Sermon Series: Lord, I want to be better
14 This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride.
15 I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” 16 This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
There are two mistakes you and I make during difficult times. We either look back or we look ahead. The tendency is to think and reminisce about what our lives used to be like prior to the onset of the troubles we are currently experiencing. We become Christian time travelers. You and I, through the power of memory, lock in on a period in time and we reflect and relive “The glory days” of old. Or, on the other hand, if our past was unpleasant and the present does not seem to be much better, we project ourselves into the future. This time we travel forward in time to reach our destination. In this case we must rely on the power of imagination. We call upon our mind to craft and create the perfect scenario where you and I have overcome the troubles and problems that have and are presently plaguing us so that we can live happily ever after.
The difficulty in both of these cases is they are not grounded in reality. The truth is that you and I cannot relive the past and we cannot transport ourselves into the future. The two days that are absolutely out of our control are yesterday and tomorrow. Therefore, the only day we can impact or make a difference on is today.
As you and I turn our attention to the Scriptures we read about a group of people who are just like us. The times have changed, but the problems and challenges remain the same. Israel was going through a very unstable period. The geopolitical or balance of power in the region was shifting and her leadership was confronted with a myriad of challenges. As Judah looked at what was going on around her, her today was nothing to brag about, and her tomorrow was not looking that great either. And so, God sent Judah a message through the prophet Isaiah. It is a message with a prescription for dealing with challenging times.
In verses 14 & 15 Isaiah uses four terms or titles for God. He says, the Lord is “Your Redeemer,” “The Holy One,” “Israel’s Creator,” and “Your King.” Let’s take a look at each of these terms.
Your Redeemer – To redeem means to buy back or to pay the cost or price for freedom; a redeemer also is an avenger. As our redeemer, God promises to pay whatever it costs to purchase the freedom of His people. As our avenger, God will fight for us and demand repayment from anyone that hurts us.
The Holy One – The Bible tells us that God is Holy. This means that God is pure and clean. There is no corruption in God and because there is no corruption in God, God’s judgment is not corrupt. Therefore, we should fear and reverence God’s holiness because God will judge what is right and true.
Creator – As the creator, God is able to produce by making and make by producing. God is able to cause something to come into existence and shape, fashion and form something new out of what already exists. God is able to create new circumstances, new situations, and new solutions for His people.
King – As our king, God rules over our lives and affairs and the ultimate power for what happens to us rests with God since God the king can never be deposed, dethroned or defeated. Therefore, you and I have nothing to worry about, because God will not sacrifice His people to save Himself.
As we consider these titles of and for God, we can and should take comfort in the knowledge of whom our God is and what He promises to do for His people. Titles are monikers and labels by which you and I can identify someone. So when times get tough we need to remember whom our God is, He is our Redeemer, The Holy One, Creator and King.
The propensity for all people during difficult times is to look ahead. In fact, we look ahead even during good times. The Lord through Isaiah says, okay, if you absolutely must look ahead look for what God will do. In the case of Israel, Isaiah has already informed them that calamity is coming. They have been prepped and briefed about the invading army called Babylon that is coming. They have been made aware that the Babylonians will be bigger, stronger, and thoroughly dominate them. In addition to plundering their land, destroying their place of worship, they are also going to lose their best and brightest to captivity and a significant number of the rest will be exiled to Babylon. The only ones who will remain will be the weak, the infirmed, and those whom the Babylonians deem to be useless. So, this is what the people have already heard is coming. Yet, they are advised to not focus on what they will endure, but rather they should focus on what God will do for them. When times are hard and situations and circumstances prove to be to challenging for us to bear, you and I need to keep our eyes open for what God will do for us. It is no secret that when you start looking for God all kinds of distractions pop-up and try to divert our attention away from God. However, Isaiah reminds us to be steadfast and to be vigilant, to keep looking, because the text says, “For your sake I will.” If we keep looking, God will provide a sign, a glimpse, or a picture so that you and I will see what God is going to do. If we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by what we are going through and keep looking for what God is going to do, we will make it through.
