NEW BEGINNINGS Acts 2: 36-47. An amazing new beginning, arising out of Peter’s great sermon.2.Cor. 4: 13-18. Spiritual ‘new beginnings’ in Christ.

The story of Noah, tells of his belief in God: despite the unbelief and jeers of those around him: and of a new beginning, through his obedient faith.
 
When the flood was over, two signs were given: an olive branch: symbolizing peace between God and mankind: and a rainbow: as a sign that, never again, would there be such widespread destruction. The symbol of the olive branch became fulfilled, in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. A new beginning, through Noah’s actions: and a greater ‘new beginning’, through Christ.
 
The part of Abraham’s story; that stands out most clearly, and starkly; is God’s command that he should offer his son, Isaac, on the sacrificial altar. Almost beyond our understanding, was his apparent willingness to do so: but, happily, the Lord was testing Abraham’s faith, and did not actually require that ultimate act of obedience. Delighted by Abraham’s amazing faith: God promised him not only many physical descendants: but also that, one day, he would be seen as something of a spiritual father, to all believers, of like faith and obedience.
 
To Abraham, a new-beginning promise was made. In and through Christ, it was fulfilled; as he opened the way for all to seek, and find, their Heavenly Father: Jew and Gentile alike.
 
Abraham’s nephew; Lot; a man of great faith; knew that destruction was about to come upon Sodom and Gomorrah: and tried to save the lives of some of the people in those cities. Prayerfully arguing his case, before God; he said: ‘Surely there must be at least this number of righteous men, that don’t have to die’; but God said ‘No!’ Lowering his sights: Lot tried smaller numbers, but, eventually, understood that there were no righteous people in those cities: and no case to be made. Although Lot’s great desire; and attempts to save others; failed, at that time: he foreshadowed the one-day willingness of God to do things differently; and to show mercy, love and grace to the unworthy, as well as to the worthy.
 
Lot’s earnest desire to save people; symbolized the ultimate new beginning: not only of Christ at the cross, on Good Friday: but also, of the risen, ascended and glorified Christ; undertaking ongoing ministries in heaven.
 
As Advocate, and Mediator, Christ puts the case for each needy soul; out of which comes the fulfilment of a promise already made: that of salvation grace, and of ongoing life in relationship with God. Christians believe that Christ still stands before the heavenly throne, and speaks for all who love him, and seek to follow him: and that God the Father still listens; approves of what is said, and accepts.
Jacob’s story is different: of a man whose name, basically, meant: ‘tricky customer’: one who stole his brother’s birthright; and usurped his position.  One night; on the run from his angry brother: Jacob ‘wrestled with God’ (or, perhaps, with his own soul) during which he saw something of a heavenly vision; of how things could be, if…
 
That ‘if’, actually came about, as; from a new-beginning standpoint; Jacob not only wanted; but allowed: a great change to come over him. He was given a new name: ‘Israel’; which means: ‘God strives’; or ‘he that strives with God’. Out of his mercy and love; the Lord ‘strives’ to get people to change: and not only receive blessing for themselves; but also become a channel of love and hope to others. As a changed man, Israel became attractive to the people of the nation: so much so, that they saw something of the vision that he had been given; followed his lead; adopted his new name; and became known as Israelites.
 
Israel the man, foreshadowed the way in which; one day: all who responded to God’s call: and did things his way, would change, in like manner.  They would see something of the vision that Christ saw: follow his lead; and become so changed for the good, that they would be given his name, and be known as Christians.
 
Jacob allowed human frailty to so beset him, and drag him down, into sin; that he could not follow his upward call of God, without the Lord intervening, and bringing about a mighty, and radical change, for the good. Jesus the Christ; deliberately took human frailty upon himself; and raised it to such new levels of purpose, achievement and fulfilment; as to give hope, and encouragement, to all who truly followed him.
 
David demonstrated faithfulness towards God: at a ‘crossroads’ point, in the life of the nation. Faced by Israel’s greatest and most powerful enemy; the Philistines; and personally challenged by the Philistine’s most powerful warrior; Goliath: David was in a ‘make or break’ situation – with all of Israel, dependent upon the outcome of what he would do. In defeating Goliath; and routing the Philistine army; God, through David, gave a whole new beginning to the Hebrew nation, which then entered into something of a ‘Golden Age’.
 
