Showing posts with label covenant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label covenant. Show all posts

Friday

Do Not Think That I Came to Destroy the Law or the Prophets

I’ve run into several people recently who quote Matthew 5:17, and use that to say that the OT Law is still valid. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [MT 5:17]
 
They’re saying “Fulfilled means it’s still valid. You’re still obligated.”
 
Others say, “No, Fulfilled means it’s done, it’s concluded. It did its job, and now it’s over.”
 
So I thought, Let’s see how that word is used in other places in the Bible. That should give us an idea of what it means here.
 
So here’s a list. This is just part of the New Testament list, but the Old Testament use of the word is similar. (See the links to the full list in the footnotes)
 
Suggestion: For each verse, ask: “Does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s still in power; you’re still obligated’? or does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s done, concluded, and here’s the result’?”
 
Mat 2:15
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 
Mat 2:17
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 
Mat 2:23
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
 
Mat 13:14
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
Mat 13:35
So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
 
Mat 26:54
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
 
Mat 26:56
But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 
Mat 27:9
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel,
 
Mar 13:4
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
 
Mar 14:49
Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
 
Luk 1:1
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
 
Luk 1:38
“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
 
Luk 4:21
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
 
Luk 18:31
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
 
Luk 21:24
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 
Luk 22:37
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 
Luk 24:44
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
 
Jhn 17:12
While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
 
Jhn 18:9
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
 
Jhn 19:24
“Let's not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let's decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
 
Jhn 19:28
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
 
Jhn 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
 
Act 1:16
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
 
Act 3:18
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
 
Act 13:27
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
 
Act 13:33
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'
 
Act 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
 
--
Which is it?
 
Still in power; still obligated?
 
or
 
It’s done, concluded, finished?
 
-----
So here’s a list.
This is just part of the New Testament list (whole NT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMaf),
but the Old Testament use of the word (whole OT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMqF) is similar.
 

Thursday

The Grant Covenant


There are various types of covenants that could define relationship between people. Some are covenants among equals (such as a marriage covenant). Many are covenants between a superior and an underling.

One of those covenants between a superior and a lesser person is called a “Grant Covenant.” It is what it sounds like: the great person doesn’t negotiate, doesn’t require anything. They just grant the covenant. “Hold still and let me bless you.” The lesser person does nothing to deserve it.

This video is my second favorite example of a grant covenant (though of course, it’s not a perfect example).  Prince Edward does not ask anything of William, offers no conditions, no negotiation. He just frees him from prison and makes him a knight in the kingdom of his father. He doesn’t even ask Will’s permission.  Will could have refused it, I suppose, but there was no negotiation here.


That reminds me of my most favorite example of a grant covenant, and this one IS a perfect example:

“Jesus Christ… has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” [Revelation 1:5&6]

King Jesus also does not offer any conditions, no negotiation. He just frees us from prison and makes us, not knights, but “kings and priests,” heirs of the Kingdom of our Father. He doesn’t even ask our permission. Yeah, you can refuse it I suppose (at least for a while; he can be very persuasive), but there has been, and will be, no negotiation.

Note that this grant covenant is pretty much the covenant that God offered the children that Moses led out of Egypt [see Exodus 19:6], which they rejected in favor of a less scary covenant.

And the more I learn about this Kingdom that I’ve been granted a position in, the more I understand why they thought it was scary. There is an obligation that comes with real authority. It changes us.

We are no longer slaves, so acting like a slave is no longer appropriate. We’re kings, we’re heirs, we’re priests. So no, as a result of the grant, we act differently. We respond differently to the King and to the world around us now. 

Or as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said it, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s true. Even if we’re freely granted this covenant, this kingliness, this priesthood; even if we have done nothing to deserve it.

This, then, is our covenant. It’s a grant. We’ve done nothing to earn it. We just stand still and let him bless us.

And then we live from this new place, this new identity.

  

(If the embedded video doesn’t work, the whole scene is here: https://youtu.be/A_BN__oO7nA)



“I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it…”


"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

That is pretty much the standard, go-to verse for people who want to convince you that you need to be in bondage to the Law like they are. Yeah, let’s look at that.

First of all, this statement is found in Matthew 5: Jesus is speaking to people under the Law. He is not speaking to New Covenant believers. He’s speaking in the language of folks under the Law, speaking to people under the Law, but he’s not reaffirming the Law.

Go look at it. Read all of Matthew 5. In that conversation, Jesus is not saying, “Be sure to obey the Law!” He’s saying, “The Law is only the starting point!”

Verse 17 is one example: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you don’t do better than the people who do the law the best, it ain’t gonna get you into the Kingdom. That's what this whole sermon is about: the Kingdom.

Then he gets real serious. What follows is where Jesus deconstructs the Law. “You have heard it said, … but I say to you….” Five times he raises the bar above what the Law had required.

Then he goes on (Chapter 6 continues that sermon) explaining a better way. He doesn’t really talk about the Kingdom for a while, but he gets to it: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That very sermon continues on through Chapter 7, too. He’s already dismissed the Law, the godly works of the old paradigm; now he dismisses the godly works of the new paradigm: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’”

Yeah, that's not the goal either. "Depart from me, I never knew you."  It's about knowing him.

