6 November (evening): The Gospel week 5. The Gospel’s complexity part 2 (Yahweh and covenant)
Key Text: Duet 29:2-15
Have you ever heard someone say, “I believe in God, but I don’t go to church, because all that matters is that I love him!” to this we have the mantra, “Only God can judge me.”
Many of us say this can’t be true, however, sometimes our understanding of grace makes this seem relevant. And then we all fall into the debate of what really matters; works or faith?
Tonight I hope to show you that the debate misses the gospel completely, and it is something that God has being saying since the fall of man.
We are in week 5 of our series on the gospel. You can listen to the sermons online to catch up on what we have gone through so far.
However, starting last week we have started to look at the bigger gospel narratives (or stories) that go through the whole bible. In what I have called the Gospel’s complexity.
Last week we saw that there is a narrative of exile and homecoming; how all of us (and scripture speaks of this) has a sense that we don’t belong in this world; that in a sense is God calling us to come home to be with Him, which is the gospel.
Tonight we move on with the gospel’s complexity and look at YAHWEH and Covenant.
YAHWEH is the covenant name God gives Himself when he reveals Himself to Moses in Exodus 3. It is the most Holy name of God and means “I exist.”
This God who is(eternally), has called men to be with Him throughout the bible, He calls them into covenant and because of this demands of them the requirements of the covenant in order that the relationship can be maintained.
So with this in mind let’s turn to Deuteronomy 29 which will be our passage for this evening.
Deuteronomy 29NewInternational Version (NIV)
2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:
Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”
7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.
This passage perfectly displays the heart of God; a heart that longs to enter into covenant with his people. This displays what I want to talk about tonight; the gospel in YAHWEH and Covenant.
To give you an overarching outline of this narrative through scripture goes as follows:
1. Creation was made for a faithful covenant love relationship with God
2. Sin resulted in unfaithfulness, causing God’s wrath
3. Israel is called to faithfulness but is unfaithful
4. Jesus the suffering servant and new covenant Lord, who takes the curse of sin
5. Restoration is the marriage supper of the Lamb
Now to understand this overarching narrative we have to start with:
1.What is a covenant?
If we read the passage, we gain some insight to what a covenant is and what it is not.
You see we approach this whole reality with a problem; we as modern society don’t understand what covenant means. In fact, we almost lack the language to express the full reality of covenant.
We (who have a western mind-set) neatly pack ourselves into relationships of love and then relationships of law. These two things cannot and will not ever intertwine.
I remember signing my Anti-nuptial contract and thinking this is not something that we should be doing. We love each other that’s all that matters…
We have this societal reality because we have emphasised the individual and driven a consumer mind-set.
Therefore, in our society all relationship contracts are contracts of convenience; in other words, I am in until I find a better product.
Now you might argue marriage is different; however, psychologists today have defined marital/relational commitment in the following formula:
“commitment = Satisfaction + Investment – alternatives”
Essentially I’m in until this doesn’t work for me anymore. This is not a covenant mind-set it is a consumer mind-set.
A covenant is different; for in a covenant there is a blend of law and love (a unique blend). In love there is the commitment of:
“I will be what I should be whether you are what you should be or not”
and in law there is a demand of that!
You see the great fear of covenant is for the other party not to commit; which would lead to exploitation or abuse. Therefore, there is a legal reality brought into the relationship as well.
Both parties agree to terms; which leads nicely to point 2:
2.What are the terms?
Well, all covenants have terms and conditions; if you meet the terms there are blessings (rewards) if you fail (or violate) there are curses (penalties). (Verse 9, and 18) and we see this being set up by God throughout the Old Testament.
Throughout the Old Testament God warns the people of not obeying Him. Essentially He is warning them about breaking the terms of the covenant as this would lead to curse (or penalties).
Having terms is what makes the contract valuable; it is what makes the parties live up to the contract.
The issue in Scripture, or the greater narrative, that we are going through tonight is that God states that the conditions are in place (obey and live), however, throughout Scripture we see another reality; God promises to bless His people regardless. And we simply never live up to these conditions.
