The following article is a guest contribution by Dale VanDyke, pastor of Harvest Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It was originally part of the sermon preached in the evening service on April 14, 2013, and is published here with the kind permission of the author.
“Ho, 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.” It is the great glory of God that he calls not the righteous but sinners to repentance. Here in this great invitation God calls out to the thirsty. But why are God’s people so thirsty?
Jeremiah 2:13 gives us the answer, as God grieves the tragic choice of his rebellious children: “my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
This is the case for every person made in God’s image. Our sinful natures seek to satisfy our souls not in God, the fountain of living water, but in the cisterns we have hewn out for ourselves, broken cisterns that can’t hold water.
You know what this is about. Just think of your besetting sin, the sin that seems to have a particular, unrelenting grip on your life. Why is that particular sin so hard to break? Because it’s tied to a broken cistern, attached to some conviction within you that if you only had that one thing – that reputation, that experience, that level of success, that person – then you would find water. But it’s a broken cistern and the more we pursue it the thirstier we become.
In loving-kindness God calls to precisely these people. The invitation is for the thirsty: for those who sense the truth of their own parched soul; for those who have seen dreams die and hopes languish; for those whose tears well up in the night as they grieve the things they’ve done and the innocence they’ve lost. These are the thirsty people – they see what they are and mourn what they are not. In the face of deep disappointment and private shame, they sense that their heart has become cynical and hard. Exuberant joy and overflowing delight are at best distant memories.
These are precisely the people whom God invites. To you he says, “Come. Come. Come.” What does He offer? Water, Wine, Milk.
Throughout Scripture water is an image of refreshment, restoration into the fullness of life in the presence of God. “He leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul.” (Ps. 23). God invites thirsty souls to come, to not simply to receive a cup of water, but to come to “the waters” – a fountain of water. Imagine discovering Lake Michigan in the middle of the most arid desert on earth. What a miraculous joy for a man with parched mouth and swollen tongue, dying of thirst, stumbling over the sandy dunes and discovering fresh, cool water as far as the eye could see. This is what God invites us to: water, vast, fresh, cool, life giving, soul restoring water.
He also offers wine. Wine is the beverage of joy, it gladdens the heart of man. It is a beverage for celebration, for feasting, for fellowship and gladness. Joy is the first fatality of a rebellious heart. The broken cisterns of this world can provide momentary relief or temporary happiness but the cost is always joy. God invites us to lift up the cup of salvation and drink the gospel wine of joy: deep, soul-satisfying delight in the God who made you and knows you and loves you in Christ Jesus.
And there is also milk. Milk is the miracle food of life. It is packed with the proteins and nutrients that the body needs to grow. God offers those made anemic and sick with sin, those souls that are stunted by pride and shriveled with selfishness to come and drink milk – life-supplying, health restoring milk of God’s truth and grace.
Oh, there are refreshments for all our needs in the gospel of God! “What ‘ere thy want may be, here is the grace for thee.”
What is required to have this water, wine and milk? Here is the difficult part. The price is always the sticking point when we find something we need or want. The same is the case with the gospel. Notice the price. This buffet of life-giving, soul-nourishing gospel beverages is for those who have no money. It is offered “without money and without price”. This is magnificent news for those who realize that they are bankrupt. Those who recognize the true condition of their status before God, those who understand that they have nothing of merit, nothing of worthy to set before him as a payment for this grace – those who understand that they have nothing, absolutely nothing in their hands to bring – this is great news. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost! It’s free for the asking.
Yet, it is precisely this that make many refrain from coming! This is a great part of the “offense of the gospel.” The natural man is not willing to accept this price. Why? Because no one wants to admit their spiritual bankruptcy. By nature we want to bring something, anything to offer to God in exchange for his gifts. People try to offer religious practices, spiritual sentiments, experience of guilt and promises of improvement. We don’t want to come to God with nothing! Surely there is something we can scrounge up – surely our tears and prayers count for something, don’t they?
Not for this. God marks your tears. But He don’t take them to him as a payment. For this the only acceptable thing to bring is your need, your failure, your sin, your guilt, your inability to improve yourself, your bankruptcy. That is what God requires. Oh, it is a hard thing for sinners to admit because it demolishes our pride. But God in grace, helps us to submit to this price by humbly resting in Him and taking – drinking – the life that he offers.