Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's all about the sacrifice!

I was sitting in church, and one of our pastors was busy preaching on Hebrews 11. We've been going through Hebrews for the last 4 weeks or so, morning and evening services.

You know what it is like, the preacher says something that sets your mind off on this relational tour in your head. The preacher says something that unveils something you have read, studied or heard before, and that triggers something else, and before you know it, you are no longer listening to the preacher, but you are busy meditating on something during the sermon.

I cannot remember what triggered the thought, but I started thinking back to the earlier chapters of Hebrews, starting with chapter 5 and culminating in chapter 10.

When we think of Easter fast approaching, we invariably think of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus made a sacrifice, a propitiation, to satisfy the wrath of God against sinful man.

Jesus, who is the sacrifice for sin, is also the High Priest, who intercedes for us continually, unlike the human priests of the Old Covenant who died, and inherited their priesthood. Hebrews tells us that the priesthood of Jesus is not according to some legal requirement based on the laws of the Old Covenant, but was made a priest because of an oath by God. As a result, Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb 7:20-28), the New Covenant, over against the Old Covenant which was underwritten by its own constitution, the Ten Commandments, and its related laws.

Now Jesus, being the High Priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant, has a better ministry and a better covenant since the New Covenant was enacted on better promises. What makes the New Covenant better than the Old Covenant is the fact that it was Jesus Christ Himself who inaugurated the New Covenant by Himself as the sinless sacrifice! This makes His sacrifice on the cross the central theme of the New Covenant, and not just a side issue. Without this sacrifice we would still be stuck with the Old Covenant and its related laws.
(6)  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.  (7)  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (Heb 8:6-7)
 Having found fault with the Old Covenant, Christ instituted the New Covenant, which in effect made the Old Covenant obsolete! (Heb 8:13). And, when a covenant is made obsolete, so are its laws, since a covenant is based on its laws and statutes, They give power to the covenant. And that includes the Ten Commandments as a covenant document! In fact, to make this very clear, the Old Testament very clearly states that the Ten Commandments are also called the "words of the covenant" (Ex 34:28), the "covenant" (Dt 4:13), and the "tablets of the covenant" (Dt 9:9-15; Heb 9:4). Therefore, the Ten Commandments are equated with the Old Covenant, and the Old Covenant having been made obsolete, also made the Ten Commandments as a covenant document obsolete! Simply said, the Old Covenant died with Christ! With the change of the covenant, there is a change in the priesthood, and with this change in the priesthood, there is also a change in law! (Heb 7:12)

However, according to Covenant Theology (CT), the bedrock of most of Reformed theology, the Moral Law, the Ten Commandments, was not abandoned or made obsolete, but only the so-called Civil and Ceremonial Laws. Now, somehow, CT divides the Old Covenant laws into three segments, Moral Law, Civil Law and Ceremonial Laws. Based on this division, CT magically makes the Civil and Ceremonial Laws disappear, while making the Moral Law, which they equate with the Ten Commandments, remain in perpetuity. All of this while the Old Testament has clearly equated the Ten Commandments with the Old  Covenant, which was made obsolete!

With its division of the Old Covenant laws, in my opinion, CT drives the most important aspect of the Old Covenant into oblivion, making the Old Covenant simply a moral code. The issue of atonement in the Old Covenant, in my opinion is the the most important aspect. If the inauguration of the New Covenant, simply got rid of the Civil and Ceremonial Laws (which included the system of atonement), then why did Christ really have to die, if the sacrifice (as a ceremonial law) wasn't that important anyway? You see, the Old Covenant laws could not rid the Israelites of their sin, and that is why they had their sacrificial system, which could at least for a season atone for their sins. Without the sacrificial system, the "Moral Law" of the Old Covenant would have been meaningless, ala Moral Majority.

Image courtesy Northfield Methodist Church
Under the New Covenant, which was inaugurated by the death of Christ on the cross, there simply is no meaning without that exceptional death, which made atonement for the people of God! We need this sacrifice, since as human beings we simply cannot keep the laws of God perfectly to live.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)
You see, we need to be justified before a holy God, and no amount of law-keeping can do that for us, since we by nature, are sinners.
(21)  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--  (22)  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  (23)  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  (24)  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  (25)  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  (26)  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (27)  Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  (28)  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom 3:21-28)
With Good Friday approaching (22 April 2011), remember that it is by the death of Christ that He ransomed a people unto Himself (Mt 20:28). We are reckoned to be a righteous people before God because of His death, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Remember, it is not by any law that we are justified. No law is more important than that which Christ did on the cross!

It's all about the sacrifice!

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