Then he finishes preaching wanders down the mountain and demonstrates his new Kingdom by healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom.

OK. That’s our context. Now let’s look at that specific phrase, “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it…”.

Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law. Now the Law is fulfilled. What does it mean when something is fulfilled?

My father fulfilled the mortgage on his house. Now that his mortgage has been fulfilled, that mortgage is obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless. That’s what “fulfilled” means. It’s done.

So, yes, ALL of the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (for that's what the law is) are now obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless, now that the Old Covenant is dead and gone.

The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law of the Old Covenant) is an interesting (and useful) history book. It tells the story of a covenant that God never wanted, and that never worked [Acts 15:10]. We can learn from their mistakes, and we ought to.

But it is completely without merit as a standard to live by today, if for no other reason than there is nobody, literally not one body, who is still part of the Old Covenant to which the Law applies.

People try to say, “But obeying the Torah (or at least the 10 Commandments) is good. It’s part of making us acceptable to God.

Balderdash! Obeying the Law is an obstacle, a stumbling block to us becoming acceptable to God. Obeying the Law in order to be acceptable is to throw his gift of grace back in his face.

I am so thankful that the Law has been fulfilled! This is such an excellent expression of God’s mercy!

You see, it is not even possible to obey the Torah in our day and age, and it hasn’t been possible for nearly twenty centuries.

A huge part of the law was the sacrificial system. And nowadays, there is no ark of the covenant (it was lost centuries ago), there is no tabernacle or temple (it was destroyed many centuries ago) with an altar to kill bulls and goat on. And James says, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

More importantly, there are no Levites left to offer those sacrifices to God. The Levites were the only ones whom the law allowed to do that. Even worse, there are no records of Levitical bloodlines, and without those records, nobody could minister if there was a temple. Those are gone, literally forever. 

All of the genealogical records (all of the documentation of who’s a Levite and who’s not) was destroyed when the Old Covenant was destroyed as the Temple was destroyed in the conquering of Jerusalem in the first century. [https://nwp.link/WikiAD70]  There are many parts of the law that cannot be obeyed now, and stumbling in one point of the law makes you guilty of the whole thing. No wonder it was destroyed.

Scripture predicted that the Old Covenant was going to be done away with and the temple would be destroyed [Hebrews 8:13] and Jesus described it in detail [Matthew 24] a full generation before it went down. Literally, not one stone was left on another. (And because of his warnings, the Christians - the only ones who believed his warnings - escaped that destruction.)

Paul summarized this whole law business quite nicely: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” [Galatians 2:21] 

Does that mean that we live lives characterized by rebellion against the Law of the Old Covenant? Where the Old Covenant command was “Do not kill,” do we make murder our habit in order to avoid an old, dead Law?

You can hear how silly that sounds when we see it in black and white. No, we still don’t kill people. But that's not because of the obsolete rule book of a failed covenant that never applied to anybody but Israel anyway.

Rather, we don’t kill because we’re like Jesus and he doesn’t kill. We don’t kill because he’s teaching us to “love one another as I have loved you,” and murdering people isn’t actually very loving.

So throw off the lies that say, “You must live by the Torah! You must obey the Ten Commandments."

"Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.” Cast out the efforts to obey as the way to please God. There is no inheritance for you in that path.

What Covenant?

Abraham believed God & God made a covenant with him. (Gen. 15:6 & 18) That covenant was based on the fact that Abe believed God. Now he’s God’s friend, as well as his covenant partner.

But in Genesis 12, Abe is afraid & lies about Sara. He was afraid the king would kill him to get his hands on his hot wife, so he says, “She’s my sister, not my wife!”

Abraham is giving in to a spirit of fear, and he’s a liar. Those are bad. But God backs him up, IN THE LIE! He defends Abraham (and his marriage) from the ignorant, horny kings.

Wait, what? God defends the liar? And defends the lie? Why would he do that?

It was hundreds of years later that Moses comes down the mountain with The Law, which includes “Don’t sleep with another man’s wife,” and “Don’t tell lies” and such. Now, with coming of The Law, adultery and lying (and several other things) become a sin.

The Law is a part of Moses’ covenant with God. It’s not part of Abraham’s covenant with God, or Noah’s.

In Abraham’s day, there was no rule that said “Don’t sleep with his wife,” and no rule that said, “Do not bear false testimony.” These rules didn’t show up until late in Moses’ life. They weren’t forbidden in Abraham’s day.

Were they still stupid things to do? Of course. And Abraham paid the price for that. But they weren’t “wrong” in Abe’s day and age.

So it’s not appropriate (or even meaningful) to judge Abraham or Noah by a covenant that didn’t exist in their day. In the same way, it’s not appropriate to judge a Peruvian farmer by Norway’s laws, or to judge a Mostho factory worker based on Peruvian law.

And The Law not actually part of our New Covenant either. Therefore, it’s completely inappropriate to judge New Covenant believers by Moses’ covenant. Or Noah’s covenant. Or any other covenant.

