Beginning the Year with Jesus
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. Exodus 12:1-7
God has ever been wont to express his estimate of certain events in history and epochs in time. He would mark their importance, and perpetuate their memory by appointing standing memorials, which should in after ages testify to His righteousness, faithfulness, and love in the government of His Church. The institution of the Passover, and the time selected for its observance, illustrate this thought. There was, probably, no Jewish rite more strikingly typical of Christ, more impressively suggestive of Gospel truth than this. Whether we consider the occasion of its appointment- the deliverance of the Israelites from the destroying angel; or the nature of the institution itself- a lamb slain, without blemish; or, the sprinkling of the blood upon the dwellings of God's chosen people- all point to the great truth- "Christ our Passover:" or, "Christ our Pascal Lamb," as the original expresses it- "was sacrificed for us."
The time, too, of its appointment was scarcely less significant. The Israelites were to begin the year with its observance. They were to enter upon the first month of the year with sacrifice- the sacrifice of the pascal lamb. All this was typical of Jesus: all was replete with Gospel truth. But it is more especially with one view of the type our present reading relates- the period when the pascal lamb was to be offered- it was "the first month of the year."
We are now entering upon a similar period of time. This is the beginning of months, the first month of the year to us. How are we to commence it? With what sentiments, feelings, and service shall we embark in its yet unshaped history? Guided by the typical teaching of the institution we have just referred to, we are to commence this new year with sacrifice: to begin it with atoning blood; in other words, speaking in Gospel language- to make the cross of Jesus the starting point in the new journey of life. The reasonableness of this will at once appear to the spiritual and reflective mind. If we would not ingraft upon the new year the sad memories of the old: if we are desirous not to import into its yet unstained, because its yet unborn time, the sins and guilt, the backslidings and failures, the habits and doings of the past, we must offer a sacrifice: we must present in faith a lamb: we must observe the sprinkling of blood. All this we have in "Christ our Passover, sacrificed for us."
The first thought which the opening of the year naturally suggests to a reflective mind, relates to individual conversion. It is quite possible that many into whose hands this work may fall, are about to enter upon a new epoch of time still in a condition of spiritual unregeneracy. You are about to take into the new year the same unrenewed nature to which must be traced the countless sins, short-comings, and infirmities of the old. What a solemn, yes, what an appalling thought is this! You are entering upon a year in which everything in its history will be new. What! are you resolved to wed the old nature, the old sins, the old habits, with the new stage of your being? Shall this year be even as all the past have been -blanks in your life? -worse than blanks!
There are, properly speaking, no blanks in human life. The page of each day's life is being inscribed with a history that will confront us in the last great day, and which will be read out before an assembled universe. There are no blanks! This is a probationary state, and every event, and action, and word of the present is solemnly and indissolubly linked with our future. What a man sows in this probationary state of his being, that shall he also reap. Let your first consideration, then, be, on entering upon a new stage of life- your new birth, your true, spiritual conversion to God.
Prostrate yourself in prayer, and beseech Him that this may be the year of jubilee to your soul- the year of your release from the thraldom of sin, the tyranny of the world, the despotism of Satan, and the yet more enslaving power of your self-righteousness. Thus introduced into the liberty of the children of God, the freedom with which Christ makes His people free, it will be to you not only the beginning of months, but of a new and heavenly life, the beginning of an immortality of ever-growing bliss, and of ever-deepening glory.
Thus earnestly do I plead with you, while yet standing amid the twilight shadows of the dawning year, to exclaim- "What have I to do any more with idols? Henceforth, the Lord Jesus Christ shall be enthroned upon my heart, the Sovereign of every faculty, power, and affection of my being. Henceforth I am the Lord's." Thus taught by the Spirit, your sinfulness and need of Christ; thus led to trust only in Jesus; drawing from Him the inspiration of a new-born and heavenly life, and by His grace henceforth living upon Christ and for Christ, all things will become new.
This is conversion- the conversion which the Word of God teaches, which the Holy Spirit imparts, and which heaven demands as an essential condition of its end less glory. Oh, hesitate to take another step in this new stage of life, before you seek in earnest prayer to be a partaker of spiritual life. Begin not the year's duties, responsibilities, and temptations, but with Christ. It is for your life that I solemnly implore you to ask the Holy Spirit to regenerate you, that, henceforth; living the higher, nobler, and enduring life of a child of God here, you may became an heir of glory, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven hereafter.
Another reflection suggested by the new year relates, to our progress in the Divine life. Where is the child of God who desires that the past year of his Christian advance should be the model and the standard of the present? Who would ingraft upon the new year the spiritual coldness, torpor, and slothfulness, the infirmities, backslidings, and feeble advance of the old? No! the real believer, the true Christian pilgrim, mournfully and sorrowfully lamenting the past- his slow advance, his little real growth in grace, his innumerable frailties, infirmities, and short-comings, the coldness of his love to Christ, and the distance of his walk with God- most earnestly desires that, with a new-born period of time he should commence a new start in the Divine life, a fresh surrender of himself to the Lord.
