A Free Lunch
A sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-5
Sunday, August 28, 2011 – Pentecost 11A
Nothing in life is free. There's got to be a catch. Read the fine print. There is no such thing as a free lunch, right? And I'm sure the Jews of 2000 years ago had similar expressions.
What a surprise it must have been, then, when Jesus presented the crowd with a free lunch! Free fish and bread – all you can eat! It doesn't cost a thing! Eat until you're satisfied! And 5,000 men (and that's not counting women and children!) ate to their fill with 12 baskets of leftovers! What a magnificent miracle!
Wouldn't it be cool if Jesus did that for us today? If we could have a free lunch? Eat without paying for it? Maybe you're not into fish and bread. But how about free burgers and bottomless fries? Or all you can eat fried chicken, pasta, and prime rib? But that's not gonna' happen, right? Because everyone knows there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Or is there?
In our message for this morning, God tells us that he does feed us. But what he has to offer is much better than physical food. He gives us spiritual food that really satisfies our souls. "But something that good, surely must cost quite a bit, right?" Nope. He says it's free. It doesn't cost (us) a thing! "Well, then it can only be a few and the limit is already met?" Nope. It's for everyone. God's "free lunch" is for you and me.
What a great offer! But then again we've seen great offers before. This week I actually saw an ad that read, "Buy one ear piercing at twice the cost and get the second ear pierced free." Apparently that ad was targeting those who were bad at math. But not all great offers are so obvious. You get the free phone, but then realize you're locked in to overpaying for the service for the next two years. You get the free dinner, but realize that it's only good for a meal that's of equal or lesser value than the one you need to purchase. Too many offers have let us down in the past and so we've grown cynical. What's the catch? Where's the fine print?
So, come, let's each lunch and dine on the Words of our God as they're recorded for us in Isaiah 55:1-5…
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. 5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor."
I. It Really is for Everyone!
A great offer, right? But let's read the fine print to see who the offer's for. Are you excluded from the offer if you work for the company? When does the offer expire? Isaiah records the Lord's offer, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Like a lively street vendor selling his goods in the market, the Lord calls out "Get your water! Get your wine! Ice cold milk here! Ice cold milk! Grab a bite to eat! The best food around, right here folks!"
But look who the offer's for: God didn't say, "Come, all you who have enough money to afford this steal of the century." He didn't say, "Come, all you who have a great credit history. After I run your credit check, we'll talk about the details." He didn't say, "Come all those who think they might be morally good enough to get what I have." He didn't even say, "Come, my specially chosen people of Israel." He didn't exclude anyone from this offer.
It's not limited to just the Jews, God's chosen people. In verse four he says that the offer is for "the peoples," the word used for nations besides Israel, or for Israel plus other nations. In verse five he says it for the "nations," a word often translated "Gentiles," those who aren't Jews. There is no disclaimer of "At participating locations only." This offer is for everyone. No one is excluded based on nationality, race or residency.
But what about time? When does the offer expire? It doesn't. The Lord says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you." Everlasting means just that; it will last forever. There's no "while supplies last" disclaimer thrown onto the end of this offer either. The offer wasn't just for Isaiah's audience, there's no "limited time only," and there's no expiration date to the offer of God's grace. The offer is for all people of all time. No one is excluded.
The Lord says exactly who the offer is for. He said, "Come, all you who are thirsty…" He's not speaking of mere physical thirst, obviously, since the offer given is for spiritual food. He says, "your soul will delight in the richest of fare…" The offer is for all who thirst for righteousness, for all who strive to enter God's heaven, all who long to meet God's standard of perfection, but fail every time. Who's that? It's you. It's me. The offer isn't limited to those who are of a certain moral quality. It's offered to all who recognize their sinful failings and long for forgiveness. It's an open invitation and it's a universal invitation. The offer isn't limited at all. You can be sure that it hasn't expired and that it's for you.
II. It Really is Free!
But what does this spiritual feast of the richest of fares cost? Can we really afford it? The truth is that you can't afford the Lord's offer. No amount of gold or silver could ever buy what God has to offer. No one can purchase heaven with their credit card, no matter how good their rating, or how high their credit limit. No matter how hard some try, no amount of works or efforts could ever obtain heaven because the price is more than an arm and a leg. It requires absolute perfection—no sin at all, ever!—and perfect righteousness—always doing what's right! And these are things none of us have!
And yet, while no rich person in the world has enough money to buy even a single drop of God's love, at the same time, no poverty-stricken beggar has so little that he can't get all he needs. This vendor's goods are different. Look at what the Lord says, "you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Even we who are spiritually bankrupt ("for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"… Romans 3:23… and "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins"… Ecclesiastes 7:20), still, we can feast on God's grace. Because even though it cost Jesus his life on a cross, it doesn't cost us a thing. It doesn't cost a certain amount of good works to prove you're sincere. It doesn't cost a certain level of repentance you work yourself up to. It doesn't require a thing, but is a free gift of God's grace to all who are thirsty.
