March 25, 2012

Two Covenants - Mar 25, 2012

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On the front of the bulletin today it says, "Two Covenants". That's what our Bible readings will focus on today, two covenants.

A covenant is simply a legal agreement. A deal. An understanding between two parties. We deal with covenants every day. But not all of them are the same. Some come with conditions. Things we have to do on our side of the agreement. Things that the other party has to do on their side. A covenant with conditions is nullified if the conditions aren't met.

A grocery store rebate is a great example of a conditional covenant. The manufacturer says, "We'll give you some of your money back if you buy our product. But, you'll have to fulfill some conditions. First, fill out the rebate form that came with the product. Then send that to us along with a copy of your receipt and the barcode off of the product that you purchased. Then we'll send you a check for the rebate amount."

If you don't send all these in properly, no deal. You won't get the rebate. This is a conditional covenant.

But there's another kind of covenant between two parties. A one sided agreement.

An inheritance is a good example of a one sided covenant. If some relative of yours writes it in their will that you get all their money when they die, it's yours. That's it. No hoops to jump through, no conditions to fulfill. That is a one sided covenant.

Again, our readings for today focus on two covenants. We'll see that one is a conditional covenant based on obedience. The other is a one sided covenant based on faith.

Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

31 “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 For 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.”

Here God references the old covenant that He had made with the nation of Israel, and a new covenant that He would establish in the future.

The old covenant was the law. When God rescued the Israel from Egyptian slavery, He led them out into the wilderness to the foot of Mount Sinai. There God gave them the Ten Commandments, and countless other laws to obey. If they obeyed these laws God promised to watch over them and be their God. The law was a conditional covenant.

But keeping the conditions of this covenant wasn't as easy as clipping a barcode and sending in a receipt. Israel simply couldn't keep the terms of this covenant because the conditions required PERFECT OBEDIENCE.

With a single sin this covenant was broken. And break it they did. Shattered it is more like it. The whole history of Israel is one long laundry list of failures to do what God required.

But this was actually why God established the covenant of the law in the first place. It may seem odd that God would make an agreement with conditions that He knew the Israelites couldn't keep. But it made good sense. God's whole purpose in establishing the covenant of the law was to show the Israelites that they were sinners who needed a Savior.

That's where the second covenant comes in. And this covenant is different. The new covenant is a one sided agreement where God does all the giving, and Israel simply gets the inheritance. The core of this covenant is summed up in the last words of this reading...
"...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).
The wonderful thing about the second covenant is that it can't be nullified by our failure to keep our side of the bargain because there are no conditions on our side of the bargain. The only way to lose an inheritance is to reject it altogether. To refuse to receive what is freely given.

This second covenant is a covenant of grace. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the inheritance of forgiveness was established. Sinners inherit this forgiveness through faith in Christ. Even that faith is a gift from God.

The apostle John spoke of this covenant of grace when he wrote...
"...the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
Jesus Himself spoke of the covenant of grace when gave His followers the Lord's Supper. He said...
"...Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28 ESV).
Psalm of the Day: Psalm 143 (NKJV)

A Psalm of David.

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD,
Give ear to my supplications!
In Your faithfulness answer me,
And in Your righteousness.
2 Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous.
3 For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground;
He has made me dwell in darkness,
Like those who have long been dead.
4 Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart within me is distressed.
5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all Your works;
I muse on the work of Your hands.
6 I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah
7 Answer me speedily, O LORD;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
8 Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
9 Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
10 Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
11 Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake!
For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.
12 In Your mercy cut off my enemies,
And destroy all those who afflict my soul;
For I am Your servant.

Some find it hard to grasp the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. They mistakenly think that the old covenant was one way to get to heaven, and the new covenant just another, different way. As if the Old Testament followers of God got to heaven because they followed God's rules close enough to earn their own ticket.

But king David had no such mistaken notions. He writes...
" Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous" (Psalm 143:2 ESV).
God established the covenant of the law for the precise purpose of showing us that we dare not trust in ourselves for righteousness. Instead , we must abandon our own efforts and trust in God for rescue.

