This morning, we come together on New Year’s Eve. We’re getting ready to put 2017 behind us and planning our future in 2018. For some of us, we celebrate the year’s close with great joy, but for many others, we’re happy to be putting this year behind us once and for all. In any case, we can all enter the new year with hope that 2018 is going to be an awesome one! The good news is that it absolutely can be and we certainly should be hopeful! Why?
One of the greatest attributes of God is His mercy. The mercy of God enables Him to forgive our sin and give us opportunity after opportunity and more second chances than any of us ever deserve. It is the mercy of God that enables us to have a fresh start not only at the turning of the year, but every single day of our lives! Every day that we wake up is a new day with new possibilities.
We may think that we’ve had a bad year, but we turn this morning to a historic reality for God’s people. They were delivered from slavery and given their own land and were developed into a great nation. All nations feared them and their God. Their lives revolved around the temple where they not only gathered to worship God, but where they lived their lives together with friends and family. It was a place where they celebrated with feasts and festivals to remind them of God’s goodness.
Then in what I’m sure seemed like an instant, it was all stolen away from them and utterly destroyed. They were forced by other nations to leave not only their homes, but their entire land. They are split up, separated from one another, and scattered throughout the nations as exiles. Where rejoicing once was commonplace, there was now ashes and distant memories.
In the midst of their pain, fear, and suffering, we get a glimpse into their hearts. Rightfully named, we turn this morning to the book of Lamentations.
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
I have no doubt that the words of Moses found in Deuteronomy 30 were fresh in the minds of the people. In that meeting, Moses set before them the word of God reminding them that if they walked obediently before God, living their lives His way, that they would enjoy fullness of life and abundance in every way. He also reminded them that if they walked away from Him that they were also choosing to walk away from His protection and blessing and that they would fall into the hands of their enemies and be dispersed among the nations.
Seeing as this all just took place to them, I’m certain that they remembered not only this word of warning, but also this promise:
1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.
“I will take you back.” This is perhaps the greatest promise of God all made possible by His mercy. “I will take you back.” gave the writer of this lament hope in the midst of despair. Feeling abandoned and alone in an unknown country dominated by an unfamiliar people and yet there was hope. They reminded themselves that the discipline of the Lord wasn’t their end, but only a temporary season. They reminded themselves that they may experience grief, sorrow, and suffering for a time, but that the Lord’s compassion and unfailing love is greater than His wrath.
Whether we are a victim of circumstances or victims of our own bonehead decisions, there is still hope. There is hope that 2018 can be a year of life and blessing and abundance. The choice is ours. The Lord’s promise, “I’ll take you back.”, always stands true, but will we turn to Him? Will we entrust our lives to Him? This promise of God was made conditional in Deuteronomy 30:10 by that tiny, but gigantic word, “if.” If we turn to Him will all our heart and all our soul, holding nothing back from Him, He will take us back.
God not only promises to take us back, but to restore us. There is no such thing as lost time with our eternal God! God is able to somehow restore to us all that we lost and all that had been stolen from us. He doesn’t begrudgingly accept us and cause us to be paupers and beggars in His Kingdom. He accepts us as we are and then fully restores us and rejoices over us. He adopts us into His royal family and treats us as His own children. He heals and delivers and cleanses us from all of our unrighteousness and it is His great joy to do it all!
Jesus stood in His hometown among His earthly family and friends and quoted this prophecy which He is still doing to this very day and will continue to do so until the day He returns.
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
The upcoming year can certainly be a year of the Lord’s favor! It can be a year of comfort, beauty, joy, and freedom! This is only possible by the awesome Spirit of the Lord who dwells within us! There remains, however, what initially seems to be a paradox when it comes to the ways of the Lord.
Though the Lord heals, there remains scars. Though the Lord forgives, consequences are left to live out. Though the Lord delivers, the temptations remain. Though the Lord cleanses, we still remember. Though we move into the future full of hope, no longer held back by our past, we are left with memories of our past so that we might learn from it.
This helps us to remain wholly dependent on the Lord and not on our own strength or understanding. It helps us to lay down ourselves and follow Jesus with fullness of trust. It helps us to face tomorrow with hope knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that our God is with us and for us!
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is always patient with mankind not wanting any to perish, but all to return back to Him. Listen to this parable of Jesus as He reveals God’s heart toward those who have turned away from Him wasting their lives away:
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
No matter what this past year held for us, we can face the new year with hope. We can celebrate now the great things that we know God is going to do in the new year. We can choose for the upcoming year to be one of healing, deliverance, restoration, and joy. We can choose for the upcoming year to be one of abundant life and blessing and celebration.
The choice is as simple as putting our trust and faith in God. The choice is as simple as turning back to Him with all we are; holding nothing back from Him. Our brokenness, our shame, our disappointments, our pain, our weakness, God wants it all! God will take us back just as we are and do a miraculous work in and through our lives in the upcoming year. God will restore us and rejoice over us as we turn back to Him.