The Promise with Power: The New Covenant

Below is a sermon I delivered this morning via Skype to a church in Islamabad, Pakistan. Before I delivered the message I sent a written copy several days before for the pastor there to review. He reminded me that they don’t have free speech there so he wanted to make sure there was nothing that might unnecessarily cause danger for him or his people. I was aware of the potential danger ahead of time, but his caution really brought it home. If you have taken our right to free speech for granted, may this be a wake up call, and may we all be thankful and not take it for granted.

I chose this particular message to put the message of salvation in the name of Jesus as soundly as I could in a short time in the overall storyline of the Bible as a fulfillment of the promises of God made in the Old Testament. Bibles are not easy to come by there , so most of them may not be familiar with how the story of Jesus is connected to the promises in the Old Testament. As far as that goes neither are most of the people in our churches in America even though we have such easy access to an astonishing abundance of Bibles in countless varieties.

Nevertheless, by connecting Jesus with the promises made to Abraham and the prophets I hoped to find common ground with those who may be from an Islamic background, and certainly all of them in a predominantly Muslim country. I also wanted to emphasize the promise of a new heart and the gift of the Holy Spirit along with the promise of forgiveness, as so often the later is emphasized at the expense of the former. See the message below.

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Brothers and sisters, I am very honored and humbled to be able to preach the good news about Jesus the Messiah and to teach you from the word of God the power in the promise of the New Covenant.

So often today in my country the complete message of salvation in the name of Jesus is cut short. As a result many do not really receive salvation at all or they do not live fully into the experience of salvation that Jesus died and rose again to create.

The reason that the message about Jesus is good news is because he fulfilled the promises of God for the world through his ministry, teaching, death on the cross, the resurrection, and ascension. Those promises that he fulfilled are found in what we call the Old Testament in the Bible.

One of the most significant promises was the promise made to Abraham. In a world lost in idolatry and false worship, God, the Creator of heaven and earth, introduced Himself to Abraham and established a covenant relationship with him and his children through Isaac and then Jacob. Through the children of Abraham, which became the nation of Israel, God promised Abraham that all the peoples and nations of the world would find blessing and once again come to know the true God. That promise is first found in Genesis 12:1-3, and is restated many times throughout the whole Bible, including the New Testament.

After the near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, after providing a lamb for sacrifice, God once again promised Abraham that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (verse 18). The apostle Paul in the New Testament makes it clear that the ultimate fulfillment of that promise is found in Jesus who was a descendent of Abraham and the one who offered God the perfect obedience that the rest of humanity, Gentile and Jew, failed to offer.

Galatians 3:7-14 English Standard Version (ESV)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Jesus is the Messiah and the Savior of the world because he fulfilled the promise to Abraham, which was a promise for all the peoples of the world. Through the death of Jesus on the cross all people everywhere, Jew and Gentile, can receive forgiveness of sins and the promised Holy Spirit by faith to enter into the family of God.

You see, the Old Covenant always contained the promise of the New Covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham and the Jews was always meant for the blessing of the whole world. Because of sin the law of God brought a curse upon all of humanity. Not because the law is bad, but because sin, a selfish spirit and corrupted desires of the human heart, make obedience impossible and disobedience inevitable. Obedience to God’s law leads to blessing; disobedience leads to cursing. The law is good but it cannot save us from sin, only the grace of God in Jesus the Messiah can do that. The sacrifice of Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, brings forgiveness and allows us to receive the promised Holy Spirit. The promise of the New Covenant was forgiveness and a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all who believe.

Listen to the great prophet Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

31 “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, 32 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. 33 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. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Here the prophet Jeremiah calls this new thing that God would do for his people a new covenant. This promise applies to all of God’s people, which would in the future include people of all nations and languages. Based on the promise to Abraham and the fact that the Bible tells us that God is the Creator and God of all nations, the prophets also foresaw the day when Gentiles would also be welcomed into the family of Abraham to worship the one true God. Isaiah foresaw the day when people of all nations would flow into Jerusalem to walk in the way of the Lord (Isaiah 2:2-3) and that the one who would be the suffering servant to redeem God’s people would also be a light to the nations that God’s salvation would spread throughout the whole world (Isaiah 49:6). The prophet Zechariah also foresaw the day when many nations would join themselves to the Lord and become a part of His special people (Zechariah 2:11), as did other prophets under the Old Covenant. As the apostle Paul said in Galatians, we all become children of Abraham by faith in Jesus to share in the promises made to Abraham and Israel after him. Listen to how Paul describes the fulfillment of these promises in Ephesians 2:11-22:

 

Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The promise in Jeremiah 31 is about the consummate forgiveness to which all the Old Covenant sacrificial laws pointed, but not just forgiveness. The promise was also that God would write his laws on our hearts. The promise mentioned here is stated even more clearly by the great prophet Ezekiel. Listen.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (ESV)

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The promise here is for a new spirit and a new heart, one no longer corrupted and bound by sin. The promise was that God would put his very own Spirit in us. Why?: So that we will be able to obey God’s law from the heart with the right attitude and the proper motivations. This is what God was referring to in Jeremiah when he said he would put his law within us and write it on our hearts.

