Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 6/11/06
"Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (II Cor. 5:17, RSV).
God remains the same (Ps. 102:27; Heb. 13:8), but the way He dealt with mankind depended on their level of maturity. We'll explore a few differences between the Old Covenant God made with Israel and the New Covenant which He made with all men in Christ. Lenny has written that man's physical being developed between Adam and Moses; the Law was given for the maturation of the soul, a period which lasted from Moses to Christ; and the new birth of the spirit began with Christ. When He died, the veil in the temple was rent (Matt. 27:51), a symbolic gesture to indicate that whereas God had only been approachable by the High Priest, once a year, with the blood of a bull and a goat to sprinkle on the Mercy Seat behind the veil and on the great altar (Lev. 16:11-19), now the veil separating God and man was torn asunder. The Holy of Holies, formerly available only to the High Priest, was relocated and now resides within the common man.
The Hebrew writer explained that Christ entered the Tabernacle not made with hands with His own blood to obtain for us an "eternal redemption" (9:12). "Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for ALL at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26-26).
For 2000 years, Christians have primarily focused on the forgiveness of sin as the main benefit of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. Only within recent decades has the rest of the "gift" been explored, nothing less than the renewing of our minds, the refreshing of our souls, and the realization that the unconditional love of God paid the price to redeem us totally, body, soul, and spirit.
As I was studying scripture to prepare for this writing, I briefly revisited the Law of Moses, which dealt with every tiny detail of their lives. There were 613 laws. Each tassel on the prayer shawl worn by the orthodox Jew when he prays represents one law. They also wear phylacteries (small leather boxes which contain scripture, usually the "shema" found in Deut. 6:4-5: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength"). They wore these phylacteries on their arms and one on their forehead to remind them to keep the law, Because Yahweh was more fierce and frightening than lovable, Jesus had to come in the flesh so they could feel and touch His love. Lest they forget these laws, the Jews were told to "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads" (Vs. 6, 8), and "Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates." (Called Mezuzas, they are small scrolls placed on the doors of Jewish homes. Vs. 9.)
Jesus said about the commandment to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, "On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:40). That's a fascinating observation in light of the many laws they had to keep, but it reflects what I'm sensing today. The Law of Moses, beautiful and perfect as it was dealt mostly with the exterior of a man, how he behaved, how he worshipped, how he lived in the larger community. The New Covenant makes us new from the inside out (II Cor. 5:17).
Though the book of Leviticus is rather a tedious and often depressing read, nevertheless, I would recommend you read it at least once to show you what Christ delivered us from. The Law covered nearly every aspect of their daily lives, and was tailor made for those living in a desert climate surrounded by pagans who sacrificed their children in the fires in worship of their dreadful gods. There's a list of clean and unclean animals, fish, and fowl (Chapter 11). They were forbidden to eat pork and shell fish, food groups which can make you really ill if they spoil (desert nomads had no means of refrigeration). Chapter 12 deals with purification for women after childbirth. It shows that Joseph and Mary were poor people, for when Jesus was born, they offered two doves or two young pigeons, rather than the year-old lamb sacrificed by more affluent worshippers. (See Luke 2:22-24.) Interestingly, and typical of the Old Covenant, a woman was unclean for seven days if she bore a son, and had to wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. If, however, she bore a daughter, her time of uncleanness was fourteen days, and she had to wait 66 days to be purified. This shows the importance of males and the unimportance of females. I love Christ for changing all that (which some churches still don't recognize).
Other provisions include regulations about infectious skin diseases and mildew (Chapter 13), cleansing those diseases and mildew (Chapter 14), and prohibitions against unlawful sexual relations (Chapter 18), They were not to worship idols, mate different kinds of animals, plant two kinds of seed in one field, or wear a garment woven out of two kinds of material. They were forbidden to eat meat with blood in it, practice divination or sorcery, to consult mediums or spiritists (Chapter 19). The punishment for sins included death by stoning (Chapter 20). Because they broke His commandment about worshipping idols, the Lord finally sent them off into Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah rebuked them for the detestable practice of burning their children in the fire, saying that it never came into God's mind (Jer. 7:31), yet in spite of that, so many Christians today believe that God will burn His disobedient children with fire for ever and ever. Such a thought is in direct violation of scripture, as well as a blasphemous accusation against our Father. The place where Israel burned their children was the Valley of Ben Hinnom, "Gehenna" in Greek, and was translated "hell" by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible. Gehenna is an actual physical place located on the southwest side of Jerusalem, not an eternal destination. Happily, thousands are being set free by this truth.
Only one place in the Old Covenant could I find a commandment to love: "You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18). And frankly, I'm not sure how you square that verse with Deut. 19:21: "Your eye shall not pity; it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot," and Lev. 24:19-20: "When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured." The Law allowed for retribution even though the Bible asserts, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). Surely it would take the wisdom of Solomon to reconcile these divergent thoughts, and the record shows that many took vengeance into their own hands, including King David. The Amalekites had captured his two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, and burned the town where they had been living. With God's blessing, David tracked down the thugs, killed them and recovered everyone and everything they had stolen from him (I Sam. 30). Apparently this was retribution, not vengeance.
I could find no commandment in the Law to have faith, and only a few references to faith in the Old Testament. Ps. 78:21-22 says, "Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel; because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power." When Jesus came, He was the living embodiment of the New Covenant, the fulfillment of the Law. About faith, He told his disciples on the occasion of cursing the fig tree, "Have faith in God" (Mk. 11:11). Because they walked with Him and sat under His teaching, not to mention the tremendous force of His personality and power, their faith grew by watching Him in action. My opinion is that God knew it would do no good to command faith under Law, because let's get real here, you just can't drum it up. You can mouth platitudes, quote scriptures, make positive confessions, and perhaps deceive others and even yourself, but when push comes to shove, when someone you love is terminally ill, or a hurricane has taken everything you hold dear, the only possible source of faith is Christ Himself, dwelling within you. Faith is a gift, not a work (Eph. 2:8). The major difference between the Old and New Covenants is the material on which they are written.
The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone and delivered by Moses to Israel. Though many no doubt tried, no one could keep it. For that, God punished them severely by sending them into captivity: Israel to Assyria and Judah to Babylon. He said to them through the prophet Jeremiah, "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:33-34).
Paul said about the difference between the Old and New Covenants, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (Gal. 6:15). It is because of the cross and the resurrection of Christ that we have been set free from the law of sin and death and made new: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (II Cor. 5:17). Paul gives a perfect definition of how this new creation behaves: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away" (I Cor. 13:4-8). He summarizes the three great attributes of the New Covenant, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE" (Vs. 13). Love is the fulfillment of the Law.
The much sought after, but often missed commodity of love manifests itself beautifully and significantly in marriage relationships. Lenny and I both have been married before, and each of us endured rather than enjoyed our respective first unions. When we married, we had battle scars from our former relationships, but each of us knew that God had ordained our marriage. As we were testing the waters and finding our way in our new life together, Lenny says about it that at first, we "missed each other in the fog." We weren't communicating. Finally, I told him that the major reason my first marriage failed (other than his alcoholism), was that my first husband expected me to read his mind and give him what he wanted without his having to ask. I couldn't do that. Impossible for me. Lenny is an intuitive person, and he reads feelings very well, but I told him if he wanted me to know how he feels, he would have to say so in words, for I can't read minds, and when I met him, my intuition was so suppressed that I couldn't even guess what he was feeling.
Because we loved each other, we worked on communicating. He saw that he had been stuffing down his feelings rather than dealing with them. Isn't that the "good Christian" way? Isn't this what is practiced in churches where you put on a happy face when you go inside the door and never let people know what you're feeling, how you may be hurting, or what you need? Somehow, Christians have gotten the idea that to be needy shows you are weak and lacking in faith.
I'll use myself as a horrible example. During the bitter last days of my first marriage, I well remember one Wednesday night, standing at the back of the church auditorium hearing one of the elders, who also had a difficult marriage, say, "If any of you is having trouble in your marriage, come down here and let us pray together." I was dying inside from what I suffered at home, but the shame and guilt of admitting that I did not have a perfect marriage, kept me frozen in place. The tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized that I could never tell anyone what was going on in my marriage. Thank God for counseling, by which God's grace delivered me from the phony baloney so prevalent in churches in the 70s. The "fake it until you make it" philosophy went down in flames when I finally found caring counselors who allowed me to say how I felt and be who I was without judgment, condemnation, shame or guilt.
Lenny and I have a wonderful relationship because we love each other; we talk about our differences, which are rare, and most of all, we each look to God to help us cope. We do NOT expect the other to make us whole. He is not responsible for my mental stability, happiness, self-confidence, peace or emotional tranquility; those are God's job. Likewise, he doesn't look to me to make him OK, knowing that only God can do that. It may sound like a small matter, but believe me, it is truly gigantic. It is the difference between living by Law (the shoulds, oughts and musts administered from the outside), and living by Grace, where each person in a relationship looks to the Christ within rather than to the other person to get his or her needs met. Try it with God's help. You'll like it.
Father, we thank You for the New Covenant in which we are Your children, Your New Creation. In the marriage relationship between Christ and His church, we see Your devotion, Your commitment and Your love for us displayed. We thank You that You tear down the old and rebuild the new, all the while holding our hand as You lead us from glory to glory. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Decoding Bible Mysteries
Decoding the Atonement
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 06/05/06,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 10/08/08.