The History of Salvation in the Covenants of God (Cont'd)
Sunday, May 6, 2012 -
We have studied five covenants so far in this series: the covenant with Adam, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with Israel (the Mosaic covenant), and the covenant with David. Today we will conclude this section looking at what is most commonly known as the New Covenant:
6) THE NEW COVENANT - This is the final and climactic covenant in Scripture. Jesus Himself is the Mediator of it - Hebrews 9:15 - “Therefore he (Jesus) is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” As we said in earlier studies, the “first covenant” is the most common title in the New Testament for the Mosiac covenant, or, as it is frequently called, the Old Covenant, or the Law. In His own words, Jesus described the New Covenant as "the new covenant in my blood"(Luke 22:20).
As with the previous covenants, we will study the PARTIES, PROMISES, RATIFICATION, OBLIGATION and FULFILMENT of the New Covenant.
a) The PARTIES - Several things need to be said here:
FIRST, the covenant is initially made between God and Israel. What we mean here is the New Covenant doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is the completion of the Old Covenant. In fact, the New Covenant fulfils all the previously studied covenants. Jeremiah pointed to this fulfilling power of the New Covenant - Jeremiah 31:31-32 - “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.” These words are spoken, not to Gentiles, but to the literal descendants of Abraham. They are the tree through whom the branches of the covenant come.
SECOND, while the covenant starts with Israel, it doesn't end there. Perhaps the strongest passage on this theme is Ephesians 2:13-18 - “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Here we see the fulfilment of the initial covenant made with Abraham made in Genesis 12:1-3 that "all the peoples of the earth" begin to receive their blessing through the fulfilling work of Christ Jesus - both Jew and Gentile.
b) The PROMISES - Five specific promises mark out the grandeur of the New Covenant:
* FIRST - The promise of a new heart - Hebrews 8:10 - “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Significantly, God Himself had pointed out that this was man's greatest need right from the giving of the Ten Commandments - Deuteronomy 5:28-29 - “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, 'I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken.  Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” The Psalmist also lamented Israel's inability to keep their hearts turned to the Lord - Psalm 78:37 - “Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant.”
The New Covenant initiates a new era when the prompting to holiness will come, not only from the external written law on stone, but from the inner written law of God on the human heart. While this transformation won’t be complete until Jesus comes again, these texts clearly point to the radical nature of regeneration. Sin has been deeply engraved on the fallen human heart - Jeremiah 17:1 - “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars....” A new and powerful engraving is needed!
Notice that Ezekiel further describes the inward transformation specifically as the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself - Ezekiel 36:26-27 - “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.” Then, the apostle Paul outlines the fulfilment of this process in Philippians 2:12-13 - “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
* SECOND - The promise of a unique relationship to God. This has already been referred to in a) part 2. See Ephesians 2:11-2.
* THIRD - The promise of the "knowledge of the Lord” - Hebrews 8:11 - “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Under the Old Covenant the people remained painfully ignorant of God in spite of the external revelation given - Isaiah 1:3 - “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."
The important point to note here is the contrast between the knowledge described in the Hebrews passage as opposed to the ignorance described by Isaiah. Notice that this knowledge of God in the New Covenant goes beyond the knowledge of description or instruction like you would use with an animal, to the intimate relational knowledge of deep acquaintance ("neighbour", "brother" etc.). The New Covenant brings, of course in growing measure, the direct knowledge of personal relationship.