2017—another year in the history of mankind and the personal history of each of us. What will it bring? What will we do in it?
Prof. J Geertsema[i] draws attention to the need for us to see the new year in relation to life’s purpose: [ii]
“Time goes fast. History is hastening toward … Yes, toward what? Is it toward a goal? And if so, what is that goal? What do people have as goal? Do we have a goal? And if so, what is our goal?
As Christians believers, who live by what God has revealed, we know that God has a goal, and that He leads all history toward that goal. The earth, yes, the whole universe, is led to the Day of the Lord on which He will return as Judge, and make all things new.”
During history, as God presses all history towards the Day of Christ’s return, there is a two-fold development in the life of mankind.
“This Day will come through a process in which the evildoer must grow to maturity in his doing evil, and the filthy must grow to fullness in his filthiness, while also the righteous must mature in righteousness and the one who is holy grow to fullness in being holy (Revelation 22:11).
The King and Judge of all the earth will return when the Man of Lawlessness will have been revealed, and a lawless world that does not love the truth of God will have been given over to its own lawlessness, when God sends an energy of error, so that people believe the lie rather than God. You can read these things in 2 Thessalonians 2.”
This two-fold development between the godly and the ungodly brings tension. There is a war going on – a spiritual war. Prof. Geertsema says:
“We can be sure that the evil one has a goal in mind and is working hard to reach that goal. He wants to dominate this whole world completely and make it one world against God and His anointed. The peoples and nations may not be aware of it. They may reject even a belief in the existence of powers of evil. Perhaps this cover of unawareness is the most dangerous weapon in the hands of God’s adversary.
When God put enmity after the fall in sin in paradise, He declared that the serpent was going to bruise the heel of the seed of the woman. This word shows the method of the serpent’s warfare. He attacks from behind. Low to the ground, hardly visible, if at all. His manner of fighting is that of deceit. He suggests to people that they should set themselves as the goal of their lives; that true happiness is a good life here on earth for themselves, with a sufficient abundance of earthly, material things.”
We are caught up in that warfare, called to test the spirits, to put on the whole armour of God and to fight the good fight, to uphold and defend the Truth of God’s Word. We’re up against Satan, the father of lies and the great deceiver. His first words were to question the truth by saying to Eve, “Did God say …?” and then twisting the meaning to deceive Adam and Eve. If we are to test the spirits, our study of God’s Word and the confessions is essential.
Each new year it is common for society to wish one another a ‘happy new year’. As Christians, we wish one another a ‘blessed new year’. If that is said with sincerity, as it should be, what is it we are really wishing one another? Do we mean personal happiness, a good job, a cruisy life, material prosperity? Or are we thinking of what we need for body and soul to serve faithfully our Lord and Redeemer? Prof Geertsema says that to be blessed includes the following:
“God’s promises, and thus, God’s blessings, are first of all God’s kingdom with all that is included. It is, e.g., to be reconciled with God through the sacrifice of Christ. It is to have the forgiveness of sins through the blood of atonement, and to be received as God’s children. It is the gift of faith through which we know about, and accept, Christ and all His benefits; through which we can see and enter the kingdom of God. It is the renewing of life through the Spirit of Christ, so that we know and love and serve God as our Father in heaven and His Son Jesus Christ as our Lord and King.
Our Lord and Saviour taught His disciples to pray for these blessings of God. We have this teaching in the Covenant Prayer. God’s blessings, God’s promises are first and foremost that His children in the covenant honour and glorify His great Name by acknowledging Him as their King, by doing His will in their life.”
So, what did we wish one another?
“Did we wish each other this blessing: May God grant you that you live in such a way that in everything you think and speak and do His Name is honoured by yourself and through yourself also by others who see your good Christian conduct?
Did we wish each other this blessing: May God grant you such submission to Him as King, out of love for Him, that you are a useful instrument in His hand for the preservation and further gathering of His church; and that through you the power of His Word may come into the open before the eyes of people?
Did we wish each other this blessing: May God grant you that you may deny your own will, and without murmuring obey His will, since that will of God alone is good? May God grant you that you may carry out the duties of your office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven? (You recognize, I hope, the words of the Heidelberg Catechism.) Since this is what Christ taught us to pray for, this is the very best that we can wish each other as God’s blessing in our life in 2017.”
Our office and calling
As we commence a new year we do that in the awareness that each of us has an office, a calling. To be sure, ministers, elders and deacons have a special office. Ministers, for example, are ‘called’ by the congregation to preach the Word and care for the flock. But every one of us has also received a calling and office; it’s known as the ‘office of all believers’ – a calling to serve the Lord in all we do. It’s of paramount importance that our young people, too, get a sense of that important calling in life. Prof. Geetsema reminds us of the task given to us through our first parents Adam and Eve:
“There is first of all the word of God to Adam in the paradise situation. The LORD charged Adam with the office or task to till and keep the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). We call this the cultural mandate. Man was placed on earth to have dominion over it; to work on and with the earth, while taking care of it and guarding it. To have dominion means to rule as king. To rule in the service of God, the Creator, dedicating the tilling and guarding to the Creator in holiness, is the priestly aspect of man’s office. And this task can only faithfully be accomplished through humble listening to God’s instructions. This is the prophetic aspect of man’s office.”
If we don’t heed that call, we live in rebellion against God. On the other hand, to see and understand that God-given office is to live a wonderful purpose-driven life in the service of our God. Prof. Geertsema says:
“Rebellion is that man rejects his God-given office and works for himself so that He is himself the goal in his life. In this rebellion man does no longer show God’s image, but becomes image of the devil. However, through the atoning blood of Christ, those who believe receive back the grace of being children of God, regenerated after the image of God and of Christ Jesus. They may now also see their daily work again as their royal, priestly, and prophetic office and calling.
We see this so magnificently expressed by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians. In it he proclaims that Christ Jesus is the only and the complete Saviour. He who through faith has Christ as his Redeemer, possesses a complete salvation, not only for the life hereafter, but also for this life here on earth. Christ renews through His Spirit those who are in Him. This is a renewal in knowledge after the image of God the Creator, the apostle writes in 3:10. The result is a life in Christ in which redemption from sin works through not only in the relation to God, but also in the relation to the neighbour. This redemption from sin brings harmony in the marriage relationship, in the family relationships, in the labour relations (3:18 – 4:1).
But not only human relations are placed under the redeeming power of Christ by those who believe. Also their daily labours are placed in the light of the redeeming power of Christ. When the apostle addresses the slaves, he says, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men” (Colossians 3:23). And Paul adds, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ” (3:24).”
Perhaps you find it hard to see your particular work as being service to the Lord. Some people are engaged in seemingly mundane jobs. But then think of slaves. Their work could be far from pleasant. Yet Christian slaves were told that their work had meaning; they were to see it in the light of Christ their Redeemer, doing their slave work as service to the Lord. We too may see our daily work today as a task, an office, received from our God, in which to serve Him.
“Are you a factory worker or an office clerk? Are you a nurse or a doctor? Are you a teacher or a student? Are you a police officer or a social worker? Are you a businessman or a housewife? An employer or an employee? Are you a farmer or a baker? Whatever your daily occupation, may you receive this blessing that you see it in the light of Christ as Redeemer. May you receive this blessing in the new year that you do your utmost to do a good job because you want to serve your Saviour and Lord with it. May you receive this blessing that you do your work, whatever it is, from the heart, heartily, putting your heart in it, not because it is for yourself and because it is paid well, but because you see it as being done for Christ.”
But what about the curse?
It is true: after the fall into sin things changed radically. Men would work in the sweat of their brow and women would give birth in pain. Consequently, our daily work is not always easy. Prof. Geertsema says that in Genesis 3:16 & and 17, in the original language, the same word, which can best be translated as ‘painful trouble’, is used to apply to both man and woman.
