Wednesday, August 1, 2007

He Makes All Things New

When I was a child, the man who lived across the alleyway from my family was a rather strange man who had an extraordinary gift. We would often find him in the alley rummaging through dumpsters. He would find junk, old things that people had thrown away—broken furniture, busted electronics, tattered clothing—and he would gather up these things and bring them to his home and repair them. He then would sell the items in a yard sale. What everybody else regarded as eccentric, this man considered a calling. He relished the opportunity to take something old, discarded, useless and make it new again.

Isn’t this what we see in Jesus?

Consider Zacchaeus. Here was a man who was quite successful in his business. He was a tax collector and apparently quite good at it. He had amassed a great fortune, but in ways that were quite shady. He had become reviled by all of his neighbors.

You remember his story. It is recorded for us in Luke 19.

One afternoon, Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to town. He knew some things about Jesus. Everybody was talking about him—how he was healing people of their illnesses, giving sight to the blind, casting demons out of the possessed, even raising the dead. Zacchaeus had certainly heard about the things Jesus was saying. "Blessed are the poor, and woe to you who are rich," was certain to catch Zaccheaus’s attention.

Hearing that Jesus was coming to his town, to the streets of Jericho . . . well, Zacchaeus had to make every effort to see this man. His desire belies an unease deep within Zacchaeus. Despite his wealth, his success, his powerful job, Zacchaeus wanted, no needed something more. Perhaps he had become convicted by his lack of ethics, by his shady business dealings, by the stigma attached to his profession. Whatever the feelings deep down inside, Zacchaeus felt compelled to see Jesus, for in Jesus he saw a new beginning.

The scene is rather ironic. Zacchaeus, a man of powerful position was a man of short stature. The crowds thronging the route Jesus was taking through Jericho blocked Zacchaeus’s view of the man he so desperately wanted, no needed to see. But he did not give up. He did not allow this obstacle to prevent him seeing Jesus, from seeking a new way in his life. No, he found a tree, a sycamore tree, and he climbed up into its branches. His efforts paid off. He saw Jesus, but more importantly, Jesus saw him.

What Jesus said to the man is extraordinary: He said, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19.5). Can you imagine the look of surprise on the face of Zacchaeus? Jesus knew the man’s name, and you would have to think that Jesus knew something about the man himself. Yet, when Jesus addressed Zacchaeus, he did not see a shady, crooked, despised tax collector. No, he saw a man who had undoubtedly made some mistakes in life, who had obviously earned the ire of his neighbors, but who was desperately wanting, needing renewal.

The genuineness of Zacchaeus’s heart is seen in his words. He said to Jesus, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much" (Luke 19.8). Zacchaeus had become a changed man. In Jesus, he found the ability to renew his heart and to humble himself. Jesus affirms his rebirth as a man: he says, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

Indeed Jesus makes all things new.

Consider the woman who crashed the party at Simon’s house. Simon was a Pharisee, a man of great respect in the community. He had invited Jesus to be his guest for dinner. We read about the occasion in Luke 7. In the middle of the meal, something quite shocking happens. A woman bursts in. She was not on the guest list. In fact, she was a woman who would never be welcomed into Simon’s home. She was a woman of the streets, a prostitute.

What brought her to Simon’s home? Undoubtedly she, like Zacchaeus, had heard about Jesus. Perhaps she had witnessed one of his miracles. Perhaps she had overheard one of his powerful sermons. Perhaps she had only heard about Jesus through the reports of others. The text tells us that she came into the room where Simon and his guests were eating, and she immediately fell at Jesus’ feet. Her eyes were filled with tears. She was weeping. Her tears were for herself. The implication of the text is clear, she had become convicted of her sins and had sought out Jesus.

Her life had been a waste. We do not know the circumstances that lead her into the life she was living, but we can imagine. Perhaps it was poverty that led her to sell herself to satisfy the wanton pleasures of others. Perhaps it was abandonment of her by others that led her to choose this shameful way of life. Perhaps it was her own skewed sense of morality, or a total lack of regard for what was right and proper. Whatever the case, she had come to a breaking point, to a moment where she realized that her life was empty, that her actions were immoral. She needed a new beginning. She needed absolution. She needed God.

And, so she came to weep at Jesus’ feet. The others gathered in Simon’s home were aghast at her presence, offended, even angry that she had interrupted their meal. Simon was ready to leap his feet and thrown the woman back into the streets. But, Jesus, was different. He could see the tears in her eyes. He could feel the sadness in her heart. He knew the genuineness of her response, and he was compassionate.

To the great surprise of Simon and the others in his home, Jesus said, "[Simon], do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" (Luke 7.44-47).

