The New Covenant
Robert reluctantly entered the lawyer’s office. He sat quietly as the lawyer read aloud the last will and testament of his father. For Robert, this formality seemed like a waste of time. Years ago, he had read the will and knew that his father had left him nothing. Robert knew why. He never lived up to the high standards that his dad set for him growing up. He hadn’t become the doctor his dad wanted him to be. He even failed to complete his college education. When Robert left home, he did so knowing that he was one big disappointment to his dad. While Robert was thinking about how he had disappointed his dad, the lawyer read, “and to Robert I leave...” Robert perked up. To his surprise his dad had left him... “the savings account, the house, the art collection, and the little red sports car that Robert has always wanted.”
The lawyer noticed a shocked look on Robert’s face and asked him if he had any questions. Are you sure that my dad left me all of these things? I’ve read my dad’s will and know that I wasn’t included. I was just a big failure to him. The lawyer smiled and said, “That was your father’s old will. He changed it to include you as one of the heirs to his fortune. And it is this last will that is in effect today. Robert, your dad shared with me how disappointed he was that you did not know that he loved you. He had hoped that you would see his great love for you through this new will.
For most of us, our relationship to God is much like Robert’s relationship with his dad. We’ve read God’s old will and have tried to live up to His standards. But His standards are out of our reach. As a result, all we expect to get from God is condemnation and punishment. Yet, we are not under God’s old covenant. He loves us and has written a brand new covenant, and it is this new covenant that we live under today.
The Cross: Dividing Line of Human History
It is interesting to me that the birth of Christ is the single event that divides human history into two parts. Only a small percentage of the world believes that Jesus Christ is God and that He is the Savior of the world. Yet the world’s calendars use Christ’s birth to divide history into BC and AD & BC meaning “before Christ” and AD meaning “in the year of our Lord.” Even though the world does not recognize Christ for who He is, it does recognize the fact that all of human history centers around Jesus Christ. God, too, pointed to Jesus Christ as the centerpiece of human history. However, where we point to his birth, God looks at the cross of Jesus Christ as the dividing line of human history. Why? Because Jesus’ death changed the basis of God’s dealing with man. This gives new meaning to our terminology, BC and AD. BC from God’s vantage point means “Before the Cross,” and as I jokingly say, AD means, “After De Cross.” How He dealt with mankind before the cross is different from how He deals with you and me today. Before the cross, God dealt with man on the basis of obedience to the law. Today, God deals with man on the basis of His love and grace. The reason for the change is that Christ s death ushered in a brand new covenant. This
new covenant has been prophesied throughout the Old Testament, and the day Christ died it went into effect.
A covenant is the same as a will. For a will or covenant to go into effect, the one who made it must die. Most of us understand this from our legal system. If you have a will, it will not go into effect until you die. This is what Hebrews 9:16-17 tells us: In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. Therefore, for the new covenant that God had promised to go into effect, Christ had to die.
The Old Covenant
This new covenant is different from the covenant that God had established with Moses and the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. After being in bondage and slavery for four hundred years, God led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. The Israelites camped at Mt. Sinai and there God gave them the law for their own protection and benefit. This covenant was conditional, however. If they would obey Him fully and keep the laws He set before them, then they would be His treasured possession...and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5,6). To this, the Israelites responded, “ All that You have commanded we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Their response reveals man’s pride in his belief that he has the ability to produce righteousness. As we will see later, this is the purpose of the law in our lives.
To seal this covenant, Moses and the Israelites offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls to the Lord: When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” Hebrews 9:19,20 Moses then went back up to the mountain. However, before he could get down to bring the rest of God’s commands, the Israelites had already built a golden calf, saying “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” Exodus 32:4. They could not keep the first commandment. Then, as if building a golden calf was not enough, they threw a party to honor their new god. The Israelites could not live up to the covenant. The Old Testament records the curses they received as a result of their disobedience. Like the Israelites, we can’t keep our end of the bargain, either. The law demands perfection. Because we are all born in sin, it is impossible for anyone to live up to the righteous requirements of the law. But God’s intent was not for us to try to live up to the law. His intent was to show us our sinfulness and our need for
salvation. And this is all the Old Covenant can show us. There is nothing wrong with the law. Paul wrote, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy righteous and good (Romans 7:10). The problem is with us.
As Hebrews 8:7 says, For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people. While teaching about God’s holy nature, the law also revealed how unholy and unrighteous man is. Paul explained his own experience: Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet”. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire... Romans 7:7,8 Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of sin. Romans 3:20 The Law is perfect. When it flows through man’s sinful flesh, however, it shows how utterly sinful we truly are. We simply cannot live up to the stringent requirements of the law.
Paul discovered something else about the law; “the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:12). Coupled with the commandments is punishment for a violation. Under the law, the punishment for sin is death: For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Because of this there is no hope under this old covenant. I experienced the hopelessness of the law not long ago.
