“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.”
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; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Why Settle for Second-Best?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Why settle for second best? It’s a great advertizing slogan. One might say it is almost divine, since God came up with it first. He doesn’t say it in quite those words, but the idea is there. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? You see, God came up with it first. And that is our theme this morning, Why Settle for Second-Best?
I think people do just that with religion. They settle. They take what they can get easily and run. They seem to be unwilling to do the hard work of digging into God’s Word, or to take the chance of really trusting God. It is like it is too risky, or something. So they settle for something less than what God offers.
Problem with that approach to the Gospel is that you either take what God offers, or you don’t. Second best is counterfeit. You cannot “kinda have God” or be ‘more-or-less’ Christian. You either have the true God or the great fraud, and either you are a Christian, full blown and pedal to the metal, or you are no Christian at all. I understand that this is not the way you may have often heard it presented in the past, but those who try to sell you a watered down Gospel are peddling a counterfeit just like those guys who sell the twenty-nine dollar ‘Rolex’s. God is God. A “God-flavored” substitute will not do. You can get away with a cheap substitute for a colander or knock-off of a designer’s dress, but you simply cannot get by with an imitation, second-rate, not-really-but-almost-nearly God.
We have two ways of stating the message in our text. One is a delightful invitation, and the other an urgent exhortation. “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” God isn’t actually offering dinner, but the wedding feast of salvation! He is inviting you to come and get what is most urgently needed -- forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is telling you just how much it will cost you. Nothing. You see, you have no money that will serve in this realm. You do not have the coin of eternal life. God is simply giving it away to those who hear the invitation and come to the living waters and receive the gift offered as a gift.
Problem is that people just naturally want to earn it and deserve it. You want to make it your own and control it and shape it and take some of the credit and glory for it. You want to do that because, if you can, you can feel secure and certain. If you cannot nail down your piece, then you have to trust God for something – something you cannot feel - and cannot see - and cannot really test, except by faith. You want the Gospel where it feels right. You want the religion that works the way you think it should, and not necessarily the way God says it is.
God has won for us full forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. Why would you want to spend yourself on something that is not salvation? That is what you do when you try to make your righteousness depend on you. How do you do that, you ask? You do it by chafing and rebelling against the Law of God when it is preached. I have had people leaving church, not this one but parishes I have served say to me, “I want to feel good when I leave church, pastor! Don’t preach that stern stuff that makes me feel guilty. Preach stuff that makes me feel good. You are too much law and not enough Gospel.”
Or, to put it as someone at Peace once did, “you are just not selling it, pastor. The people aren’t buying it. You may be preaching the truth and sound doctrine, but the church isn’t growing. People are leaving, pastor.” But Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? The truth is what you need to hear, and sound doctrine. That means I am giving you the real thing, and not some empty imitation! And I don’t want people “buying it”. I want them getting it for free, as the gift of God! And the truth that you need to hear is that you are a sinner, and that you are not able to save yourself. I preach the heavy stuff, the law, to make you see it, and to help you despair of yourself and give up any hope that you are decent and worthy of being saved. Then, and only then, you can really hear the Gospel.
“Nonsense,” some of you may be thinking. “I can hear the Gospel. Just preach it to me and stop being so old-fashioned and negative!” But the point is that I preach the Gospel every week. I preach it as sweetly as I know how. I tell you of the payment Christ made, and of the full and free forgiveness of sins, and of the resurrection and eternal life which God just gives to those who trust in Him to do so – and yet some do not hear it. They only hear the Law, and reject it and think I am being unnecessarily negative and harsh when I keep preaching that sin stuff. But they cannot – they do not hear the Gospel when it is preached. They cannot apply it to themselves or to their sins and find comfort and sweet hope and peace there, because they aren’t listening when I get there -- or because they don’t really believe that they need it. They want it some other way.
This – Law and Gospel and sound doctrine – is the feast that God provides, however. The stuff where I don’t make you notice your sins is the bread which does not satisfy, and the stuff that isn’t even bread. The banquet of salvation is the one God lays out, not necessarily the one we want. We want cotton candy, and God wants to feed us meat. We want comfort and entertainment right now, and God wants us to receive His gifts and to live in glory everlasting. Why Settle for Second Best?