“It is very remarkable that man and woman are punished with painful trouble in the primary task and calling which God gave them when creating them. Man was made male and female and after God’s image in order to fulfil his task on earth. That task was to have dominion over the earth, to till and guard it. To fulfil that task God blessed them and said: be fruitful and multiply. Only in that way could man execute that dominion over the whole earth. We see here that a primary task for woman is to bear children. It is exactly on that point that the Lord said that He would multiply her painful trouble.
Man is created first. He received the position of head. He is responsible; He is to take care. He has to provide for his wife, the mother of his children, and for his children. It is again exactly on the point of that primary task of man that God said that there would be painful trouble. In the sweat of his face he was to eat bread. His struggle to provide food for himself and his family would be a struggle against thorns and thistles. Thus, in his task as husband and father, man would meet painful trouble.
For man in his office and calling and for wo-man in hers, life would be a going through trouble and pain and the end was going to be death. Because of Adam the ground, the “adamah”, was cursed. And man, Adam, taken from adamah, from the ground, was going to return to dust, because dust he is. That is the end, death. In such a situation of life as being constant trouble and pain with death at the end, is it worthwhile to work hard and do a good job? Should we not rather try to get some fun and pleasure out of this short life instead of always being serious and dutiful, accepting so much painful trouble?”
How did Adam react to God’s punishing words after the fall in sin? He reacted with words of faith.
“When God spoke: painful trouble for you man and for you wo-man with death at the end, Adam gave to his wife a new name, Eve, that is, “mother of all living”. How could Adam speak that word of life “mother of all living”. How could Adam speak that word of life in reaction to God’s word of death? Adam could do so through faith in the coming Christ. Before His word of punishment to man and woman, God spoke His punishing word to the serpent. It was the word about enmity, the antithesis, between the serpent and the woman, between his seed and her seed. The Lord said that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. This word contained the promise of redemption of life through the seed of the woman.
It is in that light that we must see both Adam’s punishment and his reaction of faith. The Lord first spoke about the redeeming seed that would come. Then He spoke to woman about the painful trouble to bring that seed into the world; and He spoke to man about the painful trouble to provide for woman and her seed. It was painful trouble in which that seed remained central. It was for the sake of that seed.
In this light we can understand Adam’s word of faith to his wife. Now he called her not after himself (man, wo-man), as he did at the moment of her creation, when he received her as his helpmeet from God. Now he called her after the redeeming seed: mother of all living. Thus Adam took up his task upon a cursed earth, a task in the sweat of his face against thorns and thistles, in the hope of life through the coming Seed, the Christ. And he answered also for his wife, accepting in her name her painful trouble in bringing that seed into the world. Through painful trouble the Christ would come and redeem. Christ would come and His people, the rest of the seed of the woman that had to be redeemed.”
Prof. Geertsema points out that this was a wonderful response. The fall into sin had caused Adam and Eve to be alienated from God and from each other. Remember how Adam blamed his wife as the cause of all the misery. However, Prof. Geertsema concludes:
“After God’s words of punishment in which was included the promise of redemption, Adam’s reaction of faith in that promise was not only a word of faith accepting that punishment, and a word of hope in the coming Christ. That word of faith and hope in Christ was also a word of comfort and reconciliation. By calling his wife after the coming seed, Adam comforted her. Eve, whatever happened, we shall take up our God-given task, our office and calling, each in his/her own place, for the sake of the coming Christ. Eve, I call you mother of the seed, mother of all living, of Christ and of His church; Eve, so we go together.
Indeed, may God bless you, Christian mothers and fathers, Christian men and women, young people and older people, in the fulfilment of your daily task in this life in faith in Christ your Redeemer, who brought about reconciliation through His blood and who works it out in the life of those who truly believe in Him through the Holy Spirit. May God bless you in  and grant you that you place your whole life in His service, comforting one another in the hope that your painful labours will not be in vain when they are accepted through faith in Christ.”
[i] Jacob Geertsema is emeritus professor of New Testament of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary
[ii] Clarion, Vol. 37, No. 1. Jan. 1988.