With yet another New Year upon us, last we week I spoke from that wonderful bible passage 1 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (1 Corinthians 5:17 NIV). We talked about of what becomes new. And what becomes new for those who become followers of Christ is this: 1) We have a new perspective on who Jesus is; 2) We have a new position in Christ; and 3) We have a new understanding of who we are.
So when Paul says that the old has gone, he is saying that you should not let the past define who you are today. And what defines you is who you are in Christ. In Christ, you have a new perspective on who Jesus is – the He is the Son of God; who have a new position in Christ, meaning that you are saved, redeemed, justified and sanctified; and because of your new position, who you are is new – you are a child of God, you are forgiven, you are God’s own!
This is why it is written, whoever is in Christ, they are a new creation!
God is in the business of making new things. In the last days, God Himself said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV).
There is something about newness. New brings hope, excitement and challenge. When we turn to the pages of the Bible, we see how much God is interested in new things. And as the month of January brings in a New Year so we may need some new resolutions, and some of these may well be with God!
In the Bible, the Book of Judges says this: “That whole generation also died, and the next generation forgot the LORD and what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 GNB). They had become bankrupted in their values. They were left with no basis on which to make moral decisions. They were in a position of a dangerous drift.
As I look around the world, Western nations that once upheld most biblical values and, in some cases, even Christian teachings, are becoming bankrupted in their values. They are left with no basis on which to make moral decisions. They/we are in a position of a dangerous drift.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that the tension in world is at a critical level, not seen since the cold war days.
What is needed now is a mighty spiritual awakening. Church Historian Richard Lovelace has defined a spiritual awakening as the "sovereign movement of the Holy Spirit within and around the church, in which the kingdom of darkness is progressively driven back and the kingdom of Christ established" (Richard Lovelace, What Can We learn from Past Spiritual Awakenings, p140).
The kingdom of darkness is rearing its ugly head across the world and also in this country. Some of the government decisions that have been made and are being considered would not have been considered a decade or more ago. Our government’s decisions and community attitudes have changed significantly.
What is needed now is a mighty spiritual awakening to happen in Australia.
I love sharing this story. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was a wild, young lad of 17 in the town of Nottingham, England. He heard that an American evangelist had come to town. He was eager to hear this stranger from another country, with his funny accent and great stories. But when he went, he was transfixed by the message of the gospel. He saw how sinful he was.
He said that he was almost transported into another world. When the invitation to receive Christ was given, this young boy responded, and out of that conversion the worldwide ministry of the Salvation Army.
The story doesn’t end there. A young American man, a preacher of the Gospel, went back to that chapel in England where Booth was converted. And when he thought of the lives that had been won and the people who had been blessed by Christ through the ministry of William Booth, he placed his hand on the bronze placard that marked the place of Booth’s conversion, knelt down, and prayed aloud, “Do it again, Lord. Lord, do it again”. Then Billy Graham stood up. Well, the Lord did do it again. He did it again through mass crusades where millions came to Christ including some of you here today.
Fortunately, God is in the business of doing new things. The history of God’s own people in the Old Testament is one where God gives new hope by doing a new work with His people who often suffered with spiritual lethargy. Yet through their dark days, there were a few faithful who would knee down and cry out to God, “Do it again, Lord. Lord, do it again”. And God would do it again.
And Ezekiel was one such person. He was a Hebrew prophet who was a captive in the land of Babylon during the seventy years of exile. Nebuchadnezzar had carried him and others away when the nation of Judah was taken captive. Ezekiel is the first prophet of the exile in Babylon. Daniel, somewhat younger than Ezekiel, lived during the second part of the exile.
Ezekiel saw the terrible sin of Judah and their subsequent punishment because they had left God out from their lives and decisions and policies. Verse 18 from our reading says, “So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols” (Ezekiel 36:18 NIV). God is Holy and therefore He can’t stand sin.
God, in His grace and love, was again about to do a new thing. God promises to return His people to their own land. In verse 24, God though the prophet Ezekiel declared: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24 NIV). As much as God was going to bring them back to their home, God was thinking far beyond the return from the Babylonian exile. This restoration is more than a physical restoration to the land of Israel. God promised spiritual restoration as well.
Ezekiel says in verse 25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols” (Ezekiel 36:25 NIV). The sprinkling of clean water symbolized cleansing from sin. In the Old Testament sprinkling and washing with water was part of the cleansing ritual.
The writer of Hebrews saw the fulfillment of this cleaning in the blood of Jesus Christ. “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12 NIV). Then he adds in verse 14, “blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 NIV). Because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, the Hebrew writer tells us to “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 NIV). Titus also wrote about the atoning work of Jesus: “He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6 NLT).
I can’t help but see the symbolism of baptism in this. In water, by full immersion, the church is told by Jesus to baptize people. In Romans 6, Paul tells us how through baptism we are putting to death our old way of living without only to be raised to new life with Christ.
God was promising a new day with Jesus washing away our sins with His blood.
But the new work doesn’t stop there. God continues to speak through Ezekiel saying, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV).
This new spirit came on the wonderful day of Pentecost when thousands had gathered and witnessed the power of God fall afresh upon 120 faithful followers of Christ and then the Book of Acts records many others in the years that followed receiving the Holy Spirit just as God prophesied hundreds of years earlier.
And with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came new hearts. People’s old hearts of stone were removed. There was no doubt that many of these people had harden hearts towards outcasts and enemies, and yet when God removed their heart of stone with hearts of flesh, they learnt to have compassion for the poor, praying for their enemies, generously giving to those in need. God was doing it again! He was causing a spiritual awakening and the church was on fire!
In the early 1700’s England was still quite a dark place with poverty everywhere. And yet God did it again. In 1727, revival broke out. For example, in Jonathan Edward's church in Northampton, apathetic church members immersed in business were suddenly gripped by the significance of the doctrines they had been storing in their minds. As God poured out His Spirit, their hearts were enlightened and made new. They saw the glory of God and their own deep sin, especially the sins of pride and envy and hatred. Above all, they were deeply convicted of their apathy toward God. And a miracle occurred in Northampton: England's spiritual decline was reversed. People became so concerned about God, their own spiritual state, and the salvation of their loved ones that they were tempted to neglect their businesses out of concern for the church and mission. Such a revival saw thousands come to the Lord. This is known as the First Great Awakening.
Do it again Lord. Lord do it again. Australia needs a spiritual awakening!
Again, I can’t help but think that if God caused a spiritual awakening in our nation, we would experience incredible blessings beyond our imaginations. This is certainly what God promised through Ezekiel in verses 29-30, “I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine” (Ezekiel 36:29-30 NIV). If only. If only God’s people the church. As 2 Chronicles 7:14 puts it: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV). Our dry parched land needs healing. We need healing. Lord, do it again! Cause a mighty spiritual awakening across our land!
I reckon, many of us are nodding to all this. I am! I want so badly a spiritual awakening to happen across this country. We gotta keep praying and yearning for it. Do it again Lord. Lord, do it again.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if several, if not many here in our church is suffering a bit from spiritual lethargy. I’m not sure what 2018 brought for you, but are you able to say that you have grown closer to God? Are you just as enthused to worship and serve Him now as you were 12 months ago? What about two or five years ago?
Perhaps a bit like the Israelites you are spiritually tired? Maybe like the Israelites it’s because of your lifestyle, maybe your sins, maybe your priorities, maybe your lack of good health that have contributed to little or no growth spiritually. Maybe being hurt by others or even the church hasn’t helped.
As followers of Jesus we have to be very careful not to be consumed by the world and its priorities. It happens so easily and subtly. The writer of Hebrews was inspired to write about this when he said, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV). That word “drift” in the original language talks about a river that flows pass slowly. And so, we have to be careful that our spirituality doesn’t drift pass us without really noticing any difference until we wake up and wonder what has happened.
We all have choices and for some we have made choices that influences our relationship with Jesus and a vibrant faith. We can do all the blaming we like – blame the church, blame my kids, blame my career – but we still have choices.
And as we commence a New Year, we are again faced we a choice – do I want to experience a God sent spiritual awakening or will I continue to drift?
Earlier in Ezekiel, God says something very interesting. He says to the people in captivity: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed and get a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31 NIV). See what God says, “get a new heart and a new spirit”.
In other words, we gotta want a spiritual awakening. We got to want it so bad that we are prepared to repent and rid ourselves of all the things that are keeping us in captivity away from God’s blessings.
We got to, as Jesus says in Matthew 7:7, "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NLT). Pray for yourself, “do it again Lord. Lord, do it again. Awaken me spiritually.
And in God’s timing, He will give you a new heart and a new spirit! God is in the business of doing new things. He said in Isaiah 43:19, “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19 NIV).