1. Read v. 18a. What are some of the former things the Israelites are called to forget (Jer 16:13; Psa 126:1; Hab 2:3)? Yet why is it that people are good at remembering what they are supposed to forget, and quick in forgetting what they are supposed to remember (2Ti 3:1-3; Mat 18:21-35; Psa 103:2)? So how can we forget what we are supposed to forget, and not forget what we are supposed to remember (Isa 43:1; Col 3:13)? What spiritual applications are there for believers in the Lord (Psa 32:1-5; 103:12; 1Jo 2:2; Phi 3:13; Rom 12:2)?
2. Read v. 18b. What does "do not 'dwell on' the past" mean? How is this command related to the command, "Forget the former things"? Does this command mean that we should not learn anything from history (Isa 43:26)? Why is it not good for one to dwell on "the past"?
3. Read v. 19a. The word "see" is a command. Why do you think the Lord "commanded" the Israelites in such a manner (Lk 5:39)? What does "see" mean? What does "I am doing a 'new' thing" suggest to us about the Lord (Zep 3:5; 2Co 5:17; Rev 21:5)? What practical lessons are there for all who put their trust in the Lord (Psa 33:3)?
4. Read v. 19b. The word "now" speaks of the present moment. Why do you think the Lord added the question, "do you not perceive it?" What wisdom here can we cherish in order to live a fruitful life in the Lord?
5. Read v. 19c. What might the Lord have had in mind by "the desert" or "the wasteland"? And by "a way" or "streams" (Jer 2:13; Jn 1:23; 4:10; 7:38; Rev 7:17)?
6. Read v. 20. This passage talks about something strange and unusual. What do the words "wild" and "animals" indicate? How do wild animals behave? Do some research on jackals and owls. What are their characteristics? Yet why do they honor the Lord (Rom 8:20; Isa 55:12,13)? What does this observation teach us about the hope we have in the Lord (Acts 10;13)?
7. Read v. 21. What does this passage teach us about the purpose of man's life (1Pe 2:9)?
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
Today we would like to think about how we can overcome ourselves and catch up with what the Lord is doing.
I. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (18)
The Bible says that the Lord God is good and perfect. Once a young man approached Jesus and said, "Good teacher! What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Then Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone." Consistent with this statement, Jesus’ half brother James said in James 1:17 that every good and perfect gift is from God the Father. Then Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 that the Lord God is perfect. So we know that the Father is good and perfect.
The Bible also says that God is a living God. During the Fall Bible Conference at the Sheraton Hotel, Shepherd James delivered a message. He talked about Peter making a confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ saying, "You are the Christ, the son of the Living God." Peter saw the living God in and through Jesus, giving life to man, so that all who were once dead could be made alive, and not only alive, but also be very active, victorious, and fruitful! Indeed when Jesus came he not only did the work of the living God practically, but he also taught in theory that God is the living God. Once upon a time a bunch of religious leaders whose brains were stuffed with a lot of head knowledge about the Bible asked Jesus about the resurrection of the dead based on a fictitious story about a widow who had seven husbands in a row and lost all of them. Upon hearing the story, Jesus rebuked them saying, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising--have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:14-27) Surely God is the God of the living! He is the living God.
The word "living" in the "living God" thus suggests that he is living now at this precise moment. He is working today at this very moment, just as Jesus said in John 5:17, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." Again, at the last Fall Bible Conference, Shepherd James Hopeman said that we too should not take spiritual vacations because our Father is always at work: when our Father is at work, how can we take a vacation?!
But when we look at reality, we do not see things happening as powerfully as we see happening in the days of Jesus. In Jesus' day, as Jesus came to the land of the Israel, things happened powerfully. Plain water turned into wine. Storms were stilled. The blind received sight. The paralyzed walked. The lame leaped. And disciples were raised.
But why is it that people in our own day do not see as great a work of God as people in Jesus’ day saw? There are many explanations. But in view of what the Prophet Isaiah says in today’s passage, particularly v. 18, we see that one critical stumbling block to the Lord God working in us as powerfully as he desires is simply our way of thinking: it’s all in our head (or mind)!
