Isaiah 43:16-21 16This is what the Lord says, who makes a road through the sea and a path through mighty waters, 17who brings out the chariot and the horses, the army and the strong warrior. They will all lie down together. They will not get up. They are extinguished. Like a wick they go out. 18Do not remember the former things. Do not keep thinking about ancient things. 19Watch, I am about to do a new thing. Now it will spring up. Don’t you know about it? Indeed I will make a road in the wilderness. In the wasteland I will make rivers. 20The wild animals, the jackals and ostriches, will honor me, because I am providing water in the wilderness, rivers in a parched wasteland, to provide water for my chosen people to drink. 21This people that I formed for myself will declare my praise.
My daughter, Lydia, turns 16 at the end of April. She has her temps right now. Very soon she will have her real driver’s license. I can tell when she’s been driving my car because the steering wheel is lower, the seat is closer (even for me), and the rearview mirror is tilted.
After I get over the bruised knees of trying to get into the car, I raise the steering wheel, move back the seat and readjust the rearview mirror. But, I’m fine with tilting the mirror back to where it needs to be. That means she was using it.
The rearview mirror allows you to glance at what is behind you without taking your eyes off what is ahead. Like many inventions, it has an interesting history.
The first cars did not have them. In the early 1900s, drivers might carry a little handheld mirror so, occasionally, they could see what was behind them. The first car reported to have had a rearview mirror was in the 1914 Indianapolis 500. The reason for the invention was because the driver could not find a mechanic to ride with him to watch the traffic behind.
The people to whom Isaiah was writing had an issue with looking back in their rearview mirror. They saw God’s glory and power behind them. They also saw their sin and shame back there. Isaiah teaches us to glance back at the past, but not to linger nor lament. We need to live in the present and focus on the future.
God’s people were trapped in their past. Isaiah tells them, “This is what the Lord says, who makes a road through the sea and a path through mighty waters, who brings out the chariot and the horses, the army and the strong warrior. They will all lie down together. They will not get up. They are extinguished. Like a wick they go out” (Isaiah 43:16-17). Isaiah is recounting how the Israelites escaped Egypt. The Israelites were caught between the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. God caused a mighty wind to create a path through the mighty waters. He made a road through the Red Sea. The Israelites walked across the road, with a wall of water on their right and on their left (Exodus 14:29).
When the Lord’s people were safe on the other side, the Angel of the Lord in the pillar of fire moved to the side so the angry Egyptians could pursue their former slaves. When they were in the middle of the road, with a wall of water on their right and on their left, the Lord caused the mighty waters to come crashing down on the Egyptian chariots and horses, drowning all their mighty warriors. In an instant, their lives were extinguished like a candle wick that is blown out.
The people in Isaiah’s time were looking back at this great Exodus. They saw how God did so many miraculous things to rescue and save his people. But that was hundreds of years earlier. It seemed like the best days for God’s people were in the past.
Now the people were trapped in Babylon. They had been carried off into captivity. They knew it was their own fault. They looked into their past and saw all their idolatry and apostasy, all the times they had forsaken the true God and chased after foreign gods. They had been captured and carted off to Babylon. They were looking into the rearview mirror at their past guilt. They felt they had no hope for the future.
God’s people were trapped in a foreign country, 600 miles between then and their homeland. Between Babylon and Judea was a barren, deadly desert. But God promised to create a new thing. “Indeed I will make a road in the wilderness. In the wasteland I will make rivers. The wild animals, the jackals and ostriches, will honor me, because I am providing water in the wilderness, rivers in a parched wasteland, to provide water for my chosen people to drink. This people that I formed for myself will declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:19-21).
God promised to free his people from their Babylonian captivity. More than that, God promised to return his people to their Promised Land. Even more than that, God was going to create a highway in the wilderness. He was going to create an oasis in the desert so they would have food and water as they journeyed back home to the Promised Land. Even the wild animals, like the jackals and ostriches, would notice the mighty things God was going to do for his people. God’s own people would join with the wild animals to declare God’s praises.
