The Old Covenant, New Covenant

 

(Exodus 24:1-18)

1Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.” When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do. Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey. Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. 12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” 13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.” 15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

 

 

        This morning we are going to continue on with our series in the book of Exodus. Let me give you just a short summary of what we have been discovering so far through this second book in our Bibles.

First, we are witnessing in this book, God in the process of building His people into a nation. We saw how God providentially and sovereignly worked through the nation of Egypt to call out and then train up a leader of his people. Even though this man fled from Egypt as a murderer into the wilderness, God followed him there and revealed Himself and also gave this man a task. The task was to go back to Egypt and rescue the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, and lead them out of slavery. Then, through the account of the ten plagues, we see God using this man despite his failings, to reveal who He was to His people and to the Egyptians. The culmination of the plagues was the plague of death, every firstborn child died in one night throughout Egypt. Except those who had sacrificed a lamb and marked the doorway to their homes with its blood. So that the angel of death would pass over them.

        Remember that we talked about that first Passover two Sunday’s ago as being that remembrance meal that Jesus ate with His disciples on the night he was betrayed. At that Last Supper Jesus established the communion which we celebrate here at UCC on the first Sunday of every month as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

        Unfortunately, despite all the miracles and the provisions for His people they continually rejected him because of the hardness of their hearts. God brought them from one place to another in their journey through the wilderness as He prepared them to enter the promised land. Now they find themselves here at the foot of Mount Sinai where He has just given them the ten commandments. These commandments were His moral law that is binding upon them and everyone who would come after them (Even us, as we learned in our 4-part sermon series on the ten commandments back in August).

 

        The passage we are going to look at in this morning’s sermon is what I consider to be one of the most interesting passages in the Old Testament. It stands out for a couple of reasons: First, the God who cannot be seen, is seen by Moses as well as his helper Joshua and a host of others which included priests and 70 elders. And secondly, because of this interaction with God that we find here, and in no other place in the Old Testament. As those who saw him are also said to have eaten and drank in His presence.  

        If we know anything of the Bible then we also know that according to many verses, God cannot be seen. I’ll talk about that more later in the sermon. But for those two reasons alone then this passage should at least make us curious enough to spend some time studying it.

 

        The other reason that this passage demands our attention is because it tells us about one of the most significant things to happen in the whole of the Old Testament. Here at the foot of Mount Sinai we read about the confirmation of the Mosaic covenant. This is of major significance because 100’s of years before in Genesis 12:1-3 God had promised Abraham that through his descendants, he would become a great nation. The covenant that God finalized with Abraham in Genesis chapter 15 actually consisted of three promises: 1st a son, 2nd a land, and 3rd, that through this nation all nations would be blessed.

        As we read onwards in the Old Testament, we see this covenant with Abraham being reaffirmed with his descendants, most notably Isaac and Jacob along with Jacob’s sons. In our passage this morning we find that a new covenant, or at least a more detailed one, is being established by God and then made compulsory for Israel. The conditions and stipulations of this covenant were already given in more detail and we read them in the 3 chapters prior to this one in what has come to be known as the “the Book of the Covenant”.

       

        I doubt that any of us have been involved in making a covenant as significant as this one with God. Even the treaties that were signed at the end of major wars, or major trade agreements between countries and even continents are insignificant when compared with this one. Probably the closest some of us, as individuals, have come to it is through our marriage vows. Marriage vows are also a covenant and, even though very important, they too, fall far short when compared to this covenant that God made with Israel.

        But how can we think of this passage as being important to us since we are not considered to be under this “old covenant” but under the “new covenant” that was established by the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. This is a reasonable question.

        Well first, as we shall learn, the giving and acceptance of the covenant will be important for understanding the rest of the book of Exodus. Especially when we look at the importance of the tabernacle (the portable ‘temple’ in which God met with His people) in the coming weeks. Second, we cannot understand the message and meaning of the rest of the Old Testament without the context of the old covenant.

        And third, we cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old Testament of which this old covenant is a major part.

        Read the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament and you will get a sense of just how important the Old Testament is to the New. We can learn a lot just by comparing the similarities in both covenants even though the new covenant which is in Jesus’ blood is considered “far better” than the old. So, in order to understand what it could mean for us and how we can apply it to our lives we must first understand what it meant to them.

       

        So, what is a covenant?

        Without getting into too much detail, a covenant is basically a promise that is made between two or more parties to do certain things. It is similar to a contract or an agreement. In ancient times they could be made between a king and his subjects where the king would promise protection in exchange for loyalty or between two equal individuals like a buyer and seller. These were known as conditional covenants because both parties need to bring something to the table. The opposite of the conditional covenant would be an unconditional one where only one party provides everything necessary.

