Our Ways, God’s Ways

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Isaiah 55:6-9 | November 6 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
November 6
Our Ways, God’s Ways | Isaiah 55:6-9
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Father in heaven, as we now open Your Word, we do pray that You would teach us, instruct us. May we meet the Lord Jesus here in Your Word, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ, so Lord Jesus, speak to us now. Encourage us and may You draw us to the cross. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let’s turn in God’s Word this morning to Isaiah 55. Our text is verses 6 through 9, but let’s begin at verse 1. We’ll read through the first nine verses, Isaiah 55. Hear now God’s Word.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to Me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
My steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you did not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for He has glorified you.”

Now these verses, our text this morning.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call upon Him while He is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways, declares 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.”

Well, dear people of God, I wonder if you would agree with me this morning that among the prophetic books in the Bible, Isaiah, the book of Isaiah, is kind of like a Mount Everest. You know, it’s hard to say, of course, that there’s one book of the Bible that is more special than another book of the Bible. But among the prophets, Isaiah provides some of the grandest and most glorious vistas and views of the Gospel that we can find. There are some wonderful chapters in the book of Isaiah that prove that. chapters that kind of stand out among the rest.

One of those chapters, for example, is Isaiah 6 where you see the call of Isaiah to preach from God, and he has this vision, right? Of the glory and the holiness of God the King that God is seated high upon His throne. Isaiah hears the call of God and he says, “Here am I, send me.”

Or you think about Isaiah 35, where we have a vision of God’s people returning from the exile in Babylon and the different ways that that return is described are so beautiful, that the desert will be blooming, that there is a highway in the middle of the wilderness and desert for God’s people to walk on and the blind will regain their sight, the deaf will hear, the ransomed will return to Zion with singing and everlasting joy is upon their heads.

Or you have Isaiah 40, the message of comfort to God’s people, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, and there’s a voice calling out in the wilderness, every valley will be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low, and the glory of God will be revealed.

And then one more, Isaiah 53. The suffering servant who is pierced for our transgressions, who is crushed for our iniquities.

Well, people of God, Isaiah 55 is one of those great chapters as well. If you have your Bibles open, you can look at this chapter with me in reverse, starting from the end and going to the beginning. The chapter ends, verses 12 to 13, with a celebration of the triumph of God’s grace, a picture of the glorious destiny of God’s people that awaits us, joy and peace with mountains and hills singing.

Just before that, in verse 10 and 11, we see the power of God’s word, that God’s Word is able to accomplish all that God sends it out to do. It is able to change us, it is able to bring about the complete salvation of God’s people and the destiny that the end of the chapter describes.

Then skipping over our text, if you go to the first verses, verses 1 to 5, we see that great invitation that we just studied, actually, just a few months ago here in worship. An invitation to God’s gracious salvation banquet – Come, everyone who is thirsty, come, even if you have no money, come to the banquet and find life with God, your soul may live.

Well, right after that comes the passage that we’re looking at this morning. We see here both exhortation and exultation. An exhortation – Come and seek the Lord while he may be found and call on Him while He is near. Then the exultation – The thoughts and ways of God are not our thoughts and they are not our ways.

What our text does for us this morning, people of God, is to answer two questions. The first question is this – How do I respond and come to the great invitation that is found at the very beginning of the chapter? So if I’m to come to God, how am I to come? That’s the first question.

Then the second question is this – When I do come to God, what kind of God am I coming to? What is God like? What is this God that I come to like?

Those two questions – How do I come to God and what kind of God do I come to?

First of all then, our text tells us about our ways. It has a description of our life and a response that we are to give to God when we come.

So back to that first question – How must I come to God? Our passage tells us that we are to come to God with repentance.

There’s a series of commands that you see in this passage. The Lord says to us, “Seek the Lord.” We are to call upon Him. The wicked are to forsake their way, the unrighteous man is to forsake his thoughts and he is to return to the Lord.

Seek, call, forsake, return. People of God, these are all words that capture the essence of repentance. When God invites us to come to Him for grace, that our soul may live, how are we to come to God? Our text says we are to repent and then to believe.

Repentance is a sorrow and a mourning for our sin. Repentance involves confession of our sin. In just a few minutes, before we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and is often the case when we gather here for corporate worship, one of the things that we do is to confess. Confession is to lead to repentance in our lives.

