April 26, 2020 The Glory of the New Covenant

The Glory of the New Covenant

Scripture reading: 2 Cor. 3:7-11

 

In this riveting passage of Scripture, Paul begins to compare the ministry of the old covenant with the ministry of the new covenant. If we can better see the contrast between the old and the new then we will see how privileged we are to be living in this age! If you are a member of the new covenant then you are in a better position, with greater glory, than Moses or any who preceded him, even Abraham!

 

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,[1]

 

Paul begins this section by calling the old covenant the “ministry of death.” Why does he call it the ministry of death? Why is the old covenant, which did bring great privileges to the Israelites, a ministry of death? It is because, although the law is holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12), it has no power to compel a person to live by it. There are two kinds of people in the world before coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are some who care not one bit for what God’s law says. They go through life living the way they please. Then there are those who try to do the right thing. They recognize that God has given us his law and they try to live by it. Those would be modern, conservative Jews and even those raised in a Christian home but who have not understood the gospel of Christ. They try to live rightly, but do so out of their own human energy.

 

But whether one doesn’t care about God’s law or whether one tries to live it and then fails, the result is the same: death! This is because the weakness and failure is not in the law. The law of God is perfect, reflecting the character of God. The weakness and failure is in us. We have a sinful nature that not only has no power to live a godly life, but it even stirs us up, at times, to disobey what the law reveals!

 

Elsewhere, Paul writes:

 

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. [2]

 

When uses the phrase, “carved in letters of stone,” he is referring of course to the ten commandments. We must not think, however, that either the commandments were not good, nor that they have been done away.

 

The difference between the old covenant and the new covenant is not that we now have a new set of commandments that are easier to follow than the old set. It is not that the old have been done away. Indeed, Jesus makes this abundantly clear.

 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [3]

 

There are some commandments, called ceremonial laws, that have been fulfilled through Christ’s sacrifice. For example, animal sacrifices and circumcision. But the moral laws are not only still binding upon our consciences, but Jesus tells us that each follower of his is one who “does them and teaches them.”

 

Indeed, this is the promise of the new covenant, even hundreds of years before Jesus came:

 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.[4]

 

Thus, it is not that we are under a new set of commandments. Rather, God’s moral law is being written on our hearts rather than just on tablets of stone.

 

Returning to our passage:

 

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,[5]

 

Paul references the time when the ten commandments were given to Moses upon Mt. Zion. Because Moses had been in the presence of the Lord, he came down from the mountain and his face was shining (Ex. 34:29-33). But then the glory upon Moses’ face began to fade. It was only temporary. This is why Paul writes that the old covenant came with glory. It only came with glory, but the glory came to an end in the same way that the glory on Moses’ face came to an end.

 

Then Paul asks, in verse 8:

 

How shall the ministry of the Spirit not be more in glory? (Recovery Version)

 

The old came with glory, but the new is in glory! When something comes in a certain condition doesn’t mean that it stays in that condition. I only bought one brand new car in my life. All the other times I purchased used cars. The first three years that I was in the Air Force I didn’t take any leave at all. After three years I had quite a bit accumulated and I flew home to Ohio. My mother had a fair amount of savings and she bought me a brand new car as a gift. It was a 1976 black Malibu. I drove it back to Travis Air Force base in Northern California. That car was spotless, shiny, and had that new-car aroma. It came in glory. But, after a few years, the glory was gone.

 

The old covenant came in glory, but the glory did not last long. As soon as the Israelites began to break the commandments the glory began to fade.

 

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.[6]

 

Paul had called it a ministry of death. Now he calls it a ministry of condemnation. It was a ministry of condemnation because it ministers condemnation. That is, it brings condemnation. Again, not because there is anything wrong with the command- ments. It is because there is something wrong with us.

 

Paul calls the ministry of the Spirit the ministry of righteousness because it ministers righteousness. That is, it makes a person righteous.

 

Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.[7]

 

The glory in which the old came and faded is no glory at all compared to the glory of the new covenant. The glory of the new covenant is far, far greater because the testimony of God is being written on our hearts. The author of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah in describing a central aspect of the new covenant:

 

I will put my laws into their minds,

and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people. [8]

 

It is a glorious thing to have God’s laws in our minds and written upon our hearts! To have it in our minds means to know what they are. To have them written in our hearts means that they are not just something we think about but, rather, our sincerest and deepest longing is to live them! When your heart is involved it is a matter of enjoyment. A person who is in the ministry of the Spirit enjoys the laws of God!

