What is the real secret of the new year? It’s real secret lies in that we know nothing at all about it. Year after year men and women make their new resolutions. They realize above all else what is needed is a fresh start and a new beginning. They decide to turn their backs on the past, to turn over a new leaf, or even to start a new book of life. That is their desire, that is their firm conviction and intention. They want to break with the past and for a time they do their utmost to do so, but it doesn’t last. Gradually they invariably slide back to the old position and to the old state of affairs. And after a few such experiences they no longer try, and come to the conclusion that all is hopeless. Up to a point, the fight is kept up and maintained, but sheer weariness and fatigue eventually overcome them, the pressure and the might of the world and its way seem to be entirely on the other side and they give in. the position seems to be utterly hopeless.
Well, now, there’s a cheery thought for the new year! But for how many does this ring true? By our own determination we try to keep our new year resolutions. And it lasts for a little while. (My daughter commented last night at how she dreaded January at the gym because beginning January 1 through about mid February, the place was packed with newbies starting their resolutions… for about six weeks.)
This is my first day back at work this year, so the “real” beginning. Thought I should make it count. The above quote comes from a sermon on The Parable of the Prodigal Son by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1898-1981). (I wonder if he preached it in January.) He goes on to say (and the rest of this text is largely taken directly from his sermon):
Do you feel that your life has gone wrong, has gone astray? Are you forever mocked by the haunting spectre of the might-have-been? Do you feel that you have got yourself into such a position, and into such a situation that you can never get out of it and put yourself right again? Do you feel that you are so far away from what you ought to be, and from what you would like to be, that you can never get there again? Do you feel hopeless about yourself because of some situation with which you are confronted, or because of some entanglement in which you have got involved, or because of some sin which has mastered you and which you cannot conquer? Have you turned to yourself and said, “What is the use of making any further effort, what is the use of trying again? I have tried and tried many and many a time before, but all to no purpose, and my trying now can lead to but the same result. I have made a mess of my life, I have forfeited my chance and my opportunity, and henceforth I have nothing to do but to make the best of a bad job.”
The very first word of the Good News (the Gospel) is that people in this position should lift their head! All is not lost—there is still hope, still the possibility of a fresh start, a new beginning. And it can begin right now without a moment’s hesitation, and not by hoping on something imaginary, something that relies on our strength of determination, or something in the unknown future, but rather by leaning of something that happened in the past nearly 2,000 years ago, but which is as strong and powerful today as it was then. There is a possible turning point even along the blackest and most hopeless road. There is a new beginning.
But conditions are attached. Drawing further from the parable, there are three things we must do if we wish to avail ourselves of a new hope and a new start:
- First, we must face our position squarely, honestly and truly. It is one thing to be in a difficult position and quite another to face it honestly. Like the prodigal son, we don’t get into that kind of a pickle over night. It’s gradual, it’s quiet, and we scarcely see it at all until we hit bottom. Then we tend to avoid thinking about it. We busy ourselves with other things or say, “what’s the use, here I am anyhow.” But the very first step back is to face the situation honestly and clearly.
- The next is to realize that there is only One to Whom you can turn and only one thing you can do. The prodigal had tried and exhausted all his own efforts and the efforts of other people. He was finished and no one could help him but his father. If we pathetically try to cling to our own means, our money, our friends, we will never be pulled from the pit of repetition or the snare of our own doing. The improvement will only be transient and temporary. You can go on trusting yourself and others and trying with all your might, but a year from now the position will not only be the same but actually worse. God alone can save.
- But as you turn to Him, you must realize further that you can plead nothing before Him except His mercy and His compassion. The prodigal left home full of himself, his rights, his own confidence, but he returned determine to be nothing more than a servant in his father’s household, at least they had it better than what he finally made of himself. We are nothing before God—we have turned our back on Him, ignored Him and flouted Him. Yet if we cast ourselves upon Him and His mercy, asking Him if in His infinite goodness and kindness He can possibly make something of us, then all will be different.
- If you do, you will find that in your case, as in the case of the prodigal, there will be a real, solid new beginning and new start. The impossible will happen and you will be amazed and astounded at what you will discover. In Jesus Christ, a real genuine new start, and new beginning are possible. And they are possible alone in Him! We see the prodigal son’s father rushing to him as he sees him returning, kissing him, stripping him of his filthy rags of clothes, preparing a huge celebration feast, treating him like the son he always was and not the beggar he had become. God is amazing and surprising. He rises far above our way of thought.
- But in order to have a really new start, I require something further. It is not enough that every trace of my past be removed, I require something in the present. I desire to be clothed, I must be robed. I need confidence to start afresh and to face life and its people and its problems. The father does not stop at kissing his son and removing his filthy rags, he clothes the boy with dress that is worthy of a son and places a ring on his finger. He announced to all that his son has returned and clothes him so as to make him feel unashamed when he meets people. No one else could do that but the father.
It is precisely the same with us when we turn to God. he not only forgives and blots out the past, He makes us sons and daughters. He gives us new life and new power. He will so assure you of His love that you will be able to face others unashamed. He will clothe you with the robe of Christ’s righteousness [right standing], He will not only tell you that He regard you as a child, but make you feel that you are one….The world only tries to clean the old suit and make it look respectable. God in Christ alone can clothe us with the new robe and really make us strong. Let the world try to point its finger and remind us of our past. Let it do its worst; we have but to look at the robe and the shoes and the ring, and all is well.
Here is opportunity for a real new beginning. It is the only way. God Himself has made it possible by sending His only Son into this world, to live and die and rise again. It matters not at all what you have been, nor what you are like at the moment. You have but to come to God confessing your sins again Him, casting yourself upon His mercy in Jesus Christ, acknowledging that He alone can save and keep, and you will find that
The past shall be forgotten,
The present joy be given,
A future grace be promised,
A glorious crown in heaven.
My prayer for us all this new year is that we don’t waste time or waste our lives, waiting for some unknown imaginary event or new year resolution to improve our lot. Faith in Christ alone will do that. Such an amazing gift, such a wonderful, unfathomable promise. Time to leave the pig sty and return to the Father.