Vol. IX — No. 50 December 15, 1968


The New Covenant Contrasted with the Old

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that 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 that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lords for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

In Christ Jesus, who has established the New Testament or New Covenant with us, Fellow Redeemed:

Our text is the voice of prophecy sounding forth from the Old Testament days and finding its fulfillment in the New Testament era. In the days of old such prophecy functioned as a searchlight peering into the future ages and revealing what should then come to pass. This prophecy reveals that God planned establish a new testament or a new covenant with His people. That He did! The writer to the Hebrews quotes this entire prophecy to demonstrate to his Christian Jewish readers the superiority of God’s new testament with that of His old.

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord.” Again and again Old Testament readers were put on the alert in regards to the coming days. Those were to be the days of the Messiah—when He should have come. We today are living in those days, for the Lord has come! What did the Lord plan to do and what has He done in these days? “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” A covenant is an agreement, but God’s covenant with man has this distinguishing feature. It is one-sided, not a mutual agreement, God makes the covenant. God binds Himself to show forth His mercy and grace, and God makes certain persons the beneficiaries of His lovingkindness and faithfulness.

The Lord planned to make this new covenant “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah,” The covenant would be established with both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. But where was the Northern Kingdom? It had been destroyed and its people deported into slavery and exile. They had never returned. They had lost their identity. They had be come absorbed into Gentile nations. What is the Lord telling His Old Testament people about this new covenant? This, that it would not be an exclusively national covenant as the first one made with Israel, but that it would be an international or non-national covenant with all of God’s people, regardless of whether they be Jew or Gentile.

This covenant would be new: “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake. Although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord.” This covenant was to be different from the one made at Mt. Sinai. The Children of Israel broke that covenant soon after it had been sealed when they worshiped the golden Calf, and they continued to break it down through the centuries although the Lord remained lovingly faithful unto them as an husband. When the time was ripe according to God’s plans, God sent His Son to make a new covenant with His people. That our Lord Jesus did with His life’s work, but especially when He established the new testament sealed with His own blood in the night in which He was betrayed. We now live under that new covenant. It is important that we understand the difference between the old and the new covenants. This morning we would consider—


I. As to sanctification—from compulsion to willingness.

The whole idea of sanctification is that of being separated from the ungodly world and dedicated to the Lord. We frequently express it in this way that children of God are to be “in” the world but not “of” the world.

How was this sanctification to be achieved under the old covenant? At Mt. Sinai God gave His law, written on two tables of stone. He multiplied ordinances, giving them through Moses. There were rules and regulations governing all the forms of worship—the daily sacrifices, the Sabbath days, the monthly festivals and the great annual festivals. Everything was clearly and minutely prescribed. Those ordinances were rein forced by a code of severe punishments. For example, the sons of Aaron were slain for offering strange fire upon the altar. The Lord Himself executed them. When a man was caught gathering wood for a fire on the Sab bath, he was held pending a verdict from the Lord. The Lord’s verdict was the death sentence. This seems un usually harsh and very strange to us today, but so it was under the old covenant. The people were compelled to be separate from the heathen and dedicated unto the Lord by a system of rules and regulations that were enforced by stern punishments.

What a contrast with the new covenant! “After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Gone are the compulsion and the threats from the outside. In its place God has sent His Spirit to place His law within the hearts of people. He sends His spirit to produce inner motivation instead of outer compulsion, inner willingness instead of outer constraint.

Some examples will point out the contrast between the old and the new covenant. Under the old covenant the people were compelled by law to worship on the seventh day, the Sabbath. They were forbidden to work on that day under penalty of death. Under the new covenant no specific day has been instituted for worship. The common setting aside of Sunday for worship is not by divine command but the result of the inner desire of Christians to have time and opportunity for worship. There are no Sabbath “no work” laws under the new covenant, just as there are no dietary laws. Again it is the Spirit who creates with the hearts of children of God the desire for worship. It is this inner desire that causes men and women to cease from their labors so that they may have time and opportunity for worship. Under the old covenant false doctrine and idolatry were considered blasphemy punishable by death. Under the new covenant children of God are not forced to believe aright, but they are drawn by the Spirit to embrace and confess the whole Truth. The only power that will bring people to confess the Truth with us and so enter our fellowship is the inner compelling power of the Truth. No outward force is available to us. We know of no way of keeping people faithful to the Lord other than the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. The Old Testament believer was constrained by the law to give a tithe unto the Lords the New Testament believer is to give free willingly according as the Lord has prospered him. And so we could continue to show the differences between the old and new covenants, but it would always remain the difference between outer compulsion and inner willingness.

