If you happen to be an adrenaline junkie, there are plenty of extreme sports out there. You can skydive, you can do parkour, there is this fairly new sport called blobbing which is pretty much just sitting on an enormous, inflated pillow and from there you are launched into the air – I guess that’s a thing. There is truly something out there for everyone. Recently, I was made aware of what is perhaps my new favorite extreme sport, unfortunately, ESPN doesn’t broadcast it…yet. Here is the sport: can now combine your love of crisp wrinkle-free shirts with your love of competition in the epic sport of extreme ironing – no joke! Extreme Ironing was founded in 1997, it challenges competitors to press shirts in unexpected locations – like in trees or hanging over cliffs…just incredible.
Anyways, you can just forget about extreme sports and extreme ironing – it’s not important. We’re here to talk about Isaiah’s words… “Well, why did you even bring it up?” Good question. I’m glad you asked. In Isaiah 43, we see God doing a rather odd thing through his prophet Isaiah. In gripping language, God evokes the past. Specifically, he sketches out the story of the Exodus and particularly, the most dramatic of all Exodus episodes, the parting of the Red Sea that allowed the Israelites to cross on dry land. Then, of course, God brought that water crashing back down upon the pursuing Egyptian army, snuffing them out like a wick. The language in verses 16-17 is vivid and gripping. It’s the stuff of high drama. It brings our minds and our imaginations right back to that great story.
But no sooner have we brought that drama into a tight focus in our minds when suddenly verse 18 says, “Forget the past! Don’t dwell on it.” Instead, God says, in verse 19, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” The imagery quickly shifts from a place that had too much water – the Red Sea – to a wilderness setting that does not have enough. It shifts from a scene where the Egyptians died en masse to one where the people of God could die but will not die because God will cause streams to flow in the wilderness. God is saying, “Yeah, I did a lot in your past to keep you and save you, but you haven’t seen nothin yet.”
Now, what’s the background here? Isaiah, he is speaking these words to the Israelites in exile. They’re beaten down, they’re maybe doubting if they will ever be free. And, they’re looking, they’re looking back at God’s work in the past and they’re concerned. They don’t see God at work in their lives like he was in the lives of his people prior. So, looking back at history has left these exiled Israelites feeling rejected. God’s days of working and saving his people seem to have come to an end. He’s left us…forgotten us.
So, Isaiah says, “Forget about it – forget the past!” He then proceeds to floodlight and hope back on the scene. God will restore Israel one day and with that restoration, the stage would be set for the eventual coming of a Savior. And what that Savior would accomplish, well, it would make the past a mere footnote, something not worth remembering. And, yet, that past would still be the foundation for what was to come.
What does all of this mean to you and to me – that is the question isn’t it? Well, first thing, like the Israelites we too need to remember to forget. We need to forget our past if it’s keeping us from looking forward. Let me explain. This past Thursday evening, I was working on this sermon, and I tend to like to write in the evenings at home – less distractions. So, from about 8:00 to 11:30 pm I was writing this sermon, and I was struggling a bit, but I got to a point where I thought things were decent enough for me to wrap it up on Friday morning, so I started closing some of the programs on my computer. That was a mistake. Somehow, I closed my Word document and, somehow, none of my work saved. 3 ½ hours of work was gone. I’m not a crier, but that night I was close. My wife asked the good question, “Well, why weren’t you saving your work?” That was a good question, and I didn’t have a good answer. Now, I checked the Microsoft Word program for unsaved documents, and I couldn’t find anything, so I was forced to look forward. I couldn’t dwell on the past. The past was done. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.
For the Israelites, the past was holding them back. It was making them question God’s love, it caused them to live by sight and not by faith. Does your past do that to you? Does what you see in history hinder your faith? It maybe does more than you think. Uh, there’s a phrase you often hear people say when they look back at the past, “Those were the good old days…the glory days.” There’s nothing wrong with that phrase. But what do we often mean when we say, “Those were the good old days?” That’s distant. Those good things back then don’t happen today, they can’t, so there is nothing to look forward to right now, there’s no hope for a better future. So, like when you delete 3 ½ hours of work, you might as well give up, go to bed, and cry.
