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.


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