Long Story Short: Covenants

Covenants Video Here

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  It’s a pleasure to welcome you this morning.

Today is the third week in a six week long series that we are calling a Long Story, Short.  In six weeks we are trying to cover the story of the Bible.  Contrary to what you might have thought, the Bible is not a collection of stories thrown together.  It’s actually one story.  It’s the story of God and mankind.

The first week we learned that God created everything, including us.  We are not random space junk – we are in fact loving created – and created to be in a relationship with God himself.

Last week we learned about the fall – about how Adam and Eve decided to take control of their own lives, and so they broke their agreement with God and ate the forbidden fruit.  And as a result – we busted creation and find ourselves in the mess we are in today.  It busted our relationship with God, with one another – even with ourselves.  Can we handle the truth of what lies within?

Sometimes people want to make an argument that we are born basically good.  The premise of the bible is that we are not.  We are born now with a natural selfish bent – we are born messed up.  Which is why – you can throw a dart on any day in the history of the world – including today – the most advanced day in humanity – and we will find, treachery, violence, betrayal, thievery, lying, scandal, war, and evil and the list goes on.

When Adam and Eve sinned they traded a garden for a life filled with thorns and thistles.  Both literally and figuratively, really.

Today we are going to learn about the unfolding plan of God to fix and repair humanity.  God does not just sit back and watch what happens.  He is not a God who winds up the world and watches it fall apart.  He is active and involved.  And it is God’s plan – from the beginning, to save the world through Jesus Christ.

This morning I’m going to try to sum up the Old Testament.  In one week.  How exciting!  We cannot, obviously, do that, but we will take a look at three people with whom God makes specific promises.  We call these promises “Covenants”.

What is a covenant?  It involves a promise that God makes to people, or groups of people, and in response, there is a commitment that people make to God.

When we think of a covenant, it might help us to think of marriage vows.  Where one promises faithfulness and love for a lifetime, and in return, the other makes a commitment to do the same thing.

A covenant is kind of like a vow.   A vow is – I will keep my word to you.  I am completely dedicated to you.   Similarly, a covenant between God and his people is a rock solid promise from God – and a heartfelt commitment from his people.

And to give us an idea of what a covenant is – and give us a jump start on understanding the covenants – I want to show you this five minute video made by a group called the Bible Project. (Link also found at the top of the sermon manuscript)

This video will introduce us to four covenants God makes – but today we are going to focus on the three beginning with Abraham.

As I mentioned – tons of great videos to watch for the upcoming Bible Scholar.  They will put bible colleges out of business, they really are that good.

So let’s begin our race through the Old Testament by looking at these three  covenants that God makes – and we’ll begin with Abraham who lived about 2000bc.

And his story begins rather abruptly in Genesis chapter 12.  

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

Now – immediately – what do we notice about God.  First – let’s look at Abraham.  Isn’t it interesting that from the beginning of God’s dealing with humanity, he has all the people on earth in his sight?  All the nations on earth will be blessed through Abraham’s faith in God.

From the beginning – it’s been God’s design to bless all the people on earth and to restore all of us to a right relationship with Him.  And he has always used people to get the word out.

I really appreciated how our video highlighted the important biblical truth that God is and has always been interested in a partnership with us to accomplish good in this broken world.

We often think of what God can do to me, or what he can do for me.  I don’t think we understand just how much God wants to do with us.  From the beginning, God has chosen people to be his ambassadors to partner with him in carrying the message from God.

It’s stunning to read how much potential God sees in humanity – but we will never see that potential come to fruition apart from Him.  We are at our best when we find our rest in God.

What else do we learn about God from this interaction with Abraham?  Well, we learn something very important, but it doesn’t come until three chapters later, when Abraham is struggling with doubt – he is wondering How God can make a great nation out of him even though he doesn’t have any children at this point in his life, and by chapter 15 Abraham and his wife are very very old.

So God shows up and simply asks Abraham to believe him.  He doesn’t offer any particular proof – he just asks Abraham to place his confidence that what he says will come to fruition.

Genesis 15  Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. 

This one verse seems like just a sentence – but this verse becomes actually one of the most important theological verses in the entire Bible.  Why?  Because it answers the question, How am I placed back in a right relationship with God?  What is God looking for from me to restore our relationship that has been broken by sin?

Do I need to do a lot of good works?  How many?  Give money?  How much? Go on a missions trip?  How long?  What do I need to do to be right with God?

Well this verse is so important because it tells us that from the very beginning, God operates on the basis of faith.  He wants us to place our confidence in Him – to think well enough of him to believe him.

I remember as a kid hearing this song one time – it said – Father Abraham, had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham.  I am one of them and so are you.  So let’s just praise the Lord.  Right arm.

I remember hearing that and going fun song.  I don’t get it, but fun.  Left arm!

Ever wonder what that song means?  Well two thousand years ago, and two thousand years after Abraham was alive, a guy named Paul wrote to a church in Rome to let them know exactly how one is made right with God.  And he basis his answer on the Father of Israel – Abraham.  How was Abraham made right with God?

Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

11So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith… They are counted as righteous because of their faith. 

Now what Paul writes here is actually a bombshell.  What he says is that one becomes a child of Abraham – not by bloodline.  Not by DNA.  But by faith in God – specifically, faith in Jesus Christ.

