Pastor Ryan kicks off a new series where we look at how the New Testament (New Covenant) radically changes how we interact with God.
Most people are familiar with the Old and New Testaments in the Bible, but do you understand everything that changed from one to the other? If you see both haves as the equal in how they are to be applied in your life, you may run into a problem plaguing many Christians today: they live in a New Testament world, as Old Testament Christians. That’s what this series is going to teach us to correct. THIS NOT THAT will show you how sacrifice, the temple, and priests all changed to THIS from THAT.
And I know, some of you may be thinking, BORING… but I promise, understanding these changes actually brings the old testament to life as you see how it foreshadowed what Jesus came to do.
Today we are going to look at the big picture of this difference between the testaments: the change in covenant. A word we don’t often use, covenant is like a promise between two sides, like a treaty.
Covenants in the Old Testament
Now when we look at the Bible, we see that God began to make covenants, promises, first with Adam, Noah, and Abraham. But the bulk of the Old Testament focuses on the covenant God made with Moses and the Israelites after he led them out of Egypt.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.Exodus 19:3-6
And now the next 4 chapters include the 10 commandments and all the laws the Israelites were to keep, including rules on how to handle servants, what to do when a person injures another person or damages private property. It included laws for how to treat one another and how to take care of the poor by showing mercy. It also taught them how to connect with God – by following Sabbath, remembering certain festivals, and offering sacrifices. And at the end of this section which is later referred to as the Book of the Covenant, we read this:
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”
8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:7-8
As you continue reading the story of the Israelites, within days of receiving this law, they make an idol and worship it. And then they fail to trust God will lead them into the Promised land when they hear about how tall the people in the land are. So God leads them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all the adults who sinned against God after receiving the covenant have died off. And then in the book of Deuteronomy, God gives the law a 2nd time, thats what the word Deuteronomy means – 2nd law. And at the end of receiving the covenant AGAIN, Moses tells the people:
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.Deuteronomy 30:15-18
You see, the Old Testament tied blessings and curses to your adherence to the law. If… Then. And we see that played out all through the remaining pages of the Old Testament. When they honor God with their actions, THEN they succeed, they have peace, they gain prosperity. But when a king leads them astray and into sin, THEN they are defeated, they are looted, they face death and destruction.
One of the common misconceptions of what it means to follow God then, is that God is continuing his blessings and curses in the same way toward us today. We know we are stuck in an old testament mindset when we believe that the bad things happening to us and around us must be because of our sin or lack of faith, and conversely, that if life is going well, that it must be because God is pleased with us. We tie our fortune or misfortune to whether we are being GOOD Christians or not.
Covenant in the New Testament
But when you turn the pages of the Bible to the New Testament, you find that this way of how God works with his people is dramatically changed. The reason we divide the Bible into the two testaments isn’t because Jesus shows up as a baby. Its because the covenant of how God operates with his people is changed – and that change comes through the DEATH of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus himself tells us plainly that his body, sacrificed on the cross, is what establishes a new covenant. We often say these words here at Ashworth when we observe communion because it was at that last meal with his disciples that we read:
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.Luke 22:20
Do you remember the words of that first covenant with Moses? When Moses sprinkled blood on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” (Ex 24:8) Do you see the similarity? I’m sure this connection was not lost on Jesus’ disciples. He was very clearly saying that with the shedding of his blood he was initiating a new covenant.
The author of Hebrews goes into great detail explaining all that changed as the result of Jesus death and his establishment of the new covenant. In fact, much of what we discuss the next 3 weeks will come out of the book of Hebrews. As to this idea of covenant, this is what he writes:
…the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.Hebrews 8:6
15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.Hebrews 9:15
So we see that Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant, that this treaty with God is now dependant on Jesus and his death, his sacrifice for our sins. And the promise is not prosperity on earth but eternal life with God in a New Heaven and New Earth. But the question then becomes, what is our responsibility in this new covenant. If the first was based on obedience to the law, what is this second covenant based on?
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.John 1:17
In the above verse, John couldn’t be much more direct. Moses gave us the law, but Jesus gives us grace. Grace is unmerited favor we have not earned and do not deserve. It is best described in the famous verse:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
So here’s the BIG IDEA: The old covenant was based on what we did, the new covenant is based on what God did for us.
