I Just Need Something New!
Your eyes pass back and forth over the clothes hanging in your closet. Nothing looks appealing. Nothing “sparks joy.” I just need to throw it all out and start fresh. Maybe I should make one of those capsule wardrobes.
After pulling an old sweatshirt over your head, you make your way to the kitchen. Rustling through the mismatched plates and chipped bowls, you pull out what you need for breakfast. We need some new dishes, no wonder I don’t invite people over to our house.
After breakfast you gather your papers and search through the calendar on your phone trying to figure out what it is you were supposed to get done today. I need a new planning app, some way to organize all this mess. While I’m at it this phone is already way too slow and outdated. I can’t get anything done!
Sound familiar? Filling up every inch of our day are messages that we need something new. Businesses have to sell their products after all. Our consumer-driven world saturates us not only with the novelty of the new, but the dream of all that will accompany the change.
This new set of diet restrictions will bring long-lasting health and vitality. That new and innovative cleaning system will transform your home and organizational habits with minimal effort. Those new kitchen devices will cut your food prep time in half. That new car with all its gadgets and leg room will finally make family drives peaceful again. We roll our eyes at the advertising gimmick, but underneath we all secretly hope it’s true. Maybe this new product really is the answer we’re looking for. Maybe it really will work.
We find ourselves hoping for the same as we read through the story of Ezra and Nehemiah. Together these two books chronicle the period of time where the exiled Israelites returned to their homeland in order to rebuild the temple of Israel.
By the end of the narrative, the Israelites sat under the teaching of Ezra, confessed their sins, celebrated the feasts, and rededicated themselves towards the mission of Yahweh. It’s an incredible story. We breeze through chapter twelve of Nehemiah with a sense of joy and completion. Look what God has done! Now they have a fresh beginning–a new temple, a new wall. They’ve finally learned! Except the narrative doesn’t end there.
Instead of ending on the joy and peace of Israel living out their lives in obedience with the new temple, we’re left with a very abrupt and disappointing chapter thirteen. Nehemiah returns to discover that the priest has misused a chamber in the house of God for Tobiah (a man who had previously been hostile to God’s cause throughout the entire narrative). Furthermore, the Levites hadn’t received their due offering, the Sabbath was not observed, and the Israelites had married non-believers who led them into sin (yes, again!).
The beautiful story of God’s restoration of the temple ends with a frustrated Nehemiah trying to set to right the disobedience of the Israelites. Most of us would rather stop reading in chapter twelve. It’s much more tidy, encouraging, and hopeful. Yet you and I need chapter thirteen so much more than we realize.
Dean Ulrich writes that the ending of Nehemiah displays very clearly that, “The writer did not consider the realization of Cyrus’ decree the climax of redemptive history” (The Now and Not Yet, 192). See, the point of Ezra and Nehemiah wasn’t only the temple’s reconstruction. Instead this story, just like every one in Scripture, fits into a much larger drama that has been unfolding since Adam and Eve took the first bite of fruit in the garden (Gen. 3:15). Generations of people since whispered the same questions: How can a sinful man be reconciled to his holy God? How will the curse of sin in our hearts and the world be reversed?
Ezra and Nehemiah prove that a new start and a new temple isn’t the catalyst for Israel’s “happily ever after.” Though God moved purposefully and fulfilled his promises in the rebuilding of the temple, he knew all along that the temple itself wouldn’t save them. Redemptive history was pushing towards something else—someone else.
One day, Jesus, God-in-flesh, walked into the city of Jerusalem. He sat in that very temple and taught. He was welcomed and loved, and he was hated and crucified. He took the punishment of man’s sin, and in exchange God counted his perfect righteousness as our own (2 Cor. 5:21). He didn’t just give us a new place, a new look, or a new set of rules. He gave those who call him Savior a whole new heart (Ez. 36:26-27). He gave us new life (2 Cor. 5:17).
We know this right? It’s the gospel we have been told—perhaps for years. Yet we can so easily forget it. We get distracted by the shiny and new, and before we know it the false hope of man-centered change can push Christ to the background. We wonder if the novel is what we really need. This new Bible reading plan will get my act together. That new book will finally fix my parenting struggles. These new habits will refocus my heart through the day. Nehemiah 13 reminds us that mastery over outward disciplines just isn’t enough (Col. 2:23).
We need Jesus. Every single day. He’s the climax of our own redemptive history—he’s everything to us. And it’s his Spirit that can use the very good gifts of Bible reading plans, habits, and rich books to form and shape us. But ultimately, Jesus is the one doing so. He’s changing us from the inside out as we abide in him, and this kind of change lasts. This kind of change does live up to the hype. It might come slower than we want at times. Like the Israelites, we must repeatedly return to the same old story–the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.
As much as we hate to end Nehemiah in seeming failure, we need Nehemiah 13 to remember what the Christian life is all about: constant dependence on our Savior. It has been true since the Israelites were stacking stone upon stone of the temple, and it is still true today while we’re doing laundry or sending an email.
It isn’t a flashy new program or product. Instead, it’s the comfortable old refrain we’ll hold on to each mundane day of our life. We need Christ. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
And this is the greatest news: We have Christ. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He’s called us his own, and he’s carrying us somewhere glorious. Not to the temporal hopes of the new and flashy, but towards a lasting kingdom and the beautiful end we’re all hoping for.
Maybe today we don’t need something new. Maybe we need to settle our hearts on the old, old story instead.
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