Passages like I will never leave you nor forsake you. It is almost on every page of the Bible; and yet you have statements like this; “I cannot bless a disobedient people. You must obey!” However, there are also statements of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When you hear God say “I will never forgive you when you break the covenant” it disconnects with our understanding of surely God is forgiving. But if He didn’t He would be violating the heart of the covenant. So when we look at this we see that it speaks to the very heart of the central message of the bible.
This apparent tension; is the very plot line behind the whole narrative of the Bible.
There is an apparent contradiction between God’s faithfulness and God’s fairness; God’s mercy and God’s justice.
The problem is that Bible seems to give contradictory answers. We tend to fail to come to the biblical balance; we generally fall into one side of this or another.
Either we read the Bible in a liberal way: we say yes you need to obey, but in the end God loves everyone and will forgive everyone. Or we read the Bible more conservatively and we say yes God is loving but in the end you have to be good or he won't love you.
The annoying thing is that the Bible does not resolve this. Judges 2:1-3 states;
The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?
Within this passage alone is this contradiction. So how do we answer this?
You see church; God only relates in covenant; and so we must be asking how can I remain in a covenant relationship with God? Is it through love or is it through obedience. Are the blessings of God conditional or unconditional? The answer is; Yes!!!!
Which leads me to point 3.
3.How can I enter?
Essentially on your own you cannot; you cannot receive the unconditional love of God because you simply cannot live up to the demands of holiness that God demands of his love.
The covenant demand of God’s love excludes us from any hope of covenant love. However, from the beginning God not only promises the blessing to His people, but also keeps the demands of the covenant for His people.
We have to go all the way back to Gen 15 to the call of Abraham. If we understand this, we understand the whole bible.
In this story we see God call Abraham and call him into a covenant where he asks Abraham to prepare some animals and cut them in two and lay them on the ground. Now to you and me this might sound strange; however, to Abraham he knew exactly what was happening here.
Due to the lack of lawyers this was a symbolic right that Lords would demand of their subjects; you walk down the path and if you break my covenant I have the right to do to you what has been done to these animals.
The strange thing is Abraham is never commanded to walk down; rather the Glory of the Lord comes down and walks through the animals.
This means: God was making the promise for both of them and taking the curse upon Himself for both of them!
God was saying, “not only will I be torn to pieces if I break my covenant”, “but I’ll be torn to pieces if you break the covenant!”
And He was… in Jesus!
The whole Bible is leads to this and is about this; a God who takes the responsibility of the covenant and the love of the covenant and takes them upon Himself.
Christ redeemed us from the covenant curse by become the curse for us now the blessing would come to us all in Christ.
This is the answer to all the riddles; this is the ultimate blend of law and love!
Are the blessings of God conditional or unconditional? Yes!!!! Because on the cross Jesus fulfils the conditions of the law so that God could love you unconditionally.
If you understand this (And I am using Keller’s Outline):
a.) It will lead you to paradoxical obedience
Until you grasp the gospel you have a tendency to look at the bible as conditional or loving; but when you understand that Jesus fulfils the conditions at radical cost to himself, now when I look at the law I now say I have to take these seriously; because Jesus Died to fulfil these; therefore, I now say I must obey these with all my might! But when I fail, and I will fail and I do fail there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus!
Therefore, there is a balance; you resist sin like crazy but you don't fall into condemnation when you fall into it!
b.) It leads to absolute trust
In Christ you know that He gave everything for you! Jesus has taken the plunge of love for us! Therefore, we know that we can trust Him!
c.) It leads to church membership
Because once you understand the gospel then you understand that accountability is good for you! We don’t come to church like a consumer the join the church! To be accountable (this is also because of paradoxical obedience).
d.) it leads to us getting serious about God!
CS lewis - Miracles
“An 'impersonal God'-well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads-better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap-best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, King, husband-that is quite another matter.”
When we understand covenant; we start to realise that there is a personal real God who desires love for us; and obedience and this causes us to get radically serious about God!
So have you grasped the covenant heart of God?