Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 17, 2008

Sermon on Isaiah 55:6-9

GOD DOESN’T PLAY HIDE-AND-SEEK
1. He lets himself be found
2. His revelation is a mystery to man

Text: Isaiah 55:6-9

Introduction

A few years ago, I wrote an article that was used as a one-page advertisement for our school in a special school promotional edition of Bay Area Parent.  I started the article saying that Gloria Dei Lutheran School is one of the best-kept educational secrets in our community.  That statement was and still is true on two levels.  It’s true because we have repeated examples of former students telling us how far ahead they were compared to their other classmates when they continued their next level of education somewhere else.  But that statement about Gloria Dei school is also true because, for multiple reasons, our school is still somewhat of a “secret.”  We want to change that, of course!  We’re planning for more aggressive advertising this winter, and someday we’d like to see this property revamped for greater visibility.  There’s no reason to hide our terrific school from our community.  We don’t want to play “hide and seek” with residents who are looking for a solid Christian school for their children.  We want them to find us!

Those thoughts nicely parallel the thoughts that Isaiah recorded in today’s First Lesson.  God has good news for all humanity, news that far surpasses the news about excellent education offered at our school.  This good news is geared for souls.  And God doesn’t want to hide this good news, either.  He wants to get this good news out, but the time to get this news out is limited.  In the First Lesson for today, Isaiah shows us that, when it comes to this good news from our Lord, God doesn’t play hide and seek.  God doesn’t hide his good news from the world.  God lets himself be found, but his revelation of himself is still a mystery to man.

I.

Remember the story Jesus told in the Gospel for today (Matthew 20:1-16)?  Matthew recorded Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard.  The landowner went out to the marketplace several times throughout the course of the day.  He sought people to work for a day in his vineyard.  He went out at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., and again at 5:00 p.m. looking for workers to tend to his vineyard.  The workday ended at 6:00 p.m. (known as the “twelfth hour”).  As long as there was time to work, the owner looked for more workers.  And at the end of the day, it didn’t matter how long they had worked.  It didn’t matter if the master hired them at 6:00 a.m. or 5:00 p.m.  Their pay was the same.

The landowner in Jesus’ parable represents God.  God seeks people out to be part of his vineyard, his church, and it doesn’t matter whether he seeks them out in their first weeks of life through Baptism, or at their last moments as they lay on their deathbed.  Isaiah also talks about God seeking people in the First Lesson.  He recognizes that the time is limited, but while we are on this earth, God lets himself be found. “Seek the LORD while he may be found.  Call on him while he is near.  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.”

If you know your Lutheran theology well, you might think that Isaiah sounds a little fuzzy in that opening verse.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found” sounds like we seek and find God.  It sounds as if people find the Lord.  But there is a little twist in the original Hebrew text that doesn’t come through well in English.  Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord in his letting himself be found.” That isn’t smooth English, but it does reflect an important truth.  We don’t seek out God.  God seeks us.  He allows himself to be found.

Think of it this way.  Have you ever played hide-and-seek with a young child?  When it’s your turn to hide, you might “hide” yourself in a place where you can easily be found.  You want that child to feel like he found you, but in reality, you made it easy to “be found.”  That’s what God does.  He lets himself be found.  He put a conscience in our hearts that tells us that we have to answer to a higher being.  He put us in a created world that testifies to the existence of a being greater than us.  And then he makes his holy Word available to the world that people who don’t yet know the Lord can “find” him.  It looks like we’ve found him, but in reality, he has found us.

Did you notice whom God is seeking?  It’s not corporate elite and political giants.  God never said he was only looking for Hollywood’s best and brightest, or the superstars from professional sports.  God is seeking the wicked.  God wants evil, sinful people to find him.  Why?  Listen to Isaiah: “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.” God is seeking sinners.  He’s seeking people who have messed up their lives and have little to be proud about.  Why?  So that he can have mercy on them.  So that he can pardon their sins.  So that they will turn to him and say, “Lord, we’ve hit rock bottom.  We have no way out of the sinful mess we’ve created.”  And so he picks them out of the pit of sin and sets them free from the punishments of hell.

So if God wants to be found and wants this good news to be discovered, where can we find him?  It seems that people are searching for God in every conceivable corner of the universe.  People think that they can find him in trees.  People take yoga classes because they believe it will connect them closer to God and “spirituality.”  The call screener of a prominent national radio talk show once admitted openly that she prays to birds.  Everything is subjective.  Everything is relative.  What works for you might not work for me.  If you want to find God in a book, that’s your business; I’ll find him somewhere else.

