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Entries in Covenant (2)

Tuesday
Aug292017

The City of the Living God

Hebrews 12:18-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 27, 2017.

As we continue through this chapter about the believer’s faith, it may appear that this section is a tangent.  However, it is important to recognize that the unseen, heavenly realities are a critical part of our faith.  We have put our faith in the God of far more glorious things than those of this earth.  The temptation to gravitate towards that which can be seen must be overcome by faith in God.

When early Jews began turning towards Christ and His Church, it left many of them with a sense that they were losing some very awesome and amazing things, at least during the 40 years from the death of Jesus to the destruction of the Temple.  The pomp and circumstance of Jerusalem and its temple, priests and sacrifices had no physical correlation in the Church.  Just as idols tempted early Israelites away from worshipping the Living God (or at least mixing His worship with the surrounding idolatry), so early Christians were tempted to go back into Judaism because of its greater physicality (or, again mixing the two).  The writer of Hebrews, and in fact the Holy Spirit, was encouraging early believers that our faith is based on glorious, spiritual realities that far outshine the Old Covenant established by Moses.  Thus Christians should stand firm against the pull of their flesh back towards the Old Covenant.  We too have a tendency to try and build physical things that become more important to us than those spiritual realities.

Christians have a city, a temple, and a high priest that is spiritual and in the heavens as opposed to the earthly Jerusalem.  This does not mean that the earthly Jerusalem is no longer important to Christians.  Prophecy tells us that much is still to take place at that place on this globe that is important to God.  So let’s look at this comparison between the Old Testament (or covenant) of the Law and the New Testament of the Gospel.

The Old Covenant through Moses

In verses 18-21 we are reminded just what the covenant of Moses entailed.  As mentioned earlier, the terms Old Testament and Old Covenant are synonymous in this context.  Both are a reference to the agreement made between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai.  The Old Covenant was made at a specific place on earth.  Thus he emphasizes that it can be touched, which is indicative of the Old Covenant.  It was full of material things here on earth that could be touched and seen.  For example, when a person sinned they physically took a cow, ram, or dove to the temple and it was killed on a literal altar by a human priest.  Though the problem of sin is ultimately a spiritual problem before a spiritual God, the actions proscribed were mostly physical.

We are also reminded of the terrifying nature of their experience at Mt. Sinai.  This would be a fact that the early Christians could forget because they were 1,400 years after this event.  The biblical passage that underlies this passage is Exodus 19-20.  In this passage we are told that as they approached the mountain it was covered by a dark cloud with thunder and lightning.    Then it says that the LORD descended on the mountain as a fire, which caused smoke to ascend from it like a furnace.  On top of this all, the mountain shook from an earthquake.  As if that wasn’t enough to get their attention, a loud trumpet blast sounded from the mountain and got louder and louder.  Then Moses spoke to the LORD and an audible voice from the mountain commanded Moses to come up the mountain. 

We are also reminded that the people were also threatened with death.  God warned the people that any person or animal that touched the mountain would be put to death.  Thus a barrier was constructed between the people and the mountain.  It is clear that the giving of the Law is purposefully associated with a terrifying fear of the LORD by God Himself under threat of death.  The Law hedged them in on every side pointing out their sins.  If not for God’s mercy they could not have survived this relationship.  Over and over again they broke God’s covenant as a people and as individuals throughout those 1,400+ years.

But, the New Covenant through Jesus

In verses 22-24 he shows them that the New Covenant through Jesus is so much better and more desirable.  In a parallel manner we are shown the better aspects of the New Covenant.  As the old was made on earth, the new was made in heaven.  Yes, Jesus died on earth, but the New Covenant is actually created in heaven.  Hebrews 9 speaks of Jesus ascending into the Heavenly Temple, presenting Himself before God, and purifying the heavenly altar once and for all with His own blood.  This is much of the imagery we see in the Book of the Revelation.  The term Mt. Zion was often used of the earthly area in Jerusalem where the temple was.  However, throughout the prophets it is clear that they also speak of the heavenly temple of God as the higher Mt. Zion.  Thus just as we have an earthly city called Jerusalem with the temple of God or Mt. Zion as the place of God’s throne, so there is a Heavenly Jerusalem with a heavenly Mt. Zion upon which the Heavenly Temple, Throne of God resides.  From there God and His Divine Council govern the affairs of the heavens and the earth.   Again, this is the backdrop for most of the Book of the Revelation.  Though we cannot fly airplanes or rockets to God’s throne room, it is real.  In fact, it is more substantial than the temporary courts of mankind, which pass like the flowers of the field.  Now I understand that it can be terrifying to think of standing before God in heaven, but here we see that the Covenant of Christ bids us to come and join the family of God.  That is why it is called the Gospel, or Good News.  The atmosphere of the New Covenant is this invitation to intimate relationship with our Maker.

