From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
In the beginning of my Christian walk at the age of 18, I was spiritually famished, I had an intense drive to come to know God. Getting to know God was adventure. And I grew in knowing him very quickly. But I was a “yo yo” Christian. One day I would feel like God is really close to me, the next day he felt like he was miles away. My Christian life was a series of spiritual mountains and valleys that flew by daily. One day I would be on a spiritual cloud nine, the next day I would be in the doldrums wondering if God still even knew my name. I prayed that God would grow me into a Christian who knew every day, no matter what the day brought, that I belonged to God, that God loved me and nothing could change that. Well, God over time did answer my prayer - he answered by teaching me the emotional importance of the concept of covenant. It is the grand scriptural concept of covenant that the great tree of Moreh had the privilege of witnessing. And this morning we are going to look at the covenants of scripture. If your understanding of God does not include the concept of covenant, then your understanding of God is very shallow and very volatile. Covenant goes to the very heart of God and how he chooses to deal with us.
What the great tree of Moreh witnessed was part of the Abramic covenant. Now there are at least 6 covenants named in scripture, some commentaries suggest more. This morning for the sake of simplicity, I will focus on 5 of them and quickly mention the 6th.
The first covenant that actually occurs in scripture is God’s covenant with creation. Now in the creation account, the word covenant does not occur, but it is referred by the prophet Jeremiah in an argument that God is incredibly reliable when it comes to his promises. Look with me at Jeremiah’s words.
Then we acknowledge that God is revealing to us something about himself even through the cycles of creation. And it does not matter if you are a Christian or a non Christian, it does not matter what part of the world you live in, God gives a grace that is common to all of us, he to this day, and will until the end of time remain faithful to his creation. So as the graph demonstrates, his faithfulness spans all time, back to the beginning and into the future without limit. That is his covenant with creation.
The 2nd covenant that appears in
scripture is what is called the Noahic covenant, or God’s
covenant with Noah. In you remember the story of the flood, you will
remember that after the flood, in Genesis 9:8-17 - God made and
covenant with Noah and his sons and his descendants
This was simply a covenant promise that God made. He confirmed that covenant with a rainbow that continues to exist till today and it will be again tomorrow and the next day. God’s covenants don’t disappear, his faithfulness has been flawless. And this covenant is for all - no matter what race, faith, tongue, gender, species you might be, it is a grace that is common to all of us.
The third covenant mentioned is God’s covenant with Abram. This covenant shows up in three passages - Genesis 12, 15 and 17. Some commentators make distinctions in the covenant with Abraham. For our purposes, we find in the Abramic covenant, as we already read, included a promise to bless Abram, to make him a blessing to the nations. In verse 7 of our passage, we hear about a land that was to be given to his descendants. That promise is further fleshed out in Genesis 15, where Abram is promised descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and then in Genesis 17 that promise included a land
The next covenant is probably the one that we are the most familiar with. It is often called the Mosaic because it was given through Moses or the Siniatic covenant because it was given from Mount Sinai.
It is summarized in Exodus 19 - 25 and it is from this covenant that we get the 10 commandments. That covenant was very basically this - God would be their God taking care of the nation of Israel on the condition that they obeyed his commandments and regulations to serve his purposes in history. What is very important to recognize is that it was given to a very specific people on the condition of their obedience. If they obeyed they would be blessed, if they disobeyed, they would be cursed. That is very clear from Deuteronomy 27 and 28. Now we know from the history of Israel who received this covenant is that even though the Lord was faithful on his part, Israel was not. Israel went after idols and other gods, they followed the habits of the nations around them. They were covenant breakers and so we discover that even though they started out well, especially under Joshua, they failed repeatedly thereafter. The realities of that covenant come to virtually nothing by the time of the exile. Israel has been dispersed among the nations. By the time of Christ, even though there is a lot of lip service to the Law and to Moses, Israel by in large felt that God had abandoned his promises to them.
The next covenant that scripture mentions is in Numbers 25:10-13 where Phinehas, a very faithful priest was promised by God that he and his descendants would have a lasting priesthood because of his faithfulness.
