The New Covenant

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
March 25, 2012, Lent V

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

From the Prophet Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah….I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

From the Letter to the Hebrews:
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
“Now the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was written by Lord John Acton in a letter to his friend Mandell Creighton on April 5, 1887. When he ended the letter, the British historian added this postscript: “History provides neither compensation for suffering nor penalties for wrong.”

A German writer, Friedrich von Logau may have said it better: “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”

When you study the book of Jeremiah, you will meet some of history’s most powerful and corrupt rulers. God judges the nations and eventually pays them the wages earned from their sin. No nation can despise God’s law and defy His rule without suffering for it. The prophecy of Jeremiah teaches that very clearly.

Jeremiah was perhaps twenty years old when God’s call came to him in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign around 626 B.C. Though at first Jeremiah hesitated when God called him, he surrendered to the Lord and became one of history’s most decisive spiritual leaders. Tragically, however, the people who most needed his leadership rejected him and turned their backs on God’s Word.

As never before, our homes, churches, cities, and nations need decisive leaders who will obey the Word of God. The politician asks: “What do the polls say?” The diplomat asks: “Is it safe?” But the true leader asks: “Is it God’s will?”

Any plan for the betterment of human society that ignores the sin problem is destined to failure. It isn’t enough to change the environment, for the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. God must change the hearts of people so that they want to love Him and do His will. That’s why He announced a New Covenant to replace the Old Covenant under which the Jews had lived since the days of Moses, a covenant that could direct their conduct but not change their character.

Jewish history is punctuated with a number of “covenant renewals” that brought temporary blessing but didn’t change the hearts of the people. The Book of Deuteronomy records a renewal of the covenant under Moses, before the people entered the Promised Land. In addition, before he died, Joshua led the people in reaffirming the covenant (Josh. 23-24). Samuel called the nation to renew their vows to God (1 Sam. 12), and both Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29-31) and Josiah (2 Chron. 34-35) inspired great days of “revival” as they led the people back to God’s Law.

The fact that the blessings didn’t last is no argument against times of revival and refreshing. When somebody told Billy Sunday that revivals didn’t last, the evangelist replied, “A bath doesn’t last, but it’s good to have one occasionally.” A nation that is built on spiritual and moral principles must have frequent times of revival or the foundations will crumble. Does our nation need such a revival?

Our nation has been pushed so far left; where God is systematically being removed from our schools, our courts, and our government; where the mere mention of His name is looked down upon. The national day of prayer was canceled. Where human life is being devalued: unborn children are being sacrificed in the name of women’s rights; age is being considered for medical treatment. The haves and the have not’s are being pitted against each other. We have become a nation of entitlements. Our founding fathers did not want us to be a godless nation; just the opposite. The phrase: “separation of church and state,” is being used to remove God from our society through our courts. People are starting to wake up, mobilizing and are yearning for such a revival. People want to get back to our roots and proclaim, “In God we trust.” Whether it happens in New England, I don’t know.

But the New Covenant isn’t just another renewal of the Old Covenant that God gave at Sinai; it’s a covenant that’s new in every way. The New Covenant is inward so that God’s Law is written on the heart and not on stone tablets (2 Cor. 3; Ezek. 11:19-20).
The emphasis is personal rather than national, with each person putting faith in the Lord and receiving a “new heart” and with it a new disposition toward godliness.

The Old Covenant tried to control conduct, but the New Covenant changes character so that people can love the Lord and one another and want to obey God’s will. “By the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), but under the New Covenant God promised “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). It is this covenant that the Jews will experience in the last days when they see their Messiah and repent (Zech. 12:10-13:1).

Moses did not lead the people of Israel into the promised rest; in fact, he himself was forbidden to enter the land. Joshua led them into their physical rest, but not into the promised spiritual rest (Heb. 4:8). But what about Aaron, the first high priest? Is it possible that the priesthood under Aaron, with all of its sacrifices and ceremonies, could bring a troubled soul into rest?

The Hebrew Christians were solely tempted to return to the religion of their fathers. After all, any Jew could travel to Jerusalem and see the temple and the priests ministering at the altar. Here was something real, visible, and concrete. When a person is going through persecution, as these Christians were, it is much easier to walk by sight than by faith. Some of us have doubted the Lord under much less provocation than these people were enduring.