Jesus’ response suggests the possibility of a prior encounter between himself and the woman. Perhaps it had been earlier in the day. Perhaps the woman had heard Jesus speak about the possibility of renewal, about the opportunity awarded by God to leave a shameful life and to claim a new one, about the opportunity for repentance and a changed life. In his response to Simon, Jesus seems to suggest that the woman’s dramatic gesture at the meal was one of thanksgiving to Jesus for the wholeness, the newness she had found in him.

Indeed Jesus makes all things new.

Consider the fishermen we meet in Luke 5. Simon Peter, James, and John, were their names. Jesus meets them on the shores of Gennesaret, the Sea of Galilee. The men had been fishing, presumably all night. When Jesus meets them a great crowd is pressing in and around him. So, Jesus commandeers Peter’s boat to use a speaking platform. We are not given the details of Jesus’ message on that day, but it must have been powerful, for the hearts of three fishermen were moved.

We have no pictures of Peter, and James and John, but I imagine that they were impressive men. Their physical appearance must have been quite rugged. I can see that they were strong men and as down to earth as any men could be. They had to have been hard workers, committed to their work, with little time given to idleness and fun. They must have been serious, driven to provide for their families in the best way they knew how. The shores and waters of Gennesaret must have been where they could have been found day and night.
Yet, on this day, they meet Jesus. Perhaps they had been hearing things about him. After all, everyone seemed to be talking about this man who could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cast out demons, and raise the dead. The text of Luke suggests that Jesus had even healed the mother-in-law of Peter, so this fisherman, at least, had already witnessed the great life-changing power of Jesus.

On this day, as Jesus finished speaking, he looked at Peter and told him, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5.4). Peter protested, "But, Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing" (v. 5).

Remember, fishing is not just a hobby for Peter and the others, it was their job. Their livelihood depended upon their ability to catch fish, and when their luck ran out on the water, they needed to spend that time constructively, perhaps hiring out as a day laborer to earn money to feed their family for that day. Spending their time pursuing a catch that had already alluded them must have seemed foolish. Yet, Jesus asked, and Peter was perceptive enough to do what he had been asked. Certainly, he had seen enough of this man to know that his words were wise and worthy of heeding. He said to Jesus, "Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."

You remember what happens: the men catch more fish than they had ever caught. So many fish, the nets began to break and two boats were needed to haul in the catch. Peter’s response? He was overcome. "He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’" (Luke 5.8). He declared this most emphatically. Something had convicted Peter. Was it simply the catch of fish? Or, was it a case of him putting all the pieces together? The fullness of who Jesus was was beginning to become clear to Peter. His faith was certainly not complete. He would have many more questions about Jesus. But, for the moment, he was moved by the power, the goodness of this man.

Jesus does something rather surprising. He pushes aside Peter’s protest and invites the man (and his partners) to follow him. "Do not be afraid," Jesus says, "from now on you will be catching people" (Luke 5.10). And, then we read, "When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him" (v. 11).

Picture the scene, these men leave their boats, their nets, the great catch of fish—imagine the monetary value—and they follow Jesus. These are fishermen, not preachers, yet they follow Jesus into a new life. Did they have questions about how they would feed their families? Did they wonder what they next day would hold in store? They must have, it would be only human for them to do so, but these questions are not recorded in the text. They simply left everything and followed Jesus.

From being a fisherman to becoming a preacher, I can’t imagine any more startling transition than that. To speak of new beginnings is an understatement. Yet, Jesus called these men to a new life, and they followed.

Indeed Jesus makes all things new.

Turn to each page of the Gospel, and you will see the renewal that Jesus brings to people. These three stories are but a sampling. They illustrate a remarkable truth about Jesus. In him we find newness. In him we find one who takes what is old, discarded, and useless and transforms these things into people that are new, treasured, and worthy.

From the beginning, this is a picture of God that comes repeatedly into view. The opening verses of Scripture describe God taking something that was "formless and void and filled with darkness" and creating a universe that is beautiful, whole, and filled with wondrous light. In the Exodus story, he took a people that were battered, enslaved, and without identity and forms them into a nation that is free, numerous, and his own. But, as is the case with humanity and the material world, decay and rot set in. In time, the world of beauty God created and the humanity he fashions become corrupted by evil, sin becomes master, and God’s creation drifts away from him. But, God, the ultimate scavenger, reclaimer, recycler, repairer and healer, picks up the broken pieces and fashions life anew.

This is the story of the Gospel. God, in Jesus, makes all things new.

In the final verses of the book of Revelation, the Lamb of God, Jesus, says, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am he who makes all things new. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life" (Revelation 21.3-6).

Can you relate to Zacchaeus? At a point where you recognize the shadiness of your business, the unfair treatment you’ve given to others, the distance between your self and your neighbors, the distance between yourself and God?

