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Lesson 1 – Written Transcript
It is important to our quest for authentic Christianity for us to understand that, throughout history, whenever God has entered into a relationship with people, He has always based that relationship on a covenant. The reason for this is two-fold: first, so that the holiness of God is protected; and, second, so that people can be constantly reassured of their relationship with God.
God’s holiness is protected by covenant because every covenant comes with terms. When we talk about the terms of a covenant we mean, “provisions that determine the nature and scope of an agreement” (Term, 2013). Another word for terms is the word, “conditions,” meaning: “a premise upon which the fulfillment of an agreement depends” (Condition, 2013).
Because God is altogether holy and righteous—“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5, NASB)—He cannot, will not, indiscriminately enter into a close, intimate, personal relationship with sinful beings. This is why the Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death [spiritual separation from God]” (Romans 6:23, NASB). However, God, in His great wisdom, has set forth certain terms—conditions—in every covenant that He has ever made with humanity in order to ensure that His holiness will not be violated while, at the same time, allowing Him to express His love and enter into a loving relationship with His people. To better understand how all this works, we need to consider a very important aspect of Bible teaching—God’s working through covenant—by taking a look at the three major covenants that God has employed over the course of Biblical history in order to accomplish His will with regard to the redemption of humanity.
God’s Covenant With Abraham
(The Abrahamic Covenant)
God’s covenant with Abraham, sometimes called the Abrahamic Covenant, was first inaugurated back in that period of time that is often referred to as the Patriarchal Dispensation—that period of Bible history from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden up until the great exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt and the giving of the Law of Moses on Mt. Sinai. However, as we shall see, certain aspects of the covenant God made with Abraham thousands of years ago are still very much in effect to this very day.
During that first period of Bible history, civilization developed rapidly. Great cities and mighty nations emerged. While God certainly had His prophets, and even His priests, scattered among the nations to reveal His will to humanity, He chose to deal more specifically with families and tribes through the heads of household, or patriarchs. But of all the families on the earth, God chose one of the least likely individuals—an old man who had no children, and whose aged wife was barren—to become, arguably, the greatest patriarch in all of human history. God’s call to Abraham can be found very early in scripture. In Genesis Chapter 12 we read:
Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
(Genesis 12:1-3, NASB)
In this passage of scripture, we can see that God’s covenant with Abraham was predicated on three great promises that God made to him. God promised to make of Abraham a great nation. God also promised to give to Abraham and his descendants all the land through which He would be leading him; including a new land to which He was leading him. Sometimes, Bible scholars combine these two promises into one and refer to it as the “Nation-Land Promise.” But then, of special note, God also declared His divine intention that it would be through Abraham that “all the families of the earth would be blessed.” This promise is sometimes referred to as the “Family Blessing Promise,” or sometimes the “Spiritual Seed Promise,” and it is a promise that includes you and me.
But why would God choose this particular person to become the great patriarch through which He would work to bring about His plan for the redemption of humanity? Well, thousands of years later, the writer of the book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, shares this insight with us:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Hebrews 11:8-12, NIV
According to this passage of scripture, God chose this beautiful old couple, who were physically incapable of having any children, to become the mother and father of innumerable children, and the progenitors of a mighty nation that continues to grow and flourish to this very day, not because they were in any way perfect or holy, but because of their heart for God—they were people of faith; people who considered God faithful to His promises. God used the frailty of their bodies in their old age to demonstrate His sustaining power. He kept Sarah’s womb barren until old age so that He could demonstrate that the child that would one day be born to her was no accident, it was not happenstance; it was due to the working of God—it was the fulfillment of a promise. However, God didn’t want to make such promises to just anyone; He wanted to give His promises to people of faith. He didn’t want to enter into a covenant relationship with just anyone; He wanted to enter into this personal and intimate relationship with people who had a heart for Him.
After making these incredible promises to Abraham, God went on to seal His promises with a formal, solemn, and binding covenant. On one dark and mysterious night, the Lord held a very strange, and somewhat frightening, covenant inauguration ceremony for Abraham. We read:
So He [God] said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him… It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.’
(Genesis 15:9-17, NASB)
As we can see, the initiation of the covenant that God made with Abraham was steeped in death; which, to us, might seem like a strange way to officially inaugurate or ratify a covenant. But God had His reasons for doing it this way.
First, the ceremony was, likely, not particularly odd to Abraham because in the Chaldean culture of the Mesopotamian River Valley, it was a common practice for two parties to “cut a covenant” between them by slaying an animal, splitting it, and then walking together between the two halves. It is believed that this practice reinforced both the solemn severity and the binding nature of the covenant by illustrating the concept that the fate of the slain animal would, or at least should, also be the fate of the one who would renege on the agreement and deliberately break the covenant (Melough, 2001).
