The Line in the Sand

Do you know people who live in the past? They long for things to be exactly like they used to be. They tend to dwell on yesterday’s triumphs and trophies. And they spend much of their time trying to recreate a bygone era, when times were better and life was sweeter. Remembering is vitally important, but, our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 43 helps us recognize an important truth. God says, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” Do you think it is possible that we become so obsessed with what God has done in the past that we miss what He is doing in the present? As we will read in Isaiah 43, God is doing a New Thing!

…let’s set the stage. In chapters 1 through 39 of Isaiah’ great book, Isaiah prophesied that God’s judgment would fall on His unfaithful people. As we have noted, In 722 BC – Israel and the ten northern tribes fell to the Assyrians. In 586 BC – Judah and the two southern tribes fell to Babylon. Beginning in chapter 40, Isaiah’s message changes from doom to hope!! Isaiah prophesied of a time when God’s judgment would be lifted. A time was coming when God would renew His people. What they have to do to perceive the new thing God was doing? Read on…

Read Isaiah 43:16-21 – Put Away the Past

If Israel is going to perceive the new thing God is doing, they must put away the past. When did God make a way through the sea? Of course, this refers to the Exodus. God parted the waters of the Red Sea so that the Children of Israel could pass through on dry ground. Egypt’s pursuing chariots were swallowed up as the raging torrent was released. According to the Apostle Paul, this is an amazing picture of baptism (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Burying the old way of life – and being raised to a new life. The Passover and Exodus were central to Israel’s identity.

In verse 18, God reminds the people what He has done for them. “Hey, do you remember when I did all of these miraculous things for you? Good Now, forget about it!” Why would God tell them this? This is critical!! He is forbidding His people from looking backward constantly! Many of them were so obsessed with their past that they were oblivious to the present, not to mention the future!

A man said to his friend: “Say, you look depressed. What are you thinking about?” “My future,” he replied. “What makes it look so hopeless?” “My past.” Was he really thinking about his future? Not at all. He was hung up on history, locked up in a prison of the past.

Let me ask you – are we ever so preoccupied with the past that we fail to occupy the present? Have we ever missed where God is leading us because we are looking in the rear view mirror. Some might say, “I remember the heyday of our church. I long for those first days, when everything was perfect. I Just wish we could have it like that again. If that is our mindset then we need to hear the Word of the Lord…“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.

We would do well to heed the words of the Apostle Paul who said in Philippians 3:13-14. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. God was telling them not to dwell on the past.

God says, “Now, see something new!” God instructs them to behold! Watch what I am about to do. Something new is coming. What is it going to be. Well, we will never know if we are looking behind us. What new thing is God going to show them? If God is telling them put the first Exodus behind them, what must be ahead of them? God is revealing that a New Exodus is coming.

What are they to look for in this New Exodus? Three clues are given. First, there will be “a way in the wilderness.” Second, there will be “rivers and in the desert.” Third, “wild animals” will be part of this emerging Exodus. How do we interpret this? Let’s allow the Scripture to interpret Scripture. What about the “way in the wilderness”? John the Baptist said in John 1:23, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John was announcing the arrival of Jesus – the Messiah. Our first clue is solved.

What about the, “rivers and water in the desert”? Isaiah 44:3 reveals to us that this is the pouring out of the Spirit of God. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” As Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, so, too, the Spirit was given. First to the Apostles in John 20, then the Church was born in Acts 2. And the Spirit was then poured out on the Gentiles in Acts 10. The rivers and water represent the coming of the Holy Spirit. The second clue is solved.

Third, what about the wild beasts that will honor God? In Peter’s vision in Acts 10, the animals represent the Gentiles. A day was surely coming when the Gentiles would worship God as well! Galatians 3:28 declares, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The third clue is solved

So, what was the “new thing” God was promising in Isaiah 43? God was sending the Messiah – the way in the wilderness! He would pour out the Holy Spirit on His people, and His people would include both Jews and Gentiles. It’s so clear. Surely, everyone would recognize Jesus when He arrived. But, is that what happened? John 8 reveals to how Jesus was received when He appeared.

Read John 8:1-11 – What’s New?

God’s glory in the Temple.In John 8:1-3 we read, “…but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.”

God’s glory was gone from the Temple long before Jesus arrived. “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.” In Ezekiel 11:23 we read, “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.”

