A New Deal For God's People
This past Thursday, world-famous football star David Beckham made history by signing one-of if not the most lucrative contract in professional sports history. Beckham announced that he will not extend his contract with Real Madrid when it expires in June, instead opting for the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS on a five-year deal that is reportedly worth a total of US$250 million including endorsements. His Real Madrid coach, Fabio Capello, responded to the news by immediately benching the 34-year-old star.
"The player's decision is to go to Los Angeles. He has always been a great professional, but a player who has such a major contract with another team," Capello said. "We cannot count on him." Capello faced a difficult decision due to the size and importance of Beckham's deal with the Galaxy.
"He is a great professional, but he already has a very important contract with another club," Capello said, explaining the decision to allow Beckham to train with Madrid but not play. © AP
The world of sports contracts is whacky and weird. The moment one party or the other feels disadvantaged, they cry "Foul!" and demand either to be released, or to be better compensated. Virtually never do we see any attention being paid to the moral character of the star player being signed. What is being contracted for is their ability to perform in a specific field of athletics, regardless of whether or not they are jerks, or worse, cheats. Do a Google search on Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire to see what I mean.
Fortunately for us, we are not under "contract" to God, nor He to us. The thought is obscene! No, the word that best describes our relationship to God – and His to us – is the word covenant. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th. ed.) describes the word as a "formal, solemn, and binding agreement," and "a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties esp. for the performance of some action."
These all apply to what Christ has done for us. In speaking of His impending death, Jesus Christ described the deeper meaning of the communion cup to His disciples this way:
"This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood…"
From Genesis to Revelation the concept and language of covenant is soaked into every page. Even our naming of the two great halves of our bible, Old Testament and New Testament are better translated Old Covenant and New Covenant. This New Covenant, this new relationship that we enjoy with God the Father through Christ the Son we must understand, for there are obligations that are incumbent upon us.
At its most basic level, a covenant is that which binds people together. Covenant is always about relationship, either from person–to–person, or God–to–people. But this New Covenant in which we stand is unique, for God is at the same time, the author, mediator and guarantor of our relationship to Him. And so we must understand that Jesus Christ is the Mediator and Guarantor of the New Covenant, no longer laws carved in stone, but Love written in His blood upon our hearts.
I. The concept of covenant is dynamic and varied
In ancient biblical times, many cultures understood and utilized the concept of "covenant" to define a wide range of inter-personal and social relationships.
Between one nation and another, a covenant was a treaty (Genesis 31:44-45), such as that between Laban and Jacob. Among individuals a covenant expressed a pledge of friendship (1 Samuel 18:3; 20:8), such as Jonathan made with David. A covenant could also serve as a business contract between two people, such as when Jeremiah was told by the Lord to purchase a field from his cousin Hanamel (Jer. 32:6-15). When a ruler and his subjects formed a covenant, it served as a national constitution and spelled out the responsibilities of the monarch and people alike, such as that between King David and his subjects, enacted at Hebron in 2 Samuel 5:3. And so God chose the familiar concept of covenant to define the relationship He established with His people. A helpful definition of "Covenant" is this:
A biblical covenant is a clear statement of God’s purposes and intentions expressed in terms that bind God by solemn oath to perform what he has promised (EDBW, p. 194).
Notice the dynamic of the covenant: it is conceived, mediated and implemented by God, and is a binding promise of what God will undertake on behalf of those He has chosen and called to be His own. It is of God, from first to last, with no guarantee of human response.
II. The Biblical expressions of covenant
Indeed, the biblical expressions of covenant are very one-sided in the best sense. If it were a contract — where one party performs some action in return for compensation — what could we possibly do for God? God is omnipotent, and already owns the entire universe!! God’s covenant is of Him from first to last, independent of our reaction or performance. In each of the four major biblical covenants — Abrahamic, Noahic, Davidic and New — we see God as the Author, Mediator, and Guarantor of the promises He makes to His chosen people. God’s covenants are expressions of what He alone will do.
We have trouble with this concept, because the closest example that we can compare-to is the modern-day sports contract, and that doesn’t even come close to expressing God’s purposes. We could also use the example of marriage contracts, or talk of sports contracts, but both of those examples do not help us understand God’s covenantal relationship with us. That is because in most of our relationships, we no longer feel the moral obligation to fulfil our promises or obligations. If we cannot gain a clear advantage, if the situation does not suit us, then we feel justified in not fulfilling what we promised to do. Not so with God.
Once God has given His word, He is bound to keep it. By his nature, He is incapable of going back on His word. Once given, His promise will solemnly and totally be fulfilled.
