The Covenants
 

The Covenants

by David Lasseter


 

Before we consider worship in the New Testament I'd like to review the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments.  The examples we've considered so far have all been from the Old Testament.  What role does the OT play in our religious lives today?  It is important to understand the role of the OT in our lives today before we continue with a study of NT worship.

I'm sure most of you have heard of the controversy regarding a judge who wishes to have a copy of the Ten Commandments displayed within his courtroom.  On first glance this seems like a noble gesture.  After all, doesn't this reflect the judge's trust in God, having a copy of these OT commandments displayed for all to see?  I'm sure many of the cases he encounters are a result of people violating one or more of these instructions.  Let's take a deeper look at the Old Covenant and see if such a display truly reflects one's trust in God.

  1. To whom were the Ten Commandments given? (Exodus 34:27,28 Before we can establish the validity of a law in a given case we must determine whether the one being judged was subject to that law.  If the law never applied to the person in question that law cannot judge them.  Paul emphasizes this point in Romans 3:19 when he states, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law:”  In Exodus 34 we discover the group of people to whom the old law was given:  The nation of Israel!  God tells Moses on Mount Sinai to, "Write thou these words:  for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel."  What can we conclude from these few verses?  Only the Israelites were ever subject to the old law, and therefore the Ten Commandments (which were part of the old law given to Moses by God).  If you were (or are) a Gentile the Ten Commandments never applied to you!  So, if the judge mentioned above is a Gentile, the Ten Commandments displayed in his courtroom is a law to which he was never subject.  I was watching "televangelist" Ed Young recently.  At the end of the program he advertised a tape he was selling entitled "What you don't know about the Ten Commandments:  Back to Basics."  He began the advertisement with snapshots of newspaper headlines, emphasizing the point that the headlines reflected a lack of obedience to the Ten Commandments.  Unfortunately, I doubt his tape will truly tell one what they don't know about the Ten Commandments.  As we've seen, the old law applied only to the Jews, never to the Gentiles.
  2. Was the old law meant to be in force forever?  Now that we know to whom the old law was given, are the Jews still subject to it today?  To answer this question we will again turn to the scriptures and see if they tell us of the fate of the old law.  Let's begin by looking at the promise made to Abraham by God, as recorded in Genesis 22:15-18.  In the earlier part of Genesis 22 we see Abraham and his willingness to offer Isaac as a burnt offering to the Lord.  An angel made two appearances to Abraham during this event:  Once to stop Abraham's hand as he held the knife over Isaac, and a second time to tell Abraham of God's promise to him.  The angel tells him that, "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" in verse 18.  But to what nations was the angel referring and who is the seed through which these nations will be blessed?  To find the answer let's turn to Galatians chapter 3.  First, notice verse 8.  Paul records, "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed."  So the "heathen" is included in the nations of people mentioned by the angel.  But who is the "heathen" spoken of here?  Move down a few verses in chapter 3 to verses 14-16.  Here we read, "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ" (verse 14), and that the seed spoken of by the angel was Jesus Christ (verse 16)!  So through Jesus Christ (the seed of Abraham) all nations (Gentiles included) would be blessed.  But didn't the old law exclude the Gentiles from this promise?  We know the old law was given exclusively to the Jews.  Well, let's see.  When was the promise made to Abraham?  In Genesis 22.  When was the old law given to Moses?  After the exodus from Egypt while the people wandered in the wilderness (Moses on Mt. Sinai is recorded in Exodus 19-32).  How much time passed between the promise given to Abraham and the old law given to Moses?  430 years! (Galatians 3:17)  As you recall from our earlier study, God doesn't change.  Since God doesn't change what must we conclude about the old law?  At the time it was written it was destined to eventually cease being a valid covenant!  God's promise to Abraham included the Gentiles, but His covenant with Moses excluded them.  But doesn't this show a changing nature to God?  No!  Remember, the way we worship God has changed throughout history, but God Himself hasn't changed.  God's will from the Garden of Eden was that Jesus would come and "bruise the head" of Satan (Genesis 3:15).  The promise made to Abraham reflected the fulfillment of that promise.  The covenant made with the people of Israel separated a people unto God through which the promise would be fulfilled.  Please don't continue with this study until you have this thought (that the old covenant was destined to cease) firmly rooted in your mind.  For clarity I'd like to re-emphasize this point.  Abraham was given a promise that through his seed (Jesus Christ) all nations would be blessed.  430 years later a covenant was made between God and one nation:  the Jews.  In order for the promise made to Abraham to come to fruition what must occur:  the covenant excluding all nations except the Jews must cease to exist as a valid covenant between God and the Jews.  As long as the old law separated Jew from Gentile the promise made to Abraham could not be fulfilled.  Paul records in Ephesians 2:13-16 what Jesus Christ did for the Jew and the Gentile, "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace;”  Jesus Christ came to the earth to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17,18).  However, once the law was fulfilled it ceased to function as a "middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile.  Now all are one in Jesus Christ.  But the Jews cannot be one in Christ with the Gentiles as long as they are under the old law.  So today, any person of Jewish heritage who tries to live under the old law is attempting to revive a covenant that ceased to be valid nearly 2000 years ago!
  3. What purpose does the old law serve today?  Since we know the old law was given only to the Jews and was destined to cease as a valid covenant between man and God, why do we have it recorded and included as part of God's Word?  Please turn to Romans 15:4.  Paul tells us, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."  We have the Old Testament recorded for us and included as part of God's Word so that we might learn from it.  Since the law of Moses (the old law) ceased as a covenant between God and man upon the death of Christ I cannot look to the old law for religious authority.  However, I can look to the old law and learn of God.  Remember, God doesn't change.  His nature before the death of Christ was no different than it is now.  The mistakes the Israelites made should serve as warnings to us so that we won't make the same mistakes.  We see this thought recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.  Paul reminds us how God was displeased with the children of Israel after their passage through the Red Sea.  They served as examples for us, to warn us not to lust after evil things as they did, to avoid idolatry, fornication, and murmuring against God.  They warn us not to "tempt Christ" as some of them did.  God expects us to be aware of the writings in the Old Testament and to know how displeased He is with these and many other sins.  However, when it comes to religious authority the Old Testament has ceased being valid.  In Galatians 3:24,25 Paul states, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."  So the Old Testament teaches us about God but we are no longer under its religious ordinances.  We are under the New Testament, which is the sole source of religious authority today.

Summary

The Old Testament is a valuable resource for us today.  From it we learn much about God and what He expects from man in our worship to Him.  In the Old Testament we learn of the promise God made to Abraham that through Christ all nations of the earth would be blessed.  430 years later the law of Moses (including the Ten Commandments) was given to the Jews and served as their guide for worship to God until Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross.  When He died he fulfilled the old law, destroyed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, and put into effect the New Testament.  Today the source of religious authority for both Jew and Gentile is found in the New Testament.  Only within its pages will we find the instructions which, when followed, renders our worship to God fruitful.


 

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