But of even greater importance, is what the idea of “blood sacrifice” has always meant throughout Bible history. Since the very beginning of recorded history, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the slaying of the animals whose skins were used to cover their nakedness, animals have been used for the atonement of humanities iniquity. In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22, NIV).
While God is, indeed, the very essence of holy perfection, Abraham certainly was not; nor would his physical, fleshly descendants ever be. And, as we have seen, God cannot, will not, arbitrarily enter into any close, binding, formal relationship with a sinful being—not even someone with a heart like Abraham’s. God’s pure and unimaginable holiness, as well as His divine justice, simply will not permit that. Therefore, in order to be able to enter into a covenant relationship with Abraham, it was first necessary to make provision for God’s holiness and for the satisfaction of God’s justice; which has always required that all sin, all wickedness, every act of iniquity be paid for with nothing less than a death.
Does that sound a bit severe to you? Human beings, at least in our modern culture, seem to have difficulty comprehending and accepting such a degree of holiness; or appreciating the extreme demands of divine justice. But we need to remember that humanity’s attempts at rationalizing sin do not change the nature of divinity, the character of God, or the demands of His holy law.
So animals were killed—blood was spilled—and their bodies were cut in half with each side of the carcass laying opposite the other; illustrating that the covenant represented both parties—God and Abraham. The halves of the bodies that were lined up on one side symbolized God side of the covenant; and the fact that because these sacrifices had been offered, God’s justice was being satisfied and His holiness protected. He could therefore allow Himself to enter into a close and binding covenant relationship with Abraham.
The halves of the bodies lined up on the other side symbolized Abraham’s side of the covenant; and the fact that, because blood had been shed, atonement for sin was being made and Abraham could be considered, by God’s grace, righteous because he was faithful—even though he was, still, a sinful human being.
Of great significance to these matters, we must realize that the declaration of righteousness that God was willing to attribute to Abraham was not based on the animal sacrifices themselves, but rather, on what those animal sacrifices, and every sacrifice ever offered throughout Bible history, actually prophesied—the eventual coming of the Messiah.
You see, virtually everything that God did with, for, and through His people back in Old Testament days carried with it some aspect of Messianic prophecy. Every animal sacrifice that was ever offered, from Adam up to the time of Christ, including these animal sacrifices required of Abraham for the inauguration of the covenant, symbolized and prophesied, either wholly or marginally, the coming sacrifice of Christ at the cross. Animal sacrifices were never about simply appeasing the wrath of God with blood offerings; rather, they were all about celebrating the grace of God by foreshadowing the eventual coming of the Messiah who would, with His own blood, provide for the redemption of God’s faithful people everywhere and for all time. It was important, therefore, that blood be spilled in the inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant because this covenant would find it’s ultimate fulfillment in the coming Messianic covenant; and the New Covenant in Christ would be deeply rooted in this covenant that God had made with Abraham.
The smoking oven and the flaming torch in Abraham’s night vision actually represent certain aspects of the divine nature and character of God. The smoking oven, or cooking pot, which very likely consumed the carcasses of the sacrifices as it passed between them, signaled that God had, indeed, accepted the sacrifices and was, therefore, willing to formally ratify the covenant. However, the fact that it was a “smoking” oven also represented the all consuming fury of God’s justice in the relentless pursuit of the satisfaction of executing retribution for iniquity. In the context of God’s divine power and great glory, the New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29, NASB).
The flaming torch, or lamp, represents God’s guiding light through the truth of His word; as when in the Bible we read, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB), or when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
But it is important for us to remember that God didn’t stop with just the inauguration ceremony and leave it at that. Rather, as with every covenant, He went on to institute a formal reminder, or token, of the covenant that He had made with Abraham; a token that neither Abraham nor his descendants would ever be able to easily forget. The Bible says:
God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.’
(Genesis 17:9-11, NASB)
God’s Covenant With Israel
(The Mosaic Covenant)
Many years later, after they had become a great nation, God entered into another covenant with the descendants of Abraham when He sent His prophet, Moses, to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the land that He had promised to give to Abraham. This covenant corresponded to the second great dispensation of Bible history from the time of the giving of the Law of Moses on Mt. Sinai up until the death of Christ on the cross. During this period of history, God no longer dealt with humanity through the heads of households, family by family. Rather, God now made it His intention to covenant with an entire nation of people. And the covenant to which He called them, like the one He made with Abraham two thousand years earlier, was predicated on some wonderful promises that God made to His people, Israel, if they would remain faithful to Him. We read:
Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
(Exodus 19:3-6, NASB)
God’s promise to Israel was to make them a nation unlike any other that had ever existed anywhere else on earth. He intended to claim them, the whole nation of them, as His very own possession; to make of them a holy nation—unique, set apart, consecrated to God—and to protect them and bless them accordingly. And, just as He did with Abraham, God called Moses and all the children of Israel to participate together with Him in a beautiful and wondrous inauguration ceremony; a ceremony that was, again, steeped in blood. The Bible says:
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!’ Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’ Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.
(Exodus 24:3-11, NASB)
Just as with the inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant, the inauguration of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was steeped in blood; for it also required animal sacrifices. According to this passage of scripture, when the mighty bulls were slaughtered, Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins and the other half he sprinkled on an alter. This represented both sides of the covenant that God and His people were entering into together.
The blood on the alter represented God’s side of the covenant and the fact that, because these deaths had taken place and blood had been spilled, God’s justice was being appeased and His holiness was being protected; thus allowing Him to enter into a formal and binding covenant relationship with these people.
The blood that had been put into the basins was sprinkled over all the people. This represented Israel’s side of the covenant and the fact that atonement—payment for sin—was taking place because the blood, which represented and prophesied the eventual coming of their Messiah, had been shed on their behalf; thus allowing them to enter into an intimate covenant relationship with their Holy God.
We also need to note that, as with Abraham, God did not stop with just the inauguration ceremony. In order to continually remind the children of Israel of their covenant relationship with God, He gave them certain tokens, as well. The Bible goes on to say:
Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.’
(Exodus 24:12, NASB)
The Ten Commandments, miraculously engraved on tablets of stone by the very “finger” of God, and later placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, alongside Aaron’s rod and a jar of manna, served as a perpetual reminder of God’s covenant relationship with the nation of Israel.
The New Covenant in Christ
(The Messianic Covenant)
And now, dear child of God, you must realize that He has entered into a very personal and intimate covenant relationship with you. That’s right; just as He did with Abraham and with the nation of Israel, who enjoyed a covenant relationship with God designed especially for them, you also get to enjoy a covenant relationship with God through what we now know as, “the New Covenant in Christ.” The Bible says:
For this reason He [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
(Hebrews 9:15, NASB)
This verse plainly states that our Lord Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant. We no longer live by the terms and provisions of God’s covenant with Abraham, or God’s covenant with Israel. We live, and enjoy a life-giving relationship with God, by the terms of the New Covenant in Christ.
This verse also helps us understand that, when Jesus died, His sacrificial death on the cross was not only for those of us who get to live in this the final age, or the Christian dispensation, of Bible history. Jesus also died to redeem all those people who lived back in Old Testament days. In fact, His death fulfilled and redeemed—paid for—every single Old Testament animal sacrifice that had ever been made in faith; from the days of Adam and Eve up to the time of of God’s covenant with Abraham, on through to the time of Moses and God’s covenant with Israel, and right on up to the hour of the cross. All of it—all the sin and corruption, all the wickedness and iniquity, all the transgression and rebellion—every sinful act that had ever been faithfully atoned for by an animal sacrifice was paid for in full by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. You see, the blood of Christ flows both ways: backward into history as well as forward into the future.
Now, it is important for you to know that the God’s covenant with Israel, given through Moses, and the New Covenant that we enjoy in Christ are both rooted in that ancient covenant that God first made with Abraham. The covenant given through Moses related to God’s promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation. It fulfills that “Nation-Land Promise” that we talked about earlier. However, the New Covenant in Christ relates to God’s promise to Abraham that, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB). It fulfills that “Family Blessing Promise” that we mentioned. This is why, in the New Testament, we are told: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29, NASB). God’s promise to Abraham is continuing to be fulfilled right down to this very day in people of faith, like you and me.
However, it is also important to know that these two covenants—the Old Covenant given through Moses and the New Covenant given in Christ—are distinctly different from one another. Three times—once back in the Old Testament through the prophet Jeremiah, and twice in the New Testament book of Hebrews—we are reminded that the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant. The Bible says:
Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.
