The 19th Sunday after Pentecost October 3, 2010
748 [TLH 39], 529, 416, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor 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.”
In the name of the Lord our God—our Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter—who exceeds anything that we could imagine, dear fellow-redeemed:
How well, do you suppose, God is known? Perhaps we would consider ourselves pretty well-versed in who God is. If we look back over history there are certainly times in the world’s existence that God was not well-known—at least not among the people as a collective whole.
In the days leading up to the flood Noah and his family are the only ones described as believers, and they were the only ones preserved in the ark. In the days leading up to the Reformation there were plenty of people who really didn’t know the true God at all.
Today, how well is God known? We can look to those who are pursuing worship and belief in a false god. They don’t know the true God at all. A common suggestion today is that it doesn’t really matter what religion one follows as long as you’re worshiping something. The argument continues that “god” is, after all, one and the same whether it be the god of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, or anything else. As long as you are “spiritual” and approaching a god in some fashion, you’ll be fine. Such a suggestion betrays a lack of knowledge concerning God.
When we talk about “knowing” God, it is not just an acknowledgment in the existence of a god. It’s not just having a concept that there is some kind of a higher power. What we mean when we talk about knowing Him is knowing the one and only true God—because there is only one. Knowing Him is knowing His identity as Triune—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—plus all the other things that He tells us about Himself. Truly knowing God is knowing that He is not the same as all the other gods, but rather stands apart as the only real God. Knowledge of God is very much a pinpoint knowledge in the one true God, all that He has revealed, and all that He has done.
Thankfully, we can say that we know this God, but we would admit that we don’t know Him fully or to the extent that we could. It is important that this knowledge regularly increase because in the knowledge of who God is we will also find the reason to put our trust in Him and that will strengthen us against temptation and every attack upon our souls.
Today be encouraged to GET TO KNOW YOUR GOD. This goes two ways. First, it is an encouragement and admonition: Get into God’s Word, get to know your God better and better. But it is also a statement of the privilege: You get to know your God! What an amazing gift of His grace! You get to know Him and continue to learn about Him as you study in His Word. As we get to know God we consider that I. We seek Him before it is too late, II. Turn to Him because He is merciful, and III. Understand Him for who He is.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” [v.6] It is a lie of the Devil and the world—one that many people follow—which suggests that God and His Word are things you can just tuck away in a corner someplace and come back to them whenever you decide you have time. Because, after all, God is loving and forgiving, He will always be there, He’s eternal and unchanging, so I have time. But the admonition in getting to know your God is “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” There can come a time when He won’t be found.
The lie leads people to be lethargic and careless regarding matters that concern their souls. Quite the opposite, God would have us be urgent, on guard, watching and praying, and spreading His Word because there does come a time when it is too late.
We read Bible History and discover that God is incredibly patient and long-suffering while dealing with sin and giving sinners the opportunity to repent. God gave the people of Noah’s day 120 years to repent before He sent the flood. When the nation of Israel kept turning away from God and rejected His Word and the prophets, God gave them time to repent before bringing the judgment of captivity upon them. He is patient, but at some point, God’s long-suffering comes to a close.
As we consider this for ourselves we know that there will be an end to our opportunity to seek the Lord and to call upon Him and an end to the opportunity for us to share the Gospel with others so that they can seek and call upon Him. One such end is the time of our death. Our time of grace, the time to seek and call upon the Lord is now. We live for whatever years God has appointed for us and then our death is the end of opportunity. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances. It is this life and then eternity. So if we are going to seek the Lord and call upon Him, it needs to be in our lifetime.
Whenever Jesus returns to the earth there will be many who are still living. It is possible that Jesus could return in our lifetimes. If Jesus comes before the day of our death, then Judgment Day would be the end of our time of grace and the end of opportunity to seek the Lord.
There is yet another way in which this opportunity to seek and to call upon the Lord can come to a close. The opportunity ends when the hearing of God’s Word stops. The Old Testament prophet, Amos, warned of a “famine of hearing God’s Word” (Amos 8:11). It was a prophecy of a very dark day in Israel when there would be a shortage of hearing God’s Word because it would no longer be proclaimed, it would be rejected and rejected and rejected until finally it would disappear. After generations of rejection and killing the prophets, God eventually withdrew His Word and the opportunity to seek the Lord and call upon His name.
For every one of us here, the Lord can still be found. For everyone out in the world still living and breathing in this life, He is calling out with His Gospel. Now is the time to seek the Lord. Now is the time to call upon His name. Now is the time when the opportunity exists.
The apostle Peter encouraged the Christians of his day to not be swept away with the idea that Jesus would never return. In the process of that discussion he says that the reason the world is still standing is because God is merciful and He wants all sinners to be brought to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3). The world is living on borrowed time, now is the time to share the Gospel, to call out to our fellow sinners so that they too may come to know their God and be saved. Now is the time for this work which we have been given to do.
The sense of urgency to get to know your God before it is too late is good motivation for our mission efforts. Now is the time to share that Word of God because now is the time to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near.
This urgency eliminates any reasoning for the excuses of “not now.” Whether it be too much busyness, whether it be a feeling of not needing it, whether it be an attitude of “I’ll get to it when I’m ready…” Whatever it might be, now is the time.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” [v.7] The obstacle that stands in the way between us and our knowledge of God is, quite simply, our sin. You cannot know God and have a Father-child relationship with Him without the road block of sin being removed. The essence of a sinner knowing God is knowing what His Law says, from the Law knowing our sin, and then turning to Christ for salvation.
