New Year’s Eve
Monday, December 31, 2007
In college, when I was trying to get in some habit of having personal devotion time, I’d find a quiet place on campus, get my Bible out of my backpack, say a little prayer, and then. . .wonder what I was supposed to do now. I wasn’t sure what to read in my Bible, so I started playing a game. I’d close my eyes, flip open the Bible, and whatever page I landed on—that’s what I’d read for the day.
I don’t really recommend this way of having devotions or studying the Bible, although I found some of my notes that I took during these random readings and actually it does seem like I was getting something out of it. And of course I was; it’s God’s Word, so every page is filled with His words that give us life and salvation.
But anyway, that flip open the Bible technique inspired tonight’s sermon. With 2008 starting tomorrow, I started wondering what we’d find if we simply opened the Bible to all of the twenty-oh-eights in the Bible, in other words, chapter 20 verse 8. And just like my random devotions in college, it turns out that because it is God’s Word, there’s actually some very key verses from Scripture for New Year’s Eve on those twenty-oh-eights.
Although, the first one I opened to was Genesis 20:8—which you can see on the screen: “So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid.” That one doesn’t work out so easily. It’s the middle of a story, and so that twenty-oh-eight—and a number of other ones—weren’t so easy to use like this for a sermon.
But then you come to Exodus 20:8, and now we’re getting somewhere. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It’s the third commandment, a perfect place to start our meditation as we enter a New Year. God has always called on His people to honor Him by setting aside time for worship, prayer, and studying His Word, and as we enter 2008, the third commandment is a good reminder to make a resolution to truly and properly honor God by setting aside time each week to be in worship, study the Bible, pray, share devotions with the family, and find ways to serve the ministry of the church.
You see, you thought just opening to the twenty-oh-eights would be random, but here we have a perfect New Year’s resolution.
The next twenty-oh-eight in the next book of the Bible, Leviticus, is quite similar. “Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” Just as the third commandment calls on us to honor God with our time, now this twenty-oh-eight calls on us to follow all of God’s statutes, His laws, His instructions, His commandments for our lives. It’s a little broad, I suppose, for a New Year’s resolution, but still, it works. In 2008, resolve to follow God’s instructions—rather than just making up your own rules about how to live.
Although, there’s something a little more here than just a commandment. In Leviticus 20:8, God is also saying, “I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” I am the Lord who makes you holy, makes you perfect, blameless, sinless. On the one hand, this verse has just given us a resolution to follow God’s laws, but on the other hand, God is telling us something about what He does for us.
In fact, now it doesn’t seem like we’re supposed to follow God’s statutes in order to earn His favor. Instead, it seems like we follow God’s statutes in response to the fact that He sanctifies us, makes us holy, makes us to be the people He meant us to be. Following God’s laws, well, that’s a way of thanking God for what He’s done. It’s like Leviticus 20:8 is saying, “Keep my statutes and do them, because that’s who you are now. I am the Lord who sanctifies you, so live like the people I made you to be.”
Truth be told, now we’re really getting somewhere with this twenty-oh-eight thing, because you know that any sermon that just told you to make a resolution to follow God’s commandments would leave you either feeling smug—like you’re a good Christian because you follow God’s commandments—or leave you feeling condemned—like you’ll never earn God’s favor because you’ll never be able to keep your New Year’s resolution to follow God’s statutes. A sermon shouldn’t leave you feeling either—smug or condemned.
Instead, we need some Gospel, some Good News, a twenty-oh-eight that tells us how God is able to take us who fail at every resolution we make to follow His laws, how God is able to take us and make us to be His holy people. Leviticus 20:8 tells us that this is what God does, but we need to jump to a twenty-oh-eight from the New Testament to show us how God did it.
John 20:8, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed….” This twenty-oh-eight tells us how God fulfills Leviticus 20:8. How does God sanctify us, make us holy in His sight? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When the other disciple—that’s how the Gospel writer John talks about himself—when John went into the tomb on that Easter morning, he saw that Jesus was gone, and he believed what Jesus had told them: “The Son of Man will rise again after three days.” John believed—and along with the other disciples—would go on to preach about how Jesus sanctifies all people, makes all people holy through His death and resurrection.
