ow do you celebrate the New Year? Do you think of putting aside the past year and all its challenges? The only way we can truly set aside the past without regrets is by learning from it or at least reconciling ourselves to the events that led to heartbreak, grief, conflicts, or disappointments. We don’t have to do anything about the blessings and celebrations of the past since they warm our hearts and minds whenever we remember them. Despite possible new challenges in 2023, God’s word instructs us to approach it optimistically. I love the African tradition of praying in the New Year with others overnight. Whenever I participated in the prayer vigil, I was reminded that we are Christ’s people, who have the promise of his presence, power, love, grace, mercy, and righteousness with us. Others who begin the new year as if they must conquer the world, succeed in competition with others, and achieve goals have little compared to us. As I close out this year of devotions on the blessings of God, I pray that we will more fully enjoy, appreciate, and eagerly obey God’s blessed commands, looking forward to our glorious future. Christ has liberated us from enslavement to our circumstances and the power of sin, Satan, and the world over us.
The Blessing of God’s Commands
When the Lord gave Israel his law in the form of the Ten Commandments, he prefaced it with a statement about his care for them. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2). God liberated his people from their enslavement to forced hard labor and religious persecution. The Israelites were under Pharaoh’s labor program to construct his buildings by hand while their children were murdered (Exodus 1). The Lord delivered his people through the blood of the lambs when the angel of death passed over Egypt. He kept them in his care through the wilderness and then in the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, instead of viewing God’s commands as a gift, revealing his character and desires for them to live holy lives, Israel—as a nation—disobeyed him. But God’s desire had always been to bless Israel with his presence and sacred statutes. In Leviticus, we read, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” (Leviticus 26:11-13) God provided everything necessary for “the good life” with him. I am especially thankful and blessed today to have discovered the wisdom in Leviticus and Alexander MacLaren’s commentary on it, from which I will quote primarily. “May we not apply that same thought of the unbroken continuity of God’s gifts to the higher region of our spiritual experience? His supplies of wisdom, love, joy, peace, power, to our souls are always enough and more than enough for our wants. If ever men complain of languishing vitality in their religious emotions, or of a stinted supply of food for their truest self, it is their own fault, not His…So far as He is concerned the flow is uninterrupted, and if it come to us in jets and spurts as from an intermittent well, it is because our own fault has put some obstacle to choke the channel and dam out His Spirit from our spirits…He who gives is ever pouring forth His own self for us to take, and there is no limit to our reception but our capacity and our desire; nor any reason for a moment’s break in our possession of love, righteousness, peace, but our withdrawal of our souls from beneath the Niagara of His grace. As long as we keep our poor vessels below that constant downpour they will be full.” (1) In 2023, will we more fully enjoy, obey, and appreciate God’s commands, looking forward to our glorious future?
Christ’s People Don’t Fear Change God’s Changes
“It is [God’s] to substitute the new for the old. It is ours gladly to accept the exchange, a task not always easy or pleasant. No doubt there is a natural love of change deep in us all, but that is held in check by its opposite, and all poetry and human life itself are full of the sadness born of mutation. Our Lord laid bare a deep tendency, when He said, ‘No man having tasted old wine, straightway desireth new; because he saith the old is better.’ We cling to what is familiar, in the very furniture of our houses; and yet we are ever being forced to accept what is strange and new, and, like some fresh article in a room, is out of harmony with the well-worn things that we have seen standing in their corners for years. It takes some time for the raw look to wear off, and for us to ‘get used to it,’ as we say…Accept cheerfully the law of constant change under which God’s love has set us. Do not let the pleasant bonds of habit tie down your hearts so tightly to the familiar possessions that you shrink from the introduction of fresh elements…for they all come from Him whose love is older than your oldest blessings, and whose mercies, new every morning, express themselves afresh through every change. Welcome the new, treasure the old, and in both see the purpose of that loving Father who, Himself unchanged, changes all things…The great central truths of God in Christ are to be kept for ever; but we shall come to grasp them in their fullness only by joyfully welcoming every fresh access of clearer light which falls upon them.” (2)
Freedom From Enslavement to Oppressive Duty and Circumstances
“Jesus gives freedom from a slavish relation to God…Sullen obedience becomes glad choice, and it is the inmost desire, and the deepest delight, of the loving child to do always the things that please the loving Father. ‘I ought’ and ‘I will’ coalesce, and so there is no slavery, but perfect freedom, in recognizing and bowing to the great ‘I must’ which sweetly rules the life…Christ [also] gives us freedom from the power of circumstances. Most men are made by these. We need not here enter on questions of the influence of their environment on all men’s development…So Christians are ‘free’ in all senses of the word.” (3) God called Israel to enjoy, obey, and appreciate his commands after he liberated them from enslavement. Jesus calls us to enjoy, obey, and appreciate his call to righteous living, liberated from enslavement to our circumstances and the power of sin, Satan, and the world over us. Sometimes our Bible study and devotions are limited by our comfort with Scripture. However, we are called to change—to allow Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to stimulate us and confront our fear of exposure. In this regard, I hope you won’t be disappointed or odious when you open my blog in 2023 to find devotions on how God’s commands in Leviticus and Deuteronomy call us to gospel faith.
Our Future Blessedness With God
As we transition to a new year, one day will not make any radical changes in us and will mark no change in God. But God spoke through Ezekiel to his people, Israel. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27) One day, we will experience God’s presence fully, visually, and directly. “All effects of former trouble shall be done away. They have often been in tears, by reason of sin, of affliction, of the calamities of the church; but no signs, no remembrance of former sorrows shall remain. Christ makes all things new. If we are willing and desirous that the gracious Redeemer should make all things new in our hearts and nature, he will make all things new in respect of our situation, till he has brought us to enjoy complete happiness.” (4) “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)
Related Scripture: Exodus 6:6-7; 20:45-46; Jeremiah 7:23; 24:7; 30:22; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 14:11; 37:27-28; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 5:1; Revelation 21:3-7.
1. MacLaren, Alexander, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Leviticus 26:10, Baker Publishing Group, 1988.
2. MacLaren, Ibid, Leviticus 26:13.
3. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Revelation 21:1-8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/revelation-21.html.
December 29, 2022