Start point: Biblical Covenants (click here for PDF version)
Core Point: The New Covenant between God and humankind, based on the activity of God through Jesus the Christ, is held within a mutual relationship of active affirmation, communication, and confession.
Scripture: Hebrews 8:6-13
6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. 8 God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. 10 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.
As we understand what it means to be “living a year in God’s presence,” we first start with the realization that covenantal relationship is the basis for being in God’s presence. Much like a friendship or a spousal relationship there is an inherent agreement of trust and care that bonds people together as the journey of life unfolds. The trust and care undergird the relationship to provide an environment of mutuality in which each person respects the boundaries and struggles of each other through various levels of communication and action. In many respects, the relationship between God and humankind has been explained through the image of friendship, parent-child, and even spousal relationship.
Between God and humankind, an agreement was established by God, through words of blessing, to help humankind live a life of hope. God used both communication and action to engage in a relationship of care and empowerment to humankind. God initiated a covenant with humankind. Since the beginning of time, God has established multiple covenants with specific individuals, as well as, the broader community of people. We have covenants in the Old Testaments, as well as, the ultimate covenant as spoken in the New Testament.
In this study, we will start with the ultimate covenant found in the New Testament, which is commonly known as the new covenant. Over the course of four weeks, we will start with the new covenant, then review the old covenant as it progressed through the Old Testament, and then we will circle back around to finish with the new covenant.
The New Covenant
The new covenant starts with God’s redeeming activity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We understand Jesus as the human embodiment of God, the Son of God, and the one sent of God. This one, Jesus, sent from God came to save the world from sin and spiritual death, Ephesians 2:1-10. What God did through Jesus the Christ, was done out of love for creation. It is not something that is earned, but received as a gift. One must receive the grace God gave, as spoken in the scripture.
Notice in Hebrews, “Jesus is a mediator of a better covenant,” with better promises. From this statement, we can surmise that there is a covenant of old that was established between God and humankind. This old covenant is found in multiple forms and places in the Old Testament. We will be reviewing the old Testament Covenants during the next two session. Consequently, the better covenant through Jesus is found in the activity of God spoken in the New Testament. When we partake in communion, we refer to the “New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28)” in Liturgy. Our Christian beliefs are built on the New Covenant through Jesus.
Hebrews refers to the Old Testament passage found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 which proclaims the coming of a new covenant in the future. The central idea in the proclamation, which is consistent in all the covenants is, “I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.” This is a simple statement that reveals the desire of God to have a relationship with the people, which would be us. In the context of the New Testament, we see the covenant not only with the house of Israel, but also those who are outside the house of Israel, referred to as the gentiles. Who are the gentiles? Those who are not Jewish. Practically speaking, the people who will acknowledge God as God, will be God’s people and a part of the covenant. Being in this relationship is more than just knowing that there is a God, it is the acceptance of what God has done and the confession of who God is in the life of the individual.
The New Covenant is a spiritual happening in the heart and mind of the individual who is connected to a broader community of individuals that accept and confess. The broader community will include those from the greatest to the least, thus open for all people. To “know (Hebrews 8:11)” means to “approve or love and take an interest in.” So those who approve and take an interest in God will live in this new covenant.
Notice in verse 10 that God will write on the heart and in the mind the Law of God. In the past, through the old covenant with Moses, the law was written on the tablets. So the Law was known externally from the individual. In the new covenant, the Law of God will be known by the individual internally.
Finally, verse 12 helps us to know that God will be merciful in dealing with our iniquities, or sin. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus forgiveness comes to each of us. As we confess our sins, God will forgive and not remember our sin anymore. The sin that creates a division in our relationship with God will be gone, so that we can have a clean union with God as we are on our faith journey.
The new covenant is based on the grace of God working in our lives, while the old covenant is based on the works of the believer in relationship to the Laws of God. In final summary, the new covenant between God and humankind, based on the activity of God through Jesus the Christ, is held within a mutual relationship of active affirmation, communication, and confession.
Next week, we will start the old covenants established with Adam and Abraham.
“Covenant: The entering into and committing oneself to a continuing relationship. Christians see themselves as a people of a covenant with God. The New Testament or “New Covenant” is that covenant of the saving work of Jesus Christ through the grace of God and the response Christians make in their profession of faith and baptism. This understanding of covenant has been important throughout the life of United Methodism.”
Source: A Dictionary for United Methodists, Alan K. Waltz, Copyright 1991, Abingdon Press.
Questions for Discussion:
How do you understand Hebrews 8:6-13?
What is a Covenant? What types of Covenants do people make? In light of these verses what is a Covenant with God?
How have you “shown approval or taken interest” in the New Covenant in your life?
How do individuals “know the Law through the New Covenant?”
In the New Covenant when we confess our sins, what does God do with sin that separates us from God in relationship?
What do you need to do to strengthen your side of the covenant?