(Based on Ephesians 1 and Isaiah 54)
The truths that I want to share with you today are the reason why I believe God led me in the direction of sharing the story of Noah with you. Today is the crux of the matter for me.
This isn’t the crux of the matter, but if you’ve ever wondered why there is an Old Testament and a New Testament and what those terms mean, we’ll be looking at that question to begin with.
Probably the only place (other than the Bible) where you or I would ever hear the word “testament” is in the phrase, “Last will and testament.”
From what we’ve seen so far about covenants, what are some of the similarities between a “last will and testament” and a covenant?
Off the top of my head, I came up with about three similarities. Both testaments and covenants are legal and binding. They are not to be broken. Then with both, something is being bestowed. Something is being given. And finally, for both of them, something or someone has to die for them to take effect.
We could simply call the New Testament “the New Covenant” because the New Covenant is the very heart of the New Testament. That is really what the New Testament is: a New Covenant
As I was preparing to teach these lessons to the girls’ group that I taught on Ephesians, I had a new thought about covenants (seeing we’re on the subject of new things). I hadn’t noticed it before, but I began to realize that every time God made a covenant with anyone, He created something new.
We already know a little bit about the covenant He made with Noah. And what new thing did He create in His covenant with Noah? (You might have to do a little mind-reading in order to come up with the same answer I did, but I hope you’ll be able to see it when I tell you my answer.) Through the flood and then His covenant of peace with Noah, God created a new world.
Two other Old Testament covenants that came immediately to mind were ones that God made with a couple of guys named Abraham and Moses (or a covenant with the people of Israel through a guy named Moses).
Through His covenant with Abraham, God created a new nation. That nation came to be called “Israel.” And through God’s covenant given through Moses, God created a new law for His new nation called Israel.
But there’s at least one more clear covenant that God made in the Bible after the Law of Moses.
Through whom did God make that covenant? (Check out Matthew 26:26-28 if you’re not sure.) And through that New Covenant, I see God making a new new world, a new new nation, and a new new law.
I should clarify. We’re not told that God created a new law when He put the New Covenant into effect. Rather, under the New Covenant, He used new writing materials for His law.
Under the Old Covenant, God’s laws given to Moses were written on stone. And under the New Covenant God writes His laws on hearts.
It seems like there’s a play on words happening here. God wrote His Old Covenant on tablets of stone, and people under the Old Covenant had hearts of stone (at least the majority of them did). Under the New Covenant, first He’d trade hearts of stone for hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Then, He’d write His laws on those tablets of flesh. Or in other words, He’d write His law on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And because the hearts would be different, it would make all the difference in how those with new hearts would respond to His laws.
From 1 Peter 2:9-10, we see that God created a new nation under the New Covenant. I couldn’t think of any Scripture passages that tell us outright that God created a new world when He made the New Covenant, but for confirmation of that fact, you only have to glance at the date on a calendar. History was split into two parts because of the birth of a certain, very important historical character. The historical character through whom the New Covenant was made.
So far, everything we’ve talked about may all be old news to you. If you were raised in a Christian home and grew up going to church and Sunday School like I did — or even if you’ve only been a Christian for a short time but if you are already a Christian — probably nothing that we’ve discussed so far will be new to you (except the rainbow thing if you happen to be a little slow on the uptake like me). You may be thinking, “This is all well and good for those who have never heard any of the basics, but I already know all this. Tell me something new.” Today, we’re talking about the New Covenant, and this is where it all becomes new.
As I opened up the Bible and started, week by week, putting together twelve weeks of lessons from Ephesians for the small group of young women who originally did this study with me, none of the lessons I was preparing was purely academic for me. For me, every lesson in those twelve weeks of Ephesians lessons grew out of exciting, hugely-impacting truths that God has taught me in a very direct way through His Word. Either these were exciting truths He had taught me in the distant past (like, twenty years ago) or exciting truths He taught me in the recent past while I was preparing lessons for this study. Or exciting truths He keeps on teaching me, even as I’m typing these words onto the computer screen.
