As we think about leaving 2019 and entering 2020 the start of the New Year helps us to think about “new beginnings”. The Bible talks about “new beginnings” and of course the aim of the gospel (Good News) is to give us a new life where God is in charge – a fundamental “new beginning”. Paul says that if anyone belongs to Jesus, he is a “new creation” that old things have passed away and “all things become new”.
We all know that things which sound easy, can often be difficult in practice. Anyone who has made a new year’s resolution or watched people that do, knows that after a week they are often easily abandoned and good intentions come to nothing. That is why the gospel doesn’t start with a new beginning but a death. Imagine that 2019 and 2020 were people and 2019 didn’t want to leave. Well 2020 could not really start until 2019 was finished so there would be confusion and fights every day about what year it was. 2019 has to “die” for 2020 to take over.
That is also what the gospel teaches. We have to say goodbye to our old life to allow God’s new life to take over. There is no faking this – God knows where and what we are and whether we are still secretly living a lie – pretending to be “good” when actually we do not know God at all. Like new year’s resolutions a pretence can only be kept up for so long – as the saying goes, we can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but we can’t fool all of the people all of the time! And here’s the rub – we can’t fool God at all. This is why Jesus says “By their fruits you will know them” – can a good tree produce bad fruit – no, only a bad tree produces bad fruit. Good trees produce good fruit. How much do we want to be good trees?
There’s a story in John about a man named Lazarus. He was a friend of Jesus and he got sick and died. Jesus went to his tomb and this is what the Bible tells us: John 11: 41,43-44. Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes… and cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Jesus took two actions here. Firstly, He raised His friend from the dead and then commanded for him to be released from his grave clothes so that he could be free. Once we realise what a dead and useless life we have lived without God and truly want to turn from it, Jesus can do something – He can make us truly alive. But if we are mucking about on the edges of Christianity and taking what we can out of it without wanting to change at all, God cannot change us. We (all of us – even the “best of us”) need to know that our past lives were corrupt, and we lived them selfishly and sinfully and the Lord had no pleasure in them. The Bible says that even 'all our righteousness is like filthy rags'.
Once we get to a point where we want desperately to abandon our past ways of thinking and doing, we can call on God’s mercy, grace and loving-kindness. Such a heart immediately demands the Lord’s attention, and as we ask for His help, He comes to give it. Like Lazarus we can be brought back from being dead – only not physical death but spiritual death – and we can actually start to live a life where Jesus is in charge. The result of this is to have choices that we didn’t have before – choices to please Him, care for others and fulfil the purposes that God has for us.
For us to be able to live to please God in this new way was purchased at a great, awesome price. We are able to have a new life because Jesus paid for it with His own agonising death. So, when we get this gift we have to look after it and follow the instructions that the Bible has about living it. If you buy a young plant and stick it in a cupboard and never let it see light and never water it then it will not thrive and it will die. Beware to follow the maker’s instructions about the gift He has given!
A final thing – When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead He commanded “Loose him and let him go”! There are those that find it difficult to shake off habits, sins, addictions from the past because their physical bodies have been used to doing them. Now if Jesus had left Lazarus alive but tied up in his grave clothes that wouldn’t have been much of a new beginning would it? He didn’t do that and He won’t leave us in that state. His command over us is the same as for Lazarus – “Loose him and let him go”! No matter what we have been bound with in the past, the lies that tell us that we will never be free of them are just that – lies. It's time to believe a new message – in John 8:36 Jesus tells us that if He “sets you free you shall indeed be free”. Let’s stop believing lies and instead trust Jesus, spend time with Him and look after the new beginning He offers us.
So, time for a real “new beginning” in 2020. Let’s have a real conversation with the Lord about our old life and be willing to let it go – Jesus paid the price for a new life – a real new beginning – on the cross. He died so that we don’t have to die – instead we “die” by giving our lives to Him so that we lose our life but start to live under His ownership. When we submit to His ownership the Devil comes knocking and finds a sign “under new management – take it up with the new owner”! It doesn’t solve all of our problems and difficulties but we are now in the hands of Jesus and He will keep us until we meet Him.
Equally don’t go reaching back for those old grave clothes – there is no freedom there no matter how comforting those old ways of living look. If we see it through God’s eyes all that stuff from the past is just a heap of dirty, smelly, filthy, stinking rags. He’s offering us not the freedom to do anything we want but the power to live a righteous life before men and a holy life before God. He is calling us that way because He wants us to be with Him where He is. He’s calling us that way because He loves us with an everlasting love. He’s calling us that way because in Jesus He paid the highest price and took the biggest risk to offer us all a new life – a new beginning – in Jesus.
Author: Chris Pearson
May God bless and enrich your life
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