Friday, March 1, 2013

A Better Covenant

Today is the final day of week 8, reading our Bibles through together.  Our scriptures are Leviticus 21-23 and Hebrews 8.

Once, I knew a Christian man who believed that in order to be the most fulfilled Christian he could be, he had to keep all the Old Testament laws.  Chris had not a drop of Jewish blood in his veins, yet he felt bound to keep the Jewish law.  He wore a prayer shawl and yarmulke, grew an (untrimmed) beard, kept the feasts and holy days, began attending a Messianic Jewish synagogue, and in all ways became Jewish. 

But what does the Bible say about the Christian's relationship to the Old Testament Law?  Click here for an excellent article, "Are Christians Bound by the Law of Moses?" by Emeal Zwayne. 

Leviticus 21-22 talks about regulations for priests--how they should dress and groom themselves, whom they should marry, and who is qualified to serve in the Lord's house.  On a larger scale, the entire book of Leviticus is full of laws that seem arbitrary and antiquated to many modern readers.  The Christian asks, "Am I bound to keep the Jewish Law?" 

Since no one is capable of keeping the whole of the Jewish law, the Christian receives hope in the grace given us by Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 8 (ESV) says:

Jesus, our High Priest
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.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second...13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

So, for those who find the Old Testament Law to be difficult and even faulty, the author of Hebrews agrees.  But Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it.  He came to bring it to its full fruition, to perfect that which was imperfect in it.  He is the end-goal of the Law.  For example, where the Law required a sinful priest to first make atonement for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, Jesus is our sinless High Priest who needs to make atonement only for our sins.  Whereas the priest used to have to make atonement every year, Jesus made atonement by His blood, once and for all.  

Hebrews 8:6 says that we have a better covenant, which is enacted on better promises.  

But if God never changes, how come He made a lesser covenant with the early Hebrews, and a better covenant with His people through Jesus, Yeshua the Messiah?  Why didn't He start with the best?

There are many examples I could give.  A baby has to learn to crawl first, before he can walk and then finally run.  Or, you have to start with your meal before you get dessert.  When I first wake up in the pre-dawn morning, I turn on a dim lamp before I switch on the full overhead lights.  There could be no end to the analogies I could share.  The point is simply that you've got to start with the basics, before you're ready for something greater and more enjoyable.  The early Hebrews were in no position to understand the moral and ethical teachings of Christ, had it not been for the strictness of the Law.  They could never understand what Jesus does for us as our Great High Priest, if they never had had the sacrificial system.  They were given copies and shadows of heavenly things, so that their spiritual eyes could gradually adjust to the light before it finally shone in their faces.

So, when you read Levitical law, instead of being horrified at the strictness and legalism, just be glad that through Christ you have a better covenant.  With Jesus as your Great High Priest, the Law is written on your heart and mind rather than on stone.  And Christ is merciful toward your sins, and will remember them no more.

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