        This morning I want you to understand the significance of this concept because another word for covenant is testament. Therefore, the Bible you hold in your hands is made up of two parts, the old covenant and the new covenant. What that means is this, the Old Testament contains more than just the history of God’s interactions with the nation of Israel. It is actually a history of the covenant through which God revealed Himself little by little to His creation.

        It is also helpful to our understanding to know that in the Old Testament we find several covenants in which God promises to do something. For example, after the flood He made a covenant with Noah. And even though mankind broke their end of the arrangement through their continual descent into sinful disobedience we notice the one promise in that covenant that was unconditional. Do you know what it was? That’s right…He promised never to destroy the earth by another flood.

 

  • Then God made perhaps his most well-known covenant with Abraham. We can read that covenant in Genesis 12:1-3, where He promises that, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This also was an unconditional covenant because as we know Abraham did not always obey and follow God. And yet all peoples are blessed through a descendant of Abraham, Jesus.

        The conditional aspect of the covenant God makes here with the nation of Israel in the book of Exodus from chapters 19-24, has to do with how the Israelite nation will use the promised land which they are to occupy. Now unfortunately, sometimes they were disobedient and therefore they were removed or exiled from the land. Even if some remained, they were oppressed and unable to enjoy the promised land completely. However, despite their unfaithfulness, God always promised to bring back a later generation to the land. He kept His unconditional promise to Abraham.

 

        God also made another unconditional covenant with King David. He promised that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever. Even though the length of time a king in the line of David would sit on the throne may be limited again due to faithfulness or unfaithfulness. The unconditional nature of that covenant is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the “son of David”.

 

        Then God promised a new, unconditional covenant with Israel that also included the Gentiles. Again, this was established despite the fact that the Israelites had violated and broken their part of all the previous ones. However, God promised that this new covenant would be different because the beneficiaries would want to be faithful to the conditions. This covenant is delivered to us through the New testament with the coming of Christ. His ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit gives us the longing to obey the conditions.


        It is sad that this idea of ‘covenant’ seems to be missing in today’s world. Promises are too easily broken when some new situation comes along. When one party breaks a contract they simply say “so, sue me”. Even the covenant of marriage, that is supposed to be between one man and one woman for life, is also too easily broken by divorce. Thankfully, no matter how disobedient and unfaithful we are, God will never be unfaithful to the promises He makes. Amen.

 

        So, let’s spend some time to take a closer look at the covenant that God makes with Israel here in Exodus 24 to see more clearly what it reveals about our great God and how he wants to deal with us, His people.

 

  • The first thing I want us to look at is the way the covenant was given to the people and how it was accepted by them. Notice in verse 1 & 2 that God is the initiator. He calls the elders and others to “come up to [Him] and worship Him from a distance”. There are three things here that are important to note because, as I mentioned previously, there where 2 types of covenants or contracts that the Israelites would have been familiar with. One would have been between equals, and the other would have been between a king and his subjects. The type that God initiates here is of the latter variety and he makes this known in these verses.

        First, He is the initiator. He revealed Himself, He brought Israel out of Egypt, He is the One who declares the need for the covenant, and finally, He is the one who called the elders to come up to Him.

        Second, the fact that God calls them to come and worship also tells us about the nature of this covenant. The lesser always worships the superior. Equals never worship each other.

        And Third, by commanding that they worship Him from a distance God is reminding them of Who He is.  

  • We see in verses 3 and 7 that the people have already given their verbal confirmation that they would keep the covenant by saying, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” The conditions of this covenant have been very carefully communicated to the Israelites many times and in different ways both verbally and in writing. They have the “Book of the Covenant” and will soon have the stone tablets.

        Now comes the time for them to confirm, by symbolic action, what will happen to them if they break this covenant. And they accept that their life will be the penalty as Moses sprinkles the blood from the sacrifices on them.

  • If you are paying close attention then you will notice these words, “This is the blood of the covenant…” in verse 8. That’s right the same words Jesus used when He established the New Covenant in His blood during the last supper with His disciples. The same covenant that we confirm each time we celebrate communion. The main difference is that Jesus Himself has taken the punishment and penalty by giving His very life for our breaking of the old covenant law.
  • The final confirmation comes through the elders participating in a covenant meal in the presence of God. This was a usual way of finalizing a covenant. What is unusual is that in verse 10 we are told that they, “saw the God of Israel” and then in verse 11 we discover that, “God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites”.

