THEME: “I WILL DO A NEW THING”
Text: Isaiah 43:19
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
When The Lord gave us this theme for this Synod, the implication or relevance was not clear to us. But as we continue to pray and meditate on it, then it was done on us that the LORD is raising a rather new agenda: the agenda of divine global move wherein the Diocese is part of His epicenter. It is new in the sense that it is a kind of spiritual wave higher and greater than whatever move of God we have experienced so far in the past years of our inception as a Diocese.
What is this move of God like? What are the characteristics of this move of God? How do we step into that? How do we handle and sustain that Move of God? All these and more are what we shall look into in this message.
Isaiah, like every other prophetic book takes its name from its author. It is rich in prophecy regarding the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and is written about 700 BC. Isaiah has been described as the “St Paul of the Old Testament” and was evidently from a distinguished Jewish family. The style of the writing pictures Isaiah as not only a prophet but also a poet. He had impressive vocabulary, and his work is comprehensive in scope and beautifully presented. He was uncompromising, sincere and compassionate.
We do not intend to go deep into the theological arguments about the unity of the book, Isaiah or about the authorship, but for the message of this charge, it will be necessary at least to make our stand clear.
The unity of this book has been challenged by critics who hold that a “deuteron-Isaiah” or second Isaiah wrote chapters 40 – 66 after the Babylonian captivity. They argue that 1-39 has an Assyrian background, while 40-66 is set against a Babylonian background. But Babylon is mentioned more than twice as often in 1-39 as in 40-66. The only shift is one of perspective from present time to future time. Critics also argue that there are radical differences in the language, style, and theology of the two sections. Actually, the resemblances between 1-39 and 40-66 are greater than the differences. These include similarities in thoughts, images, rhetorical ornaments, characteristic expressions, and local coloring. It is true that the first section is more terse and rational, while the second section is more flowing and emotional, but much of this is caused by the different subject matter, (condemnation versus consolation). Critics often forget that content, time, and circumstances typically affect any author’s style. In addition, there is no theological contradiction between the emphasis on the Messiah as King in 1-39 and as Suffering Servant in 40-66. While the thrust is different, the Messiah is seen in both sections as Servant and King. Another critical argument is that Isaiah could not have predicted the Babylonian captivity and the return under Cyrus (mentioned by name in 44 and 45) 150 years in advance. This view is based on the mere assumption that divine prophecy is impossible, rejecting the predictive claims of the book (behold the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; ;before they spring forth, I tell you of them 42;9). The theory cannot explain the amazing messianic prophecies of Isaiah that were literally fulfilled in the life of Christ.
It will be necessary to note that no ancient manuscript or version gives any indication that the book of Isaiah existed in two or more parts. When the Septuagint Version was made (about 250B.C) the entire contents of the book were ascribed to Isaiah the son of Amoz. The Septuagint gives no hint of a “first” or “second” Isaiah although it does divide other books. E.g. (Samuel, Kings and Chronicles) The complete Isaiah manuscript found among the Dead Sea Scrolls makes no slightest break at the end of chapter 39, rather 40:1 is the very last line of the thirty-second column, with no indentation or any unusual space at the end of the preceding line. There is a line break which separates chapters 33 and 34. In the Jewish listing of canonical books, Isaiah was always counted as one book.
Moreover, it should be recalled that in the time of our Lord, the book existed in the form in which we have it today. Many prophecies in the disputed portions are quoted in the New Testament as the work of Isaiah (Matt 3:3, John 1:23 from Isa. 40:1; Luke 3:4-6 from Isa 40:3; Luke 4:16-41 from Isa. 49:8, and 61:1-2; John 12:38 from Isa. 53:1; Acts 8:28; Romans 10:15-21 from Isa.52:7; 53:1; 65:1-2). Universal and persistent tradition has ascribed the whole book to one author.
Therefore, the book needs to be studied as a single work, in spite of the countless ways in which it may be analyzed in its various parts.
SURVEY OF ISAIAH
Isaiah’s prophetic ministry, spanning the reigns of four kings of Judah, covers at least forty years (740 to 680 BC). He began his ministry near the end of Uzziah’s reign and continued through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He has often been called the “Evangelical Prophet” because of his incredibly clear and detailed messianic prophecies. His work has three major sections.
