Review of the Covenants to this Point
For the last several weeks we’ve been tracing the Covenant of Grace through the pages of Scripture. We’ve been emphasizing that each particular covenant we meet in Scripture enlarges and expands the original gracious covenant made in Genesis 3. Rather than introducing a change in God’s plan and a distinctly new epoch of history, we see fluid development God’s gracious plan of redemption.
Adam, having broken the first covenant (i.e. the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Life), was given a second chance. God entered into a second covenant, wherein he promised life and salvation through a Savior.
After the flood, God reaffirmed his covenant with Noah. God furthered this covenant by promising to never send another flood. God demonstrated his kindness by rescuing Noah & his family and by ensuring that the promised Messiah would come (i.e. all life would continue).
In time the earth seemed to have run amok again. It also appeared that God had given up on man by his dispersing the nations in his wrath. In that dark hour God appeared to Abraham & entered into a covenant with him. In this covenant we see with greater clarity to the scope of this covenant. God established this covenant with Abraham and his children.
To reiterate this, the Lord instituted circumcision. This rite had a twofold purpose: it served as a sign, pointing to our need for cleansing (life & salvation), and it served as a seal, confirming to each child & person the fact that they belonged to God.
The Covenant at Sinai & the Giving of the Law
A person standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai would have been amazed and grateful. They had been in bondage for a long time, and it might have seemed like God had given up on them. Now, they had witnessed some of the greatest miracles of all time. Millions of people had been freed, protected, and assured of God’s loving-kindness.
How should they respond to God’s kindness? How could they do to show their gratitude? God showed them exactly what would please Him most in the publication of His law.
It is important to recognize the continuity in the covenant that is established at Mt Sinai. For what happens here is a significant movement forward in the unfolding of God’s plan. The giving of the law is so significant that some have seen it as a break of God’s plan up to this point and an initiation of a new era whereby God’s people now gain salvation by keeping the law. This, however, is not true. The continuity with the overall plan of God is seen in a number of ways:
1) God’s promise to Abraham was that he would become a great nation, as numerous as the sand on the shore. The throngs camping out at the bottom of this mountain are a realization of this (or at least a partial one).
2) The people are standing on the very edge of the land which was promised to them through Abraham.
3) God had just graciously delivered the people out of Egypt solely because He had “remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.”
4) The requirements of the covenant were still the same: God required perfect obedience. To Abraham God said, “Walk before me and be blameless.” To Israel God gives his moral law and they respond by saying, “All that the Lord has said we will do.”
Instead of being a new era, the covenant at Sinai simply reiterates God’s promise to save His people and clarifies how the redeemed should live in light of it.
Why did God give the law?
Up until this time the rules that governed God’s covenant had been defined by the “eternal truths.” God was a spirit, so they were not to make images. God had rested on the Seventh day of creation, and set it as a pattern to be observed by the people. Man was made in God’s image, and the one who harms the image bearer was worthy of death because it is essentially an attack on the One whose image he bore.
Although the moral law of God had been set forth since the creation, they were easily blurred by the corruption of man. At Mt. Sinai God publishes his 10 words to specifically spell it out so that there could be no blurring of the line. (Note: The law is good, it still is applicable today--3 uses of the law)
A blood bath
At the foot of Sinai the people vow to follow God and the law God had given (Ex 24:3, 7). Immediately after a most gory ceremony commences. Moses sprays the people with blood drawn from the animals that had been sacrificed. Why does he do this? Think of it as a blood shower; they are, for all practical purposes, “washed in the blood.” God knows that their devotion will not measure up, but He has provided a covering of blood.
1. God gives both the law and sacrificial system at Mt Sinai.
2. There is a distinction between covenant failure & covenant rejection
3. God begins to “dwell” with his people after this covenant in the form of the tabernacle. The law facilitates the relationship.
The Davidic Covenant: The covenant of kingdom
The author of the book “The Lord of the Flies” was once given an interview about his classic work. During the interview he commented that his intention was to write a book that gave a real depiction of what kids would be like if they were left to themselves. His book depicts how a bunch of boys devolve into raw pagans who have no sense of civility. It is only when the captain from a rescue boat shows up that the children regain a sense of morality.
Anyone who has kids knows exactly what William Golding had in mind. If you leave the room for a few minutes, it will not be long before your children start fighting.
