Sunday, March 28, 2004

Isaiah 43:16-21 - “Forget the Former Things”

5th Sunday in Lent (Year C - LCMS Revised Readings)
Saturday, March 27, and Sunday, March 28, 2004
Words in parentheses were on posters on 2 easels—words in black for the former things, and words in red for the new.

God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Forget the former things.” (FORMER) Forget the things in the past. Not in the sense of actually forgetting them. After all, these are God’s great and glorious actions that have helped His people. But forget them, don’t focus on them, pay no attention to them, because, “See, behold, I am doing a new thing!” ( NEW)

Focus on this new thing, this thing coming in the future, this thing that will be far superior than anything God’s done in the past. See and trust that God will do something far more glorious than anything else we’ve seen. Forget the former things, pay no attention to them. Turn your attention to the new thing.

The former thing, the thing in the past is the Exodus from Egypt (EXODUS). God saved His people and brought them out, an exodus, leaving a land that treated them harshly. But this new thing, this new thing is salvation for our souls (SALVATION). We’re not just talking about a one-time event in history. This is salvation for all people. God will lead all people out, an exodus for all who follow Him.

Before, the problem was slavery to Egypt (EGYPT). The Egyptians were not treating God’s people very well. God heard their cries and promised to deliver them from that slavery. Now, though, this new thing solves the problem of being slaves to sin (SIN). Don’t just focus on what God can do when one world power puts His people into slavery. Focus on this new thing, this new salvation, where God will redeem His people, buy them back from slavery to sin, a spiritual slavery. See, God is doing something new, beyond anything we might imagine.

When God brought the people out of Egypt, they wandered in the desert (WANDER). The desert, the wilderness now means wandering to God’s people. For 40 years they wandered around the difficult terrain of desert and wilderness. But that’s the former thing. Now what the desert means is the place where God will make His path (PATH). “I am making a way in the desert,” God says. Where there was wandering, God will give direction. Where there was still a struggle to follow God’s ways, now God will lead His people once and for all into His ways, His path, His road. This new thing is better than any GPS, On*Star, in-dash computer; this is a path for our souls. He has provided the way to eternal life.

In saving the people from Egypt, God sent plagues (PLAGUES). Frogs and locusts and other animals died and suffered in order to show Pharoah and the Egyptians that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, the Great I AM, is the true God. Now, though, in this new thing, God will not kill animals; the animals will worship God (WORSHIP). The whole earth will be full of His praise. The animals will join in the heavenly chorus, praising God’s glorious Name. God is doing something new here.

While the people were in the desert, God gave them water from a rock (ROCK). But even that caused death, because of the way Moses got angry and didn’t follow God’s instructions. Moses got brash, and then God told Moses he wouldn’t go into the Promised Land because of the way He acted at the rock. So the water came from the rock, gave life to the people, but still there was death. Now though, God says He will send streams into the wilderness, water in the desert (STREAMS). This isn’t just a trickle from a rock; this is God transforming the desert. Water and streams where once there was nothing.

God takes this desert, this land of death (DEATH), and transforms it into a land of life (LIFE). And with this new thing, it goes beyond just talking about the literal desert. This new thing brings life to our souls. Where once there was only death for us spiritually, in this new life God is transforming our souls of sin and death into souls of life and salvation. There’s a stream of life-giving water flowing through your soul.

So forget the former things (FORGET). Pay no attention to them. Do not focus on the former things. God tells His people not to focus on the Exodus, not to think that saving them from Egypt is the only thing God will do. Because, see, behold, pay attention, God is doing a new thing. Focus on the new thing (FOCUS).

And this was true for when Isaiah spoke to the Israelites, but this is true for us today too. Forget the former things. Maybe your Grandma (GRANDMA) was miraculously healed. You thought she’d die, but then God brought her back to life. Rejoice in that, rejoice in what God has done, but don’t focus on that. Focus on the new thing. Focus on Jesus (JESUS). God may do many wonderful blessings in our lives, things we can look back on and praise Him for, but God doesn’t want us to focus on those things. God wants us to focus on Jesus, on the salvation that comes through the cross and resurrection. When it comes to our hope and faith, our undivided attention should be on this new thing: salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Maybe you look back on your Confirmation (CONFIRMED), the day you stood up and reaffirmed your baptismal vow. You look back on that as the time when God taught you so much about your faith. But God says, don’t focus on that. Focus on the new thing. Focus on Jesus. Because if you focus too much on the day you were confirmed, the day you became a member of the church in adult confirmation, if you focus too much on those things, you might forget why it is that we’re here. Our hope and faith are centered in Jesus and what He has done.

Maybe you feel like you know enough (ENOUGH), that you’ve heard it all before, that you know enough about Jesus to get you by. But see, behold, God is doing a new thing. God is doing something that is beyond our imagination, that is even more glorious and wonderful than the things we’ve already seen. God is doing something in Jesus that is truly incredible. So pay attention, focus on the new thing, because your goal is the full and complete knowledge of Christ. A full and complete knowledge of Christ. There is not a time when we can say that we’ve learned enough, because the knowledge of Jesus is immeasurable. There is so much to learn about our loving and gracious God. Plus, everyday the stuff falls back out of our heads. Just when we learned what it means to be a child of God, we’re back to wondering just what God has to do with our lives. So no, focus on the new thing. Focus on the goal of a complete knowledge of Jesus.

As one scholar said, forget the former things, forget what you’ve achieved in your faith so far, because if you focus on your Confirmation and your church membership and all of the things you’ve already done for God, if you focus on that, you might put it into neutral (NEUTRAL). You might put the car into neutral, coast, and then glide to a stop. You might say to yourself, “I have arrived.” You might fool yourself into thinking that you’ve got it all figured out, you’ve in like flynn, you’re good to go, you’re groovy.

But this isn’t about coasting. Paul shows us that in the reading from Philippians today. Faith is about striving, straining, pressing on toward the goal. Faith is about keeping Jesus as the focus. Faith doesn’t hope in the old things or the things you’ve done yourself. Faith hopes in Jesus. So forget the former things.

Focus on Jesus. Focus on the salvation that comes through Jesus. There may be lots of other blessings in your life. There may be great days that you look back on, but don’t put all of your attention on them. You see, that’s what got God’s people into trouble and that’s why God sent Isaiah the prophet. They looked back at the Exodus and said, “We’re God’s people. He’s saved us once; He can do it again.” They put their spiritual lives in neutral. They assumed that God would always bail them out. They stopped having a relationship with God, and He became something just on the shelf, a little memento, a plaque on the wall.

(take cards and throw them out the window)
So God says through Isaiah, “Forget the former things. Throw them out the window.” So God says to us today, “Forget the former things. Throw them out the window. Don’t put it into neutral. Continue to focus on Jesus and salvation through Him.”

And so indeed, even in these days of Lent when we remember our sins, when we turn to God in meditation and prayer, when we repent, even in Lent, we turn our full attention on the cross and resurrection, the victory we have through Jesus, the forgiveness that He won for us.

Even more than that, we focus on the promise of Jesus to come again, to come and put a final end to sin and death, to put an end to this broken world, to rescue us and take us to eternal life, to a new life. We focus on the new thing that God has started in you and me through faith, but we focus on this new thing that will be completed on the Last Day. We focus on this great, wonderful, far superior promise, bigger than anything we’ve ever know. We focus on how God will take us who are dead in our sins and He will make us alive again!

Forget the former things. Don’t dwell on them. Put your undivided attention this new thing, this salvation that comes through Jesus!!