The central theme of the Book of Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, what He is now doing in heaven on our behalf.

Aaron was chosen by God to be the high priest, and he was duly ordained and installed in office (Ex. 28). He was chosen from men to minister for men. His main task was at the altar: to offer the sacrifices God had appointed (Heb. 8:3-4; 9:14). Unless the sacrifices were offered in the right place, by the right person, they were not accepted by God.

The very existence of a priesthood and a system of sacrifices gave evidence that man is estranged from God. It was an act of grace on God’s part that He instituted the whole levitical system. Today, that system is fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He is both the sacrifice and the High Priest who ministers to God’s people on the basis of His once-for-all offering on the cross.

The Son of God was “begotten” into a glorious new life in His resurrection! He ascended to heaven in a glorified body to become our High Priest at the throne of grace. When Aaron was ordained to the priesthood, he offered the sacrifice of animals. But Jesus Christ, to become our High Priest, offered the sacrifice of Himself – and then arose from the dead!

Jesus Christ is a High Priest forever. No Old Testament priest ministered forever because each one died and relinquished the office to his successor. Since Jesus is a priest forever, He gives His people salvation forever (Heb. 7:23-28).
Christ’s ordination was unique because He belongs to a different order from the Old Testament priests. They belonged to the order of Aaron; He belongs to the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is mentioned in only two places in the entire Old Testament. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and he was also “King of Salem [peace].” But the fascinating thing about Melchizedek is that he was both a priest and a king! Only in Jesus Christ and in pre-Law Melchizedek were these two offices combined. Jesus Christ is a High Priest on a throne!

As God, Jesus needed to learn nothing. But as the Son of God come in human flesh, He had to experience that which His people would experience, so that He might be able to minister as their High Priest.

No matter what trials we meet, Jesus Christ is able to understand our needs and help us. We need never doubt His ability to sympathize and strengthen. It is also worth noting that sometimes God puts us through difficulties that we might better understand the needs of others, and become able to encourage and help them (2 Cor. 1-8ff).

Our Lord knew that He was facing suffering and death, and His humanity responded to this ordeal. His soul was troubled, not because He was questioning His Father’s will, but because He was fully conscious of all that the Cross involved.

Jesus openly spoke about the Cross. It was an hour of judgment for the world and for Satan, the prince of the world. The death of Jesus Christ would seem like a victory for the wicked world, but it would really be a judgment of the world. On the cross, Jesus would defeat Satan and his world system (Gal. 6:14). Even though he is permitted to go to and fro on the earth, Satan is a defeated enemy. As we serve the Lord, we overcome the wicked one (Luke 10:17-19). One day Satan shall be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:10), and eventually he will be judged and imprisoned forever (Rev. 20:10).

“Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” The phrase “all men” does not suggest universal salvation. It means “all people without distinction,” that is, Jews and Gentiles. He does not force; He draws them. He was “lifted up” that men might find the way, know the truth, and receive the life. The cross reminds us that God loves the whole world and that the task of the church is to take the Gospel to the whole world.

The New Covenant between God and man is offered to “all men,” Jews and Gentiles; anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. It is interesting to note that Gentiles or non-Jews were there at the beginning and ending of Jesus’ ministry. We have the Magi’s traveling to see Jesus after His birth; and we have the Greeks wanting to see Jesus just before His death. These Greeks mentioned in John’s Gospel “were accustomed to come and worship at the feast.” They were not curious visitors or one-time investigators. No doubt they were “God-fearers,” Gentiles who attended the Jewish synagogue and sought the truth, but who had not yet become believers.
One of the major themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, not simply the Redeemer of Israel. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). He gave His life for the world and He gives life to the world (John 6:33). He is the Light of the world (John 8:12).

The basis for the New Covenant is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Matt. 26:27-28). Because the church today partakes in Israel’s spiritual riches (Rom. 11:12-32), anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ shares in this New Covenant (Heb. 8:6-13). It’s an experience of regeneration, being born again into the family of God (John 3:1-21).