Both Golding’s book and your regular home life illustrate the need for a righteous authority figure. It also illustrates part of the reason why God raises up David and establishes His covenant with him. If the law given in the mosaic covenant was going to be obeyed, it requires a king would administer it (Davidic covenant).
Israel was “prone to wander” and “do what was right in their own eyes.” This was much owing to the fact that “there was no king in Israel.” So, get a king and all will be well, right? Nope. Israel wanted a king like the “other nations.” They chose for themselves a robust looking fellow named Saul. He was the very picture of military might. But, in the end, Saul turned out to be an evil tyrant who oppressed the people and became to them a source of agony. God gave them what they wanted, a king like the other nations.
The people of Israel needed a unique king: a righteous one. God rejected Samuel and raised up David, a man after His own heart. He would be the Shepherd of God’s people who would go on to usher in and establish the kingdom of God.
In 2 Sam. 7 we read how David wanted to build a house for God. But these plans are halted. Instead, God says he will build a house out of David. In sum, the Lord vows to enter into a special covenant with David, promising him that he shall have an eternal dynasty.
The king though, is not just one who ensures righteousness within his land. He also is one who fights. Thus, the king of Israel was one who subdued nations and fought God’s battles.
It is easy to see how the king then becomes a messianic figure. It is easy to see how the covenant of David finds its fulfilment in Christ. He is the only Son of David who ensures an eternal dominion of perpetual peace.
Providence Church is a dual confessional church, which means we allow for either infant baptism or infant dedication if the family is of a credo baptist persuasion. This morning we had a child dedication. This was the prayer that I offered for the occasion:
You sent your own Son into this world as the child of Mary and Joseph. And in the same way you commit to us the joy of raising children.
We thank you for the life of Josiah and Nevin, which now have been entrusted to the care of these parents. Help us to remember the weight of this great privilege and to assist them as they raise them in the fear and admonition of your name.
Grant Matt & Rachel and Mike & Renata all grace and fill them with your Spirit, so that they may love these precious gifts and help them walk in the way of God. Equip them with the patience, strength and wisdom to impart our most holy faith at all times. Guide them to speak what is in accord with sound doctrine, to use the rod of discipline with the most affectionate skill, to exemplify repentance, and to hold forth the gospel in all its purity.
And in so doing, may Josiah and Nevin grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. May they hold fast to Christ all their days and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. May there never be a day that they did not know Christ as Lord and Savior. And may you shine the light of your love upon them even now.
For we ask this in the strong Name of Jesus.
I've found that marriages break up not long after people leave their church. It is almost like a gateway drug. You break one solemn covenant (the one with God), it opens the door for you to break the covenant you have with your spouse.
In our day skipping out on a church is a commonplace occurrence. Most people do not realize how henious a sin that is in the eyes of God. To break those vows wherein you knit yourself to a local congregation, is like amputating part of the body of Christ.
Most don't see it this way though. They simply up and go without much thought about it. We leave churches if we are not happy. We have no interest in confronting the sins of the members or leadership. We have no desire to be iron sharpening iron. We just want a place that will suit our needs and make us happy.
Worse yet, people bail out on church altogether. They make lame excuses like, there are no Calvinistic or Reformed churches around here. The churches are just too Arminian. We'll tell ourselves that it is better to have no church than any church that doesn't live up to our expectations.
You see the connection between such attitudes and what happens in a marriage. We've already seared our conscience. We've already opened the vein and let the blood start flowing. Oaths and covenants have already been diluted.
We broke covenant once, and it was good. We tasted of the fruits of sin and now we are ready for more. We are ready now to leave our spouse.
After all, he/she doesn't live up to my expectations. There has got to be a better fit out there for my tastes. Why fight to save this relationship? Neither of us is happy. We can be happier if we just go our separate ways.
So just remember, breaking faith with your church brethren puts you in a dangerous place. It opens the door to divorce.
I believe in believer's baptism. Whenever someone enters the covenant for the first time, through repentance and profession of faith, they must be baptized. Once they enter, the promises of God extend to their children. As such, these children ought to be marked out as belonging to the Lord's through baptism.
Similarly, in the OT, when a Gentile became a follower of YHWH, he had to be circumcised. Once that was done, all of his household (children and slaves), became covenantally united to the Lord. All were members of God's church (Israel), and liable to either blessings or curses.