Are you a New Covenant believer? Then it’s completely inappropriate to judge yourself by Moses’ covenant either.


The Controversial Source of the Law.

God offered, “You [Israel] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) God offered a covenant of equals: you and me, face to face with God with nothing in between. Peers.

They rejected his offer, and counter-offered, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:19)


They proposed the intermediary, which is what a priesthood is. And they promised to listen. The original language contains a hint of obedience, but no, this isn’t an express promise (which was probably good).

They rejected the peer relationship, the covenant of equals, and they substituted a vertical relationship: big god with the rules (and therefore the spank stick), and the only way to know him is through a priest. Ick.

So the idea of a priesthood was not God’s idea, but the people’s. And the idea of hearing and obeying rules wasn’t God’s idea, but the people’s. He wanted a face-to-face with every living being, but they threw that back in his face and demanded a priesthood and rules.

So God was backed into a corner: either relate to people through a priesthood and rules, or walk away, wipe his hands clean and start over again.

But he’s not One to walk away.

So he submitted his mighty self to their silly little demands. It was better than no relationship at all.

They wanted a priesthood: Moses started it with Aaron, and it continued on. That’s what Leviticus is all about. Don’t you love Leviticus? Isn’t it fun to read?

They wanted rules. So God gave them a handful. Those rules were never about “Do this and you go to Heaven.” They were “Do this and you won’t get spanked.” (see Deuteronomy 30, and Luke 10:28). “Do this and you won’t be cursed.”

But they broke covenant before the rules were even delivered (remember the golden calf?). Then came more rules. And they failed those, so he had to give them other rules, more specific rules.

If you have rules, then you need to have an enforcer, and that is ALWAYS your god. So God was party to a covenant he didn’t want, and was the enforcer if the people didn’t keep their end of the covenant.

No wonder God was glad to be rid of that covenant. “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)  He never wanted the stinky old rules or the silly little priesthood in the first place.


Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

Abolish is a strong word.

People quote Matthew 5:17&18 at me, to say “See! We still need to be under the Law! Look! See!”

These verses read, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

I have to admit, if you grab that verse, yank it out of its context, ignore the bit about the Prophets, and try to use it as a club to support a need for the Law (or at least the 10 Commandments), then it kind of fits. If you close one eye and squint the other. 

Let’s look at this a little more closely, a little more objectively, shall we? Is Jesus really saying, “Psych! I’m not really freeing you from the Law!”? Or is Jesus saying something else.

That “Something else” could be several things:

  1. Perhaps the context tells us some things?
  2. There may be a Jewish metaphor here that we’re not catching because we’re not first century Jews. That might change the meaning here.  
  3. He might be talking about a purpose of the Law and the Prophets that he’s going to fulfill.
  4. He might be talking about and end of the Law, but one that is not His doing. 
Let’s look at these possibilities one by one.

1. First, what does the context tell us? This is in the middle of a sermon where Jesus is completely re-interpreting their understanding of the Law. The entire chapter is about Jesus saying, “You’ve heard the Law taught this way…. But I tell you this other thing instead.”

So it’s not reasonable to assume that suddenly he breaks his train of thought and talks about submitting to the Law, at least not without some more evidence to work with. It’s more reasonable to infer that Jesus is doing away with how that Jewish culture has always understood the Law, and replacing that with a completely new understanding. That is the context.

2. Is there a Jewish metaphor here? I’m glad you asked. Yes there is. Jesus says the Law is valid “until heaven and earth pass away.” Well, when is that?

We, in our 21st century, science-based world interpret that literally, scientifically, and if Jesus were speaking on CNN or the Discover Channel, that would probably be a reasonable interpretation. But that is not how his audience at the time would interpret it. So it’s not permitted for us to impose a 21st century interpretation onto this first century document.

If you look at the phrase in scripture (http://nwp.link/2idn9Ml), it’s used more than 120 times (NKJV). In general, the words are used to describe “Pretty much everything we know” (which was *much* less than what we know today!), but when used together, it’s specifically addressing the abode of God (see: http://nwp.link/2j2nNR5, especially Isaiah 66:1 and Jeremiah 23:24). This is describing the Jewish temple. 

In fact, this view was so prevalent that eventually the temple and its courtyard in Jerusalem became known as “Heaven and Earth,” and was spoken of as immovable. The temple itself, the “dwelling place of God” was Heaven, and the courts, particularly with the court of Gentiles, was “the Earth. In more poetical language, it was described as “Where Heaven and Earth meet.” (https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/grawhe)

So the Law and the Prophets are still valid, under Jesus’ new interpretation, until the temple was destroyed. That’s what it meant to the writer and the original readers of the Gospels. We cannot impose our 21st century cosmology onto the text.

3. The structure of the sentence clearly points to the fulfillment of “The Law and the Prophets.” We’ve taught for generations (correctly) that the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus, and this passage in Matthew has been part of that teaching. Certainly, the reference to “the Prophets” would not be part of a declaration of keeping the Old Covenant Law.

