Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Years Restitution

Self-reflection at my age can be a little scary. One reason I don’t like mirrors is that they cause me to think about my age, my new grey hairs, and some fresh wrinkles. My ever balding head stands as a memorial to my getting older. When the times come to give up on fluffing what is left on the top, and my wife puts the nix on the comb-over, I have a feeling I am not going to end up looking like Vin Diesel. So this year my new years resolution is to work out more, because bald and strong is cool, bald and chubby, not as much. It is December 31st, and I have had the past week off from work. I have spent lots of time resting, playing games with the kids, watching some movies, reading a book (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and hanging out with Heidi. I have been creating games, and writing a little, but mostly I have been not stressing out about the holidays. And now it is the last day of 2011, the day we all get to stay up with the kids till mid-night, and then enjoy a little rest before we wake up and spend the day of paying for that mistake. I’m not really sure why we make a big deal out of this holiday, I guess we are still pretty excited about the invention of the Calendar. Of course the real genius was the guy who came up with the idea of putting pictures of little kittens above the calendar, rendering it a fun activity to keep track of the days.

But what about our new years resolutions, or what I would like to call our “new years restitutions.” They are the promises we make to ourselves, (and usually to just ourselves so when we break them, no one can give us a hard time) to do a better job this next year cause we kind of stunk it up last year. We think to ourselves, “well, I ate like a pig this last year, maybe if I do better this next year it will make up for it?”

Lately, I have been thinking about the man Jesus healed at the pool near the Sheep’s Gate, found in John 5. Here is a guy who spent his whole life waiting there and Jesus comes up to him and asks if he wants to get well. Thirty-eight years this guys spends, trapped in the jail cell of his mat, unable to move. Thirty-eight years! That is like two life sentences. And Jesus asks this guy the rhetorical question of the century, “do you want to get well?” And as can be expected, the guy say, “of course, but I need help.”

So Jesus just commands him to get up, and carry his mat, so the guy does. With our modern cultural lenses, it may be a little hard to understand what happens next. The guy ends up in trouble, because he was healed on the Sabbath and it turns out carrying your mat on the Sabbath is forbidden. No one was allowed to do any work on the Sabbath and that included carrying things like mats. The Pharisees are bugged that this guy is carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Can you imagine? A guy is lame for thirty-eight years, and the religious leaders are in a tiff about him breaking this little rule about not carrying heavy stuff on  the Sabbath. Do you think Jesus healed this guy to make a point to the Pharisees about the fact that their self-righteousness and fastidious law keeping was robbing them of the joy that could be theirs?

This year I will not be satisfied with the law. Oh how easily we are tempted with religious pride to trade in grace for the law. When our lives are taken over by guilt, and we rely on our works for our own sense of righteousness, it will always lead to despising other sinners who are experiencing freedom and joy. This guy is lame for thirty-eight years, and now he is free. He can walk! He can carry things! Why wouldn’t this cause dancing in the streets, and why would the Pharisees not go and give this guy a hug and tell him how happy they are for him? Why in the world would they worry about his carrying the stupid little mat? Probably because they had all made a new years resolution to never carry things on the Sabbath again.

Later that day, Jesus runs into this guy, and says this little cheery bit. “Stop sinning or something worse than being a cripple will happen to you.” Well, that was comforting, and especially for those of us who try really hard not to sin, and then blow it. We are all doomed. But wait just a minute, is Jesus warning this guy, or is he healing him?

This year I will let the grace of God work its way deeper into my life. There is something far worse than to be trapped on a mat, crippled and unable to move the rest of your life. It is to be trapped in your sin and selfishness and self-worship for all eternity, void of the hope and joy that God Himself is the author of. The trap of thinking that our ability to follow the laws we want to follow somehow makes us better than others, and that God now somehow owes us for all the stuff we work so hard to do, is a bottomless pit. Later when Jesus meets back up with the healed fellow, he reminds the man of the isolation and inability he felt on that mat for 38 years. “Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you.” Whoa, thanks Jesus for that little guilt trip. But what I read going on here is not the same guilt the Pharisees were peddling on the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus not only reminded him of the isolation and inability of the mat, he also is reminding him how he got off that mat. He did not walk by the power of his will, the sorrow in his heart of the sincerity of his desire to walk. He did not walk by following the rules of the Pharisees, but rather by the power and grace of God, which was freely bestowed on him. And it is that power that frees the man from sin. When Jesus tells him to stop sinning, he is not guilting him, but empowering him in the same way he empowered him to walk. We are saved from sin by a Savior, Jesus Christ, who comes to us and offers us His righteousness and freedom through grace. Not only are we saved by that grace, but the Gospel is that we are to live in that grace. Like the man, we are left with our mats in hand, our sin is a reminder of how we walk in freedom. Not with resolution, but by the grace of God who gives freely.

New Years is a great time to reflect not on our resolve, but on the resolve of Christ, who crossed heaven and earth to enter our lives with the good news, the gospel of forgiveness. That means, that every failing in 2011 and every bad decision in 2012, every sin that will be committed has been paid for on the cross of Christ. Not because of our resolve, but because of His love. And so, we are able to walk. We are able to love others with that love. We are able to treat our children who have rejected us as Christ treated us. We are able to respond to the selfishness and sin of others with love and forgiveness. We come into the new year, with the Gospel fresh in our minds, and buried deep in our hearts. We continue to live lives where we cling ever tighter to the cross. Because as the law continues to expose how wicked we are, so too Christ continues to show us how wonderful and forgiving he is.

A New Years Resolution
Grab hold of the mat, to remind you of what you were saved from.
And walk in the Power of Christ, keep following him, who is the author and perfector of your faith.

Happy New Years from the Barnes Family

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