“People of God, You Haven’t Seen Anything yet!”

(Isaiah 43:16-21 – Lent 5 – April 7, 2019)

Isaiah 43:16-21 – Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters, who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power (They shall lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinguished, they are quenched like a wick): “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 the 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.

Dear Redeemed, who live a new life in Christ:

A child was opening a gift on her birthday, her parents watching with joy. Their daughter’s eyes grew wide with delight as she lifted the lid from a big box, revealing a new riding saddle. “Thank you!” she exclaimed. “It’s just what I wanted!” She loved to ride horses. Her parents smiled and said, “You’re welcome”; and then: “But you haven’t seen anything yet!” Now they blindfolded her and took her outside. When they removed the handkerchief covering her eyes, they grew wider than ever. There stood a new horse just for her!

This is how it is in God’s Kingdom. As children of our heavenly Father, the gifts He gives just keep getting better. We give thanks to God for all that He has given, starting with life itself. As we confess in our Catechism under the Apostles’ Creed concerning God the Father:

He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them; that He richly and daily provides me with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that I need to support this body and life; that He protects me from all danger, guards and keeps me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.

But even after lavishing on us such great gifts for this life, God has smiled and said: “You haven’t seen anything yet!” He has opened our eyes to His most gracious gift – the precious gift of His Son, our Savior. As we confess under the Apostles’ Creed concerning God’s Son:

He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His inno­cent suffering and death; in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

We have seen God’s gracious gift in part, but it is a gift that keeps on giving in eternal joys. Therefore: “People of God, You Haven’t Seen Anything yet!” This is what God’s prophet Isaiah is saying. First, he recounts how good God had been to Israel. Then he foretells God’s greatest gift of all, in the salvation He was bringing His people in the coming Savior. 1) Yes, God’s past deeds were great… 2) But the new things He does are even greater.

1) Yes, God’s past deeds were great

At this time in Israel’s history, God had to tell His people both bad and good news. Since many had turned away from God to serve false gods and live immoral lives, they would have to go into captivity for their sin. Isaiah warned that the Babylonians would invade to destroy and take many captives. This was God’s chastisement to wake up their straying hearts to the seriousness of their sin, to lead them to repent and turn back to Him as the true God.

But the other half of Isaiah’s message was good news, God’s message that said: “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” (Isaiah 40:1). For despite all that must happen, He was going to bring them deliverance and salvation greater than they had ever seen.

First here, God reminds His people of His great deeds in the past, to assure them of His saving power: “Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters, who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power (They shall lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinguished, they are quenched like a wick).”

Here God reminds the Israelites how, long ago, He had brought their forefathers through the Red Sea, saving them from their enemies. Under Moses’ leadership, God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt through powerful miracles, forcing the Egyptians to let His people go. But when the Israelites came to the Red Sea, the Egyptians pursued them with all their chariots and horses. It seemed like Israel was finally doomed, trapped between the Red Sea and their powerful enemies.

But the Lord was their Deliver. He had Moses stretch out his hand over the sea, and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong wind so the waters were divided. The Israelites passed through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall on each side. The Egyptians pursued them with all their horses and chariots. But after the Israelites had passed safely through, the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand again, and the sea covered their enemies (Exodus 14:21-31).

So by great deeds God had saved Israel, declaring them with power to be His chosen people. After this great deliverance, Moses and the people had joined in a song of praise: The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (Exodus 15:2). Generation after generation of the faithful, on hearing of God’s great deeds of deliverance, would join that age-old song of praise.

2) But the new things He does are even greater

It would have been hard to imagine anything greater than the Exodus from Egypt and all God’s miracles as He led them to the Promised Land. Yet Isaiah had news: “People of God, you haven’t seen anything yet!” Yes, God’s past deeds were great; but the new things He does are even greater.

God said: “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 the 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.”

What was the new thing God was doing? Though the people of Israel would be devastated by the Babylonians and dragged off across the desert wilderness into captivity, God was already foretelling His saving acts. He would restore His people once again. God would cause a new government to arise and cause a new king to send them home in freedom. God’s people would pass through the desert back to their homeland, because God Himself provided the way.

But this was only a small picture of a much greater deliverance that God alluded to. For in restoring Israel to their homeland, God was fulfilling His plan to send the Messiah among Israel as He had promised. Indeed, God would accomplish the greatest deliverance in all of history as He sent the Messiah. For Christ came to redeem, not only the Jews, but the whole world of sinners.

