THE NEW PROMISE OR COVENANT
Jesus, after He shared his last meal with his disciples told them, “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, and so you must love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Jesus also hinted at a new covenant. “During the Last Supper, he declared, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For, I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given 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, which is poured out for you” (Lk.22: 15-20).
The word “new” sounds like a bell announcing a new order. Jesus has brought in a new commandment and a new covenant. Yes, Jesus has brought in new things, but he also kept everything old that was good. We need to take a lesson from a winemaker. “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, “The old is better’” (Lk. 5:37-39). What novices do to wine, the Jewish leaders did to the Law by mixing it with traditions and beneficial interpretations. Jesus reminded the leaders, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘anyone who curses his father and mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘He can make a donation that becomes “corban,” a holy gift to God, the guilty no longer has to do any thing for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you keep handing down. And you do many things like that” (Mk. 7:9-13).
In the old covenant, the Law contained the stipulations and sanctions for the recipients of the promises. These stipulations and sanctions were to induce man to keep his side of the agreement and protect him from being harmed or do something that may cause hurt. In case one sinned or transgressed, there was severe punishment and no redemption. The Law is still needed, written or unwritten to remind us sinners that we need some one or something new that can save us. Jesus is the only one that has fulfilled the stipulations and sanctions of the Law. “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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-18).
The Old Testament has some 286 references to the covenant and the New Testament 33. We are only interested in two, namely between God and man and Christ and his followers. Both are different from any other covenant in the world. Both Father and Son have what no one else has to offer, “life” on earth and “life eternal.” “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (Jn. 5:26). “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (Jn. 5:21). In the covenant, Christ Jesus the Son of Man ransomed with his blood all the souls that want to be delivered from sin (Mk. 10:45). The shedding or pouring out of Jesus’ blood was specifically for his disciples and then for those who will believe in their message (Lk. 22:20; Jn. 17:20). In Exodus, it was blood that saved the lives of the first – born (Heb. 11:28) and so does the blood of Christ under the New Covenant (I Pe. 1:19).
From childhood on I have been taught that life was a gift from God. I was also taught that man messed up his life by disobeying God and ended up in the world without God. Then, I was taught that Christ gave me back my life free of charge. That was music to my ears. It was a gift from heaven and an act of God’s grace even to think it possible that God loved me. He does and He proved it by having his Son buy my salvation. It seemed too easy and simple for me. I read in Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I dismissed it as Old Testament thinking. Then I came across this one in Romans 12:1 and it floored me. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer up your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and prefect will.” Paul was actually saying that I owe my physical life to Christ. He did not ransom me to do as I please, but to be his servant and follow his orders set forth by the one that initiated the covenant.
In the Gospels, all of Jesus’ teaching and illustrating is about keeping the new covenant in force. I am in the world but expected to live as if I was in heaven (Jn. 17:15-19). I have the same concerns the disciples had. Peter asked, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us” (Mt. 19:27)? Like the disciples, I was not at all prepared to hear what Jesus said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:37039). Did the disciples have a stomach for these words? Many left because of them. “Jesus said to them: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:53-56). It was not about a memorial where they ate bread or drank wine, but the fact that they too would lay down their lives for the redemption of their own and others.
Jesus left the key of redemption and the power to forgive in the hands of his followers (Mt. 16:19; Jn. 20:21-23). Every person, in every generation can enter the covenant by accepting the same conditions and terms. Not everyone was and is or will be able to carry his/her load or make the sacrifice the kingdom of heaven requires. There is some skill involved in doubling an investment. We chide the man that buried his one talent (Mt. 25:24-30). In a way he is like most of us that expect someone else to do it for us. It is not at all as easy as the other two made it appear. Luke researched Jesus’ mission and filed this report, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in the family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Lk. 12:49-53). Matthew added, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (10:34,36).
The cost of entering an agreement with Jesus was far more than the Rich Young Ruler was willing to pay. He was so close, but not close enough (Mk. 10:17-27). He was rich but he also loved comfort like we do. Jesus was disappointed when the young man walked away. He had what it took to be s disciple but lacked the will to be one. Jesus was very selective in his choice. “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to this one, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ A third came and said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’ The Lord replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’” (Lk. 9-57-62).
Jesus was then and still is today looking for tough people to offer his covenant to the world. It is a cross – bearing life and work to be a member of the covenant with Jesus. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt. 16:24-28). Verse 28 is a reference to Jesus’ promise, “I tell you the truth, if a man keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn. 8:51). This in turn is obeying the command to love. “This is my command, love each other” (Jn. 15:17). It includes the neighbor, the stranger, the enemy and even those that persecute and kill us. Like Jesus, we save others by saving ourselves. We forgive even when we are not forgiven. We love even when we are not loved. And we serve without expecting to be served. “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24).