A Tale of Two Cities is an 1859 historical novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. I know what you’re thinking. With an opening line like that it means this devotional is going to be really exciting. (Sarcasm Alert!) I don’t know maybe you guys are really into history and Charles Dickens, maybe not. Fortunately this devotional is not going in that direction. I’m just using it as an example to illustrate a “Tale of Two Testaments”. Of course the two testaments that I am referring to are the Old and New Testaments found in the Bible.
According to the dictionary, a Testament is a person’s will, especially the part relating to personal property, someone’s “will and testament” for example. Testament also means something that serves as a sign, evidence, or proof of a specified fact, event, or quality. So, we could say that the Old and New Testaments writers are giving evidence or proof that their accounts are real and accurate. They are making a testament to that fact. Also in Webster’s dictionary it gives an “archaic” definition of the word testament to mean “a covenant between God and the human race”. When the dictionary gives “archaic” definitions, it means that these are words that are no longer in use in our culture or society and their meaning has changed. So, there was a time when “testament” and “covenant” had a similar meaning or association.
“Holy cow Robby, I’ve already gone to sleep!”
Hang in there. I’m just using all this as a setup for the relationship between the Old and New Testaments that basically contain covenants between God and humans. Why would I want to do that? Well, it’s important for us to know the difference. The Old and New Testaments are not a “will and testament”. They are a record of covenants between God and the human race. These covenants continue to this day and are equally important. God has also made “promises” that are also closely related to covenant and testament.
“Okay already, enough with the vocab lesson!”
It’s just a different way to view the Old and New Testaments in the Bible. If we look at them as covenants or promises, it brings a whole new meaning to these documents we call the scriptures. It’s more personal, as it should be.
Recently there has been a trend or an attempt in our culture, and even the church, to dismiss the Old Testament or Old Covenant as obsolete or null and void because of Jesus’ “new” covenant. Even prominent pastors like Andy Stanley, the author and Pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta came under fire a few years ago for saying that we needed to “unhitch” from the Old Testament. I read his book “Irresistible” and I don’t think he was really implying that we ditch the Old Testament. My take away from the book was to make the new covenant our primary focus. There is a big difference between ditching or eliminating and changing our focus. Andy uses Acts 15:5-11 as an example of why a change in focus is needed.
“Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:5-11 NIV
Some Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders, who had become believers, were still hanging on to the OT Mosaic Law, which included circumcision. They were demanding that circumcision be required for all new gentile converts. After the Apostles had a holy huddle, they decided that maybe circumcision shouldn’t be a requirement for conversion. It’s not a great sales strategy either. I’m not going to elaborate for obvious reasons, but you get the idea.
Jesus didn’t “unhitch” from the old covenant either. In fact, He and the apostles quoted from the OT quite regularly as reminders of God’s instruction. The 10 commandments weren’t thrown in the garbage after Jesus died. Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18 NIV
Then in Matthew 22 when asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus said:
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 NIV
What Jesus did through His life, death, and resurrection changed a lot. His blood sacrifice on the cross did away with the old sacrificial system for forgiveness of sin. He became our advocate or direct representative with God the Father. These are just a few differences between the old and new covenants. There are many more. But, Jesus didn’t throw out the old to make way for the new. He didn’t come to abolish the old. He came to be the embodiment of its fulfillment. He was the new covenant in His blood. As He says in Matthew 22:40, all the “Law and the Prophets” are still hanging in there. He hasn’t disposed of them. He just wrapped them in a love blanket. Love covers everything!
As I said earlier, there was a shift in focus. That shift begins and ends with Jesus. Jesus takes everything to another level, above and beyond the limitations of the law. For example, on several occasions Jesus says,“you have heard it said, but I say…” In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” The commandment to “not murder” is not eliminated, judgment for sin is not taken out of the equation or off the table either. Jesus takes it to another level by saying that even being angry with someone is subject to judgment. It’s like Jesus is upping the ante. He is calling all of us to an even deeper form of holiness than the 10 commandments.
Okay that’s about all I can squeeze into this topic today. I will try to dive a little deeper next week. I don’t claim to understand it all, but I do know that the Old and New Testaments or covenants equally express our creator and our savior’s deep love and desire to establish a relationship or covenant between two parties, Him and us.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.