These verses are clearly saying that the Law was still in place as Jesus made the statement; it hadn’t been fulfilled yet. Recently, I fulfilled my obligations on a loan. Until that loan was fulfilled, I kept making payments. If I missed even one payment, even the very last payment, then the loan was in default, and the bank had the right to seize my property and sell it off to cover my failure. 

But when I fulfilled that loan, when the payments were done, then the loan no longer has any power over my behavior (“Payments are due!”) or consequences (“…or we’ll seize your stuff!”). I was now free from that law. 

Jesus was declaring that the fulfillment of everything the Law and the Prophets spoke about was upon them: they were about to see the realization of everything they’d been waiting for for the last couple of millennia!

4. The Old Covenant Law was still in place when Jesus spoke these words about the Law being fulfilled. It was already “obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away,” (Hebrews 8:13), but it didn’t finally “vanish away” until the last possible second: exactly one generation (40 years) after Jesus’ death, when the Jerusalem, the temple (“Heaven & Earth”) and perhaps even most significantly, the genealogical records of Israel were all destroyed. Without those records, it was impossible to determine who was a descendant of Aaron, and therefore qualified to be a priest and to make the sacrifices the Law demanded. Legitimate sacrifices could never be re-instituted.

When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD (a description of which is in Matthew 24, in answer to the question of “When will the stones of the temple be thrown down?”), the Old Covenant finally breathed its last and died, completely fulfilled in Christ.

So these verses are not a statement that Believers need to keep the Old Covenant Law. They were a warning that while the Law was still in force when the words were spoken, but that Law would end soon. Romans is blunt: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness….” Done.

And Jesus didn't just end Ten Commandments. He ended 613 laws; he ended all of them. All of that is dead. It was obsolete. It wasn’t needed any more.

You see, all of those commandments were the "terms and conditions" for the Old Covenant. And Jesus ended the Old Covenant. (The Epistle to the Hebrews describes that termination pretty well, better than this article has room for.)

So when that broken down, obsolete covenant was replaced with a New Covenant, the terms and conditions of the first covenant (all those laws, and the priesthood, and the sacrifices) were all replaced with the terms and conditions of the New Covenant as well.

So anyone who names the name of Christ is not under the Old Covenant, and not obligated – not even a smidgeon – to the terms and conditions of that obsolete covenant. We share in a New Covenant, and no man can serve two masters. Dont try.

The Exodus: a Memoir

Four months ago, we was all slaves in Egypt, building bricks for a living, seven days a week, from before dawn till after dark. Our slave lords were so very cruel that they made us kill the baby boys that were born, leaving a generation that was mostly women.

Three months ago, this shepherd guy shows up, speaking both Egyptian & Hebrew, and announcing that there was a god who cared about, and who said it’s time to leave Egypt. Seriously? Who cares for slaves, anyway?

That pissed off the slave lords of course, and they made our lives miserable for a while, but then things got kind of interesting. It was like the gods were even more pissed off at the slave lords. Nature was out of control: disaster after disaster beat on the whole slave lord nation.

Two months ago, the worst disaster: a whole lot of the slave lords’ children died in a single night. We smeared our huts with blood and had this weirdly symbolic meal, and they said that was why our kids didn’t die. Seriously? I mean, how does that work?

But the slave lords backed off, and the Egyptian shepherd guy – I guess his name is Moe –  said it was time to go, and then it got really interesting! The slave lords “loaned” us slaves their gold dishes and jewelry and stuff, and we left. There was a really big crowd of us. I never knew there were so many of us slaves there. And the sheep! That was a lot of sheep!

And we headed out of town, with Moe up there at the front like he was Charlton Heston or something, with his big brother walking next to him. We had some carts, but mostly, we was carrying our stuff, dragging our stuff behind.

There was this dust storm that always seemed to be at the front of the parade, but even freakier, every night, there was a firestorm boiling up in the middle of the camp. It was really weird, but it did keep us warm, seeing how we was camping in the wild, and we didn’t even have decent tents yet.

Then one day, we went through this wet place where I thought I’d seen an ocean the day before. Sure enough, there were still fish flopping in the mud, starfish and seaweed alongside the path, but they was rushing us so much, and I was carrying two kids and a sack with all their clothes and stuff, so I didn’t get to pay much attention.

When we got past that wet place and hiked up the hill on the other side, we stopped to rest, and I heard this huge crash of waves behind us. I looked around, and by golly, there was the ocean, right where we’d just hiked through. The funny thing was that there were dead men, dead horses, and what looked like chunks of the slave lords’ chariots floating in the waves. Somebody started singing, and it turned into a regular party.

Then it got real. Now we had an ocean full of dead bodies between us and civilization, and we were stuck in the outback and it didn’t seem like anybody knew what was going on. Some days, we hiked, some days we didn’t, and I never did understand why. I was more concerned with the fact that we had no tent, no food, not even a freaking water bottle for the kids! (We got busy right away, making tents from sheepskins and camel hair any anything else we could get our hands on, and making other camp stuff.)

