Come and Buy

ORMSKIRK is a small town in north-west England, well-known locally for its unique parish church, its gingerbread and its vibrant market. This outdoor market is held near the old clock tower every Thursday and Saturday throughout the year. When the weather is good it is bustling with people buying, selling, chatting and advertising local events. It is one of the oldest markets in the UK, dating back to 1286 when monks at nearby Burscough were granted a charter by King Edward I to hold an outdoor market in Ormskirk. In today’s market you will not see cattle and pigs roaming around, and we can be sure that there were no electrical goods in the Thirteenth Century. But for hundreds of years it has been a place to buy food, drink, clothes and hardware.

The clock tower was built in the marketplace in 1876, and soon became a focal point in its own right. It functioned as a meeting place for the locals, and events were held in its shadow.  In those days there was a table of tolls that the stallholders had to pay, with local people paying less.

Come And Buy!

Many people like to visit markets. Some just look around, while others search for bargains. Enthusiastic stallholders loudly extol their goods to passers-by.

Marketplaces are mentioned in the Bible, notably in the gospels. The marketplace was a social gathering place. Jesus warned about religious leaders seeking attention in the marketplace (Mark 12:38);  children played there (Matthew 11:16–17); and men wanting employment stood in groups waiting to be hired (Matthew 20:3–4).

To ensure that market traders in Ormskirk were not dealing dishonestly, standard measurements were displayed on the wall of the police station and they are still there to this day.   But the origins of this idea of fairness go back to biblical times.  God asked for honesty from His people, and the Jewish law commanded them not to cheat but to have fair weights and balances (Deuteronomy 25:14–16).

Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight

(Proverbs 11:1).

In Jesus’ time the Temple precincts in Jerusalem were being turned into a market- place for selling animals for sacrifice, and Jesus made it clear what he thought of this (Luke 19:45–47).

Without Money

Markets nowadays sell food and drink for hungry customers. In hot weather bottles of water are popular, even if they are expensive. The Bible often draws on common life experiences, sometimes with bizarre twists to teach lessons. There is a beautiful example in Isaiah’s prophecy, which depicts God calling out with an offer:

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).

This seems a peculiar contradiction in terms: inviting people to buy without money. But it is not referring to ordinary shopping, and is designed to attract our attention. The chapter had relevance to the days in which it was written over 2,500 years ago, likely referring to a time when God delivered His people from the threat of captivity by the Assyrians (the background is in Isaiah 37). But it is clear that it is principally talking about a much more important deliverer—the Messiah, the Christ who would come much later. His deliverance was not to be from a human army and enemy, but from the greatest threat to us all: sin and death. It is talking about being saved for ever, not just for a short period of time. There are, therefore, very important messages in this chapter:

Verse 1 This offer from God is for anyone—whether Jews or non-Jews; there is no price because this has already been paid; people must recognise that they are unable to pay, but they need to respond to the invitation.

Verse 2 The blessings on offer cannot be acquired by our own efforts; such efforts only achieve ‘fake’ bread.

Verse 3 The people who respond must put their trust in the ‘sure mercies of David’. (What does this mean? We’ll come back to it.) Responding brings life, and—by implication— failing to respond brings death.

A Unique Offer

What is this offer, we might ask. In fact it is the most valuable, precious and amazing free gift that we could ever imagine. It is God’s offer to all of us of salvation and eternal life. This is made possible by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to come to him (John 6:45); he claimed to be bread from heaven which if someone eats they can live for ever (John 6:51);  and on a great feast day he proclaimed:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37–38).

The Jews, who knew their Old Testament scriptures, would recognise the allusions to Isaiah 55. Jesus was claiming to be the long-promised Messiah. He was the Saviour foretold by the Jewish prophets.

Isaiah 55 goes on with further powerful lessons:

Verse 1 This offer from God is for anyone—whether Jews or non-Jews; there is no price because this has already been paid; people must recognise that they are unable to pay, but they need to respond to the invitation.

Verse 2 The blessings on offer cannot be acquired by our own efforts; such efforts only achieve ‘fake’ bread.

Verse 3 The people who respond must put their trust in the ‘sure mercies of David’. (What does this mean? We’ll come back to it.) Responding brings life, and—by implication— failing to respond brings death.

The Sure Mercies of David

While he was preaching in Antioch, the Apostle Paul referred to the ‘sure mercies of David’. He was arguing very persuasively that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the special descendant promised to King David. David had died, was buried and his body had corrupted in the grave (Acts 13:36). But David had been promised a special descendant, a king who would reign for ever (Psalm 89:34–37). Jesus was that descendant. Jesus never saw corruption (that is, his body never decayed)— he was raised from the dead, never to die again.

And that He [God] raised him [Jesus] from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David’ (Acts 13:34).

Many people recognised who Jesus was when they saw his power and authority, calling him ‘son of David’ (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30 & 31; 21:9 & 15). In fact the very start of Matthew’s Gospel declares Jesus as ‘Son of David and Son of Abraham’

(Matthew 1:1). Jesus was far superior to the Jews’ famous king David. And the mercies of God, promised to David, involved the offer of forgiveness of sins because of Jesus (Acts 13:38 & 39) and the hope of eternal life with King Jesus (Acts 13: 46–48). What an offer!

We need to be careful with apparent bargains. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true!” But God’s offer is no fake. Awesome though it may be, it is nonetheless completely genuine. It is free. It is better than anything we can buy in Ormskirk market, in any other market or shop, or even nowadays on the internet. It is available for us if we really want it. It is eternal life in God’s Kingdom. Can we afford to ignore this offer?

Anna Hart