As another year draws to a close it is useful to look back and reflect on what has happened this past year, not just in the world around us, but also in our personal lives. Often on New Year’s eve, Psalm 90 is read, and why not. This Psalm is ascribed to Moses and it takes the form of a prayer. In verses 1-2, the Psalmist acknowledges God’s power, greatness and His eternity. In contrast, verses 3-6 highlights our frailty. In verses 7-12, the Psalmist speaks about our sinfulness and its consequences, namely death. In the closing verses, 13-17, the Psalmist calls on God to bless them with His wisdom so that they may count their days correctly, as well as show His compassion towards them and to bless them with happy days, so that they can tell others about Him as their great God.
Sometimes people accuse Christians of using God as a crutch and perhaps there is some truth to that, but what a good crutch to have. Who can we compare to Him? Where would we be without Him? Where would we be without His sustaining grace this past year? And then looking forward, to whom would we look for help as we enter into a New Year? Moses reminds us that the one who trusts in God has a secure “dwelling place” (refuge) in Him for our God is from eternity to eternity and His faithfulness stretches from one generation to the next.
In direct contrast to God’s eternity, we know that earth has no permanence about it at all. We may like to think we can put down deep roots and last forever, but the Psalmist (and reality) reminds us that we are like grass or a flower in the field. We blossom and bloom for a short while in the dew of the morning and then the sun dries us and we’re gone and no one remembers us.
Moses (v4) and the Apostle Peter (2 Pet 4:8), reminds us that with the Lord a thousand years is like a day and a day like a thousand years. Moses’ point is not that time passes quickly for God, but that it passes quickly for us. In my ministry, I have the opportunity to visit many elderly people, occasionally on their birthdays. Some are pleased they have been granted many years and are remembered by the cards and well wishes they receive, but in the end, unless the Lord returns, they too will be swallowed up by death and their place remembered no more.
Thankfully, the Psalmist doesn’t end on that note but gives us some instructions going forward. First, the Psalmist calls upon us to count every day and every moment as a gift from God. So instead of being poor mathematicians, let us count and live each day, knowing that it may possibly be our last day. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the future or work hard, we must and it is our duty to do so. However, let us do it to God’s glory and call on the Lord to help us live holy lives. May we not be like the rich man who kept building bigger and better barns so that he could live a life of luxury. This rich man did not give God or His glory a thought and Jesus tells us that such a man is a fool! (Luke 12:13-20). “Only one life! ’Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Second, it is only when we acknowledge each day as a gift from the Lord that we can sing and be glad all our days. When God fills our hearts with His love, not least for our salvation, we will be most satisfied. So don’t place your trust in man or in ‘things’ or to building bigger and better barns without having a godly focus. Saint Augustine prayed, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they find rest in you.”
Third, the Psalmist asks God to establish the work of his hands. While we have breath, redeemed by Christ, we have work to do. Let us find out, guided by God’s word, what that work is and do it to His glory!
So in light of our great salvation and the few ‘short’ years we have, let us be a blessing to others in the New Year, so that when our years are done, we may hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Have a blessed New Year.
There are a number of great events on the church calendar year which we focus on throughout the year. For instance, in the past, some of our churches have focused on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Pentecost, Ascension Day, Reformation Day as well as the six-week period of Lent and of course the four-week period of Advent.
The two main periods are Christmas and Easter, and it is good to focus for a moment on both these in the final week of Advent. The very thing that is obvious is that both were necessary. The writer to the Hebrews connects both events in Ch 2:14, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil.”
We know from Scripture that when man sinned, the just sentence from God was death (Gen 3:19; Rom 6:23). Hence, since mankind sinned, our Saviour had to share in their humanity, taking on our flesh and blood, otherwise, He would not have been able to save those God had chosen unto eternal life beforehand (Eph 1:4). Although we understand this to be the case as taught in Scripture, we should not belittle this event. We are speaking about a mystery that is in many ways too wonderful for us to fully comprehend. Before Christ came as a baby in a manger, He was the eternal Word and was with God and was God at Creation (John 1:1). He clothed his deity with flesh and blood and became fully man whilst also remaining fully God (Phil 2:5ff).