What is our problem? Look at v. 18 again. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past." Let us stop for a moment and analyze this command a little bit more. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past." This passage presumes an understanding of what shaped our lives and molded us into who we are today. How were we shaped? What makes you the way you are? This passage suggests that there are three factors that shaped us: first, the powerful machine known as "the human mind"; second, the memories that are being processed in this mind; and third, time.
The word "forget" or "dwell" presupposes the existence of a mind. The word "things" in the expression "former things" talk about what goes in and out of our minds – what we see, sense, smell, touch, etc. and so forth. We can simply call this our "memories." The word "past" in the expression "do not dwell on the past" is based on the truth that we are living in a finite time domain. There is a magazine called "Time." In New York there is a place called "Times Square." Most people wear a watch and/or have a clock in their home. In my case, I have three wristwatches; two are broken and, although one is working, I do not wear it that often. My computers are likewise equipped with a clock. My cell phone also tells the time. All these are powerful reminders of the existence of time: such things tell us that our time is limited. Even at this moment, our biological clocks are all ticking away. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. Our lifetime is thus very limited. Moses, who lived for 120 years, also said the same thing in Psalms 90:10, "The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away." Then he prayed to the Lord in Psalms 90:12, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
So what do we have? We have three things: our mind, our memories, and time. This is all we've got in life. This is what has shaped you and me. About 12 years ago, a student who majored in political science told me, "The downfall of American began when John F. Kennedy was assassinated." I don't know how true his statement is. But nowadays, we have heard a number of times, "America has never been the same since 9/11." Indeed life in America has never been the same. And George W. Bush has said a number of times, "We will not forget!" Never forget what? The graphic images stored in our memories, inside our brains – images of the twin towers being reduced to rubble, images of the Pentagon being smashed in. Just as the assassination of John F. Kennedy affected the mindset of a student majoring in political science, so too have the memories of 9/11 affected the mindset of George W. Bush, and certainly of most if not all Americans today.
Mind, memories, and time. These are powerful factors that affect the way one thinks, sees, and behaves. The same was true with the kings of Judah in the days of the Prophet Isaiah. Let us read Isaiah 1:1. "The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." Isaiah had four sheep: Uzziahk,Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. They were all kings. Once upon a time, North Korea was ruled by a dictator named Il-sung Kim. The Lord God had mercy on him, so that he raised up Bible teachers like Billy Graham and ex-president Jimmy Carter. These two men visited North Korea. I don't know exactly what they did for Il-sung Kim, but I am at least certain that they tried to talk about Jesus Christ. Once upon a time we had a staff meeting at the Billy Graham Center in Chicago, Illinois. There I saw a picture of Billy Graham donating a copy of the Bible to Il-sung Kim. The two of them held the Bible and took a picture together. I am not sure what Il-sung Kim did with the Bible. Anyway, just as the Lord God raised up Bible teachers for a notorious dictator named Il-sung Kim, so too did the Lord God raise up a Bible teacher named Isaiah for the kings of Judah.
And just as Il-sung Kim went through a horrible experience called the Korean War, so too did George W. Bush have to go through the terrible disaster of 9/11. When one goes through these kinds of horrific ordeals, one suddenly begins to see things and people differently than one would normally see things and people in life. For example, there is a saying which is still retained by many Koreans, "Do not be deceived by the Russians and do not believe in the Americans." Why? Koreans say this because, in the 5000 years of history that the Korean people have lived in the small pocket of land known as the Korean peninsula, Korea has been overrun nearly forty times by one superpower nation or another!
The same was true of Israel in Isaiah's day. When we study the Bible we can quite easily see that the condition of Israel was very similar to that of South Korea. The land of Israel is small. The land Judah, called the Southern Kingdom, was more or less the size of LA County. Yet this nation was surrounded by superpower nations such as Egypt to the south and Assyria to the northeast. Judah was like a tiny little shrimp stuck between a rock and a hard place. Israel felt as if she were being ground like ground beef in a meat-grinding machine. As the kings of Judah went through threats of foreign invasions and actual invasions, they developed their own views and perspectives on life. Indeed, the worst disaster to befall Judah was the Babylonian invasion. In 586 B.C. the Temple, which was the finest point of Israel’s pride as a chosen people, was completely destroyed. And then the chosen people became captives to a Gentile nation. As the chosen people, they regarded the Gentiles as lowly as dogs. But they themselves were now trampled down underneath the feet of a bunch of Gentile dogs. Thus their pride was severely hurt. They then developed a cynical view of the Gentiles, of themselves, of life, and yes, of God. Then many of them threw away their identities as members of the chosen people, of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. "A kingdom of priests and a holy nation?! No way! You’ve got to be kidding! It’s brought me nothing but troubles!" they said.