This is where we come into the picture. Just think how desperately we all needed God to redeem us. With the image of dry desert and captivity, we are reminded of the natural condition of our souls. Those things in which our sinful nature tries to find life and satisfaction leave our souls nothing but dry and lifeless. Our self-centered grabbing at the pleasures of the world; our selfish attitudes by which we put our own interests over those of others; our self-serving ways in which we put our own will over God’s; our self-glorifying spirit, in which we boast in our own accomplishments instead of praising God – all the attitudes and actions that rise from our sinful nature left our souls empty of life before God, like dry and lifeless skeletons in the desert.

Much like Israel had been captive slaves to the Egyptians and then the Babylonians, our sinful nature made us slaves to Satan and his kingdom. Like Israel, we were powerless to free ourselves from sin’s captivity. We were spiritually dead and doomed to eternal damnation.

But God carried out His greatest act of salvation for a world of fallen sinners. He came to set us free, not just from physical and temporal enemies, but from spiritual and eternal enemies – sin, death, and the devil. To accomplish His great salvation and bring us back into His Kingdom, God performed “a new thing,” an unprecedented miracle of mercy. As Isaiah announced: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). For God Himself was coming in our human flesh, to make the way for us sinners to come into His Kingdom and eternal life. God Himself would pay the price for our redemption. On the cross, His Son would die the death our sins deserved. Jesus would suffer the agony and hopelessness of a soul thirsting for life apart from God, the hellish misery that would have been ours forever. Jesus would redeem us, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.”

By this greatest act of mercy ever, Jesus has conquered our worst enemies. Now that sin is removed from us, so is death. And where sin is removed, so is Satan’s tyranny. Jesus is the way of life by which God brings us into His Kingdom. Just as miraculous as turning a dry desert into a fertile garden flowing with streams of water, Jesus provides the water of life for our souls.

So God’s actions in rescuing Israel from their enemies pictured what He has done in an even greater way to deliver us all from our spiritual enemies. God once drowned the powerful Egyptian army in the Red Sea. And in a much greater way, He has drowned our spiritual enemies and the waters of Baptism. He has washed away our sins. He has sunk Satan’s dominion into the abyss. He has left our enemies lying there, never to rise against us. He has brought us through the waters of Baptism with Christ, raising us from death in the triumph of new life. In Baptism, God declared us with power to be His chosen people, His spiritual Israel, and heirs of His heavenly Promised Land.

As God told His people in the days of Isaiah, He does not want us to dwell on His deliverance as just “former things… things of old.” Day by day, God is doing “a new thing” as we live in His saving grace and power. We need this every day in our journey through this world’s wilderness.

As the Israelites fell into sin again and again, needing God’s call to repentance, so we still fall into sin and trouble. Yet, He began His good work in us continues to lead us in His way of life and salvation (Philippians 1:6). He leads by His Word us in daily repentance. He continues to pour out His forgiveness on us in His Word of Absolution and in the Sacrament of His body and blood. He continues to restore and strengthen us as we live in His grace. It is as if He were providing streams of water in the desert. Christ Himself is with us, giving us the water of life to restore our souls.

And He is with us in difficult times. Do you feel anxieties, pains, and frustrations? Do you feel like one who is plodding along in the desert, the hot sun of temptation and trial beating on you? Do you feel trapped by some situation, as if a powerful enemy is in hot pursuit of your life?

Take heart. The same God who powerfully delivered Israel long ago has delivered you from your worst enemies, and He has called you His own. None of your troubles are too powerful for Him. Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). As He told Israel long ago He tells us: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

People of God, join that age-old song of triumph: “The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” Truly, you haven’t seen anything yet! The Lord is watching over us with joy in His eyes, for He knows what He has in store for us. What a glorious homecoming it will be one day when our Lord and Savior, who gave His precious life for us, escorts us into His heavenly Promised Land. Forever behind us will be the pains and sorrows of this world. Jesus will open our eyes to indescribable joys in that wonderful home He has prepared for us.

This is how it is in God’s Kingdom. As children of our heavenly father, the gifts He gives just keep getting better. Thanks be to Him who created us and daily provides for and protects our life. Thanks be to Him who redeemed us that we may live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Thanks be to the God of Israel, who calls us by name: “My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise.”

Yes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3); together with the Holy Spirit – one true God, now and forever. Amen.