(Hebrews 8:8-12, NASB)
Sadly, many people today are confused when it comes to understanding the distinctions between the Old Covenant given through Moses and the New Covenant in Christ. You see, while the Old Covenant manifested itself among God’s people in very physical ways—remember, it was meant to govern a physical, earthly nation—the New Covenant manifests itself among God’s people in spiritual ways because it is meant to govern a nation that is entirely spiritual. When people try to impose Old Covenant ways of thinking and acting upon the New Covenant kingdom of God, negative, volatile, and even tragic consequences can result. This is why Jesus said:
No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
(Luke 5:36-38, NASB)
Jesus wasn’t talking about mending clothes and making wine. He was talking about the changes that were coming as a result of His ministry and mission upon the earth. He was talking about covenant and the distinctions between the old and the new. As New Covenant children of God, we must become New Covenant thinkers. We must understand the difference between the physical manifestations of the Old Covenant, as illustrated in the Law of Moses—which were only meant to be “a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (Hebrews 10:1, NASB)—and the spiritual realities of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2, NASB) which identifies and governs God’s children today.
For example, every covenant child of God from Abraham through Moses, and right on up until the time of Christ, understood that fleshly circumcision was the sign of the covenant that God had made with them—as first commanded by God in Genesis 17 and then later codified in the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12. Some people, therefore, have insisted that Christians, because we are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, must also continue the practice—that every male in the family of God must be circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant. This was really a big problem for the Christian community back in the first century.
However, what people failed to comprehend, and what the writers of the New Testament had to point out, is that the physical manifestation of the Old Covenant—seen in circumcision—has become a spiritual manifestation in the New Covenant; and that the symbolic act of baptism has replaced circumcision. That’s right, your baptism into Christ, male or female, symbolizes your spiritual circumcision—a circumcision of the heart. The Bible says:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
(Romans 2:28-19, NASB)
… and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
(Colossians 2:11-12, NASB)
Just as with God’s covenant with Abraham, as well as His covenant with the nation of Israel, the New Covenant in Christ has been inaugurated with blood; that is, by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. The Bible says:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh…
(Hebrews 10:19-20, NASB)
And the Apostle Paul, speaking of the meaning and purpose of the holy communion—the Lord’s supper—shares these words from Jesus who said:
“This cup is the New Covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
(I Corinthians 11:25, NASB)
So when Jesus died on the cross, not only was He paying the price for all the sin of all humanity for all time—everyone who had ever lived or ever would live—but He was also, at the same time, inaugurating a New Covenant whereby we can enter into a close, personal, life-giving relationship with God. The cross and all that happened there—that whole terribly tragic, beautifully scandalous scene at Golgotha, the place of the skull—was one big covenant inauguration ceremony.
And now, because a covenant is an agreement between at least two parties, God has invited each one of us, personally and individually, to participate in that inauguration ceremony. We do that when we are baptized into Christ and into His death. The Bible says:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
(Romans 6:3-7, NASB)
As with God’s covenant with Abraham, and with the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, we can see from this passage of scripture how that both sides of the covenant—both God’s side and our side—are represented in this inauguration ceremony we call “baptism.” Here in Romans 6, the Apostle Paul illustrates how baptism represents both the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—God’s side of the covenant—and our own death to self, burial with Christ into His death, and resurrection to walk in newness of life—our side of the covenant.
On the one hand, God has made provision for the satisfaction of His justice and the protection of His holiness through the death of His own Son who literally shed His blood on the cross. The moment we are “baptized into His death,” as the scriptures state, the sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God is applied to our own heart and life and God’s justice is satisfied, His holiness is protected, and His grace can now be extended to us. At that very moment God is free to enter into a personal, intimate, life-giving covenant relationship with us.
On the other hand, when we are baptized, our own symbolic death to sin, burial with Christ, and resurrection to walk in newness of life is a demonstration of our faith in God and in the atonement that He offers us through the death of His Son. When we, by faith, reach out and lay hold of the sacrifice of Christ and make it our very own, we join those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, NASB); or, as the Apostle Paul puts it, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27, NASB); and, as the Apostle John reminds us, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, NASB). So, because the blood of Christ has now been applied and has taken care of our sin problem, we are considered holy and righteous in God’s sight and we can “draw near [to God] with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22, NASB). All of this happens when we, by faith, reach out and claim the sacrifice of Christ as our very own at the moment of baptism—our inauguration into the New Covenant in Christ.
Furthermore, as with both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, this New Covenant in Christ is not without its tokens to help us remember and celebrate the promises of God’s love and the terms by which we have entered into relationship with Him. As with all aspects of the New Covenant in Christ, the tokens are spiritual; although, for our sakes, God has ordained that some be symbolically acted out here in this earthly realm.
