N is for NEW THING
God surprises all as He completes history, fulfilling ancient promises in new ways.
The NASB rendering of Isaiah 43:18-19 says: "Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth. Will you not be aware of it?"
What does Isaiah mean by "something new?" There are two ways something can be "new":
Some things are "new" in the sense that they have never existed or happened before. Essentially, novel new is about being different.
Another way for something to be "new" is for something to be done in a better or greater way. It's not a repeating of the same things in a different style, but instead, an advance toward a completion.
Isaiah's "new thing" and our mission
Before we can understand what Isaiah's "something new" is we need to step back and understand what "the former things" are in Isaiah 43:18 that we're not supposed to get stuck on.
God had redeemed an enslaved people from a well-known ancient empire with a supposedly awesome set of gods. By shaming those gods and the military might of imperial Egypt, God made a name for Himself. But God did more than set loose some slaves; He exalted them as a people that would be honored to serve Him as worshipers in the house on His holy mountain. He sealed His longstanding promise of blessing with a life-giving covenant.
So the former things were these: an exodus, a covenant, a house and a people who love Him. Don't forget them. These very events are the back story—or we could say, the prequel—to your life and mine. This is our story. But it is not a "choose your own ending" kind of story. God is now in Christ pulling off an immensely greater rendition of these same things: an exodus, a covenant, a house and a people who love Him.
The new exodus, for example, is a higher order of magnitude: there is going to be a global breakout from the prisons of darkness. It's going to be like a light coming to the nations:
"And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison."(Isaiah 42:6-7 NASB).
Please read the context of Isaiah 42:1 through 43:21 and look for a portrayal of a global exodus and a fusion of all peoples summoned to God. Don't stop there; Isaiah goes rhapsodic in all that he writes trying to describe the magnificence of the new thing.
God will not fail to finish everything that He has begun. But He wants us to know what is coming so that we can step into His story. And look out. God is about to outdo Himself. He's not going to do the same stuff over again. Whatever He does later, He is going to do it greater. The new thing is not "novel new" deeds in which God tries some different tactics or some fresh approaches. The new thing God is doing is "greater-than-before new." God always seems to do things later and better than we ask or expect.
So let's stop being peeved that we can't get God to fix our problems. Let's not volunteer as self-sent heroes to repair what we think is wrong. Instead, we are invited to join Him in what He is fulfilling amidst all nations and throughout all generations. Our new normal is to be as surprised as we are expectant.
God has not called us to respond to needs that are merely urgent. We are instead invited to join Him to fulfill something ancient.
This blog was written by Steve Hawthorne, co-editor of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course reader.