Adrian Rogers once told the story of a boy who was sitting under an oak tree looking at a watermelon patch. He said, “You know, if I were God, I wouldn’t put those great big watermelons on those weak little vines, and those tiny little acorns on that big oak tree. That seems backwards to me.” About that time an acorn fell and hit him on the head, and suddenly he was glad it wasn’t a watermelon!
Isaiah 55:8-9 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 you ways and my thought than your thoughts.”
God’s Unfathomable Thoughts and Ways
Spend the next few minutes considering with me God’s unfathomable thoughts and His unfathomable ways, will you? It might be best to begin by tying this verse in with verses 6 and 7 that we studied last Sunday. You’ll recall they are the verses that represent God’s invitation to human beings:
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.
Originally those words were given to God’s rebellious people who, because of their sin, were in bondage. But they are everyman’s invitation from God.
We all come short of God’s glory for us, and we all are therefore in what the Bible calls the bondage of sin. That bondage may manifest itself in a variety of ways. In short, though, we know our guilt before our Maker and as a result we experience the sense of lostness and separation from God—and a longing for reconciliation with Him.
Men and women find it painful and humiliating to feel that guilt and, instead of facing it, they try to ignore it or run from it in ways that only make their lives more miserable and their bondage more intolerable.
When I was a child I watched Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan in the movies—once in awhile at the movie theater, but regularly on our giant-screen black and white television. Well, it was bigger than some televisions—after all, it was at least 15” diagonally measured. The picture was fuzzy and the sound was poor, but it was all I had.
The one episode that captured my attention and gave me scary dreams was when the guy walked into a pit of quicksand out in the jungle. It was carefully explained somewhere in the plot that if you ever got stuck in quicksand you should never struggle to get out, because you would only sink deeper. And then, eventually, the unthinkable would happen. You would grown in that thick muck.
This man, sure enough, accidentally walked into the quicksand, and sure enough, he tried to get out grabbing at this vine or that clump of grass, but to no avail. And the more he struggled, the deeper he sank. Up to his knees, and he couldn’t pull either leg out of the thick soup. Deeper he sank to his thighs, his hips, his chest. Soon even his arms were immobilized and he was up to his neck, then to his chin.
I was petrified and was screaming inside—maybe out loud: Stop fighting, quit moving! But I knew in my heart that if I was stuck in there I’d be fighting to get out, too. So then I started cheering him on—come on you can do it, just keep trying!
Just as the guy is going to take his last breath and then swallow the goo, guess who shows up? With his awesome strength, Tarzan is able to reach into the quicksand, find one arm and pull the bedraggled man to safety. Not only could the victim breathe again, but so could that 6 year old boy watching nervously from the couch! I remember it was a green vinyl sofa and I was wearing shorts—I was so engrossed that my legs were sweating and sticking against that vinyl.
Wow, was I relieved when Tarzan saved that man. That analogy suits the situation in Isaiah 55. Man is lost and growing ever more hopeless in his sin. The more he tries to help himself, the more he grabs for behaviors that are increasingly self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing he does ever helps his situation—it only makes it worse. He needs a savior.
God says, Stop trying to come up with ideas out of your own limited human wisdom; stop struggling, running, denying. Turn to me. Forsake your wicked way, evil thoughts. Turn to me and I will have mercy on you. Turn to your God; He will freely pardon.
Verse 8 tells us that God’s thoughts and His ways are not like our wicked ways. His plan for our lives is infinitely better. How can God get across to Isaiah’s countrymen, and to us, how much greater His wisdom and His ways are than ours? How can He convince mortal humans that His way is best? Like the parent that tries to reason with a two year old: Daddy knows best—now don’t touch that hot stove, don’t play in the street, don’t mess with those drugs, don’t flirt with danger!
He resorts to a comparison of the heavens being higher than the earth. When we consider the vast separation between our little planet and the stars of the far flung galaxies, thousands of millions of light years away, that’s the kind of gap that exists between our wisdom and God’s wisdom, our ways and His.
