Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Study Of Covenant, Part 4 - The New Covenant - Part 1

It has been centuries since Moses received the covenant on Mount Sinai, centuries since the Israelites said that they would obey God. But they hadn’t, and now they were reaping the curses that they were warned about; the consequences of breaking the covenant they had sworn to keep. They promised to obey God’s commandments, but they didn’t - they couldn’t - because no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t overcome one thing – they were sinners. They, like each of us, had a nature that cannot be controlled by desire or by will power. God knew this, He knew it when he made the covenant at Sinai, He knew it before the foundation of the world, and He had a solution.

God was about to reveal something so amazing that words can hardly describe it; God was going to make a new covenant with His people, and this covenant would be the fulfillment of all of the previous covenants; the hope mankind had been waiting for.

In the Book of Jeremiah we get the first glimpse of what was to come. In chapter 31 of Jeremiah we read the following:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Here we have the first promise of a new covenant; a covenant that is not based on external laws, but a covenant where God will write His law on our hearts. The Israelites failed to keep the covenant that God made with them at Sinai because it didn’t address the problem of sin; they could try with all of their might to keep the law, but without a change of heart they would never succeed.

Warren Wiersbe puts it this way:
Any plan for the betterment of human society that ignores the sin problem is destined to failure. It isn’t enough to change the environment, for the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. God must change the hearts of people so that they want to love Him and do His will. That’s why He announced a New Covenant to replace the Old Covenant under which the Jews had lived since the days of Moses, a covenant that could direct their conduct but not change their character. 1
Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, also prophesied the coming of the New Covenant.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Ezekiel 36:25-28
According to these verses, and the verses we just read in Jeremiah, God is going to make a New Covenant. In this covenant He will remove our hard heart and replace it with a heart of flesh. In this covenant He will place His Spirit within us and give us the power to obey Him. In this covenant He will be our God and we will be His people. But when will this take place?

To answer this question lets look at the Gospel of Luke:
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Luke 22:14-20
Looking back at our earlier discussions where we defined covenant and then looked at some of he parts of the covenant ceremony you should be starting to see this passage in different light. First of all note that this took place at Passover; to see the significance of this we need to go back to the time of the exodus and look at the first Passover, which we find in Exodus chapter 12.

In this chapter we can see that the coming New Covenant was not an after-thought for God; the coming crucifixion of the Messiah, the Seed of Abraham, is foreshadowed here in the Passover Lamb. The first thing we see here is God told Moses to have each family select a lamb, one per household. This lamb was to be without blemish and it was to be killed and eaten and the blood was to be put on the doorposts of the house in which the lamb was eaten. On the night that all of this took place God would go throughout the land and strike dead every firstborn male of any house where the blood had not been applied.

Now with this picture in mind let’s go back and look again at the verses above from Luke. The first thing that I want you to see here is that this was the fulfillment of the Passover (verse 16). John MacArthur says:
Christ’s death on the following day fulfilled the symbolism of the Passover meal. Passover was both a memorial of deliverance from Egypt, and a prophetic type of the sacrifice of Christ.2
But what we have here is more than just Jesus and His disciples sharing a Passover meal; they are sharing a covenant meal. Notice in verse 20, “ This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.” Pay attention here, this is important, Jesus just said He was establishing a new covenant with them, a covenant cut in His own blood!

But why did we need a new covenant? To understand this we need to go next to the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews chapters eight and nine we see the reason for the new covenant; let’s begin in chapter eight verse six:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
Hebrews 8:6
In this verse we learn that the new covenant is a better covenant because it was enacted on better promises. What are the “better promises” that this new covenant is enacted upon? The promises that were made back in Jeremiah 31: 31-34 (and that are repeated here is Hebrews 8:8-12), these are: the promise of God’s Grace, the promise of an internal change, and the promise of the forgiveness of sin. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

The Promise of God’s Grace:

Under the Old Covenant the blessings promised were conditioned upon the obedience of those under that covenant. In Exodus 24:3 the Israelites said, “All the words the Lord has spoken we will do!” But they didn’t obey, and as a result they inherited the curses of the covenant. Under this new covenant the blessings are no longer dependent upon man’s obedience; notice in the Jeremiah passage God says six times “I will”: “the covenant I will make”, “I will put my law within them”, “on their heart I will write it”, “I will be their God”, “I will forgive their iniquity”, “I will remember their sin no more.” Each of these statements show the grace of God; His unmerited favor on us, and it is based not an anything we did, or can do, but it is based on His covenant with us.

Warren Wiersbe writes:
The New Covenant is wholly of God’s grace; no sinner can become a part of this New Covenant without faith in Jesus Christ. Grace and faith go together just as the Law and works go together (Rom. 11:6). The Law says, “The man that doeth them [the things written in the Law] shall live in them” (Gal. 3:12). But grace says, “The work is done—believe and live!3
The Promise of an Internal Change:

Under the old covenant the law was written on tablets of stone; under the new covenant God says that He will write His law on our hearts. The problem with the old covenant was this while it declared God’s holy standard it did not give us the power necessary to carry it out; it could tell us what we needed to do, but it could not enable us to do it.