So when you feel an overwhelming feeling of guilt for your sin or feel shame or not good enough for God, you are living with an Old Covenant mentality. You need to accept THIS forgiveness, not THAT shame. You need to receive THIS freedom, not THAT law. And if your life is going well, you need to recognize it comes from THIS God of Grace and NOT THAT good job you’ve done following the rules.
What to Do with Old Covenant Laws?
But some might say, “Ryan, if we are saved entirely of grace, then is the whole old testament and all of it’s laws worthless?” This is a tricky question lots of people understand differently.
- ADD-ON: Some people would say that we still have to follow the old testament completely – they observe Sabbath on Saturdays, celebrate the day of Atonement, and follow all the OT regulations.
- REPLACEMENT: On the other end of the spectrum – some Christians like to say they follow Jesus, but they let all moral regulation go and say none of it matters.
- IN BETWEEN: And between these 2 ends are many other ways at looking at how the law and grace are connected today. (10 Commandments- YES. Everything else – NO)
What we do know is what the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:1-2: Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Meanwhile, when we look at the teaching of Jesus, he tells us that he has not abolished the law at all:
Matt 5:17 – Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Looking at these verses, it can leave you feeling like not much has changed – that even in this NEW COVENANT we are still required to follow the law. But we need clarity on this. When Jesus says he fulfills the law, he is saying, all that the law says, is pointing toward him. Just like the Prophets pointed to Jesus, even the law God gave to Moses is just a shadow pointing people to Jesus. And so when Jesus arrives, he is the fulfillment of the law – he is the one we should be following and not the written laws!
The Law as a Fence
I read a good analogy for the difference between the old and new covenants:
If you’re a dog owner, you want a dog that stays near you when you go outside. You like to have your dog in sight so you know he’s safe, so you know he hasn’t left you. And some dogs are great at staying by you but others tend to be quick to run off. So as dog owners, we put fences around our yards. With the fence, it keeps the dog within our sight. It allows us to protect them and keeps them near. But even the best fences can’t keep a determined dog out. I had one dog break the bottom of fence boards to chase rabbits. I had another dog for only 3 weeks who was so big he could jump up and climb over my 6’ cedar fence. I had the fence around my yard because I wanted to keep the dogs near me, I wanted to protect and provide for them, but if they really wanted to run, I couldn’t stop them.
Meanwhile, I had a lab who never left my sight. I loved watching her run in the yard. If we went to a state park I could let her off leash because she would walk right behind me. She would play in the tall grass and chase birds for 10 feet, but she always stayed near.
When we think of the law in the Old Testament, it was like a fence God tried to put around the Israelites to keep them near to him. It allowed him to protect them. But if they wanted to transgress the fence, to break the rules, to leave his presence and protection, the fence couldn’t stop them. The law was a boundary attempting to keep them near God.
The new covenant, however, is totally different. In the new covenant, Jesus removes the fence and replaces it with himself. Rather than us being fenced into a space we are always looking for ways to break out, we should be looking to stay near Jesus. To receive the blessing of being in his presence, following him, receiving protection and care directly from his hands.
Here’s the bottom line: The reason the new covenant is called GOOD NEWS is because it has better promises – eternal life, based on the work of our faithful God rather than our weak will-power. Rather than an obligation to stay within boundaries of right living, we are wooed by the grace of God to come follow him, to walk in step with the Spirit he has given us. Rather than consequences for every mistake we make, there is forgiveness and mercy.
THIS life with Jesus is so much better than THAT life of rules. So stop focusing on the rules and instead focus all your heart and attention on Jesus. If you do that, you’ll never have to fear stepping outside the boundaries of God’s endless love.
- In what ways do you find yourself holding on to an old covenant mindset? Too focused on rules? Feeling superior because of your own goodness? Thinking there must be sin behind your trials?
- Why is it good news that God no longer boxes us in with a fence or regulations but instead draws us to the center through the work of Jesus?
- In preparation for the rest of the messages in this series, read Hebrews 9-11 and ask God to show you why this is Good News for you!