Lines of Time
(thoughts as a new year begins from Psalm 118:24)
by Bob Burridge ©2018
In Psalm 118 verse 24 God’s word says, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
When we celebrate the start of a New Year we should see it differently than those outside God’s Covenant of Grace. We need to remember that God the Creator is in full control of everything that happens on the time-line of history. Everything on the time-line happens exactly when it best serves God’s purpose. All of creation and how history unfolds is designed to display God’s power and glory.
We often lay out time-lines to help us organize and understand how events fit together. They’re used in solving crimes. They help us know who was where, and when they were there. We can lay out what they were doing, and who was with them while they were doing it. Sometimes these crime time-lines can help excuse the innocent, or convict the guilty.
When we plan big projects we need to know what things need to happen before other things can happen, when materials need to be made available, and when a project can expect to be completed.
Time-lines can also help us learn and understand history and God’s message in our Bibles. When you read Scripture it’s important to know where the passage fits in with the unfolding of God’s plan. For example is it about a time before or after God’s promises were fulfilled in the work of Christ? It’s also important to know what God had already revealed when each passage was written.
Time is an irreparable thing. You can’t go back and change things or fix mistakes like editing a story or movie. That only happens in Science-Fiction books and movies – or in holiday stories on the Hallmark channel. What happened before is now “set in stone”. It effects the way things will be from now on. Every choice we make, word we say, and action we do or don’t do becomes part of the way things are and always will be. There are no “do-overs”.
Time is a moving thing. You can’t stop to get off the time-line and examine it while it stands still for you.
There was a time when time wasn’t what it is today. Before creation there was God alone, nothing else, and God never changes. When there’s nothing changing, the idea of “time” takes on a different meaning than what we usually mean by it.
James 1:17 says that with God, “… there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The words, “no variation” translates the single Greek word “parallagae” (παραλλαγη). It’s an astronomical term. From it we get the word “parallax,” a term we still use in astronomy. For example, it’s when two stars line up when we look at them in January, but not in June when Earth is on the other side of the sun. By measuring that shift we can use basic Geometry to measure the relative distance of the stars away from us. The word was also used for how constellations appear in different places in the night sky as the seasons change.
Some dots of light move from constellation to constellation. Ancient observers called them “wandering stars”. The Greek word for “wanderer” is “planaetaes” (πλανήτής). That’s where we get our word “planet”. Today we know that the planets orbit with us around our sun so they don’t always appear in the same place in the sky.
Some objects in the night sky change their brightness regularly. But there’s no such change with God. There’s no variableness like those natural objects we see in the night sky.
The phrase “shadow due to change” translates another Greek astronomical expression “tropaes aposkiasma” (τροπης αποσκιασμα). This astronomical term has to do with changes in shadows cast by the sun and moon. As the Earth rotates each day the shadows from the sunlight change their length and direction. These words were also used to describe the eclipses of the sun and moon.
With God there’s no such change. He’s a steady and reliable light. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Before creation, when it was God alone, nothing was changing. There were no intervals between events to measure in seconds, hours, days, years, or millennia. Within the Trinity the three persons interact with one another in an eternal dynamic – but nothing’s changing. God has always known everything that ever would happen. Once he created things other than himself, things were changing and time became a measurable thing. But God has always been aware of the sequence of everything that would happen in his creation. He knows the “before” and “after” of every event. In that sense there’s a sense of “time” in God’s mind.
All the while we study history we’re becoming part of history. What you did last year or just a moment ago is now part of your unchangeable past. But what you do next, or in the year to come, will put new events along that time-line that will effect your future.
Each of us walks along our personal time-line. It started the day we were conceived. Then we were born, and now we’re somewhere along that line. It never ends, though somewhere in the future it will move from earth to your home in glory – but it goes on.
The past is filled with points that mark significant events in your life: births, deaths, holidays, struggles, victories, marriages, and all those other life effecting moments. We mark out the passing of time with birthdays, anniversaries, and year numbers that change every January 1st.
Every day, every year, brings choices and opportunities. The new year is a good time time to think about how you’re constructing your history, and what part you play in the unfolding of the plan of God and the showing of his glory.
There were important moments along the time-line of history for God’s people.
There have been struggles and victories.
Satan’s first attack in Eden didn’t turn out the way he thought it would. Instead of ruining God’s plan, he unwittingly set the stage for the display of Grace and Redemption.
When it looked like the world had fallen into total rebellion against God’s ways, a great flood gave the world back to Noah and his family who were delivered by Grace.
When paganism again filled the world, God called Abraham. Then he preserved his people through an Egyptian captivity. This set the stage for the great victory of the Exodus, and the birth of the Covenant nation of Israel.
After that nation fell into sin and was hauled off into captivity, God provided that they could return to the promised land and re-build the Temple for God’s worship.
Then when deceived and evil hearts had again corrupted that worship, they nailed our Savior to a cross. Satan again thought he’d won, but he was wrong again. His followers didn’t stop the Savior, they were tools in God’s hand to bring about the greatest victory ever.
Throughout history there have been lessons learned, sometimes the hard way, but our loving Heavenly Father is directing his often wayward children to learn to live for his glory. God’s people have been again and again brought to repentance, and given fresh starts.
The wolves in sheep’s clothing who slip in among us will be dealt with by their Creator’s uncompromising justice. But for us often rebellious or self-absorbed sheep, that justice was paid for on a cross a couple thousand years ago. When by grace he humbles us to see and admit our sins, to repent and confess them, and to trust in his promises, we’re reminded of his unfailing love and a promise that never ends.