The kids were crying, the sheep were dragging their tongues, we were all hot and tired all day, or cold and tired all night, and it was miserable. The bugs were thick, the food was scarce, and all that walking! A few days after the ocean incident, we found an oasis with some standing water, but it was polluted. I was so thirsty, we were all so thirsty, I got on my knees to get a drink, but I couldn’t do it: it stank, and there was bugs and crap in it.

So Moe throws a stick in the water and says, “OK, it’s all good. You can drink it now.” It was still kinda funky, but it wasn’t so bad as before, and the sheep really liked it. They just waded in and drank and drank. We got our water out of the other end of the pond.

And still we hiked. Oh,  how we hiked! And there was always that cloud bank during the daytime, and the fire storm at night. Pretty soon, folks was real eager to claim there spot in the middle of the camp where it was warmest at night, but it wasn’t so bad even at the edge of that huge campground where me and the boys camped and talked every night.

And it was in the desert, so food and water was always an issue. I don’t know which was weirder: the couple of times Moe got mad and whacked one of the rock outcroppings, and out pops a waterfall, or the fact that every morning, me and the boy’s would go out of the camp into the bush, and gather up rice or quinoa or something off the twigs and bushes and have that for breakfast. It was pretty good, kind of spicy sweet. We’d go gather it up every morning, and save some for lunch and dinner. Except Saturdays. It was never there on Saturdays, which was even weirder.

But the jostling for the best camp spaces got weird. Some folks wanted to be by the firestorm where it was warm, and others wanted to be at the edges, so they didn’t have to walk so far for breakfast. It seems that weird stuff was all we ever ate any more, and who can blame ‘em: slaves don’t know how to hunt, and we didn’t want to eat the sheep. They were pretty scrawny and disgusting sheep nowadays anyway, but we drank the milk, or mostly the little ones did.

And then we arrived here, camped around an active volcano. It’s been weird here. First, Moe’s family showed up from wherever it was they had been, then Moe formed some sort of committee of leaders while there. It looked like we were going to be nomads for a while. Better make more tents.


This is a scary god on a scary mountain.
But then Moe decided he needed to go climb that volcano, just as a storm was settling in over the mountain. We heard the thunder, but after a while, it sounded more like a thundering voice, and the voice was talking to Moe, and the voice was telling Moe what to say to the crowd, to us.

‘You have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. If you will listen obediently to what I say and keep my covenant, out of all peoples you’ll be my special treasure. The whole Earth is mine to choose from, but you’re special: a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.’

We all heard the voice, and then Moe came and said the same thing to us, and we was all real excited! Us being a special treasure to a God who beats down slave lords, feeds us in the wilderness and makes a bonfire for us every night and breakfast for us every morning? What’s not to like about that, and me and the boys, and I guess just about everybody, told Moe, “Yeah, we’re all in on this!”

But we got thinking about it over night. This is also a God that killed the slave lords’ animals and crops and eventually some of their kids. This is a God that chases his “special treasure” into the desert and then leaves us there to starve, to die of thirst. This is the God that I guess lives in an active volcano, and damn, he’s scary. You know, the more me and the boys talked about it, the less excited we are about hearing this God talk to us, hold us accountable to some “covenant.” And stuff like us all being “priests,” or being “holy,” now that’s not for us.

Then we had this great idea: Maybe we can get the best of both worlds going on here? We’ll do the covenant thing, but we’ll make Moe go talk to the scary God in the volcano. He can be the priest, and he can tell us what the God wants us to do, and we’ll do what he says. More or less.

We can have a go-between! He’ll give us some token list of rules. Keep the rules, when it works out, and we’re on easy street. The God thrashes on any slave lords, and he keeps feeding us, and we don’t have to deal with the scary stuff!

What could go wrong with that? Right?


Friday

What Covenant Was That, Again?

The Old Covenant was all about blessings & curses (Deuteronomy 28). So that's what Old Covenant prophets spoke about. That’s why Jeremiah & the others were declaring judgments and curses and such over the nations and the peoples who defied what they knew about God.

That was the Old. That’s dead and gone.

The New Covenant is all about blessings and forgiveness. So that's what New Covenant prophets speak about: it’s the work of the New Covenant prophet to declare God’s blessing, God’s forgiveness, God’s Kingdom, to declare that they way to God is open!

You can tell a whole lot about what covenant someone is operating in by the words they speak (or write).

• If someone regularly talks about needing to avoid doing this or that, or about needing to honor this festival, that holiday, they’re working under the Covenant that’s about works and whose end-game is about blessings and curses. They’re under the Old Covenant. Don’t go with them, unless you want to walk away from what Jesus has done for you.

• If someone regularly talks about how this preacher is wrong, about how that doctrine is heretical, or about how this country or that people group deserves judgment, they’re working under the Covenant that’s about works and whose end-game is about blessings and curses. They’re under the Old Covenant. Don’t go with them, unless you want to walk away from what Jesus has done for you.

