6th Sunday of Easter May 22, 2022
18, WS #721, 410, WS #798:1&4
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Blessed are You, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who led Your people Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Enlighten our darkness by the light of Your Christ; may His Word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path; for You are merciful, and You love Your whole creation and we, Your creatures, glorify You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” Amen. (1 Peter 5:10)
Dear Fellow Christians,
We tend to lose sight of just how things used to be and are reminded of them by the little things that pop up from time to time. Take going for a walk, as an example. As late as the 1950's a sure way to garner the attention (and ridicule) of your neighbors was to walk somewhere, just for the sake of exercise. It just wasn’t done all that often. People did plenty of walking (probably much more than they do today) but their walking always had a purpose. They had somewhere to go or something to do. The walk itself was not the purpose.
Our landscape changed as our habits changed. The first change was the addition of sidewalks—on virtually every street. Next came the widening of those sidewalks, making it easier for two to walk side-by-side. Take a walk in an old neighborhood and then in a new one and the change will be obvious. The latest addition is walking paths, mile after mile of paved paths constructed and maintained year-round for an activity that really didn’t even exist 50 or 60 years ago.
Given the fact that there are hundreds of miles of sidewalk and walking paths already in existence in most cities, it always surprises me to hear that city planners are considering the construction of additional paths. Do we really need a new path?
According to our text for this morning, our God certainly believes that to be true—though obviously for a different sort of “walk.” The text that will guide us this morning into the general topic of paths is found recorded in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the 43rd Chapter:
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “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? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. (ESV)
This is God’s Word. There is great comfort in knowing that these words are true and right in every regard. They are also therefore worthy of our intense study and meditation. That we might gain the full benefit of these words through our study this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
The history of the Jews was, in a sense, one of paths. God started the nation with Abraham and led him and his family on a new path—to the south, the Promised Land. When famine threatened their very existence, God led them on another path to the south, to Egypt. Enslaved there for 400 years, God again created for them a path to freedom.
It is there that our text picks up the story. Our text first refers back to the time when, having created for them that impossible path out of slavery (not only with all of their possessions but with the plunder of Egypt), they found themselves on what by all appearances looked to be a path to nowhere. A dead end. A deadly end. Not only was the mighty Egyptian army bearing down on them—clearly displeased with the Jews for the devastation their God had visited upon them—the Jews had nothing with which to defend themselves. They were sheep, penned for the slaughter.
Or so it appeared.
God’s path is never a path to nowhere. It’s always a path home. Walking on God’s path is always a guarantee both of his divine favor and his divine protection. But walking that path requires implicit trust in the one who laid it out. This was the lesson the newly freed Jews needed to learn, which was exactly why God’s path had led to that impossible, inescapable catastrophe-waiting-to-happen by the shores of the Red Sea. They needed to learn to doubt their eyes and trust their God.
Only when the Children of Israel were absolutely convinced that all was lost did God himself show them the new path—his path. And, as Isaiah also pointed out, the same path that meant escape and freedom for his people meant death and destruction for his enemies.
This was the premise that God the Holy Spirit, speaking through Isaiah, wanted to establish in our text. This was the validation for what came next. The same God who had revealed his power to make a path of escape where none previously existed, where no one ever thought possible, was and is able to repeat that power in every possible circumstance for every single one of his children. In fact, it formed the basis or authority for what he was about to tell them. His message was this: “Don’t look for the logical path, the old path, the well-worn path. My path will be different. Look for the new path that I, in good time, will show you.”
But the Jews proved, repeatedly, that they weren’t ready to trust God’s direction and walk on his path. They hadn’t learned to trust him, especially when their eyes saw only a dead end. So God tested them. He led them on a path through the wilderness to another apparent dead end—to the borders of the land he had promised to give them. The spies went in, the spies came out, and 83% of them reported that the path stopped at the border. The people that occupied the land were just too strong, too formidable, too… everything. Two of the twelve spies saw the same things the others saw. Their reaction was not “Woe is us!” but “Lucky us!” They didn’t focus on the negative; they saw only the positive. They saw no obstacle, only the incredible land the Lord was giving them. Eyes lie. God doesn’t.