A policeman turned on his flashing red lights and stopped me for speeding. I got out of the car and greeted him with a big smile. “ Hi, officer”, I said. “I know I was driving a little fast, but I am on my way to teach a
Bible study and I am running a little late.” “ Are you a minister?” the policeman asked. “ Why yes, I am.” I replied, thinking that I would get off with only a warning. “ Well, of all people, you should know better!” exclaimed the officer. And then, with a grin, he wrote out the ticket. That’s the law. No mercy at all. The purpose of the ticket was to show me where I had failed. It condemned me. That’s what the Old Covenant did to man. It revealed our sinful nature and showed us how far we are from God’s standard of holiness. That’s the purpose of the law in our lives. This is why Paul described the old covenant as the ministry of condemnation, and the ministry that brought death (2 Cor. 3). It was a covenant that required man to live up to its righteous standards, and to those who failed it said, the wages of sin is death. Because man could not live up to the requirements of the old covenant, he experienced fear and guilt, and as a result could never draw near to God. That is where the Old Covenant leaves us; condemned and in need of something new.
We need another covenant that has better provisions. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. Hebrews 7:18,19
That ‘better hope’ is found in the New Covenant. In contrast to the Old Covenant, it is a covenant of grace, not of law. The following passage of scripture will help us to see the differences between the two.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an
annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:1-4
Forgiveness under the Old Covenant was a good news/bad news situation. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the most Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of a bull on the mercy seat to cover the sins of the people committed during the previous year. Then two goats were sacrificed. One was slain at the altar, the other served as the scapegoat. The sins of the people were transferred symbolically to the scapegoat. And then it was driven out of the city, out into the wilderness, symbolizing the removal of the people’s sins. That was the good news. The bad news was that the next day a person’s sins began adding up again. Next year, another sacrifice would be required. And the next year. And the next. God graciously gave this system to Israel as a means for them to experience some relief from their guilt. These sacrifices only covered sins, they could not take them away. Under the Old Covenant, man could enjoy the blessing of God’s forgiveness, but that system provided no final solution. That is why the law is only a shadow. It is a picture of Christ and His finished work on our behalf. It was not the reality. Once you have the real thing, there is no longer a need to focus on the picture. Under the New Covenant, Jesus died for sin once for all. He did not cover our sins like the sacrifices under the law did. He was the Lamb of God who took away our sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering you did
not desire, but a body you prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am’ it is written about Me in the scroll I have come to do your will, O God.” First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do Your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. Hebrews 10:5-9
Although the law required sin offerings to be made, they could never pay the price for sin. In order for sin to be fully paid for and taken away, there had to be a perfect sacrifice. This is why Christ came into the world. He offered Himself as a spotless lamb that would take away the sin of the world. As a result, there is no longer any need to offer sacrifices. God has set aside the first covenant to establish a new and better
covenant. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for His enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever... Hebrews 10:10-14 One thing you would never find in an Old Testament temple is a chair. The reason is that a priest’s job was never finished. Since the sacrifices offered could never take away sin, they had to continually be offered to keep covering sins. But when Christ offered Himself once and for all, He said, “It is finished.” He then sat down at the right hand of God. We have been made holy and perfect forever through His final sacrifice. There is nothing left to offer God as a payment for sin. The Holy Spirit also testified to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will
remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Hebrews 10:15-18 The Old Covenant provided animal sacrifices that served as an annual reminder of sins and led to death. Christ’s death ushered in the New Covenant. He died in our place to take God’s punishment for our sins. As a result, God remembers our sins no more. No other sacrifice is required to gain more forgiveness. We have everything we need under this new covenant. Jesus Christ has done it all.
Entering God’s Rest
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Hebrews 4:9,10
After God had given the old covenant, He told the Israelites to go into the promised land. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, however, because of their unbelief. Just as the Israelites were to enter the promised land and eat from trees they did not plant and drink from wells they did not dig. God has provided a permanent rest for us through the New Covenant. Our promised land is in our relationship with Jesus
Christ. Everything is provided in Him. He offers a life of love, joy and peace to all who would receive it. The only way to enter this rest is by faith. In order to rest, we must stop working. It is impossible to experience the abundant life in Christ while we are still trying to make ourselves acceptable before God by our own works. We must believe and trust in what Christ has done for us at the cross. Just as Robert’s father made provisions in his last will for Robert’s inheritance, God has made us holy and acceptable in His sight through the New Covenant.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the Blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his Body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold
unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23
Are you still trying to live the Christian life in your own strength under law? God has provided a new and living way whereby we can enter into a permanent Sabbath Rest. Are you willing to enter in by faith
today? Respond today to God's Amazing provision for your condition!