All in God's hands
The end of another year and the start of a new one. Traditionally we reflect on the old year and look forward to the new. It’s supposed to be a time of hope and inspiration as we plan for the new year, set our intentions, and dream of what it might bring. But if we’re honest, the reality is that new year often finds us down, dealing with fears, regrets and disappointments; hoping for good times but suspecting that bad ones may also come along. And maybe also feeling far from God and believing we need to sort ourselves out to get back on right terms with Him.
I recently read the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. It resonated with me as I read it because so much of it feels very familiar. The book takes us through the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites before they come to the promised land. Chapter 28 particularly struck me, which may seem strange if you read the chapter! By this point in their journey, the Israelites are looking back on their wanderings – which had been filled with all their various grumblings and complaining. And ahead were the challenges of taking the promised land.
Like the Israelites, our spiritual journey can at times feel much like a spiritual wilderness and as barren and dry as the desert they were travelling through. Behind us is our grumbling and our failures. Ahead is the unknown as we journey on towards our promised land. But reading chapter 28 helped me see things differently, and remember that God’s perspective is often so very different to ours.
The cross is all we will ever need
The folk in Numbers would have immediately understood the significance of the burnt offering described in chapter 28. But I guess for us it can just seem somewhat tedious reading, with all its repeated details. So, try and imagine:
As the worshipper, you must kill the perfect lamb. (Or here, know that it was killed on your behalf). In dramatic symbolism, the lamb dies in your place. You are responsible for its death.
The hide of the animal is taken away by the priest. The rest of the animal is cut-up and completely burned on the altar. Nothing remains, except the smoke. Everything has been taken in your place. All is consumed by the fire.
The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” literally means to ascend or to go up. It wasn’t just that it “went up” in smoke. The chapter repeats something that unlocks what’s happening. The sacrifice “went up” to God. God smelled the sacrifice and the chapter says several times it was “an aroma pleasing to the Lord”. It wasn’t that God enjoyed the smell of burnt flesh. Rather, it pointed to the One who would come at Christmas, who would be crucified at Easter and fulfil everything the sacrifice pointed to. Jesus would be the One who would be offered. And God would be pleased with the death of His Son, and with all that it accomplished. As Ephesians 5 puts it for us:
“Christ loved us and gave Himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5 verse 2).
The ultimate fulfilment of the burnt offering is in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It was in our place, just as the lamb sacrificed by the worshipper. Jesus was brutally treated. He gave literally everything - He was completely consumed as He gave Himself for our sins. His covering (that is, His garment) was distributed to those who officiated over His sacrifice (Matthew 27:35). And His sacrifice restored our relationship with God.
Sometimes, for a new year, we need to stop ideas of resolutions and resolves and just look again at the cross. As you look back at 2022 – maybe to things you regret, maybe disappointments, missed opportunities, things you messed-up. Instead of thinking about trying harder, just look again to the cross. If you are a Christian, then Jesus gave everything there for YOU. However rubbish you may feel as a Christian, it was all for you. God doesn’t see the things we concentrate on. He sees the cross, the sacrifice of His Son, and He is pleased. The best you can do in return is simply to trust your all to Him.
Every day, every week, every month, every year
The chapter specifies sacrifices to be made. The morning and evening sacrifice daily. The sacrifice on the sabbath each week. The sacrifice for the first of the month. The sacrifices for the festivals at set periods during the year. Every day, every week, every month, every year.
As a Christian, the work of Jesus at the cross is all I will ever need, and it is there for me, every day, every week, every month, every year. God’s love for me doesn’t blow hot and cold the way mine does. His love doesn’t waver because of things I do or fail to do. It’s a constant love that is defined by the cross. He gave everything there; He maintains that love all the time.
Through the good times and the bad in 2023, we need to remind ourselves – every day, every week, every month, God’s love for me is constant, and He only wants the very best for me. I know it because of the cross.
We must in turn keep short accounts with God
The aroma that ascended – the offering that was made – it was also a heart submitted to God. The worshipper wasn’t just to go through a ritual when the lamb was sacrificed. It was intended as an offering of faith, a desire to be right with God, a trust that He forgives and restores when we put everything in His hands, holding nothing back. So, we must start the year by putting all in His hands, and seek to maintain that through the year. There will be bad days, days when we mess-up, days of coldness, days of indifference, days of forgetfulness. But we must constantly remember the cross, and come back trusting that the Father sees all that Jesus did, and that He is pleased and satisfied because of what happened at the cross.
Every day, every week, every month, through all 2023 and beyond – all is in God’s hands. If you’re a Christian, you are safe in Christ, more loved than you can possibly imagine. You can know it because of the cross.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®