“You can’t even imagine the perfection of my wisdom!” You know we always think we know better than God, just like the boy under the oak tree or the boy on the green vinyl couch. Nobody knows how to rescue us from the quicksand—nobody but God.
And God urges us to believe the unbelievable: if you will stop struggling, trying to fix yourself, and turn to me, truly come to me, I will have mercy—I will pardon your sins. You see people all around us think they have it all figured out: just ignore God and He will go away; just lose yourself in other things that will numb your soul, and you can avoid your guilt and your problems; and some are in such despair because they know they are lost and God is going to judge them, so they just enjoy life as best they can until the quicksand takes them under.
My own father, two years before he died, told me as I shared the gospel with him, it was too late. He was too far gone and he couldn’t be forgiven. He’d done too much wrong and had spurned God, so it was hopeless for him to be forgiven and to get into heaven. Try as I might to explain the mercy of God available in Christ, I don’t think I ever got through. I can only hope that some idea of how much God loved him and wanted to save him got through and that he trusted Christ before he died.
God is pleading with His lost kids. It doesn’t have to be this way! Try to understand – I am not out to get you, I want to save you—give me your hand. I urge us all to remember that we don’t know better than God.
We can’t tell Him we know how it works—we’re lost, we live and die and are judged and end up in hell and that’s all there is! No, God says that, as wonderful and unbelievable as it sounds, I want to forgive you and show you mercy. You have no idea!
The Bible says, God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9) God sent His Son to redeem us that we might receive the full rights of sons (Gal. 4:4-5) In our deficient wisdom we are just sure God is just, but not merciful, holy but not loving.
But He has proven His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous.
You know it’s really pretty ridiculous that we would try to tell God what He is like. You don’t love me—You can’t love me! Can we tell Him how He should treat us concerning our eternal destiny? In essence we are trying to make God think like we think. God must act this way because that’s what I think is right; or God can’t act that way because I wouldn’t act that way.
Consider the cross. God, you’re going to send your Son to become a human, like a creature? And you’re going to let these other human beings spit on Him, mistreat Him and even kill Him? And You’re going to let your guiltless Son pay for the crimes of everyone else who is guilty. Really, God!?
I would never have thought to do that, God! I know you wouldn’t. My ways are astronomically higher than your ways; My thoughts are infinitely higher than your thoughts. When we think we know better than God we are most genuinely wrong.
God’s magnificent Word
Look at the next two verses (10-11). As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so it my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to be empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Very simply, God is saying that out of that all-surpassing wisdom He has spoken. And the words that have gone out of His mouth are like the rain and snow that comes down out of the heavens. We have a little insight here into God’s sovereign power at work in nature. Did you ever before realize that God has a purpose for the rain? He sends it to make the earth bud and blossom.
Think about that: God in His wisdom and power can direct every drop of water for the refreshment of the plants. Those plants are to drink up that moisture right out of the soil and bear beauty and fruit. And He insists with a divine insistence that those drops will not condense into fog and atmospheric humidity until they get done the very thing he sent it to do. That’s some kind of wisdom! That’s some kind of power!
In just the same way, He says, He sends forth His saving message to the world, directing His call to men and women to forsake their wicked way, turn to Him and receive His pardon. He says He sends His word to every human heart—a message of mercy and redemption, and that word is not to return to Him before it accomplishes its purpose.
The message is clear. He has issued His Word, His call to repentance. And human beings are called to absorb it, let it create faith in them and cause their lives to blossom.
Here’s how God’s Word does not return empty to Him. It is when you respond in faith and obedience to His invitation. He says, In my own wisdom—which you cannot fathom—I have made a way available to sinners to be reconciled to Me. If you will trust in what I have done for you in my Son Jesus, believe the gospel of His death, burial and resurrection, and if you will respond to that Word in obedience, I will have mercy on you—I will freely pardon.
The decision is yours. God has acted by giving His Son for you. He has spoken the Word from heaven. Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on him while he is near.
We can’t leave Isaiah 55 without getting a peek at next week’s text—verses 12-13. It is a wonderful description of what happens in a sinner’s life when the Word is received and acted on:
You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.