But there is objective truth.  If someone argues that two plus two equals four for you, but it equals negative six and a half for him, we’d laugh.  The statement is objectively wrong.  But no one laughs if someone says that your God is not their god.  Really?  Is God nothing more than the figment of each individual’s imagination?

No, the objective truth is that there is one God, and he has placed evidence about himself in this world and in our consciences.  The objective truth is that there is one, true God, and this God seeks out lost sinners so that they can “find” him.  He has put evidence of his power in this world, but most importantly, he has put evidence of his love in his Word.  He has left us with a carefully preserved record of his grace and goodness in the Bible.  He has left us with the clear account of his Son’s life lived for us, his Son’s death died for us, his Son’s punishment paid for us, and his Son’s resurrection accomplished for us.  He has left us with the historical and factual story of his forgiveness for us and our redemption from him.  And through that gospel message, he lets himself be found.

II.

Remember what happened at the end of the story Jesus told in the Gospel?  The landowner paid the workers he had hired.  The ones who worked an hour were paid a denarius, which was a day’s wage.  The ones who worked 12 hours saw this, and so they expected to receive even more.  But they also received a denarius, a day’s wage.  The men who worked all day became upset with the landowner.  Yes, they had agreed to work for a denarius, but shouldn’t they be paid more than those who had worked only an hour?  That’s how they saw it.  But Jesus’ point was that it doesn’t matter when someone comes to faith – whether early in life or well into adulthood or even on their deathbed.  The “reward” (understand that term correctly; it’s really a gift, not an earned reward) is the same: eternal life in heaven.

If you were God, would you do it differently?  The workers in Jesus’ parable would have.  Maybe you think it’s not fair that God should treat someone who’s been a Christian their whole life the same way he treats a person on death row who comes to faith the day before his execution.  We tend to think that God rewards us by what we do, or by how long we’ve served him.  But Isaiah shows us that the way God reveals himself and the results of his revelation is a mystery to man. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”

Notice the contrast that God makes in these verses.  Twice he compares his thoughts and ways with our thoughts and ways.  People tend to think that God should reward individuals based on their way of life.  God should treat the faithful, obedient, life-long Christian better than the person who comes to faith behind bars.  But that begs for self-examination.  What about our ways, that is, the way we live our lives?  Remember what Isaiah said about mankind’s ways in verse seven: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.” Maybe someone has been a Christian longer than somebody else.  Maybe a person has done more good things in his or her lifetime than another.  But God’s standard isn’t how much you’ve tried.  God’s standard is perfection, and when we measure up our ways and our thoughts with God’s standard, we quickly see that our wicked ways and evil thoughts wind us up in hell.

What about God’s ways?  God doesn’t reward people with heaven because they are so grand and glorious.  The reward God gives is completely undeserved, but it is received by faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.  Those are God’s ways, the ways Isaiah described in verse seven. “Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” God’s standard is perfection.  Through faith alone in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God credits Jesus’ perfection to us.  God’s ways and thoughts lead to forgiveness that has opened the gates of paradise.  That doesn’t seem logical.  That seems like a mysterious way to handle things.  But God doesn’t play hide-and-seek with his love, even though the revelation of his love and the reception of his forgiveness seems like a mystery to mankind.

God presents us with a number of “mysteries” in the Bible.  Why would he create the world and the human race if he knew from eternity that we would sin against him?  Why would God do everything necessary to rescue mankind from sin when he knows that we naturally want to contribute a little something to our salvation?  How could Jesus endure the eternal punishment for the sins of all people – past, present, and future – during the few hours he hung on the cross?  How can pouring water on a person’s head and speaking a few of Jesus’ words in baptism connect me to the blessings of Christ’s resurrection?  How can the bread and wine that appear weekly on this altar be the body of blood of Jesus, and at the same time forgive my sins and offer a preview of paradise?  All of these questions are beyond our understanding.  The revelation of God’s grace is a mystery to us.  But God’s grace also shows his determination to seek and to save the lost.

Conclusion

We don’t want to play hide-and-seek with Gloria Dei School.  That’s why an aggressive advertising campaign will be a big help for our school’s mission.  God doesn’t want to play hide-and-seek with the gospel.  That’s why clear and consistent preaching and teaching will be a big help for the church’s mission.  The way God operates may seem like a mystery to us, but gospel about Jesus is no mystery.  It’s revealed right here in the Word.  Through you and many others, God will reveal that Word to the world.  Amen.

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