5th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 803, 420:1-2, 6-7, 427
Text – Isaiah 43:19
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness & rivers in the desert.
“Lo, the winter is passed, the rain is over & gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time for the singing of birds has come. And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12 KJV) Are you aware that those words are from the Bible?
They’re certainly not as well-known as John 3:16. Yet, prior to 2010, those words of Holy Scripture were read for over 40 years on the 1st day of Spring training. They were an Ernie Harwell tradition as he worked the radio broadcast from baseball diamonds across Florida.
Even then, if you were a Tiger’s baseball fan, you may not have been aware of the fact that those words come from the Song of Solomon. It’s one of the least known books of the Bible, & making its meaning even more obscure, Mr. Harwell was quoting the King James translation. What is clear from that text is that spring has sprung.
That’s why Mr. Harwell quoted it every year at the 1st game of spring training. For baseball fans at least that always marks the beginning of spring, even if you live somewhere that’s still cold – like Michigan. Hope springs eternal with baseball fans & spring is the season when none of their hopes & dreams has yet been crushed.
For God’s people from the nation of Judah, their hopes & dreams were going to be crushed because they no longer centered them in Yahweh. They had long since abandoned any real allegiance to their Creator. False gods had drawn their attention & devotion, so Yahweh’s chosen people were lunging headfirst toward death & destruction.
God’s chosen nation could no longer interpret the meaning of Yahweh’s warnings against
the damage their sins would cause. They did not hate their sins nor did they flee from them. God’s heart is broken over their refusal to repent & turn back to Him. As long as they continue to follow false gods they will walk into eternal destruction, therefore Yahweh will send Babylon to destroy their earthly city that they might finally return to God’s heavenly city.
The people’s hopes & dreams, of life as their parents had it, would be crushed through the destruction of Jerusalem & their captivity. This is how the previous chapter of Isaiah ended: “So [God] poured on him the heat of His anger & the might of battle; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart.” (42:25 ESV)
Isaiah had been commissioned to warn them, but the people ignored him. Eventually they killed him, yet his words lived on in the scroll of Isaiah, to guide the coming generations that were held as captives & slaves in the foreign land of Babylon.
There are many similarities in our nation today with Israel & Judah thousands of years ago. The people of our land do not hate their sins, but flaunt them, & the last thing they’ll do is flee from them. All the mainstream churches today are complicit in this, encouraging people to go on sinning because conservatives have been misinterpreting the Bible forever.
What Paul wrote to Timothy is certainly the case today in the United States: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV) For God’s people thousands of years ago & for God’s people today, Isaiah gives warning & offers hope.
After the destruction of God’s punishment has passed by, a new thing will spring forth from God’s hand: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness & rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19 ESV) I saw a robin in the backyard yesterday. Onions are sprouting in my garden & the asparagus will not be far behind. Spring is arriving in Michigan, & it is a yearly reminder to us of the newness that our Creator offers with His love. What Isaiah is writing about as the new thing that God is doing, is the exodus from their exile in Babylon, yet the ultimate new thing is the fulfillment of God’s old covenant with the advent of the new Israel – who is Jesus Christ.
In the time of Isaiah, the birth of Jesus is still 700 years off, but ultimately that will change eternity for all who trust in Him as their Savior from sin. However, people are easily tempted to resist turning back to God while still claiming to follow Jesus. You probably recognize these words even if you don’t realize that Jesus was actually quoting Isaiah 29:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth & honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” (29:13 ESV) Sinful human beings are simply not capable of keeping any kind of covenant with the Great I Am, no matter what awe inspiring signs He gives us.
The rescue of ancient Israel culminated with their exodus through the Red Sea & the destruction of the Egyptian army in that same Red Sea. Not four days later the people of God were grumbling against Moses about having no water to drink. Isaiah’s promise of the new thing Yahweh will do is going to address the deep brokenness of humanity & the entire creation.
Just as spring takes us from the deadness & cold of winter to new growth & warmth, so the exodus from Babylon foreshadows the exodus of Jesus from the tomb on Easter morning. What the promise means for us is that we will go from the deadness & cold of our sinful self-centeredness to the life & warmth of perfect harmony & community with all other life.
You’ve probably heard this definition of insanity. It’s doing the same thing over & over, but expecting different results. Sin had us trapped in that cycle of insanity, constantly trying to break free in the same way, over & over, & always finding ourselves still chained to evil. Jesus has come to set us free, but that process won’t be complete until our bodies are raised in power, perfect & new. In the meantime, you & I have been set on a new path, as God said, “I will make a way in the wilderness & rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19b ESV)
That verse is important, because many times in this sinful life we wonder if we can make it even one more day. The brokenness caused by sin weighs so heavily upon us. Remember, just three days in the wilderness, after crossing the Red Sea, the people were complaining against Moses about the lack of water. Jesus rose from the dead that we might have rivers in the desert.
He is promising that He will sustain us, & angels sent by God will watch over us. The Holy Spirit will guide & direct us, even when we cannot imagine that He is with us. Sometimes, that is simply seeing the 1st robin of spring. At other times it’s the first bloom of a crocus.
This world we live in now is a desert & wilderness compared to heaven. That’s how much sin has corrupted things. What’s important to realize is that the first Exodus, out of Egypt, was not just a one-time historical event. It is also a pattern for all of Yahweh’s future acts of deliverance, which have occurred already in many small & large ways in each of our lives.
All of them are ultimately connected to the great exodus to occur when our decayed bodies or dust or ashes will finally be forever freed of the chains of sin at the final resurrection. For now, the season of spring can be a reminder to us of new life & new growth in our walk with God. The Bible reinforces that thinking from beginning to end, in many different ways.
The season of Lent is a type of winter & the season of Easter is a type of spring. The key point is to always work towards keeping our hopes & our dreams centered in Jesus. Amen.
Christ, the life all the living, Christ, the death of death, our foe, Who, Thyself for me once giving to the darkest depths of woe: through Thy sufferings, death & merit I eternal life inherit. Thou hast suffered great affliction & hast borne it patiently, even death by crucifixion, fully to atone for me; Thou didst choose to be tormented that my doom should be prevented. Then, for all that wrought my pardon, for Thy sorrows deep & sore, for Thine anguish in the Garden, I will thank Thee evermore, thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing, for Thy bleeding & Thy dying, for that last triumphant cry, & shall praise Thee, Lord, on high. Amen. LSB 420:1, 6-7.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet