25 October 2011

A Survey of the Old testament Law--The First Covenant (Part 2)

We are still comparing and contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant. Now, when I say “old covenant” I mean what some call the “Sinai covenant” (since it was made on Mt. Sinai) or the “Mosaic covenant” (since it was made through Moses). Because God made several other covenants with certain men. He made a covenant with Noah; He promised He would never again cause the rains to utterly destroy life on earth. He made two covenants with Abraham that in him all nations would be blessed and that he would be the father of many nations. God made a covenant with David, that through him the Messiah would come. He made a covenant with Aaron, that his descendants would be priests and intercede for the people. And of course He made the New Covenant whereby He would forgive sins and remember them no more, that being the covenant we Christians live under today.

And even before the people made it to Mt. Sinai, God promised Moses that these people would be His people. Exodus 4:22-2322 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD: "Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me."'" Then, once He led the people out of Egypt, He promises the whole group, Exodus 19:3-63 And the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 4 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. 5 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. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'" These promises were made strictly to the Israelites. To Jews according to the flesh.

And that is why we see that Paul says, Ephesians 2:11-1211 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Before Christ came, God divided the world up into two groups of people—Jew and Gentile. If you were born into a Jewish family, you were a Jew. If you were born into a family from any other ethnic group, you were not a Jew—you were a Gentile. And God only made covenants with the Jewish people. He never made a covenant with any Gentile nation. Not only that, but if you wanted to worship God, you had to come to God through the Jewish nation, the priests and so forth. Let’s say our friend Richard was a Moabite and our other friend David was a Jebusite. They have both seen the mighty hand of God in destroying the Canaanites and the Amorites and the Amalekites and the Hivites and the Parasites and the Termites.

David, the Jebusite, sees all these mighty works, and he says “Yeah, but I just don’t know about all that circumcision stuff. I believe this God exists; I'll worship this God in my own way. But I won’t have anything to do with those dirty Jews.” Uh, sorry, it don’t work like that. Any Gentiles who did not submit themselves to the Law of God and accept all the terms of the Law and the Covenant were, as Paul says, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. And the same was true for any Babylonian, Assyrian, Greek, Persian or Roman, African, etc. Unless one became a Jew, one could not worship what they may call “the God of the Jews.” Gentiles were not simply outside of the commonwealth of Israel—they were outside of the commonwealth of God. They may have known the true God was the true God, but unless they abided by His Law and entered into the commonwealth—or nation—of Israel, they had no access to any of the promises of blessings that God promised His people.

Richard, the Moabite, on the other hand, says “I have seen and heard of His mighty works and I want to serve Him. I want your God to be my God.” Much like the “mixed multitude” that came out of Egypt with the Israelites during the exodus. So he submits himself to circumcision, vows to abide by all the commands contained in the Book of the Law and the Book of the Covenant, he takes an oath that "All that the LORD has said I will do, and be obedient." He can now take part in the feasts of Passover and Firstfruits and Ingathering. And even more importantly, if he sins he can now bring an offering to the priest who will kill it, cut it up and burn it to cover over that sin. He can now be counted among the people of God. A couple examples of Gentiles turning to worship the one true and living God. Ruth, like Richard, was a Moabite. Listen to Ruth 1:15-16 (NASB)15 Then Naomi said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” Uriah—the husband of Bathsheba—was a Hittite.

But, by the same token, being a Jew did not necessarily guarantee that person a trip to Heaven either. Under the OT Law, there were some sins that were punishable by death. But there were also many other sins and violations of that Law that required the person to be “cut off” from the people. We’ll see those down the road, but there is a huge difference. Romans chapter 2 is another passage that I would recommend reading because it shows that sin is a universal problem, and it also shows that the whole world is under the same Law, both Jew and Gentile. And in Romans 2, Paul puts the Jewish teachers on the spot, saying, basically, “You who are teaching the Gentiles not to steal or commit adultery or practice idolatry—why are you doing the very same things?” And then he says in Romans 2:25For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. And here, as in other places, he makes the case that it is not physical circumcision that justifies one before God, because the circumcision of the man who lives a sinful lifestyle was of no effect. He might as well have never been circumcised. And it is not by being a physical Jew—whether by birth or by circumcision—that one is saved. But listen to what Paul says in Romans 3:1-21 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. God entrusted the writing of His Law and the proclamation of that Law and of His various judgments to the Jewish people. In fact, Luke is the only Gentile to write any of the 66 books of the Bible. Every other book was written by a Jew.  

The Jews were God’s chosen people. God chose to act and speak through these people. And in Exodus 24, He made a covenant with them and them alone. Of all the nations that He could have chosen, it was the good pleasure of His will to choose the Israelites. He appointed for them priests, who would mediate between the person and God that if the person had sinned. And God said that if the person sinned—and if that person had accepted the Law and the Covenant—their sin would be forgiven. And the people kept His covenant…for a little while. Then they broke that covenant. Then they returned to God…and broke the covenant again. They returned once again…and guess what happened? But by the time God called Hosea to prophecy, things had gotten about as bad as they could get. And in Hosea, God tells the people of Israel that because they had broken their covenant with Him, God would one day be done with Israel as a nation—but not as a people. And we’ll clear up that distinction shortly. It’s not that He would cast away all who were ethnic Jews, but that He would call all nations to Himself, that He would call both Jew and Gentile “My people.” And one day, Gentiles would not have to “become Jews” in order to come to Him, and Gentiles would not have to enter into the Jewish nation to come to God.

