies to prophecies, or revelations to revelations, but He has completed all branches of instruction in His Son…for which reason the whole period of the New Testament . . . is designated as the last time, in order that … we may learn neither to receive anything new, nor to invent anything beyond it.” [Wallace, 99]
If we can truly say this, then we are declaring that God’s word is indeed sufficient. For it is God speaking to us. We do not need any additional secret knowledge of God that remains hidden in God!
Hebrews 1:1 reminds us that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
All we need is “that which has proceeded from His mouth and has come to us”, and that Word is the word of the Apostles and prophets by whom God has designed to speak to us. Christ cannot be properly known in any other way than from the Scriptures.” [Wallace, 98]
So, plainly put, if we expect God to reveal to us more than he has, we are essentially making the case that God’s word is not enough for us. That we need additional revelation for ourselves. This cannot be.
As one author put it, “We owe the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God because it has proceeded from Him alone and has nothing belonging to man mixed with it.” Unless we approach the Scripture with such reverent expectancy of hearing through it the Word of God and with humble willingness to obey that Word, we will not find through the Scripture the certainty and assurance that it was appointed by God to give us, and we will not find the book yielding to us its treasures of divine wisdom. [Wallace, 103]
The Triune God cannot be properly known to us apart from God’s word. And therefore, as Scripture is God’s primary mode of speaking to us, accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit, it is essential that all Christians treat it as it is – the very Word of God – and make learning it and knowing it a priority in their lives.
Plan To Listen
Robert Murray M’Cheyne writes, “Let God’s voice be the first we hear in the morning…use [his] word as a lamp unto your feet and a light to your path, your guide in perplexity, your armor in temptation, your food in times of faintness. [M’Cheyne, 622]
M’Cheyne here makes the important point that since Scripture is indeed God’s very voice, we must make his voice a priority in our lives. His must be the first voice we hear in the morning. His voice must be our guide.
And while we are talking about M’Cheyne, I want to take a moment to encourage you to take into consideration what your Scripture reading will look like for you this year.
For those of you men and women who have not joined in Craig Desjardin’s Bible reading plan, there are several other Bible reading plans available that might fit your needs.
Among the men, several of us have joined together in committing to read the Bible-in-a-Year through the YouVersion App. It has been a tremendous encouragement and push to many of us to have others involved in reading. If you would like to join in on that this year, we will be sending out an email on Monday with information on how to join.
That said, there are many different plans available. You can read the NT or OT in a year, or you can read a chapter a day. The app I mentioned, also provides you with an audio version of the Bible reading that is very helpful when driving or walking.
Now whether you commit to reading three chapters a day, listening to five chapters a day or meditating on one verse a day, I would encourage you to just start somewhere. Establish some plan that is doable and will enable you to abide in God’s word. And if you are able to partner with at least one other person, for encouragement and accountability, the likelihood of you maintaining that plan will significantly increase!
But the key piece is that you are taking the time to be in God’s word. For here in our passage, Isaiah writes, “incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live;” and “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.” [Isaiah 55:3,11]
Throughout the chapter, God calls his people to come to him, to listen, to incline their ear, and to be transformed by his words. For faith comes through hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ.
Since faith comes through the word of God, then we can deduce that our faith is revived, our hope is strengthened, and our witness is brighter when we abide in him. Since God’s word does not go out void, we can be assured that whether we feel something is benefiting us or not, it is.
Growing up my dad used to teach us that the best way to learn any language is through immersion. He would give an example that if you were to go and live in a Quechua village for 3 years, you would come out speaking Quechua. And in the same way, he’d argue that the more we immerse ourselves and meditate, and are exposed to God’s word, the more opportunities we will have to be transformed by it. We will begin to talk more like Jesus, think more like Jesus and live more like Jesus.
So whatever you do, I encourage you to make a plan to do something. Find a way to hold yourself accountable to growing this year in hearing the Lord’s voice. You will not regret it and your future self will thank you.
The Roll of Prayer in Conversation
Now, in the same way that as we are called to abide in God’s word, we are also called to be in prayer without ceasing. And God not only answers our prayers for others, but in the process, he also works in us, transforming who we are, making us more and more into his image as we pray more and more aligned with his will.
This past week, Alicia and I took our three children on a hike. Now, when I say hike, I mean entry-level, basic hike. But still, it was a hike. And as we descended toward the river, I noticed that several smaller streams were flowing down on the side of the trail and were traveling down the embankment toward the river. Some of these seemed fairly new and moved slowly, while others were much larger and moved faster.
They each fed into the large river that awaited us at the end of the trail. When we finally arrived, all five of us felt uneasy about the river. The river that looked so quiet and calm in the photos online, was now a raging river this day after a heavy rain. It was so terrifying that we decided not to stay there very long. Some of the edges we were standing on appeared to be eroding because of the river. We knew that if any one of us took a wrong step, we could have fallen into the raging river.
As I looked at those feeder streams and the forceful river, it became obvious to me that the landscape there had been largely shaped by force of those rivers. In reality, the rivers transformed the landscape.
Though God is able to make those landscapes the way he wanted to without the rivers, he chose to create the scenery through the rivers to show his power and to shape the parks that we so much enjoy.
And in a similar way, while God is perfectly capable of accomplishing his will without our prayers, ordinarily he has taught us in his word, that he uses our prayers to accomplish his purpose, and to transform and even change the landscapes of history. It is through prayer that we see God’s omnipotent hand at work. [RENEW Us: 31 Days of Prayer]
And while you are in the moment of prayer, it is sometimes not very easy to see that. But when you look back and see what God has done through your prayers, the prayers that he has answered, you see how he used your prayers to change the landscape of your life and the lives of others.