Let us pray:

Most gracious and redeeming Lord. Establish your new covenant in our hearts. Help us to realize your saving grace; your redeeming power. Renew a right spirit within us. Anoint us with your Holy Spirit and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Make us bold so that we may be witnesses to a lost world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Cracking the Whip

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Lent III – 11 March 2012

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, I Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

From the Book of Exodus:
God spoke these word to Moses, I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me…you shall not bow down to them or serve them…

From St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Church at Corinth:
The apostle proclaimed, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

From the Gospel According to St. John:
Regarding the cleansing of the temple from corrupt money changers, Jesus, making a whip of cords…drove them out of the temple…poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Amen. †

I received a great e-mail this past week of various newspaper headlines – best described as headline bloopers – that actually got printed. I thought they were really funny – I hope you do as well. Here a few of the best ones. It may take a moment to get it – but they’re really good.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

War Dims Hopes for Peace

Cold Wave Linked to Dropping Temperatures

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Local School Dropouts Cut in Half


Tornado Rips Through Cemetery – Hundreds Dead.

Now these are headline bloopers – note worthy because headlines are important. Most of us read the headlines in the paper, or on the Internet, and if it looks interesting we then read the rest of the article. A good headline captures our attention and makes us want the rest of the story.

I wonder how the headlines would have read if newspapers covered Jesus cleansing of the temple. There were, of course, no newspapers in those days – news got around mostly by word of mouth. But if there had been, how would the headlines have read?

One might read – Religious Fanatic Trashes Temple. This paper obviously had a bias against anyone who might disrupt the normal routine of Temple activity. Anyone who would do such a thing would have to be a fanatic.

Another paper, more sympathetic, might lead off with, Jewish Holy Man Roots Out Temple Corruption. Here, from our modern perspective of those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior, captures our attention because we believe in its truth. Temple corruption dishonored God. God’s Son came to clean it up.

And yet another headline might be, Jesus of Nazareth Cracks the Whip in Jerusalem – Temple Cleansed. Again, this sympathetic perspective acknowledges the corruption that the first paper might overlook, identifies Jesus by His most common name, and tells us exactly what he did. In any case, regardless of the newspaper’s bias or perspective, these headlines would capture our attention. We would the rest of the story.

News in those days, as I indicated just a minute ago, got around mostly by word of mouth. Someone who had witnessed the event would tell another or several others – and if there were many witnesses, many stories would abound. Then, as now, the news would travel.

We have four accounts of the Temple cleansing from four different reporters. These reporters, Matthew, Mark, Luke as well as John, all tell the same story but from slightly different angles. For instance, Mark and Luke tell us that although the Temple authorities were outraged and sought to have Jesus arrested, they held back because Jesus was so popular with the crowds. Neither Matthew nor John mentions this.

It’s entirely probable that the people who went to the Temple – regular men and women who lived their lives in an attempt to honor and obey God – went there to offer sacrifices and to pray. I think it’s safe to assume that they were as outraged – as was Jesus – by the corrupt practices. But none of them had the courage to take any action. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much a lack of courage as it was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness – one man against the world kind of thing.

Probably the most notorious corruption was that of changing money. Roman money, with the image of Caesar on it, represented unclean, paganism – the idolatry of the Roman Empire. Roman coins were not therefore acceptable for Temple usage. So the Temple authorities insisted that the Roman coins be exchanged for Temple currency.

This is how the corruption functioned. A worshipper would exchange a coin worth five dollars but only get in return two dollars worth of Temple money. The corrupt money changers would use the balance to pay off the authorities keeping the rest for themselves.

People went to the Temple to make their sacrifice s for either thanksgiving to God for some great blessing such as the birth of a child or to seek forgiveness for some sin in their lives such as breaking any of the Ten Commandments or any of the multitudes of lesser laws that had been added over the centuries. (Some of these were the man-made laws to which Jesus referred on another occasion.) To encounter this kind of corruption – or any kind of corruption – in the place where they wanted and needed to find holiness, well outrage would be the appropriate response.

I also think it’s safe to say, that most of the people were fed up with it. Ready for a cleansing revelation against Rome and even more so against their own leaders who had sold out to Rome and were profiting from the oppression, the people would have – and did – embrace a man like Jesus who had the courage to literally crack the whip, drive out the money changers and lay claim to the Temple for the sake of holiness. He said, This is my Father’s house – a house of prayer for all nations. You’ve made it a den of thieves! The people loved it. High time someone spoke out! High time someone did something!

The people not only loved the cleansing, they also loved Him in a hero-worship, celebrity kind of way. When they heard the headline that Jesus had cracked the whip in the Temple, people came to listen to His every word. And, for a time, they placed their hope in Him – that He would save them through that much desired revolution.

