Welcome to 2020 everyone! There’s something about the start of a new year, isn’t there? It doesn’t matter if last year was a great year; or it turned out 2019 was definitely Not Your Year – moving into a new year still brings a sense of anticipation and hope for what’s ahead.
Well, God is all about new beginnings. We see the story of humanity starting out in Genesis with a new beginning; light and order being formed out of darkness and chaos.
And we see this theme of light and order echoed in the new beginning that Christians find in Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul the Apostle confirms that “if anyone is in Christ, they have become a new person, a ‘new creation’. The old life is gone, a new life has begun. And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.” (NLT)
This is, of course, one of the key aspects of the gospel message of good news.
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In the beginning, God made humans in His image, to be in close, harmonious relationship with Him – His family – and be His perfect image bearers on this earth. But the first humans, Adam and Eve, sinned and in doing so, caused damage and disruption to the relationship between God and humanity. They were no longer able to be God’s perfect image bearers, as He had purposed for them, and were now subject to mortality and death, which would separate them from God for eternity.
Much of the Bible’s message is subsequently taken up in telling the story of God’s efforts to address the problem of sin, and its consequent outcome, on our behalf. God began this firstly through a single man Abraham, in whom He promises to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3), then through a chosen people, the nation of Israel, who were Abraham’s descendants (Isaiah 43:10), and then finally, through His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, the greatest of all Abraham’s descendants (Revelation 3:14).
No one who came before Jesus was able to live a perfect life. Then Jesus arrived on the scene, a new kind of human, who fulfilled God’s law and lived the perfect life as God’s ideal image bearer. He willingly gave himself on behalf of the world as a perfect sacrifice for sin. He died on the cross for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) and was raised to life again three days later in a glorious new beginning (John 20:16-18). He was the first of many whom God promises will be just like him, if they confess Jesus as Lord and saviour (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). By being baptised “into Jesus”, a person becomes a new kind of human – “a new creation”- and a whole new life begins.
This invitation to confess Jesus as Lord, to repent of our sins and to trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for our forgiveness, committing to a new life ‘in him’, following him in all things, is offered to everyone! (2 Peter 3:9). God doesn’t want anyone to be lost – so if you are convicted in your heart of sin and want to be baptised into Jesus, don’t hesitate! (If you’d like to speak more about baptism with someone, we’d love to chat! You can get in touch via any of our contact details here).
Once a person has made a commitment to a new life by being baptised, they become part of the family of God. It’s a new start, a new beginning, with a whole new life ahead of them.
But, as with new year’s resolutions, new beginnings have a way of losing their gloss and the excitement and determination can begin to fade. The Christian life is full of ups and downs and we can lose our passion, become discouraged or forget the reasons why we even chose this life to begin with.
There’s as a couple of great examples about new beginnings found in the Bible that I believe can help us in this Christian life – whether we’re just starting out or whether we’ve been at it a while!
The Story Of Ruth
The first example is the story of Ruth. You may already be familiar with the background to Ruth’s story. She was a widowed Moabite woman, married to an Israelite man who had relocated to Moab ten years earlier. Upon his death, she chose to leave her country of birth and travel back to Israel, with her mother-in-law, both of them with little possessions and a very uncertain future. Her “new beginning”, following on from the death of her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law certainly looked bleak and her circumstances were very reduced. Her position in Israeli society would be expected to be marginal at best – the Moabites had been cursed in earlier times for their opposition and hostility to Israel (Numbers 24:9) and naturalised Moabites were forever excluded from the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3).
We might initially look at her story and assume she was to be simply an inconsequential outsider to the plan of God, peripheral to His purpose. Her ‘new beginning’ certainly didn’t carry the gloss of hope and ‘homecoming’ we would expect when she first started out.
Our lives can sometimes look like Ruth’s story and we may struggle to see through the reduced circumstances of our current moment, viewing them as the end rather than the beginning.
But God loves a good plot twist. When we think things are hopeless and we cannot see a way through, He confounds us, perfectly weaving our own personal stories into the greatest story of all. What can seem like the end is really a different kind of beginning and those circumstances that seem hopeless are actually leading us to something beyond our expectations.