In His Word, God repeatedly tells us that we are NOT righteous. Our works condemn us, they don't save us.

In Isaiah 64 it says...
" 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).
In Romans 3 it says...
" 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Romans 3:20 NIV).
In 2 Corinthians 5 it says...

" 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

Through faith in Christ we are declared as righteous as God Himself! Our righteousness comes as a gift from God, not as something earned through our keeping of His law.

This is why God counted sinful king David as righteous. David trusted God's promise to deliver him from danger in life, and to deliver him from his own sinfulness through the Savior that God had promised to send.

David expresses this trust when he says...
" Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust;" (Psalm 143:8 NKJV).
Gospel History: John 12:20-33 (NASB)

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast;
21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
25 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.
26 “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
28 “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
29 So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.
31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.
32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

Like I said earlier, the old covenant of the law was a covenant which had conditions. Keep the laws of God and God will be your God. But it was impossible for sinners to obey God's law perfectly, so this covenant was broken.

But Jesus kept the covenant of the law for us. His whole life can be summed up in one word - obedience. He was obedient to His heavenly Father in everything he said, did and thought. He kept the law of His Father perfectly. He was sinless.

Theologians sometimes divide the obedience of Christ Jesus into two parts. Active obedience and passive obedience. The active part is what He did in life. All He DID in word and deed. The passive part is what He did on the cross, when he chose to submit Himself to torture, hell and death though He deserved none of these things.

Jesus was looking forward to the passive obedience of suffering on the cross when He said,
"Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27 NASB).
Instead of seeking to escape the suffering to come, Jesus submitted to the Father's will saying,
" Father, glorify Your name" (John 12:28 NASB).
And God the Father responded to Jesus' expression of total obedience by saying,
"...I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (John 12:28 NASB).
The Father had been glorified by His Son's perfect active obedience to this point. And in His Son's willing suffering on the cross, the Father's name would be glorified AGAIN.

Through Jesus' obedience, our disobedience would be canceled. And in the new covenant of grace, founded on the cross, Christ's obedience becomes our own.

In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote...
" 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11 ESV).
NT Letter: Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV)

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...

This last reading from the book of Hebrews emphasizes the real struggle that Jesus went through. Obedience is easy when the command that you're following is pleasant. Full obedience is learned when the command is painful to carry out.

When we think of the fact that Jesus was truly God, perhaps we get the idea that His life was easy. That it was no big deal for GOD to endure the crucifixion. But when we remember that He was also fully human, it looks a little harder to do what He did. To be absolutely obedient to God the Father in thought, word and deed - even while He was being scourged, spit upon, mocked, beaten and crucified.

Through these things the MAN Jesus learned what complete obedience means - through experience. And because He did, His mission was perfected. Finished. Completed. Accomplished.

Through His perfect obedience, active and passive, you and I have received eternal salvation.

The writer of Hebrews ends our last reading with a curious phrase.
"...once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him..." (Hebrews 5:9 NIV).
What does it mean to "obey" Jesus?

The Greek helps us out. The Greek word for "obey" that we find here is made from two words put together: "hupa" and "ahu-oh". "Under" + "listen". Simply put, to "obey" Jesus means to "under-listen". To humbly accept what He says.

Like it says in James...
"...receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21 ESV).

The covenant of the law was founded on obedience. And because sinners could not obey, that covenant was broken. But the new covenant is based on what we might call "the obedience of faith". Through the gift of faith, God gives us the righteousness which we could never have obtained through the keeping the law.

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for the covenant of the law. Thank you for showing us your high standards, and the impossibility of our keeping your law. But thank you even more for the covenant of grace. Thank you Lord Jesus, for your stolid obedience in the face of horrible pain. Thank you for not just being our greatest example, but for being our great redeemer. Increase our joy and peace in the gift of forgiveness you've given us. And through your Holy Spirit, produce fruits of faith in our lives which bring glory to God. Produce fruits of faith which loudly proclaim "thank you" to our great God and Savior. Amen.

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