I have to admit that most of what we’ve looked at so far this week is old news for me, too. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the “salvation message.” But the “salvation message” is a very necessary place to begin because there may be those reading this who have never entered into that covenant of peace with God for the reason that they’ve never heard “salvation” clearly explained to them. That’s one reason.
Another reason we’re starting off with the “salvation message” is because it is foundational to everything else in Ephesians (in fact, in the whole Bible). And another reason is because it may not be as old news as some of us think.
For those of us who have been Christians almost as long as we can remember, it may be hard to imagine how the message of “peace with God” could be anything but old news. I’ve been a Christian for many years. Yet because of a period of about five years of struggle I went through when I was around the ages of sixteen to twenty, this message of “peace with God” came to be very new news for me. Very good new news. “The gospel” (which means “the good news”) became exciting new revelation that every Christian needs to hear! Looking back, I’m grateful for those struggling years because of the work God did in my life through them.
I’ll try to describe what my struggling years were about. As I’ve said, I grew up in the church — a good, solid, Bible-believing church (where I heard the message of salvation more times than I could count. We were extremely sound on salvation by grace through faith!) And I was saved when I was very young (what it means to be “saved,” if this is all new to you, we’ll look at in more detail tomorrow). I don’t doubt that I was saved at that young age. But somehow, I seemed to miss out on the full realization of what it is that we have “in Christ” as, I believe, is the case for many, many Christians.
When I was about sixteen (isn’t that the time to question everything), I began doing a lot of questioning. I didn’t question if God existed. I knew He did. I didn’t question if the Bible was true. I knew it was. I could see the truth of it. I’d already done all the questioning I needed to do in order to know that there is a God and that He is the God of the Bible. What I questioned was me! But not only me. Us!
I’d read the Bible. I knew that God was a Mighty Warrior. I knew He was angry at sin. I knew He was often angry in the Old Testament. I knew He was often angry in the New Testament. I knew the kinds of things that made Him angry. Over and over, He was angry at the people who called themselves by His name, but weren’t really His people. He was angry at hypocrisy. He was angry at smug self-satisfaction. He was very often angry at the people who thought they had it all together but had missed it completely. That was frightening to me.
Was it possible I might be one of them? Could it be that God was angry at me? What was the difference between me and the people God was angry at in the Bible? The people who were the objects of God’s anger in the Bible all seemed to think they were doing just fine, thank-you-very-much. They believed they were God’s people. They looked at themselves and couldn’t see the sin that God saw. I knew what the Bible had to say about being saved, but was I even saved? If so, what was wrong with me?
But then I looked around me at the other Christians I knew, at the people in my church, at the people in any of the churches I knew, and I couldn’t see that there was much difference between them and me. Were all of us missing it? Were all of us going along on our merry ways, believing we were just fine, thank-you-very-much, but meanwhile, living under the anger of God? Were any of us His people? Were any of us truly saved?
I knew my own faults. I knew my own pride and hypocrisy and self-righteousness. I could see other people’s faults, too. We all seemed to be in the same boat. So few of us seemed to be living the kind of life I thought we should expect to be living if we were truly saved — a triumphant, victorious life. Lives that, I could see from the Bible, were lived the way they were meant to be lived.
These were the kinds of questions that would recur and torment me whenever I was quiet enough to do any thinking.
I now believe that my experience of those struggling years was not unusual. All of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, if we’re honest with ourselves, know in our deepest hearts that all is not as it should be — that we are all sinners. We can all see that we have faults. And in certain moments of self-revelation, we can begin to see how unattractive and undesirable those faults are. Or maybe an even bigger source of guilt is all the things we should be doing and aren’t (and nothing ever seems to be enough).
