What’s New?!

Everyone reading this newsletter probably got something “new” in recent days.  Maybe it was the new book by your favorite author or the new CD by your favorite artist (aka the Gaither Vocal Band for those of us led by the Spirit!).  Perhaps it was a new recliner for relaxing, a new table for dining, or possibly new clothes (to accommodate the relaxing and dining you did this past year!).  Whether or not you got the “new” things you wanted for Christmas, there are much more valuable “new” things provided for believers from the hand of God.  We will look at six biblical “new” things in this month’s newsletter.

A New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:19-20)…One of the more popular passages of the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 28:1-14.  God promises His people that they will be the head and not the tail, that they will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country, blessed when they lay down and blessed when they rise up, blessed will be their farms and blessed will be their flocks…IF they obey Him.  Deuteronomy 28:15-68 delineates what will happen if they disobey: they would be the tail and not the head, they would be cursed in the city and cursed in the country, cursed when they lay down and cursed when they rise up, cursed would be their farms and cursed would be their flocks.  The last 54 verses of Deuteronomy 28 aren’t as popular as the first 14 but are just as much the Word of God.  Blessed for obedience, cursed for disobedience; this was the essence of the Mosaic Covenant.  During the 800 years between Moses and Jeremiah, God’s people racked up a ruinous rap sheet filled with their voluminous violations of the covenant.  Because of their multitude of sins they had seen foreign powers such as the Midianites and the Philistines plunder their lands during the period of the Judges, they had felt the cruel hand of a king (that they had asked for against God’s wishes) gone near insane, they witnessed the devastating decline from their golden age under David and Solomon as the latter married a multitude of wives and went after foreign and false gods, they went through the bitterness of one nation becoming divided into two, the Northern Kingdom of Israel endured the reigns of 19 wicked kings (with not one in their history being counted as good) before being viciously conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the Southern Kingdom of Judah would fair some better with 40% of their monarchs being counted as good but still were very sinful and were headed towards a doomed downfall at the time when Jeremiah came on the scene.  This prophet was called by the Lord from his mother’s womb to deliver an unpopular message.  He told Judah that destruction was coming to them, just as it had to their brothers in the North, if they did not repent.  Yet in the midst of a rebuke of a failing and sinning nation with an 800 year history of failing and sinning, God graciously spoke through Jeremiah of a new covenant that was to come.  This covenant would not be based on the works of any fallen man who would surely fail, but on the work of the spotless Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who would succeed in every way.  This new covenant would not be one of law, but would be one of grace!  A people in great depression would get a new deal!  Thanks be to God for the New Covenant!

            A New Compassion (Lamentations 3:22-23)…Due to the people’s continual sin and repeated lack of repentance (despite Jeremiah’s admonitions), God finally sent judgment.  The Babylonians conquered Judah in 586 BC, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and taking the people into exile.  Far from gloating about the fact that his prophecies of destruction had come true, the rejected prophet became the weeping prophet, not crying because of his lot but because of the devastation that unrepentance brought to the nation.  The short book of Lamentations is written as a funeral dirge, giving us the lyrics of Jeremiah’s sorrowful song.  The song is written in the form of an acrostic where each verse begins with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Hebrew has 22 letters so all chapters except chapter three contain 22 verses.  Chapter 3 has 66 verses, three times through the alphabet.  Yet right in the midst of a sorrow so deep, a melancholy so strong that it runs from A to Z, come the 22nd and 23rd verses of the longest chapter which state, “the LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness!”  God had promised that a Savior would come all the way back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), He had promised a new covenant of coming grace throughout the Old Testament and He most famously reiterated it in the book of Jeremiah, and the fact that His people had failed once again was not going to change the truth that His compassions are new and His faithfulness is great!  Thanks be to God for His new compassionA New Heart (Ezekiel 36:22-28)…Israel in the North and Judah in the South had sinned greatly; defiling the Holy Land and profaning God’s Holy Name among the Gentiles.  They despised their inheritance and cared not for their witness.  The promised destruction foretold by the prophet Jeremiah occurred at the hands of the Babylonians.  Yet, even as God’s people were in a justly deserved exile, He sent them prophets to declare the word of the Lord.  One of these exilic prophets was Ezekiel.  Many well-known visions and verses reside in this famous book of prophecy.  Perhaps the most important with regards to salvation is found in the 36th chapter.  Here God tells His people that He is going to bless them, not due to their works, for they had been utterly sinful, not because of their faithfulness, for their infidelity was great, but because of the honor of His Great Name.  How is He going to bless them?  In many ways, but the greatest would be in giving them a new heart.  The Lord promises that He is going to take their hardened hearts of stone which have been cold and negligent to the things of God and turn them into hearts of flesh that are warm and sensitive to the things of the Spirit.  This passage teaches us many very important theological truths and practical lessons (yes, the two do go together!).  Ever since the forbidden fruit came off the tree and across the lips mankind has lived in a fallen world and inherited a sin nature whereby he is in essence a being worthy of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-3).  Man is incapable in and of himself of doing right, of seeking after God, or of even responding to an offer of grace (Rom. 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:25-26; John 15:16).  So if God, Who promises to make a new covenant and seeks to express His compassions that are new every day, desires for man to receive this new covenant and experience these new compassions then He must by an act of His Spirit give man a new heart that is capable of responding affirmatively to this new covenant and appreciating these new compassions (John 6:44; John 16:5-11).  If you know God, if you have experienced the salvation that is available through Christ, then rest assured that it is only because the Lord has initiated, enabled, and empowered the process.  Thanks be to God for a new heart!