He came as a baby and became fully man with one main purpose in mind, to save sinners who repent and believe. He came to secure their salvation which meant He came to die as a man and that is why He took on our humanity. Man sinned and could no longer save himself and hence a sinless man had to die to satisfy the justice of God. Good Friday, therefore, is inextricably connected to Christmas Day and is indeed the reason for the festivities at this time of year.
However, it wasn’t only God’s justice that needed to be met for man’s sin by our Saviour’s death, but by his death, he would destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil. The baby born in Bethlehem did this by covering our sin with his perfect righteousness through His sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection (Rom 3:21ff). Hence, when we stand before the judge of all the earth, no legitimate accusations can be levelled at us, because they are all covered by the broken body and shed blood of our Saviour. What was previously Satan’s weapon against us, our sin, has been taken care of by the baby born on Christmas Day on Good Friday.
What does this all mean? The debilitating fear of death has been taken away and it no longer has hold over us (v15). We can now rejoice in the Saviour Whom God has provided and in thankful response live in the joy of our salvation every day. Have a blessed Christmas enjoying God’s greatest gift of His Son to us and while you’re at it, tell others about this gift too. JZ.
There are always ‘things’ that happen that defy human reason and logic. Everything that happens in this world doesn’t always have a logical explanation, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that somehow we have to demythologize the event so that we won’t look silly trying to explain.
In the Old Testament, there are several events that seem to defy human logic or explanation. For instance, the talking serpent (Gen 3); that people lived for more than nine-hundred years (Gen 5 - can we really understand that in light of what we see in our own bodies today?); The flood (Gen 6); the plagues in Egypt (Exo 7ff); the parting of the Red Sea (Exo 14); the daily manna from heaven and the supply of quail (Exo 16); the talking donkey (Numbers 22); that the Sun stood still for a day (Jug 10:13); the tumbling walls of Jericho (Josh 6); Jonah in the belly of a big fish (Jonah), and so on.
In the New Testament, it continues. The virgin birth, the conception by the Holy Spirit; the angel’s visits (Mat 1), the miracles of Jesus (Gospels) and the disciples (Acts); the Damascus Road experience (Acts 9); the release of Paul and Silas after a great earthquake (Act 16) and so on.
At this time of year, one of the events around Jesus’ birth that always seems to raise considerable interest and baffles our curiosity is this ‘star’ that the Magi followed from the East to Jerusalem (Mat 2:2). It raises all sorts of questions. The text doesn’t tell us that it led them as the pillar of cloud led the OT people in the wilderness. The ‘star’ didn’t just bring them to Jerusalem, it also brought them the 7.1 kilometres to Bethlehem from Jerusalem (v9). And then this ‘star’ rests over where the baby Jesus was lying (v10).
How do we explain this phenomenon that seems to defy human reason and logic? The answer is quite simple really – we cannot, for we don’t really know how it happened. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but we finite, limited, mortal human beings don’t know how God performed this miracle. We just accept that he did, for Scripture records that it happened.
In the past, people have tried to explain this miraculous event by suggesting that it was a ‘shooting star’; or the planets were all lined up and this caused a star to be brighter than all the rest for a short time; or an eclipse, or as some suggest, it is just a fable and didn’t really happen. Well, it did happen for the Bible says it did, period.
There is a real danger in spending too much time trying to find logical explanations for everything that occurs in Scripture, especially these miraculous events. Furthermore, it has the negative impact of robbing us of the joy of the gospel and the great event these miracles are pointing to, namely Jesus Christ and the wonderful salvation we have in Him.
It seems that the story of the ‘star’ has primarily one purpose, to bring people from a foreign land (Gentiles if you will), to worship the One and Only True King. And the One who is causing this star to move and guide these Gentiles is none other than God Himself. Surely, it is not beyond the power of the One who created all things, including the stars above, to move this little star to do His bidding!
So this Christmas, don’t get too hung up about the ‘star’. Rather, let us do as the Magi did, bow down and worship the King who came as a babe, lived amongst us for thirty odd years and then gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our forgiveness and salvation, which by the way, is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.
Oh, one more thing. Nothing much has changed since the day the Magi were directed by the ‘star’ to the new King to worship. I would suggest that is still God’s will for the nations to come, worship and acknowledge Jesus as King, which is also how Matthew’s gospel finishes. However, instead of using ‘stars’, God in His wisdom uses us to bring the good news to the nations and with His blessing lead them to the King. It’s quite apparent, our work is not yet done! JZ