Beginning Anew

What’s new? According to the book of Ecclesiastes there is nothing new:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (1:9). We could dismiss this as the view of a cynic. I rather think that he is a realist. One generation follows another, and while we may invent new gadgets, humankind itself doesn’t change. Some are good, some are evil. Some are kind, some are cruel. But if we were to draw graph of the overall progress of people, we would see that evil seems to be on the increase. Humankind is more knowledgeable, and more sophisticated, but it has not stopped evil from increasing.

Bad to Worse

I’m not exaggerating. Two years ago a young woman was not only gang-raped, but she was afterwards sadistically wounded, and then thrown out of a moving bus so that she would die painfully. She lived to accuse her attackers. The nation’s conscience was stirred, but it would appear that gangs of evil men and boys have only proliferated. All of them just want to imitate the crime, for no other reason than to get a kick out of what they do. Whether it is burning brides or wives for dowry, or throwing acid on the faces of girls who resist or reject men who force themselves on the girls, it appears that each criminal incident simply goads others into trying their hand at committing such crimes.

Or, consider the level of corruption in the country. We would have to confess that extortion has grown far beyond what there was earlier. I do believe that my grandparents were never confronted with a demand for a bribe. I never heard my father bemoaning the fact that a bribe had been demanded and that failure to pay would mean that we would not have some necessity or facility. But nowadays it is common to hear about how someone or the other had to pay a bribe to get an electricity connection for their house or to get a loan sanctioned or to get their pension released. And the amounts demanded have skyrocketed to such an extent that coming up with the amounts will hurt and deprive the bribe-givers very badly.

Yet every year the whole world goes through the ritual of ushering in a new year. The packaging has changed. There’s a new label indicating that a new year has come.

From time to time, the packaging for toothpaste, soap, jam, tomato sauce, etc., gets changed as a marketing strategy. The toothpaste might get a few stripes, but it cannot do anymore for our teeth than what people used fifty years ago, and India’s infamous mixed fruit jam has always had the same nondescript taste that it has today. That is how it is with our years. Everything remains the same.

This New Year is going to be just like years gone by. Changing the packaging or the label doesn’t make anything new, even if the contents are tweaked a bit—like adding stripes to paste or tiny crystals to soaps.

Hope Springs Eternal

Yet, as the poet Alexander Pope said,

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Even though every year ends up sullied, we come to every New Year with the same hope that it is going to be better. Pope’s “Essay on Man” is replete with biblical allusions and concepts. He argues that humans belong to the “Vast chain of being, which from God began.” That is the source of all human hope.

The prophet Jeremiah said it better. He expressed disappointment with how his life had turned out—in fact, with the way God had allowed things to happen:

I have been deprived of peace;

I have forgotten what prosperity is.

So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

But in the midst of his disappointments, Jeremiah renewed his hope by recalling that he did receive unfailing mercy from God:

Yet this I call to mind

and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Jeremiah’s past experiences of God’s mercies, make him assert that the mercy of God is “new” because God is great in “faithfulness.” While “new” points to a fresh arrival on the scene, “faithfulness” refers to what is carried over from the past into the present.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of the LORD

(Lam. 3:17-26).

The past is damaged by our wilful foolishness, but the good “old” mercy of God comes to us new, and undamaged. It’s new every morning. It’s absolutely fresh.

New Creation

When people put their faith in Jesus, they are putting their faith in His power to give them a fresh new start. And, He does. The things of the past, all the evil and wrongdoing, won’t carry over into their new relationship with God. Every believer starts a brand new relationship. As far as God is concerned, the old sinner is gone. He deals with a newborn child, one who has been “born again” (John 3:3). The person has been recreated. Everything about the person’s relationship with God is so completely new that Paul described the believer a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

While the heart has been rendered so clean that it’s a new heart (Eze. 36:26), our feet are still finding their way through the dirt roads of this world.

The New Testament describes the Christian life as a “walk” (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12). In the world of the New Testament, people didn’t wear socks and closed shoes, but open sandals. Because their feet would get dusty, people washed their feet before they reclined around low tables for their meals. That is why on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus went around washing the feet of His disciples. At first, Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet. Jesus then said that if He didn’t wash Peter’s feet, Peter wouldn’t have a connection with Jesus. Immediately Peter wanted to be washed all over. Jesus said there was no need for that because “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean” (John 13:10). This is a picture of how the Christian traversing through the world will need cleansing (again and again), but he or she won’t need to start over. He or she is already clean.

We do not need to make believe that we are sinless. We’re not. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We’re not meant to sin, but when we do, “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1).

New Covenant

Jesus defends us before the Father, because He is the mediator of our new relationship with God: “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb. 9:15); “…since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:14-16); “…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (7:24-25).

The One who initiated the new covenant is doing everything to keep the covenant in force. He watches over those in covenant and defends them and pleads for them at the throne of grace. He doesn’t give up on them when they slip up. Jesus said, “The one who come to me, I will never throw out” (or turn away) (John.6:37). He is the Saviour who “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt.12:20). These two verses are my favourites. I know that I will always be accepted by Jesus, no matter how much I have grieved Him or strayed from His path or lagged behind.

In spite of everything negative in your life and mine, Jesus loves us. He’s still working on us. He hasn’t given up on us. It’s going to be a new year. There will be a fresh outpouring of grace. There will be a new wave of love that will cover us. We will be given a new opportunity to leave what besets us: “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb. 12: 1, NLT). We cannot claim to “have already achieved these things or… already reached perfection. But [we] press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed [us]…focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Phil 3:12-14, NLT)

Anno Domini. You and I will be in the year of the Lord 2015. We’ll be in Christ.

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