God's Word Shall Not Return Empty
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
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. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:6-11).
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near,” our text invites. The problem is that none of us has the natural ability to seek the Lord. In fact, left to ourselves, none of us even wants to seek the Lord. Like Adam and Eve after the fall into sin, we run away, we hide from Him. Why is that? Because ever since the fall we are enemies of God. We are conceived and born dead in our trespasses and sins. We want nothing to do with a holy God.
But God, in His grace does not leave us alone. He sends His Word to draw us to Him. We Lutherans confess this in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
The Lord God is extremely patient and gracious. Through His Word, the Holy Spirit invites us to seek the Lord and call upon Him in faith. He urges us to turn away from our wicked ways and to turn to Him while there is still opportunity. He promises to have mercy on the penitent sinner and to pardon him freely through His powerful, gracious Word. God’s Word works faith and bestows forgiveness. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but it is true! Our salvation is entirely in our Lord’s hands from start to finish. What a comfort for us sinners!
The death of a loved one, without fail, triggers every emotion in the human existence in very short order. For people of faith, the question also arises concerning the eternal welfare of the departed. And too often, our thinking becomes fretting in light of what we knew or thought we knew. It is difficult for us, in such a time as this, to reflect and focus our concerns with what God knows.
Through the prophet Isaiah, our Lord reminds us that He operates in ways that we cannot always understand; and He points out the arrogance of man in presuming to know all things. We don’t like to admit it when we don’t know the answer. It pesters us to no end when we are confronted with things that are beyond our limited human comprehension. We find it difficult to place the knowledge of all things with God alone and leave it in His hands. But so we must.
Fortunately, there is much that we can know, from which our Lord would have us receive strength and comfort, especially in times like this. We know, according to the Scriptures, that it is the Lord alone who searches the heart and the Lord alone who has the power to save. And He has promised you that His Word does not go out into the ears of His hearers in vain.
Through His prophet, God also tells us how His Word works. God’s Word comes down from Him like rain and snow from heaven, which waters the ground and makes it bud and flourish. When God’s Word comes to sinners, it works in the same way. God’s Word works when and where He pleases, simply by His grace.
The free gift of eternal salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is just that—a free gift. And the Lord has told us in His Word how it is that He gives us this saving faith. He tells us in Titus, chapter 3, that He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Dean was baptized at Zion Lutheran Church. That Word of God works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Dean publicly confessed his Christian faith and pledged to continue in this confession and Church. Like each of us, Dean was less than perfect in his keeping of his vows. Thankfully, our salvation is not dependent upon our keeping of vows, but rather on God’s keeping of His promises, or else none of us would be saved. And so, today we take solace in this promise of God: His Word does not return to Him empty, even when we can’t measure the results with our limited human minds and sinful hearts. Your peace and your comfort cannot come from what you know or think you might know, but must come from the certain and the eternal Word of God.
The Lord Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. Our heavenly Father sent Jesus, His only Son to reconcile the whole world, Dean included, to Himself. He bought us back from sin and the power of the grave not with gold or silver, but with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Though the wages of sin is death, as we are grimly reminded today, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus paid the price for all of our transgressions, and gives the promise of everlasting life to all who would believe in Him through His life-giving Word.
It has been said that a funeral service is for the living and not the dead. That is most certainly true. Therefore also the funeral sermon is one for you, the living, and the applications must be made to you. For each one of us here... well, there will come a time when no doctor will be able to help... when no accountant will be able to give you a few extra days... when no repairman can fix what’s broken. We will each face circumstances in our life that we cannot possibly handle on our own; that just don’t make sense to our limited human reasoning. Moreover, your death and mine are also coming. And so we must seek the Lord while He may found.
And we need to do this today, not tomorrow. None of us knows if we will even be around at the end of this day. We don’t have any guarantees. Let Dean’s death be a sobering reminder for us to get our lives in order and our priorities straight. Tonight as you are in bed and it is dark and quiet, think about your own sin and your need for a Savior. Turn to God’s Word for comfort, peace, hope, and guidance. Pour out your heart to God in prayer.
If you have more questions or want to talk more about these things in the days ahead, please speak to your pastor or other mature Christian friend. If you don’t have anyone else, I would love to speak with you about these things, or I can certainly help get you in touch with someone else who can. I mean this. There is truly nothing more important. It is literally a matter of life and death—eternal life and death.
Seek the Lord while He may be found in His Word. Call upon Him while He is near in His means of grace. Forsake your wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts. Return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on you and pardon your sins. His Word will not return to Him empty. It shall accomplish His purposes. For by that Word, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.