We are then told that this heavenly city is full of heavenly beings.  There are an innumerable company of angels (Revelation speaks of myriads of myriads).  Though some of them have fallen with the devil, there are still millions, if not billions, that are faithful to God.  Next we are told that we are a part of the General Assembly.  Some see this as synonymous with the next phrase “Church of the Firstborn.”  However, the General Assembly seems to be everyone, both angels and humans, all the faithful of creation.  The Church of the Firstborn refers only to humans who have been called out of the world to belong to Jesus, who is the Firstborn.  Our names are not registered in an earthly place where the nation could be destroyed and records lost.  Instead our names are registered in heaven where nothing can touch it or destroy it.  It is kept safe by God Himself.  We are also coming to God, who is the Judge of all things.  We are also coming to the spirits of just men made perfect.  This is our destiny.  We too will enter the spirit realm and take our place among the just that have been made perfect.  At this point we are not perfected yet.  But by faith we trust Jesus as the author and finisher/perfecter of our faith.  They are spirits now because they have left their earthly bodies behind, but the Resurrection has not occurred yet.  Eventually we will all have immortal, heavenly bodies.  This reminds us that God is bringing us to a higher order of existence, which is similar to what angels enjoy now.  Imagine being a part of a nation of angels and immortal, perfected men.  Who would want to go back to any earthly nation of this world from that?

One being is left to be mentioned and that is Jesus Himself.  In Jesus the New Covenant has much more precious service than the Old Covenant.  Jesus is the mediator between us and God.  This mediation occurred at the time that the Covenant was created.  This means that Jesus is our High Priest and He serves us in heaven.  This will never change or be handed down to a descendant.  Jesus does not offer multiple sacrifices throughout all of time.  Instead, He offered himself once and for all.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”  This past mediation becomes the foundation for His present intercession on our behalf.  It also mentions the “blood of sprinkling.”  This refers to the sacrifice.  Blood from the sacrifice would be sprinkled upon the altar, thereby removing sin from the individual.  Notice that it says the blood of Jesus speaks of better things than that of Abel’s.  Some have connected this to the blood of Abel’s sacrifice.  This makes sense if you focus upon the sacrificial aspect of the death of Jesus.  However, the passage emphasizes what the blood is saying (Abel’s blood speaks something that is not better and Jesus’ blood speaks something better).  This clearly links to the record in Genesis 4 where God says that Abel’s own blood (shed by Cain) was crying out to God from the ground.  Though we are not told what this blood cries out for, we must compare it to what Jesus cried out when He was dying.  “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”  If the blood of Jesus cries out to the Father to be forgiving then Abel’s blood cries out for something less than forgiveness.  It would seem that Abel’s blood is crying out for justice because God places a curse upon Cain for what he has done.  So what is God’s response to the Blood of Jesus and it’s cry of forgiveness?  His answer is this.  He will forgive anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in Jesus.  Have you done this today?  If you have done this, are you tempted to add to the Gospel all manner of visible aspects of the Law to assuage your flesh?  Let us hear the call of Jesus to those who are weary and heavy laden.  Come to Him and find rest.  Repent of your sins today and follow Jesus by faith.  Don’t be tempted to go back under the Law of Moses, but instead, walk with the Spirit of God and live out the righteousness of Christ.  Our destiny is to take our place in the Heavenly Jerusalem among the glorious beings and having a glory of our own.

City of the Living God audio

Tuesday
May232017

The Promise of the Father

Isaiah 59:19-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 21, 2017.

