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“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Unless the Lord shall return in your lifetime, the day will come when you will no longer be able to join with your brothers and sisters to worship here in the presence of the Lord. It could be because you decide one day, for one reason or another, that you’re not going, and you just never make it back. You might become ill or incapacitated and no longer able to make it to worship.
Though it once seemed impossible, it’s also not so hard to imagine the day may come when you cannot join with your brothers and sisters in the presence of the Lord because no one will let you worship here, perhaps because of health mandates or because what we teach here does not meet with “established community standards.”
Or it could be that you can no longer join with your brothers and sisters in Christ because this congregation is closed. Congregations, like people, have lifespans. None of them (or us, as individuals) will go on forever. And as we’re all aware: the fewer people who gather with their brothers and sisters to worship in the presence of the Lord, the harder it is for a congregation to continue.
Which brings us to the final reason why you would no longer be able to join with your brothers and sisters to worship in the presence of the Lord: you have “shuffle[d] off this mortal coil,” you’ve kicked the bucket,” you’re “pushing up daisies,” you’re dead. At this point, you can’t do anything, certainly not seek the Lord!
Now, here’s the thing: most of these scenarios you don’t have much control over or say about. You can take the best care of yourself, but you can still get ill, become incapacitated, or die. Someone could make it difficult (even impossible) for you to gather with your fellow believers in the presence of the Lord. But you can make sure that you seek the Lord while He may be found; you can be certain that you call upon Him while He is near. You see, the Lord is not hiding from you. Neither is He lost. He wants you to seek Him. He wants to be found. He actually finds you and places Himself in a place or position so you will see Him because you do not have the natural ability to turn to God. He has to, because you can’t, you won’t.
Luther has it right: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”[i] God can be found by humans only by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Gospel. In the Gospel, the Lord comes near.
In face of stubborn resistance to Him and His Word, God, however, does withdraw His Gospel at times. Jesus withdrew Himself from those who openly opposed Him. His withdrawal meant a severe judgment upon them because His absence removed their opportunity to repent. On his missionary journeys, Paul would first visit the Jewish synagogues to share the Gospel, but as opposition arose, he would leave and go to the Gentiles. God urges sinners to seek Him before their rejection prompts His departure.
Through His prophet, the Lord urges sinners to turn away from their wicked ways and turn to Him. For the one who does so, the Lord pledges to have compassion on the sinner and to pardon him abundantly. The words hold out the bright jewel of forgiveness for the grimy, stained hands of every sinner to grasp. What a comfort to every sinner! God looks tenderly upon sinners and, because of Christ, forgives us!
This sounds too good to be true. It doesn’t make sense to sinful human reason. No wonder: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The connecting link between this and the previous verses are the words thoughts and ways. God speaks again and declares the superiority of His thoughts to those of any and every human. Like God, His thoughts are holy and righteous, just and merciful. The ways and thoughts of humans are wicked and evil by nature. Moses writes about the times of Noah: “The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Over the centuries nothing has changed. Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).
Besides the problem of sin, human thoughts and ways are limited by time, space, and other factors. No one, in a lifespan of 70 or 80 or even 100 years should expect to be able to learn what God, who is eternal and all-knowing, knows. No one who can be in only one place at one time should expect to have the knowledge of an infinite, omnipresent God. But this text gets us deeper into the profound difference between God and humanity. Our natural perverse nature struggles against God. All thoughts that flow from us are nothinglike God’s thoughts. The deepest thinkers of the ages cannot achieve the high and lofty ways of God or understand God. Left alone and without God’s Word, no human can imagine that God would send a Savior to die for unworthy sinners. God’s grace remains a mystery to human intelligence and research. Yet God does make it known to us in His Word.
Even the way God works in the human heart lies beyond the human imagination. The Holy Spirit works the miracle of conversion through the Gospel—simple words that announce forgiveness and life through Christ. The Word is powerful. For God’s dealing with men and women, the Word is everything. Yet words appear so weak and ineffective—only sounds that travel through the air to an ear or a series of lines on a page or screen perceived by our eyes. But God’s ways are higher than ours. God’s way works through the words of the Gospel not only to convert sinners but to strengthen us and preserve our faith against the many temptations and distractions in this life. Simple words that announce God’s love for sinners have more power than all human ways and thoughts because God’s Word changes the heart and offers life and forgiveness to all believers.
God is seeking sinners, so that they would repent of their sins because God wants to forgive sinners—sinners like you and me. He wants us to seek Him and His forgiveness and to call upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving while He is still near to us. If God departs from us, we are in seriously deep spiritual trouble. What does this mean? It means that, if we do not seek the Lord where and while He is found, we are in danger of spending eternity in hell. We risk eternal condemnation when we do not seek Him where He is found.
Where God is found is where He has willingly bound Himself for our sake. God, who is without limits, has put Himself in a box, so to speak. God, who is infinite and omnipresent, has freely and willingly bound Himself to His Word and Sacraments. It is there and nowhere else that the Lord is to be found giving His gifts. This is sure, certain, and iron-clad guarantee, for God has promised this to us in His Word. When it comes to our souls, we need certainty.
When we look elsewhere for Him, somewhere He has not promised to be found, we have doubt, and doubt is never a good thing where our salvation is concerned. When we look somewhere else for God instead of where He has promised to be, we are telling God that we don’t think His gifts are good enough for us, that we want Him to deal with us on our terms, not His.
We’ve heard the excuse; we may have made these excuses ourselves: “You don’t have to go to church to worship God.” We may think we can worship God when we’re on the lake or when we’re out camping. If this is true, then how do you hear your sins are forgiven? Remember that St. Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Out in nature, we can see the beauty of God’s creation, but we don’t hear the forgiveness of our sins. Though God, in is everywhere, He has not promised to be everywhere with His grace and mercy but points us to where He may be found—in His means of grace.
We may also think, “We can hear the Word of God when we’re watching Main Street Living or the service streamed on Facebook.” While such media may be helpful for the short-term, and I thank God that we have them available to us, they are not meant to be a long-term substitute for our being in the Lord’s house, especially if one is physically able to be here. Our Christian faith is meant to be shared in community. While God’s Word can be received in many forms, one cannot receive the body and blood of Christ virtually.
For those not able to come because of health concerns or complications of age, the Church has an obligation to go to them, as their pastors have the charge to bring them the Word and the Lord’s Supper. If you find yourself or a loved one in this situation, please give me a call so we can figure out a way to best meet your spiritual needs according to your circumstances. This important to your spiritual well-being!
In Isaiah’s day, the Lord was found where He promised to be—in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the place that God promised to be with His people as long as they sought the Lord and listened to His Word. There, He promised to hear their prayers and forgive their sins. Sadly, they often did not seek the Lord or call on His name, and Isaiah’s call in our text was just one of many pleas the Lord made through His prophets over the years for His people to return to Him. Time and again, they refused to listen. They refused to repent. They refused to turn from their wicked ways.
Finally, God sent His Son. Jesus lived a perfect obedient life in our place. He fulfilled the Law, loving the Lord with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving His neighbor as Himself. He gave Himself into death on the cross, exchanging His righteousness for your and my sin. Three days later, He rose from the dead, giving us the certain hope of eternal life. As He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He promised: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Where is He now? Here. With us. Always. As we gather with our brothers and sisters around His Word and Sacraments.
Jesus has promised that “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). He is right here now as we gather in His name and Word. He speaks to us through the voice of His called and ordained servant in the Absolution. In His Supper, He feeds us with His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.
In these means of grace, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In these means of grace, the holy, righteous Lord comes to you in mercy and compassion with pardon and peace. So, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.