But we must hasten to another contrast—

II. As to revelation—from piecemeal for some to full for all.

Jeremiah brought the Word of the Lord to the people of His time. How did he do that? The Lord would reveal His message to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah would proclaim it—sometimes in the court before the princes, sometimes in the marketplace. But always a limited number of people heard the Word of the Lord. It would have to be transmitted from one to another. Finally Jeremiah wrote the message down in a book as we have those words of the Lord today. Over the centuries the holy writings were gathered until finally the Old Testament Canon or Scriptures took shape and form. It was a piecemeal process.

Under the new covenant things were to be different. The Lord said, “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.” The writer to the Hebrew Christians begins his epistle by making the point that in the Old Testament times God spoke in many different ways and forms through the prophets, but then “in the last days,” at the beginning of the Hew Testament era. He spoke unto us by His Son. We have that revelation as it was recorded by the apostles and evangelists in the Hew Testament Scriptures. Thus we now have the whole and complete revelation of God. The Bible is available to all at small or, if necessary, at no cost. Anyone who can read is able to read the Scriptures and learn to know the Lord and His will.

Think of what this means for us under the new covenant. We need not be the helpless victims of the hierarchy, of church leaders, of seminary professors, of popular evangelists, of the opinion of the majority, of synodic resolutions. No, we can know the Lord and His will by searching the Scriptures. We can distinguish truth from error by comparing all that we hear and read with the complete revelation of God in His Word. For example: Is it right to make the name of the Lord so broad that it will cover all those who reject the Holy Trinity and especially the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ? A simple line from the Scripture, “He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father,” will reveal this popular notion to be completely false. Is close communion a practice in line with the Scriptures? Just a simple reference to the difference between the spoken Word and baptism on the one hand the the Lord’s Supper on the other will settle the issue. Jesus instituted baptism for all nations. He preached to the multitudes on the mountain and beside the lake, but He instituted the Lord Supper in the privacy of the upper room and in the midst of His disciples only. The first celebration of the Holy Supper was a very intimate and private affair, not a spiritual cafeteria for believers, non-believers and misbelievers alike. Dare man change baptism from a means by which God gives the child His forgiving grace in Christ to a ceremony by which parents seek to dedicate a child born in sin to Him. Scripture knows of no ceremony by which the sinner can make himself acceptable to God. It does assure us, however, that through baptism God makes the sinful child His child by forgiving that child its sin. But enough! We hasten to a final contrast—

III. As to justification—from forgiveness for some to forgiveness for all.

Of the new covenant that He will establish the Lord said: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The justification or the forgiveness of the sinner is the heart and core of the new covenant, as it was also of the old covenant. Let us not for a moment think that the Old Testament believers did not enjoy and possess the forgiveness of sins. They had forgiveness through faith in the coming Savior, even as we have forgiveness through faith in the Savior who has come. The Old Testament believers brought their sacrifices in anticipation of the one sacrifice that God’s Son would make. Their faith rested not on the blood of bullocks and lambs and goats, but on the blood that was to be shed for them by God’s own Son. Our faith and the assurance of our salvation rests upon that same one sacrifice that God’s Son has made on Calvary’s cross. The Jewish Christians, who are addressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, were being tempted to revert back to the Old Testament sacrifices in order to escape persecution. They were warned not to do this, for they would thereby forfeit the sacrifice made for them by God’s Son.

What is new and different under the new covenant? This that divine forgiveness is now a universal gift for all men. True it is that Gentiles were attracted to the faith of Israel and were incorporated into the people of God. True it is that the prophets spoke of the days when the Gentiles would come. But until the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all flesh, the priceless gift of divine forgiveness was reserved primarily for one people and one nation, the Jews. Now it is different. Race makes no difference. Nationality is of no count. Color gives neither advantage nor disadvantage. Anyone that comes to the Lord in sincere penitence is received. Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. Come unto Me, all ye that labor. That is the invitation. It has been extended also unto us, who are Gentiles of former Anglo-Saxon and German descent and who are former Northerners and Southerners united in a Christian congregation. The Lord doesn’t ask what part of the country we came from, what our accent is, what our color is, what our educational level is, what our economic and social status it. No, He simply asks for repentance and obedience to His Word. He holds up before our eyes the priceless gift of His forgiveness to arouse and sustain our faith, as He says, “I will forgive your iniquity, and I will remember your sin no more.” Thank God for this blessing! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached December 1, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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