Friday, September 14, 2012

The Bible - Book of Covenants

Romans 9:1-5 1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

The meaning of the word Covenant
Yesterday we looked at how God's administrative reign over the ages frames the overall message of scripture.  Through the successive administrations or "dispensations" of God through history, the wonderful purpose of scripture is revealed: God's glory in Jesus Christ.  As we mentioned the other day, another way of considering the Bible's unfolding message is by looking at the Covenants.  A Covenant is simply a binding agreement made between two parties. The Old Testament Hebrew word for covenant is "berith" (bay-rith) and literally refers to that which is cut.  In the New Testament, especially in the books of Galatians and Hebrews, the Greek word "diatheke" (dee-a-thay-kay) is used to describe two parties making an agreement with one another.  Today we want to consider the Bible - Book of Covenants, and discover why the covenants lie at the center of the Bible's message.

1. Featured work of the Covenants - Salvation.
Romans 9:1-3
When we begin to look at Paul's opening remarks in this chapter of Romans, we cannot help but notice his broken heart over the lost condition of His fellow Jews.  In a sense he would gladly be condemned if it could mean their salvation.  Scripture's chief work is that of salvation.  How is it that Paul has developed such a heart for his lost countrymen? By virtue of the fact that to them was given among other things the promises and the "covenants".

The New Testament bears out the chief purpose of God giving his Covenants throughout history - to progressively reveal His unified plan of redemption.  A quick survey of the New Testament reveals this was the main work revealed by the Old Testament Covenants. 

a. Luke 1:71-72 "Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US; 72To show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant"

b. Acts 3:25-26 25“It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’ 26“For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

c. Ephesians 2:12-13 "remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

The Covenantal structure of the Bible was designed to progressively reveal the unified plan of God's salvation.  This salvation was revealed through Israel in the Old Testament Age, proclaimed by the church in the New Testament age, pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ, the mediator and Savior of all who believe on Him.  It is upon reflection on these covenants that Paul is stirred to such emotion and heartbreak over his kinsmen.  They all point to the salvation of God, by God in human flesh - Jesus Christ.

2. Featured Covenants of scripture Romans 9:4
Paul notes in Romans 9:4 - "who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises".  Now I underlined that word "covenants" since the other items in this verse are associated in one way or another with them.  God's promises were revealed, along with the redemptive identity of Israel as God's chosen people.  The revelation of the Law contained some of these Covenants and God's glory in salvation is their aim.  Below is a list of some of the featured covenants of scripture.  I will mainly list their verse references and commonly given names, since a detailed exposition of each is not the aim of today's blog. 

a. Covenant of Works - Genesis 1:26-28; 2:16-17.  God promised man eternal fellowship if he obeyed these simple commands.  We know that man broke this covenant, and that it was indeed a covenant, based off of Job 31:33 and Hosea 6:7.  It was the breaking of this covenant in the garden of Eden that led to sin and the curse being pronounced upon Adam and his descendants.

b. Covenant of Grace - Genesis 3:15,20-21.  God gave Eve the promise of a "seed" or a descendant who would come and defeat the serpent.  Adam's confession of faith concerning her identity as the seed bearer and God's clothing of them with animal skins reveals a second covenant, one based off of shed blood and grace alone through faith alone.  This pattern would be the one used by God to communicate salvation throughout the scripture.  

c. Noahic Covenant - Genesis 9:16-18.  God promised that He would never destroy the world with a deluge of water ever again.  By the sign of the rainbow, mankind can see mute testimony of God's mercy and common grace on both the just and the unjust.  The fact that rainbows can be seen worldwide is one of the evidences of the worldwide scope of the flood. 

d. Abrahamic Covenant - Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22.  God revealed Himself to Abraham and told him that through his "seed" would all families be blessed.  This repetition of the Covenant of Grace shows the patterns of that covenant: "a seed" (Genesis 12); confirmation by the shedding of blood (Genesis 15, 17) and the promise of a redeemer to come (Galatians 3-4).  Initially referring to Israel, this covenant would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ, spiritually include all who by grace through faith believed on Christ throughout the ages, and will be finally fulfilled when Israel (temporarily set aside in this church age) is restored at Christ's return. 

e. Mosaic Covenant - Exodus 19-20.  This Covenant functions much like the first Covenant of works, in that it can be summarized by Jesus' statement in Luke 10:28 - "Do this and you will live".  This Covenant does not promote a second way of salvation, rather it points to the sole way of salvation - by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  According to Galatians 3:24, the primary purpose of God's revelation of the law was to point the way to God's covenant of grace in Jesus Christ.  The Law was never meant to grant righteousness, but rather demand it. 

f. Davidic Covenant - 2 Samuel 7:13-16.  King David was promised an heir who would occupy Israel throne.  Initially the covenant was for David's physical descendants, however the covenant was fulfilled initially when Christ ascended as the King over His church, and will be fulfilled ultimately when He returns to rule over Israel as her Davidic King in the 1,000 year reign.

g. New Covenant - Jeremiah 31:31-34 This Covenant is a bringing together of the glorious promises of blessings first stated in the Abrahamic Covenant.  It promises the indwelling Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, God's law written on the heart and personal relationship with God.  It is spiritually being fulfilled in this church age and will be fulfilled in a literal way to Israel at Christ's return. 

3. Featured Focus of the Covenants - Jesus Christ Romans 9:5
The one word that permeates almost all of these featured covenants is the term "seed".  The idea of "seed" refers to a promised redeemer.  The Covenant of Grace in Genesis 3:15 unscores this idea of seed.  From the Noahic Covenant the "seed" promise continued through the bloodline of Shem.  The Abrahamic Covenant features this term "seed" - point to Christ. (Galatians 3:16)  The Davidic Covenant also centers around this concept of "seed", pointing to Christ - the true King. (Romans 1:1-3).  Christ of course revealed Himself to be the Mediator of the New Covenant. (Luke 22:20) 

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