His Ways are Higher

2000 years ago there lived a man by the name of Saul. Saul came from Tarsus, a town in Turkey. He was a smart man, well educated. He knew the philosophy of the Greeks, politics of the Romans but most of all he knew the law of God.

He knew that there was only one God, who he worshipped with his native people, the Jews. He knew that true worshippers of God did not worship created things. They didnʼt bow down to statues and animals like the Greeks and they didnʼt bow down and worship the emperor like the Romans.

So when his Jewish brothers and sisters start to worship a man, a carpenter from Galilee, he is rightly offended, because God is not a man. Right? God isnʼt created. Saul was a zealous young man. Zealous for his people, zealous for his faith. He begins to stamp out this new cult. He stamps out Stephen, a public stoning, and arrests many of these new followers of Jesus.

Itʼs as heʼs going on another crusade, Damascus this time, when he sees it. Lights, burning bright, and a frightful voice. ʻSaul, why do you persecute meʼ. Saul is blinded. He had been blind all this time, yet with the loss of his sight he finally sees. Jesus, the man crucified and buried has risen and is the Lord of all creation.

“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,
Isaiah 55:6-9

In the 17th century the UK was in the midst of a massive rise in itʼs power and influence. International trade and the conquest of America, cheaply growing crops which could be sold for a high profit. This trade survived because of the cheap, expendable labour harvested from Africa. Slavery was the fuel of the British Empire.

Now, imagine this scene. Dead and dying men, women and children loaded like sacks of grain onto a ship bound for America. Stench of faeces and blood mixed with rotting bodies and disease. Only the strong survived the journey. This was the progress of the British Empire. Abuse and inhumanity. It was disgraceful.

On one of these ship was a man by the name Newton. John Newton was first mate of a slave ship. He claimed to be a Christian, he tried his best. And his life was bound to this evil trade in people. He remembers later the story
of a mother whoʼs child was making a crying noise. Being rowen out to the ship, the crewman got annoyed with this crying child and thew it overboard. Through ill health he thankfully left that despicable world.

Newton devoted himself to prayer and preaching, and the Lord led him to assist in the deconstruction of the Slave Trade. He mentored the great William Wilberforce, encouraging him in his political career to end the trade which had been his entire life. His story proved to be one of the most effective weapons in the fight against the slave trade. Newton was more of a slave than the poor souls on his ships, but the Lord set him free

“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,
Isaiah 55:6-9

I have a friend called Kerry-Ann. Now, when I first met Kerry Ann I was about 12. She was a volunteer schools worker and came into my school on a Thursday afternoon. She was one of the first people to tell me about Jesus. She told me about his love, and his care and his healing.

She was a mother of two when I met her. Both from different men. Neither of whom was she with anymore. See, Kerry Ann had lived a broken life. Her mother was ill during her childhood and that was a struggle on the family. Kerry Ann was a trouble maker in school, but she wanted to be loved. So she married a man she met when she was young. And had a kid with him.

She got hurt by that man. And then she was married quickly to another man, who also hurt her. So now Kerry Ann is an angry young woman. No one is to be trusted.

She told me this one story, of a time when she was in a pub drinking with her friends. A small looking old man came in rattling a Salvation Army tin. He came in to ask for donations. Kerry Ann, my dear friend, saw him. Instantly angered by this man she opened her mouth and spat abuse at him, to which the man replied with simple words of care ʻJesus loves youʼ. That was it! Jesus? Who cares! Jesus? Heʼs not real! Jesus? He has never done anything for me! And this little old man stands there whilst he is berated with hate. And at the end, she sits down feeling smug. And he looks at her with such care in his eyes. And he says again. ʻJesus loves youʼ. And he leaves. And she is broken inside.

Years later she became a believer, and as I speak her husband is now training for ministry. Her heart was full of emptiness yet the Lord satisfied her.

“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,
Isaiah 55:6-9

Godʼs people had screwed up. They had failed to follow the Lord and so had been rejected from the promised land. They were sent away from the land because they had disobeyed God. Israel, the promised land, was a good place, a land of good things. In that land they had everything they could ever want. You could say they were doing alright. Getting by. They weren’t the most powerful nation, not the biggest, but things were going well.

And they forgot the Lord God, who had given them everything they had.

They thought to themselves ʻweʼve done thisʼ ʻweʼve earned thisʼ ʻThis land is ours.ʼ

So the people of God had really messed up. They had broken the law and had been exiled from their land. They were captives in a distant place, made to work and serve another king, another god.

It is in the place of suffering, being forsaken and rejected, that Israel remembers her God. The Lord speaks to his broken people:

“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.
Isaiah 55:1-2

To His people, who have been busy working for themselves, working for their own ends, working to survive the Lord announces that there is free food and drink! See, listening to God is the food of the human heart. The word of God is bread, lasting bread and hearing God is the richest food. This morning, are you busy spending yourself to find satisfaction in your job? Or your family? Or a sport? The football club? Hear with me Godʼs words.

