Summary: Jesus and the New Covenant: The internalization of the law.
It feels good to leave the heavy messages of the prophets and come into the sunshine of the New Testament. But the message of the prophets, as well as the rest of the Old Testament, are very important to our understanding of the New Testament. As soon as we begin reading Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, we discover that it is filled with several quotes, and even more allusions, to the Old Testament. I have heard many people say that they follow the New Testament and not the Old, but that was certainly not the teaching of Jesus, or even in the thinking of the first Christians. The Old Testament was their Bible. If you begin reading the Bible by starting with the New Testament, you are coming in at the middle of a story. It is like trying to read a novel by starting half way through — you have missed everything that has led up to that point in the story. That is why I’m glad we have read through the entire Bible this year.
The stage for the appearance of Jesus Christ on the world scene is set up by the teaching of the prophets, the inadequacy of the temporary old sacrificial system, and the complete failure of God’s people to live up to the law. Jeremiah the prophet said, “You gave them this land you had sworn to give their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do” (Jeremiah 32:22_23). Paul writes in the book of Romans: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3). The book of Acts says, “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38_39).
As we enter the New Testament we notice substantial differences in what we have read previously in the Old Testament. God’s relationship with his people is changing. Their method of approaching God is very different. All of this was made possible by the sacrifice on the cross of Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. God did not change, but through the work of Christ we were changed. This was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah when he wrote: “‘The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (Jeremiah 31:31_33).
Nowhere is this “heart” relationship with God more evident than in Jesus’ teachings, especially in what has been called his Sermon on the Mount. We begin to understand that what God was wanting all along was not obligatory obedience to moral laws, but hearts of love that would make us want a relationship with our Creator. This new love would be marked by faithfulness. We begin to see that Jesus was talking more about an attitude than he was about doing certain things the “right” way. We understand that he was addressing a condition of the heart rather than observance of rules. He wanted us to have a new heart, a new mind, a new attitude, a new outlook. He wanted us to become a whole new person. The change in us would be so radical that Jesus would describe it as being “born again” (John 3:3).
The first principle of the new law which we need to understand is: We keep wanting to DO something and God keeps wanting us to BECOME something. Jesus wants to internalize our relationship with God. It is a transformation of the heart, mind and attitudes. The issue is character. In the Old Testament the law was something written on stone tablets. It was something you did. Your relationship with God was based on performance. Obeying the law of God was your duty. In the New Testament the law is written on your heart. It becomes something you want to do, not what you are obligated to do. It becomes a love relationship with God. The Old Testament law changed what you did; New Testament law changes who you are. You become a different person. You are changed from the inside out. The focus becomes the interior life. It has to do with thoughts and motives, desires and intentions, love and surrender. This is a whole new way of understanding what it means to live for God, because this means that you can be a perfectly moral person and miss the whole point of what Jesus was saying.