The handwringing, eye-trusting majority won. The people turned away without even trying, without even giving their God a chance to prove himself reliable (as if he hadn’t already done that). So that same Lord gave them a very different path, and their new path truly was a path to nowhere. He led them back into the wilderness on a path that would wander aimlessly for forty years until every last adult doubter was dead—every last adult who, even with all that they had witnessed, still didn’t trust that their God loved them enough or was powerful enough to guide them safely.
Yet it’s probably not accurate to say that God led Israel on this path to nowhere. That path was for the Jews. "Israel” is best seen as a subset of the Jews, made up of those Jews who actually trusted their God and clung tenaciously to his promises. Why is this a necessary distinction? Because you and I are now part of “Israel"—though most of us have no ethnic connection with the Jews. More on this later.
With the doubters all dead, God’s path led again to that seemingly impregnable border, to that apparent dead end. This time, though the defenders were still just as formidable and the cities just as heavily fortified, Israel followed God’s path into a rich land all their own. City by city they came into possession of “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Carry this all forward a couple thousand years and you will find that not much has changed. God has established a new “Israel,” and you and I are part of it. Paul spoke of this in his Letter to the Romans: Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27) “Israel” now includes the sum total of all believers, all who will be saved, all who trust the promises of God rather than their own senses or inclinations. Human ideas represent a path to nowhere, both then and now.
Make no mistake. The “Israel” of today (of which we are members) is often put to the same test as the Israel of the Old Testament. The path our God lays out before us routinely runs into what are, by all appearances, dead ends. God’s path regularly leads to apparent catastrophe and inescapable calamity. Ask anyone who has been hopelessly in love with an avowed unbeliever. Ask anyone who has faced “unavoidable” financial ruin. Ask anyone who has come face-to-face with “irreparable” marriage problems, “impossible” family crises, depression, anxiety, or disease.
These are our unscalable walls and our undefeatable enemies. These are our unstoppable, rushing enemy armies. The vast host of the godless lie not only arrayed in front of us, but they are also all around us. In our case, the path laid out by our God is not simply to destroy our enemies; it is to win them over. Who would ever imagine that such a thing could be done? Who could possibly sum up the courage to put one foot in front of another along such a path?
These are our tests. These are our impossible paths. We are surrounded by those who are walking purposely on a path to nowhere. They are on a path to somewhere, actually, but certainly not the destination they envision.
Again, who can possibly pass such tests or meet such challenges? Who can ever learn to ignore their senses, and to step forward? Blindly. Boldly.
That’s where the second half of our text comes in. Hear again God’s words—the same God who “makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.” The God therefore who has already repeatedly demonstrated his power to steer his children through impossible barriers and to guide us safely where we never imagined we could venture has already given us every reason to trust him. Hear what that God says: “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?”
Here is the promise of the very gospel itself—the greatest deliverance from impossible circumstances that the world has ever known. The enraged host of our own sins once pressed us, enslaved us, imperiled us, condemned us. There was simply no way out, for “all we like sheep had gone astray” and “the soul that sins shall die.” No possible escape, until God pointed to that Way—to his Son—who described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.” His Word, the Scriptures, point always and only there, to Jesus. “There is your new path. There is your deliverance from the enemies against which you were powerless. As I once rescued Israel from the Army of Egypt, so I have provided you a path to safety and life through faith in Jesus Christ.”
How impossibly easy, where once there was no hope. As the waters of the Red Sea once parted, so also a path to freedom and life has been opened to us. God the Father has laid on Jesus Christ the iniquity of us all. Through faith in his Son, you and I have already been declared not guilty. The danger has passed. Our sins can no longer condemn or threaten. Their power over us lies broken, never again to rise.
Who would have thought? Who could have imagined an escape so simple, so painless—at least for those who were rescued? Only the God with whom nothing is impossible. God who, in the words of our text, can “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert,” can “give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”
Such a God, who miraculously solved our most terrible, pressing dilemma, can be trusted. His paths can be trusted to lead reliably and safely—when we actually follow them. The way is usually not a mystery to us; it’s just the apparent impossibility that gives us pause. That God, our God calls to us: Trust me. Walk in faith where I direct, no matter how impossible the outlook, and I will keep you safe. Until that path finally leads you home. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.