covenant principle the old covenant high priestly sacrifice
the new covenant christ our great high priest
The word used in the Hebrew Old Testament is b'rit and the phrase karat b'rit has the meaning of 'to cut a covenant'. It indicates that the pact or covenant was formed by the ceremony of cutting an animal. In the ancient Middle East a covenant was a formal legally binding agreement between two individuals, to families or even between two nations. Much more still is implied in the Old Testament where the emphasis is on the covenant relationship. - a theme I'll want to return to a bit further on.
The first instance
of a covenant we come across in the Bible is that with Noah. Now whilst
most covenants were two-sided and conditional, God immediately shows us
two principles somewhat different when, after the flood, he makes the
covenant with Noah
1. It is with you and your descendants after you (Genesis 9:12) but no conditions are imposed. It is of God's sheer grace that he promises
2. Never again will all life be cut of by waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth (v11)
Then there is the sign of the covenant- the rainbow. Every time we see the rainbow in the sky, it's telling us that God is remembering, bearing in mind, this promise.
The next promise is with Abraham- the promise that he will bless Abraham and his seed and that through him all peoples on earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). Significantly when in chapter 15 we read of God confirming the covenant (again one-sided, and here with the sacrifice of an animal) there is the promise that the blessing would be though Abraham's offspring- singular, and pointing ahead to the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a sign of the covenant: the circumcision of the male members of the covenant people. But I don't wish to linger with Abraham but move on to Moses and to the 'Old Covenant'
remember Moses most of all for the Burning Bush, for the Exodus of the
Children if Israel from Egypt and for the parting of the Red Sea. After
the people had passed through the Red Sea (and let's note that Paul in
1 Corinthians 10 says our forefathers. were all baptised into Moses. in
the sea (vv1-2)) God led them to Sinai. Here the Covenant (the 'Old
Covenant' as, after the writer of Hebrews, we call it) was enacted.
This is a covenant proper with the involvement of both parties, a
binding together, animal sacrifice, and terms and conditions.
Basically God is offering the people, the nation, a land in which they may dwell, and, if they keep their side of the bargain, where they may dwell in safety. Above all there is the promise that if you obey me fully and keep my covenant. you will be my treasured possession. You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). Then there is the killing of an animal and, significantly, God and Israel become pledged by the sharing of the blood, part of it being sprinkled on the side of the altar and part on the people with the words This is the blood of the covenant the Lord has made with you (24:8) Herein we see the formal, legal covenant becomes more than that: it is the basis of a relationship.
The blood, the life of the victim has been used to cover the two contracting parties. Each passing under the blood becomes identified with it. Before, they were separate entities; now they are one. So God is a blood-member of Israel. Those last two sentences re key sentences. Let's hold on to them.
There were conditions in the covenant to which the people pledged themselves Exodus 34:27-28 contains key words here: Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. And he (Moses) wrote on the tablets these words-The Ten Commandments
When two nations made a covenant the terms would have been placed on stone tablets at their border; one stone facing each way and each stone containing the terms and conditions. When Moses came down Sinai with two stone tablets, they didn't contain five command-ments each! When the Ark of Covenant had been built
they were placed there, one tablet facing out, to human view, the other facing inward- for God's presence was between the seraphim on either side of the Ark. Let's hold on to that too.
We've already noted the terms and conditions of the covenant. Like any other covenant, if either party broke it, it would be terminated, only to be renewed if the injured party chose to offer renewal. This covenant was an act of God's choice. All was of God's choosing; he had made them one people; only to their chosen leader did he reveal his Name. So, basically, looked at from the point of view of Israel, we may see the covenant as: If God does something for us, we'll do something for God. So there was no real antithesis between the legal requirements of the covenant and the fact that it was an act of God's grace. Thus it differed from the normal quid-pro-quo nature of normal human covenants
We also face the
fact that Israel was a wayward people- not that they were unique in
that! To a degree the whole of the rest of the Old Testament is an
account of the people continually turning away from God. But God
remained a God of 'covenant and love' Time and again the Covenant is
renewed. It's renewed under Joshua at Shechem where the people declared
with renewed vigour Far be it from us to forsake the Lord and serve
other gods. Yet they do!, and so it goes on.