If you are in a season that feels like the end rather than the beginning, don’t despair and feel that God has given up on your life. He hasn’t!
If you’re struggling with addictions, with issues in your relationships, with spiritual drift or financial strain, don’t feel that these things signal the end. God is still there and He is still working. You just need to believe that. The only thing that Ruth really had to go on was faith – faith that the end of her story would be worth the wait – and that’s all you need too, even if your faith is only the size of a mustard seed!
Believe that God, who is Himself the beginning and the end of all things, is still intimately involved in your story, even if you’re struggling to see the next chapter. The prophet Malachi tells us that the names of those whose lives honour God are specially written in His book – and that they are God’s treasured possession. God’s heart towards them is as a father of his son (Malachi 3:16). If all you take from today is this: remember you are greatly loved and God is for you!
The Story Of Nehemiah
The second example is the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. After being in exile for many years, the people of Israel had been allowed to return and had finally begun rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. This occurred under the leadership of firstly men called Zerubbabel and Ezra, and finally a man called Nehemiah, who was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, King of Persia. It was a time of great hope and fearless faith.
Rebuilding took place in three waves, with the building of the walls coming last, in the third wave under Nehemiah’s leadership. This endeavour began with singleness of purpose and a spirit of reformation but after only 26 days into the project people became discouraged and wanted to give up. Only 26 days in! Less than four weeks! They had become overwhelmed by fatigue, frustration, opposition and fear.
Pressures from without, burnout from within, unreasonable expectations and fear of failure. Many Christians feel all these emotions and challenges, probably many times, at different stages in their Christian life. As with the people in Nehemiah’s time, Christians need to be reminded of their purpose and reinvigorated with a sense of mission!
“If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” – Proverbs 29:18, MSG
If you’re in a season of discouragement and feel like you’re drifting and have lost your sense of purpose, this message is for you. Do not give up!
Although our purpose and mission may look different today to theirs back then, it’s all part of the great story that God is telling. And we need to remind ourselves of this regularly, to maintain our focus and vision. New beginnings, even ones that start with passion and fearlessness, soon become simply ‘the job at hand’, and we need to be mindful of all the pressures, emotions and challenges that come with it. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re involved in the greatest, most radical project in all of history! What we do is important and does have value, even if we can’t quite see through to the other side of the project right now.
The message from the story of Nehemiah is to make time to regularly step aside from everything that’s going on in our lives and remind ourselves of the story that God is telling, and that we’re now part of.
Humanity was always created with purpose, to be God’s perfect image bearers and the scope of this is so much greater than you or I, in our current moment. Remind yourself of the importance of the things you do every day, in pursuit of this purpose and mission, whether small or great. And realise that every contribution you make, in your ministry to God, has eternal significance.
How do you do this? Well, here’s some ideas. Take 10 minutes out to read your favourite Bible chapter. Haven’t got one? Make it your mission to find one. Have a coffee with a friend. Catch up with a mate after work. Invite another family around for dinner and reconnect over the good news in Jesus. Listen to a Christian podcast. Take a half hour out for your own personal worship session with all your favourite songs – or make it bigger and include others! Take some quiet moments to think about your personal skills and gifts and consider what you can bring to ministry in the church. Start a new Christian book. Volunteer your time to help those more disadvantaged than yourself. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with God.
How about setting a reminder in your phone, in your diary, calendar or notebook, and, using the story of Nehemiah as a example, remind yourself at least every 26 days to ‘check in and show up’. Go on, do it right now!
The New Covenant
Finally, I want to remind us of what has made all of this possible – the new covenant that came about through the death of Jesus Christ.
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” – Luke 22:20, NIV
“Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” – Hebrews 7:22, NIV
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason 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.” – Hebrews 9:14-15 – NIV
God has personally dealt with the human condition of sin through the giving of His only son. There is forgiveness of sins to all through this new covenant. By his blood and in his name, in his freedom we are free! There is no new beginning as awesome as the new beginning we find in Jesus Christ! Amen!