God’s Covenants with His People – Understanding Right Relationship….The Biblical Story

The Voice  New Testament (part of the Introduction)

Introduction to the New Testament

God’s Covenants with His People

Covenants Are All Around Us
Our lives are filled with many di!erent kinds of commitments or promises
that may then be formalized into contracts. When couples exchange vows in
a wedding, for example, they are entering into the covenant of marriage. Each
person brings something to the relationship and can expect certain things
in return. When someone buys or sells in the market, a covenant is made for
goods or services. When a person goes to work for a company, covenants
and contracts—some formal, others informal—are necessarily involved. When
students receive a syllabus from an instructor, they are taking part in a covenant
with their university. In every covenant, the agreeing parties bring something
to the table. As we know from experience, di!erent kinds of covenants have
di!erent kinds of expectations.
If we think about it, we realize that covenants are woven into the fabric of
our everyday lives. Since so much of our lives are lived in covenant-making and
covenant-keeping actions, the “covenant” became the perfect vehicle to carry
God’s plan to restore the broken world. The Christian Scriptures—both Old and
New Testaments—bear witness to this covenant story.

But what is a “testament”? Simply put, a testament is a covenant, a contract,
an agreement between two or more people or parties. So “testament” is a
relational term; it implies that a relationship exists between at least two people.
Often it is the act that establishes the relationship in the first place and makes
the future possible.

The Story of God’s Promises

The heart of the Christian Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, is a
narrative of God’s covenants with and promises to His people and the world.
Concerned with the proliferation of evil, sin, and its dire consequences on His
creation, God decides that the best route to reclaim His broken creation is to
reveal Himself to one person, and to another, and then to another, on the way to
redeeming the entire world.

Part Two
The New Testament is part two of the Christian Scriptures. It consists of 27
books that were written originally in Greek within a generation or two of Jesus’
death and resurrection. So while it may seem that you have in hand one book, it
is not one book at all. The New Testament is a collection of books, the Book of
books—Gospels, letters, a history, and an apocalypse—that tell us about the life
of Jesus and the beginnings of the movement He founded. For most believers
throughout history it has spoken as the norm for what they believe and how
they live. So in that sense, it is the church’s book. Here we find the beginnings of
our own story.
The Foundation: Four Covenants
The first part of the Bible is the Old Testament. It essentially tells the story
of four covenants that lay the foundation for the new covenant inaugurated in
Jesus, our Liberating King. The first covenant involves God’s promise to Noah,
his family, and the world that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood.
God places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of that promise. When God sees the
rainbow, He remembers His covenant. After the floodwaters recede and the ark
is resting on dry land, He instructs Noah and his family to populate the earth.
This is the same command He gave the first man and woman in the garden.
Creation starts over with Noah, his wife, and their children. Still it isn’t long
before sin’s presence is once again felt in the world.
God makes a second covenant with a man named Abraham many
generations after Noah’s descendants have divided into nations and wandered
far from their Creator. He brings to the table a number of promises for the
wandering nomad and his family. He promises to give him a land, make him a
great nation, give him a great name, and, perhaps most significantly, bless all
the nations of the world through his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham
responds to God’s call with faith and obedience. His journey is di”cult;
nevertheless, he continues in faith and becomes the father of a great nation.
Abraham doesn’t live long enough to see all of God’s promises fulfilled.
After Abraham’s death, God renews this covenant with each successive heir.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, wrestles with God and struggles to remain faithful.
Eventually, Abraham’s descendants travel south to Egypt and become slaves
in that land under Pharaoh’s heel. The promise that Abraham would become a
great nation seems all but impossible to generations of Hebrew slaves.
The third covenant in the Old Testament is between God and Israel,
the descendants of Abraham. This covenant begins with a powerful act of
deliverance when God rescues the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt.
The Eternal One answers the prayers of Abraham’s hurting people, raising up
Moses to demand from Pharaoh that the Hebrew people be set free. After a
convincing display of power over the gods of Egypt and the waters of the sea,
God instructs Moses to lead the former slaves to Mount Sinai. With the people
camped at Sinai’s base, Moses ascends the mountain to receive God’s law, His
blueprint for their lives and society. God promises to be with His people, protect
and deliver them, and lead them into the promised land, a land flowing with milk
and honey. In this covenant, the people of Israel pledge to obey and worship
God alone, or else they will face harsh consequences. While obedience to God
is guaranteed to bring blessing and prosperity in the land, disobedience brings
adversity and the curse. Ultimately that will mean exile from the land of promise.
Centuries later, God comes to King David through the prophet Nathan
to establish a fourth covenant. He promises David three things: David’s son
(Solomon) will build God a temple, his dynasty will continue forever, and God
will relate to David’s son as His own son (2 Samuel 7:12-16). God’s covenant with
David becomes the basis for what is known as the messianic promise. That is the
expectation that one day one of David’s descendants would be God’s Anointed,
the Liberating King. According to the prophets, the Liberating King would
be God’s agent to realize all of God’s promises, renew the world, and bring
salvation to the ends of the earth.
God’s Anointed Fulfills the Covenants
These covenant promises and relationships compose the central story
of the Old Testament, bearing witness to God’s dealings with the world, His
people, and finally all the nations. As God’s plan and will unfold, each covenant
brings the world nearer to God’s kingdom, His ultimate rule over creation. These
covenants become the basis for all the promises and hopes that are fulfilled
in Jesus, who is God’s Anointed, the Liberating King. That’s why this collection
of books known as the Old Testament is so important to early Christians. The
followers of Jesus found His coming anticipated on almost every page. As you
will see, the Old Testament stands in relationship to the New Testament as
promise does to fulfillment, as foundation to temple, as classic to contemporary:
You cannot have one without the other. The earlier covenants pave the way and
make the last covenant, the new covenant, possible.
The New Covenant (sort of..but not really) It Is Like The Final Act Which Brings About A Fulfillment of the Original Covenant God Made With Abraham
The phrase “New Testament” goes back to the prophet Jeremiah. About
600 years before Jesus performed His first miracle, the prophet received a
message from the Eternal One. In that oracle, he said that a day will come when
God establishes a new covenant with His people. Unlike His earlier covenant, this
time God will write His words upon the hearts of His people. The new covenant
makes it possible for everyone to know the Eternal One and for forgiveness of
sins to be extended to all (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Other prophets had seen and
prophesied about how God would go about restoring His people and rescuing
the world, but Jeremiah is known uniquely as the prophet of the new covenant.
Jesus knew these prophecies; so, on the night before He died, He ate
with His disciples for the last time. He took the bread and wine, which
commemorated God’s deliverance of the Hebrew slaves, and o!ered them to His
followers.
Then He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and shared it with them.
Jesus: This is My body, My body given for you. Do this to remember Me.
And similarly, after the meal had been eaten, He took the cup.
Jesus: This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant, made in My blood.
Luke 22:19-20

Reshaping the World

According to Jesus, the new covenant promised by Jeremiah—a covenant
that would shake and radically shape the world—was being fulfilled through His
death on the cross. God’s plan to deal with sin and redeem creation reached its
climax in the covenant established by Jesus, the Liberating King.
As you read through the New Testament, we invite you to enter into this
story of beauty and grace. Unlike other stories you may hear, ancient or modern,
this story is completely true.
David B. Capes, PhD

The Voice New Testament
Copyright © 2011 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
The Voice™ translation © 2011 Ecclesia Bible Society

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