As a token of His love, and of His promise that we now belong to Him, we have been given “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NASB) who has taken up residence in our mortal bodies. The scriptures say:
…having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge [arrabon] of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
(Ephesians 1:13-14, NASB)
The Greek term, “arrabon,” means: “a deposit which guarantees, down payment, pledge” (ἀρραβών, 2013). “The word was also used sometimes in connection with an engagement ring” (Biblical, 2009). When you were baptized into Christ, God pledged His eternal love to you by presenting you with the most precious and priceless gift anyone in heaven or on earth could ever imagine—the gift of His own Spirit to dwell within your mortal body right alongside your own spirit. This precious gift signifies that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own” (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NASB).
Just as spiritual, but played out on a more tangible, observable level, God has instituted the beautiful tokens of the holy communion to perpetually remind us of His promises and to help us continually remember and proclaim the terms of the New Covenant in Christ. Like baptism, the holy communion is an observable symbol of a spiritual reality. The Apostle Paul says:
… the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
(I Corinthians 11:23-26, NASB)
According to this passage of scripture, each time the children of God share together in the observance of the holy communion we proclaim, again, the terms of the New Covenant—the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior—by which we have been allowed to enter into this life-giving relationship with God.
The main points that I hope you will take with you from this lesson, beloved child of God, have to do with the nature of covenant, the purpose of covenant, and the expressions of covenant. I hope you can see how that every covenant that God has made with humanity is about relationship. God longs to enter into a close, personal, life-giving relationship with each and every one of us. Covenant makes that relationship possible because the terms of covenant make provision for God’s holiness—ensuring that His justice and righteousness is respected and protected—while, at the same time providing an avenue whereby we can approach God and enter into a beautiful, life-giving relationship with Him. Here are some important things to remember:
- In each case wherein God enters into a covenant with humanity, the covenant must be inaugurated with blood because “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23) and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
- No covenant is in effect until the inauguration ceremony has been performed and the covenant has been ratified by both parties.
- On His part, Jesus has inaugurated the New Covenant by His death on the cross.
- On our part, we personally ratify the New Covenant when we are “baptized into Christ” and “into His death” (Romans 6:3).
- In addition to an inauguration ceremony, there are tokens whereby the covenant is continually remembered and celebrated.
- On His part, the Lord has sealed us “with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).
- On our part, when we “eat this bread and drink the cup, [the holy communion] we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
With regard to the two very important identifiers of the New Covenant: baptism into Christ—wherein we express saving faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and we are “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5)—and the sharing of the holy communion—wherein we remember and “proclaim His death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26)—and can’t help but think it odd, extremely bizarre even, that these two acts of faith and love which, by the way, are the only two ceremonial expressions of saving faith in which God has actually called His children to participate, these two identifiers of the New Covenant are, perhaps, the two most neglected religious observances among modern, denominational, so-called “Christian” churches today.
Baptism, for the most part, has been completely detached from saving faith. Among some religious groups calling themselves “Christian,” baptism has been reduced to a legalistic work of law, rather than an expression of our faith in Christ and what He has done for us; hence, they baptize babies and young children to “get them saved,” and then later have to teach them to know the Lord—absolutely opposite of Bible teaching. Others, perhaps in protest to that kind of legalistic thinking, have relegated baptism to some kind of an optional act of obedience that is nice, but not necessary for salvation. They see it as sign or symbol of something that they think has already occurred, a mere outward testimony of an inward faith, but unrelated to entering into a saving relationship with God. They certainly do not see it as the moment one is put into Christ and into His death—thereby ratifying, or endorsing, or validating their inauguration into a New Covenant relationship with God.
The holy communion, or Lord’s Supper, has also been seriously downplayed among the so-called “Christian” churches. My wife and I often visit the various churches in our community and seldom—very seldom—have we ever participated together with them in an observance of the holy communion. Doesn’t the Bible say, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, NASB). Note that the scripture says, “for as often as you eat,” and not, “for as seldom as you eat.” But the various Protestants churches we visit seldom seem to bother with it. Apparently, remembering the terms of the New Covenant whereby we have been saved is just not something “Christians” do very much anymore these days. I’ve heard it said, “Well, if we do that all the time, like every week or something, it will lose it’s meaning and just become another legalistic ritual.” To which I can only say, “Wow, seriously? Somehow, regularly remembering and proclaiming Jesus’ death causes you to forget what His sacrifice means to you… really?”
I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that the only two ceremonial expressions of faith in which the Lord has called His New Covenant children to participate—baptism and the holy communion—are precisely the two expressions of faith that Satan, our adversary, in his ongoing effort to take our eyes off of Jesus, the cross, and all that happened there, has sought to attack and diminish.
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