In the book of Acts, we see a transition stage. The covenant sign had changed from circumcision to baptism, as Col. 2 and Matt. 28 indicate. Thus, all those who profess faith in the book of Acts must be baptized. Yet Peter expresses the continuity of God's dealing with families when he says that "the promise is to you and to your children." He echoes the words of God in Genesis 12 and 17 purposefully.
Peter's testimony is not alone. Paul backs him when he indicates that the children of believer's are "holy." That is, they have been distinguished from the children of unbelievers. They are "set apart to God," and, being so, ought to have the sign that marks them as such.
But prior to the Apostle's, we have the words and deeds of Jesus himself. Jesus recognized the little children (infants) as members of his kingdom when he told his disciples to "Let the babies come to me, and do not forbid them, for such is the kingdom of heaven." He went on to express that this kingdom membership cannot remain solely one of physical birth or parental heritage. True membership must also be accompanied by faith, for "one must become like a little child." In sum, Christ spoke of both the external and internal covenants in virtually the same breath.
This phenomena has a crude parallel in our American citizenship. Upon birth we are acknowledged as members of this nation/state by means of an official birth certificate. We are to be raised to be faithful patriots, and at the proper time we must express our adherence to this kingdom publicly (through voting, for example).
Prior to his ascension to the Father's right hand, Jesus also gave the apostles the charge go and make disciples. How does one "make a disciple?" It is through the dual works of teaching them all that Christ has commanded and assigning to them the name of the Triune God in baptism. Since we still have the command to "impress these things upon our children, talk about them as we lie down and get up and walk along the way," we must recognize these children as disciples through baptism.
Covenant baptism, like it's Old Testament counterpart of circumcision, is a sign and seal to the child. It is the visible manifestation of God's promise "I will be your God, you will be my people." This baptism does not save a child, but it does contain a lively and true promise. So the child always carries with him this reminder and he should recognize that he must respond with faith and obedience all his days.
His greater privilege also implies greater responsibility. If he rebels, he is judged with stricter judgment--for he enjoyed more light and more proximity to God & His blessing.
"If they cannot partake worthily without being able duly to discern the sanctity of the Lord's body, why should we stretch out poison to our young children instead of vivifying food?"1
Some argue that Christ still has a future plan for national Israel. One of the reasons they say this is because of the description of a new temple in Ezekiel 40. Their argument goes like this: God gave us very specific architectural instructions in this passage. Why would he be so specific if it were not to be built?
Part of their reasoning may be that the first temple and the tabernacle in the wilderness had very specific directions. All of it had to be made precisely as was laid out in Scripture.
I'm glad to see that these brethren are eager to hold tenaciously to the inspired text. In a day where many are flippant regarding the holy Word of God, their zeal is refreshing.
While I appreciate my dispensationalists strong adherence to the divinity of text, I wish to offer clarity as to how the Spirit's word is to be understood. First, I will agree: Ezekiel's vision is specific; very specific! However, the details of the passage give us understanding of a greater reality. The specifics help us to see that God had something greater in mind than just stones and mortar.
Tracing out the details one comes to find that this temple is somewhat different than the original. It is perfectly square. It, essentially, is an ideal temple (whereas the first was "oblong" in its shape). Its dimensions set before us a picture of a time where there is no defect or skew among God's house.
This is one reason why it may be pointing to a future reality of the eternal kingdom, and not a time of reinstated Jewish rule.
"But the details!" they cry. "You can't have architectural detail like this with no plans to actually build it." To this I respond by pointing us back to the original tabernacle in the book of Exodus. Yes, Moses was given incredibly specific directions for the building of the tabernacle. And the text tells us that he followed each minutia precisely.
Yet when we come to the book of Hebrews, we read that the these details served a greater purpose. The structure on earth was never intended to be limited to itself. Hebrews tells us that it was a type that pointed to the heavenly reality. It was supposed to replicate the dwelling of God in heaven. They were "copies of the heavenly things" (Heb. 9:23; shadows of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1).
Most importantly, Heb. 8:5 says that God told Moses to make everything according to the pattern shown on the mountain. Yet the same verse proclaims that these served as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." In sum, they were pictures that gave us an understanding of the real work of Jesus Christ as atoning sacrifice.
The details then served a greater purpose. It pointed to the reality of God with man; Christ and his church. With that knowledge we can then look to the vision of Ezekiel and see that the details may indicate something more than just architectural instruction. Ezekiel, who has had radical, symbolic visions and prophetic actions that indicated heavenly realities, may likely be talking about ideas that are not merely physical in appearance.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.