The next covenant the scripture mentions is in 2nd Samuel 7 where God promises to king David that his son would build the temple that he wanted to build and that
16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
But again we discover that the priests following Phinehas were not faithful to the Lord. And the Kings of Israel and Judah were with just a few notable excepts faithless, leading the nation of Israel into evil and idolatry, more often than not exceeding each time the evil of their fathers. They seemed to excel in evil. As a consequence, the covenant which the Lord gave did not extend to those who were faithless.
Now we notice that Israel’s relationship with God in history is at best shaky. Under one king they obey, under another they disobey. Even though they give promises that they will follow the Lord whole heartedly doing everything that he commands at the end of Joshua’s life, we discover in history that the opposite is true and they turned away from the Lord again and again. Every time the reliability of the covenant dependent on people like you and me, a relationship with God became very shaky indeed.
Now we come to the last covenant mentioned in scripture - and this covenant was like so many of the covenants before it, signified through sacrifice but this was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ - if you remember the words of the Lord’s supper from 1 Corinthians 11:24-26.
The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Jesus death on the cross established a new covenant. And the reason why he had the right to establish a new covenant was because he completely fulfilled all the terms of the old covenant. Like all the children of Abraham up to that point, he was circumcised on the 8th day and unlike the nation of Israel, he was totally dedicated to doing the will of his father in heaven. When it came to the law and the Mosaic covenant, he came to fulfill the law, his obedience to his Father was perfect, the book of Hebrews tells us that though tempted he did not sin and the book of Hebrews tells us that he is the true faithful and final high priest because he not only understands our human weaknesses, the sacrifice he offered is once and for all, and he also lives forever to intercede for us - fulfilling the covenant with Phinehas. And with regard to the Davidic covenant, David acknowledged in Psalm 110 that he was under a King a Lord, greater than he was - Jesus Christ the king of the Jews crucified, but now he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Every one of these covenants that Israel failed in was completed in Christ and it is based on that truth that he has the right to establish a New covenant, a new ground by which we are reconciled, have an ongoing relationship with God.
Now in the few minutes that I have left, let me flesh out the incredible way this new covenant revolutionizes our relationship with God.
First of all Everything about it is In Christ. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so when we read Paul again and again using the phrase “in Christ” he is using new covenant terminology.
You remember how I started this message with the personal illustration of my struggle with being a yo yo Christian, one day up, one day down, one day close to God, the next day wondering if he had abandoned me.
Well Paul knew that very dynamic. In Romans 7, you might well remember his struggle - the good I would I do not and the evil which I would not that I do... Under the terms of the Mosaic law, Paul knew all to well that he failed, even though he was more zealous than almost anyone to fulfill the Law of Moses, he had murdered Christians.
Now listen to Paul a couple of
You see, at the heart of this new covenant is that Christ did it all for us.
And when we like Abraham place our faith in Christ, place our trust in Christ, place our confidence for life and death in Christ, then in terms of our relationship with God, Christ has done everything for us.
You remember how the people of
Israel were cursed because they failed to obey God, well Paul tells us
in Galatians 3
We inherit the blessing simply by putting our trust in Christ. Again and again, Paul is using covenantal language to help us understand how revolutionized our relationship with God is through this new covenant in Christ. By faith in Christ, Jesus has accomplished our perfect obedience. By faith in Christ, he has become our perfect High priest mediating our relationship with God, and in term we are priests called to worship, called to prayer for and proclamation to the this world. By faith in Christ we now submit to the Lordship of Christ by obedience to his Word and Spirit and in turn we become those who are rulers in Christ’s kingdom and so the apostle Peter will call us a royal priest hood.
Now there is one more theme that I
have to apply at this point. You remember how for Abraham, his
descendants which were all included in this covenant with him received
a sign of that (Slide 16 Animation 1) covenant called circumcision when
they were just little babies.
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
When God deals with us in his new covenant, we become children of Abraham, and God deals in like manner with us and our children. You cannot understand infant baptism without understanding covenant, then again, you don’t really understand God if you don’t understand covenant.
Let me conclude this profound theme with reminding you of the words that were given to Abraham, the covenant that throughout history is true for us and our children.
These words - “I will be your God and you will be my people” - the covenant promise that is yes in Christ. Well, those words continue right to the very end
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.