January 1, 2017
You know that many people decide to make changes at New Year. Some choose to stop a bad habit. Others opt to start something new.
According to some historians it is possible that the practice of making new year resolutions began in Babylonian times – some four thousand years ago. That, it seems, is the earliest record that has been found.
What did they do? They made promises to their idol gods. The promises they made were about debts or possessions. Those who had borrowed an object from a relative or friend promised to return it early in the new year. And those who owed money made a pledge to settle their debts.
Nearly a 1000 years later the Romans did something similar. They made promises to their idol god Janus. The name for the first month of the year, January, reflects that pagan practice.
Not all new year resolutions were related to religious beliefs. During the Medieval Era (usually taken to be the period from the 5th to 15th century) knights ended the Christmas season with what came to be called the Peacock Vow. Simply stated, it was a time when they reaffirmed that they would uphold the rules of chivalry. and horsemanship.
Many Christians are wary of making new year resolutions. They do not support pagan or superstitious ways. That we understand. And with that we agree. For Christians are to be, as the apostle Paul says, those whose thoughts are focused on God (see Romans 12.1f). They have given up and turned away from the religious practices of men. They have turned to Christ. They follow him, his ways and his teaching. They have renewed minds.
Does this mean that Christians should do nothing at the end of one year and the beginning the next? No, it does not. But we need to tread carefully. Why? Because you will not find an instruction from God in the Bible about what you must or should do each new year.
Yes, we can learn from our Jewish friends and neighbours. At Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year – usually around our October each year) they take a look at themselves. They reflect on how they have lived. Specifically, they recall the wrongs they have done.
This is a practice some Christians adopt. Why? Not because we are commanded by God to do so at the end of a year, but because we know that self-examination is important. Why is it important? Because sin is serious.
That is not something we recognise as keenly as we should. By nature we are inclined to play down just how serious our sins are. Whenever you are tempted to do that, you would do well to remind yourself of what God says about a person who sins. Twice Ezekiel was inspired by God to teach that the soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18.4 & 20). What he declared in the 6th century before Christ, the people of Israel learned when Moses was alive. In his day God gave laws about sacrifices.
The sacrificial system associated with the priesthood of Aaron (the brother of Moses) taught that sin always displeases God. It does not matter how small or great we think a sin is, each and every one represents a failure to love God perfectly. Each sin you commit is a blemish which renders you guilty before God. And, as a sinner, for your sin(s) you deserve to die. And die is what the sinner will do – unless he (or she) finds forgiveness for the wrongs he has done.
The gospel, or good news, of God is that God has provided a mediator between mankind and God. The only acceptable mediator is Jesus Christ. Why is he the only one whom God accepts? Because of who he is.
Two truths about Christ should be carefully noted. First, he is a man. A real person was conceived in the womb of Mary. In due time he was born. In fact, he was born in Bethlehem and, because there was insufficient room in the normal lodging quarters of the house Mary and Joseph stayed in, he was laid in a manger. That does not of necessity mean he was born in a stable. What it does mean is that the nearest thing they had to a crib was a structure in which animal fodder was placed.
In saying that Jesus became a person just like you we emphasise that he really did have a flesh and blood body. However, there is one crucial difference between you and him. He was perfect. He was sinless. You are not. Because that is so you need someone with a body like you to represent you to God. You need a mediator. And you need a special mediator. One, that is, who could do what you can never do. You need a mediator who has lived a perfect life. No such person could ever be found from amongst those who are descended naturally from Adam and Eve Why not? Because, since their day, all human beings have had a rebellious nature that results in them committing sins.
So who is needed? The answer is a perfect man to act as a mediator between God and mankind. God has provided that perfect mediator. In eternity God within himself decided that the eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, would in the fullness of time become a man. The second truth to be carefully noted about Christ is that is that he is God made man. The perfect One took human flesh and in the power of the Holy Spirit lived the perfect life you can never live. That is not all. He also took upon himself the guilt of each and every sin committed by those whom he came to save from their sins. He endured the punish-ment for them in his body on a cross.
He would be accounted accursed by God so that the justice of God would be fully satisfied for all those in whose place he died. That is what happened when he was crucified. And therein we see the height, breadth, depth and extent of God’s love for those who, because of their sins, deserve to die. The perfect and innocent Christ Jesus, suffered and bled and died and endured the miseries of hell to purchase a people who will love and serve God for ever. He did this because God has decreed that he will have a people who are his own special possession.
The good news of God that Christians delight to share is this. Christ died for all who repent (that is, have a change of mind and heart and turn away from their present way of living) and trust in him. Christians see that it is only through resting on Jesus Christ, and what he has done for sinners, that forgiveness can be enjoyed along with being reconciled to God.
The plight of mankind is that each person has a blind mind (we do not see clearly who God is), a perverse will (we do not want to do what God wants), and disordered affections (we love what we should not love). It is those who are made new by and in Christ Jesus who have renewed minds to think straight, new hearts to love God and a new affection for holy living.
Because this is so Christians see a value in examining themselves. They want to see whether their claim to faith is real and true. They are prepared to take a careful look at themselves, their thoughts, their attitudes and their actions, because they want to know that the principle of new life, which is enjoyed only by those who have faith in Christ, is within them.
They will do this regularly. And they are ready and willing to do it even at the end of one year and the beginning of another. They see such a time as appropriate because a new year is a vivid reminder to us that time is passing. The older you get the more inclined you are to think that time flies. The years go by. You age. And you discover that life is both short (on average a mere 70 -80 years) and fleeting. More especially, you become increasingly aware that it is appointed that you shall die and that you shall also face the judgment.
Yes, the day will dawn when you shall stand before God. Will you be a person whose basis for acceptance with God is your works? If it is you will fall, for the soul who sins shall die. Or will it be on basis of faith in the perfect person and completed work of Christ? That is a question for you to consider this New Year.
EPC 1 January 2017