I belong to a squash club that is also a gym. Each year on 1 January they bring in extra gym equipment. The place is packed out. By about 7 January, they move out all the extra equipment as most people have given up their New Year's resolution and the club returns to normal.
- Get fit
- Lose weight
- Reduce drinking
- Stop smoking
- Get out of debt
There is nothing wrong with making these common New Year's resolutions. Of course, all of us make resolutions that we fail to keep.
The good news is that each year is an opportunity for new beginnings and a fresh start. But then so is each week. Every Sunday is the first day of the week - a new beginning. Actually, every day is an opportunity for a new beginning: God's mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
The first three words in the Bible are, 'In the beginning …' (Genesis 1:1). Each of the passages for today tells us something about new beginnings and new opportunities, and suggests some possible New Year's resolutions.
1. Resolve to 'delight' in the Bible
If you are beginning the challenge to read the 'Bible in one year', this psalm has encouraging words for you.
Make a regular habit of spending time with God, delighting, desiring and meditating on his words.
The promise is that if you 'thrill to God's Word' and 'chew on Scripture day and night' (v.2, MSG), your life will be blessed. Happiness comes from what happens to you. Blessing is what happens to you through knowing God and meditating on his words.
God promises you fruitfulness ('which yields its fruit in season', v.3b), vitality ('whose leaves do not wither', v.3c) and prosperity (v.3d, not necessarily material prosperity!). This message is backed up by a glance across at the ultimate fate of 'the wicked'. The psalmist does not try and pretend that the wicked don't sometimes prosper. He simply reminds us of the transitory nature of that prosperity - 'they are like chaff that the wind blows away…[they] will perish' (vv.4,6).
The key to lasting - and ultimately eternal - fruitfulness and vitality lies in your relationship with God. If you seek to follow 'the way of the righteous' that this psalm talks about, you are assured that the Lord himself will watch over you (v.6).
Lord, thank you for your wonderful promises as we resolve to delight in your word and meditate on it. Thank you that you promise us blessing, fruitfulness, vitality, prosperity and your watchful eye upon us. Help us to keep persevering in seeking you through your word.
2. Resolve to focus on Jesus
The focus of our lives should be Jesus. The Bible is all about Jesus. The New Testament opens with his family tree.
As we read the list of Jesus' ancestors it is encouraging to see that they include the adulteress Tamar, the prostitute Rahab, Ruth (the non-Jewish Moabite), Solomon 'whose mother had been Uriah's wife' (who was conceived after an adulterous affair with Bathsheba), as well as many others. Thankfully, God uses sinful human beings and, therefore, can use us. Whatever your past, however broken your life may seem right now, God can use you to do something great with your life.
The very name 'Jesus' means, 'he will save his people from their sins' (v.21). Every time we use the name Jesus it reminds us that our greatest need is not for happiness or contentment (although these may both be by-products). Our greatest need, as with Jesus' ancestors, is for forgiveness. Therefore, we need a Saviour.
The beginning of Matthew shows us that Jesus is the completion of all that is recorded in the Old Testament:
- Jesus is the climax of historyMatthew opens his Gospel by summarising the Old Testament story in terms of Jesus' ancestry (vv.1-17). The Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes. Matthew sets out the history of the people of God in terms of three equal periods: fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile and fourteen from the exile to Christ (v.17).
In the genealogy, biological generations are skipped over (as was quite common in Old Testament family trees). He was pointing out that Old Testament history falls into three approximately equal spans of time between crucial events. Jesus is the end of the line as far as the Old Testament story goes - the climax has been reached.
- In Jesus, all the promises of God are fulfilled
Jesus is not only the completion of the Old Testament story at an historical level, he is also the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies and all of God's promises.
Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Matthew concludes each of five scenes from the conception, birth and early childhood of Jesus by quoting the Hebrew Scriptures that have been 'fulfilled' by the events described (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6,17,23; 4:14-16).
The first one is the fulfilment in the conception of Jesus: 'All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us")' (1:22-23).
As Eugene Peterson writes, 'Everything previous to us [is] completed in Jesus; we are completed in Jesus ... And all the parts of our lives - work, family, friends, memories, dreams - [are] also completed in Jesus.'
Lord, thank you for this promise for the new year - that in Jesus, you are with us. Help us to focus our lives on you in the year ahead.
3. Resolve to enjoy God's creation
Genesis gives a theological account of the beginning of the universe. It goes way beyond the scientific theories of 'how?' and 'when?' this world began. It answers the questions of 'why?' and 'who?'. It offers a personal explanation more than a scientific one. The scientific explanation does not prove or disprove the theological and personal one. Rather, it is complementary.
Reading this passage through the lens of the New Testament we see the whole Trinity involved in creation. The Hebrew noun for God (Elohim) is a plural noun. The Holy Spirit was involved in creation (1:2). It was through Jesus that creation came into being: 'And God said...' (v.3a). Jesus is 'the Word of God' and without him nothing was made that has been made (see John 1:1-3).
In the midst of this account of the creation there is an amazing throwaway line showing the immense power of God: 'He also made the stars' (Genesis 1:16). We now know there are probably between 100 and 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and our galaxy is but one of around 100 billion galaxies. He made them all, just like that!
The pinnacle of his creation was human beings. We are made in the image of God (v.27). 'Male and female' together represent his image (v.27b). If we want to know what God is like, it is men and women together who reflect his image.
Your ability to communicate with God is a reflection of the fact that you are made in the image of God.
God approves of all that he created. He said, 'It is good'. Many people feel worthless, insecure and of no value. But God did not create junk. God created you. He loves you and approves of you. He may not approve of everything you do but he loves you unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually.
We see in this passage that work is a blessing. 'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it' (2:15). Work is part of God's good creation - not a result of the fall. This passage also reminds us that taking care of the environment is right at the heart of God's plan for human beings.
Rest is not an optional extra. It is what God did ('he rested', v.2). These days of rest (days off, holidays) are days of special blessing. 'God blessed the seventh day and made it holy' (v.3). Holidays are holy days. They are a time to recharge spiritually.
Don't work too hard. God took time to rest and enjoy what he had made. You are not supposed to work constantly. You are created with a need for relaxation and rest - taking the time to enjoy your work and the fruit of your work.
In Genesis 2:16-17 we see that God gave Adam and Eve far-reaching permission ('you are free to eat from any tree in the garden', v.16), with one prohibition - 'but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' (v.17a). He warned them of the penalty if they disobeyed ('when you eat of it you will surely die', v.17b). You do not need to know and experience evil. God wanted you to know only good.
Lord, thank you that this universe is not a result of chance. It is your good creation. Help us to love your creation. Help us to treat every human being with dignity as every person is created in your image. Help us to see our jobs as a source of blessing and part of your good creation. Help us to enjoy the rest that you intend us to have, to keep well away from evil and to enjoy all the good things you have given us to enjoy.
How difficult this must have been for Mary, her parents and Joseph. They must have felt embarrassed and ashamed. We see why Joseph was chosen to be Mary's husband. He was very impressive - the girl he was about to marry was pregnant! He would have been justified in being furious. Yet he didn't want to humiliate her - he planned to 'divorce her quietly'. We see how he acts after an angel appeared in a dream and told him to marry Mary (v.24). It must have taken faith to put aside what people thought and raise a child that was not his own.