What we are going to begin here involves another aspect of the Covenants that I believe is very little understood and much overlooked by the world. It might be considered a technicality. In fact, they might really just brush it aside. And yet it is something that appears both in Jeremiah 31 as well as Hebrews 8, the New Testament repetition of the announcement in Jeremiah 31.
The New Covenant will be made with Israel and with Judah. There is no mention of the Gentiles. And yet, there is much mentioned in other areas of the Bible with regard to the Gentiles - so much so, that Jesus Himself said that we were entering into the "times of the Gentiles." It's very obvious from the writings of Paul, because the Bible emphasizes the things that he wrote; and his ministry was to the Gentiles. So there is very much about the Gentiles being a part of the New Covenant. But in the information that directly concerns the New Covenant here in Hebrews 8 it says that the Covenant is going to be made with Israel and with Judah.
Contrary to what many seem to believe, the New Covenant will NOT be made with Gentiles. It is this that we are going to chase out, so that we get a good understanding of this technicality. Even though it is a technicality, it is very important to understand it.
I think it interesting that The Interpreter's Bible, in making a comment on this series of verses called chapters 9-11 of Romans "the most ignored part of Paul's writings." They go on to say that this is so because "it appears to have no modern relevance." And so moderns - that means the Protestants and Catholics - just overlook it. They may read it from time to time, but they simply cannot relate to it. It has no relevance to them. I mean, after all, who is Israel? Who is Judah?
Well, it has no relevance to them because they ignore who Israel is; and thus they don't look for any historic continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, because they refuse to believe God's clear instruction regarding the Millennium and the Second Resurrection.
Notice first that Paul said "Amen" at the end of this little section, in verse 5. If any of you have ever gone to Pentecostal churches, where people are accustomed to speaking out, you will every once in a while hear somebody say, "Amen, brother." or "Hallelujah!" Well, Paul said "Amen." What it is, really, is Paul's wholehearted affirmation and enthusiastic approval of what God has done. What is he saying "Amen" to? He is talking about the first five verses here. Paul was saying, "Yeah! It is good that it was done that way!"
He can say that, and we should say it, too, because if God did it, it is the wisest way that it could be done. We don't want to be out of step, we don't want to be in disagreement, with God. If He chose to do it that way, that's the way it should be done. And so Paul says, "Amen." He draws attention to this, and he wants us to stop and seriously consider what he just wrote in that first paragraph. It is much, much more meaningful than this world believes! Of course, they say that it has no modern relevance. (I'll interject this right now: the way the Worldwide Church of God is going, it will have no modern relevance for them for very long either.)
The book of Romans was probably written to a group that consisted of both Jews and Gentiles - with Jews being a large majority. After giving the wealth of foundation doctrines that appears in chapters 1-8, the question arises "Where does Israel fit in all of this?" Remember that, in Paul's day, as far as they were concerned it was still there. They could see it. It was a political entity in the presence of Judah. Because this question has to be answered, Paul takes three chapters to explain about Israel. If God spends three chapters on any one subject, it is pretty important - especially three chapters in the book that, as far as we can say, dominates the Bible in terms of the foundational doctrines of the Church of God.
So what we are looking at here in Romans 9-11 is a foundational doctrine of the Church of God. It ranks right up there (maybe on the second level) with faith, baptism, repentance, the receiving of God's Spirit, etc. - those things that appear in the first eight chapters. This is a major thing that appears to others to be merely a technicality.
Let me tell you, in brief, what Paul said there in the first five verses. EVERYTHING in God's purpose for mankind is related to God's relationship with Israel. Did you hear that? Everything is related to God's purpose - or God's relationship - with Israel. Because of what God did in choosing that nation, it came to be in a unique position among all the nations on earth. Why, Paul says that even the Savior was an Israelite. That's pretty important!