And if you have been here for some time, you understand that prayer is a big part of our church. It is built into our services in a responsive format. We begin our worship with God calling his people to worship. We respond as a congregation by singing a hymn of praise. Next, we confess our sins, and then in Christ’s name, the minister declares God’s forgiveness and cleansing of all your sins in Jesus’ name.
We then respond in faith and with our tithes and offerings, along with our petitions to God. God responds to us through his preached word and the provision of the Lord’s Supper. As a congregation, we respond with hymns and finally, then finally the minister pronounces God’s charge and blessing upon God’s people.
In this way, we engage in a conversation with God. Through our prayers, praises, offerings, and petitions, we respond to God’s word.
And in the same way that we are called to read God’s word, we are also called to speak to God in prayer, offering up our pleas and petitions. Verse 6 of our passage calls God’s people to seek the Lord and to call upon him while he is near. To forsake our ways and to return to him in prayer and God promises to abundantly pardon.
We are completely dependent on the power and work of the Holy Spirit to use our prayers, and yet as we grow in prayer and in God’s word, we also see our own transformation.
In an effort to encourage prayer, we intend to provide each family with a month-long prayer booklet to pray for the church, our city and so on. The hope is that this will provide a specific format that will help us pray as a congregation for God to work in us a heart for prayer and conversation with God.
Relationship with God
Now interestingly enough, when God created Adam and Eve, he created them in such a way that they were not self-sufficient. They were made to need his provision. God was able to create humans without the need of food or water, but God decided to make Adam and Eve dependent creatures, just as he has with us.
And we see God doing this throughout Scripture. Rather than simply raining down manna for the Israelites, which could have been a one and done situation, instead we see God patiently bearing with the Israelites in the wilderness.
And here in Isaiah 55, we see that God wants it this way. He wants us to come to him. He wants to have conversations with us. He wants us to ask him for our requests in prayer. He wants to feed us and train us in his word, and he wants to bless us with the richest of foods. He wants us to be with him in a close-knit family relationship.
And while there are several other places in Scripture where we are called to do things – to witness, to teach, to preach, to serve….here, in Isaiah 55, we are called simply to come. To come and eat. To rest in him. To be with him, to be in relationship with God. Here in Isaiah 55, he isn’t asking us to do anything but to be with him. To get to know him better.
While this seems easy enough, it is important to realize that this is not a natural inclination for us. In fact, I think this command can be somewhat awkward for us. For we have ingrained in our hearts and minds the principle that we need to earn our keep.
For some reason, we believe that in order to be useful to God and to his kingdom we need to be doing things for him at all times. Though we would like to think that it is our instinct to imitate Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet and taking in his word, we probably are much more like Martha than we would like to admit. We like to get to work and make things happen.
See part of the problem is that we associate our worth with our work. While we confess salvation by grace, we still operate as though our worth is tied to our accomplishments. And so, it is difficult for us to be still and to know that he is God. To simply sit and be with God.
Come Without Money
And I think that part of that is due to the fact that we know that our sins are many and that they are evil in God’s sight. How can we just sit and be with God? We feel indebted to him and want to demonstrate that we have changed.
But God wants us to sit and be with him. He wants us to trust in him and in his provision. In the first two verses we are told clearly to come to God to buy from him without money, without price. The Father tells us to lay aside our money. It is not a time for offerings. It is not time to work. This meal, this relationship that God is offering is at his cost, not ours.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the wayward son wasted away his father’s hard-earned inheritance on things of this world that could not satisfy. The son wonders if he could ever earn his way back into the presence of his father as a laborer. Rather than hold this sin against him, and deny him access to his presence, the father in an unbelievable act of mercy embraces his son as if nothing had ever happened and kills the fattened calf to celebrate the return of his son who had been lost.
And Verse 2 of our passage resembles this pattern: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Instead of reminding Israel of all her sins and barring her from his rich inheritance, God, full of grace and mercy, embraces her and calls her to delight in a banquet of the richest of foods.
And if that wasn’t enough, God brings King David into the picture. In v. 3 God highlights his everlasting covenant, his steadfast, and sure love for David. As you recall, this is the David who committed adultery, killed Uriah, and who due to his unrighteous census, brought death upon 70,000 men. This David, whose hands were so stained in blood that he was prohibited from building God’s temple, is the same David who is highlighted here as the focal point of God’s everlasting covenant and grace.
Brothers and sisters, I don’t know how far you feel from God right now. I don’t know what sins you’ve committed in 2022 and before, but God does. And here he is making it abundantly clear that not only knows your sins intimately, but he also knows how much and how many times you have failed, and still, even still he says, “come.” Come and buy and eat without money and without price. Delight in the richest of foods, not because of your works, or your goodness, but because of my covenant of grace. Come and rest in my provision.
If it is difficult for us to believe this gospel truth, that is further assurance that we need to be reacquainted with God. For this is who our God is. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” [Lamentations 3:22]
So, whether it makes sense to you or not in v. 6 and 7. God calls out to you, to trust in him.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 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.” [Isaiah 55:6-7]
Our God demonstrates compassion to the undeserving. For he has paid the price for our sins once and for all in his son Jesus.
So as we conclude, I encourage you to trust God at his word here. He has paid the price of all your sins so that you can slow down and be still and know him. So that you can delight in his word, and grow in your love for him.
This year, may we slow down, and learn to listen to God’s voice in Scripture, responding to him from the heart. Amen.
This sermon draws on material from:
Hill, Faith https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/01/2022-is-not-the-year-for-new-years-resolutions/621070/
Bonar, Andrew. A. Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. The Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 2004.
Wallace, Ronald S. Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957.
Young, Edward. The Book of Isaiah: Commentary Vol. 3. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972.
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