Jesus and Covenant – 1
Looking God in the Eye
The history of mankind is one of good gifts turned into idols. Blessings abused become curses in the hands of those who won’t look God in the eye.
For those of us who know the Bible, the idolatries become more subtle. This was the case for the Pharisees. The exile had purified Israel of old-school idolatry, so she invented a new school: an elitism bound by an Abrahamic heritage and energized by the abuse of Moses and the Law as a means of salvation: heritage instead of faith; obligation instead of salvation. The good things given as gifts once again became the gods.
In a day when Christians fall into similar traps (Jesus-and-a-second-blessing, Jesus-and-speaking-in-tongues, Jesus-and-homeschooling, Jesus-and-organic-food, Jesus-and-communal-living, Jesus-and-education, Jesus-and-poverty, Jesus-and-prosperity, Jesus-and-Israel, Jesus-and-nationalism), two things become clear: a) we don’t really understand or want Jesus, and b) despite our claims concerning the leading of the Holy Spirit, what we really want is legislation. Being Spirit-led is too awkward, too much like looking God in the eye.
Jesus did not deal with the Essenes, and He hardly bothered with the Sadducees. He targeted the Pharisees because they were the evangelicals of the day, the ones closest to the truth. And yet they were the ones who handed Him over to be crucified.
Their idolatry at the end of Israel’s history was the most subtle lie of the serpent: rather than disregarding the Covenant like Esau, or disobeying it like Israel’s kings, the Covenant itself was hijacked and turned into an idol. “We are God’s people.” Paul warned the Roman Christians against falling into the same error. The Church becomes the bride who only has eyes for her wedding dress.
The renewed interest in Covenant theology is a great blessing. By this I mean the shape and nature of the biblical Covenants, how this structures the historical outcomes throughout the Bible, and how it informs the interpretation of many of the obscure passages of the Bible. It opens everything like the canopener from heaven. But like all blessings from God, in the hands of those who will not look God in the eye, the gift becomes a curse. Well-meaning people start opening other cans: cans of Herodian worms.
We live in an age where the dropout rate of young people from Church is higher than ever. Of course, the human reaction is to curb the rate of spiritual delinquency. The solution is found in searching the Scriptures, of course. After the mostly disastrous childrearing efforts of the patriarchs, the Law of Moses dictated means by which children might be raised in the nurture of the Lord. This was a beneficial discovery, but the desire to solve a New Covenant problem has led to what is likely the most subtle error of serpent. He used it to sidetrack the Pharisees, and he is using it again today. The error is Jesus-and-Covenant.
What do I mean by this? Any idolatry is the taking of one’s eye from the giver and an unhealthy focus on the gift. Jesus did not give the New Covenant to the nations as Yahweh gave the stone tablets to Moses or as He gave the promises to Abraham. Certainly, there was sacrificial bloodshed and holy fire involved in every case, but at the Last Supper, Jesus gave Himself. Jesus is the Covenant.
This innovation, the union of the giver and the gift, God incarnate, would seem to be the solution to idolatry. In the New Covenant, Jesus is our nearbringing, and in Him we behold the very face of God, unveiled by the Spirit to those who believe. But however the Lord draws us near, the flesh is always prone to shrink back in unbelief, to seek water from cisterns dug with human hands.
The invention of “Covenant children” who are put “in Christ” in “baptism” and need “spiritual nourishment” through Communion is an exaltation of the flesh over the Spirit. I know many will find this offensive, but this construct is simply one more way of avoiding God in the face of Jesus Christ. Every one of these acts evades the real nature of the Gospel, and indeed, of the Last Supper: willing communion with Christ in His sufferings and His resurrection. This subtle perversion of the New Covenant replaces repentance and faith with heritage, and true salvation (conversion) with legalism disguised as a Covenantal obligation. It puts Christ where He is not, and in the process obscures where He is really to be found. Ironically, it often seems to be the case that those who have the least understanding of biblical Covenants, yet walk with Jesus, have the real thing. They have Jesus Himself, who is the Covenant.
NEXT: Raising Cain.
ART: Portrait of Herod by Giuseppe Arcimboldo