The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany February 8, 2004
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
129, 374, 385, 132
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth, shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself, they shall declare My praise. But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; and you have been weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings, nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not caused you to serve with grain offerings, nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, nor have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices; but you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
“This changes everything!” How many times have you heard that? A few years ago a U.S. carmaker spent millions on an ad campaign to convince consumers that its new line of cars and trucks was so vastly different and improved that the driving experience would be forever changed. I bought one of those vehicles, but it did not change much of anything. It was basically like most other cars on the road. Just before the year 2000, there was a great deal of hype about the new millennium and how it would be a momentous, world-changing event. Was it? About the only change is that we had to write a different date on school papers and checks.
Yet, we long for changes which will improve our lives: improvements in health and healthcare, a fatter paycheck, better relationships with others, improvements and changes in government, and the world in general. There is always talk about it. There are promises to deliver it, but what finally happens? Solomon writes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV).
Mankind does not have the power to make real changes for the better. Left to ourselves, we would keep repeating the same old cycle over and over again, generation after generation. Life would be a depressing, hopeless existence. If you have ever felt trapped in that unchanging cycle and wondered whether things can change for the better, the Lord has a message for you. Through the words of Isaiah He shows us something which really does change everything!
Do you ever wish you could turn back the clock to when you were 10 or 20 years younger, or when you lived somewhere else, or when children were still at home, or when you had fewer worries or more energy? The Jewish captives to whom God was speaking in our text had those thoughts too. They looked back to the time when God had so powerfully intervened in their lives to rescue them from slavery in Egypt. When they were completely helpless and demoralized, the Lord had taken their side, crushed Pharaoh with the 10 plagues, parted the Red Sea for them, and drowned Pharaoh and his army. He led the Israelites safely through the desert. He fed them with that miracle food called Manna, and even saw to it that their clothing and shoes did not wear out during all those years. He stayed among them 24 hours a day in the pillar of cloud and fire. Those were wonderful, thrilling times!
But then things had changed for the worse. The people turned away from God, and the Lord allowed them to be taken to Babylon as POWs. Now they were saying, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11). God’s response was: “Forget the past! As great as the rescue from Egypt was, I’m going to do something much better which will change everything!” It gave the people new hope for the future.
When you look back over your life, you are going to see God’s presence and power working on your behalf. He called you out of the world and made you His child in Holy Baptism. He granted you healing when you were sick. He helped you through tight financial times and family crises. He has given you many happy times. Those are all reasons for prayers of thanksgiving, but that’s not all. We don’t have to worry that the best is behind us and that there is nothing to which we can look forward. We, too, can look forward to new, even better things from God.
God told Israel, “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth….I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” [v.19] He would change everything for the better. Through the rugged, impassable desert, He would make a smooth road on which His people could safely travel. In an arid, lifeless place He would cause rivers of life-giving water to flow. This is reminiscent of God’s care for Israel as they traveled through the wilderness to Canaan, but it would be even greater. This is a picture of how He would create a way for the people to pass through the desert of sin and would provide them with life-giving water for their souls.
And why would God do this? It would not be due to what they had done. They had not earned favor because of their sacrifices and offerings. They had not impressed God with their holiness. Really, it was just the opposite. They had burdened God with their sins. They deserved to have God cut off all ties with them. But instead, He showed them amazing mercy. He called them “His people, His chosen.” And instead of holding them accountable for their sins, He says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” [v.25]
God’s free grace changed everything for Israel, and changes it for us as well. Everyday we face the same old things. As we go about our lives at home, school, and work, we sin. As we think, speak, and carry on our activities, we sin. God’s Law and our conscience accuse us of not being the people God expects us to be. We fall short of perfectly loving Him and loving others as we love ourselves. By nature, we are trapped in that deadly cycle of sin. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7 NIV). We could try to change and improve ourselves. We could make excuses. We could try to cover up our faults. But it would not change anything. We would still be sinners heading straight for hell.
God’s message changes everything! He does something totally new and unheard of. He creates a road for us which leads through the desert of sin and death. He gives us the water of life to refresh our parched souls. And what is more, it’s all free! We don’t have to first earn it or prove that we’re worthy of God’s gifts. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost…. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:1ff. NIV).
That road which God prepares leads straight to Jesus. He changes everything for the better. After being lowered from the roof on his bed in front of Jesus, the paralyzed man was never the same again. Everything changed for him. And the greatest change was not that he could pick up his mat and walk home under his own power, but that his sins were forgiven.
Likewise, Jesus changes everything for us. The pressure of doing the impossible, keeping the commandments perfectly, is off our shoulders, because Jesus kept the Law for us. The guilt which comes with sin is off our consciences, since Jesus took that burden on Himself. The heart-pounding, knee-knocking fear of facing eternal punishment is gone, because Jesus has already suffered that punishment on the cross. For Jesus’ sake God has erased our sins from His account book so completely that He doesn’t even remember them any longer! That changes everything!
It changes our whole outlook. Instead of feeling depressed and helpless, we can be grateful and optimistic about the future. We are now God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We want to show that by praising God in everything we do. Instead of looking longingly back on the past, and dreading the future, let’s praise God for the new supply of grace and blessing which He has in store for us today. Instead of dwelling on past sins and letting them rob us of peace, praise God that Jesus has erased them all with His suffering and death.
Praise God with an eagerness to study and read His Word. Show your gratitude toward Him by joyfully using every opportunity to worship Him in His house. Let your praise show in striving to live according to God’s ways, rather than the ways of the world. Offer the Lord your time and serve Him by working for the good of the congregation and for the well-being of others in your life. For the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
In an effort to find new hope, people will try changing houses, cars, clothes, jobs, even spouses. But the longer you live, the more you realize that these things do not change much of anything. The problems, struggles, sin, and death are all still there. But then God steps into our world with the unchanging gift of free grace through His Son. Jesus lived, died, and now lives again that we might have a bright, eternal future. That unchanging Gospel really does change everything forever! Praise God! Amen.
O depth of love, to me revealing
The sea where my sins disappear!
In Christ my wounds find perfect healing,
There is no condemnation here;
For Jesus’ blood through earth and skies
Forever “Mercy! Mercy!” cries.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.