– Prophecies of condemnation (1-35)
– Historical parenthesis (36-39)
– Prophecies of comfort (40-66)
Our text falls within the last section, “prophecies of comfort.” Here, Isaiah having pronounced Judah’s divine condemnation, comforts them with God’s promises of hope and restoration. The basis for this hope is the sovereignty and majesty of God (40-48). Of the 216 verses in these nine chapters, 115 speak of God’s greatness and power. The creator is contrasted with idols, the creations of men. His sovereign character is Judah’s assurance of future restoration. Babylon will indeed carry them off, but Babylon will finally be judged and destroyed, and God’s people will be released from captivity. Hence our text:
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
The context of our text can be located with some confidence in the late sixth century, the time when Judah was suffering under Babylonian rule. So it was a message to a people in exile.
When one is in captivity or bondage, the most cherished sermon you can preach to him should be about his release and a better future. While the Israelites were still in Babylon, God moved His Prophet Isaiah to speak to them about great and bright future that awaits them. God never abandons His people even when they sin against Him, He will always find a way of bringing them back to Himself. Till today, God has not changed. His mercies endure forever. However, it should not be taken for granted that God’s mercies do not end and so people should go ahead and flagrantly abuse it. Nonetheless, a time is coming when His mercies would seize and man would become accountable for all his actions and that is the Day of the Lord-the Judgment Day. But until then, God shows mercy and plans for the redemption of humanity.
Going by the background of this Isaiah chapter 43, one may say that it does not fit into the situation in our diocese, or even the global Church. This is because the Israelites who God engaged through His Prophet Isaiah were in exile in Babylon. They were in slavery and in a place of banishment. The prophecy was to a people in bondage. Some of the people had been taken into exile in Babylon while others remained in the land, but both groups suffered to varying degrees the debilitating effects of being a conquered people.
Physically, economically, culturally, and religiously, the people felt the might of Babylon, and it seems that one of the tasks of the prophet was to rebuild the people’s understanding of themselves as God’s own people and to reassure them that their God was fully capable of taking on the Babylonian superpower in order to save them.
Isaiah 43:16-21 begins with: “Thus says the Lord.”- a traditional introduction to a prophetic oracle and it occured three times in this chapter (verses 1, 14, 16). What follows the three instances of this expression in chapter 43, however, is not the expected divine oracle but a character reference of sorts for the God on whose behalf the prophet is speaking.
The God addressing the people is none other than the God who “makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse… they are extinguished, quenched like a wick!” (verse 16b). The image is stirring and visual and highlights the power of God over both the forces of nature and military might, a power to which the Exodus, the foundational story of the people of Israel, attests. The similarities between Isaiah 43:16-17 and the description of the miraculous rescue of the people at the sea in Exodus 14 and 15 strongly suggest that the prophet is invoking their cultural memory of that dramatic story of redemption from Egypt.
This is a wonderful and very necessary word for the Church to hear in this current age when there is so much change and upheaval. The character of our God has not changed. God’s grace and power have sustained us in the past, will see us through the present and guide us into the future. Someone said; “Trust in God brings the past alive, gives the present meaning, and the future hope.”
Commenting on Lee Beach’s book- The Church in Exile- some notable Christians painted a revealing picture of the Church of our time, which Nsukka Diocese is part of. Here are some of them:
“An excellent and highly readable introduction to the metaphor of exile to describe the church’s place in contemporary Western culture” (Michael Frost, author of Exiles, The Road to Missional and Incarnate)
“… an increasingly marginalized church in the West…” (Dean Flemming, MidAmerica Nazarene University, author, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing and Telling)
“…Lee Beach writes about the demise of Christendom and what Christians should do about it. Read this book and weep . . . or see the church with new hope like you’ve never seen it before… ” (David Fitch, Northern Seminary, author of Prodigal Christianity)
“This is a realistic yet profoundly hope-filled account of contemporary, post-Christian, fragmented society and the nature and role of the church in its exilic state.” (Ross Hastings, Regent College, author of Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West)
One may argue that the Churches in the west are actually in exile but not those of us in Africa. But the fact remains that; “what we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist is.” With the way, some of the obnoxious cultural practices formally tamed by the Gospel are beginning to rear their ugly heads up, with the full support of the “enlightened” members of the society, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is.
