Based on the title above, you might be wondering whether this is an article that will include practical counsel on time management and how to best maximize your schedule; or, you might wonder whether it will be a defense of the BC/AD dating system of human history (as over against the BCE/CE modern attempts at revision); or, you may be wondering whether it is a theological treatment of the liturgical calendar (i.e. a structuring of worship services according to the redemptive-historical events in the Scriptures). While all of those things are worthy of consideration, this article is written to those who long for spiritual renewal and restoration in Christ as we enter into a New Year ahead. As we recognize our need for spiritual renewal, we often fail to realize that one of the most important biblical truths about the spiritual renewal of believers is that Jesus has redeemed the calendar of our lives. This is one of the most foundational truths in Scripture—and yet one that we all too frequently pass by. So how does Jesus redeem the calendar of our lives?
We all love new beginnings. When we enter a new year, most of us tend to think back on the year past—we look back at the accomplishments and failures and wonder if the forthcoming year will yield more progress and a better sense of achievement. When we make New Year’s resolutions, we are reacting to regrets that we have had over the past year’s activities and events. Usually, it is physical or financial failures with which we are most dismayed. It is not altogether wrong for us to have such regrets. There is something good about self-assessment and self-examination. But, more painful than admitting our lack of self-control in diet, exercise and spending is facing up to our lack of self-control and zeal in the realm of spiritual life and devotion.
We all feel the guilt and shame of our sin. We are dismayed by how little we gave ourselves to reading the Scriptures and to prayer. We know that we should have used our God-given gifts to build up His people in a much greater way than we did through the year. We recognize that we could have given more of our time and energy to care for those in our church and reach out with the Gospel to our neighbors and co-workers. We admit that we could have opened our homes to those we don’t know well in our church and to our neighbors more than we did for the sake of the Gospel. We are frustrated that we repeatedly gave into particular sins, scarred our consciences, and grieved the Holy Spirit by whom we were sealed. All of this remorse weighs heavily on our hearts—and it is right that it does. But is there no hope of restoration and renewal for us as we enter into a New Year? There is hope for us—and more than we could ever imagine—in the Gospel.
As we search the Scriptures we find the glorious truth that Jesus made us part of His new creation through His death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14). When Christ stepped out of the tomb, He did so as the first-fruits of the New Creation. His bodily resurrection guaranteed the spiritual (John 5:25) and bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-22) of all those united to Him—and secured the ultimate restoration of all things at the end of time (Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:12-13). In His resurrection from the dead, Jesus redeemed our calendars. He forgave us all of our sin. He gave us power to die to self and live to righteousness this year and all the years of our lives.
In this sense, every day is New Year’s Day for the believer. All of this is unfolded for us in marvelous typological detail in the record of the Passover and the Exodus. God not only redeemed Israel from the bondage of Egypt—He realigned their calendar at the Exodus (Exodus 12:1) to give them an anticipation of the new creation that He would bring about through the death of His Son—the true and greater Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:5).
It’s important for us to realize that the institution of the Passover occurred between the 9th and the 10th plagues. God differentiated between His church and the world. He kept His plagues from falling on His people (Exodus 9:4; 11:7). However, when God pronounced the 10th and most severe plague, He did not differentiate between the church and the world. Members of the Old Covenant church were, thereby, shown that they deserved judgment as much as the Egyptians. We all deserve judgment for our sin and rebellion against God. Our failures are not merely imperfections in our goals or character. They are acts of rebellion against the infinitely holy God who made us. In the tenth plague, God taught Israel that all men—Jew and Gentile—deserve judgment. Phil Ryken explains this so well when he writes:
The Israelites must have been shocked to discover that their lives were in danger. All the previous plagues had left them unscathed because God had made a distinction between his people and Pharaoh’s people. While chaos engulfed their oppressors, the Israelites had watched from the safety of Goshen. From this they learned that they were God’s special people. This may have tempted them to believe that they were more righteous than the Egyptians, indeed, that they could do no wrong. But the truth was that they deserved to die every bit as much as their enemies. Indeed, if God had not provided a means for their salvation, they would have suffered the loss of every last one of their firstborn sons. The Israelites were as guilty as the Egyptians, and in the final plague God taught them about their sin and his salvation.(1)
The only thing that would make a difference for Israel was the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorposts of their homes. Every Israelite who acted in faith according to God’s promise and put the blood on the doorpost was delivered from the judgment of the destroyer, and their first-born sons were spared. This was, of course, because God’s judgment fell on the substitutionary Passover Lamb. In this way, God was pointing His people to the Person and work of Christ.
The Passover Lamb was given to God’s people as an annual reminder of the need that they had to feed on the Lamb by which they were redeemed. All of the instructions about the observance of the feast were given to reflect something of the redemption that we have in Christ. He was roasted under the fire of God’s wrath. He commands us to feed upon His flesh and blood by faith. He is a sufficient meal for the souls of His people. Even the relationship between the substitutionary lamb and the 10th plague were not incidental. The first-born sons were spared on account of the blood of the Passover Lamb because God would not spare His own first-born—Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:5; Romans 8:32).
All of this was prefaced in the institution of the Passover when God said, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” The redemption that Israel experienced in the blood of the typological Lamb turned the clocks back to the first day of the first month of the first year. It was as if God was taking everything back to creation again. He was taking His people back to the time before there was sin—and was pointing them forward to the day when He would fully and finally make everything new. In the redemption that we have in Christ we have experienced new creation in our souls. In His death on the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus was the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:5) and brought about the greater Exodus (Exodus 9:31).
The true Exodus is experienced in its full import through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. This truth is applicable to the daily lives of believers in the New Covenant. For example, in Colossians 2:20-3:4, the Apostle Paul tells us that we have died with Christ, been raised with Him and that our lives are now hidden with Him in God (Col. 3:1-4). In light of that truth we do not turn to rigid asceticism for godliness (2:20-23); rather, we recognize that we have been made new creatures by virtue of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. We are then told that we are to put off the old and put on the new (Col. 3:5-17). So much of our Christian life, and the power we long for, comes from knowing our position in Christ, namely, that He has made us to be spiritually resurrected beings—part of the new creation.
Many of us see the New Year as an opportunity to do better. We long for a fresh start. Often, this results in wishful or sentimental “New Year’s resolutions.” At the core of our being, we do not need New Year’sresolutions—we need a “New Year’s Theology;” we need a theology of new creation. We need to know that we have been made new creatures if we are to live in newness of life for Christ. More than anything else in this year ahead, we continually need to hear the voice of the One who cried out, “Behold, I make all things new.” May God grant us the grace to live as those who have been made new creatures and have had our calendars redeemed by the One who lived and died and rose again for us.
(1.) Philip Graham Ryken Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005) p. 326.