 

How does the Lord put his laws into our minds and how does he write them on our hearts? See, first, that the laws of God are in our mind. Let me ask, how do they get there? Do they get there by drifting from heaven and somehow, magically, settling into our mind? No. They do not get into our minds by magic. They get into our minds like every other thing gets into our mind: by seeing or hearing them. They get into our mind through our senses. In other words, we must be exposed to them and learn them. If we do not learn them then they will not get into our mind.[9]

 

First then, we must learn the laws of God. If we are not learning the laws of God then we are not fulfilling our calling as members of the new covenant. If we do not have a love for his law then it may be that we are not part of his covenant at all. Those whose hearts have been regenerated have a love for his laws. King David was regenerated and so were some others under the old covenant. Remember what he wrote in Psalm 1:

 

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night. [10]

 

Those who have been born from above delight in the law of the Lord. It is their great pleasure and joy. This love and delight for his law is already part of the promise of the Lord writing it upon our hearts. And here is another reason why the glory of the new covenant surpasses the glory of the old. Under the old only some members of the covenant, like David, had God’s law written upon their hearts. Under the new, every member has God’s law inscribed in them. The author of Hebrews, in quoting Jeremiah, says as much:

 

And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor

and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’

for they shall all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest. [11]

 

This knowing follows right after having the law written on their hearts, implying that these two things go hand in hand. All those in the new covenant will have the Lord’s laws written on their hearts and will know him.

 

But David was one who was regenerated. See how he felt about God’s laws:

Oh how I love your law!

It is my meditation all the day. [12]

 

And,

I hate the double-minded,

but I love your law. [13]

 

Do you love the laws of God? If you do not, fall on your knees and ask the Lord to put a love of his laws into your heart! Because you cannot love God without loving his laws. (This is because his laws are nothing less than a testimony of who he is.) If you love God you will love his commandments. If you love his commandments you will love him.[14]

 

If you do love his laws you can pray to love them more!

 

But, see this! First, God’s laws are put into our minds. This happens by learning them, not by magic. We must spend time reading God’s word where his commands are found. We, like David, must meditate upon his laws for them to become a part of our thinking.

 

After they are in our minds, the Lord will write them upon our hearts. In one sense, the writing has already begun because our love for his laws is a matter of the heart. But, the writing of the Lord goes beyond an affection. It is an inscription of the commands upon our hearts. There is a content to what is written. This content is nothing less than the words of God.

 

When God’s words are in our hearts it helps us greatly to resist temptation. Remember when our Lord was tempted by the devil? How did he resist the devil’s temptations? He resisted the devil by quoting Scripture to him. Three times he quoted Scripture to the enemy and resisted his temptations. In Scripture, matters that are repeated three times signify importance.

 

Let me ask, how was it that the Lord Jesus was able to quote Scripture? The answer is clear. He memorized Scripture! And, he is our example that we are to follow (John 13:15; I Peter 2:21).

 

Author O.S. Hawkins relates his experience of how when he was 17 years old he was transformed by surrendering to Christ as Lord and Savior. The very first week he was a Christian someone handed him a slip of paper with I Cor 10:13 written on it and then looking at him squarely in the face said, “You’d better memorize this because you will need it!” That verse says:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. [15]

Hawkins goes on to say, “Only God knows how many times across the years I have arrived at temptation’s corner and this verse, hidden in my heart and mind, came out of my mouth and kept me on the right path.” That has been my experience, too.

How can we memorize? Some have tried it and failed. Others think that they have a poor memory. Both of those excuses are false paths. Let me take the second one first.

Some may think that they cannot memorize. This is false because everything we do is a process of memorization. If you can fix something that is because you memorized the steps to fix it before, after you either tried it or were shown by someone else. If you can cook something that is because you memorized the steps to cook it before, after you either tried it, read it in a cookbook, or were shown by someone else.

Everyone knows the pledge of allegiance. Let’s say it now.

 

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Why have we memorized that? Because we have heard it so often! That is the simple key. Repetition. Repetition equals memorization. The truth is that some just do not want to put in the effort. But we must. Jesus did. He is our example not just to look at, but to follow.

With the memorization we should also have meditation. This involves thinking about what is written, studying what is written, and praying over it. The goal is that the truth that is being communicated becomes a part of us.

To that end, it is a very good thing to memorize the word of God.

When we memorize the word of God it does become a part of us, if we understand what is being said.

This, then, is one of the glories of the new covenant. God is writing his laws upon our hearts. The more we cooperate with this divine writing, the more that is written. Will you cooperate? If your answer is yes then begin this very day to memorize Scripture. A modest goal is one verse per week. Write it on a 3 x 5 card and carry it with you through the day. Every day of the week. Read it often. Recite it to yourself line by line. If you are faithful in this then by the end of the week you will have memorized one verse.

As Gods words fill your mind and heart you will find both strength and joy in greater measure. Glory may even be seen on your face. And it will not fade away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 3:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 7:9–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:17–19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Je 31:31–33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 3:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 3:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 3:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 8:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] In Romans 2:14-16 Paul reveals that all people have God’s law in their hearts innately. This is different than the promise of the new covenant. In the new covenant God is putting his laws into his chosen ones in a deeper and more detailed way than the general knowledge of his will that all people possess.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 1:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 8:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 119:97). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 119:113). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] Some may think that the Pharisees disprove this truth. But the Pharisees did not love God’s commandments. They only made an outward show of it. They disdained the weightier matters of the law and sought to only abide by the lesser matters of the law.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 10:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.