“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; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” You need to seek the Lord who exists, not another. You want to call upon Him now, in the day that He calls the day of salvation – today. Of course, to do that, you must repent. That is what the prophet means when he say, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” That is repentance, to turn away from sins and seek the forgiveness of God. It isn’t far, and it isn’t hard to find. It is right here, in the Gospel, in the absolution you heard already, in the Holy Supper which lies before you today.
Turn to the Lord. It is as simple as hearing the truth of your sins, and saying, “It’s true. I have sinned. I need God’s forgiveness.” When you “return to the Lord,” and that is the way Isaiah puts it here, you return, you were with Him before, and then you sinned, you forgot that you were the sinner and unworthy and that God was all grace and forgiveness. You began to think of yourself as wholesome and wise and good. But when you return to the Lord, “He will have compassion on [you] and He will pardon abundantly.”
He has already. Jesus took your sins, and He died for them. He paid the penalty on the cross. God raised Jesus from the dead to tell you that it is all forgiven. “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!” It is that simple, and that hard. It is bread and wine without money and without cost. It is what you need most, and it is free, to you – although God paid a tremendous price for it.
I mean, which one of us would set aside our own child for the welfare and blessing of someone who hated us and worked against us as an enemy? But that is what God has done! It is hard for us to imagine that sin is so deadly and serious, and that salvation is God’s free gift to us. It is hard to keep it straight that we have all these blessings from God without being worthy of them, simply because of His great love for us
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
God’s ways are just different. They are wonderful, but nothing like we would expect. Even as Christians, and life-long Lutherans, it is easy to forget who we are and what God has really done. We want to make ourselves something, take some credit, be able to fix our hope on some anchor in our life, or our behavior, or our thinking – but it is gift, grace, free, and all from God. It is His way, entirely, or it is not real at all.
It seems strange to us that we have such a place in the plan of God for our salvation. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve even a piece of it. We don’t make it happen, and we don’t measure up even as believers! We simply receive, like beggars. It isn’t the way we worship, or the frequency with which we come to church that makes the difference. It is possessing the gifts of God that brings us to worship the way we do, and to come frequently. The pastor can be exciting or dull, popular or distant, his sermons can thrill us or make us work to concentrate. It doesn’t matter as long as the pastor preaches the Word of God faithfully. If he tells us about our need – which is the law that makes us uncomfortable – and then tells us about God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and of our forgiveness and salvation as His gift, then the pastor has delivered the real deal, the stuff God has given to him to give to you.
It is not supposed to be fun. It is not supposed to be thrilling or exciting to do. The thrill is in the realization that we are forgiven! The excitement is in knowing that we possess what we cannot sense and what we do not deserve, but what we need – redemption, and everlasting life right now! It is by grace - meaning that we do not deserve it - and it is through faith, received by trusting God to do what He has promised, and believing Him when He tells you that you really need it, and you really want it. But it is real, and it is right now.
How? God knows. His ways and His thoughts are as different from ours as the clouds are high above the dirt. We only know what He tells us about it. But what He tells us is true, and it is what it is. If we change it to suit our tastes, or our preferences at this moment in history, it becomes a story, a fiction, and not the truth. It is what God gives us, and God, who gives it, is who He is - and not the caricature of a deity that we might invent in our minds to make Him easier to deal with.
But why settle for second-best? The salvation that you can earn or merit or take credit for is an illusion, not a reality. The God who wants you to have it your way works at Burger King, and does not have the power to save. The religion that is what you enjoy at every moment, and can be shaped by your feelings, and changed to suit your mood of the day is a religion that flows out of you, not into you with forgiveness and life and grace.
God is giving forgiveness away. You can’t buy it. You gotta receive it as pure gift.
He isn’t saving the righteous. He is saving the sinners who know that they are sinners.
You can labor hard at the religion of works and self-esteem, but that is not bread, and it does not satisfy. The true bread is on the altar, and concealed beneath it is the body of Christ. There is where He abundantly pardons. He doesn’t wait for you to earn it or do something special. He doesn’t care about your self-esteem, or your pleasure of the moment. He cares about your real need – the thirst that only Christ can quench, the hunger that only the Word of God can satisfy. “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.”
“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.” . . . “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” . . . “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Why settle for second-best?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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