Seek Ye the Lord

“Slowly he rose, and the crowd fell silent. Those at the back leaned forward, straining to hear. The atmosphere was electric. He spoke, and his carefully chosen words flew like swift arrows and found their mark. The great man, a spokesman from God, was warning . . . and condemning. The crowd became restless Ð shifting positions, clenching fists, and murmuring. Some agreed with his message, nodding their heads and weeping softly. But most were angry, and they began to shout back insults and threats.

“Such was the life of a prophet.

“The prophet’s role was to speak for God, confronting the people and their leaders with God’s commands and promises. Because of this confrontational stance and the continuing tendency of people to disobey God, true prophets usually were not very popular.

“The book of Isaiah is the first of the writings of the Prophets in the Bible; and Isaiah is considered to be the greatest of the prophets. In the beginning of his ministry he was well-liked. But, like most prophets, he soon became unpopular because his messages were so difficult to hear. He called the people to turn from their lives of sin and warned them of God’s judgment and punishment. Isaiah had an active ministry for 60 years before he was executed during Manasseh’s reign.”

To whom does Isaiah write? In his day, Isaiah wrote to the people of Judah. In our day, the prophet writes to all who read their Bibles. This is not only the message of history, but also the Word of the Lord for all to hear in every generation.

He begins by saying, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” (Isaiah 55:1)

“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.”

R.C. Sproul writes, “People do not seek God. They seek the benefits that only God can give. Man seeks the benefit of God, while at the same time fleeing from God Himself.” Here the prophet is telling us to forget, for the moment, the benefits God brings to us, and seek Him. Our Heavenly Father is solicitous of our ear. He confronts Judah with their wickedness and assures them that God will judge them. When this judgment came to pass, Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon. However, in the midst of Judah’s suffering, Isaiah tells them there is hope. God would abundantly pardon them, and the exiled people would one day return to Jerusalem.

In the meantime, God says through Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) While the Law was condemning and frightening, the Gospel was forgiving and filled with hope. God would not condone their sin, but if they repented, He would forgive them.

This is the message of God to our world that is without answers to the major problems of our society. Secretary of State Colin Power has now spent days pleading with the Palestinians and Israelis. What has he said among many other words of wisdom? “Stop killing people. Life is precious. Ask yourself, ÔHow are we as Palestinians or Jews at fault? Be willing to confess your own wrong and do something about it. Forgive the past and move on to the future.'”

Where did the Secretary receive these thoughts? From God’s Word. The basic problem in the Mideast is not to find what must happen if there is to be peace. The primary challenge is to bring the people to accept God’s answer to the problem. You may think this is an oversimplification. What then is your answer?

The world leaders Ð Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, and all the rest Ð need our prayers that God, Who has given us the answer for our problems, will open our hardened hearts and make us receptive to His Word. It is at this point, when all else fails, that Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”

Let’s move on to something more personal. A loved one is taken from us in death. Those who mourn ask, “How do I start over?” Our culture counsels, “These difficult times happen to all of us sooner or later. Time is the healer. You’ll be all right, and life will go on again.” There is some truth in these words, but don’t you need more at that time? I do. I need the Gospel. Jesus died for your loved one, and if he or she died in that faith, trusting Him, they live in heaven. Our grieving is not for the person who died. It is for ourself. Then we hear these words, which bring hope, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God says, “I am with you. Walk with me, and your eyes will be opened to behold greater blessings I have for you. Seek me in my Word and among my people, which is the Church.”

We have these blessed truths in the Bible, but are we not often like the Psalmist who wrote, “When I was in distress, I sought the Lord. At night I stretched out untiring hands, and my soul refused to be comforted.” Sometimes God’s voice is not comforting. It is not what we want to hear. It is then that we are tempted to walk away from Him rather than seek Him out.

These words, “Seek ye the Lord,” are for the believer and the unbeliever. It is in your relationship with Him that you will find answers for your most troublesome problems. In these days, can we afford to live without God’s guidance?

Are You Confused?

I have been watching some reruns of the old program, “All in the Family,” with Archie Bunker. It often gives me a good laugh just before I go to bed. That show is my tranquilizer.

If you recall some of these programs, you will remember that Archie was quite free to quote the Bible and make it say what he wanted it to say. One night he was talking about the biblical character Job. He described Job as a fellow who had a very rough life; he had a lot of troubles. His kids were killed, he lost his wealth, and his wife was always nagging him. Then Archie said, “You gotta give Job credit. He hung in there, and God gave him a good deal. After Job wrote his book, God found a place for it in the Bible, and millions of people have read it.”

Poor Archie! But he does make one ask the question, Is Archie’s knowledge of the Bible any worse than others who live today, some even being members of a church? I don’t think so. I believe there are many who could have listened to Archie’s comments on Job and found nothing wrong with them, because they wouldn’t have known that his knowledge of Job was only partially correct. Because of this biblical illiteracy, it is important that we continue to teach the basics of the Bible on which Christianity stands or falls.