• If their message is more about “Change how you think about God so that you can participate in the Kingdom of Heaven which is right here among us!” (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15) then they’re working under the New Covenant where the Kingdom of God is “at hand” (or “within reach”) of all of us, and where the King of this Kingdom literally “became a curse” (Galatians 3:13) in order to remove curses from us, and from our words.

Here’s the short version: generally, if someone is preaching about “you need to change!” they’re probably preaching the Old Covenant. If they’re preaching about “Come to Jesus and be changed!” then they’re preaching the New Covenant.

Come to Jesus and let him renew your mind, your way of thinking.

Thursday

Why the Law?

Way back when, God proposed a relationship with humankind based on equal access for everybody, one-on-one with God (Ex 19:6).

But the humans involved rejected that covenant, and substituted a counter proposal based on a priesthood and obedience to rules, aka Law (Ex 20:19). What a disappointment that must have been to God.

And so the Law was given, in deference to the only covenant the human species would accept at the time.

And of course, since there was a Law to follow, there had to be enforcement of that law, and that was always done by the people's god. So God, who never wanted the Law, had to either enforce the Law that was not his idea, or walk away from the human race. He said plainly, "I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats." (Isa 1:11)

Nowadays, though, we have a New Covenant, based neither on a priesthood nor obedience to a Law. So the Law, being fulfilled, has been archived. The entire system of relating to God with the Law was destroyed when Jerusalem went down (70 AD). It could never be revived.

Nowadays, we all have access, face-to-face, with God (Heb 4:16). Even better, we're seated with Jesus, full time with God (Eph 2:6). Just like he always wanted.

Aaah. That's better. That's MUCH better.

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What Covenant are They Under?

Old or New?

You can tell a whole lot about whether someone is walking in the New Covenant, or if their thinking is still grounded on the old. It's especially important that we understand which covenant prophets and other declarers of truth are working from.

The Old Covenant was all about blessings & curses (Deuteronomy 28). So Old Covenant prophets speak a lot about blessings and curses, or people who are blessed and people who are under judgement. That’s why Jeremiah & the others were declaring judgments and curses and such over the nations and the peoples who had defied what they knew about God.

That was the Old. That’s dead and gone (Hebrews 8:13 & others). If you have trouble with that, you might want to stop here and work this out before going further in this; the rest will just make you stumble.

The New Covenant is all about blessings and forgiveness (1Corinthians 14:3 and others). Therefore, that's what New Covenant prophets speak about: it’s the work of the New Covenant prophet to declare God’s blessing, God’s forgiveness, God’s Kingdom, to declare that they way to God is open!

You can tell a whole lot about what covenant someone is operating in by the words they speak (or write).

·         If someone regularly talks about needing to avoid this activity or that place or those people, or if they talk about needing to honor this festival, that holiday, they’re working under the Covenant that’s about works and whose end-game is about blessings and curses. They’re under the Old Covenant. Don’t go with them, unless you want to walk away from what Jesus has already done for you.

·         If someone regularly talks about how this preacher is wrong, about how that doctrine is heretical, or about how this country or that people-group deserves judgment, then that person is working under the Covenant that’s about works and whose end-game is about blessings and curses. They’re under the Old Covenant. Don’t go with them, unless you want to walk away from what Jesus has already done for you.

·         If their message is more about “Change how you think about God so that you can participate in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is right here among us!” (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15) then they’re working under the New Covenant where the Kingdom of God is “at hand” (or “within reach”) of all of us, and where the King of this Kingdom literally “became a curse” (Galatians 3:13) in order to remove curses from us, and from our words.

Here’s the short version: generally, if someone is preaching about “you need to change!” they’re preaching the Old Covenant. If they’re preaching about “Come to Jesus and be changed!” then they’re preaching the New Covenant.

Come to Jesus and have your mind renewed.

It’s Christmas Eve


It’s Christmas Eve. My home is filled with laughing children. My son is making something wonderful in the kitchen. My wife has forbidden any entry into the bedroom until the last few presents are wrapped. A video game is blaring in the living room, and power tools are finishing up a last-minute gift in the shop.

My home is a very busy place. And honestly, I love it.

But as much as this night is about family, it’s even more about a Birth. I stepped outside to visit with Father about it, to remember that Birth with Him.

Immediately, I had an image of Him, as eager as a grandchild would be, clapping happily, dancing from foot to foot: this is His Happy Dance!

For me, the laboring woman and her not-quite-husband are separated from me by twenty centuries. But as God is Lord of Time (among many other things), He is right this minute, dancing with joyful anticipation over this impending Birth.

God, being omniscient, knew of the failure of man in the Garden before He even spoke the words, “Let Us create man, in Our image…” Before he ever even scooped up mud and shaped it and prepared it to hold His Own breath, he knew that man would fail the test, would eat of the wrong tree, would submit to the wrong voice, and would be doomed to death.

But God, being the best in the universe at planning ahead, already knew that He, Himself, in the flesh and blood of humanity, would die a gruesome death in a backwater, occupied nation in the geographical armpit of that planet in order to establish a New Covenant with them. How he looked forward to that!

And He knew that before God could die for man, God would have to become a man. And this! He looked forward to this with such joy!
And tonight is the night!