God’s glory had gone out from the Temple. But, in John 8, we see God’s glory is regained.  John 8:1-2 tell us that Jesus came from the Mount of Olives. He would have moved through the East Gate, and then on to the temple. Do you see what’s happening here? Why would John include such minute details in his account. This is the reverse path of Ezekiel 10 when God’s glory exited. So, what’s happening? God’s glory is returning to the Temple in the form of Jesus!! The Lord was in His Holy Temple again, only this time, He had come in the flesh. The Word became flesh and tabernacle among us!! Go was doing a new thing. Surely everyone would rejoice. God’s Word and Work were unfolding before there very eyes. How did they respond?

A group of Pharisees and Scribes sets a Trap. Rather than embrace the “New Thing” God is doing, they have been plotting and planning Jesus’ demise! Rather than praise the New Moses, who has come to deliver them, they look back and appeal to the First Moses. Rather than welcome God’s glorious appearing in their midst, the religious elitists try to manipulate the Messiah. They have set a trap that they believe is foolproof.

They bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. And what about this woman? Do you think that her accusers, these pious, self-righteous religious men were concerned about her spiritual condition? Heavens no. She was nothing more than a prop to be used to further their nefarious scheme. So, what would Jesus do? The question they posed was unanswerable! Teacher, they said, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says we must stone her. What do you say? The trap is set. And Jesus has no way out! If he says, “have mercy on her,” they will accuse him of being a law breaker. If Jesus says, “stone her to death as the law requires,” the Pharisees will accuse him of breaking Roman law. Only the Romans had authority to execute criminals.

What would Jesus do? The unanswerable is answered perfectly. “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.”

I am a Star Trek fan. If you are too, you will remember when Captain Kirk was a cadet at Star Fleet Academy. All officer candidates were given a battle simulation test called the Kobayashi Maru. In this test there was no way out. Everyone who took the test faced certain death. The test revealed which death the candidate would choose. And yet, Captain Kirk defeated the test. He had done the impossible. Only later do we realize that he reprogrammed the simulation. He cheated.

As the Pharisees waited for Jesus to choose his demise, either break Moses Law or Roman Law, Jesus doesn’t have to cheat to defeat them. He says to them, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Imagine the stunned silence. In that moment, the elitists are exposed. They began to walk away. The older ones first and then the younger ones followed. Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Some have said, they walked away confessing their sinfulness. I am quite sure that is not why they walked away. These holier than thou elitists thought they were righteous. Why would they walk away? Jesus has utterly turned the test around on them. If they take up stones to execute her, they would have been the ones breaking Roman law. Yet, if they walk away, they appear to everyone as sinners. They were expertly exposed by the One who truly knows our hearts. Now the trap had been sprung on them!

Notice that after they walked away, Jesus and the accused woman were the only ones left. In the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy 19:15 states that two or three witnesses are required to convict. Her accusers were gone. It’s no surprise that Jesus is about to offer something NEW. The way of Grace is given. Jesus stood up and asked her where her accusers were? Is no one left to condemn you? She said to him, that there was no one left.  Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

What’s happening here? Jesus offers her mercy and GRACE instead of condemnation. God’s new thing – the new way in the wilderness would be the way of Grace. Paul said, “We are saved by grace through faith…”. But, this is not what Bonhoeffer would call, “cheap grace.” Jesus instructs her to “go and sin no more.” Jesus has drawn a line in the sand – God was doing something new!

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was writing in the dust? He does this not once, but twice. I want to suggest two possible interpretations. In Jeremiah 17:13 we read that those who turn away from the Lord shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water. The “stuck in the past” religious leaders were indeed put to shame as Jesus wrote them into the earth! This is an act of condemnation based on their rejection!

Let me suggest one other possibility. Exodus 31 speaks of God writing the Law with His finger. It was in the Ten Commandments that we find, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This was written by the finger of God. Now, God the Son, writes a new law with His finger, a law of mercy and grace. God was doing a new thing – but they did not perceive it!They were stuck in the past.

What about us? As members of His Body, the Church, we must perceive the new thing God is doing: Strengthening marriages, encouraging and equipping parents to disciple their children, sending us forth to reach the lost. A new day is dawning. God is doing something new and exciting. He is building His church, and it may not look like it did before, and that’s okay!

Finally, God wants to do a new thing in your life. Those Pharisees looked to the past and thought they were good and righteous. The truth is, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Psalm 14:3 says that, “there is none who does good, not even one.”We have all turned aside; together [we] have become corrupt.” Sadly, “the wages of our sin is death…”

“the gift of God is eternal life through Christ our Lord!” Don’t be locked up in the sinfulness of your past.

As we travel this Pathway to the Passion, won’t you step over that line in the sand? The cross awaits as the New Exodus begins! Paul put it this way, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).