I see the same thing happening to many Christians, shepherds, shepherdesses, and missionaries. I saw this being particularly true after this ministry went though the so-called "Reformation" period initiated by the so-called "R-group." Some call themselves the "Reform UBF" group while others call them the "Rebellious UBF" group. Since this event, one of my closest friends in this ministry also left the ministry. And I know a number of so-called second-gens who have left UBF as a result of this. Of course, some are still hanging around, but no longer with the same spirit. Two days ago, Missionary Grace A. Lee sent a package to Missionary Rebekah. This package included one small booklet entitled, "UBF Ancestors' Gospel Faith and Missionary Spirit." This booklet begins with the UBF Pledge: "1. We are soldiers of he Lord Jesus Christ. Let us correctly handle the word of God and establish a Christian view of life. 2. We are soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the sake of Bible Korea (and Bible America) and World Mission, we voluntarily participate in the sufferings of Christ." Then it talks about the 10 tenets or founding principles: 1. Burning shepherd heart; 2. Raising spiritual leaders; 3. Bible-oriented ministry; 4. Earnest prayer; 5. Raising one leader; 6. Stewardship; 7. Giving Spirit; 8. Soldier Spirit; 9. Community spirit and prayer council; 10. Independence and pioneering spirit.
Why did Missionary Grace A. Lee send this booklet? Of course she did it to help us retain the same spirit Dr. Samuel Lee had. And has the way in which God works changed? No. Why not? In the first place God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And the way he works remains the same. How does he work? He works the way he is. How is he? Or what is he? Jesus says that God is Spirit (John 4:24). And he is faithful. So God's work is done by his Spirit working through a man of absolute faith. And this book talks a lot about the spirit and faith, which I gather, coincides with what the Bible says. For example in 1Timothy 1:4 Paul directly says that God’s work is doneby faith. Then Zechariah 4:6 says, "This is the word of the ORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." Yes, God's work is done not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God. It is not done by the ability to speak American English, but by God’s Spirit! When Jesus came he said the same thing, for he said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63a). He also said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6).
But I see that not all people who still remain in this ministry serve the Lord's world mission task in the same spirit as the ancestors' of faith in the ministry had. Why not? That is a good question. But I have one thing to say in regard to this: the devil works ever so subtly in the lives of those who are inside and outside of the church. And there are enemies inside and enemies outside. After all, didn't King David say in Psalm 110:1-3 that the Lord will rule in the midst of his enemies? Not all people are friendly to what the Holy Spirit advocates. In fact, in Romans 8:7 Paul says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Then he continues on to say, "Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Romans 8:8-10).
Again look at v. 18. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past." Mind, memories, and time. What are we called to do then? Two things are in order: first we must remember that we have the ability to decide what to retain, and what to discard, from our memory banks. When the Lord God said, "Forget" or "Do not dwell" he knew that it is within our ability to both forget what we need to forget and remember what we need to remember. Genesis 1:26-28 says that God created man in his image. The mind is one feature of God's image. And God gave the ability to control what goes through, in, and out of our minds, what should remain and what should be deleted. So what should we retain and what should we discard? In view of the way the Lord God does his life-giving work, the answer is quite clear: forget the former things which are not conducive to being built up by the Spirit of God. Oftentimes we are confused about what to remember and what to forget. The Lord God understands our difficulties, so he came up with a powerful help. What is this help? What is the standard by which we are to decide what to keep and what to throw away? Let us open the Bible to John 16:8 and read it: "When [the Counselor] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment..." When we sincerely repent and turn to the Lord, the Lord gives us his Spirit. Then we can discern between that which is spiritual and that which is carnal, or of the flesh. And we are to delete all the files that are carnal, i.e., from the flesh, and retain all that is holy (as is suggested by the name the “Holy” Spirit). And one must have an absolute faith.