The result is that in many places today, which were formerly wilderness of evil practices, before the coming of missionaries, through whom the light of salvation came, are being closed up again by the permutation and intuition of Post-Modernism; Countries endorsing same sex marriages, demonic and occultic alters being enthroned in the name of cultural revival; wanton bloodletting and insurgence in order to defend a religion, the looting of Government treasuries by political office holders, who unfortunately were trained and raised under Christian standards and doctrines; None payment of workers’ salaries, increase in unemployment and poverty level, kidnapping and ritualistic killings, nomenclatural/nominal Christian living, ministerial greediness and moral depravity, pastoral malpractices and false representation of true Gospel by false ministers and ministries; and Islam making serious in-roads into some Christian strongholds converting them and building mosques and schools. The Church of today can be said to be in Exile.
In the midst of all these things like in the case of the people of Israel, God will do a new thing. The Church will no more live in the past of their sinfulness, narrow mindedness, selfishness, hypocrisy, doubt, fearfulness, and poverty. Anglican Communion where Nsukka Diocese belongs will not be left out in the new divine agenda.
God’s people will take over the land and represent God as worthy and model ambassadors in all spheres of lives and they will no more be a disgrace to His (God) salvation history, plan, process and project.
Jamieson- Fausset-Brown puts it supportively that “God will open a new way, not merely one river shall gush out of the rock, but many which shall refresh, not the bodies as formerly, but the souls of the thirsty so that the prophecy (of God’s new agenda) will be fulfilled”. This stands for the coming of true religion into the world by the immeasurable influences of the Holy Spirit. This means that the assertive programme of God shall spring up as the grass does from the earth, or it shall bud forth like the opening leaves and flowers that are beautiful figure, denoting the manner in which the event of Divine providence will surely come to pass.
God is introducing to us His end time wave of move, that would spread across the globe to herald the second coming of Christ; that wave of divine move is very critical to our disposition as a church. God is now speaking to us about His move that would grow beyond the confines of the Diocese; it is a wave of divine move that would spread across every part of the society
This is clearly expressed in our theme text:
Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now. It shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beast of the earth shall honour me, the dragons and the owls; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise- (Isaiah 43:18-21.)
The Nature of the ‘New Thing’
From our text above, we see God set out the clear features of His move among the people. These features include:
(1) It is a departure from the former things: “Remember ye not the former things…..” what are the former things in the context of our theme text? They relate to:
(a) Israel’s past failures and doom: Israel had suffered slavery in Egypt, they were to suffer captivity in Babylon as at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy. They had several odd experiences as a nation, yet God charged them to forget those odd experiences. God needed to sink that into their hearts because sometimes the greatest obstacle to progress is somebody’s past. So, God first addressed their past. That’s the “former things”
(b) The former move of God they had experienced: God had shown Himself mighty among Israel as a people. In fact, verses 14-18 summarise this second segment of the ‘former things’. The New Living Translation makes those verses clearer:
This is what the LORD says your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: for your sakes I will send an army against Babylon, forcing the Babylonians to flee in those ships they are so proud of. I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator and King. I am the LORD, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea. I called forth the mighty army of Egypt with all its chariots and horses. I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned, their lives snuffed out like a smouldering candlewick. But forget all that it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
We can see how deliberate and graphic God was while He was introducing the ‘new thing’ agenda to the Israelites. God spoke both prophetically and historically. Prophetically, He assured them that even their then imminent captivity to Babylon would not be difficult to Him to handle. God promised them that He would send an army against Babylon and thus cause Babylon to flee in those ships they were proud of (verse 14) in other words, even the future challenge Israel was to face in the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, God promised to take care of all that.
In other to give credence to that of prophetic victory over Babylon, God deliberately went historical. From verse 15 to 17, He began to narrate what He had done earlier to Egypt just to bring out a people for Himself. The reason is that God wants a crop of people for Himself as an inheritance; and so, He is out to deal with any force that would hinder His agenda.
Now as touching us as His church, God is saying to us that if we must enter into His new wave of move, we must deliberately forget at least two things: we must forget our failures as well as our past achievements. To forget our past achievements may be more difficult because we have the tendency of always wishing to celebrate our past. But by asking us to forget our past achievements, God is not teaching us “unthankfullness” or ingratitude; rather; He is dealing with our myopism and narrow-mindedness. God is causing us to develop far-sightedness and large-heartedness in the midst of our thankfulness for the gracious things He has helped us achieve in the past.
