The word “Christian” means a follower of Christ. The beginning of a new year is a good time to focus on some of the words He spoke – in particular, His first words, His most important words and His last recorded words – and determine how well we are following Him.
His First Words
When He was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind to talk with the teachers in the temple while His parents headed for home after the festival of the Passover. When they returned and found Him, Mary said, “‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:48-52 NIV).
The two different fathers mentioned in this passage show the two main relationships of His youth. First, He was aware of His unique relationship with God. At 12 years, He was doing God’s business. Of course, that’s why He came to earth. One example of this relationship was that He prayed regularly. Second, He obeyed His parents. They were part of His human family. Later He said, “Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). All believers are part of His spiritual family. One example of this relationship was His compassion for people. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and wanted to care for them like a hen cares for her chicks (Mt. 9:36; 23:37). So, this incident and the Lord’s first recorded words show that His two main relationships were with God and with people.
His Most Important Words
During His ministry, one of the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mk. 12:29-31).
The Jews had at least 600 laws at this time. When asked which was the most important, Jesus said to put God first and people next. He simplified their complex religious requirements into two relationships – with God and with others. Our priorities should be likewise – God first, people next and selfish things last.
His Last Recorded Words
Before Jesus ascended, the apostles asked Him: “‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:6-9).
They expected the earthly kingdom to commence, but didn’t know that this wouldn’t happened until after the gospel was taken to the Gentile nations. Instead the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to give them power to witness for Him across the known world. Witnessing is introducing people to God. This mission for the apostles, which is also the Church’s mission, involves the two relationships already mentioned – with God and others. They would no longer have the Lord to guide them physically, but all believers now have the Holy Spirit to guide them spiritually.
Starting today, let’s devote our lives to God’s business – really giving Him top priority, and really loving one another – the essence of Jesus’ most important words.
Published, January 2010
Each new year brings new opportunities and new challenges. Each year is a new year for us; it is not exactly the same as any other year. Some things change and we move into different seasons of life as our age increases.
From earliest times, days, months and years were determined by observations of the sun and moon. The average length of a year according to the earth’s motion around the sun is 365.2422 days. The International Calendar, which is based on the Gregorian Calendar, begins the year on January 1, the day the Roman Senate annually took office. During the Middle Ages, January 1 was given the name “New Year’s Day.” Prior to that time, the year commenced on March 25 or December 25.
The Jewish sacred year (in the Old Testament) began near the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, and the civil year near the fall (or autumn) equinox. On the first day (Rosh Hashanah) of the civil year (according to Judaism today) they celebrated the creation of the world; this is the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25). The Jewish New Year’s Day in 2007 is sunset September 12, 2007 to sunset September 13, 2007.
As the Islamic calendar is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the date of the beginning of the year changes by 11 days each year, and the cycle of twelve lunar months regresses through the seasons over a period of about 33 years. This means that important Muslim festivals, which always fall in the same month Hijri, may occur in different seasons over time. Also, over 33 years, their New Year’s Day moves steadily across all the seasons of the year.
The Chinese New Year starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which ranges between January 21 and February 21. For example, in 2007, the Chinese year begins on February 18.
It’s good to be able to see the big picture of what’s happening in our world. According to the Bible the big picture is:
Creation – In the beginning of time, God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.
Fall Into Sin – Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused the creation to become cursed. Life now involves struggles and suffering.
Jesus Christ – He’s the One who came to a sin-filled world as our Savior, to save us from our sins.
New Creation Through Jesus – Beginning with His followers and ending with a new heaven and a new earth, God is in the business of making things new.
When we look at the probable date of the writing of the books of the Bible, we see a gap of about 480 years between Nehemiah (430 bc) and James (48 ad). The books before the gap are called the Old Testament, and those after, the New Testament. Jesus heralded the New Testament; He came to earth during the gap between the two testaments. The word “testament” means covenant or agreement; in this case the agreement is between God and humanity. In the Old Testament there is the covenant of the Law. In the New Testament we find the covenant of grace which came through Jesus Christ.
The word “new” occurs 192 times in 174 verses in the New International Version of the Bible. Here are some new things in the New Testament.
Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35).
The Christianity that Jesus brought into the world was like new wine compared to the old wine of the Old Testament Law (Mt. 9:16-17). New wineskins (traditions and ways of doing things) were required to hold this new wine; they were different from Judaism.
After the last supper Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). This means that the new covenant promised in the Old Testament (Jer. 31:31-34) was based on Christ’s death. Also, after His death, Jesus was placed in a new tomb (Mt 27:60).
