Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent: Day 16

This week we are going to take a turn away from prophecy and look at the covenants of the Old Testament (OT). Looking at the covenants individually can be confusing sometimes because we are told they point to Jesus but sometimes we are really not sure how. Plus, there are so many of them, so the natural questions is, "How do they relate? If they even relate at all..." Well, all the OT covenants do relate because they are all part of the one covenant of grace that Jesus fulfilled for us in His life, death, and resurrection. (Think of the covenant of grace as an umbrella that covers all of Scripture from the fall of Adam to the end of Revelation.) The individual covenants of the OT build on each other as waves of ever-increasing revelation about the covenant of grace until they climax with Christ's fulfillment of the overarching covenant of grace. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) has a wonderful statement about the unity of the covenant of grace:
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works [i.e. God's promise of life to Adam if he obeyed the prohibition of the Garden]… Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ… This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law [i.e. the OT], and in the time of the Gospel [i.e. the NT]: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying [i.e. foreshadowing] Christ to come… Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited [i.e. His advent, life, death, and resurrection], the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper… to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles… There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (WCF VII, emphasis added)
As the WCF points out, after Adam's fall, all the OT covenants point to Jesus who is "the substance" and fulfillment of them all. That is what we are going to look at this next week.

First, we need to see a thread, a motif that runs through all the OT covenants. They all center around a singular refrain that God repeats over and over again in some fashion: "I will be your God, and you will be my people" (Ge. 17:7; Ex. 6:7; Eze. 34:24; 36:28; Jer. 7:23; 30:22; 31:33). This is the heart of God's work of redemption. This refrain weaves its way through the OT in an ever-increasing presence of God among His people and fellowship of God with His people. This trajectory of increasing fellowship with God is made possible by Christ and finds its ultimate consummation in the new heavens and the new earth where "the dwelling place of God [will be] with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God." (Re. 21:1-4) Do you see the refrain in there? "He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God." This refrain is the thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation, and the substance of the thread is Jesus Himself. He has made it all possible by His incarnation (advent) and work of redemption.

Where is the first covenant? Well, we have already looked at that passage but we are going to do it again today. It is in Ge. 3:15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.
It all begins immediately after the fall of Adam. This promise sets into operation God's mission to fulfill the covenant of grace in Jesus and create a people for Himself. This covenant is often called the "covenant of commencement" because in it God commits Himself to redeem a people to Himself, i.e. He will be their God and they will be His people. It is significant that Paul alludes to this commitment to guarantee the triumph of the redeemed over satan: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Ro. 16:20). This shows that God's curse on the serpent in the hearing of Adam and Eve pointed to Jesus Himself. Where is the covenantal refrain? Well, in this covenant its presence is general (God committing Himself to redeem a people for Himself) and it is stated negatively: the enemy of satan is the friend of God.

Jesus became incarnate to fulfill the covenant of grace that begins here in Ge. 3:15. From the very beginning God commits Himself to be a God to His redeemed and they to be His people.

By His Grace,

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