I am so convinced of the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit that when my first thought of the morning is to marvel at the differences between the old and new covenants, I take it personally!
In yesterday’s post, I talked about the first “by this” of I John, which states, ”And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” I attempted to clarify that Jesus’ commandments are not the Ten Commandments because the Ten Commandments belong to the Mosaic covenant, while Jesus gives his own commandments that belong to the new covenant in his blood.
This morning I expected to carry on into the second “by this.” Yesterday’s beginning has made me eager to see what will happen to look at all eleven declarations together. I can hardly wait.
However, today’s delay, or detour, or whatever else it may look like from the outside, is really the next thing I need. The rest for my soul that is promised in Jesus Christ is applied to my life through the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
What, then, do souls like me need to learn through meditating on the differences between the old and new covenants? It is likely that my next growth spurt “into the same image” as Jesus “from one degree of glory to another,” requires some further appreciation of the grace-based experience given to us through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I set out to consider the awesome differences between the old covenant given through Moses on Mount Sinai, and the new covenant given through Jesus on Golgotha, I found that the magnificence of the contrast must be framed within the clarification of the comparisons. In other words, the things that both covenants attempt to deal with glorify the new covenant in Jesus’ blood for what it alone could accomplish.
1. Similarities Between the First and Second Covenants
Here are some things that are the same about both covenants.
A. Relationship between God and his people
Both covenants are about relationship between God and his people. Both are given to a group of people who are distinct from all the rest of the people on earth. The first covenant was a relationship between God and the nation of Israel, the new covenant is the relationship between God and the spiritual Israel, the Church.
B. Both covenants deal with sin
The problem between God and man is our sin. The sin that Adam and Eve brought into the Garden of Eden cursed man, and brought death into our relationship with God. God cannot have a people of his very own as long as sin is unresolved. Both covenants show God dealing with sin, the first in a way that rests on man, the second in a way that rests on God.
C. Both covenants deal with righteousness
The first covenant shows what would be required of man if sinners becoming righteous depended on our works. The new covenant shows what things look like when our righteousness after sin depends on God’s works. The first covenant shows us righteousness by law (along with the failure of law to produce righteousness); the second covenant shows us righteousness by faith.
D. Both covenants rely on a sacrificial system
The first covenant had an extensive list of sacrifices the people had to perform in order to deal with any manifestation of sin (while never giving us the freedom from sin we long for). The new covenant provides the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the complete and perfect solution to sin, cleansing God’s children of sin, and making us righteous in his sight.
2. Differences Between the First and Second Covenants
A. Plan B returns to plan A
Plan A was for God to provide a Savior. This was promised when God declared to the serpent that the offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s authority through his own suffering. It was then promised to Abraham when God declared, “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Paul clarified what God meant by this when he explained, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”
What we call the first covenant was really a temporary Plan B. It was given four centuries after Abraham, not as a replacement to the promises God made to him, but as a temporary measure to guide the children of God into righteousness until Plan A could be finalized. As Paul explained, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” The law was “added” because transgressions needed to be managed. However, this was only “until” Plan A could be fulfilled.
When Paul writes that the law was only in place “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made,” he makes very clear that the law was a temporary measure, and that it was only in place until the promise made to Abraham could be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
My point is that, even though we speak of the first covenant through Moses, and the second covenant through Christ, the second covenant is more a connection to the promise to Abraham given four centuries earlier than the law through Moses. Part of the glory of this picture is that the second covenant fulfills both the promise and the law. It gives us the offspring promised to Abraham, and the complete and perfect satisfaction to the law given to Moses. Jesus fulfilled the whole law, giving us the offspring of Abraham, born of woman just as God told the serpent in the Garden.
This is as far as I got in my meditation on God’s word this morning. I have not had time to write down what can be learned from the differences between Moses and Jesus, between Mount Sinai and Golgotha, between the people at the base of Mount Sinai, and those at the base of the cross of Jesus Christ.
For the moment, it is enough to enjoy the thanksgiving that comes through God’s word, and through his Spirit. When we are told to keep Jesus’ commandments, we are not led back to Sinai, to commandments carved on stone tablets (what Paul called “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone”). We are led to the new covenant in Jesus’ blood where the Spirit of God writes the words of God into our hearts. As Paul wrote, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
That is what the new covenant can do for us that the old covenant could never accomplish. No wonder “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He’s been working on this from before time began!
© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~ firstname.lastname@example.org
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)