Can you relate to the woman at Simon’s house? At a point where you have been convicted by your sin, the shamefulness of your actions, the despair of your life?

Can you relate to Peter and his partners? At a point where Jesus is calling you to new course in life, a new calling, a more meaningful existence, to service in his name?

Indeed Jesus can make all things new. He can take your past, whatever it is, and replace it with a new outlook, a new course, a new promise. He can take your sin, however great, and remove it, making you clean, making you new. He can take your life, wherever you are at, and instill within you a new resolve, a truer desire and purpose.

Do not be like the rich, young man who came to Jesus searching, but rejecting what he found.
You remember his story. It is told to us in Luke 18.

He was a man of privilege. A man of status. Yet, deep within him, he knew something was lacking. He came to Jesus with a question. "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18.18). Something within him told him that his riches and his place in society were not enough. He was seeking assurance, the way to eternal prosperity. Perhaps he simply wanted affirmation for the things he was doing. Perhaps he wanted an easy process to follow, some outward works he could accomplish. Nothing too inconvenient. Nothing too challenging.

At first, Jesus’ reply was expected. It was just what the man wanted to hear. The Good Teacher said, "You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother’" (Luke 18.20). Fantastic! the man had all these covered. Home free! the man must have been thinking.
But, not so fast. Jesus had something more to say. Something startling. Some unsettling. Jesus added, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Luke 18.22).

Talk about earth shattering. Matthew describes the man’s reaction the best. He writes, "When the man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions" (Matthew 19.22). It was too much. What Jesus asked was too great.

You see, newness comes with a price. The newness that comes from Jesus is not a free gift. It is freely offered. It is offered despite our sin, our pride, our doubt, our spitefulness of God seen in the way we have lived life and spurned his overtures. It is offered because of God’s great, undying love for us. It is offered from the one who sees the brokenness of our lives and is moved to pick up the shattered pieces and create anew.

But, the free offer must be met with a response. It must be accepted with a willing heart. For, God does not force the pieces into place. He takes what he can mold, work with, that which is pliable and adjustable and responsive to his tender touch, his caring hands, his masterful skill of putting together what has been broken, cast aside, made useless.

Zacchaeus was willing. He had come to a moment of decision in his life. He chose to move forward and be transformed by the one who come to seek the lost.

The woman in Simon’s house was willing. She had come to a breaking point. The shamefulness of her condition had driven her to tears and to the feet of Jesus.

Peter and those with him were willing. Addressing the mundane cares of the day were suddenly not enough. They had seen and heard Jesus, the one that could address needs much more important than the catch of the day. They saw in him an abundance never before seen in their nets. They left all to follow him.

Sadly, the rich, young man was not willing. His riches were too comforting. His status too precious. He was unwilling to give up that which Jesus asked. He went away dejected. The newness Jesus offered left unclaimed.

What about you? Do you see in Jesus the one who makes all things new? Do you find in him meaning to fill the void that is in your life? Do you find in him the healing to salve the pain and hurt you fell? To you find in him the forgiveness to remove the layers of guilt and shame that have burdened you so? Do you find him the renewal that once again can make you whole, worthy, and at peace?

The renewal found in Jesus is a blessing that continually refreshes. It is a power that we must continually commit ourselves. For, again, God does not force the pieces into place. He takes what is pliable, adjustable and responsive to his work.

One of my most treasured possessions is this quilt. It was finished by my grandmother, but it has a remarkable story. Many years ago, after my great-grandmother had passed away, my grandparents were going through her things. They discovered a box filled with quilt squares. Each square bore the image of a U. S. President.

My grandfather instantly recognized what he was looking at. When he was a child, his mother had started an ambitious project: a quilt bearing the images and signatures of all the U. S. Presidents. She invited her son, my grandfather to help her. As a child, he traced the images of each of the Presidents (who had served up until that time) and their signatures. But, for some reason the project was delayed. The squares were placed in a box, and the quilt was never completed.

That is, until, it was discovered anew by my grandparents following the passing of my great-grandmother. They took the squares and finished the quilt. My grandfather traced the remaining images (Ronald Reagan is the last image on the quilt) and signatures. My grandmother placed the images accordingly and finished the quilt.

They took what was laid aside, discarded, forgotten and fashioned something that is quite beautiful and unique. God, in Jesus, does a similar thing with our lives. He picks up the pieces and patches them together as they were originally intended to be.

Consider yourself. Where are you today? Follow the steps of Zacchaeus, making every effort to see Jesus. Come, as the woman did into Simon’s home, falling at the feet of Jesus. Do as Peter did, leaving all to follow the one who makes all things new.