The promise of God to Abraham included the blessing of all nations through his seed, which ultimately and most fully was Jesus the Messiah. The promise also included forgiveness and a new heart and a new spirit and to be filled with God’s very own Spirit, which is “the promised Spirit” that the apostle Paul was talking about in Galatians 3:14. This is also the new birth that Jesus talked about in John 3, when he told Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God and enter into it you must be born again from above of the Spirit.

The promises of God that we receive by faith in Jesus Christ who fulfilled them includes forgiveness and new birth, a regenerated spirit with a new heart by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit coming to live inside of us. By faith we are justified in the eyes of God and receive the promised Spirit, who changes us from the inside out to live a godly life in harmony with the moral law of God in order to bring glory and honor to God the Father. This is what Romans 8 means when it says the Spirit enables believers to fulfill the just requirement of the law, specifically the moral law of God as summed up in the Ten Commandments. Those who have the Spirit are enabled to submit to God’s law and obey because of what God has done in His grace through sending his Son.

Now as Ezekiel 37 would indicate, the promise will not be completely fulfilled until the resurrection. Jesus’ own resurrection was the first fruits of a much greater harvest yet to come. Those who have trusted in God will be resurrected to live in a new creation, a new heaven and earth (see Revelation 21:1-8). It is then that the promise of perfect obedience by the power of the Spirit, and therefore perfect blessing without any curse, will be fully complete. But in the meantime, we are being renewed day by day as we renew our minds to God’s word, the Spirit is writing more and more of God’s law into our hearts and spirits. Right now our task is to grow into the salvation that God has wrought for us in Jesus the Messiah. When we sin, we are assured that God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) so that we can become more and more holy in our walk with God.

By faith we enter into the new covenant family of God as new born babes. And as new born babes we need to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus the Messiah and to be filled more and more with the Spirit of God until we are mature and strong in the Lord and the power of his might to stand against the devices of the devil who would deceive us and keep us from receiving the fullness of the promises of God.

Don’t just settle for forgiveness without the personal transformation that was meant to go along with it, because if you do you may not receive either. By faith we must allow God to remake us from the inside out, which is a life-long process. It is a hard, narrow path, as Jesus said, in Matthew 7:13-14, but it does lead to abundant life and everlasting happiness in the world to come.

Jesus has fulfilled so many of the promises of God already, the fact that you and I can call each other brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus being one of them. We can trust that our hope is secure and that Jesus will bring what he has started to full completion when he comes again to judge the world. He will bring with him an incorruptible new life for those who have died in faith and a new immortal body for those who are still alive in the faith when he comes. His promises are sure; his word trustworthy and true. For those who trust in him he promises new life, both now in this world, and fully and completely in the world to come.

Trust in him. Grow up into him. Be strong in the Lord and the power of his might. And stand firm in the holy faith and in his holy church as witnesses to God’s faithful love and His transforming grace.

The New Covenant is not a prescription of precepts that we follow in order to be saved; The New Covenant is a promise of power fulfilled by the grace of God in the obedience of Jesus Christ that we might receive forgiveness of sin and the power we need to live a life of obedience to the will of God. In other words we are not saved BY obedience; rather we are saved for obedience to God’s word. We are not saved by works; but we are saved for good works (see Ephesians 2:8-10).

Listen to Titus 2:11-14:

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

The New Covenant was a promise of forgiveness and power and blessing fulfilled by Jesus Christ that we can receive by faith in him. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to receive it today by faith in Jesus the Messiah, and be filled with all the fullness of God. To Him be all the glory, honor and praise!

Let us pray.

Father,

I thank you for these my sisters and brothers in the faith of Jesus Christ. I thank you for your great love in Jesus Christ our Lord and for the power and presence of your promised Holy Spirit. We love you Father. Help all of us to grow in your grace so that we may be more obedient to your holy word. Thank you for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. Thank you for new birth by the power of your Spirit. Help all of us to renew our minds and to be more and more transformed into the likeness of Jesus. Fill us with all of your fullness that we might live to the honor and glory of your name. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

 

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