We will be looking at Hosea and Romans today and next time. Hosea 1:2The LORD said to Hosea: "Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD." God had had enough—God had betrothed Israel to Himself, and now the people were committing spiritual harlotry—or, adultery—by worshipping other gods. And because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God commands Hosea to take a wife who would become unfaithful, and commanded him to give his children prophetic names. Hosea 1:4“Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” The second child was named Lo-Ruhamah, Hosea 1:6“Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away.” The third child was named Lo-Ammi, Hosea 1:9“Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.” Now this seems pretty harsh, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it sound like God is going back on His word by saying “You are not My people and I will not be your God”? Had He not made a covenant with these people that He would be their God and they would be His people—forever? How can He say this and still be just? Well, listen to Hosea 2:7-11“7 She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.' 8 For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold—which they prepared for Baal…11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts.” 

The people had taken all the things that God had blessed them with—those things that were supposed to be set aside, set apart, consecrated, sanctified to God, and they had used them to worship Baal. They had broken the covenant God had made with them back on Sinai. Remember what they said in Exodus 24:7"All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient." Well, what were the first two things that “the LORD has said”? Exodus 20:3-5“3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” The people said "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient." and yet the commands that “You shall have no other gods before Me” and “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” got thrown out the window before Moses even made it down the mountain. And these were the two commands that were broken more frequently than nearly any other, and through Hosea God says something that should have caused every person who heard it to shudder and fear more than anything else. “I will not be your God.”

Now, there are some who take this idea and teach further than it really goes. While some teach that Jews are saved because they're Jews, there are still others who say God wants nothing to do with ethnic Jews, or the nation of Israel. They say that God is finished with them and they are done. One passage of Scripture they use is when Jesus is standing before Pilate, and Pilate declares, “My hands are innocent of this man’s blood.” And they answer “His blood be on us and on our children.” And these folks say “See! It was the Jews that killed Christ, so God has done away with them.” Wrong. Turn to Romans 9:1-5. In chapters 9 and 10 of Romans, Paul lays out his argument against the Jew who is putting his hope for salvation not in God, but in his own works and in being a son of Abraham. Paul, being a Jew who once put his hopes for salvation not in God but in his own works and in the fact that he was a son of Abraham, opens up his heart to show how deeply he longs for his fellow countrymen to see that they are saved by God, and not by their own works or by being a son of Abraham. And he is pleading with them, almost as if he is saying “Brethren, you know the Scriptures, you see in the Law and the prophets that the Messiah would come through us. That Messiah has come—trust in Him!” Romans 9:1-51 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. 

He almost echoes the words of Moses, when the people made the golden calf and Moses pleads with God and asks that he be blotted out of God’s book rather than have the whole people perish. And here, Paul says He would just as soon be separated from God so that his fellow Jews may be spared. He knows that because they have been given more truth and more light than any other people, God will judge them more harshly and they will receive greater condemnation. In fact, Jesus says nearly the same thing, Matthew 11:23-24“23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” John Gill— 
“Though the punishment of the men of Sodom will be very great, their iniquities being horribly dreadful and enormous, yet [their sins were] more easy to be borne than the vengeance, which…will fall upon [those] who have had the means of grace, and have despised them.” 
Those who have been given much wisdom into the things of God will be judged more harshly than those who are ignorant of the things of Christ. The Jews who rejected Christ thought they were doing a great service to God. The Pharisees thought they were keeping themselves pure through the Law and denouncing this one whom they thought was doing away with the Law. Problem was, they were denouncing the one who was explaining the Law and declaring to them that He was the fulfillment of that Law. Which is why we read what Paul says over in Romans 10:1-41 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. And even though they rejected that righteousness; even though they crucified the Lord of Glory; even though many of his countrymen according to the flesh were seeking to establish their own righteousness by trying to keep the Law, God is not utterly and completely through with the nation Israel. In fact, when John writes about the 144,000 in Revelation, they are all Jewish. There will be 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel.

Now, the Jews who rejected Christ were not doing so to try and establish the worship of some other, false god. They were doing so out of a zeal for the true God. Paul even almost defends them in such a way in Romans 10:2They have a zeal for God. They thought they were doing good. But they did not realize that Christ did not come to destroy the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them. And so they killed their Messiah. BUT—God does still have people among the ethnic Jews. And one of the strongest declarations that God is not done with ethnic Israel is Romans 11, and it is another chapter I would recommend reading, because it shows that even after all of the spiritual adultery, even after their fathers delivered their Messiah to the Gentiles to be scourged and murdered, God is not done with them. Romans 11:1-51 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 "LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 

Even after 3000 years of spiritual adultery, even after they went after Baal and Ashtaroth and the pagan gods of their neighbors, and even after they sent the very Son of God to be delivered to wicked men to be scourged and beaten and crucified, God has reserved for Himself a remnant among the Jewish people. They are not saved because they are Jewish; they are saved the same way we are—they are saved because they have been chosen by God, according to the election of grace, to believe in Christ.

To finish up on the passage we started with, we were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But as we will see next week, we Gentiles who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. We were aliens and strangers to the people of Israel. But now, we are brothers and sisters with all those of Israel who believe in Christ and we are now invited into a new and better and everlasting covenant with them, Christ being the Mediator of that covenant.
Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.