At Journey we often talk about this line of faith.  And my guess is there are some people here who are just checking this Jesus thing out, and you have your own ideas about how God operates – if there even is a God.  And we get that – we’re really glad you are here and you don’t have to hide any of that.

Our hope and prayer for you though, is that soon you might come to see that Jesus is the greatest, the smartest, the most loving, most trustworthy, most reliable being who has ever walked the face of the earth.  And that you will come to believe him when he says that He is the way and the truth and the life and the only way to the Father.

And when the time comes that you are ready to get off the fence and become a follower of Jesus – we call that crossing the line of faith.  It’s both a finish line – in that you are finished struggling against God – but even better – it is a starting line – the start of a new journey, becoming a new kind of human as we partner with God to be people of love and compassion in this kind of world.

Crossing that line of belief or faith, will place you in the same place as Abraham.  Really – we are called to make the same decision that Abraham had to make.  Do I believe?  Do I trust?  Am I willing to follow this God wherever he leads me?

When Abraham said yes – it was the beginning of his relationship with God.  And the same is true for you and me today.

Second – let’s talk about Moses and God’s covenant with the Israelites.

And I’ll start by showing you a verse in Leviticus that I think perfectly sums up not only God’s covenant with Moses but really, all of the covenants.

Leviticus 26:12 I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.  God is on the lookout for people who want to be his.

So, almost 700 years after Abraham, Moses shows up and leads Abraham’s ancestors out of slavery in Egypt and promises to make them a great nation.  And he makes a covenant with Israel.  God will be their God.  They will be his people.

And how will they show the world they belong to Him?  By obeying his commands.

Here is Moses, addressing the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy chapter 4, and he reminds them of their commitment to God…

Deuteronomy 4

12 And the Lord spoke to you from the heart of the fire. You heard the sound of his words but didn’t see his form; there was only a voice. 13 He proclaimed his covenant—the Ten Commandments—which he commanded you to keep, and which he wrote on two stone tablets. 

So God makes a promise – you will be my people – and the people commit themselves – you will be our God.  We will obey your commandments.

Now Jesus was the one who taught us the purpose of these commands.  If followed, Jesus says, they teach us to Love God with all of our heart mind and soul, and to Love one another.

There was nothing wrong with the law.  It was good and perfect.  So what was the problem?

The problem was that people didn’t obey the law.    They didn’t keep their end of the promise.  Some people blatantly broke the law.  Others got so good at keeping the law that they became prideful.  In fact the people who became the best at following the law were the same people who huddled up one day and said, “Let’s kill Jesus.”

But the people didn’t keep their commitments.  They couldn’t keep the law.

But before we judge the Israelites for their inability to keep their end of the agreement – Let me ask you – show of hands – ever steal anything?  Raise them up.  Ever lie to someone?  Raise your hand?  Confession time!  Wow.  Hang onto your wallets people.  There’s a bunch of lying thieves in here!

So was it a bad deal?  Was it a bad covenant?  Was the law bad?  Or a mistake?  Of course not.  If followed with the right heart it would have led to countless blessings.

But even though it wasn’t kept, what we discover is that God uses the law for good.  He uses the peoples inability to keep the law to introduce for us one of the most important theological truths in the Bible.  And that is ALL have sinned.  All of us fall short.  ALL of us need a savior.  All of us need help.

That none of us are good enough for our goodness to make us right with God.

And actually – the apostle Paul in the New Testament tells us in Galatians 3, 19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. 

Paul is careful not to fault the Law of Moses.  He actually says that if you could keep it you would be righteous.  But you can’t.  And that’s the point of the Law.  It points us to our need for a greater covenant.  A greater Moses.

The Bible acts like a mirror.  How many of you looked into a mirror this morning?  Not enough of you.  You look into a mirror and you discover something that needs work.  The Bible is like a mirror for the soul.  We read it and discover things about us that need fixing and repair and help.

The Law – and our inability even to obey just ten commands – shows us that we are really broken on the inside.  And points us to God – and makes us ask, “ who will save me from myself?”

And this is where David comes in…  And here is God’s covenant commitment to David – we find it in 2 Samuel 7, where the prophet Nathan tells David that God has a promise for him…   “‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! 12 For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. 13 He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. 

These words were about Jesus – who came from the line of David.  It was written a thousand years before Jesus was born, but it’s about Jesus.  Jesus is the King who came from the line of David, the King who reigns forever.  The one who was nailed to a cross and what did the sign above his head say?  Hail – King of the Jews.

He’s more than King of the Jews.  He’s the King of any and all who are ready to respond as Abraham – and say – Yes, I believe. Jesus is the King who says, Whosoever will, can turn to me and stumble their way into a new kind of Kingdom.  And live life under the protection of a new kind of king.

How is it possible?  How did it come to pass that someone like you and I might be partners with the living God?

Because, on the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus stood up and he took a loaf of bread and told his disciples – this bread is my body.  Broken for you.

Luke 22:20 NLT

20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

So here is the Old Testament in a nutshell.  The OT is a giant signpost – one long arrow- pointing to Jesus.  Pointing forward to the day when God himself will solve the problem of how we might be restored again to partners with God.  He solves it by becoming a human being and honoring our commitment for us.

Colossian 1:13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Placing our faith in Jesus means our sins are behind us.  And an exciting journey awaits us now – where we become transformed from the inside out – and we become the light of the world.  We become the salt of the earth.  We begin to live significant lives of love and compassion and goodness… We become partners with God himself.

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