So we’re off and running, or so it would seem. 2017 looms large and beckoning before us, promising all kinds of ‘newness’. Christmas pudding and tinsel are already so yesterday. The tree is back in storage until needed for its brief seasonal appearance in around 350 more sleeps. Before we know it we’ll be shedding those kilos, quitting those unwanted habits, mending that relationship, taking that course, or whatever other thing we’ve vowed to ourselves under the guise of ‘new year’ and ‘resolution’. Let’s go!
We’re not getting stuck in the same old same old, no way. Let those with their heads in the sand stay there. We’re taking off into this fresh new year with new ideas, new hope, new plans, new commitment to do newer and bigger things for God. You won’t catch us being like those stodgy old Pharisees, entrenched in their religious comfort, unable to see the forest for the trees. Jesus told them things had changed, but they refused to believe Him. ‘The Law and the Prophets were until John’ He told them. ‘Since that time the Kingdom of God has been preached and everyone is pressing their way into it.’¹
What did they want to know about this so-called new Kingdom – they with their ornate robes, phylacteries, and solid commitment to tradition and the old ways? They were the heirs of Abraham. They would vehemently resist this upstart Galilean and His blasphemous talk of some new Kingdom, whatever it took. What did He mean the Law and the Prophets ‘were’? The Law and the Prophets had been good enough for their fathers and their fathers before them, and they would continue to be the way forward thankyou! Anything else was unthinkable.
No, we’re not like that, stuck in the ‘were’ of the past. We are like Jesus disciples, following hard on His heels, running with this new way of life He kept talking about, determined to shake off all that’s been holding us back. We are the ones pressing in, the people of the ‘will be’, the ‘now generation’. Let the ‘were’ crowd cling to their past glories. We’re moving forward and nothing can stop us, right? 2017 here we come and this time things are going to change!
Therefore when they had come together they asked Him saying ‘Lord will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’²
Um, it appears the ‘now’ disciples were a little confused. What kingdom are they talking about? Could it be that all along they thought they understood ‘new’ but didn’t? Surely not!
But here they are asking Jesus, Who is about to leave them in the capable hands of the Holy Spirit, when He’s going to ‘restore the kingdom’. He’s been talking God’s Kingdom, while they’ve been thinking David’s Kingdom! And now it’s crunch time and they’re a little nervous. They’ve invested everything in this new kingdom, but where is it, and when exactly will He proclaim Himself King, kick out the Roman overlords, and make Israel great again, with each of them at His Kingly side?
Hmmm. It seems the ‘now ‘people were really ‘were’ people all along and didn’t know it.
And maybe that’s the problem with trying to change our lives according to times and seasons as we understand them. ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.’³ The world shouts at us : ‘everything’s new, you can make a fresh start!’, and to prove it throws some mesmerizing lights up into the heavens. The calendar shouts: ‘ it’s time for new resolutions!’, and once again we get busy vowing to make things happen. By the time those bright new year fireworks light up the skies again life will be very different. Well that’s the plan anyway – and this time we’ll make it work!
Jesus stands before us outside time, above the realm of man-made festivities and timetables. He is the “I AM” who IS and WAS and IS TO COME. The ‘Is’ of God stood in human flesh before the Pharisees, offering His Kingdom, offering His Lordship, offering His timeless Presence, and they chose the ‘were’ of the Law and the Prophets. The manifest ‘Is to come’ of God sat with His followers inviting them into the imminent newness of His Kingdom, and they were blind and deaf, longing for a glory era that had long since faded.
The Pharisees preferred their religious tradition and top-down hierarchy (with them at the top of course!) Their lives were thoroughly established on what ‘had been’ but was already passing away. The disciples wanted something different but their expectations of newness were firmly rooted in how they believed things ‘should be’ in the future.
One way was old. One way was a false new. Neither was the way forward.
Hope is good, if that hope is founded in Christ and His Love for us. Change is profoundly possible, if the source of that change is Christ and His redemptive Life in us. But expectations of forward motion and positive change can be based on false hope, which is not really any better than being stuck in the past.
To make a resolution is to “come to a definite or earnest decision about something” and “to determine to do something”⁴. A resolution is totally dependent on you and I being the primary agent of change. Depending on our willpower it may or may not work….for a while. It will not provide the healing we need to move forward into a life that is authentically new and different.
Jesus was clear about His resolution: I have come that they may have Life, and that they may have it more abundantly⁵. And He promised He, not we, would fulfil that resolution: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest⁶.
There is a way forward from our old lives, but it involves surrender – surrender of identity, past and future. Our self-perceived identities have too often been built around either what was or what we think should be. If our identity has been based on family life, our ideal of a perfect future will depend on family being the way we expect they should be. If our identity has been built on ministry, our future plans will be dependent on the continued expansion and fulfilment of our ministry. If career is where we have found our identity, we will anchor our future into whatever a successful career could build for us. And so on.
Letting go of our personal history isn’t easy. Letting go of how we think things should be in the future is just as difficult. But the freedom Jesus would lead us into can only be fully grasped with empty hands. He alone is the Is and Was and Is To Come and only He can handle all three of those at the same time. Trust me, I’ve spent Christmas and New Year re-learning this truth at a deeper level than ever before.
We don’t have to wait for a New Year to make deals with ourselves and start fresh. In Christ all things have already been made new for us. He is able to provide the grace to let go both the past and the future and He is only too ready to walk with us through that process. He is our ever-present, eternal Now, every moment, every breath, every step.
I AM waits. He has a new name to reveal to each of us, a name we have never before heard or seen, a new identity⁷. Or we can settle for some coloured lights in the sky that promise us brilliance and fizzle out in a few seconds. Choose Life!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Cor. 5:17
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.