To know God and to be known by God is the perfect satisfaction of our deepest hungers! Why bother spending yourself for something else? To know God is a feast for our hearts, a party, with joy and celebrating.

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 do 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.
Isaiah 55:3-5

The Lord calls to his people. His special possession who are so far away, crushed under the oppression of a massive empire. Listen! Listen to me! He pleads – Listen to me, come to me, come and have life! For a whole generation Godʼs people are in exile, suffering and oppressed. No more, no more.

There is this promise of the everlasting covenant – a king like David, who saved Israel from their enemies, will reign forever! And under him, under this everlasting king, all the nations will submit.

Isaiah tells us of a time when non-Jews will run to the Lord, and the ever lasting king shall rule over them, too.

2000 years ago, Saul of Tarsus listened to the words of the Lord. He listened to Christ, and went and spread his message all over the roman world. The Apostle Paul., as he later became called, wrote much of the New Testament we have today!

John Newton, the slaver, the hypocrite. He listened to the Lord, He went to become a preacher and hymn writer, he wrote Amazing Grace for the Lord had truly saved him. Through his words, many people knew the real freedom of Jesus Christ, freedom from the hell of slavery and freedom from slavery to sin.

My dear friend Kerry Ann listened to the Lord. runs a schools work charity in my area and visits many kids like me every day. She blesses them and shows them Jesus like she blessed me and showed me Jesus. Her anger and bitterness has slowly given way to joy, the joy of knowing that Jesus is all satisfying.

It has always confused me as to why the Lord would work in this way. God could have destroyed Saul on the Damascus road, he could have struck him dead instead of blind, and God would have done no wrong. Yet it pleased the Lord to take Saul for himself.

What about Newton? Newton could have been abandoned to his career in slavery. He could have been wealthy and successful in the business world. Yet it pleased the Lord to bring Newton low in the worldʼs eyes, to make him an object of ridicule in the government.

And Kerry-Ann? She could have continued in her ways. What more could she want? She had two wonderful sons, and was in love with a police officer. They were doing fine! Yet it pleased the Lord that she should attend an Alpha course and give up her job to become a schools worker. It pleased the Lord that her husband should quit the force without any hope of a retirement package to go into ministry training.

In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are offered forgiveness. And that is mind-blowing. How can God offer such forgiveness to a bunch of rebels like Israel? Or like Saul, or John, Or Kerry Ann, or you, or me?

Godʼs thoughts are not our thoughts. For some mysterious reason, God chooses people like us to become part of his plan. God calls people like us to himself, to be satisfied, to find peace, to find the end to all our struggling and working. We have nothing to offer God, yet he has decided to offer us forgiveness when we turn to him.

As I have known God, I have known life. It is immensely satisfying to follow the Lord. For me, I can think of nothing more exciting than telling young people that theyʼre loved and wanted, and I have done so. I get excited when I get to tell those who are losing their minds, about Christ, to hold their hands and sing old hymns with them. I even get to know God in the small things, I got to hang out with a missionary charity to upgrade their computers. Thatʼs so wonderful, such a privilege I feel like Iʼve been let in on some massive secret. A secret that Saul, that Newton and that Kerry-Ann knew.

I think God shows us that his thoughts are not our thoughts by sending his Son. That sinners can be restored to God because he came and died and rose for us is such a radical idea that it could only be Divine. Because of Him we can now live to glorify God and to enjoy him in every way. We are a rebellious people who insist upon rejecting God, trying to do things on our own but in the end all of our work and money and our lives are being spent on nothing!

And If you know in your heart that you are spent, if you have no more to offer. Then hear Godʼs words to you:

“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 do 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.
“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.
Isaiah 55:1-9

God calls us to listen to him, come to him, be satisfied by him, for us to allow him to be our everything. He calls us to discover this great eternal feast we can enjoy together, with God. God calls us to do this now, no longer does he want us to wait, no longer is there a reason for us to wait. Now is the time. Why would we pass it up?

Amen

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3 Comments

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  1. This is a lot to think over, but a good reminder.
    I know the prayer of my heart at this moment is “Lord satisfy me alone.” There are so many distractions in life and it’s so easy to forget that God doesn’t need me and that I don’t deserve anything. And yet he still chooses to use, love and forgive me! It’s amazing and hard to wrap the mind around!
    All in all, very good.
    Be blessed this week,
    Kelsey

    Like

  2. What a great message! We think we know what God is like, like Job’s friends, but then God speaks to us through great trials and shows us a little wider glimpse of Him…which is nothing like we originally thought. But much greater than we thought. What an encouraging verse. 😀

    Like

  3. Well thank you very much!

    This was a really stressful sermon to write, but I’m glad it’s been a blessing.

    Like

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