covenants and promises
When we surrender our life to Christ, we actually enter into a contract with Him. There are terms to this contract. Here is the backstory to what the contract looks like:
The nation of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years. God then speaks to Moses and tells him that He is going to send Moses and his brother, Aaron, to the most powerful man in the known world, Pharaoh, and demand that he let Israel go free. God says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll go with you.” So off Moses and Aaron go to Egypt. They show up in Pharaoh’s courts and tell him that God says, “Let my people go.”
Pharaoh is like, “Who are you? Who is God? And… no.” So, they spend the next few weeks hashing things out with miraculous signs and events being performed by God and by Satan. Eventually, it becomes obvious that God is much stronger than both Pharaoh, who thinks he is a god, and Satan, who is only a fallen angel. So, Pharaoh lets Israel go free.
Israel, then, leaves. Even a few Egyptians follow along. Pharaoh thinks to himself, “What was I thinking? Did I just let a bunch of slaves go free?” So, he chases them with his army. They corner them against a body of water, the Red Sea. By causing a powerful wind to rage on it, God parts the Red Sea in half and dries out a path between the walls of water on both sides. Then Israel goes through the sea to the other shore, but with Pharaoh and his army following close behind. When the last Israelite is through, the waters crash down on Pharaoh and his army, and they all die. (If you want to read the whole story, check out Exodus 1-15).
Terms and Conditions
The people, now just miraculously delivered, come to the bottom of a mountain, where God Himself speaks. He asks them if they want to be a chosen nation, a special treasure called to tell the world about the Savior. They agree. He then tells them to wash themselves. Next, He speaks to them, from the mountain, the Ten Commandments, which is to be their law. Then He has them sacrifice an animal and Moses sprinkles the blood of that animal on the people as Moses declares, “This is the blood of the covenant.” (To read the whole encounter, read Exodus 19, 20, 24).
This was how God signed a contract with the nation of Israel. Their job was then to keep the Ten Commandments and to reveal to the world the promise of the coming Savior. God was going to dwell with them and make them a holy people.
That contract is called “The Old Covenant.” The word “covenant” means “contract or testament.” That is why we call the first 39 books of the Bible, “The Old Testament.” It was the contract pointing forward to Jesus. Then, about 1500 years later, when Jesus came, a New Covenant was signed with His 12 disciples.
How did this covenant work?
A New Contract
Jesus asked His disciples to follow Him, and then He spent 3 ½ years teaching about the kingdom of God. He was fixing the legalistic theology that they received from the religious leaders. He was making room for greater knowledge about the love of God.
At the end of His time on earth, Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet. They didn’t realize the significance of what He was doing until later (John 13:7). He gave them a new commandment, “Love one another” (John 13:34), and broke bread with them, which represented His body broken for them (Matthew 26:26). He gave them juice or wine and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant” (Matthew 26:27, 28). (The full story can be found in Matthew 26; John 13).
When Christ signed this new covenant with the disciples, it made the first covenant old, and disappearing (Hebrews 8:13). The Old Covenant, called the “Levitical Covenant” (and wasn’t actually the oldest covenant God had made with humanity), made it so people had to find God through the nation of Israel. They had to work through forgiveness under the sacrificial system of the earthly tabernacle. They heard about the love of God by passing through Israel or having an Israelite come to them and tell them about it.
But the New Covenant changed from a written code to a person. The written law was glorious, but Jesus is more glorious! (2 Corinthians 3:9). The written law told about Jesus, so it could never have reached the glory that Jesus, the Person, was. The Bible is the written Word of God. It points to Jesus, who is the Word of God in person. He gave us His written Word until we see Him in person.
Under the New Covenant, the power of the Holy Spirit can bring salvation to every human being in the world.
The New Covenant made it so that Jews and Gentiles could spread the good news. It broke down the walls of separation between them. There was also no longer a difference between the status of a slave or a free person in Christ. There was not even a difference between the status of male or female in Christ. All are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29).
So, the disciples agreed to this deal with Christ. They committed to the program of becoming “fishers of men” by sharing the good news story of Jesus’ coming to earth as humanity’s Savior. But, then, they were persecuted by the religious leaders. First, they preached about Jesus in Jerusalem. They were put in prison, threatened, and some even stoned to death. Then they preached about Jesus just outside of Jerusalem in Judea, where similar things happened. So, they went to Samaria and Galilee, which is next to Judea, and finally to the ends of the earth. At nearly every place, they were met with opposition and persecution. What was making the leaders of the nation of Israel so upset?
*Some important content in need of repeating here in this story:
For thousands of years, the nation of Israel was looking for a Messiah or Savior. The Old Testament was filled with prophecies about a Messiah who would save His people. There were even time prophecies pointing to the time of Jesus. But there are two different types of prophecies in the Old Testament about a coming Messiah. Some speak of Him being a lamb led to the slaughter, a man of sorrows, and that He would be cut off or killed. Other prophecies speak of Him throwing off the bondage of earthly kingdoms, exulting the people of Israel, and bringing in an eternal kingdom to never be overcome.
The leaders of Israel didn’t understand the prophecies, and so they tended to focus on the ones where the Messiah comes in His glory. They were under the bondage of Roman rule in the first Century BC & AD. They were hoping for a Messiah who would rise up and defeat the Romans and establish the eternal kingdom, with them as the greatest men in that kingdom. They didn’t realize that these prophecies were of two separate periods in history.
The Messiah would come, first as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world and to inaugurate a work in the Heavenly Tabernacle (Daniel 9:24-27). After the work in heaven to prepare a place for repentant sinners, then the Lord would come a second time. The second time would be in glory, and he would establish his eternal kingdom (Daniel 12:1-3).
Because of this misunderstanding, when Christ was unwilling to start launching fireballs from the sky, consuming and destroying the Romans, the nation rejected him. There were actually many other “messiahs” around at the time of Christ. They claimed that they were sent by God to start a revolution against the Romans. But all of them ended in death upon a Roman cross or in prison. Jesus is the only one whom the religious leaders purposely tried in their court and sent to His death but who never tried to start an insurrection against the Romans.
So, when Christ’s disciples started preaching the same message that Jesus was preaching, of love and salvation from sin, not the Romans, the leaders were angry. They thought that they had, through His death, silenced this Jesus of Nazareth. But what they didn’t know was that a life completely surrendered to God is given the power of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t know that the Love of Christ had penetrated their fear and hate. They didn’t know that Jesus was within His disciples, giving them boldness and power (Luke 17:20, 21).
Christ offers this same power to everyone who surrenders their life to Him. Jesus told us to reproduce the last supper again and again until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This meal is a contract that we make with God, as did the disciples at the last supper, that we will tell the world about how He called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We agree to tell the world that Jesus came once to die and is coming a second time in glory to receive everyone who wants to make Him their Lord and Savior. We are forgiven. We are cleansed. We are sent forth with the down payment of the Holy Spirit until we get the full gift of a new body and eternity with God.