But repentance is more than simply mourning over our sin or sorrowing over it. Repentance also involves a turning from our sin. So repentance is an attitude towards sin, but repentance is also an action with regard to our sin. We run away from our sin.

You see that here in Isaiah 55. There’s all kinds of action words there in this text. We are to seek the Lord. To seek Him literally means to tread, it means to walk. We are stepping toward God, we are going to God. When we go to God, we are to call upon Him. We don’t just call Him, we call upon Him, which implies there is a call for mercy. It’s a cry of humility to God. Let the wicked forsake his ways, the unrighteous man his evil thoughts. There is a turning from sin. Forsake the ways that you’ve been walking in. Then the positive – Let him return to the Lord.

I think a wonderful picture, a great illustration of repentance, is simply this. It’s making a U-turn. So you’re driving your car and you’re heading in one direction, or you’re walking in this direction, and you make a U-turn. You’ve been walking towards sin, sinful ways, and you say, “No more. I’m going to forsake those ways. I’m not walking in those ways anymore. In fact, I am going to return to the Lord.” You make a U-turn.

One of the Reformation Catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism, has some wonderful questions about repentance and conversion. Three short ones – What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion? Two things, the dying of the old self and the coming to life of the new self. Well, what is the dying away of the old self? It is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it. Running away from sin. And what is the coming to life of the new self? It is wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to.

It’s turning from sin. I’ve been heading in this direction, not walking that way anymore. Whatever sin that may be. Not living that way, but I’m going to return to God and find my joy and delight in doing what God wants me to do. That’s repentance.

Repentance, of course, is something that happens when we first become a Christian, isn’t it? We hear the Gospel, to come and believe in Christ, and we’re called to repent of our sin. Isaiah here seems almost like an evangelistic call, doesn’t it? It’s what we would say to somebody who’s considering becoming a Christian – Seek the Lord, call upon Him. This was what we’d say to somebody who’s contemplating first trusting in Christ.

But people of God, remember that this was a prophecy written to Israel. Written to the Lord’s people, people who already belonged to God. They were not first coming to Christ, or coming to God, they already had a relationship with God. They had already been walking with God and yet had turned from God to idols. They had forsaken the Lord. When Isaiah writes here, he assumes the exile, the going off to Babylon. It hadn’t happened yet, but he writes as if it had already occurred.

So God’s people needed to repent of their ways as well. You see then repentance isn’t just what happens when we first come to Christ, but repentance is the pattern that marks the entire Christian life. Repentance is for brand new Christians and repentance is for seasoned Christians. Repentance is not just a one-time event that happens when we first begin to walk with Jesus, but repentance is a daily practice, an hourly practice. Sometimes repentance is minute by minute in the Christian life. No to sin, yes to Christ, no to the old ways, yes to the new ways of following Jesus.

Isn’t this what the great reformer Martin Luther said when he nailed the first of the 95 theses, or the first of his 95 theses, on the door at the church in Wittenberg, the first of those theses, when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said repent, He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Luther, of course, was reacting to the Church not practicing repentance, but penance. Doing something so that God would love you more and Luther said, no, no, no, not calling for penance, calling for repentance, for every believer to have a life of repentance, responding to God’s love already given.

Remember, this is how it is. This is what prompts repentance. It’s the Gospel. Paul reminds of this in Romans 2:4 – God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. Repentance is to be thorough going. That’s what Isaiah teaches us here. But the wicked is to forsake his way, his actions, the way that he’s been walking. The unrighteous man is to forsake his thoughts. It’s speaking about our hearts, our minds. Repentance isn’t just a turning from what we have done, but repentance is also a turning from how we think, what we desire, our inclinations. Those, too, are sinful. We’re to call to turn from them and to return to the Lord.

People of God, if you want to know the joys of God’s grace, then you must be a person of repentance. Repentance doesn’t obtain salvation for us, but repentance always accompanies salvation. In other words, it can’t be missing in your life, when you’re trying to walk with God or you call yourself a Christian. If we turn to Christ for salvation from sin, there is no way that we can love sin and want to live in it. If we call out to Jesus and say, “Save me from these sins,” how can we continue in them? For we’re going to be people who turn for them, say no more.