In our text, Peter is presenting two basic truths on which there is much confusion as to what the Bible teaches.

First, Peter writes about how one enters into a personal relationship with God. When you read the newspaper articles at Easter time, it is evident some of the reporters are not much better than Archie when it comes to Christianity’s teaching about the way of salvation and the significance of the resurrection. Visit with some of your friends about life after death. If you ask, Should you die today, do you know that you would go to heaven, you will find the common answer is, I hope so. If you then ask, If you should die and God asked why he should let you into heaven, the standard reply is, I hope I have lived a good enough life that God will grant me a place in heaven. These answers reveal biblical illiteracy, for the Bible clearly teaches that we can know if we will spend eternity in heaven. It also clearly teaches that we enter heaven through trusting Jesus as our Savior, and not through our good works.

Do we make the message of the Bible so confusing that people cannot understand? Hear these simple, but profound, words, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (vs. 24).

What do these words tell us? Jesus himself took our sins on his body and went to the cross. There he died so that we might be forgiven. By his suffering we have been forgiven and thus healed spiritually. This is how we become God’s child Ð through faith in Christ, and not by our own good works.

Some of our youth understand this message well. The Holy Spirit has created within their hearts a living faith in Christ as their Savior. On Good Friday evening, seven young people stood before one thousand people and talked about what Christ was doing for them. One young man told the audience that he had not been raised in a Christian home. When he was just a kid, his mother died. His world had fallen apart. What will happen to me? was his concern. Fortunately, he had an aunt and uncle who cared for him, and told him about Jesus. Soon he became involved in Sunday school and church. The youth program was a blessing for him. Through these means, God’s Word became clear. As a young man of eighteen years of age, he told the congregation he had learned what it was to “cast all of your cares on the Lord, because he cares for you.” He continued, “I have a Savior, and He has made me what I am today.” What a thrill it has been to follow this high school senior through these difficult years in his life and now watch that faith blossom!

Another young lady held the congregation spellbound when she told of her experience with Christ. She, too, is eighteen years of age. The high school years have not been easy for her. During that time, her father was found guilty of a federal crime and is now serving a prison term. This has brought real bitterness to her soul. However, her relationship with Christ is strong and personal, and little by little she is beginning to love her father again. This is Christianity in depth.

Peter discusses another basic truth that Archie and others have difficulty understanding. Archie had a gallbladder operation and was suffering discomfort. In the midst of his trouble, he asked the question, “Where is God? How come I have to go through all of this pain when so many terrible sinners enjoy the best of health?”

This is a question many people are asking. Why do bad things happen to good people? Read Peter’s words: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps” (21).

Peter makes reference to the slaves who were Christians. It is said there were sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire, and many of them were believers in Christ. They were domestic slaves, meaning many of them were not doing minimal work. Instead, they were doctors, lawyers, teachers, and well-educated people. These slaves could belong to the same congregations that their masters did. They often suffered unjustly from these masters. For example, if a slave/doctor was treating the master’s family and one of them died, the master could punish him severely. When such suffering occurred, Peter reminded the slave to “endure the suffering.” Perhaps this would be a witness to the master.

It is a difficult question Ð why is there so much suffering Ð and we will not fully understand this until we get to heaven. In the meantime, God’s Word clearly teaches that our Christian faith does not free us from suffering. Archie did not understand this, nor do millions of others, but live with Christ on a daily basis and you will soon learn that, while we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He walks with us and gives us grace to endure all suffering.

Our relationship with God is more than just having a clear understanding of the basics of the faith. However, before we can have a relationship with Christ, we must have a clear understanding of the basic truths of the Word. When the understanding is clear, the Holy Spirit goes to work and makes these teachings living truths that draw us closer and closer to God, and He gives us a peace and security that can only come from knowing Christ.

He Never Gives Up

“Why don’t you quit?”

Has anyone ever asked you that question? When I was in the 8th grade, I had to take a class in manual training. They call it industrial arts today. I didn’t do well. In fact, the teacher told me that I was the dumbest student he ever had. However, the teacher and I were good friends, so he made a deal with me. He promised to give me a passing grade in the class if I promised not to enroll in ay of his classes while in high school. I agreed, but from that day on I have considered myself a mechanical idiot.

I had another teacher suggest I quit her class in advanced algebra. There was one part of the algebra assignment that I didn’t understand, so she gave me extra help. However, I still did not understand what she was trying to teach me. Finally, her patience ran out and she asked why I was in her class. This advanced course was intended for college bound students and she assumed that I was not going to college. My mother had different ideas about my future, but I told her that the teacher did not think I would be going to college and had suggested other kinds of mathematic courses. Mother told me to inform the teacher that I was going to college, and then she got me extra help from another person. The results were good. I completed the class with a B. The teacher was never the wiser, and I went on to college.

When in my 20s, I decided to take a few golf lessons. The professional worked with me for a while, and then suggested that I quit taking lessons and just go out and play the game. I followed his advice and now I enjoy golf, but I carry a high handicap.

People can become impatient and counsel us to quit whatever we are doing. Not so with Jesus. This is the good news. I have made many more mistakes in my walk with the Lord than I ever did in manual training, mathematics, or golf, but never once has Jesus asked me, “Why don’t you quit? You’re hopeless. Every day you sin, and every day I have to forgive you.”

He has always forgiven me, worked with me in His Word, strengthened me, and miraculously used me as one of His servants. That’s what Jesus did in Peter’s life, that’s what He is doing in my life, and that’s what He has done for others. He will do the same for you.

Do you remember when the women came to anoint Jesus’ body on Easter morning? The man at the tomb said, “He isn’t here. He has risen. Go and tell His disciples, and Peter.” Those last words interest me. Why was Peter singled out? All the disciples had forsaken Jesus, but Peter was hurting the most. He was the one who had proudly said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)

There is no question that the thought of leaving Jesus’ group of disciples and returning to his fishing business had crossed Peter’s mind. Jesus knew this, and so He wanted to have a special visit with His friend. That meeting took place with Jesus by the sea. What did Jesus say in this meeting? Did He tell Peter that He could not use him? Might He have said, “I wish you well in life, Peter, but I will have to find another person to take your place. I did have great plans for you, but you’re all talk. When the going gets rough, you aren’t around, and a person of this type can never be one my disciples.”

No, that was not what Jesus said to Peter. Rather He asked him, “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

Peter replied, “You know that I love you.” If you read this conversation in Greek, you will see that Jesus is asking, “Do you have a self-sacrificing love for me?” Peter was answering, “I love you as a friend.” Peter had to face himself. His love for Jesus was less than what Christ needed from His disciples. This questioning went on for some time. Each time Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs and sheep. These words were saying to Peter, I forgive you. Try, try again. Jesus never gave up on Peter. In fact, the Lord told this disciple that he would become a fearless witness who would be crucified for the cause of Christ.

How could Jesus be so sure that Peter’s life as a disciple would be different in the future? The answer was simply that Peter had learned Jesus would go with him. He would receive power from the Holy Spirit that would give him strength and encourage him when the going was rough. And that is what happened, for it was in 64 A.D. that Peter died as a martyr in Rome.

Here we have evidence that Jesus is far more than anxious to comfort the penitent than to punish the sinner. He never gives up on us. This message is not some abstract philosophical statement. This truth is concrete, and every Christian can testify to its truth. He or she can point to more than one incident in his or her life where it can be seen that Jesus never gave up on His child.

Can some of you remember your attitude toward Christ and His Church when you were beginning to grow up? Maybe this was not your case, but many can remember those times when you felt church was boring. Confirmation was not fun, and you did not want to go. However, you were fortunate enough to have parents who said firmly, “Enough of that,” and off to church and confirmation classes you went.

Then you were confirmed and graduated from high school. Away from home, you turned your back on Christ and His Church. Perhaps your parents asked each other, “Did we make a mistake in forcing our son or daughter to go to church and Sunday school?” Then came those years when the lessons learned under duress became precious to you. You came back to Christ and His Church. Talk to some of the most committed Christians in your town about their walk with God and see what they say. “What brought us back to Christ was the power of His Word. Christ never gave up on us.”

Franklin Graham, son of Billy and Ruth Graham, is a good example of God at work in his heart. Franklin walked away from Christ, but Ruth never gave up on her son. The day came when Franklin turned his life over to Jesus, and he now succeeds his father in the all-important ministry of reaching our world with the message of Christ’s redeeming love. Franklin has a message that he is anxious to share with his world. It is found in the Word and experienced in his life that Jesus never gives up on a person. When we fail to be His faithful disciples, Christ forgives us and says, “Try, try again.”

If you once walked with Christ and then left for what you believed then was a more exciting life, the Lord Jesus is still waiting for you. He uses a message such as this to tell you, “I can use you in my Kingdom.” You need Christ more than anyone or anything else in this world. Pray, “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.” Then begin to walk with Him and watch your life come alive.

This is God’s message to a sick, broken world: I have not given up on you.

The Importance of the Individual

Imagine a Sunday morning at your church. The people are

gathering for worship, but before entering the worship center,

they stop to visit with some of their friends and visitors. Now

imagine if you can, that Jesus is standing in the crowd when a

father and mother come wheeling in their disabled child. Who,

of all the people in the room, do you think would capture Jesus’

eye? The answer to that question is in our text.