Yet through all this God remains faithful; he remains their God, they remain his people. And that carries with it all the guarantee of a covenant pact. The closest analogy is wedlock. The marriage partners give themselves to each other with tokens, vows and promises. And the marriage vows are binding. The marriage relationship is as binding as any blood family relationship, even if sadly it is so lightly regarded nowadays. Listen to God's words through Jeremiah: I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me (2:2), or the rebuke in Hosea let her remove the adulterous look from her face (2:2)
In addition we may see God as father; as father of disobedient children I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me (Isaiah 1:2) and as shepherd of sheep: in Ezekiel we have I will search for my sheep and look after them (34:11)
This constant love of God for his people is a continual thread and thrust, especially in the prophetic writings. God's acts of judgment are for the restoration of the people. Thus in Isaiah we have For your Maker is your husband. The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit (54:5,6)
Furthermore, in the prophets we see something else:
"Behold, 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" (Jeremiah 31:31)
It's in the New Covenant that we see the real jewels, but to really appreciate all that God has provided we need first to look very briefly at the role of the High Priest and of the Day of Atonement.
Now, the sacrificial system was effectively an integral part of the Old Covenant, dealing with the inherent inability of the people to adhere to the Covenant terms. And with all this in mind and recalling the promise of Jeremiah of a new covenant, we recall that as the Lord Jesus Christ took the cup in the Upper Room he said This cup is the new covenant in my blood (1 Cor 11:25) We can now imagine some of the thoughts that raced round his disciples' minds as they heard those words, and I hope to show, we can know a far deeper richness of significance when we hear those words in the Holy Communion service
have a look at the New Covenant.
If, in the Old Covenant, we see the key-point of its institution in the sacrifice of animals, and the sprinkling of blood on the altar (before God) and over the people, then we must look to the shedding of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. His death was the sacrifice.
In Romans 3:25, Paul says God presented Him (Jesus Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. Here was the sacrifice. Here was the sacrifice presented not by man (according to God’s ordinance) but by God himself. Moses offered the blood of animals to God; Jesus Christ offered his own blood to the Father.
Here his blood is shed over the hearts of those who believe. Actually the phrase ‘sacrifice of atonement’ in the NIV is not a good one. Better is the KJV ‘propitiation’ (the sacrifice which sets aside God’s wrath at our sins), and which completely takes our sin away: ‘atonement’ implies not the removal of our sin, but just it being covered from view. Those who have faith; these are the members of the new covenant people; these are the ones to whom God in Christ pledges himself; these are the ones to whom God says ‘You are my people and I am your God’
The key here is
that it’s not what we offer God which ensures our place in the
Covenant; it’s not what we provide that pleases him. It is what
he provides. But this does produce within the believer’s heart a
change. We’ve already looked at the promise of a new covenant in
Jeremiah 31:31. If we read on to verse 33 we have this: 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.
Note two things:
1. God puts his law in our minds. No longer is the law an external weight sapping our energy in trying (and not succeeding in) keeping it. It is written into our minds and (on our hearts). It is internal; a wellspring for action; a source of energy.
2. He writes it on our hearts. If you’re familiar with the BCP Communion service, you’ll now how, after the reading of each of the Ten Commandments, we respond ‘Lord have mercy upon us, and write this law on our hearts’ Actually, the key here is the boundary-treaty. Do you remember that the tablets of the Commandments were placed on the Ark of the Covenant? Well, now the law is placed so that as God looks at our hearts he sees the law and is pleased with its keeping by his Son. As we look out to him, so we see it too. It's there as a constant reminder. The trouble is, we still fail to keep it!
One other point to remember is the mediator of the Covenant. Moses was the mediator of the Old. He it was who sprinkled the blood of the animals on the altar and on the people. He it was who interceded for the people when they made the Golden Calf. But in the New Covenant, Jesus is our Mediator. It was his blood. He sprinkles it on our hearts; he sprinkles it on the heavenly altar. This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20), he said in words redolent of those spoken by Moses at Sinai. And 1 Timothy 2:5 reminds us there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. And Romans 8:34 reassures us that Christ Jesus.is.interceeding for us.
This is where we
come back to the High Priestly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. They
are no longer required. Hebrews 8:13 says that by calling the covenant
‘new’ he has made the first one obsolete
Remember that the High Priest had to go into the Most Holy Place once a year for atonement of the people’s sins, first having to offer a sacrifice for his own. Then if he reappeared safe and well, the people knew that God was pleased with the sacrifice and they were O.K. for another year. But it was an unsure, precarious place to be in. If we string together a few verses from Hebrews 9, we will see how absolutely secure we are.
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption
How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself to appear for us in God’s presence, (vv 12,14,24)
Jesus Christ presented his blood before his Father in the heavenlies and that is our absolute, cast-iron guarantee. Jesus Christ, through his blood, is the guarantor of our Covenant place with God. When, in the Communion prayer, you hear the words ‘This is my blood of the new covenant’; here, if you have faith, is your absolute guarantee of God’s acceptance, and all the other promises in his word A covenant is a legally-binding agreement between two parties. So, you have the right through the blood of Christ - and only thereby- to claim all the promises declared by God in his Word. And because Jesus offered the Father his own blood, the covenant is between Jesus and God the Father.