Text: Isaiah 43:16-21
Date: Lent V + 3/13/16
No matter how far God’s people fall away from Him pursuing sinful ways, nevertheless they remain God’s people and God is their Savior. No matter how far you may fall away from God’s ways, nevertheless you remain God’s baptized people, identified with His Son’s redeeming death through that water, marked with the sign of the holy cross. That means there is and will always be hope. The verse just before our text in Isaiah 43 reads, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘For your sake I send to Babylon and bring them all down as fugitives, even the Chaldeans’” (Is 43:14). As God used their enemies to impose the punishment of captivity, so now He uses them to bring them redemption. So it is on this Fifth Sunday in Lent that Jesus’ enemies, the scribes and chief priests, sought to lay hands on Him and would eventually bring about His death by crucifixion. Yet Jesus remains their Savior and brings about salvation through the very death they themselves, we ourselves(!) caused.
Ever since chapter 40 of Isaiah these words form a book of comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (40:1). Even so the voice of John the Baptist cried in the wilderness preparing the way for the Savior. Jesus is the Lord’s chosen servant, Israel’s only Savior. But He brings salvation in what may seem a strange way, a new way.
The prophet has us recall God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery making a way through the Red Sea, a path in the mighty waters. We with them remember that momentous deliverance every year at the Passover. There, the prophet reminds us, God brought forth chariot and horse, army and warrior only to lie down, extinguished, quenched like a wick as the sea engulfed them. Remember? “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex 14:28-31).
In urging our memory of the mighty acts of God for our salvation however the prophet then surprises us when he writes, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” This does not mean we are at all to forget those past mighty acts of deliverance. Before His saving death, it was at the Passover Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine calling them His body and blood, saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” To remember in the Bible means to receive the benefits of God’s past acts of salvation today personally in your life. These words urge us to know that such sanctified remembrance now is to move us forward to a still more glorious future.
It took nothing less than God’s own act of deliverance to save us from the destruction that is sin, death and the devil because we cannot save ourselves. But though we declare His praise for those past, critical, crucial events we are now to know also of our new status, looking forward to the new heaven and new earth of eternal life when “He who is seated on the throne says, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Rev. 21:5).
When the Lord says “I am doing a new thing” and then asks, “do you not perceive it?” He promises that you will see it as through His Word He gives us sight, the eyes of faith, that see His gracious hand of deliverance.
The eyes of the scribes and chief priests were not opened by the parable Jesus told except insofar as they perceived that He had told this parable against them. Jesus is the stone rejected by men (Is 53:3) who, through His cross and resurrection has become the cornerstone of the new temple and building of God, His holy Church. This is the new thing, the gift of an ever new future for you and all who put their trust in Him.
Beginning next Sunday, we will remember the former things, the mighty acts of God in His deliverance of Israel, then the great and holy week of Jesus’ passion and death. But with eyes of faith such remembrance will propel us forward to see the new thing, this new existence called resurrection.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means your resurrection from the grave. For, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-22). Behold, God is doing a new thing to and for you today; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Yes, you do with the eyes of a God-given faith.