The Grace Of A New Beginning
In 1910, two explorers began their quests to become the first man to ever set foot on the southernmost point on earth. It was the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration” and the South Pole represented one of the last unexplored areas on earth. Robert Falcon Scott hoped to claim the bottom of the world for England; Roald Amundsen wished to plant the Norwegian flag there on behalf of his countrymen. Despite their common goal, the two adventurers’ approaches to their expeditions were quite different. Amundsen had one goal and one goal only: to be the first to reach the South Pole. Scott’s expedition, on the other hand, had dual purposes: to get to the Pole first and to gather scientific information about the Antarctic. These goals were in conflict. To reach the South Pole first, time was of the essence. Scientific work and surveying required slowing down and making careful observations. The end result was inevitable: Amundsen and his party reached the South Pole first and returned home on a trip that was relatively smooth and straightforward. Scott and his men arrived at 90 degrees south only to experience the crushing disappointment of seeing one of Amundsen’s flags flapping in the wind. They would never make it back. He and his four companions died of starvation, exhaustion, and exposure as they attempted to make the 700 mile return trip to their base camp. In a journal Scott kept which a search party found next to his body, he recorded the following, “The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected. The worst has happened. All the day dreams must go. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle….I wonder if we can do it. If we could only start over again….”
Most of us here this morning would like to have a fresh start in our lives. We all have experienced setbacks and failures and quite often we allowed these setbacks and failures to enslave us to the point that we never enjoy the full Christian life that God has given us to enjoy. We read in John 10: 10 the words our Lord had spoken, “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The majority of people around the world are still looking back upon the year 2021 and just can’t make the shift to the new that has arrived. They are imprisoned by their disappointments and hurts they can never change. They live life like a shoemaker in London in the 19th century who was imprisoned for theft. After 5 years he was released but two days later he returned to the prison and pleaded with authorities to give him back his cell. To everyone’s astonishment he gave the reason for his request, “Though society might feel that I have paid my dues, I haven’t forgiven myself for what I have done.” My friends, it’s so incomprehensible that we do exactly what Galatians 6: 1 tells us not to do – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What keeps you enslaved even before the year 2022 has had a proper start? Is it perhaps guilt that you have been carrying in your heart for far longer than just last year? Is it perhaps the fear of Covid-19 that might be worse than in 2021? To be honest this year hasn't started off well with the highest Covid-19 numbers recorded in most provinces.
In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 43: 1-19, Israel no doubt was discouraged because they thought this was the end of them. They had gone too far this time; they had sinned and rebelled against God to the point that He would no longer be interested to be their God. Perhaps they thought God would not deliver them again. It was over. They too imprisoned themselves. They could only think of what was – good and bad. They thought of the victorious things God brought them – deliverance from Egypt; their crossing of the Red Sea; victory over all the nations that wanted to harm God’s people. But then came the bad things – their rebellion against God; their worshiping of idols and their rightful punishment. There was to them no prospect of a new start. Darkness was all they experienced in Babylon. But then God broke through the darkness with a promise that shone like a bright light. Verses 18 and 19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
There was a strong piece of advice God gave the children of Israel through Isaiah. It’s almost came as a commandment – BREAK WITH YOUR PAST. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past…” How could Israel ever have forgotten their past? They have done bad things; they have sinned against the God of heaven and earth; they haven’t kept their side of the covenant God made with His people. And now the word was, “Pretend it never happened.” What was God’s message to the house of Israel? I think what we can appreciate from the words, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past…” is that God is more interested in His people’s future than their past. The past is in the past – you can never change what already happened. When Isaiah spoke those words in chapter 43 it was after condemnation and consequences and punishment had been revealed to Israel. They heard how deeply they sinned against God and how they had broken His heart. But now after repentance came the instruction: “leave your sins behind.” How great God is in His grace?! Only He can bring a heart filled with remorse to peace; only He can heal a broken life. He did it for David. After the “Man after God’s own heart” committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba and he poured out not only his heart, but his soul before God, he was restored. The former things were forgotten. What is the word our God brings to us this morning? “If there is anything that might hold you back from going forward, now is the time to tie it to the heavy rock we’re going to cast down to the bottom of the ocean. You don’t need to keep on carrying sins and burdens with you in life. My Son already bore those on the cross.” My friends, we all have had someone saying to us, “Let’s forget what happened; it’s over.” Wasn’t it wonderful to have those words spoken to us? How much more of value it is when God says, “…do not dwell on the past…”? Are you willing to leave your past, no matter how dark it may be, behind?
And then the prophet Isaiah brings the following words of God that’s like an oasis in a dry land – an oasis that changes a dry land into a paradise. “See, I am doing a new thing…” What wonderful assurance we have at the break of each new day, at the beginning of each month and each year and at the beginning of a new era – GOD MAKES ALL THINGS NEW. He did it so abundantly for the children of Israel when they returned from Babylon. Jerusalem was restored and Zion the mountain of the Lord again was the place where God’s people went to worship Him for the new beginning He brought them. Later in chapter 60 verses 1-3 Isaiah affirmed the new thing God promised – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Can we appreciate just how new God made things? The prosperity for His children became the prosperity for the whole world. Nations and peoples were added and still are added. People’s lives are changed. Yes my friends, there is more than just darkness in this world so many say is all they see. There is a God at work Who assembles for Himself peoples from all languages and nations and tribes. And they will be before Him in heaven when all things will be new to perfection. And before that time comes, our God makes things new in the here and now. He gives us a new start at the beginning of 2022 with new opportunities and new blessings. Can you visualize how God is going to renew us spiritually and do new things for His family of believers, far more than we can ever imagine? What are the new things you are longing for in your personal life? It is now the time to bring all our dreams and aspirations before our God. His promise is, “See, I am doing a new thing…” What are your thoughts for this year? Are you optimistic about the prospects? If not, you should begin to be, for God’s word and promises always come into reality. It will in this year as well. Let Him be your Guide.
Rev. Willem H. van de Wall