New Year 2015 - January 4, 2015 _____________________________________________________________________________
Reading: 1Chron. 17: 1 – 27
As of Friday morning (this would now be
a week ago Friday) my plan for this service (actually last Sunday) was in a
completely different direction. The intention was to revisit the shepherd’s
story in Luke 2; and I still intend to do that before this month is over. But
on Friday morning I read a note on Face Book, posted by a friend of mine. I
discerned the witness of the Holy Spirit in my reading, and here we are.
I want to present this reading to you
just as it appeared on Face-Book. It is by Chuck Colson, and was presented on
January 1, 2008. But first let me briefly remind you of David’s story as
presented here in 1Chronicles 17.
At this stage of his life he had
conjured all of his enemies; the land was at peace. He had settled down in his
fine cedar house of palace proportions. On this night he was having casual
conversation with the prophet Nathaniel. He shared his heart concerning a great
idea. He looked around at his fine dwelling and could not abide the fact that
his house was so fine and yet the Ark of the Covenant was outside in a tent.
And thus the great idea – he would build a proper house for Israel’s God.
Nathaniel loved the idea, endorsed it, and told David to “have at it.” Actually
it went more like this: “Do all that is
in your mind, the Lord, the God of Israel is with you.”
Nathaniel returned home, got quiet
before God and learned that not all great ideas are necessarily God-ideas. The
plan got changed. Instead of David building God a house, God declares that He
is going to build David’s house. This had nothing to do with physical
buildings; it had to do with David’s family for generations to come. God
promised that the throne would never be without a descendent of David upon it.
The ultimate fulfilment of this promise was in the coming of Christ. He never
sat upon a throne during the days of His flesh, but to this moment and
forevermore He reigns as King of all kings and Lord of all lords. He was the
ultimate Son of David.
When the prophet returned and shared
God’s idea with David, it seemed David was left breathless; it blew him out of
the water. He responded with excellent wisdom: ‘Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I,
O Lord God, and what is my family that you have brought me thus far?”
If we have any insight into this at all,
we must surely understand that David is recognizing that none of this is
because of him or anything he has done; rather it is ALL of grace and grace ALONE.
And that brings us to the reading:
The hymn "Amazing Grace" was
first sung on New Year's Day, 1773. (242 years ago).
At the end of December 1772, an Anglican priest in the poor parish of Olney
worked by candlelight on his New Year’s Day sermon. He would preach on the text
of 1 Chronicles 17, verses 16 and 17.
That passage was David’s response to God
after Nathan informed him that his descendants would be enthroned forever as
kings of Israel. David, the once-poor shepherd boy, the man who had repented of
adultery and murder, responded to the news by saying, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family that you have brought me
That pastor was John Newton, and those
words struck a deep chord in his heart.
In those last days of 1772, Newton found himself running out of empty pages in
his journal, a bound book of 300 pages holding 16 years’ worth of entries. As
he came to finish that journal and start another, his mind was drawn to the
pages of his past—the story of his life from his days as an unregenerate
slave-trader to becoming a child of God.
Newton would have remembered when his
rebellious spirit got him thrown off numerous ships, publicly flogged, and
ousted from His Majesty’s Navy. He would have remembered the shipwrecks and the
mutinies—and then the transformation of his heart by the power of the Gospel.
As Newton considered those days gone by, he would have asked as David did, “Who am I, O Lord...that you have brought me
As was his habit, Newton set to work
composing a hymn to illustrate his New Year’s Day sermon. In that hymn, he
would tell his poor congregation of lace-makers and low-paid artisans about the
dangers and snares he had faced. He would reflect on the amazing grace that had
saved a wretch like him.
Those now-famous words of “Amazing
Grace,” first sung in the small parish of Olney on New Year’s Day, 1773,
lingered in obscurity for many years. Even as Newton counselled the young
William Wilberforce and encouraged him to stay the course in the long battle
against the slave trade, the words to “Amazing Grace” were little sung in
England. But the Olney hymnal, later published by Newton, caught on in the
The words of “Amazing Grace” would
surface again some 80 years later in a book that would change the course of
this nation, "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." In it, the slave Tom, at his lowest
point, sings the words of “Amazing Grace.” Two verses hardly sung today were
sung by Tom: “And when this mortal life
shall fail/ And flesh and sense shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A
life of joy and peace.” These words of the ultimate hope in God, even in
the face of deep injustice, forever entwined the words of “Amazing Grace” with
the plight of the slaves.
But it all began in that dark little
study in the waning days of a year gone by, when one man took the time to
reflect on God’s goodness to him.
This New Year’s Day we'd all do well to
pay tribute to Newton by imitating his gratitude to God and his heart for the
lost. We would do well also to set aside some time to reflect on what God has
done in our lives—how He has delivered us from slavery to sin. And we would do
well to consider how we, in this New Year, can sing God’s praise with our lips
and with our lives.
In coming to the Table of the Lord this
morning I am urging us to recognize and celebrate the grace of God. I have not
earned my place at this table by my faith, my prayer, my witnessing, my
preaching, my giving, or any other work of obedience. I approach this covenant
meal of the church with David’s confession in my heart and on my lips: “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family
that you have brought me thus far?” With this confession we are not putting
ourselves down, we are recognizing and acknowledging God’s supreme place in the
order of our lives. And the more I see His place of absolute supremacy the more
I find and am brought to my proper place in Him.