I see this promise as two fold: first it is the promise of a new nature, and second it is the promise of the indwelling of God’s Spirit within us. By our very nature we are sinful and we cannot please God or obey Him; we just don’t have the ability. No matter how hard we try to keep His law we just can’t seem to do it, we continually fall short (Romans 3:23). So God, with His new covenant gives us a new nature, a divine nature, so that not only will we want to obey Him, now we actually can.

The second part of this promise that I see is His indwelling Holy Spirit. We don’t see this from the Jeremiah passage, but from the parallel passage in Ezekiel where God says, “I will place My Spirit within you…” Under the old covenant God’s Spirit may abide for a short time with a person, but His Spirit never indwelt them. His promise here is that He will put His Spirit within us and cause us to follow and obey Him. The apostle Paul calls this a down payment on our inheritance when he says:
In Him, you also, after listening to  the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were  sealed in Him with  the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of  our inheritance, with a view to the  redemption of  God’s own possession,  to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14 (NASB)
Now, with a new nature, and the Holy Spirit living within us we have an ability that we never had before, the ability to live a godly life. This was not possible under the law, because that was never the purpose of the law (more on this later).

The Promise of the Forgiveness of Sin:

Under the new covenant God promises to forgive our sins; He says, “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.” This was not possible under the law, because the Bible teaches us “by the works of the law will no flesh be justified.”4 According to R.C. Stedman:
This is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect for us to believe, for it forces us to do two difficult things: recognize that we do wicked things, and believe that God has already made ample provision to set aside that wickedness and continue treating us as his beloved children. Any sin called to our attention by our conscience needs only to be acknowledged to be set aside. Provision for God to do so justly rests on the death of Christ on our behalf, not on our sense of regret or our promise to do better.5
Here God not only promises to forgive our sins, He says that He will not remember them any more. This does not mean that God forgets them, because God cannot forget anything; if God forgot something He would cease to be God. What this is telling us is that God will no longer hold our sin against us. Warren Wiersbe says it this way:
God recalls what we have done, but He does not hold it against us. He deals with us on the basis of grace and mercy, not law and merit. Once sin has been forgiven, it is never brought before us again. The matter is settled eternally.6
Why does He do this you ask? Dr. Wiersbe goes on to say:
[This] is possible because of the cross, for there God treated His Son as though He had done it! 7
So here we see that the new covenant is based on better promises. We also see (in verse 13 of chapter 8) that the old covenant has become obsolete.
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.
Hebrews 8:13a (NASB)
The letter to the Hebrews was written at a time when the temple was still standing and the priests were still offering sacrifices prescribed by the covenant that was established with Moses. But the writer here is telling these young Jewish Christians that not only is there a new and better covenant, but the old covenant that has been followed for centuries is now obsolete. The Greek word translated “new” here is the word kainos which means new in quality, not new in time; in other words this new covenant is of such quality that it will never need to be replaced. So what we see here is that the old covenant has been replaced by a new and better covenant that will never grow old and never need replacing.

Moving then into chapter nine of Hebrews we see the author making an argument for the superiority of the new covenant to the old. He begins in verses 1-10 by reminding them (and us) of the regulations set up for worship under the old covenant. He talks about the tabernacle and the utensils used in worship and then he concludes by talking about the ministry of the high priest and how he was only able to enter the inner part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, once a year. In verse eight we are told that the way into the holy of holies had not yet been disclosed, but he says in verse eleven, when Jesus appeared as our Great High Priest, the High Priest of the new covenant, He entered the Holy Place not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood having obtained eternal redemption, the forgiveness of sin.

Under the old covenant the high priest was only able to enter the inner most part of the tabernacle, the place where God dwelled, once a year on the day of atonement. And then he was only able to enter with blood offered on behalf of himself, his family, and the people. What this passage is telling us is that the way to God was restricted under the old covenant, but look at what Hebrews 4:16 says
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,
Hebrews 4:16
Why can we approach the throne of grace with boldness? According to Hebrews 10:19 it is because of the blood of Jesus. This passage goes on to say that He has inaugurated a way through the curtain into the Holy Place, the very presence of God. This passage continues:
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:22-23
Our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience; just like the promise of Jeremiah 31:34, “their sins I will remember no more.” Under the new covenant we can come boldly to the throne of grace, into the Most Holy Place, because Jesus has paid the price once and for all with the sacrifice of His body. Our sins are forgiven and God will not bring them up again. He has made a covenant and it cannot be canceled; we, who have come into a relationship with Him through Jesus, have become His covenant partners, He has written His law on our hearts and has forgiven our sins.

Next time we will wrap up our study of Covenant by looking at the covenant symbolism we find in the establishment of the New Covenant.

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1995). Be decisive. An Old Testament study. (Je 31:31). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible. Ó1997 Word Publishing. Pg 1559. Luke 22:16
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Heb 8:6). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
4 Romans 3:20
5 Stedman, R. C. (1992). Hebrews. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Heb 8:7). Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press.
6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Heb 8:6). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Heb 8:6). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

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