Christmas 2017 3. Covenant: God Pursues
Jeremiah 31: 31 - 34 We’ve been learning in our “Christmas: From Creation to Consummation” series that it’s helpful to see the whole story of Scripture as God pursuing people who have been running from Him and ruining their lives in the process. We’ve moved from the creation to the link between the opening verses of Genesis and the opening verses in the Gospel of John. We learned that if want hope in order to cope we must hold onto the past promises of God, we must lean into God’s present provisions and we’re to look forward to future fruit. Today we’re going to retell God’s salvation story using the major covenants. Properly understood, the Old and New Testaments are really first and second Covenants. In fact, the word “testament” is Latin for Covenant. God’s response to our rebellion is to reach out in relationship by making covenants. Covenants address the catastrophe of the fall, and they all point to Christmas and the Cross. Someone has defined a covenant as a “life-and-death relationship with God on His terms.” There’s no bargaining or negotiating. God conceives the covenant and He confirms it. The foundation of all of God’s covenants with His people is love. Covenant love is described in various terms but the most common is the Hebrew word hesed, which communicates the idea of faithful love in action. Lamentations 3: 22: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” “God loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” Let’s walk through the various covenants and see how they are completed in Christ.
1. The Covenant with Noah Genesis 6: 5, 6 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Because sin was so out of control, God decided to wipe the world out with a flood. Genesis 6: 11 sounds like our society today: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” Christmas only makes sense against the backdrop of how corrupt we are. The incarnation is filled with meaning precisely because of the evil in human hearts. The Saviour was sent to save sinners. But I’m getting ahead of myself. God then unleashed a worldwide flood but Noah and his family members were saved because they entered the Ark. Noah is given the same mission that was communicated to Adam - “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God then makes a covenant with Noah - Genesis 9: 11: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is why the rainbow is so significant in God’s salvation story: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Genesis 9: 16). The first explicit mention of covenant refers to the initiative taken by God to enter into relationship with human beings, despite their depravity.
2. The Covenant with Abraham Genesis 12: 1 - 3 “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” This covenant is reaffirmed in chapter 15, where God initiates an irreversible relationship with Abraham. “A covenant is a means to establish a binding relationship where none existed before, based on faithfulness to a solemn vow.” The background to this is both gripping and a bit gross. Typically two parties would take a covenant walk through the blood, symbolizing that if either one broke it, they would end up just like the animals. Abraham may have been waiting to take this walk with God but amazingly God puts him to sleep. God took the blood walk alone, showing that He signed it for both of them. The message is clear. God’s covenant with Abraham is based on who God is, not who Abraham is or what Abraham does. This covenant with Abraham is repeated and passed along to his son Isaac. We can follow God’s covenant promise from Noah to Abraham to Isaac and then to his son Jacob, who had 12 sons, Joseph being one of them.
3. The Covenant with Moses During the time of Joseph, the Israelites move to Egypt to escape the ravages of a famine. A different Pharaoh comes to power and ends up enslaving the Israelites. After being in bondage for 400 years, the people cry out to the Lord and we hear how God responds in Exodus 2: 24, 25 “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” It doesn’t take long for the people to stray as they end up worshipping a golden calf. God continues to pursue them and renews His covenant with them. As you may know from reading the Old Testament, God’s people don’t keep their part of the deal as they continuously break covenant with Him. As a result of God’s covenant with Noah sinners got another chance to multiply and fill the earth. Through His covenant with Abraham, his descendants became a nation. In God’s covenant with Moses, God’s people were planted in the Promised Land. This set the stage for the establishment of God’s covenant with David.
4. The Covenant with David 2 Samuel 7: 12, 13 “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” After David dies, Solomon’s sins trip him up. If you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles, you see that the covenant promise remains front and centre but king after king disobeys and disqualifies himself. Because of this there developed a longing for a coming king who could fulfill all the conditions of the covenant and sit on David’s throne to rule and reign forever. The problem was that no earthly king was qualified to do so. Before we leave the Old Testament, let’s jump over –
5. The New Covenant Jeremiah 31: 31 - 33 “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. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The prophets predicted the coming of a king and a new covenant but it seemed like nothing was happening. Almost 1,000 years had passed since King David ruled and it was now 4 centuries after Malachi’s last message. While some had lost hope, others held on, longing for a visitation from God. Surely God would keep His covenant, wouldn’t He?
Christ the Covenant Keeper Luke 1 Fast forward to Luke Ch. 1. As Zechariah looks down at his baby boy named John, he knows that help was on the way. The long wait was now over! Check out how Zechariah links the coming of his son John and the coming of Jesus to the whole idea of covenant – v. 72, 73 “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham...” Gabriel was sent – v. 27 “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David…” Gabriel gave God’s message to Mary – v. 31 – 33 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” As Mary contemplates all that the angel said to her, she breaks out into song, linking Christmas to the fulfillment of covenant – v. 54, 55 “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Joseph - 2: 4 “…because he was of the house and lineage of David…” Check out how the opening verse of the Gospel of Matthew links the coming of Christ to the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with David: Matthew 1: 1 “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” King David is listed 5 times in the family tree of Jesus found in Matthew 1. Why is that? Because first and foremost, Jesus Christ is a direct descendant of David and therefore qualified to be the eternal king. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream - Matthew 1: 20 “Joseph, son of David, do not fear…” Jesus asked the Pharisees a question - Matthew 22: 41, 42 “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’” After Jesus healed a man - Matthew 12: 23 “And all the people were amazed, and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’” Do you remember what the people proclaimed on Palm Sunday? Matthew 21: 9 “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Do you remember what was placed on the cross over the head of Jesus? John 19: 19 “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’” The Apostle Paul understood the covenant connection to Christ - Romans 1: 3 “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.” Jesus is the eternal son of David and He also ushers in the new covenant. When Jesus ate the final Passover meal with His closest followers He said – Matthew 26: 28 “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke 22: 20 “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Covenant Commitments The coming of Christ is connected to the fulfillment of the covenants in the Old Testament. Here are 3 covenant commitments that we’re called to keep - 1. Keep the covenant of marriage. If you are married, you are in a covenant commitment with not only your spouse, but with God Himself. Don’t enter this covenant lightly and don’t break it flippantly. 2. Renew your covenant commitment with the Lord. If you’ve been drifting, it’s time to recommit to a covenant commitment with the Lord. What kind of covenant recommitment do you need to make today? 3. Share the message of Christmas as a minister of the New Covenant. 2 Corinthians 3: 6 - we are all “ministers of a new covenant.” With whom will you share that message between now and Christmas? Give the gift of Christ, the Covenant Keeper.
Benediction Hebrews 13: 20: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”