THE NEW COVENANT STARTS AT THE CROSS
2.1. THE CROSS REVERBERATED ACROSS TIME AND SPACE
Rev 13:8 "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world". Zec 12:10 "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son".
The prophet Zechariah foresaw the coming of the Holy Spirit and Grace and how this was linked to the crucifixion of the Firstborn Son, Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation prophetically declares the eternal timeless significance of the death of the Lamb of God on the Cross. The Cross is beyond doubt the most significant world changing event in history. There is nothing more significant either in the spiritual or physical realm than the Cross. It is the most profound, earth shattering event that reverberated both into the both past and future. The Cross of Christ is the core and the under laying foundation of our Christian Faith and belief system. All scripture, both before and after the cross, points to the Cross and its affects. Without the Cross, Jesus would be no more significant than any other religious teacher or Guru. It is the Cross defines Christ and Christianity. It is the great divide of history.
2. 2. WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED
1Co 1:23 "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles".
We do not just preach Jesus Christ – even Islam does that. Even Israel was prepared to accept Christ as the Prophet, a Rabbi and even a Messiah King. No! We preach Christ Crucified. This is the uniqueness of Christianity . We preach Christ - His life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification at the right hand of God. The Cross was and still is, a huge stumbling block to many as it is offensive to all those who are religious, self righteous and feed on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
2. 3. JESUS FOCUSED ON THE ATONING WORK OF CROSS
Mat 16:21-23 "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."
Some of Jesus’ closest disciples failed to see the significance of the Cross. Jesus whole earthly life had one ultimate purpose, the Cross, and he would allow no one to distract him from fulfilling this calling. Jesus knew the Cross would change everything as the cross would deal with the divide between man and God. Peter acting in the flesh, opposed Jesus going to the Cross - Jesus called him “Satan!” Peter got angry at Jesus’ arrest and tried to resist with the sword – Jesus again rebuked him. Eventually Peter was so upset with the prospect of the Cross that he ended up denying Jesus. Jesus atoning work on the Cross was the start of the New Covenant and is the foundation of the New Covenant of the Grace of Jesus Christ. From this incident we Peter see that man's flesh nature and natural intellect cannot understand (1 Cor.2:14) the Cross and will always oppose the Cross. The Cross and it's power ultimately has to be a spiritual revelation within the hearts of man, as it the natural it's just foolishness.
2. 4. THE CROSS DEALT WITH SIN ONCE AND FOR ALL
Col.2:13 "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins".
Before the Cross there was no permanent atonement for sins. The Law of Moses was in force and bought death and a curse on all (this is expanded upon in part 3). No one was righteous in God’s eyes, no one could be saved. At the cross the power and dominion of Sin was destroyed once and for all - for all those who would be saved. The Cross opened the flood gate of God’s unearned and undeserved Grace (Jn.1:17), the forgiveness of sins. The Cross destroyed the power of Sin and provided a way for man’s "Adamic sin nature” to be put to death on the Cross with Christ (Gal.2:20). Now for those in Christ, all sin - past, present, future - is atoned for. (More on the issue of sin in part 4). This is the corner stone of the New Covenant and Grace.
2. 5. THE CROSS CHANGED JESUS’ FOCUS FROM ISRAEL TO ALL MANKIND
Mat 15:22 "A Canaanite (gentile) woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
Although Jesus is and always will be the Saviour of all mankind, Jesus’ earthly ministry was firstly and primarily to Israel (Mt.15:24) and its leaders - those under the Old Covenant Law of Moses. Most of Jesus teaching of this time were directed to Israel’s teachers, the Pharisees, who had wrongly interpreted the Law, did not understand the spirit of the Law and misapplied the Law. They had wrongly assumed that righteousness and salvation could be obtained by works (Ro.9:30-10:4). Jesus taught against their hypocrisy and their self righteousness. To those who chose Law Jesus preached Law, to those “Sinners” who were broken and contrite Jesus showed grace and forgiveness. During this time Jesus alluded to the fact that He was going to bring salvation also to the gentiles (Jn.10:16) but His ministry to the gentiles only really came into effect after the Cross, primarily through the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:15).
2. 6. GRACE IS NOW THE ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEM OF GOD’S KINGDOM
Through the Cross the Law was fulfilled and done away with for Believers (Ro.6:14). The reign and rule of Christ and His kingdom is now bought into affect by the Spirit trough the system of grace - not religious rules, regulations and laws. The preaching of the Kingdom now goes hand in hand with the preaching of the good news of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) – his unearned, undeserved, forgiveness, blessing, favour and empowering.
2. 7. THE CROSS CHANGED OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD
Col.1:20 "Through Jesus He reconciled to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross".
Under to Old Covenant we were salves to sin and alienated from God. But now God is no longer angry with us or out to punish us for our sins. We are now at peace with God (Col.1:20). In the New Covenant God no longer relates to us based on our performance or sin. In fact he remembers our sins no more (Heb. 10:17). God now sees us as part of Jesus. We are the Body of Christ. We are no longer God’s slaves or servants but beloved sons in Christ (Ro. 8:15) and God now relates to us as a loving and kind Father. (More on our new relationship with God in Part 6)
2. 8. THE CROSS CHANGED OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor (The Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you".
