I AM [Is] Doing a New Thing
|The Baptism of Boden Diggs Bucher|
“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?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The children of Israel had been in this situation before. About seven hundred years earlier, they’d been captives in Egypt, slaves to a Pharaoh who ruled them with an iron fist. But God had not forgotten His people. He met Moses on Mt. Horeb, spoke to him from a burning bush, and introduced Himself as I AM. The Lord told Moses He was sending him to Pharaoh with the command to let God’s people go. When Pharaoh refused, the Lord sent a series of plagues to convince him of the futility of resistance. The tenth plague was the worst of them all, where the Lord took the lives of all the firstborn sons of Egypt—all, of course, except for those who killed the Passover lamb and painted their doorposts with its blood.
It was not easy. It was not pretty. The Lord had to use a lot of muscle to get hard-hearted Pharaoh to release Israel from their bondage. Finally, Pharaoh folded and freed God’s people…then foolishly, he changed his mind one final, fatal time. Pharaoh and his chariots charged after the Israelites, ready to bring them back alive or leave their corpses in the desert. The situation appeared hopeless. I AM miraculously intervened. He moved, in His glorious pillar of cloud and fire, stood guard to protect His people. The following day, God parted the Red Sea. His people passed through safely. Pharaoh’s armies pursued, but were drowned.
By the time of Isaiah, the people of Israel were in need of that sort of deliverance again. This time, they weren’t captives because a friendly pharaoh had been replaced by a hostile one; they were captives because they’d forsaken God and turned to idols. And their idols couldn’t do a thing to stop the Babylonian army. So they were exiles by their own fault, by their own faithlessness.
They were faithless, but God remained faithful. Furthermore, God was still powerful; and perhaps He would save them again the way He had delivered them from the Egyptians. Maybe Isaiah would be the new Moses who would go before the Babylonian king on behalf of the Lord and demand, “Let My people go!” The Lord, however, had a different message for His people. It was still a message of hope and deliverance, just not the way they envisioned. “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?” (Isaiah 43:18-19b).
It seems somewhat contradictory. Throughout much of Scripture the Lord calls His people to remember their deliverance from Egypt by His mighty hand. Only three chapters after today’s text, the Lord will tell Israel in so many words: “Remember the former things of old” (Isaiah 46:9). But the Lord’s intent here is not that the people forget His deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but rather that they not give their full attention there now, for He has a new deliverance on which He wants them to focus. Remembering the past deliverances by God should not generate nostalgia for the “good old days,” but a sober appreciation for the new thing the Lord is doing for them now, and give them hope for the future.
“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” (Isaiah 43:20–21, ESV).
I AM is doing a new thing. This new thing that the Lord is going to do is the deliverance of Israel from captivity in Babylon. And further, the text states, “now it springs forth.” God’s deliverance is imminent, right on the verge of happening. In fact, the question, “Do you not perceive it?” may be more of an affirmation than a question. In other words, it’s right in front of you; you can’t miss it!
In the verses prior to our text, the Lord tells His people how this will come to pass. The ships of the Babylonians, which now carry precious cargo, will transport them as fugitives in the future. The Lord will dispatch the necessary forces to make this happen, much as He done in the days of the exodus when He destroyed Pharaoh and his army (Isaiah 43:14-17). Not only will God break the power of the Babylonians, but God will also release His people. They will find a way through the desert so they can travel back to Jerusalem. They will return to their homeland and God will cause Israel to flourish again (Isaiah 43:20-21).
Their deliverance will be grand! Yahweh will achieve it in an amazing new way—He will cause a pagan emperor to lift up his captives for special honor and send them back to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Isaiah 44:28-45:5; Ezra 1:1-4). How many times had that happened before? Never! I AM, the Lord, Israel’s Holy One, their Creator and King, is indeed doing a new thing!
Not only that, but the Lord goes on to name this Gentile king who will be their deliverer some two hundred years in the future. Surprisingly, the Lord calls this pagan “My shepherd,” “My anointed” and promises, “He shall fulfill My purpose.” Why, He even predicts his proper name will be Cyrus! (Isaiah 45:1). History tells us that in 539 BC, Cyrus II, king of Persia conquered Babylon. Shortly after he took over, the Israelites found favor with the king. Cyrus issued a decree that allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple under the leadership of Ezra the priest, and Nehemiah the governor of Judah. And so they did. God’s people were delivered once more.
But God was not finished delivering His people. In fact, all of His others deliverances were to set the stage for His greatest deliverance. This new thing would something completely different. Rather than the effect of a crushing flood that breaks and drowns, this new thing would be like a spring of water in the arid desert. It would provide streams of water to give life to all. Most of all, however, it would be living water to His chosen people. By this spring of water, people would be the people of God. This new thing would be a stream of mercy and life.
The prophecy, of course, is of Jesus. Like Moses, Jesus was sent to lead His people from captivity to the Promised Land. However, the Son of God is greater than Moses: where Moses led the people from the bondage of Egypt to the edge of the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus leads His people from the captivity of sin and death to the Promised Land of heaven. So we hear of Jesus in John 7: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”’” (vv. 37-38).
Back in Exodus, it was Moses and God, the man following God in a glorious cloud. In the Gospels, it would be Jesus, both man and God in one person, present with His people to save. God was keeping His promise, and God was delivering them by doing a new thing: God in the flesh to save His people. Oh, and one more thing: this time around, the climax of God saving would not be the terrible, crushing death of His enemies. The climax would be the death of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. That is the Gospel, after all: Christ died for the sins of the world, that all who believe in Him might have eternal life.
Not surprisingly, God continues to use water to save. In this new age, God still kills and makes alive by water. Even more so than with the “former things,” water is important in our faith history, too. In fact, without water we have no faith history. I AM is doing His new thing in Holy Baptism.
We, too, were born into the bondage of Satan, death, and hell. We, too, have fallen into sin and idolatry. We, too, must confess with David: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:1–5, ESV).
You and I were conceived and born as sinners. And every day since we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. And that includes little Boden over there, who, in my biased opinion, is one of the best babies ever. He is a sinner. The only thing that keeps him from acting out that sinfulness is not yet developed gross and fine motor skills.
But as the Lord delivered His people in the past, so He delivers Boden and you and me from the guilt of our sin. The Passover lamb, the passage through the Red Sea, the return from Babylon, each of these were Old Testament shadows of the one great deliverance. Because God then did something completely new: He sent the fulfillment of the old things—the Lamb of God, who died for the sins of the world, but passed through death to new life, returned from the grave to raise us also. Christ’s victory is personally applied to every believer in his Baptism.
It’s no accident that the Church to this day precedes Baptism with the renunciation of Satan and all his works and all his ways. We all come into this world as slaves of sin, death, and hell. In Holy Baptism you are set free from slavery in the victory Christ won by His death on the cross. You are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Your sin and rebellion becomes His sin, His obedience and righteousness becomes yours. Baptism is when your life of faith begins. You are born again, born from above, born by the water and the Word.
To be sure, your Baptism did not look powerful by the world’s standards: odds are that it looked like a handful of water gently poured on a baby’s head—like just happened to our little brother Boden a few minutes ago. But that is where the eternal I AM is doing a new thing, bringing you a greater deliverance.
Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues you from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to you and all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare. Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16, ESV).
Obviously, it’s not the water itself that does such great things, but, as Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “the Word of God in and with the water…along with faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word it is a Baptism, that is a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”
In Baptism, I AM is still doing a new thing for you. The water may long ago have dried from your skin, but the words that made that water a Baptism are still with you, and so is their power. Live in your Baptism daily through contrition and repentance. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I AM [is] doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:18-19a). For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.