It was the Sabbath, and Jesus was teaching in one of the

synagogues. A woman, who had been crippled for 18 years,

was bent over and could not straighten up. She probably had

real difficulty getting through the crowd of people. We can be

quite sure that the building was not handicapped accessible.

Jesus saw her and immediately healed her. Now she

straightened up and praised God as she walked off normally

with the rest of the people.

While the majority of people were emotionally touched by the

miracle, the ruler of the synagogue was angry. “There are six

days a week for work. So come and be healed on those days

and not on the Sabbath.” Then our Lord had a few strong

words to say.

“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his

ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?

Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom

Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the

Sabbath from what bound her?” The synagogue ruler and his

cohorts had nothing to say. It is possible that sometimes our

religion can get in the way of doing God’s will, and this was one

of those times.

What is the text saying to us? Here the Scriptures teach clearly

the importance of the individual. One of the most basic

teachings of the New Testament can be summarized with these

words, In God’s eyes you are precious and important, not

because of what you have done, but because of who you

are.

You are created in the image of God and have not only a

body, but a mind, will, and soul. You have sinned, but God

has redeemed you in the person of Jesus Christ. As one of

His redeemed children, your Father has called you to be one

of His ambassadors in this world and makes His appeal to

others through you.

A person with this stature is the crowning work of God’s

creation.

As described in our text, the individual has little significance in

many parts of society. The importance is placed on the crowds

and not the individuals. This was the message I got as our group

walked into the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. The

inmates had no status among the Nazis. In fact, they were a

hindrance to the authorities, so they were killed by the state.

Communism reduced the importance of the individual to nothing.

It was the state that was important. Standing in Wittenberg,

Germany, which was then ruled by the communists, a woman

told me, “The communists have broken our initiative. My

husband, a graduate electrical engineer, receives the same salary

as a person who cleans the street. Our son, who now has the

opportunity to attend college, refuses to go, feeling there is no

purpose in working hard to become a formally educated

person.” How different from Jesus’ teachings, which

emphasizes the development of the talents.

Now we must also remember that capitalism, without the

Christian ethic, can reduce the individual to be a servant of the

system. When Walter Chronkite was asked by Larry King how

he explained the Enron problem, the veteran commentator said,

“Greed.” The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Basic in

this kind of behavior is no great concern for the individual.

William Barclay said it well, “Without Christianity there can be

no true democracy.”

The same thinking can even invade the Church. How easily we

can think in terms of the congregation or denomination at the

expense of the individual believer.

But in Christ, things are different. Here the importance of

the individual is seen. Let me give you a few thrilling experiences

that show the difference the Spirit of Jesus Christ can make.

Have you been to a Hospice house? If you haven’t, I would

suggest that you arrange a time when you can visit this wonderful

facility. Though the building may be beautiful, if is far more than

a building. I went to one for the first time a few weeks ago.

One of my close friends and brother pastors had gone there

after battling cancer for two years. His family was exhausted,

and so was he. It was a tough day. They loved one another so

much and didn’t want their earthly family to be broken, yet they

knew the past months had been difficult. It could not go on.

The body was worn out.

As I sat with my friend sharing some of the great promises of

Scripture, I too became emotional and looked for words that

might bring comfort. I said to him, “Paul, this is probably the

toughest day of your life. Think of it. You had breakfast with

your wife, Mary, and you might have dinner with Jesus.” What I

was trying to say in sentimental language was, Paul, soon you

will meet Christ, face to face. The nurse, who wore no uniform,

got down beside his bed and said, “Oh, Paul, as the pastor said,

we do not have words to express our feelings. We love you so

much! We don’t want to say good-bye, but what a day when

you will be with Jesus in your heavenly home!” How beautiful!

Wouldn’t you like to spend your last hours in such an

environment? This whole Hospice movement knows the

importance of the individual. These workers are Christ’s

servants.

I think of the wonderful experiences when I used to visit River

Hills School, a school built especially for handicapped people.

It was emotional to watch the teachers and others who worked

there love those children. It was not easy work, and often called

for a strong stomach, but these students were God’s children

and tremendously important to Him. Nazism and Communism

would have said, Get rid of them. They are a detriment to

the state, but not with the Christian faith. Seen through the eyes

of Christ, they are precious and important.

Walk into the nursing homes of our day, especially where the

Christian faith is

a controlling influence, and see how the residents are loved and cared for by

those who attend them. Christ works today through His people as He did in that

synagogue the day the woman who was stooped over stood

straight.

What brought all of this to be? It is Christ who makes the

difference. It is the Lenten message. Our eyes are turned to the

cross where a loving Savior gives His life for you and me.

Through that cross He atoned for our sins and, by grace through

faith in Him, we have been restored into fellowship with God to

walk up straight Ð cleansed and forgiven forever.