The Great Invitation: A High Way for Low Sinners
My aim and my prayer in this message is that you would seek the Lord this morning. Believers need to seek the Lord continually to remain in the love of God (Jude 21). Unbelievers need to seek the Lord decisively that you may be saved (Romans 10:13). There is not a person in this room for whom this text is irrelevant. Some need to seek the Lord so that you won't be left in the hardness of unbelief and destruction. Others need to seek the Lord lest you miss his special help and guidance and blessing.
The message has two parts:
- First, I want to show you from the Word of God in Isaiah what it means to seek the Lord; and then,
- second, I want to show you from God's Word why you should want to seek the Lord.
1. WHAT IT MEANS TO SEEK THE LORD
1.1. Calling upon Him
To seek the Lord means to call upon him (v. 6).
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
If you set yourself to seek the Lord this morning, or tonight in the stillness of your room or under the stars, the first thing you will do is call on the Lord. The religious word for this is "pray."
But many people feel that they can't pray. They feel that it takes a lot of Bible knowledge to know how to say things just right. And that it takes a certain way with words, so you don't sound too coarse or too casual. Or that you have to have a personal relationship with God before you can pray. So the word "pray" throws up all kinds of obstacles for some people.
Well it is not used here. The word is "call"! And that is part of our everyday language, just like it was then. We call the waiter. We call a friend on the telephone. We call for help on 911 like that little boy whose dad had a seizure because his blood sugar was gone.
The first thing we do to seek the Lord is call to him. We might use words like these: "O God, help me!" Or: "God, if you are really there, show me!" Or: "O God, I need you, come and save me, forgive me, make me new." Or: "Father, I need your guidance, show me the way to go."
You don't need a high school diploma to call for help. A child can do it. And that is the first step in what it means to seek the Lord.
1.2. Forsaking Wicked Ways and Thoughts
To seek the Lord means to forsake wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts (v. 7).
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.
If you take seriously the positive side of seeking God, you have to take seriously the negative side of turning from behaviors and thoughts that offend him. You cannot seek God and practice sin or plan sin at the same time.
If you call out to God, "O God, I need you, help me!" one of the very first things that will happen in answer to that prayer is that God will awaken your conscience to something in your life that needs to be forsaken. If God answers your call in that way and you refuse to forsake what your conscience condemns, then you cease to seek God, and your words become empty (as in Isaiah 58:1–2). You can't seek God where he is not found, in sin.
It would be like a man who leaves his wife, moves into his own apartment, has a regular sexual affair alongside his marriage, and then gets on the phone and "calls" his wife and "seeks" his wife. And she says, "Have you forsaken this woman?" And he says, "No, I can't." Then she will rightly say, "Then you are not seeking me. Your call is empty. You will seek me and find me as your wife when you forsake her and all others for me alone, just like you vowed!"
Seeking the Lord means forsaking the ways and the thoughts that are displeasing and dishonoring to him. You can't seek him where his is not found—in sin.
Now lets look back through the book of Isaiah to see what else it means to seek the Lord.
1.3. Steering Clear of Astrology, Séances, Etc.
To seek the Lord means to steer clear of astrology and séances and other occult channels.
When they say to you, "Consult [literally: "seek"] the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter," should not a people consult [seek] their God? Should they consult [seek] the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19)
The implication is: it is sufficient to seek God alone! And it's an offense when God's Word and his Spirit are treated as inadequate for the guidance of his creatures. Seeking God means steering clear of astrologers, fortune-tellers, psychics, séances, mediums, channeling, ouija boards, or any other effort to tap spiritual and psychic powers not prescribed in God's Word.
"Seek the Lord while he may be found," means consult him and turn aside from these age old counterfeits of divine counsel.
1.4. Turning to Him for Rescue from His Own Anger
To seek the Lord means to turn to him for deliverance from his own anger.
The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his [God's] anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still. The people did not turn to him who smote them, nor seek the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 9:12–13)
Israel did not turn to the God who struck them, or seek the Lord of hosts! But they should have. Why? Why should anyone turn to a God who is smiting? Why should we turn to a God who is angry at us?
The biblical answer is very simple: the only reason God smites is because we turn our back on him and seek our satisfaction where it can never be found, in sin. So it is not hard to understand that when we seek the Lord, what we are doing is seeking refuge in God from the wrath of God. I don't think it is possible to fully seek the Lord until we come to terms with the justice of his anger against our sins. We seek his face to escape his fury.
1.5. Asking for His Guidance and Trusting in It
To seek the Lord means to ask for his guidance and put our trust in that rather than human strength and wisdom.
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult [literally: "seek"] the Lord. (Isaiah 31:1)
How many times have we faced decisions and made them with a quick reckoning of our resources, but did not seek the Lord's counsel at all. Seeking the Lord means pausing before a decision and looking expectantly to God in your heart and waiting to see how he might lead.
Illustration from George Mueller, the praying saint who founded orphanages in England in the last century.
I never remember in all my Christian course, a period now 69 years and four months, that I ever sincerely and patiently sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but I have always been directed rightly. But if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellown men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes. (In Wesley Duewel, Let God Guide You Daily, p. 62)
Summary: to seek the Lord means
- To call upon him.
- To forsake ways and thoughts that dishonor him.
- To consult him instead of occult counterfeits of divine revelation.
- To turn to God for rescue from his own anger.
- To ask for his guidance and to put our trust in that rather than human strength and wisdom.
We are going to come back to these things and pray together about them at the end of the service. But first I want to try to persuade you now that you should want to seek the Lord in this way.
2. WHY YOU SHOULD WANT TO SEEK THE LORD
2.1. Our Thoughts and Ways Vs. God's
You should want to seek the Lord because until you seek the Lord, your ways and his ways and your thoughts and his thoughts are as far apart as heaven and earth.
Most of the time verses 8–9 are quoted out of context:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says 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.
This is often quoted to show that some circumstance that puzzles us is no puzzle to God. His ways are higher than our ways. That, of course, is wonderfully true. But it misses the point of this text.
Why does verse 8 talk about the thoughts and ways of God? Because verse 7 talked about the thoughts and ways of evil men. Unless we relate the thoughts and ways of God in verse 8 with the thoughts and ways of God in verse 7, we will miss the sense of the passage and what God wants us to hear.
Listen to the flow. Verse 7: "Let the wicked forsake his way [!] and the unrighteous man his thoughts [!]; let him return to the Lord for mercy . . . " Why? Verse 8: Because God's thoughts and God's ways are not wicked and not unrighteous. In fact they are as far above our evil thoughts and our evil ways as the heaven is above the earth.
The point of verses 8 and 9 is to stress the tremendous need that we have of seeking God. Only when we seek God can we overcome this Grand Canyon of separation between God's ways and our ways and God's thoughts and our thoughts. Only when we seek the Lord can we begin to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:6).
So the first reason we should want to seek the Lord is that until we do, we don't think like God and we don't act like God. In fact our mind and his mind are as different and as far apart as heaven and earth.
2.2. Not Punishment but Pardon
You should want to seek the Lord because when you do, what you find is not punishment but pardon (verse 7).
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
God wants people with wicked ways to come to him. He wants people with unrighteous thoughts to come to him. Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. It is not the healthy who have need of a physician but the sick. The thought that you are too bad to come to God is a thought straight out of hell.
God's thoughts are higher. And one of those thoughts is to have mercy on bad people who seek him.
And don't miss the emphasis in that word "abundantly" in verse 7 ("freely," NIV). God wants us to know that this is what he loves to do most. His heart overflows to pardon. He rejoices to pardon. Do you remember the great word from Micah 7:18 that I ended with four weeks ago?
Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in mercy.
He delights in it! He loves to show mercy. He rejoices to pardon. And therefore he does it abundantly, profusely, deeply. Paul says that the love of Christ is so deep and high and long and wide that it surpasses knowledge.
What God is willing to do for you if you seek him is beyond your imagination. It is not a pardon that sends you back to the streets of sin. It is an abundant pardon. A pardon with a powerful and loving Parole Officer called the Holy Spirit.
In verse 3 of this chapter God promises that if we hear his voice and come to him ("seek him," "call upon him," "return to him"), he will make with us an everlasting covenant. And we learn from Ezekiel and Jeremiah and Paul that this covenant is not a covenant of the letter written in stone, but a covenant of the Spirit written on the heart.
In other words when you seek the Lord, you find pardon for the worst sins you have ever committed and the pardon is so abundant you are given a Parole Officer called the Holy Spirit—not like any parole officer you have ever imagined, because he protects and helps and guides and brings you to the fullest life possible. And on top of that he is the most wonderful person to be with in the world.
There is just one last reason I want to mention why you should want to seek the Lord this morning.
2.3. The Nearness of God in This Moment
You should want to seek the Lord this morning because he is near at this moment and he may be found (verse 6).
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
There is a window of opportunity. And you do not know when it will shut. It is open this morning. We know it is because the Word of God is being heard. And the Spirit is here in answer to many prayers.
So we are going to close the service by taking very seriously this line in verse 6: "Call upon him while he is near." Everybody in this room needs to call upon the Lord—to seek the Lord right now while he may be found. Some need to call on him for salvation (Romans 10:13). Some need to call on him for help in overcoming an evil way or an unrighteous thought. And some need to call on him for counsel and guidance.
Let's do that in silence for a moment. Then we are going to begin worshiping in song. And as we worship and sing, Tom and I will stand by the table. And if God is laying it on your heart to have one of us join you in calling on the Lord for your need, you come and tell us what it is and we will pray and then you can go back to your seat.