        So, how is it that these sinful men who, “saw God” were not immediately consumed by His glory? I think the answer can be found when we read on and see this interaction given more detail. The description we read does not seem to be entirely complete as we are only told that they saw God’s feet and more precisely what was under them. This is what we would expect to see if we were face down in worship.

  • And even this description is lacking because the author can only say, “Under His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself”. What little he saw was even too wonderful for words to adequately describe.

        So, I think that if we get sidetracked by focusing too much on the seeming contradictions, we can miss the point. The point is that by calling them up and serving them a meal was not only a way to finalize the covenant but also a way to reinforce their positions as figures of authority. Remember elders were to be the ones to teach the law to subsequent generations

        Moses’ position as God’s chosen redeemer is also reinforced as he is called to ascend even higher up the mountain. There, he receives the stone tablets of the law and the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle. These two things represent the central focus of Old Testament theology: Law and Worship.

How does knowing all this help us, the children, who are under the new Covenant, in our relationship with God?

 

          Well, we find one principle at work here. That is the New Covenant, which all believers must submit to, like this Old Covenant in Exodus, is a covenant. Our understanding of this point will help us to seek similarities between the two and that is how we will find the application of this text.

 

           The first similarity is that, in order to enjoy its benefits, we must confirm the new covenant just as the Israelites confirmed the old one. We have seen through this 24th chapter of Exodus that the Israelites did not just casually accept the covenant. They actively participated in all the sacrifices and theirs was a solemn confirmation. For us, the gospel is the message of the new covenant which we can enter into with God. We must also go through a solemn process that requires a definite decision.

  • Paul defines this process in Romans 10:8-10, But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

          Many people have heard of this covenant (the apostle Paul says that it “is near you”) and they may even believe that Christ died for their sins. But they have never come to the point of making a commitment of faith and confession. That is what God wants of anyone who would enter into His covenant. Like the old covenant this new covenant must be confirmed, or it will not apply.

          I have heard many people say, “My salvation is a very personal matter. It is private”, they say, “just between God and me”. Of course, our relationship with God is a very personal one, but it is also based upon very definite terms which God has offered to us through this new covenant. We cannot come to God based upon our own terms, but only based upon His. It is after all His covenant; He has done everything necessary to establish it.

          The second application is found when we consider how the old covenant had been clearly communicated to God’s people before they made their commitment. In our passage we saw how many times Moses went up and down the mountain. How he communicated not only verbally but also in writing. There could be no excuse from the Israelites that they didn’t understand what they were getting into.

          In the same way, this new covenant must be communicated clearly. That way people can respond based upon a clear understanding of the type of commitment that is required. This is the responsibility of all believers, to evangelize in such a way that we communicate clearly that this new covenant has been established by God Himself. He has done everything necessary to bring it about through the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

          We should not cheapen it by saying things like, “just pray this prayer”, or “all you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart”. This is something of great value that requires a sincere commitment and not something that we merchandize just to suit the culture. We need to be aware that we are representing God.

  • Think about how Paul presents the gospel as a thing of great value and significance to the people of Corinth when he reminds them in 1 Corinthians 2:5, I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
  • And again in 2 Corinthians 2:17, Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. Is that the way we see the gospel proclaimed these days? In a way that honours God Who calls all people to commit to Him through the new covenant.

          We find the third application in the way we remember the new covenant. The Lord Jesus shared a covenant meal with his disciples the night before he went to the cross. He commanded that we remember this new covenant, that was established in His blood, from that moment on. In fact, this was such a serious command that failure to keep it or doing it in an unworthy manner was going to bring serious consequences.

 

So, with these three applications in mind, let us be committed to this new covenant, let us communicate it clearly, and let us remember it frequently and with sincerity.  Amen.

 

Let’s pray, our Great and Awesome Father, again we are thankful that you have given us this opportunity to go deeper into your Word. We are so thankful for your revelation to us of how you dealt with your chosen people Israel through the Old Covenant. We are in awe of your great mercy and grace. And how you initiated so many unconditional covenants with your people and, no matter how many times they were disobedient or broke their part of the covenant, You would always remain faithful to your promises. Lord for that reason we too can have confidence that you will never leave us or forsake us because that is the promise you make to all your children in Hebrews 13:5.

          We are your children who want to be committed to your new covenant that was establish by the blood of your Son Jesus. Help us to share this great good news in a way that honours you and glorifies you. We pray this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen