God’s Covenant House: A Sketch of God’s Construction Project Pt. 1
Pastor Charles R. Biggs
Today, I want to start a new study on the Biblical teaching of covenant. I have entitled this: “God’s Covenant House: A Sketch of God’s Construction Project”. We will view the covenant revealed in Scripture from various aspects and angles. This is intended to be an overview of how we should understand the covenant of God while seeking to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. We want to appreciate in this study both the continuity and the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.
The way I will approach this study on covenant is from the aspect of a house, or building project, as it is laid out in the blueprint given us in chapter 3 of the Book of Hebrews. Let’s begin with a passage from Hebrews 3:1-6 to lay a foundation for our attempt at constructing a better understanding of what God has been “up to” throughout history, and the practical day-to-day benefits that go along with a better understanding of God’s covenant!
Hebrews 3:1-6 (ESV) Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses- as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
In beginning our study on God’s covenant house, notice from the above passages some extremely important foundational truths that we need to understand before we explore an overview of the Old and New Testaments. This passage gives some instructions that will help us in our approach, as well as our interpretation of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.
(1) First of all, notice that God is called the builder of this covenant house (vv.3-4). The foundation of God’s covenant is His grace and mercy revealed in His promises. It is God’s covenant promises to Abraham, to Abraham’s Seed, to Abraham’s people (those of the faith of Abraham) that lays the foundation for all of Redemptive-History (or all of God’s salvation revealed progressively throughout history). The focus in this summary passage is on God’s promises to us –to all who believer! God’s promises of what he was going to do in Genesis 12, 15, 17 precede, or lays the covenantal foundation for all of God’s revelation in history.
This means that God’s promises always precede his commands. The promises of God to Abraham and to His Seed came long before the Law of Moses was given in Exodus 20, after the people of God had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and called to serve the Living God as the Nation of Israel. Read the practical implications of God’s promises from Paul’s Letter to the Galatian congregation:
Galatians 3:16-26 (ESV) 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made….Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
(2) The second truth we notice from Hebrews 3:1-6 is that it is not only God’s building project, but it is one building project. God has built, and is building one covenant house (vv.2-3). This means that although we make a distinction between the “Old” and “New” Covenants (as we should), we never want to separate them. We want to keep them distinct, but we want to see them as a progressive building of one covenantal house.
We need to make distinctions in the different ways God administered, or managed this covenantal building project throughout history, but we should never forget that there is only ONE covenant of God’s grace and salvation presented to us here in Hebrews 3:1-6 (note: some have mistakenly thought in the past that God saved his people in different ways, and these well-meaning people have thought that the way God saved Israel was different from how he saved people in the Church. This reminds us that we can make distinctions between Israel and the Church, but there is only ONE people of God, or house (cf. Heb. 3:6).
As we trace God’s salvation revealed in the Old and New Covenants, we want to pause and appreciate the different and creative ways God revealed himself in space and time, while never forgetting that there has always been a unity to the project as well. As the people of God who oftentimes feel unimportant in this world, you should feel greatly important! Rather, you should not only feel, but know how important you are to the Living God. If you ever want to know how important you are, just remind yourself that all of history has gone according to God’s specific plan, and his specific plan was the salvation of His people in Christ. This means (and brace yourself) that all of history has unfolded the way in which it has because of YOU (cf. Romans 8:28-31). YOU have been extremely influential in the history of the world, because God has been building a house, providential overseeing all things that have occurred in history just to redeem YOU! Amazing Love, How can it be????
Some have mistakenly supposed that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant because it is called “better” in the Book of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 9:23; 10:34; 11:16 et al). I think it would be better to understand this as referring to God’s progressive revelation in history. There is certainly more revelation and glory in the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6-18), and in this way the New Covenant is certainly “better”. God made covenant promises to Abraham. Many years later, through Moses, God brings in the Law as he calls the visible nation of Israel (Abraham’s seed at this point in history) to be his covenant people. However, during the progress of God’s redemption, there always seemed to be a supplementing rather than a supplanting.
In other words, the Law of Moses, according to Galatians 3 was to be a “guardian” (or “teacher”) to bring us to Christ, the fulfillment of the covenant. The Law of Moses was still the clear manifestation of God’s will to his people and the Law of God still had to be fulfilled (cf. Matt. 5:17ff). The Law was fulfilled by Christ (cf. Galatians 3:11ff), and Christ opened up a “better” way of knowing God, but circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit was always needed to fulfill God’s Law (Deut. 30:1-6; Ezek. 36:25ff; Jeremiah 32:39).
So, although there have been a diversity of ways whereby God has communicated the covenant to his people over time, there has also been a grand “blueprint”, one unity, one House being built. From these verses in Hebrews, we can learn to make distinctions between God’s administration of the covenant, while avoiding separations. There is diversity in the covenant, as well as unity, there is continuity, as well as discontinuity, and there seems to be a supplementation of each “story” or “floor” of God’s house, rather than a supplanting. Perhaps it is best to view the covenant primarily from God’s point of view, or perspective. There is One God with One purpose and nothing shall frustrate his construction project!
The good news is that as God’s covenant people we can be assured of God’s commitment to us. Whenever we feel tired, alone, depressed, frustrated, empty, and afraid here in this world, we can be reminded that God’s promises to us are sure. He will never fail us and we have his great manifestation of grace revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ on our behalf! Jesus’s blood paid our debt owed to God of law-breaking and covenant-breaking, because Jesus was the Great and Gracious Law-Keeper and Covenant-Keeper. Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift and that he was faithful to Him Who appointed Him on our behalf (cf. Heb. 3:2).
There is a third truth from these verses we shall look at in the next few days!
To be continued…
In Christ’s love,