The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity| October 18, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| Isaiah 65:1-2
“I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name. I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts.” Isaiah 65:1-2
Every once in a while it appears to us that the Bible contradicts itself. Of course we know that this is impossible because the Bible is God’s word and God cannot speak falsely. It is not possible for God to contradict himself. Therefore, it is not possible for the Bible to contradict itself.
We talk about apparent contradictions in the Bible because it may appear to us that the Bible contradicts itself. These are not real contradictions. They only appear to be. God cannot err. He is incapable of making a mistake. He cannot be anything but truthful, reliable, and entirely faithful. When it appears that there is a contradiction in the Bible we should bow before the majesty of God and believe everything he says just because he said it.
God says through Isaiah, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.” But God also says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6) Jesus himself says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) What are we to make of this? How can God on the one hand tell us to seek him and on the other hand tell us that those who did not seek him found him? Which is it? Should we seek God or not? Should we try to find him? Or should we not look for him and just sit and wait to be found by him?
In point of fact, there is no contradiction at all here. It is true that we must seek God while and where he may be found. It is equally true that we will not find God by looking for him where he cannot be found. When God says that we must seek him out he is not saying that we must find our own way to God. When we try to find God on our own terms we fail. In fact, when we try to find God by ourselves we end up creating false gods for ourselves. This is idolatry. Idolatry is false worship. When Aaron made the Golden Calf for the children of Israel to worship, he called it Jahweh, which was the name of the true God. The people then said that this god had delivered them from Egypt. They wanted to worship God in their own way, to seek him on their own terms. God said no. In fact, he punished them for it. They were not to choose for themselves how to find God. This is God’s decision.
True worship and praise do not originate in us. They originate in God. True, it is we who do the believing and the worshipping. But it is not we who establish the true faith in our hearts from which true praise flows. That is God’s work. It is a wonderful work. He does this work in those who cannot do it in themselves. In us is nothing but doubt and fear and unanswered and unanswerable questions. Spiritual confusion is our native condition. Then God seeks us out with his holy word and elicits faith where doubt and confusion ruled.
Those who seek God in their own way don’t really seek him at all. God says, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts.” They walk according to their own thoughts. They seek out God, truth, and eternal life according to their own thoughts. They despise the teaching of God because that gets in their way in their search for God. St. Paul rightly describes this attitude with the words, “ever searching, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.”
People become enamored with their own religious thoughts and then they attribute these thoughts to God as if they came from God. But they don’t. Their thoughts come from themselves. They don’t come from God. As God says elsewhere through the prophet Isaiah,
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. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
From the time the devil asked Eve, “Did God really say?” people have sought the truth about God apart from the word of God. We call such people enthusiasts. Enthusiasts think they can know the truth about God directly without the written or preached word of God telling them what the truth is. Enthusiasts are very religious. They imagine that God is leading them into all sorts of wonderful spiritual discoveries, but when you ask them where in the Scriptures they have learned this they cannot say. “Oh, the Lord told me,” they say.
Where? How do we find God and learn to know his will toward us? The enthusiast will insist with a pious air that he only wants to know the will of God. But when you ask him to prove it to you he cannot. He instead appeals to some kind of religious or spiritual experience that he has had and who are you to question it? God has led him, and who are you to deny it? Should you refer to the teaching of the Bible, the enthusiast will dismiss it and say that the Bible is subject to different interpretations.
But any effort to seek out and to find God on our own will inevitably lead to failure. Why? Because we are by nature fallen creatures. Our own notions of spirituality are bound to the sinful flesh. We haven’t got that spiritual wisdom we’d like to think we have. Unless we are led away from our own thoughts to God’s word we will remain hopelessly and helplessly lost in our own spiritual folly. We don’t know the truth because we found it. We know the truth because he found us. It wasn’t on account of our striving; it was on account of him who came to seek and to save that which was lost. It wasn’t on account of our brilliance; it was by the grace of Him who said that we must become as little children. It wasn’t on account of our virtuous living; it was on account of the robe of righteousness that Jesus so graciously gave us to wear.
We Christians are those of whom God says in our text:
I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by My name.
God chose the ancient nation of Israel out of all the nations in the world. He did so purely by his grace. She didn’t deserve God’s name but she was given God’s name. Then she rebelled. She despised God’s grace. She thought that there was something about her that made God love her. But he did not love her because she was so lovable. He loved her because he was her God, as he said, “I am the LORD, your God.”
A dim illustration is how we parents love our children. We don’t love them because of what they do or achieve. We love them because they are our children. We treasure in our hearts the good that they do because they are our children. Were they to deny their relationship with us, whatever good they did wouldn’t mean a thing. It never was the good they did that made us love them.
And so it is with God’s love. It never was and it never could be the good that we do that would make him love us. God loves us because God is love. We did not know him. We could not find him. But he found us.
He cried out to us: “Here I am! Here I am!” Where? Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” God is where Jesus is. God is where his holy word is preached, confessed, and believed. We gather in Jesus’ name. We gather around his holy word. We find our identity in what he teaches us even when what he teaches us runs directly contrary to our own thoughts.
God doesn’t see as we do and he doesn’t judge as we do. God comes to sinners mired in the blindness and helplessness of their sin and he lifts them up and washes them clean and provides them with a clean white robe to wear. And they wear it.
They wouldn’t dream of attempting to stand before God on their own merits asking what they deserve. They live alone by mercy. They seek God where God’s mercy is revealed. They look to Jesus on the cross. There they see God and hear his invitation, “Here I am! Here I am!”
God is everywhere. But you don’t find him anywhere but where Jesus reveals himself. We might say that we can find God by looking into our hearts because, after all, we have faith. Yes, but within us is also sin and doubt. The Bible teaches that we are all unsound and that our own notions of spirituality are anything but spiritual. The only solution for us is to find God on God’s own terms, and that is where he comes to us and finds us. That is in the gospel of Christ. Jesus is not just an answer among many. He is the only answer for sinners seeking God because he is the only one who has taken sin away.
Our thoughts will always direct us to trust in ourselves because that’s really what sin is: it is a self-love and a self-worship that blinds us to the love of God. God’s love can only be seen when we stop looking at ourselves and begin to look to Jesus. Look at him where he wants you to see him. Look at him in the manger as he leaves behind the glory of heaven to live a life of humble poverty. Look at him in the Jordan as he is identified as the Lamb of God appointed for slaughter. Look at him as he shows compassion toward those who are despised by the world, even the religious in the world: thieves, adulteresses, lepers, and the demon possessed. He feels the pain of their sin. He goes to Calvary to bear that sin, indeed the sin of the whole human race. Look at him! See him dying for you and ask yourself why he did it.
Do you know why? Did he die for you so that you would go out to find him on your own? So that you would, by your speculations, moral exercises, philosophical brilliance, or spiritual contemplation find God your own way? Oh, no! Your own thoughts will only lead you away from God. Jesus died for you so that your own wisdom might be shown to be folly and that the wisdom of God might becomes yours. From his crucifixion comes our life because it has taken away our sin, our guilt, our punishment, and our death.
We sure do love our own thinking though, don’t we? Our opinions matter! We want them to be heard and embraced. But when it comes to spiritual matters – our eternal relationship with our God – our own thinking is nothing less than rebellion. That’s why we need to be bound to the word of God and to it alone. There is no spiritual wisdom apart from that revealed in the Sacred Scriptures and that wisdom is the preaching of the cross. As St. Paul put it so plainly,
We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)