As I reflect on 2017, God’s blessings are evident. Multiple baptisms of new disciples around the world in Buddhist, Animist, Muslim, Hindu and secular communities. New congregations planted and new projects launched in Asia and Africa, the first of a new wave of missionaries launched from Brazil, and prayers answered in incredible ways. We also witnessed suffering and pain. Hurt bodies, traumatic experiences, community rejection and cancelled visas. Tears of joy mingled with tears of sorrow throughout 2017.
As we begin our second month of 2018, I turn in my New Year devotions to the gospels. Matthew 1:23 speaks of “Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” This promise of “God with us” is reflected by Jesus’ promise in the Great Commission: “And remember, I am with you always, even go the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Peering into 2018, this is a beautiful promise. We are never alone. Jesus is always with us and knows exactly what we are going through and what we will face. Praise God!
Mark is viewed as Peter’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life and ministry. The first disciple called by name is Peter, who with his brother Andrew is given the promise that they will be turned into “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-17). Many manuscripts end Mark with 16:8, which reads, “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward, Jesus Himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Mark thus begins and ends with references to Peter. Proud Peter, impetuous Peter, bombastic Peter, denying Peter, restored Peter. We are reminded that God still works through broken human beings, those who have realized their depth of brokenness and who have experienced His gracious restoration.
In Luke, Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem for Nazareth, but without Jesus. When they found Him in the temple, He explained that “it is necessary” to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). At the end of Luke (24:13), another two people were leaving Jerusalem, and just like His parents they were without Jesus. They didn’t know where He was (despite the rumors of a resurrection), and three days had passed since they had last seen Him. Eventually, Jesus appeared and revealed to them that “it is necessary” for the Messiah to suffer and then enter into His glory. For us today, we may be well into 2018 and suddenly sense the absence of Jesus presence and wonder where He is. And when we find Him again, we discover that the unintended sense of separation can lead to a richer understanding of His saving purposes for us.
John 1:1-18 begins with some of the richest Christology to be found in Scripture. It pulses with creation imagery. “In the beginning” reflects Gen 1:1 and points to God’s re-creation of His fallen children (1:12-13). As the Gospel concludes, Mary Magdalene goes to the garden tomb to find Jesus. Turning, she speaks with someone she assumes is the gardener, only to discover that it is Jesus Himself. John 20 echoes the creation story, where Jesus was in the Garden of Eden and breathed life into Adam’s lifeless body. He has now returned to a garden to breathe new life into His new creation—the Body of Christ. For us today, John reveals there is no disease, scar, sorrow or pain beyond God’s restoring power.
In the light of the Gospels, we can face 2018 with confidence. Jesus will always be with us. God chooses to work through broken but restored men and women. Even when we sense separation from Jesus, His saving purposes for us never falter. And those tears of sorrow? Yes, they may flow in 2018, but one glorious day when God creates a new heavens and a new earth, “God Himself will be with them; He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Praise God! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!