The surplice – symbolises being clothed in righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)
Hebrews 7:21, 2 Corinthians 5:21
Friday, December 13, 2013
Why covenant makes such a difference to us
In our flying introduction to covenant and where it came from, we concentrated on Abram’s encounters with God whereby he became known as Abraham – taking upon himself part of God’s name as part of the covenant promise.
What did this mean to the Early Church? And how does it affect our belief and practice today?
The essential difference is that Jesus was the starting point for the New Covenant that had been foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, among others.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 (excerpt):
“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…
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
And Jesus Himself said at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-20) following giving out the bread, and taking up the cup:
“This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
This was new (and better, Hebrews 7:22) covenant that was overlaid on the principles of the old – sacrifice, walk of death, covenant meal, exchange names, robes, belts and weapons, to take the main precepts.
A covenant truth that is quite familiar is that there is sacrifice. Jesus is that sacrifice, a final one for all time, and the writer to the Hebrews hints that the tearing of the massive, woven veil of the Temple is like the tearing apart of Abram’s heifer offering – Hebrews 10:19-20
We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil.
We celebrate communion and that, if we understand it, is the celebration of a covenant meal. We exchange names in the sense that we describe ourselves as Christian – taking Jesus’ title into our ‘title’.
We exchange robes as well. Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant… and being found in appearance as a man (Philippians 2:7-8). He took our appearance, and in its place put on us a robe (symbolised by the vicar’s surplice) of righteousness – 2 Corinthians 5:21
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
This is a profound truth explained very briefly and inadequately – but the essentials of the covenant exchange are in these two verses.
The exchange of belts, or exchange of strength, is what Paul alludes to in 2 Cor. 12:7-10 when he describes the ‘thorn in the flesh’ – almost certainly describing an antagonistic person, following earlier uses of that phrase – and goes on to say:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Paul goes on to say that he is happy to boast about his weaknesses – and that is covenant language to an Jew. We have to work at it a little more!
Lastly in this keep-it-simple brief teaching is the exchange of weapons, which represents the exchange of enemies. When we enter into covenant with Jesus, he takes on our ultimate enemy – death. We take on His enemy, who is Satan. We can’t compete with death, but we can embrace it differently because of what Jesus did: O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? (1 Cor. 15:55). Put this alongside another passage of covenant language, Ephesians 6:10-11 where Paul writes: Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (note: his might). Put on the full armour of God (his armour) that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
So we are the ones who are supposed to take on the devil – not taking on the people who make our lives miserable, but what is behind those people.
So we take on the devil, not in our strength or cunning, but with the weaponry (including the sword of the Spirit) which is given to us in the exchange.
We take on the schemes of the enemy with the confidence that only comes from a deep sense of our covenant backing.