Monday, December 16, 2013

Solus Christus: The Covenant of Commencement

For this week of Advent we’re going to take a turn away from prophecy and look at Christ in the covenants of the Old Testament. Looking at the Old Testament covenants individually can be confusing sometimes because we’re told they point to Jesus but sometimes we’re really not sure how. Plus, there are so many of them, so the natural question is, “How do they relate? If they even relate at all...” Well, all the Old Testament covenants do relate because they are all part of the one covenant of grace that Jesus fulfilled for us in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. (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 Old Testament build on each other as ever-increasing waves of revelation about the covenant of grace until they climax with Christ’s fulfillment of the overarching covenant of grace. The Westminster Confession of Faith has a wonderful statement about the unity of the covenant of grace in chapter seven:
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 of Eden]… 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, resurrection, and ascension], 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.
As the Westminster Confession of Faith points out, after Adam’s fall all the Old Testament covenants were not different ways of salvation for different peoples in different periods of time. They were different administrations of the one covenant of grace, i.e. different ways the same covenant was mediated to God’s people. And, they all point to Jesus who is “the substance” and fulfillment of them all. That’s what we’re going to look at during this week of Advent.

Before we get into the individual covenants of the Old Testament, we need to see a thread—a motif—that runs through all the Old Testament covenants. They all (with the exception of one, which will be explained tomorrow) center on a singular refrain that God repeats over and over again in some fashion: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” That’s the heart of God’s work of redemption—God redeeming a people for Himself. This refrain weaves its way through the Old Testament covenants in an escalating 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 future 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.” 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 advent and work of redemption.

So, where is the first covenant that reveals part of the covenant of grace? We’ve actually already looked at the passage that contains this covenant, but we’re going to study it again today. It is in Ge. 3:15:
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 to redeem a people for Himself. This covenant is often called the “covenant of commencement” because in it God commits Himself to redeem a people for Himself, i.e. He will be their God and they will be His people. It’s significant that Paul alludes to this covenant to guarantee the triumph of the redeemed over satan: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” This shows that God’s curse on the serpent in the hearing of Adam and Eve pointed to Jesus Himself, and we who are in Christ share in His victory (His fulfillment of the covenant of grace) over sin, death, and satan. But, where is the covenantal refrain? Well, in this covenant its presence is general (God committing Himself to redeem a people for Himself), and it’s stated negatively: the enemy of satan is the friend of God.

On this day of Advent remember that Jesus became incarnate to fulfill the covenant of grace, which began here in Ge. 3:15. From the very beginning, God commits Himself to redeem a people for Himself. Remember that after the fall of Adam God could have left us in our sin, but He chose to redeem His rebellious people. He chose immediately to set into operation His plan to send Jesus into the world to defeat sin, death, and the devil for His people and to redeem them so He could be their God. Remember that God’s plan of salvation wasn’t different in the Old Testament. Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, and all the other people of God were saved by looking forward in faith to the Messiah, and we who live after His first advent are saved by looking backward in faith to the Messiah. There is but one way of salvation for all ages, and it’s Jesus (cf. Ro. 3:23-26; 4:1ff; 1 Co. 10:1; Ga. 3:8, 14; 4:4; He. 11:13). Praise Him for sending Jesus to crush sin, death, and the devil for you. When you read the Old Testament, ask the Holy Spirit to show you Jesus in what you’re reading because Christ is the substance of the Old Testament just as much as He is of the New.

By His Grace,

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