So, for us to enter into this ‘new thing’ we must deliberately allow God deal with the memory of failures, myopism, and narrow-mindedness. These are critical issues we must address before we can meaningfully plunge ourselves into the ‘new thing’ God is introducing to us. Wherever we have not done well individually or collectively, this is a solemn ground where we sense God counselling and consoling us to forget the wrong past.
Two, we must thankfully forget our past achievements so that we can see clearly the bigger picture God is setting before us. That is fundamental in our pursuit of the ‘new thing’ God is showing us.
(2) It is a divine move based on revelation: “Behold, I will do a new thing…” that word ‘behold’ is talking of revelation; and the revelation is actually a spiritual understanding of the programme of God at a particular time. In other words, it is not first of all about activities, it is principally about seeing clearly the programme of God for His people. This is a question of prayer and penitent listening to the heart of God.
We need this clear divine revelation, so that whatever we do as a body will be in pursuit of this ‘new thing’. However, every individual member of the Diocese may not see this divine revelation of the programme of God for His people, but it is expedient for all of us to run with this vision. If the church leadership catches this revelation, it is expected that the entire body of the church would run with that vision. So, in the matter of revelation, none of us should be indifferent about it. If you see the programme of God for His people, it is alright to run with it, but if you haven’t seen it yet, duty demands that you run with the revealed vision of God which the church leadership has caught.
(3) It is a move spear-headed by God: “… I will do a new thing…” The gravity and enormity of this global divine wave using Nsukka as one of the LORD’S spiritual epicentres, is actually spear-headed by God Himself. Our duty is to identify with that by revelation and follow God.
The few things God helped us to do as a Diocese in the past twenty years of inception, it has been God; and the greater things that lie ahead of us still shall be done by God. A correct understanding of the fact that God is the one spear-heading this move raises a question of trusting Him. It also raises a question of comfort and consolation. God is involved in this new thing. That’s our consolation. So, whatever is required or needed to push this move, the essential thing for us to note is that God is involved. He will provide. He will sponsor whatever he initiates. That is His principle all through history.
From Bible days up till our contemporary time, any meaningful move that brought men to God has always been spear-headed by Him. Revivals, national transformation, church reformation, etc. All have been spear-headed by God. The ‘new thing’ the LORD is introducing to us is not an exception. God is the initiator and the vanguard. Human instruments would be needed, no doubt, but the fundamental matter is for us to note that it is not of us; it is of God. And the implication is that all glory shall go to Him.
Therefore, as the LORD moves us in the wave of the ‘new thing’, we must make sure that we wear the garment of meekness and humility so that God would feel free to do with us what He has promised to do.
(4) It is a wave of wonders: “The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the deserts, to give drink to my people, my chosen”.
Another essential characteristic of this ‘new thing’ is that it is a divine wave of wonders. God is encouraging us to trust Him because of His integrity and power. He is out for many unusual wonders, breakthroughs and miracles the essence is to give ‘drink’ to His people.
Whatever it will take to quench the thirst of God’s people, He is saying to us that He is committed to providing that. The thirst for deliverance from sin; the thirst for miracles, breakthrough; the thirst for divine speed in the pursuit of His agenda for this generation God has undertaken to provide all the ‘waters’ that will quench the thirst of His people. In other words, the premium and price God places on His people is so great that He is willing and ready to do whatever will give His people the ‘drink’ of life.
The ‘new thing’ the LORD is talking to us about is, among other things, His definite commitment to give His people rest. We must identify with this divine agenda if we will see the wave of divine move in our day. Nsukka Diocese will turn to a divine fulcrum for Africa’s emancipation and platform for Western re-evangelization and revival that will herald our LORD’S Second Coming. We need to key into this ‘new thing’ God is talking to us about.
God has undertaken to ‘…even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the deserts…’ The wilderness the Israelites went through from Egypt to Canaan and the wilderness they were to go through from Babylon back to Israel God undertook to take care of all that. The past challenges and the future difficulties that may face us, God , in His ‘new thing’ agenda, has undertaken to overcome all, and the reason is simple: “to give drink to His people, His chosen.”
