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Water, Milk and Wine

“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. 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.” Isaiah 55.1-2.

This morning I am again looking at these two verses from Isaiah that were my reading yesterday.

The stress then was on the “buy without money” aspect of what God was offering to his exiled people in Babylon. “Without money,” says the NIV, “and without cost” — but that is a very unfortunate translation of the Hebrew word mechiyr. Mechiyr means “price” not “cost” and there is a difference! Price is what I have to pay a seller for passing ownership to me of what he has on offer; cost is what the seller has had to expend to produce or acquire whatever it is that he has on offer. And all that God offers, though it comes at no price to me, comes at great cost to him. That is the glory of grace. All that God offered the exiles through Isaiah, even though it was six centuries before the cross, came at the cost of the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary; for that blood was God’s “expenditure” once and for all to make available all his gifts, for all time, for all his people.

But what are the gifts on offer here? Water is the first and foremost, and I touched on what the water is yesterday. It is the water of life. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22.17). It is the “living water” that Jesus offered the woman of Samaria (John 4.10). “Living water” was the common expression in Biblical times for spring water as opposed to the water stored in cisterns, but in Jesus’ vocabulary it meant more … it meant the very life of God.

Each day at the Feast of Tabernacles — the last feast of the Jewish year — a priest would leave the temple as the morning sacrifice was being prepared and go to the Pool of Siloam where he would fill a golden jug with water. On his return, he would pour the water into a basin that led to base of altar so that the water would then flow out into temple and beyond. It was an enacting of the vision Ezekiel had had of water flowing from the temple and bringing life wherever it flowed (Ezekiel 47.9). So it was that “on the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him'” (John 7.37-38). The water I am to come to Jesus for is the life of the Spirit of God, and when I drink deep of that water I will have life within me that will overflow to others.

But also on offer is milk and wine. I recall that when Jacob blessed his twelve sons before he died, his blessing on Judah, a forefather of Jesus, included milk and wine (Gen 49.10-12); but what might they mean to me today as symbols of what God would offer me, freely and without price?

In Peter’s first epistle, milk is to logikon gala — “the milk of the Word” or “spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2.2). Milk is, of course, a food drink — just one glass gives me 30% of the calcium I need each day, 20% of the phosphorous, 25% of the Vitamin D, 16% of the proteins, and so on. And milk represents God’s spiritual food for keeping me healthy and strong. It is his communication with me through the Spirit. His conversations with me through Scripture, prayer, talks, sermons, books, nature etc. It is what makes me grow into my salvation.

And wine. Wine “gladdens the heart of man” (Psalm 104.15), but what does it represent? The clue is in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. “Do not get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5.18) If water is the life of the Spirit that brings me alive, and milk is the food of the Spirit that makes me grow, then wine is the intoxicant of the Spirit that gets rid of my inhibitions, liberates me and makes me joyful. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to explain to the crowds, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people'” (Acts 2.15-17). At the wedding in Cana, Mary came to Jesus and said, “They have no wine!” (John 2.3). Is she saying that about me?

God’s call to me this morning is no different from what it was to his people in Babylon. It is still, “Hoy, come to the water, come to the milk, come to the wine.” In short, it is an invitation to me this morning to drink afresh of his life-giving, strength-giving, joy-giving Spirit.

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