Sermon preached on Isaiah 55:6-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/29/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Seek the LORD While He May Be Found”
I’ve mentioned that I intend to being a new sermon series through the Sermon on the Mount. Before we begin that new series, I wanted to return to Isaiah 55. I say “return” because I actually preached two sermons from it about a year and a half ago before I started the Romans series. It’s a wonderful chapter and so full of gospel right here in the Old Testament. My intention is to slowly work through it a sermon or two at a time in between major sermon series. This week we will consider verses 6-7 in detail. Then, Lord willing, next week, we will begin our sermon series through the Sermon on the Mount.
Well, as we approach these verses the Sunday before the New Year, I also thought they could be a timely reflection for us. These two verses remind us of the basics of the gospel. And they remind us of the appropriate response to that gospel. It’s a response of faith and repentance. It’s something that we begin at the start of our Christian walk. But it’s something we continue to express throughout that walk. And so today, we’ll tackle these verses in three points. First, we’ll consider the seeking and calling described in verse 6. Second, we’ll reflect on the repenting described in verse 7. Third, we’ll rejoice in the promise of mercy and abundant pardon held out at the end of verse 7.
Let’s begin then with the seeking and calling of verse 6. Verse 6, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.” This is the language of inviting us into relationship with the Lord. It’s about finding his presence, it’s about prayer, it’s about his worship. Let’s hone in on the word “seek” for a moment. A common way this word for “seek” is sometimes used in the Bible is in the sense of inquiring of the Lord, as in someone coming to God for direction in some matter. 1 Samuel 9:9 is an example of that kind of seeking. But that doesn’t seem to be the usage here. Here it’s about seeking God and his presence and his relationship with you. Deuteronomy 4:29 speaks about the kind of seeking that’s in mind here. It says, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The context there in Deuteronomy 4:29 is that God is envisioning a time in the future when the people of Israel would sin against God in idolatry, and that God would expel them out of the Promised Land because of that. But from that place of exile, Deuteronomy 4:29 gives this prophecy, and hope, that there the people could seek God and find him.
And so as we begin to think today about this idea of seeking God and calling upon him, it’s important to set this context. The context is especially directed toward those who have not been seeking and calling upon God. They are those who’ve not been worshipping God and pursuing a relationship with him. This is directed to the people who’ve been sinning against God’s laws and are estranged from him. In fact, in the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, it has this same thing in mind. Isaiah’s prophecy is to fall upon the people of Israel during their Babylonian exile and are invited to a restored relationship with God. In fact the verses earlier in this chapter, present the wonder of this call. A call to come and find gracious sustenance and satisfaction from God, instead of the ways surely the people had tried to find fulfillment before apart from God. Verse 6 then really drives home the offer given in the earlier verses of this chapter. Given the offer of such grace held out in the first few verses, therefore, seek the LORD while he may be found. Yes, even from that place of exile because of your sin, God invites you to seek him, and even to find him!
The parallel side to this seeking, is the calling. Verse 6 in parallel Hebrew poetry urges the people to call upon God. This word for calling tends to imply a verbal quality to it. In Genesis 4:26 it’s used in the broadest religious sense when it talks about how the people of God then began to call upon the name of the Lord. What’s wonderful about this here, is that God is actually first calling to them. That’s clear in verse 5 too even, that God through the Messiah is calling people unto himself. God here then calls the people to call upon him. This is similar to how the gospel call is given in Romans 10, ending with the statement of Romans 10:13, that “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
As we think about verse 6, notice the time frame here. When should we be seeking and calling upon God? While he may be found. While he is near. There is a time limit to this offer. Paul talks in Romans 10 about the nearness of the preached Word. As the Word of God is proclaimed to the world in this age, there is still time to heed this call. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2 said that today is the day of salvation. Jesus said in John 12, that while we have the light, we must believe in it, that we may become sons of the light. In other words, there is coming a time when humans will no longer have any more opportunity to respond to this call. So, don’t delay. Don’t put it off. Today, respond to this call to seek the Lord and call upon him.
