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Act Now!

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When was the last time you’ve watched an infomercial?  They all seem alike, don’t they?  It doesn’t seem to matter what time of the day they’re on, who their target audience is or even what product they’re selling.  It is as if all infomercial salesmen use the same tactics.  They try to make it seem as if you can’t live without the product they’re selling.  And then, to make sure you purchase it, they claim that you need to act now!  The salespeople claim that their product is available at a special price for a limited time only.  Sometimes there’ll even be a little clock in one of the corners of the TV.  They want you to think that if you don’t purchase that product before the click hits ‘0’ you’re out of luck.  But turn the TV on to the same channel at the same time the next evening and the same infomercial is on with the same clock inching closer to ‘0’.  The prophet Isaiah has an urgent message for us this morning.  Isaiah urges each of us to Act Now!  We are to act now on God’s limited time offer, for his unlimited wisdom.

Isaiah had been called by God to serve as his prophet during a time marked by insecurity.  God’s message through Isaiah was one that included prophesies of judgment.  God had used Isaiah to foretell of the Assyrian army capturing many of the Israelite tribes.  Isaiah prophesied that Assyria would also threaten the tribe of Judah.  After God had delivered Judah from Assyria, he had Isaiah prophesy that the nation of Babylon would take Judah captive.  But God’s message through Isaiah wasn’t all doom and gloom.  God promised Israel that they would one day return from Babylon and would re-establish themselves in their home country. 

God’s message through Isaiah of captivity and deliverance was meant to foreshadow something greater.  The message behind the message, so to speak, was that the Babylonian captivity was symbolic of mankind’s captivity to sin.  Just as the Israelite captivity would be symbolic, so also their release would be symbolic.  Isaiah wrote that the return from Babylon to the Promised Land was symbolic of the freedom from sin that would be won for all people. 

It is in that section that our text for today is written.  Isaiah writes, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.” (v. 7)  Aren’t we almost tempted to ignore this verse?  Surely Isaiah wasn’t talking to those of us here today!  He must have been talking to those who are truly evil, like those who planned 9/11.  But think about that for a minute.  Isn’t that why Isaiah was talking to us?  Isn’t it because each one of us has a truly evil sinful nature living inside us?  As the apostle Paul wrote, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)  That is why Jesus said “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matt 15:19)

It is to us sinful human beings that Isaiah says to act now!  Isaiah encourages all of us sinners to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; to find him while he is near.” (v6)  But that is a bit of a problem, isn’t it?  On our own, we are unable to seek God let alone find him!   We would be like blind men, not sure where to turn and wandering around as if it were pitch black.  You and I could never find God on our own, it is impossible.  We confess with Martin Luther as he wrote in the explanation to the 3rd article, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.”  We say along with the Psalmist that the wicked “know nothing, they understand nothing.  They walk about in darkness.” (Ps 82:5) 

If we cannot seek God on our own, how is he to be found?  In a very literal way, Isaiah was saying that God can only be found when he permits himself to be found. (v6)  God permits himself to be found when he calls out to sinners through the Gospel.  That is what Christ meant when he responded to Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ; when he said that it “was not revealed to [him] by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 16:17) 

It is in his gospel that we also hear of God’s mercy.  Isaiah promises that the wicked who turn from their wicked ways and thoughts – in other words, those who repent and confess their sins to God – will receive the mercy of God!  Let him turn to the Lord, Isaiah writes, and he will have mercy on him. (v7)  What amazing news!  Here are we: dirty, grimy, filthy sinners who deserve nothing but eternal punishment for our sins, and God holds out the bright, shining jewel of his mercy to us.  Isaiah tells us that when we turn to God in repentance, he freely pardons us.  God promises us that he has wiped the guilt of our sin away.  The phrase that Isaiah uses includes the idea that God will abundantly forgive all sins.  God’s mercy does not leave us feeling that some sins are too big for God to forgive.  Instead, his grace forgives all sins no matter how great or terrible they may seem.  His grace is bigger than our biggest sin!  As St. Paul wrote, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Rom 5:20)

Most people realize that infomercial salespeople are using gimmicks when they claim their product is available “for a limited time only!”  Most people know that the same product will be available for the same price the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that.  Unfortunately, a lot of people assume God is using a gimmick when he tells us that his Gospel is a limited time offer.  They assume that Isaiah is speaking like an infomercial salesman, that he’s using a gimmick. They, mistakenly, think that he isn’t really serious.  It’s a false notion to assume God’s offer of mercy is open-ended and will be there for us forever; that they can take him up on it whenever they want to.  Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “You’re preaching to the choir here Vicar!  Why do you think we’re here?” 