In Acts 1:4 it says of Jesus and his disciples, “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”  We are going to take some time to answer the question, “What promise from the Father is He talking about?”  There are many promises throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, some of them promise blessing, and some of them promise judgment.  But Jesus is clearly referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament we see at first hints of this promised giving of the Holy Spirit.  However several places in the prophets make a clear promise from God that this day was coming.  Just as people were baptized in water by John to point to a spiritual inward act of repentance, so at a higher level would be the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Repentance is good.  But, if the Holy Spirit does not take up residence in our heart and then also fill us with His enabling power, moment by moment, then the repentance will fall short and our faith will wither.  This baptism takes that initial connection to the Spirit of God and makes it a continual, empowering presence.

Now it is easy in this world to lose sight of the reality that God promises to place His Spirit upon us, and within us.  If we try merely to be righteous without a real, abiding presence of the Lord, we will find ourselves drained of any spiritual strength, and without a sustaining hope.  So let’s beware the trap of only living righteously in the natural.  But, let us live out that righteousness with the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

He promises to deliver

It would be good to read the whole chapter in order to get the context of these verses.  You will find two things in this passage.  First, you will see that Israel had turned from God and towards unrighteousness.  They had become such a wicked society that those who tried to follow the Lord made “themselves a prey” (vs. 15).  It was a dangerous time to be a person who followed the ways of the Lord.  The situation is so dire that the Lord is pictured in vs. 16 amazed that they had been taken captive by sin and there was no one who could step in and deliver them.  We could think that surely Isaiah could be the answer.  But, it takes more than a prophet to speak on behalf of God to save people from their sins.  Even Isaiah himself testified that, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”  Thus it transitions by saying that the Lord would bring forth salvation and deliverance by His own right arm.

This deliverance is described in verses 16-18.  There we see a dual deliverance.  Israel would be delivered from the wicked of the nations that surrounded them.  However, God would also judge Israel and deliver the righteous from the unrighteous within the land.  God recognized that not all Israel was righteous.  In fact, though it is true that the nations persecuted and oppressed Israel, the righteous of the land were even more oppressed by the wicked that rose up from within the nation.  This was not a national problem that could be fixed with a war to end all wars.  It was a problem that started in the heart of every man, woman, boy, and girl.  So what is a person who wants to serve God supposed to do?  They need to recognize the reality that we can easily see the sins of others and blame them for our struggle.  But, we rarely recognize the truth that our greatest persecution comes from with our own sinful nature.  Our hearts betray us and long for paths that lead to pain and destruction.  Ultimately the Bible makes it clear that God is giving people a choice.  You can either let God deliver you from your own sins, or you can reject him and join ranks with the rebels, both the heavenly ones (the devil and his angels) and the earthly ones (wicked humans).  This promise to deliver from our external enemies and our internal threat, both foreign and domestic threats, brings us to verse 19 where the whole earth will fear the Lord when He accomplishes this deliverance.  In some ways our Lord accomplished this deliverance at the cross.  He made provision for our own sins to be forgiven, and He secured for us an eternal inheritance that overcomes anything the wicked of this world could do to us (including kill us).  However, at our Lord’s Second Coming, the Scriptures are clear that he will remove the heavenly and earthly rebels and hand the administration of the earth over to the righteous.  So in a sense we are still waiting for this to be fulfilled, all the while enjoying the benefits of our Lord’s deliverance begun at the cross.

The second part of verse 19 has a grammar issue.  It is not clear just what is coming like a flood.  If it is the enemy then the clause states this, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up against it.”  However, it is possible that it is the Spirit of the Lord itself that comes like a flood.  And thus it would read, “The Spirit will come like a violent river against it.”  In the end both options leave us with the sense that no matter what the enemy does, God has a day in which He will judge them and remove them out of the way.  That day will leave the whole earth trembling in fear at His great power.  We must not forget, in these days when it seems that wickedness reigns in every nation on earth, and holds the reins of power in every aspect of our societies, that God has not forsaken us.  Through Jesus, He has taken up the task of delivering us as our representative champion.