And sometimes we do that! We think like that! But what is that? Isn’t that a lack of faith? God can’t make my life better. God can’t work this horrible thing into something good. He won’t. He just can’t get me through this thing. Do you ever think like that? What’s really dangerous about a mindset like that is that it’s not God abandoning you rather it’s you starting to abandon him. You’ve chosen to live by sight and not by faith.
There’s another problem with looking back at the glory days. Sometimes, those days were not so great. You might have so much pain (either emotionally or physically) from something that has happened to you in the past that it keeps you from seeing a future, any kind of future where things might be better. In your past you might have tried so hard to get through just one never-ending crisis, that you might think there is nothing new that I can do (or have the energy to do). Some of us feel so inadequate, so small, so helpless, so powerless, that we cannot conceive of ourselves succeeding in the future.
Which is why I love what God says here in Isaiah. Forget those things, “see, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” In this verse, God teaches us a lot of things, but I’d like to focus on two points. Here is the first: He does the new thing. Did you catch that? “I am doing a new thing”, he says. Isn’t that a relief? God will be the one who brings something new into your life. God will be the one who does something for you in your future, something you likely can’t even conceive of. And what’s even greater is that this means God will be with you into that future So, watch him work, Watch God work in your life. That’s the first thing.
The second thing God teaches us is the key to all of this, and it’s there in his question – let me read it again – “do you not perceive it?” Do you not see this new thing I am doing? That question is a call to trust. because often, no, we don’t perceive it. We don’t see what God is doing in our lives. So, we must live by faith and not by sight. We must learn to trust that God will, as he says, “make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” of our lives.
Now, how does God do that for you? Well, I got two words for you: Extreme Ironing – did you forget about it? I told you to, but did I really want you to? (I’m kind of hoping you go home and google it). So, was God making the mistake of introducing a past history of deliverance that he then wanted his readers to forget? No. But he wanted them to use that history in a correct way, not as something that would hold them back, but as something that would bolster their faith and hope in God’s future. He wanted them to remember to forget, or, to say it slightly differently, he wanted them to remember that past deliverance so they could forget and leave behind any lack of faith or doubt that they might have and focus on the new that was still to come. God wants you to remember to forget in this way too.
He wants you to look back at his faithfulness and his love. He wants you to see his pattern of deliverance in the Bible, but, above all, he wants to take you to the cross. He wants to take you to that cross to see his own Son, Jesus, dying for all of your sins. Then he wants to take you to that empty tomb, so you can peer in and see how death did not hold Jesus, and it won’t hold you. And, he wants you to look up, to watch your Savior ascend into glory, the same glory that now awaits you. Then he wants to ask you a question… “Do you perceive this?” Because this is the new, and maybe you haven’t noticed, you are living in it!
You’ve lived in the new since the moment God placed his Spirit in you at your baptism. Not too long ago, you shook off the past of your sin and guilt as you confessed those things at the beginning of this service and asked God for mercy and grace to go forward in newness of life. Many of you will live in that newness in just a few moments when you come up to this rail not to just remember Christ’s sacrifice for all your sins, but to literally taste and see that forgiveness as you eat and drink the body and blood of your Lord. And right now, here you sit, listening to the Word of the one true God, and his Words will continue to sustain and nurture your faith until that day you don’t just see your coming glory, but you live in and experience that glory for all eternity.
It’s this new thing that sets the stage for everything else in our lives. It allows us to press on toward the goal of eternal life. It frees us from our past and assures us of our future in heaven. So that now we wait for that new thing, the day when Jesus comes to bring us home. When that day comes you won’t have time to dwell over what was, because you’ll be too busy praising God for what is. So, remember to forget. Forget those things, that keep you from seeing God’s mercy and grace in your life, and remember, remember what God has already done for you throughout his history and now yours. All of that has led to this new thing: you a child of God through Christ Jesus. Do you see it? Because God is doing it. Trust him. Amen.