The gospel is “a new and living way” (Heb. 10:20). Believers have a new life like Christ’s resurrection life (Rom. 6:4). This is described as “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Also, they serve God in the new way of the Spirit (such as, love and liberty), and not in the old way of the written code (such as, fear and bondage) (Rom. 7:6).
In heaven, believers will sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Christians “are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13).
John’s vision was this: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev. 21:1-5).
What A Vision!
Let’s keep this vision before us in the year ahead. We anticipate the Lord’s return soon because it is the next event in God’s timetable towards the new heaven and new earth.
Published, January 2007
This New Year, remember …
Sheep were important animals for the ancient peoples. They provided food to eat, milk to drink, wool for making cloth, and hides and bones for many other uses. Adam’s son Abel kept flocks of sheep for these purposes, and also used them in sacrifices as well (Gen. 4:2-4).
Shepherds were employed to take care of the flock by leading them to grass and water, and by protecting them from wild animals. They also cared for weak, sick and injured animals and made sure that all the sheep had sufficient rest. We can learn much about the role of the shepherd by reading Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34 and John 10.
A good shepherd enjoyed a close relationship with his flock. The sheep recognized his voice and he knew each of them by name. Because of this, they willingly followed the shepherd as he moved about. There was no need to force the sheep or have dogs muster them as modern graziers often do. Also, flocks would have been smaller in Bible times than they are in many countries today. In those days, a flock of 100 sheep would have been considered large (Mt. 18:12).
To protect the flock at night against predators, the shepherd either provided a safe enclosure, or stayed out in the fields to guard them (Lk. 2:8). He was required to defend the sheep against attacks from wild animals. Remember, David had to kill a lion and a bear when he was a shepherd (1 Sam. 17:34-37).
Sheep tend to follow one another, and, therefore are easily lead astray. That is why sheep without a shepherd eventually become scattered around the countryside and are seen as being helpless (Mt. 9:36; 26:31). Shepherds counted their sheep regularly and searched for any that were lost or had strayed away. When they found them, they brought them back to the flock. So, in Bible times there was a caring relationship between a shepherd and his small flock.
David, The Shepherd
David, who was born in 1040 BC and eventually became king of Israel, was such a shepherd (1 Sam. 17:15). The experience of caring for his father’s sheep enabled him to develop an appreciation for an important attribute of God.
David became popular after he killed Goliath, the Philistine giant. As David’s military victories and his popularity increased, King Saul became jealous. This jealousy developed into hatred, and Saul pursued David to kill him. During this period David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around constantly to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life.
David’s feelings at this time are recorded in many of the Psalms (Ps.18, 54, 56, 57, 59, 142). He cried out to God for help in times of danger, distress and desperate need. He described God as his shield, refuge, stronghold, fortress, rock and his salvation. He found that God gave help, deliverance, victory, safety, security, protection, sustenance, strength, guidance, direction, peace, hope and love. He claimed this about God: “You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God … You will go before me” (Ps. 59:9-10).
The roles that David saw in God are similar to those of a shepherd, which David knew from his youth. This thought is expanded in Psalm 23, which begins with this metaphor: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
David realized that God provided all his needs (Ps. 23:1), including rest, refreshment and restoration (vv. 2-3). He should not be afraid or worried because God guided and guarded his life (vv. 3-4). In fact, God was always available to help in all circumstances. He wrote, “You are with me.” Similarly, his ancestor Jacob, who had also been a shepherd, acknowledged “the God who has been my shepherd all my life” (Gen. 48:15).
This illustration is repeated in the New Testament where Christ said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11). Here Christians are likened to being Christ’s sheep. This means that the Lord knows all about us (vv. 3, 14, 27), guides us (v. 4), feeds us (v. 9), protects and preserves us (v. 28), lays down His life for us (vv. 11, 15), gives us life in all its fullness (v. 10), and gives us eternal life that cannot be taken away (vv. 28-29).
Like David, believers can say “the Lord is my Shepherd.” We should know that He is always present to help us no matter what the circumstances are, because “we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” (Ps. 95:7).
Jesus told His followers “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). He told Paul, who was facing much opposition in Corinth, “Do not be afraid … For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you” (Acts 18:9-10). Then, in turn, Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
The Lord has promised that He will never leave us nor desert us: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (Jn. 14:18). We become more aware of His nearness as we surrender to God and resist Satan (Jas. 4:7-8). In fact, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39). Like the Good Shepherd that He is, He promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
In times of turmoil and trouble it is good to know that our Lord is near and that He cares for us. We do not need to ask Him to be with us, He already is. He is our Shepherd.