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18th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ, I get these emails all the time and I’m sure you do as well.  “Alert!  Attention!  Urgent!  Congratulations!  You’ve just won a $5,000 shopping spree at Wal-mart!!!   Your prize is waiting for you!  To redeem your prize enter your bank account # here, your social security # there, and walla!  The deal of a lifetime is all yours!  Sounds great, right?  Unfortunately in this world if something sounds too good to be true…it probably is! : )  But we all like good deals, don’t we?  We look at flyers or advertisements and most people can spot a good deal when they see it.  Well in our text today God holds out to you and me, not a deal of a lifetime, but a deal of an eternal lifetime.

Seek the Lord while he may be found.”  At first glance Isaiah’s words here might sound a little fuzzy.  It sounds as though we seek and find the Lord; that people find God.  Well, there’s a little bit of a twist in the original language that doesn’t come out well in the English.  The original, Hebrew, says “Seek the Lord while he lets himself be found.”  That doesn’t sound so good in English but it’s an important truth: we don’t seek God, God seeks us, God allows Himself to be found.  How does God let Himself be found?  Well he gives us this thing called a conscience which bugs us that there is a higher being.  He put us in a created world that clearly shows there is a Creator.  And finally God has revealed Himself in His Word and has made His Word, the Bible, readily available to all people.

God says, “Seek the Lord.”  The one place where God lets Himself be found the clearest is in His Word, yet we must ask what priority is His Word in our lives?  It’s so easy to let God matters slide into the background.  It’s not like we see God walking down the street when we’re driving in the car, or at the grocery store, or at work, yet, if we open our eyes God has left his fingerprints all over our world to remind us of Him: beauty of the trees changing colors, the abundant blessings of food that he continually provides for us, a place to work, etc.  So if we really open our eyes we will be reminded by God’s handiwork all around us every day.  “But God matters can wait, right?  I mean, it’s not like I’m going to die tomorrow or anything!  It’s not like I’m going to be standing in front of my Creator this afternoon!  God won’t mind if I put spiritual matters and time listening to him in his Word on the back burner for awhile, right?  After all, I’ve got so much on my plate right now anyway, I’m still young, I’ve got many years left ahead of me.”  Yet, how can we be so sure?  “Seek the Lord while he lets himself be found; call on him while he is near.

You see, these verses imply that God’s invitation to this deal is a limited-time offer.  “Seek the Lord WHILE he may be found…call on him WHILE he is near.”  If we put off spiritual matters, God’s deal of an eternity might run out!  We’ve all experienced missing deals.  You call too late and your dream house was already sold, someone buys the car you wanted, the ad expires and you miss the sale.  God’s call and His voice are also “limited-time offers.”  God says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation!”  “Walk while you have the light before darkness overtakes you!”  “As long as it is day we must do God’s work.  Night comes when no man can work!”  God’s given every person in the world a grace period, a time of grace, that’s their lives here on this earth.  It’s God’s sincere desire that while a person (any person) lives on this earth they come to a knowledge of their sin AND the knowledge of their Savior.  The only place where this knowledge can be found is exactly the place where God wants it to be found: through the reading or hearing of His Word.  God’s invitation goes out into this whole world like a blasting trumpet.  God’s call goes out through the spread of His Word.  His invitation is for every sinner to come to repentance, a knowledge of their sin, and come to faith in the knowledge of their Savior.

Yet, where that call is not listened to or rejected, God’s call, His Word, moves on to someone else and that opportunity of salvation also moves on to someone else.  There came a point in Jesus’ day when he stopped preaching to those who rejected him and moved on to other people.  The Apostle Paul’s ministry was no different, when the Jews rejected his message he turned to the Gentiles and they heard God’s voice.  In a few weeks we will be celebrating the Reformation.  Martin Luther once stated that the Gospel is like a rain shower.  In one place a rain shower will scatter its water of blessing abundantly and generously, but then it will move on to another place and leave the former place dry.  It is sad to see that today in Germany, the birthplace of the Reformation, there are many churches virtually empty.  The one church body over there with whom we are in fellowship that still proclaims God’s Word in its truth and purity numbers only a few thousand.  God’s warning is clear from both His Word and history: if you don’t use God’s Word you’ll lose it.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.

