Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Better Covenant


 
I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” – Hebrews 8:10-12

The grace and goodness of God can be seen in so many ways during the Easter season.  One way we can see His love for us is His willingness to do away with the old covenant because of our weaknesses, and give us the new covenant of grace through Jesus Christ.  The new covenant is accessible to all, through His mercy.    But to fully understand the beauty of the new covenant, we have to understand the old covenant.
There were five offerings given in the Old Testament in Leviticus 1-5.  Each had a purpose in the relationship of God and His people, and most were bloody.  Blood has a specific purpose in worshipping God, and justification by God.  It is a resource that we cannot make.  It is only made by God, who gives life to every creature, and life is, spiritually and physically, in the blood. 

The first offering was the burnt offering, which was offered on the Altar of Burnt Offerings.  This offering was given as voluntary worship to show devotion to God, or as atonement for unintentional sin.  The worshipper would offer either a bull or a ram.  If he offered a ram, he would kill it at the door of the tabernacle, but if he offered a ram he would kill it at the north side of the altar.  The priest and his sons would take the offering, sprinkle its blood at the base of the altar, and then butcher the animal.  When placing the animal’s parts on the altar, there was a specific order in which they were to be laid, and the entrails and legs had to be first washed with water. If the worshipper was poor, and could not afford a bull or ram, he offered turtledoves or pigeons.  These also had a specific way and place in which they were to be killed, and a specific way in which they were to be placed on the altar.  Once the altar was complete, the priest would burn the sacrifice, which was “a sweet aroma to the Lord.
The second offering was the grain offering, also offered on the Altar of Burnt Offerings.  This was also a voluntary act of worship and devotion to God.  This offering was made of fine flour, olive oil, and sometimes frankincense.  The offering had many laws regarding how it was to be made, and differed if it were made by the priest, baked in an oven, baked in a pan, or made with the first harvest of grain.  God was very specific in how He wanted to receive this form of worship.  But in all cases, as the grain offering was made, it was “a sweet aroma to the Lord.”

The third offering was the peace offering.  It was also a form of worship and thanksgiving, but included a meal.  The offering was a lamb, goat, or animal of a herd, perfect and without blemish.  It would be killed and butchered a specific way and laid on the altar.  The blood was sprinkled on the base of the altar.  The fat of the animal belonged to God, and would be consumed by fire.  Other portions of the animal were burnt as food for the priests.  What was left was given to the worshipper, and had to be eaten the same day or the next day.  God, priest, and man shared a meal, and were filled by this offering, and when it was burned, was also “a sweet aroma to the Lord. 
The forth offering was the sin offering.  This was offered by a person, and was different for their position in their service to God.  For the High Priest, the offering was a young bull, and the blood was sprinkled before the veil of the sanctuary, as well as on the horns of the Altar of Incense, where it was offered.  For a leader, the offering was a male goat, and the blood was sprinkled on the horns of the Altar of Burnt Offerings, and its base.  The common man would offer a female goat or lamb, which would have its blood put on the horns and base of the Altar of Burnt Offering.  If the worshipper were poor, the offering was a dove or pigeon, and the blood would be put on the Altar of Burnt Offering.  But if the worshipper were very poor, the offering was 1/10 an ephah of fine flour, which is the equivalent of two quarts. 

The sin offering was not voluntary.  It was not optional.  This was a mandatory offering God required of anyone who sinned unintentionally, and included the confession of their sin in giving the offering, and His forgiveness of that sin.  Sin was not then, and is not now, a sweet aroma to the Lord.  Yet, He forgives.
The fifth offering was the trespass offering, which was also a mandatory offering for sin, but for specific sins.  It was offered if the person heard an oath, and didn’t tell it, or if they touched something unclean, or swears or lies.  It was also an offering for sins in which the worshipper did not know they had committed, yet was found guilty in God’s eyes regardless.  If the person sinned against any holy thing, such as defiling something in the temple, then this offering included a 20% penalty or fine calculated by the priest in regard to the holy object.  Depending on what was done, and the person’s ability to provide an offering, the worshipper either offered a ram, or two turtledoves and two pigeons, or the 1/10 of an ephah of flour as in the sin offering.  These sins were specifically given greater weight than unintentional sins as a whole, showing that God does see sins in different degrees of wrong.  And no, the offering was not a sweet aroma to the Lord.  Sin never is sweet to God.

In each offering there were rules that had to be kept by the worshipper and the priest.  The rules were specific to the who, when, where, what, why, and how of the offering.  These were God’s laws, and had to be followed for the offering to be accepted.  And the offerings had to be repeated because our sins never went away.  They were only atoned, singularly covered. 
God found us lacking in the ability to follow His instructions.  We could not keep up with the pace of our own sin, and offer the sacrifices required to maintain our righteousness and fellowship with God.  But our lack of ability to be holy didn’t take God by surprise.  For that reason, our loving God had already planned, before the foundation of the earth (Revelation 13:8), a second covenant, a better covenant. 

Hebrews 8:7-12 says, For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
His new covenant is perfect.  He puts His laws in our minds.  He writes His laws on our hearts.  He becomes our God.  We all can know Him, and know Him intimately, from the heart and not from sacrifices and offerings.  But best of all, He gives us mercy.  He gives us an undying amount of forgiveness wrapped in the heart of a loving Father.  And through that mercy, He forgets our sins.  He doesn’t just overlook them.  He doesn’t just forgive them.  He remembers them no more!

Father God, thank you for your new covenant through Christ.  Thank you that you have made having an intimate relationship with you easy on us, knowing our weaknesses.  Thank you that when we were not enough in ourselves, you gave us Jesus Christ, who is perfect and complete.  Thank you that through Jesus, we can be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to you (Romans 12:1).  Thank you for Jesus, our offering and sacrifice for a sweet smelling aroma to you (Ephesians 5:2).  We gladly claim Him, and thank you that His blood has washed us clean. 

 

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