First of all, Let me wish you all a very happy and blessed new year ahead.
Well: Here we are. Yet another New year, yet another opportunity to look at the blessings of the previous year and give thanks. Yet another opportunity for us to look back at all the numerous mistakes that we have committed knowingly and unknowingly in the last 12 months and make a resolution to never repeat those mistakes again ; only to go back and repeat them soon after. Yet another opportunity to make all those wonderful new year resolutions knowing very well that we are going to break each one of them sooner than later.
All said and done, New year is a time to celebrate. It is a time to try and put all the bad things of the past year ahead . It is a time to look ahead for better things. It is a time for hope. It is a time to decide to move on. It is a time for us to look forward to new beginnings.
Talking of new beginnings, what is THE most important new beginning that one can think about? It is the creation story, isn’t it? That is what I was thinking about, from the time I started thinking about the New Year Message.
So let us go back to the Creation story. Our Bibles simply state, “ In the beginning God….” Then Bible makes it clear that God created the universe out of “nothing”. I repeat, Out of “Nothing”. What comes to your mind when you think of “nothing”? Is it possible for you think about nothing? If I ask you to think about nothing, I am sure you will start thinking about something. R C Sproul, in his book “The Holiness of God” says he gets a headache, when he thinks about nothing. It is virtually impossible for us to imagine “nothing” because the moment, we imagine it , it becomes “something” or “somewhere” or “sometime”. We might think of empty sir, we might think of outer space, we might think about a lonely place etc etc. But none of them are really “nothing”. Perhaps it is only the college going teenagers who can define “nothing”. When Neville was in college for the first time and he did not like the college, if I asked him what happened at college, he would have said “Nothing”. It is important for us to understand how difficult a topic is the topic of “nothing” so that we can comprehend the awesomeness of creation. Bible teaches us that “In the Beginning God…” created our entire world from this “nothing” that you and I cannot even fathom. And God created this universe just by saying “Let there be….”. This is what St Augustine calls the “Divine Imperative”. The dictionary defines Imperative as “ an authoritative command”. That was what created the universe, a Divine imperative. Let us just think about it for a moment. There was “nothing” at the beginning and just by Gods command, the universe was created, God spoke again and there was light, then came the skies and the heavens, then came the water and land. Then God started adorning His own creation. By His command, the land sprouted grass and trees and fruits and vegetables. The Sun, the Moon and the stars were created to adorn the skies. Then the waters abounded with living creatures of all kinds from the smallest bacteria to beautiful clown fish to the largest Blue Whale. Beautiful birds started to fly around in the skies. Animals of all sorts appeared on the earth, from the crawling insects, to the colourful chameleon to the roaring lions to the mammoth elephants. And then God decided to create Man in His own image and gave the man authority over all His previous Creation. All this from “nothing” all this just by his Divine Imperative, His divine command. Just by saying “Let there be…” (except for man, where he breathed life into him). Creation by a Divine Imperative. The great new beginning by Divine Imperative.
What does this act of Divine Imperative tell us about our God? What is the characteristic of this God who created this universe with (according to Matthew Henry) “Great Variety, Great Beauty, Great Exactness and Accuracy, Great Power, Great Order and yet a Great Mystery”. To me the creation story is a pointer to His power, His sovereignty, His absolute control on our lives, His grace His mercy, and His holiness. This morning, we have to acknowledge that we exist just by Divine Imperative, we are saved only by the Divine Imperative, and we are here only by the Divine Imperative. Not by what we have done, not by our works or riches or efforts, just by the Divine Imperative of the Sovereign God who loves us and who has given us an opportunity to redeem ourselves through Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity.
So that is the creation story. That is the story of the New Beginning that we need to remember, not just this new year, but every second of our lives. What is our response to such an awesome God? How do we respond to a God who created this universe for us through a Divine Imperative? To help us to analyse our response to this God, let us look at the responses of encounter with God of some of the characters from the Bible.
First let us look at Jacob. Genesis Chapter 27 is a story that reads like a Bollywood movie script. Plotting, cheating, Fraud, anger, vow of vengeance, murder plot etc. All that is missing is some songs and running around the trees. Jacob is far from a perfect man. He gets the blessing of his father through a fraudulent action, in connivance with his mother, and as a result, has to run away from the presence of his brother who he cheated. But on the way to his uncle’s place a beautiful thing happens to Jacob. He has his first encounter with God. He is weary, he is tired, and he is afraid and unsure of his future. He finds a stone for his pillow and lies down to take rest. And then he dreams of an event that is come to be known as Jacob’s ladder, the stairway to heaven and the LORDs promises to him (Genesis 28:12-15). And when he wakes up, Jacob realises a simple truth that many of us might need to be reminded of. Genesis 28:16-17 (NKJV) Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”. Surely, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it. Jacob was obviously not referring to just the night before. The LORD was with him all through his life and he did not know it. He was trying to reach his life goals all by himself through fraudulent means. He was trying to make his life a success through his own efforts. He was trying to get blessings from the LORD through cheating. All this time, while the LORD was with him and the blessings of the LORD was always with him, just that he did not know it.