A New Birth (John 3:1-4)…The religions of men are based on works.  We are told that if we do more of this and do less of that then we can be better and God will be pleased.  Any notion of this type is thoroughly anti-biblical and insufficient for salvation.  The underlying assumption to these systems of thought is that mankind is basically good but needs a little tweaking here and there.  Unfortunately there are even those who espouse to be Christian ministers who put forth this kind of mentality.  They seem to say that if you receive Jesus then He will help you live a more productive, purposeful, and prosperous life.  If you’re unhappy, He can make you happy.  If you’re in lack, He can give you plenty.  If you’re not fulfilled where you’re at, then He can take you to the next level.  While Jesus can do all of these things and even more, none of these man-centered concepts are why He came or representative of the primary thrust of His glorious gospel.  Christ did not come to make bad men good and He certainly did not come to make good men (of which there are none—see Mark 10:18 and Romans 3:10-11) better; He came to make dead men live!  He did not come to tweak men here and there or to simply smooth out the rough edges.  He came to do something so transformational and revolutionary that it could only be called a new birth and could only be described as the forming of a new creature (John 3:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17)!  That one must be born again may seem elementary to those who have been in church for most of their lives, but it is definitely a foreign concept to much of the world and even to some who claim to be believers.  Proof of this is found in the fact that the admonition that one must be born again was spoken by Jesus to a man who was viewed to be a gifted Bible teacher (John 3:10)!  Men work for a paycheck, babies rejoice in the gift of life.  Religions of men seek to make men better, the gospel of God seeks to make men alive!  If you know Jesus, if you have repented from sin and put faith in Christ as the only Savior, then you are born again!  Thanks be to God for the new birth!

A New Life (Romans 6:1-4)…Some people will hear that the new covenant is one of grace, that the new compassions are  expressions of grace, that the new heart is a result of grace, and that the new birth is based on grace and then draw the conclusion that as long as we profess Jesus as Savior we can live like the devil and still go straight to heaven when we die.  To this line of thought, Paul responds with the strong words of “May it never be! (Rom. 6:2)”.  Believers who have experienced a new birth to righteousness have also experienced a death to sin.  Those who have truly been born again will walk in a newness of life!…Let me close this section with a personal illustration.  Our precious boy just celebrated his 7th birthday.  It seems like yesterday that I was holding him in the space between my elbow and hand and now he stands up to my chest!  He has heard us say the parental cliché that “he’s growing too fast” for so long that he has begun to tell it to others, even to the new “friends” he met at the Chick-Fil-A playland the other day!  I could see he was concerned about “growing too fast” so I sat him down and, to the best of my ability, explained to him that though mommies and daddies always feel that their babies grow too fast, that they actually grow according to the good plan of God.  I’m not sure how well I succeeded, but it seemed to go okay because on his actual birthday he asked people if they could notice that he was growing and he seemed to be happy about it.  As goes growth in the natural so too does growth in the spiritual.  Some may grow slowly, some may grow quickly, not everyone grows in the same way at the same times, but everyone who has truly been born will be truly growing.  If there is a new birth, it will be evidenced by a newness of life!  Thanks be to God for the new life in which God’s children walk!

A New Home (John 14:1-6; Revelation 21:1-5)…Only hours before being arrested and taken to be crucified, Jesus instructed His disciples to not let their hearts be troubled.  He promised them that though He was going away, He was going away for the purpose of preparing them a place in His Father’s house.  He vowed to return again someday and receive them unto Himself, to take them to the Father’s house…I don’t know about you, but the longer I live the more I need to hear and heed the words to not be troubled and the more grateful I am that this world is not my home.  If you are a believer, rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for you will one day have a new home, a place in the Father’s house prepared by the Lord Jesus Himself!  It will be a greater reveal than anything HGTV could ever conceive of!  Thanks be to God for a new home!