This time of year is a time of reflection and anticipation. We reflect upon the accomplishments and setbacks of the year that is past. Nineteen hundred and Seventy-eight is past, never to return again. For this is the inescapable character of time which keeps all of us in its grasp as long as we live. The Psalmist calls time an “ever rolling stream.” The events and happenings of the past are securely locked in the book of God to be revealed only at the last day. We cannot change the past, but only reflect upon our accomplishments and failures.
But this is also a time of anticipation! Anticipation and expectation of that which is to come. Oh, I know that even 1979 stands fast in all its detail in the counsel and mind of the Almighty. Nevertheless, God has, in his inscrutable wisdom, hidden the future from our view. We do not enter the future with some kind of fatalistic determinism, but rather with an eagerness to pursue our desires and fulfill our longings. So we stand before this year as rational moral creatures of God that are able and called upon to think and act responsibly with regard to the future!
This confronts us, as God’s children, with a most serious and basic question. How can we maintain our distinctiveness from the world in our expectation with regard to the future? What may or may we not seek after? What are and are not proper resolutions for this coming year? The Scriptures teach such a distinction. For example, I find a passage much to the point in Proverbs (Prov. 10:28), “The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.” Expectations for the future are common to all. The world and the church make plans. Both enter the new year with eager anticipation. Yet the righteous are vastly different from the wicked in their anticipations and expectations. The antithesis between the church of Christ and the world is seen most clearly in their expectation for the future.” Speak to an ungodly man as he stands upon the threshold of another year and it will soon become apparent to you how great a difference there exists between yourself and him. He speaks of that which he looks forward to in the new ye.ar. He has his hopes and dreams. But those expectations are wholly carnal and mundane. He speaks about the treasures and wealth he will amass unto himself in the coming year. He expects to stash away for himself of the good things of this earth. He makes plans to build bigger and better barns. His aim and desire is toward his own glory and welfare. Psalm 49 comes to mind,
Yet within their heart they say,
That their houses are for aye;
That their dwelling places grand
Shall for generations stand.
To their lands they give their name In the hope of lasting fame, . . .
In short, the wicked expect with eager anticipation to lay up for themselves treasures upon this earth.
But, meet some of God’s children on the Lord’s Day as they go up to worship their God and ask them about their expectation in the new year. You will receive an entirely different answer. God’s people also have expectations for the year 1979. They will say to you, never mind the pleasures and lusts after carnal and corruptible things. The things of this earth must pass away. It does no good to set your affections on the things here below, for what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world unto himself but lose his own soul? You will find his expectations to be in a spiritual vein. He will say, I don’t knowwhat the Lord has in store for me. It may be poverty or prosperity, but in all these things my expectation will be for His grace and the guidance of His good and Holy Spirit.
You see, that’s the difference. The world is not able to judge the worth of things in the light of the eternal purpose and will of God. They make things an end in themselves. We know much better. At least I think we do. We know that the prosperity of this earth is not an end but only a means toward a greater and better end. Our hope and longing also in the new year is for the kingdom of God to prosper and come. While the world expects wonders here below with their noses to the ground, the child of God has his eyes upon the realization of that which is laid aside for us in Christ Jesus. By faith, with Abraham, we look for the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God. But, you say to me, that is narrow minded, that leaves no room for the things of this earth. Are there no worthwhile pursuits for the child of God in the new year? But there are! More than this, all things are ours for the sake of Jesus our Lord. But they must be sought after for the expediency of the kingdom of God!
Furthermore we ought to know that the outcome of our expectation is inherent in the expectation itself. Again, to refer to the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 10:28, “. . . the expectation of the wicked shall perish.” What a condemnation of all the hopes and desires of the world! The Lord says that they shall be put to naught and devoid of fulfillment. Though they strive to establish large empires, procure peace and tranquility, make new strides in technology and science to enhance their lives, their expectations shall remain empty. And how true this is! There is no satisfaction and fulfillment in the world. There is no contentment among the ungodly. The carnal flesh has an insatiable appetite of lustful desire. And in all their gain and achievements, the curse of the Lord abides in their houses. (Prov. 3:33) Even if they are able to boast in their achievements and earthly gain, their end is destruction. For in all these expectations they never transcend the earthly and mundane. Their hopes and desires are of the earth and subject to time. They lay up treasures here below, none of which will stand them in good stead in the hereafter. While they enjoy their plenty and revel in sin they fill their cup of iniquity and push themselves lower in the abyss of hell where their fire shall not be quenched.
But for us, how wonderful are the words of the wisdom of the preacher! Our expectation shall be gladness. This is a wonderful contrast. The expectation of the children of God shall be attained in joy. We shall be made full in our hopes and desires for the future. But let us be careful! We read, “. . . the expectation of the righteous.” We are righteous not because of the efforts of our flesh but in the blood of Jesus Christ. We are justified by faith. Therefore, it must be clear that the Preacher is speaking of the hopes and anticipations that grow out of this righteousness. In other words, when our desires are carnal according to the flesh, as they often are, then we must not expect them to be fulfilled in joy. Rather as the world, they shall be devoid of fulfillment. They will bring no satisfaction. But those desires and expectations that find their birth in our faith will end in joy. Such faith strives after the kingdom of heaven. It is the hope of eternal life as it lives even now within us in principle. Is this not our expectation in the year 1979? We pray for His kingdom to come. Our resolutions are vows before God to strive after sanctification and not all kinds of other silly vows which are made so glibly.
In the new year let us seek the kingdom of God first! This must be chief in our life. If we so walk, then we have the promise of God Himself that we will not be disappointed. Oh, this does not necessarily mean earthly prosperity. This was the misunderstanding of Asaph in Psalm 73 before he went into the sanctuary and understood the end of the wicked to be destruction. But it means that we will not be let down by the grace of God. He will lead us in the way everlasting, toward one longing when we shall be delivered from all the weary night of this life into the glory of heaven.
What is our longing in the year that lies ahead? Do we share our hope with the ungodly? It will come to naught. But if in all our expectations we seek the expediency of His kingdom, we shall not be disappointed.