The second thing we need to do has to do with time, for we are told, "Do not dwell on the past." Here, "dwell on the past" also has the meaning of "living in the past." This then tells us that we should not live in the past. Rather we must live in the present time, looking forward to what is going to come in the future. This is just like a man driving a car and steadily looking in front of him to see what is coming up on the road. However, if he were to constantly look backward, he would be sure to get into a car accident. Likewise, God's children must be forward-looking rather than backward-looking. What happened in the past is over; you cannot alter it. But there are a lot of people in your life, I’m sure, who try to cause you to look back, reminding you of how you failed in this way or that way. By the same token, you might have won many victories in the past as well. However, the memories of these victories might in fact hinder you from catching up to what the Lord wants to fulfill in your life! So by all means, please, we need to pull ourselves out of a life that lives in the past, and instead prompt ourselves to live in a time called NOW, always making sure to look forward to what the Lord has in store for us in the days to come!
II. “See I am doing a new thing!” (19-21)
Forgetting and not dwelling on the past is only preparation. The real work we need to do is this. Let us all read vs. 19-22. "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, The people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. "Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel." Let us think about this passage in 3 ways:
First, “See I am doing a new thing.”
What does the Lord mean by this statement? What does the Lord ask the kings of Judah to see? And what does "new" thing mean? John 12:41 gives us a clue to this question, for it reads, "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him." Isaiah lived about eight centuries before Christ. Yet, he saw the glory of Jesus coming to the land of Israel and entirely accomplishing a new work of God. Indeed, as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus came and opened an entirely new chapter in God's redemptive history. After all, historians divide history into two segments: B.C., which stands for “Before Christ,” and A.D., which is Latin for “Anno Domini,” or “In the Year of the Lord.”
What kind of “new work” did he do? Surprisingly, what we learned through Shep. James Hopeman's message answers this question. For example, as we read Matthew 16:18-28, we can see that when Simon Peter made a confession of faith in the Lord, saying, "You are the Christ, the son of the Living God," the Lord God turned his time or clock from the era of the old realty to the era of the new reality. At that moment, the old realty was gone and the new reality came into existence in the life of everyone who made and would make a confession of faith in Jesus, just as Simon Peter did.
What was the new reality? What changes were new? Ten things became new. First, since a new champion, Jesus Christ, is with us, the power of evilwould no longer hold sway over every person who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, for upon hearing Peter's confession, Jesus said, “The Gates of Hades will not overcome [the church]” (18). Second, a new government called church is in place here on earth, for Jesus said that he will give a believer the keys of the kingdom of heaven (19). There Jesus also said that whatever we bind here on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose here will be loosed in heaven, which suggests that the spiritual government where real decisions that move the wheels of history have been transferred from heaven has been established here on earth and is expanding. And you who believe in the Lord is a member of it! As of making a confession of faith in the Lord, you have become the real power figure, the real VIP, so to speak, not in man's eyes, but in God's eyes. Third, we receive a brandnew self as we deny ourselves and turn control of our lives over to Jesus (24a). Fourth, we have anew mission to serve, which is the only mission worthy of doing, that is, living a life that serves Jesus and his kingdom purpose. (In fact, “denying oneself and taking up one’s cross” is in a sense represented by the "cross" sign for a reason – because the cross is a plus sign, not a minus sign; that is, we have all to gain and nothing to lose if we serve Jesus in this way.) Fifth, a new hero emerged, a hero truly worthy of following, for Jesus says, "Follow me." So do not follow anyone else like political leaders or athletes (don’t “be like Mike”) or blockbuster movie stars. Sixth, a new Savior, for Jesus is the one who saves every and any human being (25a). You cannot save yourself, but Jesus can save you. It’s a genuinely new and delightful discovery to find that there is someone other than yourself who does the saving, that is, Jesus alone. What a relief! You do not have to save yourself! See how many people try to save themselves, only to drown! But Jesus alone is all we need! Seventh, a new master named Jesus Christ (25b). In the past we used to serve our own self, and our self was never a good master. In fact, self is a cruel