A New Beginning

A New Year is beginning. Starting something new gives us an opportunity to do better. Some people make New Year resolutions. It is good to resolve to change for the better and do things differently from the way we have in the past. When we were in primary school and had made lots of mistakes and crossings out on a page in our exercises book the teacher would tell us to turn to new page. It was good to be able to start again.

We all fail in life and regret many things we have done. We cannot change the past. There are broken relationships, moral failures, dishonest actions and words, bitterness and resentment, and things we intended to do but didn’t. Often we find it difficult to move on and we carry with us the memories of our past failures.

The Bible tells us of a God who is the God of second chances. Many of the great men and women in the Bible made big mistakes and committed serious sins, but God didn’t cast them off and reject them. Peter, who was a leader in the early churches, told Jesus that whatever happened he would never let him down. He said he was ready, if necessary, to die for Jesus. But on the night Jesus was arrested and condemned Peter denied 3 times that he even knew him. Peter wept bitterly and was overcome with the realisation that he had totally failed his Lord in his hour of need.

Early one morning after Jesus had risen from the dead he appeared to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” In this way Peter was restored to ministry and leadership in the early churches. He always remembered the wonderful way in which the Lord had restored him. It made him more able to help others who, like him, had also failed.

We live in a very unforgiving world. The media highlight the failings of well-known people and sometimes destroy them. God is not like that. In Jesus he offers us the opportunity to put all our past failures behind us and to start again. He gives us hope that the future will, with his help, be better than the past. Let’s pray that 2019 will truly be a new beginning and a Happy New Year!

Righteousness Makes a Nation Great

Leaders carry heavy responsibilities. The decisions they make affect the lives of many people and have consequences for the present and for the future. A man called Caiaphas was high priest at the time Jesus was condemned to death. He and his fellow leaders were opposed to Jesus because he challenged their teaching and way of life. The growing popularity of Jesus was undermining their position and power base. They were afraid that the Romans, who occupied Israel at that time, might intervene and take control of the nation. So they decided that Jesus must die. Caiaphas summed it up when he said, “You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He was wrong. The consequences for the nation of their decision were catastrophic. Within 40 years the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem.

Leaders are not always in touch with reality. The big issues in their world are not always the big issues for ordinary people. Like Caiaphas, they can be very concerned about their own position and power. The temptation to act on the basis of what is expedient, rather than what is right, can be very strong. It is also easy to make an example of someone else rather than examine ourselves and our own actions. Caiaphas’s preoccupation with his own position, and desire to justify his own actions, made him deaf to the challenge of Jesus’ teaching.

Our nation is being rocked by a series of moral scandals. Our leaders are keen to show decisive leadership and to call to account those who have done wrong. They are also aware of the need to maintain their own position and interests. The key issue is not expediency, which identifies and deals with a few scapegoats and then assumes that all will be well.

These events raise more fundamental issues for us and our leaders. What is the moral basis of our society? Successive governments have deliberately rejected the Judaeo-Christian legal and moral foundation of our nation for the shaky relative standards of secularism. There is no place for God and his absolute truth in Britain today. We are seeing the early consequences of this being worked out at all levels in our society. Psalm 14 is a challenge to us all, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no-one who does good.”