Are we like Jacob? Our life story might be even worse than Jacob’s life story that is depicted in Genesis Chapter 27. Have we been running around trying to make achieve things by ourselves, by taking help from a little cheating, a little lying. Have we been on the run because of the sins that we have committed? Have we missed the presence of our God, the awesome God who created the whole universe out of “nothing”, during the last year? If so, may be it is time for us to wake up like Jacob and say. Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it. Can we acknowledge the awesome presence of our God in our lives, and the fact that the LORD has blessed us abundantly, not because of who we are or what we have done, but in spite of all the imperfections that we have? In spite of all the sins that we commit knowingly or unknowingly, with good intentions and bad intentions?
For a second character study, let us go over to the New Testament and look at someone who had a miraculous encounter with this God. Yes, I am talking about Saul, who became Paul. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, a devout Jew, practicing all the law, zealous for the law to the extent that he went around persecuting, arresting and putting Christians in jail and endorsing their death sentence. This is till he had that blinding encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul himself narrates his conversion story to King Agrippa in Acts Chapter 26. We know that Paul’s conversion was purely by a Divine Imperative. Paul conversion took place through a spoken command from God just as it happened during the creation story in Genesis. There was no other external pressure on Paul to convert to Christianity. Just the Divine Imperative. The same Divine Imperative that created this whole universe. Paul recalls the words of Christ at the encounter. Acts 26:14 (NKJV) And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Let us dwell on this message for a moment. It is hard for you to kick against the goads. It is important for us to understand what this statement really meant. An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when ploughing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered. Christ was warning Paul about the futility of resisting conversion. This is exactly how many of us come to Christ. Kicking, resisting, screaming and suffering in the bargain. It is even more interesting to see what happened after that conversion. After Paul heard the Divine Imperative through Christ’s words in Acts 26:14-18, he confesses to his reaction. Acts 26:19-23 (NKJV) “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come– that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” Pauls reaction was of complete obedience to the Divine Imperative. “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision..” he says. “Having obtained help from God, I stand witnessing to small and great..” he says.
You and I might not have a spectacular conversion story like that of Paul. But one thing cannot be ignored. However it actually happened, our conversion is not by our own effort, or by our own works. It is a by a Divine Imperative. John 15:16 (NKJV) makes it clear. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. If our conversion is through a divine imperative, are we obedient to His commands as Paul chose to be? Are we allowing Him to use us to bear fruits for His Kingdom? Or are we actually becoming hurdles in the spread of the Gospel.
We can go on and study the other characters like Peter, or Job or David or Isaiah to understand various ways in which sinful men and women like us respond when we have an encounter with God. But in the interest of time, I want to close by looking at Habakkuk. Habakkuk starts (Habakkuk Chapter 1) with a strong complaint about the situation prevailing at that time. Violence, iniquity, grief, spoil etc. in families, in neighbourhoods, among friends, in courts of law, in government, in short everywhere. Habakkuk’s complaint was that God was being silent and not acting on those who were wicked. Many of us may be in this situation today, we have problems around us. World is getting more corrupt every day. While common men are standing in the long ques to withdraw a small sum of money to meet their daily needs, big stashes of brand new currency notes amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees are being discovered in the houses of the powerful people. Apart from the problems caused by the demonetisation, there are problems with families, there are financial problems, churches are splitting, people are leaving churches. Persecution is rising, sharing the gospel is becoming more risky. So like Habakkuk, we might be tempted to ask; God where are you? Why are you keeping quite? Unlike many of us though Habakkuk has the patience to listen to God’s answers in Chapter 2. And what an answer it is. God explains in no uncertain terms what will happen to the wicked. God makes it clear that all Sinners will perish under a Divine Woe. God makes it clear as to what is in store for those that are Covetous, are Greedy of Wealth and Honours, those that are violent and Oppressive, those that create wealth and property through corrupt means, those that Promote Drunkenness, those that Worship Idols etc. And then God gives this beautiful vision about His place in the scheme of things. Habakkuk 2:14 (NKJV) For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea. And finally the Lord explains what is expected of us in that awesome presence. Habakkuk 2:20 (NKJV) But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” The Lord says, be still and know that I am Lord. He says just be still. I am in control and I am sovereign. I am the creator of all of this. All this was created by my Divine Imperative. Be still and know that I am Lord.
So that is the promise for this new year to us.
Can we make Habakkuk’s response as our prayer for this New Year? There might be many things that we are worried about as we start this new year. There are many things that we are unsure about. Many things that we are apprehensive about. Let us reaffirm along with Habakkuk. Habakkuk 3:17 (NKJV) Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls– And we might add all our fears here… though the stock market might crash, though my business might fail, though we might lose members from this church, though marriages might fall apart around us, though families might break up, though I may lose my job, though a loved one might contract cancer, though I might lose a loved one to death, though.. though.. though… Shall our response be… Habakkuk 3:18-19 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.
May the Lord bless us this new year!!! Let us pray