But what is it about this deal of eternity that makes it such a great deal that we should listen to it?  Who is it that God is seeking?  Political giants?  Royalty?  Rock stars?  Singers with national popularity?  NFL all-stars?  Good people?  God says, “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.  God is seeking those who know they’ve messed their lives up with sin and have little to be proud of.  God is seeking those who know and feel their sin and all they can say is, “Lord, our sins are too numerous, we have no way out of the sinful mess that we’ve made, only You Lord can help us.”  Those are the wicked and the evil people that God is seeking.  God is seeking you and me who have nowhere else to turn for rescue except our God.  Then God sets us free from our punishment and gives us the forgiveness of our sins.

But wait!!!  There’s always a catch!  There’s always strings attached!  With every good deal there has to be some fine print somewhere that you’ve got to squint your eyes to see.  Where’s the catch with God?  What’s he holding out on from us?  Is this a deal too good to be true: that God would completely free us from punishment and cancel our huge debt of sin, forgive us?

With God there is no catch, no fine print, He speaks plainly.  God says that all who turn from their wickedness, who repent of their sins, God says that He will have mercy on them.  God says that He will not treat them as their sins deserve, that’s mercy!  God also says that those same people who turn from their evil ways and turn to Him that He will freely pardon.  He dismisses them, He pardons them, He declares them innocent in the heavenly courtroom.  Everyone who turns to God in faith, trusts in Him, relies on Him receives the very same deal of an eternity!

But it’s not fair, is it?  If you were God would you have done it differently?  The workers in Jesus’ parable for this morning would have.  Remember how that went: the people who worked for only 1 hour got paid the same as those who had worked 12 hours.  When the ones who had worked there longer saw this they got upset and thought they should be given a greater reward even though they agreed to work for only the one denarius.  God says it doesn’t matter when you came to faith- whether as a baby in the waters of baptism or as an adult behind the bars of a prison- either way each receive the same gift: eternal life.  We tend to think that those who have been life-long Christians ought to receive some greater reward from God for such commitment.  Yet each one of us has to examine our own lives: do we really deserve anything good from God?  Remember what God said, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil his thoughts and I will have mercy and freely pardon?

The fact is, God is fair, completely fair.  In the parable the owner gave the workers exactly what he promised to give them.  God hasn’t lightened His requirements of people in the least bit, He demands perfection, God says, “Be perfect as I am perfect” and He says “if anyone breaks just one law they are guilty of breaking it all” and He says “the wages of sin is death.”  God looks at the world of people and what does He see?  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, there is no one righteous, not one.”  How would you have solved this?  How would I have solved this?  If it was up to you or me we like to see things work out fairly.  We like to see people pay for wrongs committed.  Thank God that we are not God!  Thank God that His ways are much higher than ours that His thoughts are impossibly higher than ours.  Who would have ever thought that God would be so merciful and pardon wicked men and women?  Our human intellect could never conceive of it!  Who would have ever thought that God would rescue sinful people by sending His own Son?  Who would have ever thought that God would save sinners completely on His own and apart from human work or achievement?  God says, “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.’”  Only God Himself could find the way to be both fair AND generous.  We get a glimpse of it in this text, “Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”  These words of Isaiah point to the future.  God found the perfect way to be fair and be generous: He himself came to this earth, Jesus was never wicked or evil in any way, Jesus was perfect and holy, and since the wages of sin is death, God sent His own Son Jesus to the cross to die in place of every single sinner.  God found the way to be generous- He made that sacrifice on the cross count for everyone and He promises that all who turn in faith and trust and reliance on Jesus will be saved completely apart from any good deed or anything they could do on their own.  God’s promise is for you!  Since Jesus was your substitute in every way, God has now clothed you with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, no longer do you look evil, wicked, or a sinner in God’s sight, rather you are clothed in perfection.  God is the only one who can be both fair and generous.  Indeed God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways!  It is certainly a deal of an eternity that when God washed you in the waters of baptism he cleansed you from all your sins, connected you with Christ’s resurrection, and adopted you into His eternal family!  It is certainly a deal of an eternity that in the Lord’s Supper God gives you Himself for the forgiveness of sins and a foretaste of paradise!  It is certainly a deal of an eternity that God day after day strengthens your faith through His Word and gives you the confidence of eternal life with Him in heaven!  And you know what?  This deal of an eternity…it’s yours, you have it, you own it right now!  Amen.