Simply put, the promises that God makes are not dependent on human reaction to them: He will always do what He has promised. God’s gracious offer of love does not depend on our actions or attitudes. Listen how God describes His covenant with Abraham:
"… ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’" Exodus 6:6-8 (NIV)
Whenever God enters into covenant, He becomes the Author, Mediator, and Guarantor of the promises which He makes to His chosen people. God’s covenants are expressions of what He alone will do.
III. The Old Testament and the New Testament expressions of Covenant
The Mosaic covenant — the Law — is what we refer to when we talk of the Old Testament, or Old Covenant. This covenant described how God would react to His chosen people, based on their response to His laws. This Old Covenant grabs our attention, because it contains blessings for the obedient, curses for those who choose ignore God’s will:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 (NIV)
Like every covenant God makes, He promises to fulfil the conditions exactly both by caring for His people when they listen to Him, and also by driving them into exile when their sin invokes the punishment He promised. This He must do, for God is bound by His word and nature to fulfil every term of the covenant, but the choice to either obey or disobey remains ours.
We also need to understand that this Old covenant was never meant to be permanent. In fact, God announced that there would come a day when a New covenant would replace the Law He had given on Sinai:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. "It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:31-32 niv
The reason was simple: the Law was unable to produce righteousness – a right standing before God – because it was based on human performance, and not faith. Like our modern laws, it can always point out where we have failed, but is powerless to help us fulfil it. So again through Jeremiah, God declares what He will do in this New covenant:
"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." vv. 31:33-34
Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Table, we are reminded that it is Jesus Christ who initiates, mediates and perfectly fulfills God’s New Covenant. Our new relationship with God was initiated upon Calvary, confirmed at the Empty Tomb, and sealed upon the Day of Pentecost. Jesus gave His disciples their first clue at the Last Supper:
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Mat 26:28 niv
And just as the most solemn of OT covenants were confirmed by an oath and sealed by a blood sacrifice, so was the New Covenant. Only this time, the offerer and the sacrifice were one, and the blood that sealed God’s commitment was that of His own Son:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:11–12
God promised on oath that forgiveness is assured by Jesus’ blood, and God cannot go back on His Word. Indeed, the Greek word for covenant was used in the sense of a "will," as in "last will and testament." Once a will is written and witnessed, it cannot be annulled or changed by another. Of course, a will only comes into effect after the person making it dies. And so this New Covenant is Jesus’ last will and testament, which can never be annulled, changed or broken. As Hebrews says:
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. 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. Hebrews 9:15-17 niv
The New Covenant, Christ’s will, now demands a response on our part. And as we consider Jesus’ last will and testament, there is only one possible response to the promises that God makes to us: FAITH. There is no other condition to fulfil, and no other way to appropriate the blessings of what God has promised us other than our active believing in Him.
Faith is the only way to enter into the New Covenant. But true faith always expresses itself in action. Those Israelites who heard and believed God’s covenant promises to Abraham were circumcised. Those who loved God in the age of law followed the law’s commands. Paul talks about how Believers gain access to God’s gracious covenant:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2 niv
Jesus Christ is the Mediator and Guarantor of the New Covenant, no longer laws carved in stone, but Love written in His blood upon our hearts. Are you part of this New Covenant? The offer to enter into relationship to God through Christ still stands: how will you respond?
The fact is, whether or not we accept or reject Christ’s offer of salvation, His covenant promises stand. God will accomplish His purposes without our permission or participation, for He alone is Sovereign. But as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who stand under this New Covenant, we are called to respond to what He offers us. Therefore, in a few moments, we will renew our Church Covenant, and the obligations and responsibilities we have accepted as members of this body.
Our covenant here at Stanley Park has as its foundation the Covenant of faith that Christ has established with us through His death and resurrection, and is an explicit acknowledgement of our relationship to one another through our consanguinity to Christ. Remember, covenant is always about relationship. You cannot on the one hand say that you are a part of the body of Christ, and at the same time refuse to covenant with a local body of believers. That position holds no water.
One final word of caution: this covenant is a bond sealed by Christ’s blood that will be irrevocable on your part. Do not say these words unless you have every intention of keeping them. Better to remain silent than speak words you have no intention of keeping.
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Forgiver and Leader, if you are willing to serve Him in this church fellowship, if you are willing to enter fully into fellowship here, then I urge you to participate in this ceremony of renewal. But however you choose to respond, remember this: Jesus Christ is the Mediator and Guarantor of the New Covenant, no longer laws carved in stone, but Love written in His blood upon our hearts.