But have you thought about all those people who aren’t sitting in the pews next to you?  What about those family members, friends, or neighbors who don’t attend church or read their Bibles?  As Isaiah said, God can only be found when he permits himself to be found and while he is near. (v6).  God has promised that he reveals himself to all mankind through the gospel, but it is available for a limited time only.   This limited time is called a person’s “time of grace.”  For most people, their time of grace is the time they spend living on this earth.  If the youth group were to go to West Towne Square this afternoon and ask people for the time and date they would die, they’d probably get some funny looks or people who thought they were crazy.  There is not one person walking this earth who knows the exact instant they will die.  God has made it clear – at the very instant a person dies, their time of grace is over.  The clock on God’s limited time offer will have struck ‘0’.  If you’ve had your eye on the news, you’ve seen a very real example of how this is true.  During a recent train wreck in California the clock hit 0 for at least 17 people.  And who can forget that fateful day 7 years ago, when God’s limited offer ended for 1000’s of people on 9/11.  For that reason, let us make every effort to bring the gospel to those around us.  That way, when God’s limited time offer expires, they can share in the joy of heaven!

Infomercial salesmen spend most of their time trying to convince their audiences that their product is a top of the line product.  They try to convince prospective buyers that there is nothing else that compares to their product.  They try to sell knives, workout machines, and many other things.  It’s easy for us to watch those infomercials and doubt what they are selling.  But it is not so easy to doubt God’s offer.  Isaiah tells all of us that there is nothing that compares to what the Lord offers.  Isaiah encourages us to act now - for God’s unlimited wisdom!

The temptation is always there, but it seems to get stronger when things seem to be going well.  It’s easy for us to turn to the Lord and follow him when things aren’t going so well, but what about when everything is going according to plan?  Isn’t it awfully tempting to forget about God and look to ourselves for everything?  When that is the case, listen to what the Lord says in our text this morning.  “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (v8) Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see that the ways of God are completely perfect, blameless and holy.  We see that no evil taints the ways of God.  And as if God is pointing out the obvious, he reminds us that the ways of sinful man are not his ways.  Left to ourselves, our ways are only evil.  They are tainted and completely filthy with sin.  Throughout Scripture, we see that the ways of God lead to forgiveness and eternal life.  When God says that man’s ways are not his ways, he is telling us that the ways of sinful man can only lead to death and destruction.  That is why Solomon warns us to “lean not on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5) 

The Lord goes on.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (v9)  When was the last time you laid out in a field and gazed at the stars?  Isn’t it amazing how far away some of those stars are?  Some of them are hundreds of millions of light-years away.  Even with the advanced technology that exists today, we still cannot see to the end of the universe.  Yet, God tells us that the furthest star that we cannot even see is closer to the earth than the ways of God to sinful mankind’s ways. 

Next time you’re at Border’s or Barnes & Noble, pull a few books off the shelf in the fiction section.  It’s pretty likely that they will have a similar basic storyline.  The main character screws up or does something wrong at the beginning of the story, but by the end of the book he has made up for his short-comings and failures.   Most people have the same idea about their salvation.  Many think that they can earn their salvation just by doing the right things or doing enough good things to make up for their mistakes. 

By the world’s standards, the Bible is not a very entertaining book.  In a way, the Bible starts out just like a lot of fiction novels.  Mankind screws up and disobeys God and then spends the rest of the book trying to fix what they did wrong.  Yet, he always finds himself as the enemy.  And after all their tries and attempts, man hasn’t made up any ground; instead he finds himself in a deeper hole than when he started. 

None of the most creative or intelligent minds to ever live could think up what comes next.  It is beyond human imagination that the perfect and blameless God would love and care about an imperfect human race.  It is beyond our understanding to think that God would send his only Son to rescue mankind from sure destruction.  It doesn’t make sense to us that God would die that we might live.  And yet, we rejoice that he did!

The human way to salvation is through their own good works.  Solomon understood this, and that’s why he wrote “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  Despite all our strength and numerous attempts, we can do nothing.  But God’s way is to use simple words that proclaim his love and grace on sinners.  His way was to send his Son to live the perfect life and die the death we deserve.  God’s way is to share the news that everything has been done through Jesus Christ in words written on the pages of the Bible.  Through these simple words he brings us to faith and forgives all of our wicked ways.  These simple words of the gospel turn the sinner from a worthless life of sin and hostility to God into people who are forgiven by God and bound for heaven! 

As sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of God’s son, we have taken advantage of God’s limited time offer.  But may we never forget that offer; instead let us live each and every day seeking God’s unlimited wisdom.  Isaiah’s encouragement to “seek the Lord” means that we regularly study and hear God’s Word.  If you haven’t already, make attending worship services a regular priority.  Read God’s Word daily – either through personal or family devotions.  It is only in the Gospel that we can find God. 

As sinners who have experienced the abundant grace of God, let us keep sharing God’s unlimited wisdom with others.  His offer of mercy and grace is here for a limited time only, and we do not know how long others may have to find their Savior in the gospel.  May we strive to share his unlimited wisdom with those around us at each and every opportunity!

Infomercials may be full of gimmicks but Isaiah’s words for us today are not.  Our God is means it when he tells us that his offer of mercy is for a limited time offer.  We only have as long as we live to find God where he permits himself to be found.  It is there, in his gospel that we hear of God’s unlimited wisdom.  It is in his gospel that we hear he has sent his Son to save us from sin.  Listen to Isaiah’s advice to Act Now!

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