What God said back in Leviticus 20:8 comes to pass through John 20:8. When God says that He is the One who sanctifies us, He can say this because of Jesus, because Jesus died and rose again.
Ah, now that’s better. Now we’re not just coming here to make a New Year’s resolution. We could do that by watching any TV talk show or just staying at home. Lots of people talk about making resolutions, but only here, only in God’s Word do we find a God who knows that we’re going to break all of our resolutions to follow His instructions and still He comes and says He’ll make us holy in His eyes, make us to look like people who keep all of their resolutions.
Did you catch that? That’s kind of what God is saying in Leviticus 20:8—I am the Lord who makes you into people who keep all of their resolutions. You know that that’s not true on the ground in reality, but when God looks at you, He see Jesus, He sees Jesus who is perfect and keeps every resolution, He sees the holiness of Jesus instead of the ways you break His statutes. So now when someone asks you if you made a New Year’s resolution, you can say: “I sure did, and I have already kept my resolution perfectly.”
There’s one more twenty-oh-eight we’ll look at which kind of gives us a picture of this, what it means that we trust in what God sees rather than what we see, that we trust in what God is making into reality instead of the reality that we know.
Psalm 20:8 says, “They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” Now for this twenty-oh-eight we have to check out the context a little bit more, so here is verse 7 and 8: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”
Psalm 20 is a psalm for the king, a psalm celebrating the king of Israel, perhaps even sort of a prayer over the king and his rule of the people. It’s a psalm that talks about trusting in God’s help for the king, the kingdom, and the people. It’s a psalm that knows God’s reality might be different than the reality on the ground right in front of their faces.
The king and the people might be up against an enemy army that they’ll never possibly be able to defeat, but because God has a different, better, everlasting reality in store for His people, that’s why Psalm 20:8 can say, “They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” The other army might trust in chariots and horses, they might trust in their ability to overpower Israel, but the people of God know that eventually all of their enemies will collapse, will fall, will fail to win the day. The people of God know that the only thing they can really trust in is the Name of God. God will make them rise and stand upright. God will give them victory in the end. God will give them a victory that no one else may understand. God will give them everlasting victory, peace, security, safety, and blessing.
That’s your situation at the beginning of 2008. The popular idea is that by making a New Year’s resolution that somehow you will be able to change your life, change your world, somehow conquer whatever threatens you. But they will collapse and fall, they—the resolutions—will fail you, they—the people who trust in their ability to change themselves by themselves—they will collapse and fall.
Some trust in resolutions and some trust in self-improvement schemes, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright through the power of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, through the righteousness and holiness of Jesus, through the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.
We know that the twenty-oh-eights of the Bible tell us God’s hope and will for our lives. We know that the third commandment calls us on us to remember the Sabbath, to set aside time for worship, prayer, and studying God’s Word. But we also know that following God’s statutes, His laws, that’s simply a response to what God has already done for us: sanctified us, made us holy in His sight. He makes us holy through the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives us a holiness that can’t be improved upon by our resolutions, a holiness that can’t be destroyed by our failures to keep resolutions, a holiness that’s purely a gift from God.
So now as we enter 2008, we know our reality is different than the reality we can see. We see how we fail to keep resolutions, we see how we fail to keep God’s laws, but our reality in Christ is that we are holy, blameless, free, perfect, and given eternal life. We have already kept every resolution we made.
Because that’s our reality in Christ, now we live our lives in a such a way as to thank God with our actions. We resolve to keep God’s commandments, because we want to live in a way that pleases God, in a way that can give back to God just a little of what He’s given us. We resolve to follow God’s statutes knowing we’ll fail, but we’re trying to learn what it means to be God’s holy people, what would it look like if our lives matched who God has already made us to be.
Now 2008 with all of its resolutions, with all of our attempts to keep the third commandment by making time for God, our attempts to keep God’s statutes, now 2008 can just be a year to praise and thank God with our actions, to thank God for what He’s already done: made us into His holy people for another year as we wait for His Son to come again.