Tuesday, January 21, 2003

What is really different in the New Covenant - Part 3 - The New Covenant

Yesterday, we closed with Jeremiah's prophetic words, “'I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds.” The houses of Judah and Israel broke the Old Covenant. The first tenet of the New Covenant is that the Law would be within the people of God and that it would be written on their hearts. The Law would not be on tablets of stone or on the leather pages of a scroll. It will instead be an operating principle in the heart. This is indeed new! Under the Old Covenant the forefathers forgot the Lord, but in the new, “they will all know me.” Under the Old Covenant, sin was remembered, but in the new, “I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.”

On our side of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the New Covenant is operational. Consequenlty, we should be able to examine Jeremiah’s text and see its fulfillment in the New Testament. So let us take these three components of the New Covenant:

  1. We will all know God;
  2. Our sin will be forgiven and forgotten; and
  3. The Law will be within us and written on our hearts.

Let us look at some New Covenant Scriptures that illustrate how all these components are part of the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus the Messiah.

“They will all know me.” The presence of Jesus the Messiah on the earth revealed the Father and made Him known in an intimate way. For us to know Jesus is to know God. Note these two passages from several in the New Testament:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3). “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7).

The writer to the first century Jewish believers tells us that God has spoken to us in His Son and that the Son was an “exact representation” of His nature. And Jesus’ own words tell us that to know Him is to know the Father.

“I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” The single most complete treatment of this aspect of the New Covenant is presented in Hebrews, chapters 8 through 10. In chapter 8, the writer clearly connects Jesus as the high priest and mediator of Jeremiah’s New Covenant. In chapter 9, he tells us how Jesus took His own blood into the holy place that is in heaven to provide an “eternal redemption.” Chapter 10 contrasts the work of the Aaronic priesthood with the priesthood of Jesus. Throughout this section in Hebrews, the superiority of Jesus sacrifice for sin is put forth.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:11-15).

“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it.” The first two parts of the New Covenant are well understood by all believers. They form the basis of the gospel message preached today. We all speak of salvation in terms of “knowing Christ” and “forgiveness of sin.” What is not so well understood, because of a widespread misunderstanding of the place of Law in the New Covenant, is having the Law “within us” and “written on our hearts.”

Let me first talk about the misunderstanding of the place of Law in the New Covenant. The way some Christians talk, one gets the idea that the Law is bad. Such a notion does not stand the test of New Testament Scriptures. In the first place, Paul used Law to argue his points. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 to establish the right of a minister of the gospel to make a living from the gospel. In the second place, Paul spells out the place that Law has in the life of faith:

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

According to Paul, the Law still serves to identify sin. A person who is righteous has no need for the Law, but who is righteous? The point is that Jesus Christ did not do away with God’s standards of righteousness. It is still there, it still gives light, and it is still useful. Paul’s admonition to the Galatian churches was that they do not bind themselves to the Old Covenant to seek its blessings, because that path can only bring the curses. Instead they were to “walk by the Spirit.”

According to Jeremiah, and also the teaching of Paul as we shall see, Law has a place in the New Covenant. But the placement of the Law changes from stone and parchment to the heart of man. Perhaps the best way to understand what it means for Law to be “written on our hearts” is to examine Mount Sinai (Exodus 19, 20) and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). This might seem strange to you, because very few Gentiles know that Pentecost is the day when the Jews celebrate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. So you can see that this day commemorates both the beginning of the Old and the New Covenants. Therefore, it would seem worth our while to compare the two events. This, however is for tomorrow.

Wednesday: The Two Pentecosts


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