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There is a story told about a multi-millionaire entrepreneur on holiday by the sea and he comes across a fishermen, sleeping lazily by his boat.
“Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he said.
“Because I’ve caught enough fish for today”, the fisherman replies.
“So why don’t you catch more fish than you need?
The fisherman thought for a minute. “What would I do with them?”
“You could sell them. Earn more money. Buy more nets. Catch more fish. Make more money. Buy more boats. Employ more people. Get really rich, like me.”
The fisherman thought for a minute. “What would I do then?”
“You could sit down, relax and enjoy life”, said the entrepreneur
The fisherman said, “What do you think I’m doing now?”
It’s difficult to find contentment.
We seem to always want what we haven’t got. We seem to be always striving for more: more money, more success, more things, more stuff. Why do we allow ourselves to be programmed in that way? Why do we fill our lives with attachments?
It’s the question the writer asks in verse 2 of our Isaiah reading: “Why spend money on what does not satisfy? Why spend your wages and still be hungry?”
And, of course, it’s a metaphorical hunger that is being spoken of here. No matter how much we achieve, no matter how much we possess, we seem hungry for more.
Craving feeds craving.
Too often, we are looking for contentment in the wrong places.
Our possessions, even our relationships, are only temporary.
We must cultivate a spirituality where we can enjoy our things and enjoy giving and receiving in our relationships without trying to possess them or hold tightly to them: without developing attachments that are unhealthy.
We are entering Holy Week today, and this is the ideal time for us, perhaps the most important time for us in the Christian calendar to focus on our own spirituality, and re-focus ourselves on what is important in life.
Certainly, as we hear the story of Palm Sunday, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we get the impression that the crowds were focused on their spirituality; that they knew what was important and they understood how Jesus Christ was the answer to all their needs. We hear them crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It seems that the Palm Sunday crowd had it all sorted.
But we know how the story ends and we know how fickle they were in their faith and how, within a few short days, they had turned their back on God’s Messiah.
For a short moment, they thought that contentment could be found through Jesus Christ. But very soon, their previous attachments had caught hold of them again and they moved away from Christ back to their old way of living.
That is a temptation for all of us, isn’t it? To burn bright for God – but only for a short season. To engage with church ministry – but only for a short season. To feel passionate about church and faith – but eventually to grow cold and less engaged. The pull away from God is slow – but steady. And we must constantly be examining ourselves to ensure that it isn’t happening to us.
The truth is that it is only in God, only in a relationship with Jesus Christ, that we can find true and lasting contentment: a contentment that is eternal.
We must focus our lives in the one place where we will find true liberation and freedom and contentment. As God says through Isaiah in this passage, in verse 3: “Listen now, my people, and come to me; come to me, and you will have life.”
When we turn to God, and learn to live in his presence reliant on his provision – it is only there that we will find true contentment.
So what does God provide for us? How do we find contentment in him?
The answer is in verse 1, where we consider exactly what it is that God offers to us. 3 things:
“The Lord says, ‘Come, everyone who is thirsty – here is water!’
The first thing the Lord provides is water. In Scripture, water often symbolises new birth In John 3:5, Jesus says, ‘ No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born again of water and the Spirit.”. Again, in John 414, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again.” If we drink of the water God provides, we shall be satisfied. New birth in Christ brings the contentment we need.
And it is new birth, a new life, that God offers us this Holy Week and Easter. Jesus didn’t parade into Jerusalem so that he could soak up the glory and adoration of the people. Jesus came to Jerusalem to die and to defeat death on behalf of us all so that we can experience new life in union with him.
Jesus gives the water of new life.
But also in verse 1 of Isaiah 55, the Lord says: “Come, buy wine!”
In Biblical times, wine was such an important commodity and it symbolises for us Joy and Celebration. Joy is our default position if we live in the presence and provision of God because we are living in the light of the grace of God and there can be no greater joy than to know that…
Palm Sunday may have been a temporary moment of celebration but the real celebration came after the Resurrection when the disciples realised the full implications of what Jesus has done for us.
