Wednesday, January 22, 2003

What is really different in the New Covenant - Part 4 - The Two Pentecosts

Click here to get to the beginning of this series.

The Jewish people celebrate Pentecost, or Shavuot as they call it, some 50 days after the Passover celebration. On this day they celebrate the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai as record in Exodus 19, 20. Centuries later another group of Jews celebrated Shavuot some 50 days after Passover. On this Passover, however, their master and teacher Jesus had His last meal with them. Within 24 hours, he was dead by crucifixion. However, as we know, He rose that Sunday and began a series of personal appearances with His disciples. He promised that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came, which happened on the day of Pentecost.

And so, Pentecost celebrates the inauguration of both the Old and the New Covenants.

Here is a very brief summary of the flow of events when the Law came forth from Mount Sinai. The Lord told Moses that He desired to have a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6). A few days later, the Lord descended on Mount Sinai with fire, smoke, the sound of a trumpet, and other manifestations (Exodus 19:16-25). On the mount, the Lord spoke, out loud, the 10 commandments to the people (Exodus 20:1-17). The people responded by drawing back and asking Moses to be a mediator. In the end, the people did not become a nation of priests. Rather, that responsibility fell to the descendants of Aaron.

Let’s compare these events with the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. Whereas a single fire descended and landed on the top of the mountain and before a barrier keeping the people away, when the Holy Spirit came, the fire separated and alighted on individual believers. This signified the new access to the Father that we have in the New Covenant. The presence of God no longer was no longer remote and terrifying, but was now individual and within. Whereas the Lord spoke from Mount Sinai, it is the believers, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, who spoke this time. Whereas the ancient Israelites withdrew, on this Day of Pentecost, the people came close and 3,000 were saved. Indeed, all became priests (Revelation 5:9, 10). When Jesus died and took His own blood into the Holy Place in heaven, He established the New Covenant. Because the hearts of men could now be cleansed and healed, the Holy Spirit could now indwell every believer.

Here we have what is really different in the New covenant. I will say this strongly. It is the Holy Spirit that is the key distinctive of the New Covenant over the Old. some might object and say that the New Covenant means that we are saved by faith. That is not new, because Abraham is the father of justification by faith (Genesis 15:6). Blood has provided a covering for sin since the Lord clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. The Lord’s lovingkindness and mercy are expressions of His grace. Faith, blood, and grace are active principles in the Old Covenant and not just the New. The new thing in Acts 2 is the indwelling, sanctifying, and empowering effect of the Holy Spirit made possible by the cleansing blood of Jesus the Messiah. From this base, we can comprehend what Jeremiah meant by the Law written on out hearts. Here is how Paul puts it:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:1-11).

Notice Paul’s words “that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). One can begin to see the dynamics of the Lord’s words through Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it” (Jeremiah 31:33b). As we walk according to the Spirit, we begin to manifest a godliness that emanates from within.

Paul says again,

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:2-5)

When Paul says, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3b), does he not imply that there is a “being perfected” by the Spirit? The doctrine of sanctification recognizes this principle that the Holy Spirit sanctifies the believer by conforming him or her into the image of Jesus Christ. This transformation is the work of the Lord putting His Law within us and writing it on our hearts.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:16-26).

Think of all that these lessons have discussed concerning the heart, and the Old and New Covenants, and you will find expression in these few verses. Paul’s words here tell of the propensity of the heart to deceit and sin. It hints that there are laws against the expressions of the flesh. It puts forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit as He operates in the lives of believers and does the work of writing Law in the heart. The work of the Holy Spirit is the work of generating righteous self-giving behavior. We must understand that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is not that I receive, from the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, and so forth. Rather it is that I, by the Holy Spirit, will be a source of love, joy, peace, and so forth. A tree does not eat its own fruit. The fruit is for those who come to the tree hungry.

The Fruit of the Holy Spirit, in concept, is like the “corners of the field.” When do I show enough love, bring enough joy, broker enough peace, and have a character as kind, good, faithful, gentle, and under control as can be? Through the Holy Spirit, I can increase in such things every day of my life.

So the New Covenant is the basis by which the Lord can fully restore all things. His Son came to earth, lived, died, and rose from the dead. His death enabled the cleansing of our hearts from sin so that the Holy Spirit could indwell, empower, and sanctify us. In this way, we have forgiveness of sin, the knowledge of God, and the Law within us. It is for these reasons that the New Covenant will succeed where the Old Covenant failed. Does this mean that we will find perfection in this life? No! Even Paul near the end of his life refers to himself as the “foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15, 16). The writing of the Law on our hearts is a process, which is why Jeremiah’s New Covenant also tells us that the Lord will forgive our sin and remember it no more. How good it is to be in this age!

Thursday: Test Everything; Cling to what is good.

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