Jeremiah 31:33,34 “‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”
What covenant? After what time? And With what people. – only Israel?
Matthew Henry answers these questions succinctly; “The people of God shall become numerous and prosperous. In Hebrews 8:8,9 , this place is quoted as the sum of the covenant of grace made with believers in Jesus Christ. Not, I will give them a new law; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; but the law shall be written in their hearts by the finger of the Spirit, as formerly written in the tables of stone. The Lord will, by his grace, make his people willing people in the day of his power. All shall know the Lord; all shall be welcome to the knowledge of God, and shall have the means of that knowledge. There shall be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at the time the gospel is published. No man shall finally perish, but for his own sins; none, who is willing to accept of Christ’s salvation”
The new covenant is Jesus. This covenant was established when His work on the cross was finished. His people are believers who accept His rule and all know the Lord personally. There won’t be any further need for ‘go-betweens’. Every person will be taught by the Holy Spirit and God’s mark will be on our hearts! But how exactly did we become part of this great covenant?
How did we become part of God’s great covenant with Israel? The apostle Paul explains it to us; ” I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” (Romans 11:13-21)
An in-grafted branch doesn’t replace the root. It is nourished by the root which is why the Old Testament speaks to us with such Holy Spirit power. We aren’t special but the nourishment that now courses through our spiritual body is precious beyond all the riches in the world, transforming us and our fruit. Unbelief is the killer of the ‘broken off branches’ and potentially for us should be become prideful or casual about our ‘new status’. Jesus said; “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
John Wesley says our natures have changed; “With – That is, with those who are Jews inwardly. And write it – The prophet’s design is here to express the difference betwixt the law and the gospel. The first shews duty, the latter brings the grace of regeneration, by which the heart is changed, and enabled for duty. All under the time of the law that came to salvation, were saved by this new covenant; but this was not evidently exhibited; neither was the regenerating grace of God so common under the time of the law, as it hath been under the gospel.” John Wesley could read the sign of the times in his day and ours. When hierarchy, duty and works are emphasized in any assembly, those caught up in it are under the law. When grace, new life and real change are celebrated in any assembly, those caught up in it are under the rule of Jesus Christ.
According to John Wesley, the regenerating grace of God is a telling mark of the New Covenant gospel. The apostle Paul confirms; “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20,21) The old covenant required the law and lots of priests to police it. The New Covenant is perfect and only requires Jesus; “But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” (Hebrews 8:6,7)
Why then do we hang on to the trappings of the old covenant. Scripture tells us clearly; “Now the point in what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” (Hebrews 8:1-6)
All believers have a ministry calling direct from God in heaven. Scripture tells us; “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10) Jesus’ great commission was given to His disciples – those that actually decided to follow Him; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20) This commission came with a promise that He would be with us.
Sadly we cling to shadows of the past where we leave the preaching to others and many like it that way. It takes the ‘pressure’ of the people in the pews and elevates the priests in the pulpit. Go-betweens make for a lot of ‘buck passing’ and avoidance of real issues by those in the pews and in the pulpit. And in the push and shove, Jesus all too often gets squeezed out by other more ‘pressing concerns’ like budgets and membership.
Church organization built on the shadow of what God actually ordains has created a terrible problem. Ed Stetzer says; “My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the ‘called’ and the ‘not so much called.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.” Stetzer comes to a shocking conclusion; “The clergy-laity caste system is killing churches and hindering the mission of God. Let’s kill it. Next time I will talk about why some pastors should resign and become full-time Christians, but in the mean time, how is your church empowering ALL God’s people ‘for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ'” (Eph 4:12 HCSB)?”
Actually there is something potentially far more shocking. As Christians we never want to hear it; “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus, have mercy on us all!