and nasty master to serve. See what happened to the Roman Emperor Nero who was his own master – he ended up committing suicide! Unlike our own old self, Jesus Christ the servant of all serves us with only our best interest in mind. And seeking our best interest and only our best interest alone, he even went to the point of dying on the cross to take away our own sins so that we would never be condemned! Eighth, we have a brand new purpose in life, that is, saving souls (26). In the past we did not know what to live for, so we ended up trying to live for what the world offers. But what does the worldly offer anyway? What does it give us in the end? Complete emptiness! A big fat goose egg! But in Jesus we have a new purpose, that is, first the saving of our own soul and second the saving of the souls of others! Ninth, we have a brand new future where everything we do here on earth for the Lord will be credited to our own account as a reward which lasts forever (27). In the past, like Simon Peter who fished all night but caught nothing, or like the Israelites living in Egypt as a slave nation, no matter how hard we worked, we had to work, work, and work, and were destined to perish, getting nothing credited to our account. But in Jesus this grim outlook and future completely changed, for now every little sacrifice we do for Jesus and his people will never go unrewarded. Tenth, a brand new life which is eternal, so that death no longer controls us; only life reigns in us (28; 1Co 15:50). What a change! “See I am doing a new thing!” Isaiah saw this happening, and in the midst of political storms such as the Assyrian army surrounding the city of Jerusalem, Isaiah saw this glorious work of God arising right in the land where war and rumors of war were fast approaching. “See I am doing a new thing!” In our own generation as well, there are a lot of crazy things going on. But let us see what the Lord is doing instead!
Second, “now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
One of the difficulties in catching up with what the Lord is doing is that the work of the Lord is not always obvious. Yet Isaiah says, "[N]ow it springs up; do you not perceive it?" Here the word "springs" is very important to understand in overcoming the difficulties of seeing the Lord doing a new thing. The word "springs" indicate that the Lord is subtle – he begins his life-giving work with what is small and little yet powerful enough to reach full maturity! Indeed, as Albert Einstein said, the Lord is subtle. And what he does is subtle and yet steadfast and strong. Just like a brand new life is conceived in a mother's womb, and grows steadily and strong, until delivery, so too God's work in each person's life is subtle, yet steady and strong. Jesus expressed this concept when he said, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mark 4:27)How then can we perceive it? One way to perceive the work of God is by doing the work of a spiritual farmer, that is, by teaching the word of God to one soul, patiently waiting on the Lord to work in that person's life. Or another way is by attending spiritual gatherings like the Friday Young Leaders' meeting, and listening to the testimonies of growing disciples. Still another (the best) way is by yourself feeding on the word of God, and perhaps writing a Bible testimony, thus experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit within you, and then practically obeying one word of God in your life!
Third, “a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”
What then do all these new things of God add up to? Look at vs. 20-21. "The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise." Here, we see something strange and unusual, that is, wild (meaning uncivilized) animals like jackals or owls honoring God, saying, "Praise the Lord!". Imagine a wild animal as wild as a jackal singing a solo, "Woook oooh, oooh" which means "Praise the Lord"! Or imagine an owl doing the same. An owl is a strange animal that sleeps all day, wakes up around 7 p.m., and then goes hunting at night; now imagine an owl singing songs like "All hail the power of Jesus!" while hunting at night! What a strange sight! But still the Lord says that this is what they are going to do. Why? The answer is simple. Because the Lord makes a way in the desert and streams of water in the wasteland! Here, “desert” refers to an uncivilized man. And “wasteland” refers to a man whose life is being wasted away. Why then does the Lord open up a way in the desert and make streams in the wasteland? It is to give drink to his people. These verses thus look to the days of the Holy Spirit being poured upon those who repent and believe in the Lord! Indeed the Holy Spirit fell upon his children, even as we see in Acts 1-2. And since that time on, God's kingdom work has continued to this very day. And everyone who repents and accepts the Lord God praises God's name. Do you know what? When one person repents and believes in the Lord, although many remain indifferent to this great work of God, not only the angels in heaven but also the animals on earth greatly rejoice over this miracle, saying, “Hurray! Praise God! The time of our redemption also draws near!” (Romans 8;20; Isa 55:12,13; Acts 10:13)