The theme for our message today is found in Isaiah 55:6, “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.”
We have here God’s gracious command to seek Him. There is never anything more important than to hear the Word of God. To hear His Word in the heart, by faith, is better than all this world or ten thousand more like it. If His Word abides in you, Jesus said, you live. You have passed from life to death. You have then a sure word, a word which will never put you to shame, a word upon which you may hang all of your hope for time and for eternity.
But we must not only be hearers of the Word, but we must heed the Word, we must obey, respond, and do the Word. Jesus also said, “Blessed is the man who hears and does these sayings of Mine.” Heed His commands how we are to live. Heed His commands also to seek Him, to call upon Him, and to draw close to Him in trust and love. Seek Him confidently. Seek Him in a way of repentance and the assurance of His astounding mercy to sinners.
Blessed are those who hear and obey this Word of God, the Word of God which says, Seek ye the Lord, call ye upon Him when He is near. Blessed are those who, by an internal work of the Holy Spirit, hear this call to seek God and who, by the grace of God living in their heart, respond in repentance and come to God in the full assurance of mercy and pardon.
Those who are somewhat familiar with the contents of the book of Isaiah will remember that it was in chapter 53 that Isaiah describes in minute detail the sufferings of the Servant of Jehovah. Such accuracy does Isaiah use that one would think that the prophet was an eyewitness and stood at the cross himself. In Isaiah 53 he describes the One who is to be “bruised for our iniquities, wounded for our transgressions,” the One on whom Jehovah will “lay the iniquities of us all,” the One who was “numbered with the transgressors.”
Then, in Isaiah 54, beginning with the joyful words, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear,” Isaiah launches into a description of an enlarged tent. He announces the certain increase of the kingdom of God that will come as a result of the realities described in chapter 53. Because of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, God will now certainly enlarge the tent of His dwelling. That is, the remnant of the elect from among the Jews and a great multitude out of the Gentiles will come into the kingdom of God as a result and as a reward of the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
Having spoken then of the sufferings of Jehovah’s Servant, and having spoken of the certain fruit of those sufferings, namely the enlargement of God’s kingdom, we come to chapter 55 of Isaiah. And in this chapter we have the powerful, free call of God to come to the waters and drink. “Ho,” we read in the first verse, “everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” In the first verses God is announcing that He has done all that is necessary to acquire every commodity essential for our souls. Under the imagery of water, wine, and milk, He speaks of the provisions that He has for our deep spiritual needs. He has water to refresh us. He has wine to make us glad. He has milk to nourish us. All pointing to the full provision for all of our spiritual needs to be found now in Jesus Christ.
Then, you see, God does not stop after simply telling us of all the sufferings of Jesus Christ. He does not stop after telling us of the fruit of an enlarged tent – that through the sufferings of Jesus Christ God’s church will be gathered. Nor does He stop after simply telling us of the full spiritual provisions that are now secured in Jesus Christ. But He now comes, in the sixth verse of Isaiah 55, with the gracious command to seek Him, and with the free promise of mercy and pardon in the way of forsaking our evil way and thought.
God, then, having obtained salvation, goes out with His Word and calls us to seek Him and to call upon Him. He calls us in such a powerful way that, by His grace, we indeed do come to Him in the assurance of His wonderful mercy. We have, then, God’s gracious command to seek Him.
Seek ye the Lord, says the prophet, while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near.
That is a gracious and urgent command of God.
It is gracious when we consider the objects of the command. Who are commanded to seek and to call upon the Lord? If we read verse 7, we find that they are described to us in the words “wicked” and “unrighteous.” We read, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” The objects of the command are those who, of themselves, are guilty of sin against the living God.
Our use of the word “wicked” is too limited. We use the word to refer to certain persons whose sins and whose lives have become so foul and entangled in sin that they are unusually desperate sinners. Sometimes a child with wide eyes will say in tones of disgust, “That person is wicked.” We think of terribly wicked men and women, exceptional sinners. But God uses the word to describe everyone and anyone who has in any way and at any time departed from His precepts. We are all of ourselves wicked. For to be wicked is simply to fail in one point to keep the holy law of God in the full extent of its commands. There is not one who may not be called wicked.
And those who are called are of themselves unrighteous. That is, they are those in whom true goodness is absent. They are not right, they are out of line, they are crooked and perverse before God. The commandment comes to those who are, of themselves, sinners.
But there is still more. God is calling those who, by His grace, have been made sensible of their sinfulness, who have been made, by the Holy Spirit, aware of their sinfulness. In the first verse the command is issued to those who “thirst.” Their relationship to God is that they are wicked and unrighteous. And with respect to themselves, by God’s Spirit, they now experience thirst, unmet needs of the soul. They feel they are impoverished. They have no money, they have no ability to meet those needs. They have been given to know their sinfulness, their lack, their helplessness. They are thirsty and they have no money. They have nothing to purchase the blessings of the gospel. They have nothing to present to God which would in any way earn those blessings. Of themselves, Isaiah says, they would spend their money for that which is not bread. They would use their energies of mind and body to obtain things which cannot satisfy, which cannot nourish their souls.
Who are commanded by God to seek Him? Sinners. Empty-handed, foolish, wicked, and unrighteous sinners. Sinners given to experience that sin as a thirst, who know that they have a deep lack and need that they cannot meet. Not those who know no need. Not those who believe that all is well with them, who think that they are better than others. Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous – that is, those who believe they are righteous, who are self-righteous – but sinners to repentance.” Not those who claim to be full of themselves, self-satisfied, and complacent, but sinners who have been given to know their need, seek the Lord. Do you see yourself described here?