He mentions "covenants" - plural. You might wonder why I seem to be putting so much emphasis on this, and that's because of something that is attached to this, that is important to faith; and therefore it is important to salvation, since salvation is by grace through faith. That is this principle that God does NOT deviate from His patterns. He is God. He changes not. How can one trust an inconstant, inconsistent, God? If God began His work through Israel, He's going to finish it through Israel. Even though He makes a New Covenant, Israel is involved in that New Covenant.
God continues patterns that He establishes early in the Bible. This does not mean that there are no changes at all, but that the overall direction and the fundamental principles of His operations do not change. For example, a person may make a broad statement that there are no sacrifices required under the New Covenant. That appears to be a radical change; and I would say true, but only to a limited - a narrow - extent. More specifically, there is a change. There are no animal sacrifices. BUT they have been replaced, and therefore changed by, (1) the far more significant sacrifice of the God/Man, Jesus Christ and, (2) each of us is required to become a living sacrifice that was symbolized by the animal sacrifices.
Do you know what Romans 12:1 begins with? Right after this section on Israel, we are to be living sacrifices! So, indeed, there was a radical change (but not in the way that they assert). However, the pattern - the principle of sacrifice - that was introduced in the Old Covenant is continued on in the New Covenant at an incredibly higher level, moving from mere animals to man in the image of God.
Let's continue chasing this in regard to the Gentiles and the Covenant. But remember this principle: God does NOT alter the patterns that He establishes. If He began the Old Covenant through Israel, you can be sure that Israel is also going to have something to do with the New Covenant as well. This next set of scriptures is a summary introduced by the word "Wherefore."
This makes this principle regarding Gentiles very specific. Not only were they "without Christ" before conversion, they were also aliens from Israel. If you tie that together with Romans 9:4-5, they were also separated from the Covenant, were they not? Now, because of their conversion, they were near to the additional blessings that would come from being near to Israel. The inference is that they were no longer aliens.
Gentiles must become a part of Israel, because that is where the New Covenant is being made! And so conversion, having access to God, having Christ, entering into the Covenant, having promises and hope, and being part of Israel, all go together in one package. God does NOT disrupt the patterns that He Himself established.
I'll show you even more. Let's go to Romans 11 and we'll pick out a number of verses between verses 11 and 25. This is coming at the end of this three-chapter section on Israel.
We are going to begin to see a major reason why God chose to do it this way. And, in short, the reason He chose to do it this way is that He feels that more can be produced in relation to His purpose by doing it this way than by Him entering into another covenant with another group of people.
Can you see Paul's reasoning? God continues to do His work through the Israelitish people, even though He is calling Gentiles into His church - God is saying here that the reason that He is doing it is that there are going to be more conversions. He's going to have more children in His Kingdom than if He would do it some other way. It is wiser NOT to disrupt the patterns that have been established.
That "Root" is working through Israel. So he is saying, "Don't despise the fact that God has done it this way." And those of you who are Gentiles - and that may include me, I don't know. My ancestry is all German, except a little bit of English in there; and the name is German. I don't know what I am! I may be Gentile. I may be Israelite. Dr. Hoeh thinks I am an Israelite. I don't know. But the family came through Germany, so I am not excluding myself out of this. But, if I am a Gentile, I have been grafted in. And Paul said, "Don't despise that." He is saying, in effect, "It is your salvation, that it be that way."
There is a note in the margin of my Bible here: "Once saved, always saved?" That's NOT what the verse said. "If you continue in His goodness."
The majority of what God is producing is going to be accomplished during the Millennium and the Last Great Day; but, nonetheless, the pattern continues.
This is a pivotal verse in regard to this doctrine, because it ties together all of these things from a somewhat different angle than we have been approaching it up until this point. Why it is pivotal will become clear when a few more verses are added. From this, though, we know that all Christians are part of one spiritual Body. Within that Body, there really is in effect NO national difference. Please catch that. There is neither Jew nor Greek. Now, am I contradicting myself? No, because we are not done with this explanation yet.
What has happened here, in the explanation of this, is that it is carrying the pattern that God established through Israel to what is clearly a higher level than it had been on before. The real Jew - Israelite - is what one is inwardly. What is he talking about? He's talking about spiritual conversion. And this very neatly ties with Galatians 3:26-29.