The most patient Father that has ever existed has been eagerly, joyfully anticipating this night! This is the beginning of the Covenant that He’s longed for since the Garden: when he would have a nation of Kings and Priests who would know his Father’s heart and love Him as freely as He loves them!

The cross? That torture, that pain, that indescribable humiliation? That was nothing! Nothing! Less than nothing! He would pay ANY price for the privilege of whispering of his love to his wayward children. If there could have been a greater price that could ever have been paid, He would have paid it without hesitation for the children that He treasured above even His own eternal, omnipotent life!

And tonight is the night that it all began.

Tonight! As Mary is breathing hard and sweating heavily, as Joseph is wringing his hands and feeling nearly (but not quite) useless in the face of The Birth, God Himself is dancing with joy! Angels are ministering to the new mother and anxious dad, but God is laughing and jumping and shouting his joy to the heavens!

Tonight it begins. Tomorrow He gets to walk – well, to crawl first – among his wayward children! The beginning of the Via Dolorosa begins in this little, sweaty barn, on the unknown edge of a tiny, powerless nation. This is the beginning of walking among them, and even more, this is the beginning of setting them free from everything that holds them back!

This is the night! This is THAT night.

Do you feel his joy? Can you feel his anticipation? 


The First Commandment is a Threat.

May I share something kind of strange? OK. Thanks.

I've been thinking (yes, again)! (I do that.)

It seems to me that the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3) isn’t really a commandment at all.

The commandment in question says simply, “You will have no other gods before me.” There’s no command in that verse. It doesn’t say “Don’t do it.” There is no “Thou shalt not…” in this. There’s actually no command in the first commandment.

What there is, however, is a threat.

It’s like this: “You ain’t ever gonna have other gods before me. If you set one up, I will knock it down. It will not succeed.”

This isn’t so much about what we must or must do. This doesn’t appear to be about us exercising our will power. This appears to be us being aware of God’s nature. If you enter into relationship with God, then God will be the big deal in your life.

I wonder if this might be why some folks get into trouble? I wonder if sometimes, other folks – and they themselves may not even know about it – put them on a pedestal, perhaps because they are open to being treated with reverence or with the kind of honor that really only belongs to One.

If I set up somebody as the authority in my life – maybe my pastor, maybe a famous author or conference speaker or maybe a godly broadcaster – if I listen to them for what I ought to believe, and how much money I should give and to whom, for the directions or limitations in my life, then I’ve set them up as a god in my life. Before the Lord.

And the threat is ready to be applied. God will need to remove them from the “before me” part of my life.

Now the real question applies: this is clearly an Old Testament / Old Covenant threat. Does this principle apply in the New Covenant? 



The OTHER Benefit of the New Covenant

Our history with God is a history of covenants. Covenants between God and mankind. This is how the mighty Creator King and the human species relate: through a covenant.

We do it too. We’re up-front about it with marriage covenants, and more subtle about other covenants. There is a powerful – unwritten – parenting covenant: violate that one and society takes your children away from you.

Now hold still, I’m going to talk directly about covenant for a minute. Necessarily, I will engage in willful oversimplification of some details in order to illustrate my point: the actual situation is much more complicated than this simple explanation.

A covenant is a “promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action.” Covenants are how people agree to relate to each other. Covenant is how God relates to humanity.

Noah had a covenant. Abraham had a covenant. David had a covenant. But the Big One was the Mosaic Covenant, often called The Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant was kind of a failure in before it ever got going, of course. God proposed a covenant to the people of Israel that had a lot of the elements of our New Covenant in it. Before there even were the Ten Commandments, God offered Israel a covenant where every single person is a priest, every single person can come to God for himself or herself:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. ‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6-7)

“Kingdom of priests and a holy nation”? Twice in the book of Revelation, we’re described as “kings and priests unto our God” (1:6 & 5:10). God was offering that relationship to the Israelites four thousand years ago? (Can you imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t had the last four thousand years of legalistic bondage? But I digress.)

But the people who were offered this intimate “everybody is a priest” relationship with God reject that offer in the very next chapter.

“Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19)

In the re-telling of it, it's even more clear:

“Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” (Deuteronomy 5:27)

The people had rejected a “kingdom of priests” covenant, and propose a covenant that requires a priesthood, and is based on obedience. Neither the Levitical priesthood, nor an obey-the-rules covenant, was God’s idea!

And so the “everybody is a priest” covenant was put aside, and was replaced with a covenant based on the people’s obedience. Any covenant that’s based on obeying will necessarily have consequences for disobedience. Thus this is a covenant about blessings for obedience, and punishment (sometimes called “curses”) for disobeying.

Deuteronomy 28 functions as kind of a summary: You’ll be blessed when you obey, and you’ll be cursed (or punished) if you disobey. Verses 1 through 14 outline the blessings. The rest of the chapter talks about the punishment for disobeying, and it’s God that is charged with that punishment.

Frankly, that was a lousy covenant, it’s a poor substitute for God’s first proposal, but it’s a covenant! Even that poor replacement was better than no relationship at all between God and man!

