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January 3, 2021

Sermon Isaiah 43:19. . .“Silent witness:  Something new”

“Silent witness:  Something new”

Isaiah 43:19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Back in June of 2004, while excavating a field just outside of a castle near Aberdeenshire, Scotland, archaeologists discovered what they believe is the oldest calendar in the world.  It’s a place called, “Warren Field,” where, they say, time was invented.

Now anyone would tell you it’s not much to look at.  In fact, it’s not much more than a series of small pits, twelve in all, one for each month of the year.  It’s how they think early humans tracked the seasons, to know when migrating animals were likely to pass by.

Chief archaeologist Shannon Fraser says, “This is a remarkable monument, which is so far unique in Britain.”  And she said, “This latest discovery further enriches our understanding of early mans’ relationship with time and the heavens.”

It seems that ever since the beginning of time, man has sought to mark the passage of time.

Historians tell us that most of our earliest calendars were lunar calendars, based on when one new moon became the next.  Years later, the Egyptians followed the seasons and the Babylonians studied the stars.

And that worked just fine until, some forty years before the birth of Christ, Julius Caesar realized it just wasn’t good enough.  So with a little help from an astronomer named Sosigenes of Alexandria, he created what’s called the Julian calendar, complete with 365 days, not to mention an extra day every four years, just to round it out.  The world’s used it ever since.

So thanks to him and later, to a man named Bishop Ussher, we can safely say that today is the third day of January in the year of our Lord 2021.

Now I can’t tell you how glad I am to say that it’s 2021.  While all of us had pretty high hopes for 2020, it just didn’t turn out the way any of us had planned.

Let me take you back, for a moment, to the beginning.

Suffice it to say, the year was full of surprises that no one, absolutely no one, could have possibly imagined.  As one author put it, “Every year has a few defining moments, but 2020 contained so many world-changing, paradigm-shifting developments that it’s hard to believe we weren’t in a simulation that ran every possible scenario at once.”

The year began as bushfires raged across southern Australia, burning millions of acres and killing millions of animals.  January 2nd brought the death of an Iranian General named Qassem Soleimani.  He had already killed hundreds of Americans, and was planning to kill many more.  Two weeks later, the United States House of Representatives delivered Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, the third time in history that’s ever been done.  Then on January 26th, nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi, lost their lives in a helicopter crash in southern California.

Then came the virus, the Wuhan virus, the Chinese virus, the Coronavirus, Covid-19, which, so far, has claimed the lives of more than a million people around the world.  And while none of us liked it, we soon became all too familiar with things like lockdown, quarantine, empty grocery store shelves, hand sanitizer, and face masks.  For those of you who keep tabs on the stock market, thanks to Covid, March 12th marked the worst crash since 1987.

But being the good-natured people that we are, we managed to come up with quite a lot of memes to help us get through it all...

And not to be outdone, even churches got into the action...

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, let’s not forget about those murder hornets.  With orange and black stripes like a tiger, and wings like a dragonfly, they say its sting can feel like hot metal piercing through your skin.  Thankfully, they just can’t handle the cold weather.

Then there were the riots, first in Brunswick, Georgia, soon followed by Louisville, Kentucky, Lafayette, Louisiana, Los Angeles, Dallas, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C.  Twenty people died because of those riots, with a cost of more than $2 billion.

Then there’s the election.  Let’s just say that, two months later, we still don’t know who the president is!

So where can we turn to find hope and help in this time of turmoil?  There’s only one place I know of, and that’s the Word of God.

Listen to the words of Isaiah chapter 43:  “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:  ‘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?  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 43:18-21).

It was seven hundred before Christ, and God had sent His prophet Isaiah to preach to the people of Israel.  It was no surprise.  The nation had strayed so far from what they should have been, and judgment was soon to come.

And so he said in chapter 1:  “Sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, brood of evildoers, you have forsaken the Lord, and despised the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 1:4).  And in chapter 5, he said:  “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness...Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine...who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right” (Isaiah 5:20, 22-23).  

Still in spite of God’s stern wrath and judgment, Isaiah was also privileged to write:  “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

It seems that God is all about new things.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).  The apostle Peter wrote, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:10).  And John wrote in his book of Revelation, “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’  Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5).

And here in the book of Isaiah we find this:  “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

What’s it mean?  It means that in spite of all the changes and chances of 2020, no matter how hard it might have been, and no matter what 2021 might bring, God is still our God, and we will be His people.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). 

Back in the fifteenth century, as men made their first attempts to draft world maps, they coarsely and crudely outlined the shores of Europe and Africa.  They did the best they could with what little knowledge they had.

And when they came to the Atlantic Ocean, where no ship or sailor had ever gone before, they wrote the words:  “Here be dragons.  Here be demons.  Here be death.”

And that, in a way, is how we look at the year before us.  What’s ahead?  We don’t know.  We can’t know.  Only God knows.

But if you could, look at it like this…

Take all the suffering of this life—all the pain, all the heartache, all the rejection, all the misunderstanding, all the evil we encounter, all the hatred directed at us, all the sadness, all the tears, all the sleepless nights, all the fear, all the doubt, all the worry, all the confusion, all the perplexity, all the sickness, all the broken dreams…

Then add it all up, total it to whatever fantastic sum it may be.

Then add to that the sadness of every funeral you’ve attended for the death of someone you loved, think about all that death has taken from you, make that sum as large as you can, then place it on one side of the ledger.

Now place on the other side these things…

The Word of God, the promises of God, the love of God, the power of God, the plan of God, the wisdom of God, the kindness of God, the sovereignty of God, and the grace of God.

Then add to that the death of the Son of God with its infinite transforming power for all who believe, and the resurrection of the Son of God who came from the grave undefeated, alive from the dead, holding the keys of death and hell in His hand, who now lives and reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords.

And if that’s not enough, then add to that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the down payment on all the promises God has made and the guarantee of our salvation.

Now when you’ve gathered it all together, put that sum on the other side of the ledger.

Now tell me--which is greater?  Your fears and sorrows, your lost hopes and dreams, or the vast and immeasurable promises of God, made in His Word, guaranteed by His Spirit, and purchased for you in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord?

If you can’t quite do the figuring, then let the apostle Paul do it for you.  Listen to what he said in the book of Romans chapter 8:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

One more thing.  As I was putting my thoughts together for this new year, I thought I would take a quick walk through the entire Bible, and look for all the times there’s a chapter 20, followed by two verses 20 and 21.  Get it?  Chapter 20, verse 20 and chapter 20, verse 21.  2020.  2021.

Now I’ll have to say I was a little surprised that there weren’t many.  But since many of the Bible’s books are short, and many of its chapters are short, it’s a little hard to find a chapter 20, complete with verses 20 and 21.

But there was one in particular that stood out.  It’s in the book of John, chapter 20, a chapter that tells the story of what Jesus said and did just as soon as He rose from the dead.

This is what it says:  “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”  Then verse 21:  “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’”

And that, more than anything, can be our hope and help for this new year to come.  Jesus is with us, and because He’s with us, we are safe.

 

We thank You, dear Father, for the blessings of this year now past, and we pray for Your presence and blessing on this new year to come.  Grant us Your grace and strength in our every time of need, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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