If this be so, we must begin the year as the Israelites did with atoning blood. In other words, we must make the cross of Jesus our starting point. There must be a renewed application of the blood, cleansing the past: and there must be the fresh sprinkling of the blood, consecrating the future. O import not into the new year the unrepented, uncleansed sins, the unhealed backslidings, and low spiritual standard of the old. Begin. the year with all things new.
One spiritual truth I am most solicitous in pressing upon the believer: it is, the application of atoning blood. This alone imparts assured peace. What was it that gave to the Israelites the security, confidence, and composure which they felt when the angel of death sped through the land smiting the first-born of Egypt? It was the knowledge and consciousness of the blood of the pascal lamb applied to his dwelling! Apart from this he possessed no security and could have felt no peace.
The grand failure in experimental religion of multitudes of Christian professors is, the lack of an applied atonement. They are not sure that this blood is upon them: they have not fully come in faith to the blood. To them the words cannot wholly apply, "You ARE come to the blood of sprinkling." Rest not short of this, my reader. The blood, sprinkled by the Spirit and received by faith, will impart to your conscience present peace, by assuring you of a present security. Beneath that sprinkled, that personally applied blood, you can calmly repose, and triumphantly exclaim- "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."
The blood on the conscience will purge it from the guilt of sin, and from dead works; the blood on the heart will fill it with peace in believing: yes, with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Allow nothing, then, to interpose itself between you and an applied atonement. Let no turpitude of guilt, no amount of sin, no aggravated backslidings, no abused privileges, no sense of personal unworthiness, no mournful memories, dare to interfere with your coming to the Savior's blood of sprinkling.
If the blood of the pascal lamb, a type only, was to the Israelites a boon so precious, and conferred a blessing so vast, and was attended by results so hallowed, "how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God!" sealing upon your heart "quietness and assurance forever."
Thus commencing our year afresh, as from the cross, the next consideration that will engage our thoughts, will be- our new start in the Christian life, a new and stronger impulse in personal and vital godliness. Every true child of God desires to be more holy, more gracious, more Christ-like, more heavenly, and so more matured for heaven. If there be one motto I would have more prominently and constantly before your eyes than another, throughout the year, it would be the Apostolic exhortation- "Grow in Grace." Everything is advancing- nature is advancing- our state of probation is advancing- prophetical events are advancing- time is advancing, shall the believer in Christ, the heir of God, the expectant of glory, be the only one stationary? God forbid! Surely if there is any creation of God possessing the element of advance, and destined to an unlimited growth and the highest culture, it is the Divine nature implanted in the believing soul.
"Speak unto the children of Israel, that they Go Forward." Jehovah's command is equally addressed to us. Forward, then, in a knowledge of Gospel truth; forward in a close assimilation to the Divine image; forward in personal holiness; forward in the service of Christ; forward in willing obedience and in patient suffering, and in matured fitness for glory; in a word, forward in every work of faith and labor of love for Jesus. We shall receive this new impulse by making the cross of redeeming, dying love, our starting point. We shall gird ourselves for another stage of life's duties, responsibilities, and trials, by a closer view of the purchase-price of our redemption, a more realizing sight of Him who gave Himself for us, the wondrous love that loved us, the unknown agony endured for us, the precious, priceless blood that ransomed us.
O can we enter upon another- it may be our last year of life, and not resolve that, by God's help, it shall be a year more fruitful of glory to His great and glorious Name? This year we will lay aside the weight that retarded the spiritual progress of the last; we will nail the daily besetting sin to the cross; we will lay down that which has been to us an impediment, and we will take up that which has been to us an irksome duty; and for Christ's sake, who gave Himself for us, that He might purify and appropriate us unto Himself a holy people, we will prayerfully, solemnly resolve that, henceforth, no creature and no created thing shall claim us; but that for us to live, shall be simply, wholly, unalterably, Christ!
Once more would I remark- so vital and momentous is the subject- what a new year, in its noblest significance, and what a happy year, in its highest sense, will this be, if it prove the year of grace to any upon whom it dawns in a state of unregeneracy! Who can tell what purposes of mercy, what thoughts of peace, God may have towards you? The still small voice of love may blend with the pensive winds which proclaim the advent of new time- "The year of my redeemed is come." Emancipated, and enfranchised with the immunities and privileges of Christ's freed-men, it will be, in its fullest sense, the year of jubilee, in the history of your being. Earnestly do I plead with you humbly to invoke the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to enable you to resolve, "From this day I am not the world's devotee, nor sin's servant, nor Satan's vassal, nor my own proprietor; I am the Lord's!"