With a couple more scriptures I think this will all begin to tie together this point, and we'll see it clearly. Back to Romans 9 again; and we are going to being to hop, skip and jump through here, so that we get the sense of the argument that Paul is making here. I don't mean argument in term of anger or anything, but he is presenting a side of a case.
This has to be understood in the light of why he is writing this. "What about Israel?" Israel seems to be being set aside. But we are seeing that, no, Israel is NOT being set aside. And so it seems as though God has been a failure in His dealings with Israel. Here He gave them the Covenant, but people don't want to keep it. Paul's argument is this: "No, you don't really understand what's going on." That's what he's telling these people. It's NOT as though the word of God has none effect.
Who is a Jew? Who is really a part of Israel? Only those who have been circumcised in the heart! Now we are beginning to see that IF a Gentile is circumcised in the heart, THEN in God's eyes he is an Israelite!
Remember John the Baptist in Matthew 3 and Luke 3? He told those people not to think that because they were sons of Abraham that they had it made. God is able to raise children up out of the very stones. In John 8, Jesus ran into the same argument coming from the Jews; and He said, "Don't think because you are the children of Abraham that you are Abraham's seed. He never did the things that you're doing. You want to kill me. Your father is Satan the devil, not Abraham."
We are following, brethren, a much clearer explanation of the same pattern - only we are seeing it in bold clarity. That is, what God has been doing all this time and why He is going to continue to work through Israel. It is NOT the physical nation that He is concerned about. Yes, to some degree - because within the physical nation that He established through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is who? THE REAL ISRAEL!
Jacob was chosen by God. He was elected by God. But Esau was not. So whom was God going to work through? He's going to work through Jacob, who on the surface was the weaker of the two - in character maybe, and certainly bodily. The question immediately arises, "Is this fair of God to do this?
Paul says, "How can we even think such a thing?"
God is SOVEREIGN in His Creation. He can do anything He good and well pleases! And who's going to call Him into question? Who's going to say, "God, I want you to account to me for this"?
Then he gives the historical example of Pharaoh.
Brethren, can we take what he says there by faith? Well, we'd better! We have no other choice, when it comes right down to it. We must accept the fact that God is running His Creation, and that God is love, and that God is holy, and that everything He does is in love. Everything He does is in the greatest of wisdom. Everything is done for the benefit of His purpose. Everything that He does is done so that the most will be produced in every person, and His Kingdom will be most greatly expanded because of the way that He does it.
We are like little kids sometimes. You know teenagers - they judge their parents; but they judge them on the basis of their 13, or 14, or 15 years of experience. But their parents are 35 or 40 years old, and they've seen a great deal more water go over the dam. They know a great deal more. They are wiser in every respect. But the kid calls them into account. That's what we do with God. We judge Him, and we don't know what in the world we are doing.
Let's go on with this, because there's an interesting statement here in just a minute.
Do you understand what he's saying? Today there are between four to five hundred million Israelites on earth. That includes all of the Gentiles that are within the land as well. And out of all of those nations - Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the democracies of northwestern Europe - out of all those hundreds of millions of people (all Israelites, let's say), only a very tiny remnant is really Israel! That's what he is saying.
In this section we - the church - are called "the children of promise." We are the "election." We are the "vessels of mercy." We are "the remnant." We are those that He has "called." Now, in what Body (or group) are we?
That's very interesting. What we find has occurred is this: After Jacob's name was changed to Israel, Israel through the centuries gradually became a code name for the called and chosen of God who had made a covenant with Him. Here in Galatians 6, that code name is transferred very openly and clearly to the church, by attaching the prepositional phrase "of God" to show possession - in order to differentiate it from the physical nation also named "Israel." What God is doing is creating a new nation - a New Covenant people - whose citizenship is in heaven and who owe loyalty to the Kingdom of God, its laws, and its governments.