God gives his people of all times a powerful reminder: “Do not remember the former things. Do not keep thinking about ancient things. Watch, I am about to do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
This “new thing” was God releasing his people from their captivity. Even greater than that, God was going to release all people from their captivity to sin through his Son. God was going to create an oasis of refreshing forgiveness.
Too often, we are caught looking back. We dwell on our past guilt. We are burdened by the mistakes we’ve made. We are consumed with our regrets. We allow our past failures to burden our present and destroy our future.
We had an affair. God and our spouse have forgiven us. But we can’t forgive ourselves.
We were not paying attention while we were driving and seriously injured someone. Every time we walk into church, we beg for forgiveness.
We think we messed up our children; we are estranged from our siblings; we were hurt by our parents. It makes Thanksgiving, Christmas and family gatherings very uncomfortable.
We dropped the pass, missed the shot or made some boneheaded play that cost our team the championship. We relive that heartache every time we sit in the bleachers.
We served overseas in combat. We saw some things we can never unsee. They haunt us to this day.
We were too quick to pull the trigger on purchasing the home or vehicle or we messed up some other investment. We are still living with the financial ramifications today.
When I received my driver’s license, my first car was a tan, 1970s Dodge Dart. It was rear-wheel drive – fine for the summer, not great for Wisconsin winters. During the winter, I put heavy sandbags in the trunk to give it some weight and traction. That was helpful in the winter. It was unnecessary weight for the rest of the year.
Our past failures, mistakes and sins weigh us down. They are unnecessary weights. They slow us down and do not allow us to move forward with speed.
Jesus promised, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). Your past guilt is an unnecessary weight. It makes you weary and burdened. It deprives you of sleep. Place your past and present guilt on Jesus. He wants it! He will give you rest in return.
Jesus has already taken your sins away. He has removed your guilt. He has forgiven your failures. They are all his now. Why carry them around with you anymore?
Imagine that you purchase a brand-new vehicle from the dealership. You faithfully mail in your monthly payments. Finally, you receive a letter from the dealership that reads, “Congratulations! Your vehicle is paid off! Enjoy the drive!” The next month, though, the dealership opens a letter from you that reads, “I feel guilty owning my vehicle. Here is another monthly payment. I’ll feel better if I just keep paying you.”
How silly is that?!
That is exactly what you are saying when you profess, “I know Jesus forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Jesus has paid the price for your sins. Through his suffering, blood, and death, Jesus paid the price for all your sins – past, present and future. His resurrection is his Father’s receipt accepting his Son’s payment.
You don’t owe anything on your sins anymore. Don’t keep paying on them.
Scripture promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has [the Lord] removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103: 12). God has removed your sins from his bill. Don’t keep writing them in. The Lord promises “I blot out your transgressions and remember your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). God doesn’t remember your sins anymore – and he’s God! You don’t need to remember and relive them anymore, either.
The rearview mirror only takes up about 5% of the windshield. It would be dangerous if my daughter, Lydia, spent 75% of her time looking into the rearview mirror while she’s driving. It is good for her to glance back, but not to linger or lament what’s behind her.
The same is true for us with our past guilt. Glance back at your previous sins and past guilt. But don’t linger or lament over what’s back there. Glance back to see how your affair, inattentive driving, family dynamics – all your mistakes and failures are in the past. They have also been forgiven in the past – by what Jesus accomplished on the cross and out of the grave.
Focus instead on what is ahead. Jesus has created an oasis in the desert for you to enjoy on your journey home to the Promised Land.
The waters of Baptism have flooded over you, washing away your sins at the baptismal font. Every time you confess your sins in private or in public, it is like you are having those same baptismal waters washing over you again and again.
The body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper feeds your faith in the desert of this world. Every time you kneel at the communion rail, you receive Christ’s divine strength to carry on in your journey.
The words of absolution you hear from the mouth of your pastor announces that your sins – past, present and future – have been paid for by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Every time you hear those comforting words of “I forgive you in the name of Jesus Christ …” you are refreshed with blood-bought forgiveness.
Like the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, your captivity to your past is broken. You are set free. The desert is behind you. Only glance back to see Christ’s past sacrifice paying for your past guilt. Focus on what is ahead. Enjoy your journey through the oasis.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, God is doing a new thing – through Christ! Amen.