I think it is appropriate to pause and exalt the grace of God further here for a moment. As much as we are called to seek God in passages like this, we can remember that there are also passages in the Bible that talk about man’s chronic problem of not seeking God. Psalm 14 and Romans 3 are two such passages. This reality is because of what is doctrinally known as total depravity. Man, dead in our sins, doesn’t desire to seek God. What is needed, is God to first seek us, and by the power of his Holy Spirit, to draw us unto himself. We need that regenerating work of the Spirit in our lives to respond to that call. But as we study this passage, remember two thoughts. One, we’ve seen here already that God is about that work — to call sinners unto himself. Two, passages like this show that the call to come to God is to be given to all. It’s what we call the free offer of the gospel. We call the world to seek God and call upon him in Christ. We don’t try to guess whom God is working on their heart at any given time, and only present the gospel to them. No, that’s not something we can know. Rather, we make the call, and look for God to do the work in their hearts as he so pleases. But as someone does respond to the call, we say “Praise the Lord,” because we know it means that God has done an amazing work in that person’s heart; to soften their heart and make them into a genuine seeker of the Lord!
So then, this call comes again to us here. Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. I mentioned at the start, that this passage is about responding to the gospel call with faith and repentance. Faith is really at the heart of this seeking and calling. When I hear that we are to seek and call, I think “faith.” You will only seek and call upon the Lord if you believe in him and his offer for you to come to him. This seeking and calling is but an expression of faith. It’s like when someone hears the gospel and says a sinner’s prayer. That’s expressing their new faith in an appropriate way. So this is a call for faith. It’s also a call to put that faith into action by running to him and crying out to him in that faith.
Let’s turn now to our second point and consider the call to repentance found in the first half of verse 7. This too is at the heart of our response to the gospel. Verse 7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD.” Notice first the language used to describe this repenting. First it’s the language of “forsaking.” This is about abandoning and leaving something. The wicked person is to abandon and let go of his wickedness and unrighteousness. Second, the language of “returning” is used. This is the idea of coming back, in this case, coming back to God. We often refer to repentance as a turning. Here, this language of returning makes that point. The wicked person is supposed to stop heading away from God and turn around and go toward God instead. There’s to be a change of direction in his life.
The scope of this repentance is described with two different words. Their ways and their thoughts. This repentance should affect both. When I think of someone’s ways, a number of Bible passages come to mind. I think of Psalm 1 how it compares the ways of the righteous man versus the ways of the wicked. That would be a good passage to meditate on to think about how to abandon godless ways for righteous ways. This causes us to reflect on our actions and consider if they are according to righteousness or not. The godless ones must be dropped. Instead we must head toward the ways of the Lord. As for the mention of the thoughts, that reminds us that true godliness is more than just what we actually do. True righteousness affects even what we think about. True righteousness starts from within. In our inner self and in our heart and mind. We must abandon those wicked thoughts. We must turn also our thoughts to the Lord.
Notice how all our ways and thoughts are contrasted in verse 9. There in verse 9, our ways and thoughts are contrasted with God’s ways and thoughts. For both, God’s are far better. There is something qualitatively better than God’s ways than ours. There is something qualitatively better than God’s thoughts than ours. So, that is why we should abandon our own ways and thoughts and turn instead to embrace God’s ways and thoughts.
So then, in this second point we are seeing the call to repent. To turn from wickedness unto the Lord. A question that could come up at this point, is what is the difference between verses 6 and 7? Is there really a difference between the seeking of God described in verse 6, and the repenting described in verse 7. I’ve mentioned the notions of faith and repentance behind all of this. Is there really a fundamental difference between the two? Well, yes, and know. Yes, we can think of the specific nuances of each. There is a textbook distinction between faith and repentance. And there is a fine distinction between the seeking and calling of verse 6 with the repenting of verse 7. But at the end of the day, the fine nuance should not be so stressed as to miss the larger point. These things come together. Our response to the gospel of Jesus Christ must involve faith and repentance. We seek the Lord in faith, call upon his name in prayer, asking for forgiveness and grace. We at the same time commit to abandon our old way of living and thinking, and turn toward living and thinking in God’s way. By the way, the fact that we do this imperfectly is not at issue here. The point is that a real heart of faith that seeks the Lord will always come along with a true desire to begin to live for the Lord and walk with him. Faith and repentance are really two sides of the same coin. They are at the heart of what it means to be converted to Christ.
Let us turn now to our third point for today. This is where we observe that the gospel promise in all of this is that the man who seeks the Lord in faith and repentance is promised mercy and pardon. Look at the second half of verse 7. “Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” Mercy and abundant pardon. It’s saying that God will give this. Please don’t misunderstand this. The point we’ve been trying to make all this message is that these verses are directed to the sinners. The rebels of God. To the wicked and the unrighteous. Most immediately the Israelites in Babylonian exile would have been cheered by these verses. But they continue to apply very directly to every human today. All have sinned. Everyone. Everyone is guilty before God. Everyone, apart from receiving this mercy and pardon, is guilty. We’ve been talking about why this gospel call is so important. If you don’t get this, then you will miss the whole point. We need to be forgiven of our sins. If we are not, we are guilty and will face God’s wrath on the day of judgment. Hell is not reserved just for the serial killers and the rapists. It’s for all who have not found pardon from sin in the Lord. And yet as sobering as that is, this passage tells us that anyone can receive that. Abundant mercy. If you but seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near, if you but look to forsake your wickedness and turn to the Lord and his ways and thoughts. Then you will receive mercy and the forgiveness of your sins by God. Abundant forgiveness.
