Friday, December 21, 2012

A Superior Contract

     So in this series (2 Cor 3:6), we‘ve explored what it means to be a minister, and the context of the New Covenant (i.e. the Old Covenant)... it‘s finally time to define what‘s so new about it! What‘s so special and unique that Jesus instituted a timeless ordinance (at least until He comes again!) to remember how it was “the New Covenant in His blood“?
     Now that we‘ve been introduced to its predecessor, we can truly appreciate what‘s so great about our relation to God through Christ; there are 2 or 3 other passages that prophesy and sum up the New Covenant, but my favorite is Ezk 36:22-28:
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
     Several wondrous lessons can be drawn out of this passage, but I think we can briefly highlight 2 contrastive characteristics between the Old and the New, and 1 contiguous: the power behind the covenant, the direction of that power, and the purpose of the covenant.
God's got a big stick...
     One tiny word dominates the narrative of the Old Covenant: “ if ". What sounds so appealing to modern ears, namely the opportunity and freedom to choose one‘s course, is in reality the death knell of all mankind. The subtext underneath all the blessings promised is “If you obey, you'll be blessed...but you CAN NOT and WILL NOT obey!“ This is painfully proved over and over and over again in the narrative of the O.T.; starting the moment Moses comes down from the mountain, the moment Joshua (or any succeeding godly judge) dies, the moment Solomon starts marrying pagan foreigners... it makes you want to cry over the blindness and stupidity of these people, if the same idiocy was not firmly entrenched in us. We remember Jesus's words of law to the Pharisees: “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (Jn 5:40) and his lament over all Jerusalem (and the nation by extension) "...How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Mt 23:37)  In ourselves, even under a good, right and fair law, there is no hope of blessing.
     So what's a just yet merciful God to do?  How can He be "just and the justifier"?  As an admittedly weak illustration, my wife is OCD about organization;  every chore must carried out and completed according to her exact specifications!  She sometimes wants help, but she is driven crazy by the "unauthorized" methods of other members of the household.  So she is trapped by the maxim:  "If you want something done right, do it yourself!"  God will not accept a hasty, haphazard, sloppy justification;  so He does it all Himself.  You may have noticed the repeated emphasis in the Ezk passage...  the Law of Moses says to us "if you obey... if you keep My statutes... if you do not turn to the right or to the left".  In the New Covenant, God replies "I will..." (9 times!).  Since He requires perfection, and we are wholly corrupt, only God can accomplish and provide the flawless obedience and righteousness we so desperately need.  And this is exactly what He has done in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"You want me to do what?"
     Then there's the direction of influence upon us...  God's instruction to us in the Law is holy and good, but it always slams into this limitation:  it is external pressure.  The Law's effectiveness in producing holiness is utterly shut down by our stubborn unwillingness to follow/obey.  Just as the external yank on the reins you can give to a donkey, you can brutally pull us around by the threat of pain, but no one can make such a recalcitrant beast submissive and helpful.  Moses laments "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" (Deut 5:29)  And Christ's analogy of the sheep and the goats:  those animals are different in their innermost sheepness and goatness, and so behave in different, identifiable patterns.  So since external influence will not manufacture holiness, in the New Covenant God changes our internal makeup:  He gives us a new heart and spirit at regeneration, and we are "born again".  Stupid rocklike stubbornness is replaced by a sensitivity to the Person, character and will of God.  The pressure of God's own Spirit is at work, as He begins to manifest Himself in new patterns and new ways of thinking, inevitably leading to new behaviors.  It is God who works in us both to desire and to do His good pleasure.
     But are the Old and New Covenants totally dissimilar?   No, that last verse in Ezekiel gives us a valuable link to what God had revealed to His people centuries before, and what He desires for all of His people throughout the ages:  "you shall be my people, and I will be your God."  Both in the Law (Ex 6:7, Lev 26:12, Jer 7:23) and in Christ (2 Cor 6:16-18, Heb 11:16), God tells us He wants us for His own!  This is the restoration to Edenic fellowship that we unconsciously long for with every tear and heartbreak we inflict upon ourselves;  to "walk with God" and bask in His Presence, to know, love and serve Him as He deserves to be.  The New Covenant succeeds as only a divinely conceived, divinely empowered and divinely accomplished contract can, remaking us into the people of God's pasture.

Photos courtesy of KairosOfTyre and Knight 725

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