Prior to the Cross, under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came upon certain Godly people at certain times for a certain purpose. But His presence was not permanent. The Spirit was understood as the power of God that came and went as and when God determined. Due to man’s un-atoned sin the Holy Spirit could not live within people but only “come upon” them in a temporary way. After the Cross, under the New Covenant, the sin condition of man was dealt with and the Holy Spirit came through Jesus Christ to abide in His Body the Church; all those who believed and are regenerated. The Holy Spirit is now a permanent seal and guarantee within all those who are saved. The Holy Spirit is now understood to be the third person of the Trinity and not just a force or power. The power of the Holy Spirit now released within and through Believers for the ministry and work of God. It is life in the Spirit (Ga. 5:16) that fulfils the purposes of the New Covenant.
2.9. THE CROSS RELEASED REVELATION
John 12:16 "At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him". 2Co 3:14 "But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away".
Before the Cross there were certain aspects of God’s Kingdom and Jesus’ teachings which could not be fully understood (Lk.9:44-45). Firstly because those under the Law of Moses were spiritually blind and had a spiritual veil over them which stopped them from understanding God’s Grace and God’s true purposes. Secondly because it is only the witnessing of the Cross; Jesus, death, resurrection and ascension that can clarifies and fulfils the scriptures. Jesus warned his disciples that prior to the cross and the infilling of the Holy Spirit there were certain things that they simply could never understand (Mt.15:16) (Mt.16:11) and other things that were still to be revealed, such as God’s Grace and gift of righteousness (Ro.5:17) which could not come through ministry of the earthly Jesus but only through the ministry of the heavenly Jesus, our great Heavenly High Priest.
2.10. THE CROSS REVEALED THE FULL GOSPEL OF GRACE
Gal.1:12 "I did not receive the gospel (of grace) from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ".
During His earthly ministry Jesus never fully revealed Salvation by Grace, He simply alluded to it as displayed it in practice (Jn.8:1-11 and Lk.15). After the Cross, the glorified Jesus (Jn.12:16) reveal even more aspects of the Kingdom and Grace to the Apostle Paul (Gal.1:12). In a sense this was the final revelation and clarification of The Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. All other scriptures need to be interpreted in the context of Jesus’ final revelations and scriptural teachings given to the Apostle Paul who was caught up into heaven and taught by the glorified Christ (2 Co.12:2).
2.11. THE CROSS DISARMED SATAN
Col 2:15 "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross".
Under the Law of Sin and Death (Ro.8:1) which was later reinforced by the Mosaic Law, God allowed Satan to accuse and afflict those who sinned. This Satanic power of condemnation and affliction has been removed through the Cross. Satan no longer has any Law given rights to attack or afflict those who are in Christ. In Christ and through the Cross, we now have victory over the enemy and we have a great High Priest and mediator in heaven, Jesus Christ, who intercedes and defends us.
2.12. THE CROSS CHANGED THE COVENANT
Heb.9:15 "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Col.2:14 Having cancelled the written code (The Law), with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross".
i) THE OLD COVENANT:
Prior to the Cross the Law of Moses was the only covenant effectively in force through which people could relate to God. Gentiles who wanted to know God had to covert to Judaism and come under the Law of Moses. The terms of this covenant are harsh and deadly as it is based on an unattainable holiness and righteousness that no man can fulfil. There are blessing and curses (Deut 28) based on ones behaviour. However no one can be justified and saved through keeping The Law of Moses (Gal.2:16) as the sole purpose of the Law is to lead people to Jesus, God’s Saviour (Gal.3:24) and remind Israel of the Abrahamic foundation that righteousness is actually by faith alone (Gal.3:8).
ii) THE NEW COVENANT:
Heb 8:6-13 "The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to the ministry of the Jewish High Priests as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the New Covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant (of the Law), no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: "The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear".
The shedding of the blood of Jesus as an atonement for Sin heralded in this New Covenant of Grace in which sins are forgiven and forgotten. This New Covenant was no longer just for Israel but opened the door for all the gentiles to be saved as well. The New Covenant fulfilled and replaced the Old Covenant for all those who believe in Christ. The good news is that the blood of Jesus, instead of our own blood, is the blood seal for the New Covenant. The terms and conditions of the covenant are fully and eternally fulfilled by Jesus and not by us. The New Covenant is unique in a sense that it is intrinsically between two persons who are one; God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We as believers, have access into this covenant not as ourselves but only as part of the Body of Jesus Christ (1Cor.12:27) which we are included into when we believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. One of the easiest ways to understand the New Covenant is that it was prepared by the loving Father for His Son. It is a relational, marriage agreement between His Son, Jesus, the bridegroom and the His Bride, the Church (Jn.3:29)(Rev.19:7). The good news of this covenant is that there are blessings upon blessing (Jn.1:16-17) and abundant overflowing grace.