All we do to receive it is listen. The Lord says, "Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." He doesn't say, "Listen, let me tell you the details of the bargain. He doesn't say, "Listen to what you have to do to obtain my products. If you only do this, then you can have my richest of fares." Simply, "Listen… Give ear… Hear me…" That is the feast that satisfies the soul. Do nothing for it. It's absolutely free.
So don't try to pay. You'll only ruin the gift. Can you imagine if the crowd that Jesus fed on that Galilean hillside all tried to pay Jesus. "Here. Here are a few mites to cover the cost of the fish. They were really good. Thanks." What an insult it would be to Jesus who wanted to give them a free meal to demonstrate his power.
But the devil constantly tempts us, "There's got to be a catch. Nothing in life is free. Surely you have to do something to earn God's favor." Our sinful human nature, that thinks much more highly of ourselves than we ought, thinks that we can offer something to God. And we continue to harbor this natural inclination to purchase the gifts of God and try to transform his free gift into a bargain we strike with him. No sooner do we speak of free forgiveness than we think we can somehow earn God's blessings.
But as Paul points out in Romans 11, if you acquire something you either buy it, or it's given to you as a gift. It can't be both. He writes, "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." (v.6) God's offer really is free. Though it sounds too good to be true, it is true. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) There's nothing we need to do. There's nothing we can do. So don't try.
And don't think that just because the gift is free, it's not worth much…
III. It Really is Satisfying!
If it doesn't cost anything, it can't be worth anything, right? After all, "You get what you pay for." Well, not in this case. With God's free lunch, you get something of real value; something that's truly satisfying.
What is the offer worth? The Lord says, "Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." The offer is for eternal life. And the offer is the only one that satisfies. Here's how: The Lord says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you." He makes the covenant with us. We do nothing. And he tells us what the covenant is: "my faithful love promised to David."
Do you remember what God promised to David? Listen to what he said to him in 2 Samuel 7(:11-16): "The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever."
God promised David that the Messiah would come from his family. How do we know he isn't talking about David's son, Solomon? Well, for starters, Solomon's throne didn't last forever. But the angel, Gabriel, made it clear when he said to Mary, "31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:31-33)
This everlasting covenant the Lord offers to all who thirst, is none other than Jesus. He is God's faithful love promised to David. He loved God perfectly in our behalf. He gave perfect witness to God's plan of salvation through him. "See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples." And finally, he who was rich, the only one who could earn God's love, gave it away to us. He became poor for our sake. He suffered God's full wrath in hell for us so we could come and eat the richest of fare without money or cost. And through him, we have the food and drink of God's grace.
Feast on that grace of God. As water refreshes the body, drink the refreshing waters of his forgiveness and quench your thirst. As wine makes you relaxed and glad at heart, drink the wine of the sure hope that heaven is ours through Christ and be glad. As milk nourishes the body, with its vitamins and proteins, drink from the milk of God's Word and nourish your faith with its Law and Gospel. Run to the Savior and enjoy the richest of fare that God offers in the feast of his grace!
For that feast alone brings peace and satisfaction. Nothing else can. Nothing else works. That's why the Lord asks, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" As one author put it, "The entire life of natural mankind… all of their anxious striving is given over to the one purpose of satisfying the thirst for happiness, the one laborious, uninterrupted, self-tormenting striving for that which is not bread and can never satisfy."
In other words, no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we spend, we find that everything produced by our own mortal hands or minds fails to deliver lasting happiness as it lacks the nourishment to sustain immortal life. The self-righteous are never at peace, left to constantly wonder if they've done enough—for they can't do enough. Only one thing satisfies: the Gospel.
That's why, right after he fed the 5,000, Jesus warned, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you... The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:27,29) Do you have a thousand more important things to do than to sit and listen to the word of God? To sit quietly and read it? To study it day and night? Not according to God! "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" Enjoy his free feast of grace and abandon everything else, for nothing else satisfies.
1502 people went to their watery graves in April of 1912 when the famous Titanic sunk to the ocean floor. The combined wealth of those killed in the wreck totaled nearly $200,000,000. But as the boat sank, not one of them cared about their money. One survivor, Major A.H. Peuchen, later told how he left more than $300,000 in money, jewelry, and securities in his cabin. He started back for the box, stopped to reconsider, and then turned away without it. Later he said, "The money seemed a mockery at that time. I picked up three oranges instead." When the Titanic began to sink, the relative value of its objects changed quickly. In a few moments, such things as expensive china or fine clothing became insignificant, while such things as life jackets and life boats became invaluable.
When we consider how great our sin and the hell we deserve, the relative value of our possessions quickly changes as well. The number of cars or electronics or cash that we have is not so important. The feast of God's grace in Christ is. That forgiveness, peace and hope he gives to us; that forgiveness, peace and hope he won for others.
Make the feast of God's grace your top priority and others will hasten to you when they see your splendor. When they see the peace you have in spite of your struggles, they'll wonder what makes you tick. And when they do come running to you, take them out to lunch—literally!—so that you can share with them the feast of God's grace and the free lunch that really is for everyone, that really is free of charge, that really is satisfying.
And one day soon we will all join the eternal feast in heaven where "Never again will [we] hunger; never again will [we] thirst… For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd; he will lead [us] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes." (Revelation 7:16-17) In his name, dear friends, amen.