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january 1 the new year isaiah 43:16 -- 21
I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Joshua 1:3
The new year brings hope. As we look into the year that opens before us, we would like to think that it could be better than the one behind us. That yearning for something better is a gift from God and a promise that the hope can be realized. God wants the year before you to be the best that you have ever had. The key lies in where you look for fulfillment. It must not be within yourself, for your resources have not suddenly increased. You need resources that are fresh and new and can enable you to claim a measure of effectiveness and fulfillment that you have not yet known.
God is the God who wants to make all things new, and his presence can be recognized by the element of radical promise that confronts us when we come to know him. With God comes the word that the future can be better than the present. When Abraham met God, the experience contained a promise staggeringly large. It was that the barrenness of an old woman and the emptiness of a home would change. In the meeting when God met Moses was the assurance that he was made for more than defeat and shepherding. The promise was given to him that God would use him to set his people free. In fact, Moses was to be God's man to build a nation. In Joshua's relationship to God was the promise that God had a land for his wandering people. In David's communion with God, he learned that God intended to give his people a capital city, a temple, and a throne that would last forever. The Hebrew prophets told of the King who would sit on that throne, one greater than Moses or David, and of a kingdom of people with new hearts where the will of God was not an external command but an inward delight. John the Baptist announced his own role as the messenger who had come to tell the people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
The very mark of the people of God in the Old Testament was that their faces were turned toward the future and were marked by confidence and expectation. Can we who live on this side of Bethlehem, Calvary, Easter, and Pentecost do otherwise?
january 2 all things new revelation 21
He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' Revelation 21:5
Yesterday we spoke of the fact that the people of God are marked by the set of their faces. They look to the future, and they look with anticipation. Implicit in fellowship with God is the promise that the best is yet to be. Of course, there are those in the Old Testament who did not see this. One who seems to be in that class is the writer of Ecclesiastes, who says that there is nothing new under the sun, that what has been will always be, that all things are wearisome, more wearisome than one can express (Eccl. 1:8--10). But this is a minority voice in the Old Testament.
* The psalmist tells us of a new song that the Lord has given him (Ps. 42:8).
* Isaiah writes of new things to be learned and a new name (Isa. 42:9; 62:2) and of a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22).
* Jeremiah proclaims a new covenant and new mercies every morning (Jer. 31:31; Lam. 3:22--23).
* Ezekiel tells of a new spirit and a new heart (Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 36:26).
The New Testament picks up this theme and promises
* a new birth (1 Peter 1:3),
* a new life (Rom. 6:23),
* a new self (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10),
* a new attitude (Eph. 4:23),
* a new commandment (John 13:34),
* a new and living way (Heb. 10:20),
* a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), and
* a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
It should be no surprise for us, after we have looked at all the above, to find the concluding word coming from God himself, 'I am making all things new' (Rev. 21:5). Apparently God never quits making things better because this word comes as the last word in human history. He is the God of eternal renewal.
But what about the author of Ecclesiastes' doleful words? He may be a keener observer than we thought. He says there is nothing new under the sun, and he is right. The true newness never comes from us, from the natural. It comes from beyond us, from the God with whom we have the privilege of walking. Our response has to be: Everything is new under the Son, for it is he who makes all things new.
january 3 the holy one isaiah 63
In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Isaiah 63:9
We have been thinking about the possibilities that come with the presence of God in our lives. The guarantee of that presence, though, can never be assumed. It is conditional. All of the Old Testament illustrates this.
God is God alone and is to have no rival or competitor in our lives. He is offended and grieved when we let anything invade that central place intended for him. He is saddened because we inevitably suffer when we let anything encroach on his rights and place. The psalmist understood this. In Psalm 16:4 he notes that sorrows increase for those who 'run after other gods,' so he will not participate in offerings or praises given by those with divided hearts. He confesses that Yahweh is Lord and that even the good ceases to be good when God is not in control. That is why Jesus was firm in his insistence that we should seek his rule first (Matt. 6:33).
God is God alone, and he is also the Holy One. He hates all that is unclean and all that defiles. As the Holy One, he is a consuming fire. But his burning character was never intended to be destructive to us. It is his means of purging us as he did Isaiah (Isa. 6:5--7). If we care more about his presence with us than we do about our sins and uncleanness, then he will consume our defilements and make us pure. If we become more committed to our sins than we are to him, then his presence becomes destructive to us because of the corruption to which we are wedded.
Israel had rejected the preaching of Jeremiah, so God permitted Ezekiel to witness the removal of his presence from Jerusalem. Ezekiel watched as the glory of God, his holy presence, rose from above the ark and from between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. He saw it move to the threshold of the temple and then leave the city and move to a distant mountaintop. God departed from his people (Ezek. 10:1--20). The result was the destruction of the temple and city and the exile of Israel for seventy years in Babylon. God the Holy One could not live with Israel's sin.
The beauty of all this lies in the fact that God's presence is better than the experience or the rewards of our sin. And he has the power to make us clean. Charles Wesley understood this and sang about it:
He breaks the power of canceled sin, he sets the prisoner free; his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for me.*
If we let the Holy One purge us, we will have reason to sing as well.