To a certain extent, David foreshadowed Jesus who; not yet the active Christ: was in the wilderness, immediately after his Jordan baptism. Facing up to the most powerful enemy of mankind: evil: and the most devious exponent of evil: the devil: Christ was in a ‘make-or-break’ situation; with all of mankind, dependent upon the outcome of what he would do.
 
However, he overcame the temptations put before him; commenced his years of powerful ministry; and brought about a new beginning; not just for Israel; but for the whole of mankind.
 
In the 500 years immediately prior to the New Testament era, Israel was not given any new word of prophecy, teaching or guidance, from God: but the people insisted on behaving as though nothing was amiss.
 
They appear to have had such a strong sense of their ongoing place in the divine plans, that they did not heed warnings about their neglect of the ministries of outreach and care, entrusted to them. The Hebrew nation became even more introspective; preserving its own traditions and rituals; rather than being outward looking, and serving God, through serving others.
 
Fewer and fewer men in Israel, were wholly faithful to the call of God. Eventually, there were only two left: John the Baptist, and Jesus the Christ.
 
Then John was beheaded. Only Jesus was left - unique! … upon whose shoulders, the whole of God's purposes and plans for mankind rested: and from whom ongoing blessing would flow.
 
Everything came to a point in Christ; and, from Christ, everything widened out again, to embrace the whole world, including us.
 
What about us?  How does this Old Testament history meaningfully relate to our lives?  Looked at afresh, the powerful stories of what went on; should give us great encouragement.
 
Just as God worked through his people in the past: creating new beginnings; and bringing much blessing to bear: so, today, the Lord works through the Church that he called, and commissioned, for his own, good purposes.
 
Being part of Christ’s Church; we are also caught up in his purposes; a great part of which, is for each local church to be an open channel; through which Christ can reach out to others, in love and power.
 
I believe that, to a certain extent, at least; we are living out, and living up to, our call of God: and the lives of those faithful people; touched on this morning; can help confirm to what extent this is true.
 
Noah had a strong, life-directing belief that prevailed: despite unbelief and derision all around him.  We, too, live in the real world; where, surrounded by unbelief; we hold firm to what we know, and try to live accordingly.
 
Abraham was asked to take a soul-wrenching step of faith; which he did. Although, in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ we ask God not to put us to the test: and we hope that the Lord will never ask anything ‘soul-wrenching’ of us: the fact remains: believers are expected to follow, and to obey.
 
As we do so; we may limp along; and sometimes wander; but providing we take each opportunity given, to get back on track, to receive spiritual refreshment, hope and encouragement; the Lord is with us.
 
To the very depth of his being, Lot was stirred by the terrible situation of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah; turned to the Lord; and prayed for them.
 
In all kinds of situations: we, too, turn to the Lord. Not all prayer is immediately answered: some demanding a persistence that is never easy, but always eminently worthwhile. So, as best we can; we ‘keep on keeping on’.
 
Jacob underwent radical change; and became a blessing to the nation. As the Lord works within us; and changes us; we not only become more fulfilled, in many ways; but also more able to share blessing with others.
 
David’s defeat of Goliath, is often misunderstood, and misrepresented. Some people, re-telling the story, give the impression of a small, slightly built young man: but the text itself says differently.
 
It tells us that King Saul stood head and shoulders taller than the average man in Israel; and that he offered his personal armour to David, to protect him from Goliath. He would not have done so, had David not been much the same size as the king.
 
And so with it may be with us. In our own minds, we may not see ourselves as being of much account; but I believe that many Christians are bigger altogether, than their own thoughts about themselves allow.
 
David was just about as tall, and big, as King Saul. We may not be anywhere near the same ‘size’ as Jesus; but he does ask us to bear his great title ‘Christ’, within our name, and within our life-style, as Christians.
 
The New Testament does not leave us to struggle along, on our own: but invites us to be helped and directed by ‘the mind of Christ’, rather than by our own thinking.
 
When we take up that invitation; and allow the Lord to speak, out of our real desire to listen; learn, and grow in faith and effectiveness…
 
… we may be more than pleasantly surprised by the good that he sees in us: and the blessings that he will extend through us  -  providing we are willing.  
 
                                                                                                                          Amen.