The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 8, 2017
Seek the LORD!
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever gotten the impression that many people today are simply “lost”? They know they have this “void” deep down inside of them, but they don’t know what causes it and whether they realize it or not, they have absolutely no idea on how to fill it. Now don’t get me wrong. There are indeed people who think they know how to fill that void. Sometimes people have this “feeling” that if they can find something that will bring them inner peace and inner fulfillment, then they might be able to fill that void. So they chase after the latest “fad” or join the latest “cause,” but eventually they realize that it’s like chasing after the wind. Then there are the people who know they have this “void” deep inside of them, but they have no idea what causes it and they have no idea whatsoever on how to fill it. Let me share with you a real-life example.
I know a person who spent years— years! — desperately trying to find something— anything! — that could fill the “void” he felt inside of himself. Since money was not an issue he searched high and low for something to fill that void. On the “high” end he tried travel and education, he tried success and fitness, but nothing worked! On the “low” end he tried drugs and alcohol and sex, but he always felt even worse the next morning. He once told me that for years his life was like a colander. No matter what he poured into it, no matter how much he poured into it— it always drained away and left him feeling “empty” inside. I told him that he was a perfect example of what the Lord was emphasizing when He said in Jeremiah 2:13, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Do you know anyone who is “lost,” my friends? Do you know anyone whose life is like a “colander”? Has that person ever been you? If so, then you would do well to pay very close attention to the very powerful words that the God of heaven speaks to you here in our sermon text for today! Our sermon theme this morning is found in the opening words of our text: Seek the LORD! There are two points we want to make sure we take home with us this morning. The first point centers on the earnestness embedded in the words, “Seek the LORD.” The second point centers on the graciousness proclaimed by the words, “Seek the LORD.”
A couple weeks ago I had to teach Isaac what the word “dawdle” means. I was taking him to school and truth be told we were running just a wee bit late. As we were walking across the school campus to get to his classroom Isaac was simply taking his sweet time. Being the patient person I am it didn’t take very long for me to take him by the hand and say, “Isaac, we don’t have time to dawdle!” Way too many people today are “dawdling” way too much when it comes to their spiritual lives. But that should not surprise us. The same thing was happening in the days of the prophet Isaiah.
Through His servant Isaiah the Lord God had just proclaimed to His people one of the sweetest and clearest pictures of the Gospel found in the Bible. In the opening verse of Isaiah 55 God extends this invitation to His wayward and rebellious people: “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” (Isaiah 55:1). Yes, God’s people had sinned. Yes, God’s people had rebelled against Him. Yes, God’s people had broken the covenant that God had made with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the LORD, the God of free and faithful forgiveness dearly wanted His people to repent of their sins, return to Him and be saved! At the same time the LORD, the God of absolute perfect justice, warns His people through His servant Isaiah that the opportunity to repent of their sins, return to Him and be saved does not go on forever. Look at the opening sentence of our text, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”
These words remind us that there needs to be an earnestness when it comes to “seeking the LORD”! No matter whether it’s Isaiah calling out to God’s wayward people of old, or us calling out to wayward sinners today or someone calling us to repent of our sins— there is no time to dawdle! How do people oftentimes dawdle when it comes to seeking the Lord? Sometimes people will say that they “don’t have time” for God or for His church now, but once they have their career on solid ground or once the kids are done with all their weekday practices and weekend games, then they will have more time for God and for His church. Sometimes we dawdle too, don’t we? Ask yourself, how easy is it for your favorite hobby or your love of the outdoors or your love for a little extra sleep to convince you that you can skip church— again? Just as there are only so many hours in the day, just as there are only so many days in the week, so also the God of heaven has given to each and every individual on the face of this earth only so much time to hear His message of Law and Gospel, to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior. Once that time comes to an end, then as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Not only is there an earnestness embedded in the proclamation, “Seek the LORD!” but there is also a graciousness that is part and parcel of that proclamation. Listen to these words of our text and look for the graciousness. We read, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
As mortal sinful human beings we all have one automatic default setting when it comes to how to make it from this life to eternal life in heaven. That automatic default setting is: works! “If I strive to be a good person, then hopefully I’ll make it to heaven.” “If I do enough good works to make up for the bad things I’ve done, then I’ll probably make it to heaven.” “If I’m not as bad as Art and if I don’t live like Sally, then I hope I will make it to heaven.” Like a child who says, “I can do it myself!” or a teenager who says, “I don’t need anyone’s help!” or an adult who says, “I’m doing quite well all on my own, thank you!” our old sinful nature is constantly trying to convince us that if we do enough— surely God will let us into His heavenly Home, right? And if you don’t think you are susceptible to that delusion, my friends, then list the priorities of your life, listen to the way you talk, look at how you react when someone says, “It doesn’t make any difference what you believe— the important thing is that you believe in something/someone!” Work-righteousness is most certainly the automatic default setting of every mortal sinful human being— including each and every one of us here today. Tragically, work-righteousness does not work! The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even our “righteous acts,” even the very best that we could possibly hope to do are like filthy rags in God’s eyes! (Isaiah 64:6) The apostle Paul reminds us, “There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:25).
So what does “work”? How can we be saved? Where do we find forgiveness? Purely by the grace and power of God you and I know the only correct way to answer all three of those questions! It is— the cross of Jesus Christ! (Pointing to the cross) In the cross of Jesus Christ we hear God say to us, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.” In the cross of Jesus Christ we hear God say to us, “Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” In the cross of Jesus Christ we hear God say to us, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declared the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” While our automatic default setting as mortal sinful human beings centers on “work-righteousness” the cross of Jesus Christ proclaims to us the glorious message of “faith-righteousness”! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Permit me to make two more points before I close today. As I was preparing this sermon I couldn’t help but think of the tragedies and the horrors that we have seen on the news lately. There have been hurricanes and earthquakes, fires and floods. The largest mass murder in modern American history was just committed by a wealthy man with no known criminal past and no known ties to terrorism. While we grieve over all of the people who have died and while we pray for all of the survivors, to me at least, this is a very powerful real-life example of how well these ancient words of Isaiah apply to us and to our world today.
Just as there was an earnestness when Isaiah proclaimed to God’s people of old, “Seek the LORD!” so also there is an earnestness embedded in those words today. We don’t know how much time we have left here on this earth. We don’t know if a “natural disaster” such as an earthquake or a lone gunman is going to take our life “unexpectedly.” What we do know is that one day— a day which is already known to God— one day we will most certainly die and instantly find ourselves standing before the Judge of the living and the dead. There is indeed an earnestness in making sure we are always ready for eternity, my friends. Understanding this earnestness will also help prevent us from finding ourselves in a situation where we lament with tears in our eyes, “I was hoping to share Jesus with Sally after she got back from that Country Western concert in Las Vegas” or “I was planning on inviting Art and his family to come to church with us after they got back from their vacation in Mexico City.” Every time we see a tragic event on the news we need to remember the earnestness embedded in the words, “Seek the LORD!”
My second point is this— just as we can’t allow our old sinful nature to convince us that we have “plenty of time” to get ready to meet our Maker, so also we cannot allow our old sinful nature to distract us from the cross on Calvary’s hill— in any way whatsoever! We are not and cannot be “good enough” for God all on our own. That’s why we need to daily follow the encouragement found in Hebrews 12:1-3, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
There may be times in our lives when we need someone to take us by the hand and say, “Don’t dawdle!” There will never be a time in our lives when we don’t need to hear someone say to us, “Seek the LORD!” Remember the earnestness embedded in those words! Stay focused on the graciousness proclaimed by those words! (Pointing to the cross)
To God be the glory!