God tells us that He is holy and just. We know that He has set down in writing for all time what is pleasing to Him and what is displeasing to Him. Sadly, we know that when we evaluate our lives according to God’s expectations we fail miserably in living up to them. But we also know through His Word that God sent His Son, Jesus, to rescue us—to live for us, to take our place, to die on the cross, and to rise again.
We know our Savior because of what He has done. We can follow sin and grace throughout Scripture and in that study is how we come to know our Lord and Savior. We come to Him and turn to Him for help because He is merciful. There is nothing in us that warrants our salvation, but because of His mercy we have abundant pardon. Therefore, forsake the wickedness. Getting to know God is to cast off the sin that contradicts His will and offends Him. Getting to know God is to turn away from the sinful thoughts and words and actions and going to the Lord in repentance, saying, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
Getting to know your God is then to also hear those wonderful words, “Be of good cheer, your sins are all forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2). Getting to know God is having in mind the forgiving father in Jesus’ parable who welcomed home his wayward son (cf. Luke 15:11ff). Getting to know God is knowing Him as that gracious and merciful God who abundantly pardons all of your sins because where sin abounds, grace abounds ever so much more (cf. Romans 5:20).
Getting to know your God, seeking Him before it is too late, also comes to understanding Him for who He is. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor 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.” [vv.8-9]
A danger of human reason trying to know God on its own is that by nature we want to define God according to our liking. To the Romans Paul spoke of those who “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:23,25). People try to fit their god into what they see instead of believing what the true God has said. This brings “god” down to mankind’s level. I don’t like what God says in His Word regarding what He expects of me, so I rationalize that maybe God doesn’t expect quite so much of me anymore in the 2000 era. I don’t like God saying that my salvation is completely removed from me and purely from His grace? My solution: I’m going to bring Him down to a god who can’t quite do it on his own so he’ll start the process and I’ll finish it. I don’t like how the Bible ascribes to God the full creation of the universe in six literal days with nothing more than the power of His Word? Solution: I’ll contrive a notion that suggests that everything came into being by random chance and evolved over billions of years.
One by one all of the common theories about God reveal that people do not understand who He is and they bring Him down to a human level. How utterly foolish! If our God is just like us, what good is He? Far from it! God couldn’t be more different.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah particularly, God describes the foolishness of idolatry. In those days people fashioned images of gold and stone and wood. How foolish for a man to cut down a tree and use part of it to warm himself and then spend hours and hours fashioning the rest of it into an image which after his work is done he bows down to as god (cf. Isaiah 44:9ff). That is no god! People still fashion a god that is really no god because they don’t want to let Him be who He is. They want to define and create Him on their terms.
When God says that His thoughts are not our thoughts nor His ways our ways, this first applies to the plan of salvation. Paul quoted Isaiah and wrote to the Corinthians, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). There is no way that we as sinful human beings could ever dream up a plan of salvation that would involve the eternal Son of God taking on flesh and blood, living in our place, dying for us and then rising again. That is the only way for escape from sin and the judgment of death and Hell, but we could never imagine it, much less accomplish it. We would be left fruitlessly trying to come up with a way that we could earn our own salvation. God’s thoughts concerning salvation are so far beyond us and different from our own.
This also applies to day-to-day kinds of things. Do you always understand why God allows you to face a particular sorrow or trial in your life? We can’t because we aren’t able to see the whole picture. We cannot see what God is accomplishing through all of His decisions. We can’t understand how what I am facing right now could possibly help my faith and ultimately lead to God’s preservation of that faith and eternal life. We don’t understand because God’s thoughts and ways are so different and so much higher than ours.
As we dig into God’s Word and get to know Him, we understand that He is just and loving. Another common misunderstanding is that since God is a God of love, He couldn’t possibly also speak of judgment and condemnation. Absolutely, God sent Jesus to be our Savior, but that does not change His justice and righteousness. Redemption doesn’t give license to do whatever you want and sin. Forgiveness of sins doesn’t become an excuse to hide under, “I did this, this, and this, but God is love, so it doesn’t matter.” That is a grave misunderstanding of God. Getting to know God tells us that He is loving and sent Jesus to forgive us, but that He also demands punishment for sin—a punishment which He took out on Jesus. However, we having been set free from sin are not free to continue on in our sin. God’s desire is that we follow in His Word and will.
If anyone fails to understand who God is God’s glory is diminished in that person’s eyes and perhaps in others as well. But when we get to know Him, when we understand His power and majesty, when we understand His grace and mercy, when we understand His justice and righteousness then we realize how the heavens declare the glory of God (cf. Psalm 19:1), our salvation declares the glory of God (cf. Ephesians 2:7). We live and move and have our being because of God (cf. Acts 17:28). “It is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Get to know God and you cannot help but praise Him. Get to know God and you can’t help but put your trust in Him because you know that there is the solution. Get to know your God and you can rejoice in the God of your salvation. Seek Him, call upon Him day by day. Go to Him for abundant pardon because He is merciful, and understand and rejoice in who He truly is. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.