However, verse 20, uses the title of this champion, The Redeemer.  The word could be translated “Kinsman Redeemer,” like it is used in the book of Ruth.  The idea of the Kinsman redeemer was that close relatives were to safeguard the person, property, and posterity of their extended family.  Thus if someone was murdered then a close relative was to take up the role of Kinsman Redeemer.  They would take on the duty of seeking out who did it and getting justice.  In Ruth the issue is more about property and posterity.  Ruth had married an Israelite who had sold his land and moved to Moab because of famine.  When she comes to Israel, she is technically heir to his property, but doesn’t have the money to redeem it (buy it back).  Not only this but, they had no children before her husband died.  Thus his name or lineage was in danger of dying out.  Thus the story is about Ruth asking Boaz to be a Kinsman Redeemer to her.  He does this by marrying Ruth and restoring both her property and her posterity.  This gives us background to why Jesus becomes a human.  It is so that he can be our Kinsman redeemer.  He is one of us.  We are all under the threat of death due to our sins.  We have been plundered of all our inheritance that God has intended for us and are spiritually childless.  However, Jesus steps in and takes those who turn from transgression (vs. 20) as a bride.  In Him we now have eternal life, an eternal inheritance and an eternal posterity.  The deliverance is not just from external enemies, but also from a plight of powerlessness that have brought upon our self through sin.  In Jesus, all that the devil has done to spoil God’s kingdom is overturned for those who “turn from transgression.”  So the promise of deliverance is not to the wicked, but to those who are like Ruth.  They long to take their place in God’s kingdom but are powerless to do so.  These he buys back from their sin and its consequence of death.  These He redeems.

He promises a covenant with the redeemed

Verse 21 states that the Lord will make a covenant with those who are being redeemed.  This is clearly a covenant that is different from the covenant that God made through Moses.  This is why the Bible is divided into the Old Testament (or Covenant) and a New Testament (or Covenant).  The promise/covenant is basically God’s Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit, that was upon Isaiah in order to reveal to Israel the Word of God, would be upon all those who are spiritually descended from him, or have the same faith as him.  I say this because Jesus points out this line of argument in John 8, where the crowd in Jerusalem thought they were protected because they were Abraham’s children.  Jesus challenges this assertion and points out that they are nothing like Abraham.  If they were truly Abraham’s children then they would have rejoiced to see Jesus and embraced him.  But, they were nothing like Abraham.  They were like their true father the devil.  The point is not that Jesus thinks that they are biologically from the devil.  Rather, they may be biologically children of Abraham, but they are spiritually children of the devil.  They have turned their back on their earthly and heavenly father, and chosen to identify with an evil, fallen father.  So too in this passage, the descendants are not just biological descendants.  Yes, parents must endeavor to raise up their biological children to also become their spiritual children.  But, what is God’s promise to these descendants?  The Spirit of God will be upon them and fill their mouths with God’s Word.

It is important to recognize both aspects.  We are intended to walk daily with the Holy Spirit upon our life and filling our mouth with God’s Word.  This daily communion with the Spirit and this daily filling of our heart and mind with God’s thoughts and decrees is a promise that God has made available for us.  So the question is, “Are you spiritually a descendant of those who believed on Jesus, and if so, are you walking in harmony with God’s Spirit?”  May God help us to reject this world’s encouragement to pursue the things of the flesh and thereby losing the precious communion and empowering that He has for us.

Not only would the Spirit be in their life, but it would not be a momentary thing.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit only came upon certain individuals and only at certain times.  Thus the Holy Spirit’s presence was an uncommon event that came upon uncommon people at uncommon times.  This promise is that the Holy Spirit would become the common experience of the common, righteous person, without end.  It is this promise that enables us to live in a world surrounded by the unrighteous (both spiritual and natural), wrestle with our internal, fleshly nature, and be victorious.  Jesus not only overcame the world, but He enables us to overcome the world.  By the Holy Spirit we can go into our heart and mind and recognize the areas that need to be let go and the areas that need to be built up.  He can free us even from that inner unrighteousness that seeks to overcome us.  In Christ we are more than victorious over our own sin-problem.  We are enabled to be rescuers of others.  Let’s ask God for this promise each and every day.  Let’s seek the help of the Holy Spirit for our battles both internal and external.