The general population doesn’t seem to be too worried about their own sin issues in relation to the Mighty Warrior, but for those of us who are saved, for those of us who believe we already have peace with God, there seems to be a great deal of unease. On the one hand, we say that God has already dealt with our sin; we say that we have peace with God. On the other hand, we live as though we need to deal with our own sin all by ourselves. We live as though God is angry at us. We may be able to admit that God loves us, but it seems to be the hardest thing in the world for many Christians to believe that God could possibly like them.
So many of us have unconsciously said to God, “I’ll trust You for salvation. But from there on in, I’ll handle it.” And our DIY make-over projects don’t end up turning us into the people we think we should be. And that leads to a life of bondage to anxiety and guilt. Why? Because we think there’s so much riding on us!
The guilt and anxiety I see in so many Christians over their Christian lives and their walks with God remind me of the experiences I went through for those five years. God began teaching me, so directly and so gently, the principles we’ve been looking at today. And what an effect those principles have had on my thinking. And on my living!
Because, you see, it’s all new! It’s a New Covenant. It’s a new world, a new nation, a new law (or at least new hearts to write that law on). “… Behold, I make all things new … ” (Rev. 21:5). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Somehow, although this principle is underscored and italicized and printed in bold all throughout the New Covenant (Testament), I still managed to miss it (I told you I was a little slow).
I remember one Christmas, after God had begun teaching me these old principles that seemed so new to me, reading the Christmas story and being blown away. It was as though I heard the angels’ words to the shepherds for the first time. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
But who hasn’t heard those words before? Who doesn’t associate Christmastime with “peace on earth”?
But we have the wrong slant on the “peace on earth” in this context. The “peace” that’s being talked about in Luke 2:14 is not peace between nations. It’s not peace from man to man. As wonderful as that would be, what it’s really saying is far more wonderful. It’s peace from God to man. It’s God’s goodwill toward men. God was doing a new thing in the world through the birth of Christ. He had created a new world.
For years I’d been living, even as a Christian, under the general apprehension of God’s displeasure. I felt that God must surely spend a lot of time being angry at me. What a revelation it was to realize that the birth of Christ created a new world — a world where peace with God is a reality for those who know Him! No fear of His anger. Just a basking in the delight of His goodwill. Toward men. Toward me! I had a new heart! I was a new creation! Not, “I should have a new heart … I should be a new creation.” No, it was a done deal! I had it! I was it! I was in an entirely different position from those under the Old Covenant who experienced God’s anger. I was not that person. I am not that person. I was under the New Covenant. It was simply the same old salvation message I’d heard countless times, but it was a revolutionary new idea, and it revolutionized my life. I still haven’t gotten over it.
This “peace with God” was the reason I talked non-stop for two hours at my captive audience (most of them had come in my car) at that first session of our Ephesians Bible study. If you’ll read the first chapter of Ephesians, you’ll discover that Paul hadn’t “gotten over it,” yet either. I don’t believe he ever did. I bet He’s still amazed by all we have “in Christ.”
Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at how it is that we enter into this covenant of peace with God. Every covenant has two parties, and those parties both have a part in making the covenant. The main question we’ll be looking at tomorrow is, “What’s our part?” And hopefully we’ll be able to see it so clearly from the Bible that none of us ever need find ourselves in the position I found myself in during my struggling years. The position of asking myself, “Am I even saved?” It’s something we can know! And once we do know it, then Ephesians 1 is simply a description of the state we live in (whether we realize it or not). But it’s realizing it that will make the difference in how we approach our day to day Christian lives. It might not make us “better” Christians. But it will certainly make us freer ones (and I say that a freer Christian is a better Christian).
Let me just leave you for today with Isaiah 54:8-10. It’s my prayer that these words will have new meaning for you today, that you’ll be overwhelmed anew at what it means to be a dweller of the New Covenant.
“With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says the LORD, your Redeemer. ‘For this is like the waters of Noah to me; For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD who has mercy on you.”
Doesn’t that blow you away? PEACE WITH GOD! For those who are “in Christ,” the Warrior has hung up His weapon!