Thursday, December 18, 2014

Solus Christus: The Covenant of Law

For today’s advent meditation we’ll continue our journey through the covenants of the Old Testament to see how they center on the covenantal refrain—”I will be your God and you will be my people”—and how they point us to Jesus. We’ve looked at God’s covenant with Adam and Eve (after the fall), God’s covenant with Noah, and God’s covenant with Abraham. That brings us to God’s covenant with Moses and the Israelite people given at Mt. Sinai: the “covenant of law.” The specific passages about this covenant, since they lay out the covenant law for God’s people, are numerous. The covenant covers Ex. 19-24 and the entire book of Deuteronomy. That’s obviously far too much to read in a single devotional, so we’ll focus on God’s words to Moses when He first promised to redeem Israel from Egypt and then talk a little about the covenant of law:
2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” (Ex. 6:2-8)
This is not only the story of Israel’s redemption from Egypt but also our story of our redemption from sin. Like God promised to give the Israelites the land of Canaan, so He promised to give us heaven and eventually the new heavens and the new earth in Jesus. Like God heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians held as slaves, so He heard the groaning of His elect whom sin held as slaves. As God said, “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment,” so He brought us out from under the burden of slavery to sin and redeemed us from the power of death through Jesus. And, as God promised to bring them into the land He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and give it to them as their possession, so He will soon send Jesus back to bring us into the land we have been promised—the new heavens and the new earth—and give it to us as our possession. All of this was done for the Israelites and for His Church so He could fulfill His covenantal refrain—the thread weaving through all the covenants (italicized in the above reading): “I will be your God and you will be my people.” God’s physical redemption of Israel is a type—a foreshadowing—of what He would soon do for all His people in Jesus. This is why we have something to celebrate at Christmas and why we can observe the season of Advent. God brought us out of slavery into freedom in Christ; “He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Now, let’s talk specifically about God’s covenant with the Israelites that He gave to Moses. Why add this covenant under the umbrella of the covenant of grace after the covenant of promise given to Abraham? In Ga. 3:19 Paul asks and answers this very question, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made….” The covenant of law was added to the umbrella of the covenant of grace “because of transgressions.” It provided the covenant law and sacrificial system by which God’s people could fellowship with Him—He as their God and they as His people—until “the offspring should come,” i.e. until Jesus Christ came to fulfill the covenant of grace. The covenant of law mediated the covenant of grace for God’s people until Christ, and it ultimately pointed to Christ who was foreshadowed in its ordinances, laws, and sacrifices and who would one day fulfill and mediate a better, ultimate covenant (cf. He. 7:22). It didn’t replace the covenant of promise but built upon it: again, giving more information about the covenant of grace and greater fellowship with God. This is clear from the beginning when God rescued Israel from Egypt: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” God redeemed them from Egypt to give them the land which He “swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob,” and He did so He could “take [them] to be [His] people, and [He] will be [their] God” (the covenantal refrain).

The covenantal dealings Israel had with God before He made the covenant of law with them at Mt. Sinai were founded upon His covenant with Abraham, and this didn’t change with the introduction of the covenant of law. Indeed, the covenant of promise was the foundation for redeeming the Israelite people from Egypt and giving the covenant of law. Even after the covenant was made at Mt. Sinai, God often repeated His covenantal refrain that He made to Abraham, and in the covenant of law God’s mercy and grace to the Jews were traced back to His covenant with Abraham (cf. Lv. 11:45; Dt. 4:20; 29:13). Finally, the fellowship promised in the covenantal refrain, and partially fulfilled in the covenant of promise, found even greater fulfillment with His presence in the Tabernacle among the people of Israel (cf. Ex. 40:34ff; Lv. 26:11-12). It was only upon the foundation of God’s covenant with Abraham (and with Adam and Eve) that the covenant of law could be built, and it was in the covenant of law that God’s covenant with Abraham found a basic fulfillment. More was to come in His later covenants and ultimately in Jesus Himself, who would bring final fulfillment. Thus, far from abrogating God’s covenant with Abraham, the covenant of law built upon it, further revealed God’s covenant of grace, increased His fellowship with His people, and foreshadowed Jesus in its ordinances and sacrifices.

Even though the covenant of law may seem like a lot of rules and regulations, remember that it is founded upon the promises of redemption and grace given in the covenant of promise. Remember that all the laws, ordinances, and sacrifices were not ends in themselves but pointed to Jesus who would fulfill them all forever. Christ’s advent didn’t replace the covenant with Moses; it fulfilled the promises, shadows, and types in it that had pointed to Him all along.

On this day of Advent remember that the covenant of law revealed more about God’s covenant of grace and increased His fellowship with His people. Also remember that we are even more blessed than the Israelites were because we know the Savior to which their laws pointed and He lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We’re even more blessed because they could only hope for the coming of the Messiah but we can look back on it and celebrate it in Christmas. Praise God for the amazing history of redemption that we have recorded for us in our Bibles. Remember how the redemption of the Israelite people from Egypt is a type and foreshadowing of your redemption, which Christ came in His first advent to accomplish. Ask Him to give you a new, fresh appreciation for the covenant of law and to reveal to you how that law points to Jesus. Ask Him to show you the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in it and to use that grace to conform you daily into the likeness of Christ.

By His Grace,

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