As I mentioned, it’s daily, it’s hourly, sometimes it’s minute by minute, over and over again, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes.

So I would ask you this morning: Where in your life do you need to repent? What sins do you need forsake? Where do you need to return to the Lord? Is it from a love of money? A love of self? Pride? Disobedience to parents? Anger? Idols? What sinful inclinations do you reflect upon during the day and say, “No more of these, Lord, no more. I’m going to come back to You.”

So how do we come? We come with repentance and faith.

But secondly, who do we come to? The first part of the message is about our ways, how we end up living and what we need to turn from. The second part of our text here is about God’s ways, the God that we come to. Our passage says here: Who is the God that we come to? He is a God of compassion and a God of pardon.

You see this in verse 7: So let the wicked forsake his way, the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord that He may have compassion on him, and to our God for He will abundantly pardon.

Friends, this is the good news of the Gospel, isn’t it? That when we repent of our sins, when we turn to God in faith and trust, our God is a God that will forgive us. So in worship, not only do we have a confession of sin, but we follow that up with an assurance of pardon, just as we’re going to do this morning. Our God is the kind of God that doesn’t run from repentant sinners, but He is compassionate to them. He doesn’t slightly or partially forgive. He doesn’t ask us just to do a little more and a little more and just do a little more and then I’ll forgive you, but He abundantly pardons. Where our sin abounds, remember what the Scripture say, His grace much more abounds.

This is our God. Friends, how much we need to be reminded of this, especially when we find ourselves going back to those old ways. Right? You find yourself drawn back into those old patterns of sin and iniquity. So much of our life, isn’t it true, is like Paul, that Romans 7 experience, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate. I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Oh, wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?”

We find ourselves wandering over and over again from the Father. When we find ourselves looking for soul calm in so many other places than God, God says, “Return to Me, for My grace.” We get disgusted with ourselves often, don’t we? But God doesn’t look with disgust upon us. When we repent and believe, He says, “I will abundantly, lavishly, pardon you.”

God reminds us of that in so many ways in this text, those simple statements, powerful statements of His compassion and abundant pardon.

But this text is chockful of assurances of His infinite, incomparable love.

This is our God, verse 7 tells us. Remember, it’s spoken to a wayward people. But people of God, this God who has compassion and pardons, this is our God, and repentance and faith, we don’t come to some kind of anonymous, distant God, some God who is just out there, but this is the God who claims us as His people. We belong to Him, we are His people. This is the great promise, isn’t it? Throughout the Bible of the covenant. We belong to God. We are His people. He is our God.

He reminds us of His pardon. In the early verses here, the early words of verse 6, that we are to seek the Lord while He may be found. We are to call upon Him while He is near. Friends, there’s a warning here and that is don’t put off repentance and faith.

But there’s even more here, words of consolation, that the Lord may be found, that the Lord is near. When we call upon Him, He hears us. The Lord will be found when you see Him, and the time to come to him is now. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next week, today is the day of salvation, as Paul reminds us. Now is the favorable time.

Then perhaps the greatest assurance of all in this text. We see it in verses 8 and 9. The Lord reminding us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares 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.”

It’s a statement of comparison, of course, comparing our ways, our thoughts to God’s ways and God’s thoughts. But it’s laid out interestingly here. There’s a pattern, there’s a comparison. You see first of all we are to forsake our ways and our thoughts and then God talks about His thoughts and His ways.

Ways, thoughts, thoughts, ways. Our ways, our thoughts, God’s thoughts, and God’s ways. It’s kind of an A-B-B-A pattern. You see thoughts are at the center. It doesn’t mean they’re more important than ways, but thoughts are at the center. In other words, what this is describing in the comparison between God and ourselves, at the very heart of it are thoughts, at the very heart of it is the heart of God. His heart incomparably greater, higher than ours. There is no comparison between the ways of God and ours and the thoughts of God and ours.

Well, here’s the question. What is about the heart of God and the ways of God that God wants us to understand? That are much higher than ours?

Well, some people think about this as a statement of providence. Isn’t it true we so often quote a passage like this when we don’t understand what God is doing in our life? So things are happening, I don’t understand. God, why are You doing this? Why that? Why suffering? Why am I facing this trouble? Whatever it may be. Then we respond with the words here of Isaiah 55. Well, I don’t know, but the Lord’s thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. I need to submit to what God is doing. So a statement about providence, what God is up to in our life.

