A New Year often brings up a focus on the future, but to look forward with the right perspective we need to look back first.
It is a new year. Woohoo. ?
It is funny how a simple number on a day can change the way we look at our entire lives. Because of the new year, a change from 2019 to 2020, just the turning of a page on the calendar, and we have a reason to have a day off work, stay up and await that new day and celebrate it. We often have some bubbly drink and some noise makers to ring in the new year.
With this changing of the calendar many stop and reflect on the past year – sometimes even give it a score from “super sucky” to “best year ever”.
That tick of the clock magically motivates millions of people to assess their life goals: careers, education, physical appearance, and even their faith. We will assess the events and circumstances of our part year – the things that did or did not take place, the pains, sorrows, joys and successes. We will then set goals in hopes to alter the coming year in some way to make this life on this earth a little better.
Traditionally, the first Sunday of the year is also when most of us pastors choose to reflect and then set the vision for the year ahead. Being that it is 2020, I foresee this being “the year of vision” for many.
One of the things I find very fascinating, is that the new year has been very important to God all throughout the history of this earth – especially with the Jewish people! The Jews had several new year events.
They had the Passover, which began their calendar after the Exodus.
Leviticus 23:4–5 || 4 “These are the Lord’s appointed times, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times. 5 The Passover to the Lord comes in the first month, at twilight on the fourteenth day of the month. [CSB]
Passover marks the beginning of the calendar year. It is the day that the Israelites become free from captivity and marked a new beginning for them as the people of God brought out of exile. When God instructed the Jews about what to do to save their first born on that 10th plague against Pharaoh, he told them that it would mark the beginning of their calendar year from that day forward.
Exodus 12:1–2 || 1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 “This month is to be the beginning of months for you; it is the first month of your year. [CSB]
The primary purpose of the Passover feast was to remind the people that God had saved them both from slavery (in Egypt) and death (of the first born). It was an annual festival to think back on the redeeming work of God.
Another “new year” the Jews celebrate is Rosh Hashanah (lit “beginning of the year”, a phrase recorded in Ezekiel 40:1). Our American equivalent might be the idea of a calendar year and a fiscal year.
Rosh Hashanah takes place on the first day of the 7th month of the year.
Leviticus 23:23–25 || 23 The Lord spoke to Moses: 24 “Tell the Israelites: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a day of complete rest, commemoration, and trumpet blasts—a sacred assembly. 25 You must not do any daily work, but you must present a fire offering to the Lord.” [CSB]
This was also referred to as the Feast of Trumpets and marked the beginning of a new agricultural year. The “trumpets” were not brass, but were Shofars, or rams’ horns. For this feast they would sound to call people to repentance.
This new year is a bit different in that it is not just about remembering. As we look at our passage in Leviticus we can notice a few things:
This is very similar to what many of us experience in the new year, though we do not always apply it to our faith. We stop working, think about the events of the previous year and then adjust our lives.
But GOD wanted the people to do this with our relationship with him! He wants us to rest like him (it’s what he modeled on the 7th day), to remember HIS working over the past year and repent (turn 180 degrees from / adjust) of the things that would make HIM sad.
So, in these two “new year” celebrations, we see that God wanted the Israelites to pause, reflect and adjust their lives based upon specific days:
These two feasts were, and still are, remembered by the Jews. As we look at the life of Jesus, we see that he, as both man and God, celebrated these feasts! Jesus, before he gave his life on the cross, celebrated the New Year with his disciples be celebrating the Passover in “the upper room”.
Mark 14:12–16 || 12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrifice the Passover lamb, his disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare the Passover so that you may eat it?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” ’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples went out, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. [CSB]
Mark 14:22–26 || 22 As they were eating, he took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. [CSB]
Jesus connected the first of the year and the freedom from Exile to his death. When we accept his death for us, we are freed from Exile and that day becomes the beginning of a new life. We are re-born and have a new birth date, and a new beginning.
After the death of Jesus, the Apostle Paul gives instructions to the church that meet in Corinth regarding how to celebrate this new Passover feast, or communion.
1 Corinthians 11:23–28 || 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. [CSB]
Paul was correcting this church for the way that some of the people abused the communion meal, but what I really want us to focus on is how the elements of Rosh Hashana, the second New Year, are seen in the celebrating of the Passover, the first New Year.
Paul reminds us to think about what God has done for us – THROUGH JESUS (being our Passover sacrifice) – freeing us from the bondage to sin and death and calling us out into his glorious kingdom.
Verses 23-26 talk about the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and that we are to remember him for it.
In verses 27-28 we find that we are commanded to examine ourselves: reflect, repent, recommit.
As we celebrate communion this morning, I want to encourage you to join me in a time of repentance and rededication to God for the year to come.
If we are going to start the new year off right, it best not be by doing so in our own strength and our own power, but by resting in God – trusting HIM to provide. If we are going to look back at the events of this past year it should be through the lens of, “How have I seen God work in 2019”. If goals are going to be set, they best include, “how will I deepen my relationship with God in 2020?”.