For them, salvation meant the revolution. For them, only the blood of the slain oppressors – those who had so often confiscated their meager wealth, put down their efforts to live according to their own faith and generally made their lives miserable – only the blood of those evildoers could cleanse their nation from its corruption.

Now, interestingly enough, only John mentions the whip. The others just say that Jesus overturned the money changers’ tables. I like John’s version best because it stands over and against the notion that Jesus was some kind of sickening sweet and sentimental savior, non-judgmental and all-inclusive kind of guy – weak and wimpy – who never held anyone to account for anything. Truly, any serious reading of the Scriptures and of the Gospels presents a very different picture of the Son of God and Savior of all mankind.

Never sickening-sweet, Jesus proclaimed the primacy of The One True God – The One True God who was – and is – and will be forever – His Heavenly Father. Jesus proclaimed and demanded that only He be worshiped, honored and obeyed. The first and great commandment – the most important of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai – said just that. I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me…you shall not bow down to them or serve them…

Well, the people wanted their bloody revolution to cleanse their nation as well as their Temple from corruption. Wash the place clean with their blood. That was the prevailing wisdom – the conventional wisdom – the popular belief. Bloodshed was the only way. We want a savior to led the revolt and set us free – so they believed.

Such was the aforementioned prevailing wisdom. But as St. Paul tells us, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom… Think about it. How can the shed blood of unholy and corrupt men cleanse anything? If the people shed the blood of those who had shed their blood, well all you’ve got is more bloodshed with no redeeming result. Surely, if the revolution were successful it would only be a matter of time before a new level of corruption would set in. A bloody revolution was not the answer.

Many might have remembered the stories of the Maccabean Revolution of just about 160 years before. Judas Maccabaeus led that revolt and successfully freed the Jewish people from foreign oppression. But in just one generation, that new government became corrupt – in just one generation.

In His perfect wisdom, God knew that bloodshed though had to happen. But neither the shed blood of unholy men – nor the shed blood of the dumb animals sacrificed in the Temple. Although the Temple sacrifices had had their function, it was now time for the one, true, perfect and all- sufficient sacrifice that would not only save the oppressed people but also would offer the oppressors the opportunity for redemption as well.

Shed blood was required. Sacrifice had to be offered. But it had to be the shed blood of God Himself – it had to be His own life sacrificed for only the perfectly holy sacrifice – only the perfectly holy blood could cleanse the people from their sin – all people everywhere and in all generations. God had to offer the sacrifice. God had to be the sacrifice. God had to save His people – and only He could do it.

That could be a headline – Only God Can Save the People. That would get our attention for sure. We would want to get the rest of the story.

We have the rest of the story. God the Father – incarnate in God the Son – the perfect sacrifice. The perfect victim. Offered not on the altar in the Temple but on the altar of the cross. Offered not by a corrupt high priest, but by the perfect Great High Priest who was – and is – and will be forever Jesus the Christ.

Perfect priest. Perfect victim. Perfect sacrifice for the imperfect people – that they might inherit perfect eternal life in God’s perfect, heavenly kingdom. Jesus Christ the perfect blood shed so that no other blood need ever be shed – if all the people would believe. Literally, the blood of Christ shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.

So what about the corruption that devastates every generation? What about all the injustice, oppression, extortion, theft, rape and murder that stains the fallen human condition?

For those who truly believe, their sin is cleansed. For those who do not, God’s perfect justice will prevail. Each of us faces our individual judgment. All of us face the final judgment at the end of time. Washed in the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, no sin is counted against us. Not washed in that blood, only sin remains. Simple as that.

And so we live to bear witness to our Lord’s sacrifice, that as beneficiaries of Him gift of Salvation we can rejoice and be glad all the days of our lives – now an forever – as we worship and serve Him in obedience to His command. And when He comes again, He will execute both His perfect mercy and His perfect justice. Until that time, we simply have to keep the faith, proclaim the Word and rejoice in our salvation.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, let the power of your saving sacrifice come to its perfect fulfillment. Defeat all the powers of this world and of the world below. Deliver us from every oppression and all afflictions. Lift us up to the gates of heaven and establish the perfection of you kingdom,
in and through you Son, Jesus Christ,
the only Savior of all mankind,
Amen. †