And people of God, it’s true. This text you could use to describe that, how God’s ways are not ours, God’s thoughts are another plane, we often don’t understand what He is doing. But what I want you to see this morning is that the context here is not God’s providence, but the context here is salvation. What God is saying when it comes to His mercy and His abundant pardon is this, that He is not like us at all. His compassion, his forgiving love, are incomparable. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so is His heart of mercy toward us.

There’s another passage in Scripture that I think proves this point. It’s Psalm 103, verse 11. It’s the only other place where we have kind of this exact phraseology, “As high as the heavens are above the earth.”

Psalm 103, verse 11, just begin actually a couple of verses before that:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will He keep His anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

So all this language about forgiveness, grace, He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve.

And then these words:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.”

How are God’s thoughts and ways different than ours? So much higher than ours? When it comes to His mercy, when it comes to His grace, when it comes to His abundant pardon, God stands completely different than us. We need to be reminded of that this morning.

John Calvin put it like this, his commentary on this text. He says, “Now because it is difficult to remove terror from trembling minds, Isaiah drawn an argument from the nature of God that He will be ready to pardon and be reconciled. Men are wont to judge and measure God from themselves, for their hearts are moved by angry passions and are very difficult to be appeased.” What he’s saying is we have a hard time forgiving. We’re moved by angry passions, not by mercy. “Therefore they think that they cannot be reconciled to God when they have once offended him, so we think God is like us, but the Lord shows that He is far from resembling men.”

How are we to come to God? With repentance, turning to God, trusting Him. Who is the God that we come to when we come repentant and believing and turning from our sin and returning to the Lord? We are coming to a God who is incomparable in His forgiving love for us.

Friends, this is our God. His ways higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. People of God, isn’t this the way of the cross? When you think about the cross, we think about our own ways, our ways causing the perfect divine Son of God to suffer the wrath of God against our sin. When you go to the cross, you also think about God’s ways, ways that satisfy His justice, that offer pardon and peace through the blood and the death of Christ.

Are His ways higher than our ways? Are His thoughts higher than our thoughts? Absolutely. In fact, even when you think about the cross, you can understand this. Remember how Paul puts it. Paul says the cross is a stumbling block to Jews, it is folly to Gentiles. The cross, what does it do for the common person? What does it do for our minds? Our natural human minds? It’s unbelievable. I can’t comprehend it. It makes no sense.

But for those who are called, the cross is not foolishness. It is not folly. It is not a stumbling block. For those who are called, the cross is the power of God. It is the wisdom of God. God saves through the cross.

Think about the infinite heights of the heavens above the earth. It was our Lord Jesus who humbled Himself and condescended and covered the gap, became a servant and humbled Himself to the death of the cross. Who does God choose to dwell with because of Christ? Isaiah 57 – Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy, I dwell in the high and the holy place but I also come to dwell with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit.

Friends, if you are broke, you come repentant, you come trusting in Christ, God will dwell with you. You’re exactly the kind of person that God chooses to dwell with.

Think about this familiar verse from Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way.” To our own ways, we all have turned to our own ways. The Lord calls us to repent, to believe, to trust.

But don’t forget this. We have turned to his own way, but the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all on Him. On Christ Jesus.

We are called this morning to come and as we come we are called to take our mess to Christ. Whatever it may be, wherever you are this morning, to come and take it to Jesus, come while He may be found, come while He is near, come for the first time. If it’s the first time this morning, come to Christ, bring it to Christ, repent and turn to Christ. Or if it’s the 100th time, or the 1000th time, of turning from sin to Christ, turn from it and turn to Jesus, to our God who will have compassion, to our God who will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55. It opens with a feast, doesn’t it? Come to the banquet. You who have no money, come, come.

Well, people of God, we now come. We come to another banquet, we come to the Lord’s table. We come in repentance, we come in faith.

Let’s pray as we prepare to do that. Father in heaven, we do now turn our attention to the supper that You have given to us. We praise You, O God, for this meal as we see for the bread and the juice the broken body, the shed blood of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. We thank You for Your great compassion, Your great mercy. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is Your love for us. We pray, Father, that we would come to it, bask in it, find our hope in it. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.