Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 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.”
Mankind leaves almost no stone unturned in its search for God. Some seek him in quiet strolls through nature, the moving sight of a beautiful sunset. Others spend hours in meditation thinking about themselves, staring at their navels, hoping that they will discover the “god within.”
The one place we can be sure to find him is not a place where we see him with our eyes. It is a place where we hear him speaking. This one place is in his word. While his Holy Word is preached to us, read to us, and printed for us, God can be found. He is near. His words bring us the Lord himself!
Do you note a sense of urgency in Isaiah’s encouragement? Why such an earnest, emotional plea? Israel didn’t lack the opportunity to seek God. The truth of his word was all around them. Prophet after prophet delivered the message. Over hundreds of years it was written down and copied. As the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans, “Theirs is the adoption of sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.”
But for all that word of God, all that opportunity to seek and find him, the people of Isaiah’s day were unwilling. Past generations had been known to repent of their sins. Israel had a heritage as God’s chosen. But now they followed their own ways. They followed other gods, pursued other ambitions–making a living and seeking fun. Most ignored Isaiah’s plea: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.”
Is it hard to see the warning for ourselves? We may have grown up with law and gospel properly divided, the Gospel purely preached, the sacraments rightly administered. But God’s plea for us to daily, hourly repent of our sins is no less earnest. Repentance is not the idea one man I know had of it. “Repentance is something I did a long time ago, pastor, when I first became a believer,” he told me. But it’s not just a one-time event from the past we go through, and then we are done. The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses says, “When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent ye,’ he meant that the whole life of the believer is to be a repentance.” The sins that you and I are committing today are dangerous and damnable. “Let the wicked forsake his way.” “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”
For just this purpose, the promises of God become so precious, so important. Threats and warnings can’t turn us around by themselves. Why seek a God who is only mad at you? His promises, on the other hand, hold out so much more: “Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
Do you really want to know God? There is no place we can get to know him better than in his promises of mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we may be tempted to look at these promises like the children of Israel looked at the manna. It sustained their lives for a while, but after having the same old thing long enough they “detested this miserable food.” Isaiah’s words help to renew our appetite for God’s banquet of grace.
He reminds us that God has mercy on us. Maybe confession and absolution, maybe hearing forgiveness promised in a sermon, maybe our Savior’s intimate promise of forgiveness in his supper can become perfunctory. We may receive them with little joy or feeling. But they are never given that way by our Lord. God has mercy. His word invites us to peer into the heart of God, where we find that he has made us the objects of his affection. Relieving us of our sins and our sufferings is always a moving experience for him. Here we find a tender-hearted Father who wants nothing more than to see us escape the pain and agony we deserve for our sins.
God’s pardon comes “freely.” The emphasis is not so much on the fact he gives it free of cost. Here he is speaking about how liberal, how generous, how lavish the Lord is with this gift. Stewardship appeals sometimes remind us, “You can’t out-give God.” Here the prophet reminds us we can’t out-sin his grace, either. He has more pardon, more forgiveness, than we can possibly exhaust, though we may sin all day every day.
So don’t be afraid. Seek him now! He wants us to find him.