To Establish the New Covenant
Mk.14:24 " And (Jesus) said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."
In 2015 I preached a number of sermons on the importance of Jesus’ death or "Why Jesus came to die". The death of Jesus Christ upon the cross at Calvary is at the very heart of the Christian faith.
If Jesus had not died there and subsequently been raised from the dead we would have a very different Christianity if we had any sort of Christianity at all.
If Jesus had not died and been raised then we might as well pack up and go home at once for without that death and resurrection we would find ourselves still lost in our sin, exposed to the just judgment of a righteous and holy God, and without the slightest hope at all.
But the glorious facts are these:
Jesus, the Son of God, did come to the earth
He did die
He did rise again from the dead
And these facts provide us with a solid basis for hope – if only we understand something of their significance and respond to the risen Saviour who was once crucified to pay the sinful debt of his people.
So we turn once more to think about the death of our Saviour. It is a subject that is profound and far reaching. This evening we will consider Jesus’ death in relation to the biblical concept of covenant. May the Lord guide us by his Spirit into all truth.
The Bible and Covenant
Do you remember how Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about how the Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated? Reminding them of what Christ had said, this is what he told them:
What are we to make of this?
Jesus is evidently establishing a link between his death and the covenant but what does this mean?
Well, the word covenant is an important word in the Bible being used some 300 times. The word is important because it is the word par excellence that describes the way in which God relates to men and women.
One author has helpfully written that:
"A covenant is a bond-
Let me unpack that a little for you. There are three ideas for us to get hold of:
A covenant is a bond
It is a bond that binds parties together in a serious and committed way. When a covenant is established a relationship is created. When God speaks to establish his covenant he graciously commits himself to his creatures and declares the basis on which he will relate to his creation.
A covenant is a bond-
Such a relationship involves commitments that have life and death consequences and as such it is not a relationship that is casually entered into. In the OT when a covenant was inaugurated (or cut) it was accompanied by the ritual shedding of sacrificial blood and this blood symbolised a curse – death would follow violations of the terms of the covenant.
A covenant is sovereignly administered
A covenant is not the result of negotiation or of bargaining, it is the Lord of Heaven and earth who sets the terms. Man cannot argue, he simply receives the terms.
The OT refers to various covenants eg. God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. While these were established at different times we are not to imagine that each supercedes or replaces the one that preceded it. Rather as one covenant is followed by another we should understand that a progressive refinement is taking place. The one great overarching divine covenant is being progressively sharpened and defined. In other words we are brought to see in ever greater clarity how God intends to relate to men and women.
The various expressions of this covenant as revealed in the OT all looked forward in some way or another -
All the promises, all the types and shadows of the law and all the prophecies would find their ultimate realisation in the establishment of the new covenant that would be inaugurated by Christ. Christ is thus the hinge of history – all before pointed forward to him and now since his coming all after looks back to him.
Sinners weren’t all lost in the days before Christ came – multitudes were saved and they were saved by the Christ to whom they looked forward as the substance of the promises, the reality of the types and shadows and the accomplishment of the prophecies. Sinners today can be saved but we don’t look forward any longer for a Saviour who is yet to come but we look back with understanding and trust to a Saviour who has already come and done all that is necessary to secure salvation. This salvation he offers freely to all. It is an offer that demands a response and faith is all we need and God gives us even that as we listen to huis word.
The new covenant would be the final, wonderful, climax of God’s dealings with his creation. With the inauguration of the new covenant all that had preceded it would be summed up and completed being brought to a glorious crescendo. God can do nothing better than what he has done and it is Jesus who accomplishes it all and who by means of his sacrificial substitutionary death inaugurates this by.
Jesus Spoke of his Death in Covenantal Terms
As we have already reminded ourselves when Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper with his disciples for the very first time he specifically linked the idea of his death to the idea of the covenant.
Jesus’ death then must be understood in covenantal terms: According to the terms of the covenant men and women who broke the covenant were condemned to die but they didn’t, and instead it was Jesus who took the curses of the covenant upon himself. He died as a substitutionary sacrifice and he died in the place of the covenant-
When he instituted the Lord’s Supper he saw his act as being the inauguration of the new covenant, the final stage in God’s dealings with mankind.
All that had gone before in the earlier covenants had proceeded from God and because they had come from God there was nothing wrong with them. They were however rendered "weak" because of man’s state in sin.
There was nothing wrong with God’s law, for example, far from it, it is admirable. The 10 Commandments if obeyed would produce wonderful societies wherever they might be found. However man was unable to fully benefit from God’s good law due to his own fallen spiritual condition.
All the law could do was tell man what he should do and point out to him how he had failed to keep the law but it remained powerless to enable energise man to keep the law. The earlier covenants served to hedge man around but they couldn’t change him on the inside – none of them were designed to bring about the inward transformation that was man’s greatest need.
The promises could make men aspire, the laws could show the way to go, the prophecies could speak of a renewal of all things but none of these could secure man’s needed salvation. They could show man his need and they could and heighten his interest and stimulate his desire and longing for the new covenant but they didn’t carry with them the longed for blessings. They would only be brought about by the inauguration of that new covenant.
The old covenant itself, that is all the expressions of God’s covenant that were given prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, did look eagerly forward to the full realisation that was to come. The OT picture of the new covenant becomes ever clearer as the OT advances.
Jeremiah wrote about this new covenant in Jer.31:31ff and he referred to it in Jer.32 as an everlasting covenant in which the blessings so long and so repeatedly promised would finally be enjoyed.
And what were these blessings?
The law will be internally inscribed on his people’s renewed hearts
God promises to be the God of his people
His people will belong to God
They will have a personal experiential knowledge of God
Their sins would be fully and finally forgiven
Ezekiel too spoke about this glorious coming time when, under the auspices of an everlasting covenant, peace would be experienced as his people would be cleansed and given a new sensitive heart and spirit.
These various expressions of covenantal blessing in the OT could only hint at a more glorious reality to come and with the coming of Christ that reality came into view. With his death the new covenant was inaugurated! How his words must have sent a thrill through his disciples!
His new covenant would find expression in the realm no longer of the letter alone but in the living reality of the Spirit.
As mediator of the new covenant the promised eternal inheritance becomes the possession of all those calls
Having died our death he secures our security for all time
The blood of the covenant assures and guarantees all this, and more, for us. And it is his blood.
Without his death the new covenant could never come and the multiple infractions of the old covenant would continually cry out for the death of the covenant-
But he did come, he did die, he did establish the new covenant, and what’s more his work has been approved! He rose from the dead!
The writer to the Hebrews repeatedly tells that this new covenant is by far superior to anything that had gone before it. The whole letter is a demonstration of the absolute superiority of Jesus Christ over any previous divine provision. There were blessings aplenty in those provisions but of Jesus he says that:
He has been made "the guarantor of a better covenant." (Heb 7:22)
Heb 8:6 "But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises."