Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 1999
Dear Friend in Christ:
The next six months will be very significant; we are facing both a century change and a millennial change. The debates are well underway as to just how much change there will be. Some say none – others say that the changes will be dramatic. Even without the Y2K issue, we are in times of momentous change.
The question before us is, “How can we be secure in an environment of great change?” The real issue is: where is our security? The answer is: our security is in the covenant nature of God. He is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God (see Deuteronomy 7:2-9).
Covenant between God and man is His oath sealed in blood, a bond that makes us one with Him. It is sharing the life and purpose of God, under His sovereign administration. Our security is in the assurance that He keeps His covenant Word to us. It is not in circumstance, and certainly not in our ability to always be right or do right.
There are four primary words in my theological point of view:
Covenant – the constitution of truth
Kingdom – the administration of truth
Church – the revelation of truth
Faith – the application of truth
In other words, God’s unfailing love is expressed to us in His covenant, His government, His people, and His promises. Our security is in these realities. Other forms of “security” are either false or temporary, at best.
God sets His affection upon the people of His choice in order to express Himself to all people. He has, in times past, established covenant that guaranteed stability for the accomplishing of His will. Covenant is never an end; it is always a means to an end…the accomplishment of His will.
Here Are Some of His Covenants:
Genesis; Jeremiah 33:14-22 • With creation
Genesis 1:26 • Dominion by mankind
Genesis 3 • With Adam and Eve (salvation by the Seed of the woman)
Genesis 9 • Restraint of Judgment
Genesis 12:1-3 • Blessing upon Abraham’s seed
Genesis 15 • Deliverance of Abraham’s seed from Egypt
Exodus 19 • With Moses and Israel
2 Samuel 7; 2 Chronicles 13:5 • With David
Matthew 26 • The New Covenant with us in Christ
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
The most sacred object in Israel was the Ark of the Covenant, which was a small box made of wood, overlaid with pure gold. The box contained the tokens of covenant: Aaron’s rod, the tablets of stone on which the Law was written, and the pot of manna from heaven. The Ark contained the Word, the administration of the Word, and the provisions of God’s faithfulness.
On the box, or Ark, were cherubs of pure gold, fashioned so as to peer down on the lid called the “mercy seat.” They peered down upon the place where the blood was sprinkled, looking in awe and mystery upon the place of atonement and the place of mercy to sinful man. (Angels do not understand God’s mercy and redemption.)
The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, in the inner chamber called the “Holy of Holies,” or “Most Holy Place.” So God has placed the covenant of His mercy at the center of His people and His house.
The word “mercy” in the Hebrew language is “Chesed.” There is no single English word for it. Since we have no word for it, our Gentile culture has no concept of it. Many different words are used to attempt to translate it: mercy, love, lovingkindness, kindness, faithfulness, loyalty, and on and on this list goes.
“Chesed” is God’s love and faithfulness to be, or provide, whatever is needed to see us through to the land of His promise.
THE HEAVENLY THRONE
We are told in the book of Hebrews that the Tabernacle was an earthly structure that manifested a heavenly eternal reality. We are told that the Aaronic priesthood was only symbolic of an eternal priesthood and that the blood of animals was only a type of the eternal sacrifice. We are told that Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, entered into a temple-not made with hands-to offer a sacrifice of His own precious blood, once and for all, to make atonement for our sins.
He is the Mediator of an eternal Covenant, sealed with His own blood. We are told therefore, that we can draw near to God-to the eternal throne of mercy-with full assurance. By acceptance of His sacrifice for our sins, we have complete access to God our Father, through Jesus Christ. What an amazing guarantee! No other covenant is necessary.
THE PURPOSE OF HIS COVENANTS
It should be understood that God foresaw man’s incapability, and that is why He gave the guarantee. The recipients of His covenants have never fully kept them; we have all fallen short. He not only made the promise; He paid the price for our failures. What grace!
Whenever we begin the journey to His purpose for us, we do so with a certain trepidation, knowing our own weaknesses and propensity to err. This is why many never begin. But God’s offer is, “Trust Me, and I will sustain you by My mercy-even when you fail-if you will only acknowledge your failure, turn from it, and return to Me.”
Our failure to receive God’s guarantee leaves us insecure, striving, and attempting in some way to earn what we cannot earn…God’s love. Instead, what He asks is that we trust Him, lean on Him, believe and obey Him, and He by His own grace will see us through. It is His salvation in all of it.
- Covenant is given to show us that salvation is God’s initiative toward us.
- Covenant is given to bring us to certainty and security.
- Covenant is given to tell us how God will act toward us.
- Covenant is given to make us the benefactor of unearned benefits.
- Covenant is given to reveal His glory-His goodness and mercy.
- Covenant is given to make one people out of many.
- Covenant is given to reveal God’s true nature to all nations.
THE EFFECTS OF COVENANT LOVE
God’s covenant love is the constitution of our lives. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I love the verse of that hymn, “Solid Rock,” which says, “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace…In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”
Knowing God as “The Covenant Keeper” must fundamentally affect our lives in the depth of our security. It gives us the ability to face the world and face the future without fear or panic. Faith and courage are synonyms. David faced the giant courageously, because he knew God’s faithfulness. He said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Covenant love affects our environment. When people love their neighbors as themselves, there is mutual security.
Knowing God’s faithfulness prevents us from drawing back as Israel did in the wilderness when they decided not to believe God. That generation died. If they had believed God, they could have had a victorious future, as the next generation did.
Another positive effect of covenant awareness is to significantly enhance our praise and worship. Our gratitude is great because we understand that our salvation is His doing. Our praise is great because we more clearly see the attributes of His mercy. Our worship is full because we can completely pour ourselves out at the altar of our Covenant God.
I would be less than honest if I failed to remind us that covenant brings responsibility. Covenants have provisions to be kept and commands to be obeyed. Scriptures like Deuteronomy 28, Psalm 19 and 89, Hebrews 6 and 12, and other places, warn us of the dangers of violating the covenant provisions. The penalties can be devastating. For instance, Paul warns that some have died because they abused the Lord’s Table. Covenant abuse can release covenant penalties.
Presumption is a sin. David prays that God will keep him from presumptuous sins (see Psalm 19). Presumption causes us to assume that God’s love will cover our willful abuse of His purpose and His grace. Presumption brings punishment.
We must not believe that we are chosen for reasons of superiority. Rather than reveal God’s grace to others, we sometimes become exclusive and “clannish.” God’s will is quite the opposite. He calls us to be inclusive; not self-centered.
How does God deal with these abuses under the new Covenant? This is a critical question. I suggest we read Psalm 89:1-4, 28-37. We must differentiate between fellowship and relationship. It is my belief, as it states in Hebrews 12, that He deals with us as sons and daughters, even when we stray. He chastens us, but remains faithful to Himself and His Word. Though we are often unfaithful, He abides faithful. Punishment and penalties do not constitute separation of relationship, or sonship, but loss of fellowship. To those who love Him, that is a very big price to pay.
As an old song suggests, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.” May God establish us in His love and in His purpose, to reveal His excellent greatness to an insecure world.
Scripture references: Deuteronomy 7:2-9; Deuteronomy 28; Psalm 89:1-4, 28-37; Psalm 19; Exodus 19; 2 Samuel 7; 2 Chronicles 13:5; Matthew 26; Hebrews 6, 12; Psalm 19