Seek ye the Lord. Call ye upon Him. Seek and call.
Those two words are not strange to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. You will often find the call to seek and the call to call upon the Lord in conjunction with each other.
What do those words mean, to seek the Lord and to call upon Him? They constitute a call to have direct dealings with God Himself. This is not a call to a mere religious formalism. It is not simply a call merely to seek religious notions, opinions. This is not a call simply to attain religious philosophy. It is not a call simply to seek morality, to find a good, moral, decent, upstanding life. It is not a call to seek some kind of self-help religion, some kind of feeling, some kind of experience that comes over you and sends shivers down your spine and you cannot describe what it is.
But it is a call to seek God Himself, the Almighty, the Creator, the God in whose hand are all souls of men and women, the One who says, I AM THAT I AM, the eternal, the only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has revealed Himself in the Bible. Draw near to Him. And call upon Him. That word refers to a cry of help, an entreaty. God summons us, God addresses us in His Word, “Seek My face, call upon My name, come unto Me.”
You see, the call is that God must now captivate the deepest exercises of our heart. From the opening words of this prophecy Isaiah echoes the teaching of the whole Bible that our fundamental problem is not in our relationship to men, but in our relationship to God. We are estranged from God because of our sins. Our sin is rebellion against the living God. Our sin is the folly of casting off the fellowship and the communion of the only God. But now God, in powerful grace, comes with the call: Seek Me, call upon My name. He comes in a grace which works so that you know, you learn to see yourself as a wicked person, as an unrighteous person, as a foolish person. You begin to experience a thirst in you and you say nothing can satisfy you. And, by grace, we hear His call in our hearts, a call which creates in us a response. As we find in Psalm 27, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” That is an urgent call. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near. The extreme urgency is set before you.
You say, what does that mean? It does not mean that God is some kind of local deity, that is, that He is in one place and you had better seek Him while He is near to you. You had better catch Him while He is around you lest He leave and you cannot find Him. It does not mean that! The idea of God’s nearness to us has nothing to do with the pagan idea that God is confined to certain places, He makes visits to certain areas and you had better find Him when He makes that visit there. The idea is not, call upon Him while you have the chance, while you know where He is lest He go away and leave no trace of His whereabouts. No, that is not the idea at all. That is foolishness.
But when the Lord says, Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near, He means this: the Lord may be found and the Lord is near in His Word, in the gospel of His Son. When the Word of God is before you He may be found, He is near. Involved is the whole idea of Jesus Christ, the Word and the Revelation of God. When we are confronted with Christ, when in His Word of the gospel God comes before us to proclaim the work of Jesus Christ as Savior, the promise that is in Jesus Christ, when these things are displayed before you, made known to you in the gospel and when that gospel is declared to you, when it is preached in truth so that you hear the Word of God and it is explained to you all that God has done in Jesus Christ – then God is near, He may be found. Although God is ever present over the whole earth and is in and through all things, yet then He may be found, He is near. Seek Him then. Call ye upon Him.
Paul amplifies this in the words of II Corinthians 6:2 where, having issued the call in chapter 5, Be ye reconciled to God, and warning that the Corinthians who had now come into contact with the grace of God must not spurn that grace, he quotes from Isaiah 49:8 and he says, “For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The idea here is not that salvation is a chancy thing that, when the Word of God passes by, a person had better take hold of it lest, perhaps, they go lost, that perhaps some of the elect, the chosen of God, will go lost. No. The idea is that God is found, God draws near to us in His Word, His Word of Jesus Christ, His Word in the holy gospel, His Word proclaimed to you in preaching, His Word proclaimed to you right now, a gospel of Christ’s full and satisfactory work upon the cross. That is the acceptable year of our Lord.
In a similar vein Christ spoke of Jerusalem which had willfully rejected Him and refused to know the things of her peace. He said, in Luke 19:44, “thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” The Word had come and they rejected that Word, Jesus Christ. When the Word comes, when the gospel is heard by your ears, when you are led by God’s providence to hear the truth of God proclaimed, God is to be found, God is near. When you hear the Word of God, that is not something that is indifferent. That is the appointed way of salvation. Romans 10:8, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.”
The urgency then is this. When God is near in His Word to be found, oh, the sin then of complacency. Oh, the sin of self-sufficiency. Oh, the sin of having a hard ear, of answering, like Felix before the apostle Paul, “Well, we will hear you again some other day of this matter. There is no urgency here.” Seek Him while He is to be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Spiritual indifference, spiritual apathy, brings disastrous consequences. Do you feel the urgency of the Word of the Living God Himself? God is near when His Word is proclaimed in the gospel. God draws near to us in no other way than through His Word and, especially, through that Word preached. Then comes the command, Seek the Lord, call ye upon His name.
And that command always brings a response.
Either one will harden his ears and harden himself unto damnation. Or, by the grace of God, there will be a response in your soul, “Lord, I hear Thy voice and I come unto Thee, for Thou hast called me.”
We will return to this truth next week. Be sure to join us then.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the gracious command to seek Thee. We thank Thee for the work of the Holy Spirit of giving to us a spiritual thirst. And we pray that as that Word comes to our ears Thou wilt so prick our hearts that we may call upon the Lord in faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.