In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“These are the last and mad times of a world grown old” (Martin Chemnitz). A world grown old. Do you know when those words were spoken? Last week? Last month? A couple years ago? Actually, they were written by Martin Chemnitz sometime around 1550 in the first volume of his Examination of the Council of Trent (I:50). Now that we’re nearly 500 years on, the world hasn’t grown any younger. And it’s not just the world that feels older. When we look around the world, it is we ourselves who feel older, and not in a good way. Tired, worn down, discouraged, old. We never can quite forget the things that have aged us prematurely, and we have trouble holding on to anything new.
If there’s anything we long for at our more honest moments, it might be to start over again. I suspect that this longing might be behind our continual grasping at whatever is new, better, improved, or upgraded. Why would we need something new if what we already had was satisfactory? Even so, we always think that, certainly, this time it will be different. Sure, there is marketing that makes you believe you need something that you lived perfectly well without, but perhaps our unsatisfied desire should also tell us that nothing within the limits of this temporary creation will ever provide the “new” to replace our “old.”
No, what we need is actual renewal—to be made new again, new for a second time. When we wonder if all our longing is futile, we might find a kindred spirit in Jeremiah, who raises his lamentations from exile in Babylon: “Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Yahweh, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us” (Lamentations 5:20-22). Unless You have given up on us, and all that remains is Your anger, restore and renew us! To be restored and renewed is to be re-created. This creation was new for so short a time, and then, in an instant of doubt shading to unbelief, everything was suddenly much older and much uglier. The psalmist knew that there is no renewal, no new creation, outside of God’s own work: “When you send forth your Spirit, [your creatures] are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:30).
And so it was God Himself who did the only new thing in this old world: made a body for His Son, using the flesh of a virgin. This new and pure Adam, born, impossibly, from the corrupted stock of His own creation, saw the Spirit hovering over the waters as at the first creation, this time the waters of the Jordan River. And this renewal of flesh and blood and created things spread after His resurrection, reversing first death, then sin, then Adam and Eve and their children. The Spirit’s rebirth and renewal came by a washing, according to God’s own mercy in Christ. He has poured out this washing in all the richness of His grace, upon all creation, including you and me (Titus 3:4-7).
When Martin Chemnitz wrote those words about these being the last and mad times of a world grown old, he was thinking about the fact that we no longer have new and special revelations, like those given to Moses, Abraham, and others. In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now, we live in the last and mad times of a world grown old, and we should not looking for something different or special. The new has come and the old has gone. We have been given, once and for all, the full and final revelation of God. In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. There is only one making new, and it is in Christ. The only renewal God has given—but far more than sufficient—is the renewing and recreating of all things in Jesus. And it happens nowhere else but in Jesus’ death, where He brings this old world to its end, and in Jesus’ resurrection, through which the new world is created.
From now until the day that we see that new world, we have our renewal only by faith and hope. We see the outer man decaying and being destroyed; we don’t see the inner man being renewed day by day. But we have this promise: that what is coming is far, far beyond anything we can see. How far this creation has fallen, how old it has grown, is nothing compared to how it will be renewed. And we will see that every bit of our temporary living in these last and mad times will be brief and light compared to the eternal weight of the glory of God, which we will share. This is why we don’t look to the things we see, because they are temporary and transient. Instead, we believe the promise of the unseen things, Christ, the resurrection, the glory, and the life.
We tend to put our trust in what we can see, feel, and experience with our senses. Those are the things we call real and lasting. Paul says the opposite: what we cannot see is eternal. And that eternity has been given to you in the Spirit’s washing of regeneration and renewal: “[Y]ou have put off the old man with his practices and put on the new [man] being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (Colossians 3:9-10). Behold, says the one seated on the throne, I am making all things new (Revelation 21:5). So when we do finally see Him who is that Image, the renewal of all things will be complete.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/23/18