In one of those moments of triumph, Psalm 118 was written.
In verse 24 the Psalmist says, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”
There are different ideas about what particular historic events were behind this Psalm. But it was written in such a way that we really don’t need to know those details. There are timeless principles here that apply in every situation God’s children face.
Today, since the birth of Jesus Christ,
we know there’s another level to this Psalm.
Verse 22 is about the rejection and victory of our Savior. That verse says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This verse is quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42 and Acts 4:11) and directly applied to Jesus.
Behind all the victories of God’s people, is the triumph of Jesus Christ. He came to suffer rejection in our place, and to die for our failures and guilt. In that last week of his life he triumphantly entered Jerusalem, came to his desecrated temple, was beaten and humiliated, then nailed to a cross where he died.
But on the first day of the week, Sunday on the Roman calendar, he rose from the dead. In his suffering the penalty of sin was fully paid for all those given to him by the Father.
Since then the resurrected Messiah has rescued many lost from their deserved condemnation. He’s comforted many broken hearts, and kept his truth alive in the church he established as it’s “cornerstone”.
Psalm 118:24 is relevant every day of every year.
Each day is made by our Lord to display his grace and glory in and through his people. Every day is his gift to us. It’s to be used gratefully and obediently. When people take these days and abuse them selfishly, they steal from God and desecrate his gift.
Our work days should be used faithfully to carry out our creaturely duties: providing for and loving our families, friends, and community, and for promoting God’s glory in our conversations and social times. Our Sabbath Days should be centered on God’s worship, and specially on our gratitude to him all day long.
We should wake up every morning with this expectation in our hearts: that in the day ahead which the Lord gave us, we can rejoice and be glad.
The word translated as “rejoice” is “gil” (גׅיל) which comes from an old Hebrew root word. It means to spin around being moved by some strong emotion. It came to be used in situations where a person could dance around with joy and gladness.
The second word that’s translated “glad” is “simkha” (שִֹמ֧חָ ) which is from a word which originally meant “to brighten up”. It came to mean to cheer up or to make someone glad, or to rejoice and be merry.
Every day, work day or Sabbath, should be joyful and filled with gladness for the believer, even when we go through hard trials and tragedies. We can always find comfort in the Lord’s comfort and promises which he died to secure for us.
New Year’s Day is a good time to stop to think about all God’s done and promised.
God established a celebration of the civil New Year for Israel, Rosh HaShannah (ראש השנה) – “the head of the year”. It’s Levitical name in Leviticus 23:23-25 was the “Feast of Trumpets”. It was marked with the sounding of trumpets the whole day at the place of worship. It was a time to rejoice remembering God’s deliverances and blessings. It came at the end of the season of ploughing the fields, anticipating a good harvest.
Today people make noise on New Year’s Eve, but few think of the sound as calling God’s people to rejoice in “the Day that the Lord has made”.
On the time-line of history, every day, every year, we should rejoice and be glad in the day ahead, the day the Lord has made for us to use for his glory.
When people look back at an ending year,
they think of major events and trends on the time-line.
Some memories make us sad, others make us smile, and others are just facts to keep in mind. Some are events future generations of students will memorize in history class.
Every year puts important events on the time-line. There are changes in government leaders, in the weather, new inventions, changes in financial issues and standings in sports. There are deaths of famous and influential people, and the loss of friends and loved ones who completed their earthly assignments. Each person left important entries on that constantly flowing time-line of history that displays God’s plan.
The time-line of everything before today is done. The rest of it begins right now. What new points will God put on that time-line through you this year? What would you list as your own top 10 contributions to God’s glory and to the work of Christ’s kingdom in the past year?
As you wake up each morning take a moment to pray and consider before the day even starts. Ask yourself, “What can I do for God’s glory today?”
The past is a lesson book indelibly written to show God’s workings, and to teach each of us his ways. It shows where we or others have failed in the past, and where God has blessed. We give God the glory for where he moved us to honor him and to encourage his people. Where we’ve left God out of our thoughts, neglected obeying and honoring him, or lived selfishly, we can learn how much we need to depend upon our Savior instead of serving our own desires first.
Don’t get caught up in worry about how things could go wrong in the year ahead. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, ”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Instead of worry, plan well to make entries on that time-line you can look back on with joy when the next year begins.
This brings us to what should occupy our thoughts
as each new day of the new year starts:
Psalm 118:24 could be expanded to focus on the basic principle. We could say, “This is the day – this is the year – that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Our place on the time-line is that little point we are on at each moment.
It’s a moving point that won’t let us go back and do things over.
When opportunities pass, those same ones aren’t going to come again in the same way.
We dare not shrug it off when we neglect doing what’s good, or when we do what’s wrong.
The mistakes and sins should never be dismissed as if just doing better next time is good enough.
We should come to God repentantly and ask his strength to learn to do better the next time.
It’s not unimportant how you move through time. Each day in the year ahead should be lived by honoring God’s principles and promises as his plan unfolds. As challenges come along we should ask ourselves:
What is my duty and what are my opportunities here and now?
How can I secure this year, this day, this moment, for God’s glory?
Every day is the Lord’s. Determine as each day begins, that in Christ you will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118 ends with verse 29 – use these words when you pray, when you put this lesson into practice at the beginning of every day. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.