New Year’s Day brings out the best of intentions. In fact, we want to make it official by creating a list. As the new year begins, we reflect on where we are in life. Think about the influence of this day—we don’t even make a list of resolutions on our birthday! And yet, we are compelled to evaluate ourselves once a year and think about how we can improve. Glorious visions dance in our heads of our skinnier, healthier, more magnanimous selves. We are more likely to invest some of our money into a gym membership, organic foods, and charitable causes. In January things are looking up…and then comes February.
In some ways New Year’s Day reminds me of the covenant God made with his people on Mt. Sinai. This was a covenant of works to show the Israelites what it takes to be in the presence of a holy God. Really, it was to point them to Jesus Christ, the only One who could perfectly fulfill his law. While God’s law is gracious, it can only condemn us. The law does not save anyone. After God reveals the written law of the covenant through Moses, the people promise, “All that the Lord has said we will do”. That’s quite a resolution. The Israelites are quick to declare that they will uphold the whole law of God, and we already know that our piddly three things on our resolution lists are probably going to fizzle out by February. We can’t even fulfill our own requirements. Do you even know what your resolutions were last year?
That brings me to the glorious grace of Sunday. The Lord knows our tendency to fall away. Sunday is an amazing gift for the believer. At the first day of every week, we are called together in a covenant renewal ceremony. Only this is not the covenant of works that Moses mediated. Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant. He fully fulfilled the covenant of works on our behalf. He is righteousness. The law points to Christ, the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King. Through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments, we are evaluated and stripped by the law, and gloriously clothed in Christ! Instead of saying “All this we will do”, we hear “All this Jesus Christ has done”. Hallelujah!
We live in tension between the already and the not yet. The believer is already justified, and yet we are not yet glorified. Finally, we have a desire for our holy God, and yet we still do daily battle with the sin of the flesh. Our default is to pull on our own bootstraps and try to sanctify ourselves. In his grace, the Lord gives us the first day of the week to remember that we rest in Christ alone for our righteousness. This isn’t a “Now do better” kind of reminder. It is a glorious breaking in of the age to come. We offer praise and worship to a God who has done it all. And we are renewed in grace. Concluding the service, the pastor sends us back out into the world with a benediction like this one:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thess. 3:12-13).
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!