Last greetings for the year Twenty-twenty to each and every one of our Bethel Youth! Three days ago Pastor John looked forward to the New Year, urging that with the new year we have a “new ear” by which to hear God's voice.
Pastor John first read to us from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 3 verses 13 through 17: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' Jesus replied, 'Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.' Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”
What is baptism but publicly being cleansed of our sins and being reborn to a totally new life in Christ? So we come to the worldly custom of New Year's Day generally being a day to start something of a new life through New Year's resolutions. The idea is to form new habits and gain a sense of reset, of restarting. We have a gnawing and constant desire to change – not just the outside of ourselves but the inside. Any number of self-help books are out there, as well as innumerable social media sites, offering advice in all this. Basically they all require us to strive for something better through our own strength (and how about now with the new year?)
They are all ultimately, and most of them very quickly, inadequate. They are not the answer. Jesus is. So, let us start with the beginning of real change, of a genuine reset.
Pastor John explained to us that Jesus’ baptism that we have just read about reveals how change comes, that the Gospel changes everything! With truly taking in the Good News we have gone from death to life, from selfishness to selflessness, from pride to humility, from anger to love, from anxiety to peace....from sin to holiness!
Progressing from sin to holiness is the ENTIRE point of our temporal existence. If we each do that, our lives have been successful no matter what else in our lives or about our lives. If we fail to do that, our lives have FAILED, no matter what else.
Knowing well enough about the dark, fallen world about us and the futility of all of the advertised ways of changing ourselves within the context of that world, let us consider the genuine article, the real “new”:
Pastor John read to us from 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That's a big “if”, but consider the infinite consequences! It is the only “new” that ever matters!
In the last book of the Bible we read Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new.” God doesn’t simply make new things, He makes all things new. Jesus will take what is broken and falling apart and He will make it new! The distinction is of the utmost importance, as it is each of us who instead of being swept away into the eternal incinerator will be made...new!
What Jesus demonstrated to the world, and each of us, for our benefit, that we might emulate.
Baptism is a symbol of going from death to life...from being outside God’s family to being inside...from being a stranger to being a child of God.
The story of Jesus’s baptism parallels the story of Creation. In both cases there is water and the Spirit of God hovering over the surface. Remember from Genesis “Let us make man…” forward to baptism “Let us save man… and make him new”. Who is this “us”? The triune God! God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit acting as One.
Baptism is a sign of being made clean - Like taking a shower when you are dirty. It is very important to remember that we are speaking in the passive voice here: in baptism we are not cleansing ourselves of sin; we are being cleansed of sin. God does for us, through our non-resistance to His invitation, what we cannot do for ourselves!
Our New Year’s resolution is usually about US trying to clean up OURSELVES and get things in order. Pastor John reminded us that by contrast true repentance and change is about saying “I can’t clean myself before God!” We go to Jesus to change us and cleanse us and carry us.
Pastor John also taught us that Jesus’ affirmation of baptism reveals the motivation to change – God is more concerned with who each of us is becoming than who we presently are. Again we read from Matthew 3:17 “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
“Listen to Him!”
That means very practically that the more we lift up Jesus – in prayer, praise, and all worship - the more we change for the better. The key to a changed life is to KNOW we are children of God – each of us.
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So we are no longer slaves to sin, but God’s children; and since we are his children, God has made us also heirs. This we understood from reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians 4:6-7.
God wants to be the LOUDEST VOICE in our lives. He says “This is my beloved child!” So, the voice we each choose to hear will determine how each of us lives his life.
Altogether different from all of those self-help books and social media gurus, right?
“When people ask me how they should approach performance, I always tell them the professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner.” Pastor John noted that this is the famed Cellist Yo-Yo Ma saying that a real musician should not be tied-up in knots with worry during a performance but instead he or she should play with the abandon of an ignorant child. We read in Matthew 18 verse 3 that Jesus told us that we had to be like children in our not being tied up in knots about worldly things, if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally we read in one of the last books of the Old Testament - Zephaniah 3:17 "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
If in the New Year we have a new ear to hear, surely come what may He will quiet us with His love.
Thank you Lord – that almighty assurance is all we need to hear!