(5) It is a move for the Body of Christ: In our theme text, God was talking of His people Israel as a Body corporate. God is not talking of just reaching individuals and personal interests. The reason is that all the individuals have been subsumed into one body. So, all individual blessings, promotions, opportunities and privileges, they are actually for the singular purpose of edifying the body corporate.
In the past three sessions of the 7th synod, God had addressed us extensively on the matter of the church as a body corporate. So, in this ‘new thing’ agenda, it is not individuals or personal interests that God is addressing. All our individual graces, gifts, ministries, blessings, etc must be collapsed into the pursuit of this ‘new thing’. Israel was the focal point in our text but the scope is the whole world. So, it is with us now: the church (and indeed the Diocese) is God’s focal point of His speaking in the matter of the ‘new thing’. We are God’s platform for the coming revival; we are His chosen vessel for reforming Nsukka land, the nation Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world.
We need to adjust our mind set to see what God sees. God sees a total picture of the world using the pathway of the church. That is the language of the new thing: the language of God’s worldwide move using His church the graces, ministries, blessings and opportunities as divine raw materials for fuelling the fire of the ‘new thing.
THE IMPLICATION TO NSUKKA DIOCESE
The essence of the message and its implication is that God is promising us as a diocese a new thing. Look at it from these angles:
1. The Diocese is starting a new session of a Synod Life, the First Session of the 8th Synod.
2. The Diocese is now 21 years old.
3. God has given us a new elaborated visionary Manual—The way forward part 11(To be a large, lively, Bible based, Christ centered, and a united Church, empowering members to occupy in every area of life).
One thing is to write down a vision and another thing is to run with it (Habakuk 2:2). God has given the Diocese a lot of programmes, projects and plans that have been written down. They are financially intensive and emotionally demanding. It calls for a strong faith that God will do a new thing.
Rationalism will definitely query the possibility of Nsukka Diocese having a University and Microfinance Bank; Dedicating a Cathedral in 2016, Globalizing our missionary enterprise, planting new more Churches, creating more Parishes and Archdeaconries, Raising more Profitable Economically Yielding Investments, Having Godly, Glorious, Seasoned, Committed, Relevant Heavenly conscious worshipping communities; empowering and sustaining a morally, spiritually, intellectually and theologically sound clergymen and wives etc.
Our response to the above challenging questions is that the Lord will do a new thing. It has started springing forth. Can’t you hear it that God will make a way in the wilderness and rivers will flow in the desert? We are convinced that so many miraculous surprises as God ordained them will spring up to sponsor our dreams and visions.
The synthesis of the above is that God has already set in motion a new direction and a new purpose for your life; and for our Diocese. The question is, will you follow Him? Are we as a Diocese ready to follow Him? God is out to do a new thing.
Therefore, we must come out of our short-sightedness and myopism; we must leave our hurting memories and even our past achievements, and then put the garment of faith, insight and large heartedness so that we flow with God in the agenda of the ‘new thing’ He is presenting to us.
A song writer wrote:
LORD,I hear of showers of blessing
Thou art scattering full and free
Showers the thirsty land refreshing;
Let some droppings fall on me
Translated in Igbo as follows:
Anuwom bayere ngozi
¬Nk’I nenye ora n’efu;
Miri-ngozi netute ndu –
Biko, kwe k’o zokwasim,
The writer was not just satisfied with only hearing of God’s blessings; so he cried to God to have an experiential knowledge of the New Thing; of the blessings of God. This is captured in his request: “let some droppings fall on me, even me!
What do you really want: to hear of the New Thing or to partake of it? Are you ready to follow the cloud of Glory? Do you want to be a key player in the wave of the New Things about to happen in your family, church, Parish, Archdeaconry, and the Diocese at large? Just change your focus, clarify your focus and commit yourself to God’s plan. He will do new things.
This God is awesome and He stands by His words. As God spoke through His prophet Isaiah so He is speaking to us as a diocese through this medium. New things will sprout in this diocese. What we need is faith. He had done it before and would do it again.
Thanks for listening patiently.
Please rise up with your hands lifted to heaven as we bless you in the Name of God:
And now unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy- I commit you; May the Lord bless you and keep you; May He deliver you from dwelling in the past, and teach you both to know His present will and to follow His plans; May He turn your desert places into fruitful lands flowing with rivers of joy and fulfilment; may He perform His new work in you; and the blessings of God Almighty, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
Your Friend, Brother, and Bishop,