The other thing we are notorious for is looking back. When our minds cannot conceive of anything good that will happen, we think back to “better times.” Again, the Lord through the prophet Isaiah says if we must look back then look at what God has done. The Lord reminds the people of a time in their history when Pharaoh’s army was pursuing their ancestors and they were caught between the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. The Lord pointed out that when it appeared as though there was no way out, the Lord made a way. In fact, He did not just make a way, the Lord created a path through the barrier. With the power of His breath, the Lord blew and that thing that was standing in their way separated and divided in front of them creating a pathway for the people to elude their pursuers. And when their pursuers tried to follow them the same waters that separated for God’s people swallowed up their pursuers. As you and I think back, let us think back to those times when logic, reason and reality all agreed there was no way. We did not see it happening and we were convinced that it could not happen. Just when we were ready to pronounce the benediction and declare it over – God made a way. If you and I must look back, let’s look back at what God has done. Let’s look back at those doors that were closed that only God could have opened. Let’s look back at those opportunities we thought we missed out on or had passed us by, only to discover that God has something better for us. Let’s look back at how God worked in the lives of our parents and grandparents who came through the depression, Jim Crow, and other hardships that life threw at them. If we must look back, let’s look back at what God has done.
Okay, so Isaiah advised the people who want to look ahead to look at what God will do. Then he encouraged those who want to look back to look at what God has done. But then, the Lord tells Isaiah to tell the people three things:
1. Leave the past in the past – “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” In other words, whatever was, was, and in our minds we need to treat it like it no longer exists. We need to employ the old Brooklyn-Italian saying, “Forgetaboutit.” We should not become nostalgic and try to revive or relive what has already happened. We are not to live in yesterday. Isaiah advises us to strike the words, “We used to,” from our vocabulary. This charge also includes things that have been done to us. We are to erase and move away from all of the hurt, pain, and despicable things that other have done and said to us in the past. Whatever we have endured and when or wherever it happened that is where we must leave it, in the past.
2. See what God is doing now – “See, I am doing a new thing!” The main reason we need to forget the past is because God has moved on and you and I need to keep up with God. God is doing new things in and around us and we cannot enjoy, embrace or appreciate the new as long as we are clinging to the past. The text says, “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Advances are being made everyday in every area of our society. Everyday new things are springing and popping up. The issue is not whether or not these things are good, but that the world and everything in it are changing and we need to understand the changes, adapt and adjust accordingly to them. If the entire world is using computers and we are still using a typewriter then we are disconnected from the world and out of touch with the world in which we live. The real problem with anything new is it requires you and I to change. In many cases the one thing we do not want to do. The fallacy in this type of thinking is that if our goal is to lead better lives then we need to incorporate better into our lives – we need to change. If God has created something that will improve our existence, and better our quality of life then it only makes sense that you and I should use the things that God has placed at our disposal now.
3. Embrace what God is doing now – the bottom line is we all need help and assistance. The real question is, are we willing to accept and receive the help and assistance God provides? God through Isaiah says, “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Literally, the Lord is telling you and me, I am making a way for you right now. God said He is making a way today, not tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year, but God is making a way for us today. However, in order for us to see the way God is making we have to let go of believing that the way we did it in the past is the only way we can make it in the present. We have to open our eyes and our understanding that God’s way is not always our way or even the path we might choose or like, but it’s the way out God is making for us right now. In addition, God promises to provide the resources for us as He makes the way. If you are stuck and have no clue how to get out of where you are or what you are in, look for the way that God is making and then embrace it and follow God’s way for you.
When everything is said and done, in challenging times you and I will sometimes look ahead and we will also look back. However, let us also not forget to look for what God is doing today because that is our ticket out of whatever you and I are facing and dealing with right now.