Thus taught by the Spirit your sinfulness, helplessness, and need of Christ; thus led from your own works and merits- which are nothing but filthy, loathsome rags- to trust in faith only in Christ, this year will be the commencement of a new and heavenly life. Oh, shall it be as the past of your life has been, and even yet more rebellious, more hardened in impenitence, and fortified in unbelief? Shudder to think such a condition should be possible, or even probable.
Terrible is the thought, appalling the prospect, that this newly added year of your existence, should but prepare you the more fully as fuel for the eternal fire- "a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction." It is for your life, then, I entreat, I implore you, I beseech you, in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God. Lay down the weapons of your rebellion against God, and of hostility to His Son, and submit to the terms His Gospel requires, that, this year, you may live the higher, nobler life of an heir of glory.
For the Lord's own called people entering upon this new year, I would suggest both a prayer and a promise. The, prayer is that of Moses- "If Your presence go not with me, carry me not up hence." What a needed and solemn petition! God's presence, going with us! Such is the response of every true God-fearing, Christ-loving heart. The believer has learned to understand the nature of God's favor, to know the value of His presence, to test the wisdom of His guidance, and to experience the blessedness of the light of His countenance. And now, the one desire and prayer of his heart is- "Let Your presence go with me. Let it accompany me in all the chequered, changeful history of this year. Let it counsel me in difficulty, soothe me in sickness, cheer me in solitude, keep me in danger, shield me in temptation, strengthen me in service, sustain me in suffering, and deliver me from evil." Let, then, the accompanying presence of God be the intense desire of your heart, and the principal element of your Christian experience throughout the present, and every future year of your earthly pilgrimage.
God's conscious comforting presence has been the experience and the solace of His people in all ages and in all circumstances. David felt it in the cave, Daniel in the lion's den, Jeremiah in the dungeon, Jonah in the whale's belly, Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, and John in the isle of Patmos. And why not you, O child beloved of God, in all the varied journeyings and trials and circumstances of your history? Earnestly covet this blessing- the sensible presence of God throughout what may prove an eventful year in your personal history. Realize that, whatever the varied incidents and afflictions in your experience may be, you are not alone, because your Father is with you. Live as in His continual atmosphere. Walk as before him, and be perfect. His presence is promised, His help is pledged. "Lo! I am with you aways."
Aspire after the Psalmist's enviable experience- "I am continually with You: You have held me by my right hand. You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory." Thus robed with God's conscious presence, your walk will be so regulated as to please Him in all things. You cannot voluntarily sin against Him, standing as encircled by the halo of His Divine perfections. The place will be too awesome, the atmosphere too pure, the feeling too solemn, for Satan or sin to dare intrude. It was when Peter lost sight of the person, and the felt-presence of Jesus, that he fell. Had he followed Christ closely, kept Him in view, sheltered beneath His side, and shared His ignominy, he would not have fallen. What warning for us! What a beacon light for those who professedly follow Christ! Our safety alone is in nearness to the cross- is in walking in close communion with God, in the holy, filial, happy enjoyment of His encircling presence.
The promise is- "As your days, so shall your strength be." What an exceeding great and precious promise is this! There are some promises of God which are intended to apply to particular circumstances in the Christian's history. They are special promises intended for some speciality in our experience. But here is a Divine promise intended for all. It seems to override and to include every other. "As your day" -whatever the nature of the experience, or the demands of that day may be- "As your days, so shall your strength be."
This great promise of God chimes with the equally Divine and precious promise of Christ on the eve of His ascension- "Lo I am with you aways (Greek, all days), even unto the end of the world." Grasping in faith these two Divine and beautiful staffs, let us enter upon a new year strong in faith for another stage of life's solemn and eventful history. We may not reach the close of this year- this year we may die! But let this be our comfort; that whatever may be its daily needs, its daily cares, its daily sins, its daily sorrows, God will be our strength and our salvation. He will not allow us to be our own spiritual sustainers: but will keep the supplies of strength and grace in His own hand: doling them out just as our daily and hourly necessities demand.
Such is the life of faith the Lord would have us live throughout this year; and so living, we shall best promote our own highest interests, and our heavenly Father's greatest glory. Beginning with the cross of Jesus on earth, we may end it with His throne of glory in heaven!
Cast your burden on the Lord,
Only lean upon His word;
You will soon have cause to bless
His unchanging faithfulness.
He sustains you by the hand,
He enables you to stand;
Those whom Jesus once has loved
From His grace are never moved.
Heaven and earth may pass away,
God's free grace shall not decay;
He has promised to fulfill
All the pleasures of His will.
Jesus! Guardian of the flock,
Be Yourself our constant rock
Make us by Your powerful hand
Firm as Zion's mountain stand.