Pastor's Blog

Field of grass at sunset

Out With the Old - In With the New

See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?1 Thus says God, through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel, as a message of hope and exhortation during a time of discipline and destruction. As we begin the year 2022, after so many months of disruption, death and despair, can we bring ourselves to believe that God is in all of this, is with us, and is even up to something new and beautiful?

In the verse just before the one quoted above, God says, Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.2 We must learn from our individual and corporate histories, and tradition has its place. Yet, if we are going to perceive and participate in the new things of God, we must extricate ourselves from the anesthetizing effects of nostalgia, and free ourselves from the paralyzing bonds of past failures. God is with us and for us, and though He disciplines us as our loving heavenly Father, He is always calling us out of our sin, fear and complacency to new adventures in faith and faithfulness.

To his religious critics who failed to perceive the new thing that God was doing in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, Jesus responded with a pointed and powerful metaphor.

No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’.3

After all that we have been through, and continue to walk through, the longing for the old days is compelling and understandable. But as painful as this time has been for many of us, are we willing to recognize the work of God in shaking us up, and moving us out of our sin and lethargy? Are we willing to let the Spirit of Jesus Christ wake us up to the new wine of new possibilities as we pray each week, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done?

The religious leaders and the common people of Jesus’s day considered themselves good and faithful Jews and took pride in their designation as the chosen people of God. And yet, most of them missed the moment of God’s coming for which they had longed for centuries, and eventually worked in direct opposition to the breaking in of God’s kingdom in the coming of Christ, culminating in his crucifixion. How could this be, may we may ask? How could they hear Jesus’s teaching and witness his miracles, yet not perceive that He was indeed their long-awaited Messiah? How indeed?

Rather than stand in judgment from our perch of self-righteousness these many years later, might we see ourselves in the Jews of Jesus’s day? And are there lessons we can learn from their misperception that might keep us from missing out on the new things that God is doing today through the Spirit of Christ?

I contend that there are two primary reasons the Jews of Jesus’s day – the crowd and the clergy – got it so wrong regarding Jesus. A moment of reflection on these issues, and some time in personal prayer on your own later, may save us from repeating the mistakes of the past, or be a much-needed course correction if we are already heading in the wrong direction regarding the purposes of God’s kingdom.

First, though they despised their Roman overlords, many of the religious leaders of Jesus’s day had learned to work within the system, carving out a comfortable place for themselves. For the most part they were respected – or at least feared – by the larger Jewish population, which saw them as God’s authority figures within the Jewish community. And they were allotted a certain measure of freedom and authority by the Roman government as a means of keeping the peace in a far-off region of the Roman Empire.

In short, the system worked for the Jewish religious leadership. They had privilege, status and relative security. Jesus was an imminent threat to all of that.

Secondly, life was much different for the common Jewish man or woman. These tradesmen, farmers, and homemakers lived in the persistent shadow and fear of the Roman soldiers who were all around them. They were an oppressed people, and many, if not most, were seething with anger. For years before and after the time of Jesus, there had been talk of violent revolt, and many attempts to drive out the Romans had failed. When the people heard the authoritative teaching of Jesus – even confounding and embarrassing the Jewish leaders – and saw and experienced his miraculous power – even the raising of the dead – they were convinced the Messiah had indeed come, and that Jesus would lead them to military victory over their Roman oppressors and re-establish the primacy of the Jewish nation.

Jesus failed to fulfill their nationalistic narrative, however, when he came riding into town on a small, unimpressive donkey rather than on a war-horse. Instead of being bent on conquest, He spoke of loving one’s enemies.

As we navigate our way into the unknown of 2022, how can we become responsive to the new thing that God is up to in our day? For starters, we can ask God to help us see the ways in which we are tied to the past in a manner that is unhealthy, and that causes us to miss the new wine of his work in today’s world. Secondly, we can check our privilege to see if we have accommodated ourselves to an unjust system that works for us but not for our neighbors. Finally, we can examine our personal and national narratives. Is the story we are telling ourselves in line with the heart and purpose of God in Christ, or are we simply using the name of Jesus to further our own agendas?

These are difficult and uncomfortable questions to ask ourselves. But I am confident that if we are willing to sit with them in humility before God, he will lead us into the freedom and redemptive beauty of the new things that He is doing today as we continue to follow Jesus. And we will be empowered by his Spirit to work for the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors, near and far.

Pastor Scott

1. Isaiah 43:19, New International Version
2. Isaiah 43:18, New International Version
3. Luke 5:37-39, New International Version