We remember that the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (which we call “The Law”) were intended to constrain the behavior of the humans in this covenant relationship. But we tend to forget that the Old Covenant constrained the behavior of BOTH parties of the Covenant: God had chosen to bind himself to the Old Covenant as well.’

So when we read in Deuteronomy 28 about “If you disobey, you’ll be punished.” Guess who the punisher has to be. Yeah, that’s God. He has bound himself to this busted-up covenant, because it’s better than no covenant – no relationship – whatsoever. Moreover, this was the only covenant that the people would agree to, so this was the covenant that he bound himself to.

And this covenant, proposed by fearful men, required that God punish (or “curse”) the people that he loves so very much, every time they disobey. (Seriously, go read Deuteronomy 29!)

Now let’s remember that there was a third party loose on the Earth, who was not a party to the covenant between God and man. Lucifer had already demonstrated his eagerness to accuse God at every opportunity (see Genesis 3:4-5). And he’s up to his old tricks here as well.

So every time the people disobeyed (and that happened so very often!) and God was required by the people’s busted-up covenant to punish them, Lucifer steps up to the microphone and declares, “Look how mean God is! Look how bloodthirsty he is! Look how angry God is!” completely ignoring the fact that God is merely complying with the conditions of the covenant that mankind offered him.

That’s a hot mess. I’ve oversimplified the story in this short article, but it’s easy to see the mess that the Old Covenant is: seriously, the only one who benefited from that debacle was Lucifer, and that’s not actually what we’re aiming for.

Now skip forward until Jesus is sitting in the Upper Room, where Jesus is offering – for the second time – a covenant of an “everybody is a priest” relationship between man and God: “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 2 Corinthians 11:25.) But this time, the representatives (the twelve) accept the offer.

I still marvel at that cup, that biscuit. With that token meal, God removes us from the Old Covenant and makes us participants instead in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:13 makes it clear: “In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.”). And this is a covenant whose sole commandment (John 13:34) is to love each other.

What an amazing relief that is: in a single moment, these guys are plucked from a covenant of “If you obey, I’ll bless you; if you disobey, I’ll punish you!” and dropped into a Covenant of Love.

The seminal New Covenant verse, John 3:16, says it beautifully: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And if that wasn’t clear enough, verse 17 clarifies that the New Covenant is not about punishment: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” What a relief that is!

All that is amazing, spectacular, and otherwise completely awesome.

But it is also only half of the story. The Old Covenant is made obsolete, and we are released from its bondage, but we were not the only ones held in bondage by it.

With the passing of the Old Covenant, God Himself is no longer constrained by the Law to provide blessings when people obey, like treats for a dog that sits when you tell him. More importantly, God is no longer constrained by the Law to bring punishment, curses, judgment on the people that he so desperately loves.

When the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant, humanity could give a great, corporate sigh of relief. We’re no longer under the law, but now we’re under grace, under love.


But the greater relief may not be ours. In the New Covenant, God is now free to love us with all that is in his heart, as he has longed to do since the day he said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26). God is now free from the Old Covenant, and he’s more excited about it than we are. 

We are free. But more important, God Himself is free! 

Considering Covenants

The Bible makes it abundantly clear. We are no longer bound by the Old Covenant.

For example, in Hebrews 8, the author argues forcefully and at length that the Old Covenant has been replaced.

“In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)

Let’s be clear about it: the Old Covenant was rendered obsolete when Jesus established the New Covenant in his blood, not long before he spilled that blood for us. And within a generation, the last vestiges of that Old Covenant were gone, not one stone left upon another, all records destroyed, so that there could never be another temple.

The reason that the Old Covenant is gone is because it was obsolete. It was a bloody failure anyway. God originally offered the family of Jacob (also known as Israel) a covenant  a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation”" covenant (Exodus 19:6), but Israel turned down that covenant.

Instead, they proposed the priesthood covenant (Exodus 20:19), which they could not keep even long enough for Moses to walk down the mountain with the terms of the covenant they had insisted on. And the rest of the Old Testament serves as a dreary testimony to how thoroughly and how deeply Israel continued to fail in covenant with Father.

There’s a lesson here, I think: Humankind does not excel at keeping divine covenants.

But when we are in Christ, and Christ is in covenant with Father, then I don’t have to rely on MY capacity for perfection to keep my covenant intact. And since the New Covenant is not with a nation, then I don’t have to rely on YOUR capacity for perfection to keep MY covenant intact.

It is the amazing faithfulness of the amazing Son of God who keeps covenant on our behalf. And I am included in that covenant because I am in Him.

And while I made a conscious choice to be in Him, it is not my excellence at keeping that choice that keeps me in Him. Even while I am in Him, He is simultaneously in me, and he is indeed excellent at keeping me.


I choose to stay in Him, not because I signed some covenant agreement, and not because of the threat that he may not love me if I muff up.

I choose to stay in Him because He is the very best thing that’s ever happened to me, and because I am completely, madly, hopelessly in love. And you know what keeps me in love with Him? He is completely, madly, hopelessly in love with me!

Wow!

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