Thirdly, in verse 1, God says, “Come, buy milk!”
Milk, of course, is essential for healthy growth. And, in the Scriptures, it acts as a metaphor for the Word of God. As we feed on the Word of God the creative energy of God revealed to us through Christ and the Scriptures, so we are nourished and will grow strong in faith.
Where is contentment to be found? Not in our earthly attachments. True contentment is to be found in a relationship with God, where we will experience the water of new birth, where we will experience the joy of salvation, where we will experience the milk of spiritual growth. That is true contentment.
And, as this is an act of grace, as the Lord says in verse 1: “It will cost you nothing!” The sacrifice of Christ is not something that we can earn and far less is it something that we deserve. The sacrifice of Christ is God’s free gift to us. It costs us nothing – but it cost him everything.
But that being said, God’s grace to us may be free but there are obligations if we are to truly receive the contentment that God has for us. Two attitudes in particular that we are to cultivate:
First, we are to be thirsty and dissatisfied. That may seem an odd thing to say but we must be thirsty and dissatisfied if we are to receive from God. Verse 1, the Lord says, “Come, everyone who is thirsty!” “Come, you that have no money…” We cannot come to the Lord unless we recognise our thirst and our poverty.
There are many Christians, many churches, that are comfortable. Many Christians and many churches that should put a sign up on the door, saying, “Do not disturb” because the last thing they want is to be confronted with their need for God. Many Christians and many churches who will go through the motions week after week and never really consider the implications of what they say and what they do. Jesus addresses those Christians and churches in Revelation 3:15: “I know that you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth!”
Comfort is not a Christian trait. Contentment is. And the two are very different…
This is a good time for us to examine ourselves to see if we have become too comfortable in faith. What are the signs of that? Perhaps we may not take the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible Study seriously enough. Perhaps we might see church attendance as an option, to be fitted around a busy life. Perhaps we do not contribute as much to church family life through ministry as we could. Perhaps our love for God and our love for others is gradually growing colder. These are signs that we are comfortable in the faith and that we are not engaging with the passion that perhaps we should.
Second, we must be prepared to move…“Come, everyone who is thirsty…” “Come, you that have no money…” “Come, buy wine and milk…” There is movement here. If we are to receive from the Lord, we can’t just sit passively. We need to make a movement towards him.
“Come to me, all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…”
The truth that confronts us in this beautiful passage from Isaiah is simply this: There is no contentment for us if we continue with our earthly attachments. True contentment only comes when we live in the presence and provision of the Lord our God – as we accept new birth, as we live in the joy of his salvation, as we journey into the fullness of a relationship with him.
How do we attain that? By letting go of our earthly attachments. By recognizing our thirst and dissatisfaction with how we are. By coming to God and receiving from him.
And this, of course, is the challenge…God has done his part – and continues to do his part. God has sent his Son Jesus to live and to die for us so that we can enjoy a wonderful relationship with him and serve his church so that others may know God’s love for themselves.
Holy Week is a moment of intense self-reflection as we consider whether or not we are moved by the passion of faith to the extent that we know God wants for us. And that is why we need to soak ourselves in Holy Week with the Passion Narrative.
That is why I urge you to come to as many of the services as you can: not because it’s a nice thing to come to church but because this is the week, this is the ultimate week, when we can be reminded over and over and over again about our desperate need for a Saviour. We need to hear the story, we need to engage with the story so that we can receive the Messiah.
This Holy Week, we need to get our minds around two deaths: the death of Jesus and the death of us. We cannot have one without the other. This year, Holy Week will be what you make it…the decision is yours alone.
This week, we are invited to leave the Palm Sunday crowd and walk in the valley of the shadow of death: Jesus’ death – our death in Christ on the cross.
Will you and I make the move towards him that we need to?
The choice is as simple and straightforward as that…