Realize how that’s not something we should have expected, though. That’s not the way justice normally works, right? If I were to run someone over with my car, say, because I was drunk, but I don’t pull over. I do a hit and run and flee. I hide out in my home for a few days, but then finally decide to do the right thing. I go the police and confess what I’ve done. I truly tell them how sorry I am, and how I intend to never drink ever again, and plan to enroll in a safe driving course. That is all well and good, but would we expect then to receive from the police or the judge abundant pardon and mercy? No. There may be some small measure of mercy shown to me, because I came forward, confessed the crime, and pled guilty. I might get a small amount of mercy for that, but justice would still have to be served upon me. So take that analogy to our relationship with God. Just because now after all our sins we seek the Lord and look to turn away from future wickedness, why should that mean God would so graciously pardon us? Sadly, in our entitlement society today, so often it sounds like people tend nowadays to expect that of God. To take pardon from God for granted. But justice, on its own, would say that God must not overlook such sins. So then how can God give abundant pardon to the repentant as it promises here? Well, don’t forget what the prophet Isaiah already prophesied about two chapters earlier. Isaiah 53 prophesied of a suffering servant who would come along and pay for all the sins of God’s people. Well, that suffering servant was the Messiah. He was the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, that’s what’s behind all of this. That’s why these verses are talking about the gospel.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, as we head into the new year, I wanted to renew us in this simple gospel call for faith and repentance. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek him while he may be found! Call upon him in faith through prayer. Make up your mind today to repent of your sins and follow the ways of Christ as his disciple. If you are here today, and have never done that before, then may today be the day. Don’t wait any long. Don’t delay, because none of us knows how much longer we have here alive in this age.
But I also realize, that most of us here, if not all of us, have already began this new life with Christ. So, what I wanted to do with this passage then, is to reminds us that faith and repentance is not something just for the start of our Christian walk. As we head in to 2014, be renewed that this is at the core of what it means to be a Christian throughout your life as a disciple of Christ. Day by day, it is growing to trust in Christ more by faith. Day by day, it’s looking to seek him and call upon him amidst all life’s circumstances. Day by day, it’s committing again and again toward choosing righteousness over wickedness. It’s about letting go of that sinful desire and picking up the righteous alternative. It’s about following in Christ’s footsteps, instead of going astray in the wrong direction. Day by day, month by month, year by year. This is how we live out our discipleship. And as we daily struggle in these ways, we keep coming back to that source of abundant pardon and mercy, and are refreshed in God’s amazing grace.
So then, seek him out and call upon him. Do that in his Word. Do it by prayer. Do it as an individual. As a family. At church, especially in our weekly corporate worship services. Seek this relationship with him, and seek it as a gift. Not something you’ve earned. Remember these few verses and that satisfaction we can have without cost. And in all this seeking of him and calling upon him, examine your priorities. Have you heeded Christ’s call to seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness? Examine your life in this regard.
And as you regularly do that examining, then exercise that repentance. Repentance requires that examination. We should be regularly examining ourselves in this regard, but we can especially think of how fitting it is as we start out a new year. To reflect on the year ahead of how you may need to make some course corrections in how you have been serving the Lord. Remember, let go of those things you ought not to be holding on to. Return to the right path when you go astray. Clothe yourself with godliness.
And in all of this, be encouraged at the reward. This mercy and abundant pardon for you, means that not only have you been saved from your sins. But it also means that you have eternal life. That eternal life includes a personal relationship with the God of all creation. We don’t just seek him, but we find him. Even now we begin to experience the grace of his presence in our lives. At Christ’s return, we’ll especially experience the glory of his presence as he ushers us into that New heavenly Jerusalem that he has prepared for us. This too is helpful to keep in front of us as we head into the new year. It’s too easy in this life when we talk about the daily life of faith and repentance to forget the end goal of it all. This reward of knowing God that begins in part here and now, and will come to even greater fruition in eternity. Keep the reward of following Christ in front of you as you follow Christ, now, and into 2014 and beyond. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.