Something strange happens when we move from one year to the next. The secular media implies that we’re entering a different era, as if the old year, like a trouble-prone car, has been replaced by a new year which, like a new car, promises to provide us with pleasurable, trouble-free motoring.
As 2020 drew to a close, one media article said, “Good riddance to 2020.” The writer was keen to put the old year, with its pandemic and all the hassles associated with it, behind him and to welcome in a new year. For 2020 has, said one writer, been “a terrible year” and he couldn’t wait to see the end of it and to step into the new year.
Suchlike articles imply that 2020 and 2021 are completely different entities, as though 2021 will be a year with new perspectives, a year we can enter with high expectations. That’s reflected in some of the first 2021 media headlines. “Eat. Drink. Spend. Don’t give up a thing.” “Welcome 2021”. “Let’s swap pious new year pledges for more exciting, fun and fabulous goals.”
But really there is no ‘new’ year in the sense of something completely different; just another with the next number. We haven’t, as is implied, stepped from one era into another, from a dark period of pandemic gloom to a bright new period with wonderful opportunities. We’re merely continuing further along the same path, a continuum in which God is moving ahead, according to His great plan, from the alpha to the omega, from the beginning of world history to its climax: the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. And also the calamities that befall the world in the way of pandemics, devastating fires, earthquakes, floods, etc., also have their purpose: that people should repent and turn to God (Rev. 9:20).
It’s good to keep the big picture in mind. History is not a series of unrelated events but each event and each year brings us a step closer to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst it’s good to be concerned about the present and the immediate future we need to see it all as part of the one big plan God has for His people, the church of the living God.
The world says: what’s past is past; we’re living in the present. So ‘carpe diem’: seize the day; let’s revel in food, freedom and fun. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
But that’s the short-sighted view of those who live in unbelief. As Christians we believe and confess that God is carrying out His plan of salvation (Eph. 1:11), that He governs and directs everything in the world according to the purpose of His will (BCF: 13). Through all events the LORD is working towards the culmination of the ages.
And through it all, Christ’s church stands at the centre of all history. Yes, even today when it seems to be so comparatively small. For God has given to Christ as the Head of His church all power in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18-20). All history is ultimately the history of salvation and we need to see God’s ways through that history.[i]
The LORD’s counsel will stand
God’s ways through history are directed by His counsel. Proverbs 19:21 says, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand” (19:21). Rev R Bredenhof, in a New Year’s Eve sermon,[ii] emphasised the need to focus on the most important words in this text: the LORD’s counsel. And just what is that counsel?
“We can say that God’s counsel is his plan! It’s his goal. His counsel is God’s vision for the future, the things that God wills to accomplish with this world, his creation, and his people. There are many things that God desires to take place. Just like us, you could say, God has set a certain course for the future.”
Rev Bredenhof asks attention for the term LORD. Being in capital letters, it refers to God’s personal name, Yahweh.
“This is the name that points us to the God of the covenant, the God who entered into a lasting relationship of love with his people. This is the LORD who appeared to Abraham and gave him his great and gracious promises. This is the LORD who delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. This is the LORD who sent his well-beloved Son into the world, even to die for our sins.
It is the LORD, the covenant God who has a purpose! It is the God of steadfast love who is always working out his will on this earth! And that tells us at once that his counsel is always good. For just as we did for our own plans, consider the spirit behind God’s plans. What is God’s motive? What is God’s reason for doing what He does? What drives everything He does and directs here on earth?”
He seeks our good and His glory
Says Rev R Bredenhof: “As God of the covenant, He wants what is good for his people! God constantly does those things that will make our salvation even more sure! Like we can read in Romans 8, ‘We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose’ (vs 28). Beloved, God works for our good: that’s his prevailing counsel! Because He loves us so much, He desires that everything in our lives will serve one goal: that we be his people and walk in fellowship with him.
Whatever God does, however God leads your life and guides this world, remember always his perfect purpose: that his people draw ever closer to him, in faith and in love! Because then God receives the glory. That, as always, is his ultimate aim, his greatest goal: that God would get the worship that is due his holy Name.
Our salvation, and God’s glory—this is the foundation of God’s unchanging counsel. And He will surely bring it about! As the LORD declares in Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Indeed, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.”
Implications for us
That has implications for us, His children. As Rev R Bredenhof says,
“This text calls us get our lives in line with God’s counsel. What would the LORD have us do? What is his calling for us in the coming time? Our Lord Jesus said, ‘Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all things will be given to you as well.’ And so we resolve to put God’s Kingdom first. For every day God has allowed us, we resolve to bring him praise!
And as we face the future, let’s keep our eyes on his ultimate plan. God’s plan is not that this broken world continue in all its misery without end, or that we continue in our sinfulness without end. But He has told us that this world is going somewhere, for it’s going to be refined in the fire, and made like new. We too, are going somewhere, for soon we’re going to be transformed to dwell with God forever.”
And the great transformer of our lives, says Prof. K Schilder,[iii] is God. He said: See, I make all things new. That means we’re not different people but we are renewed, transformed.
“Then I say: this my flesh! It will one day be raised by Christ’s power. Renewed; not something else.
Then I say: This earth on which I live. It will be ‘swept clean’ and purified. It will be renewed; not another earth.
Then I say: these my works. They will be uncovered and burnt clean and re-melted. They’ll be ‘renewed’, not other works.
To be sure, I don’t understand it all; I’m only a poor labourer. But a poor Bible reader is still ‘rich’. He hears about a renewed earth and knows it can’t be another.
God will wipe away every tear, but not my eyes. Different eyes, yes, but not other eyes.”
Hence, says Schilder, I’m happy on New Year’s Day. I’m on the way to the omega, to the end of world history as we presently know and experience it. And I do so in the awareness of Immanuel: God with us. He is with us as He moves all history from the alpha to the omega. He with us; His eyes with ours. For His feet are with ours, also today, as we travel forward together.
The world stares itself blind on the here and now. It has lost sight of God and the big picture of God’s great plan. But we do not walk in the darkness of unbelief.
Therefore, to conclude with the words of Rev R Bredenhof: “Beloved, let us be of good courage, for we have a future, and we have a hope. That’s God’s counsel, and God’s counsel stands forever.”
[i] C G Bos, Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis na 1945, De Vuurbaak, Groningen, 1980, p. 9.
[iii] K Schilder, “’Jaarwisseling’ of voortgang van ‘alfa’ tot ‘omega’?” Schiftoverdenkingen 3, Oosterbaan, Goes, 1958, p.280.