This Israel - the remnant, the elect, the vessels of mercy, and the children of promise - is a spiritual Body, the Body of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3) In one sense, there is NO nationality. We are being transformed into a new nationality - GOD! There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. A new thing God is doing!
What the New Testament shows is that God has NOT broken His pattern. A new Israel is being formed - a people from all ethnic backgrounds. The Kingdom of God is expanding through the Israel of God! This ties directly into Revelation 19 and the Marriage of the Lamb, because it is this Israel - the Israel of God - the spiritual organism consisting of people of all nations, which is going to marry Christ, the Lamb.
We can see a progression. First there is one man - Jacob. His name was changed to Israel. He was chosen of God, even though his brother was firstborn. Then the descendants of Israel (Jacob) were chosen from the nations of the world, even though there were other nations that were larger, and greater, and stronger. Then, as God's plan really gets in earnest with the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, God first chooses among the Israelites and then begins to go worldwide to all ethnic groups choosing and putting them - though He says they are foolish, though He says that they are weak and base - into the Body of Christ. That is, the church. And the Israel of God begins to be formed so that it can marry Jesus Christ. That's why Gentiles have to become Israelites. In fact, all of us have to become real Israelites - even though we may be "of Israel."
Let's go to another aspect that is directly tied to this, and essential to all of it. Last week we also saw that there is a difference between a covenant and a testament. The New Testament writers clearly used a Greek word that in normal Greek usage does NOT mean "covenant." Rather, it means testament or will. The Greek language has a word for covenant - suntheke, which means a bilateral agreement. That is, an agreement between at least two, or more.
But, instead, the biblical writers used the Greek word diatheke, which is a unilateral declaration of one's intention (which equates to what a will is). When a person gets to that place where he feels moved that maybe he might die, and he wants to make sure that his property is disposed properly - that is, the way that he wants it to be disposed; to whom, when, and how - he makes out a will.
Now, I speculated that the reason the Bible's writers used diatheke rather than suntheke is because they very much wanted to draw attention to the fact that the foundation of the New Covenant is that it is a document - it is an agreement - that is entirely the work of God for the benefit of those who make the New Covenant with Him. That is, that He took it upon Himself to make a new agreement in order to remove the fault in the people who entered into the Covenant with Him. The fault was in the people. More specifically, the fault was in the people's heart.
It's very evident from what is recorded in the Old Testament that it is not possible for mankind to keep the terms of an agreement with God in preparation for the Kingdom of God with the nature he has whenever making the Covenant. So a major question has to be, "Why?" Why cannot man keep his agreement with God? Again, the Bible is consistent from beginning to end as to why.
Here's a statement that might even be considered to be a lamentation - that things would be different. But God knew this before He entered into the Old Covenant. So He wasn't surprised that Israel did not keep it. If anything may have grieved Him, it would have been possibly that it was worse than He even expected it would be.
To get a clear picture, one only has to turn back in his mind's eye and meditate on the creation of Adam and Eve and the subsequent events in the Garden. God did not create Adam and Eve with an evil heart. Every biblical writer that I have ever seen recognized an innocence in the natures of Adam and Eve. They hid themselves from God AFTER they sinned. "Who told you that you were naked?" God said.
They were confronted with choices, and they chose the evil way. They chose to sin, and something happened to their minds after they sinned; and that is very instructive. Their nature at creation was made impressionable, so that as they made choices it (the mind, the nature) became - or was conformed to - the nature of the choices that they made. A conscience, and a perspective, and a character began to be formed.
I Corinthians 2 shows that our natural mind is strong towards gathering, understanding, and using material knowledge but weak in gathering, understanding, and using spiritual knowledge. In the same manner, babies are not born evil; but they become evil as a result of the influences of life in their environments. I mentioned earlier that the Bible is consistent in what it reveals concerning this process.
God is saying that. He'd just, you might say, anointed Isaiah to be His representative. Isaiah was to go to the people with this understanding. At first reading, it might seem as though the eyes and the ears were blinded and plugged by God so that they could not see or hear; but that is NOT God's way. Do you remember God's lament back in Deuteronomy 5:29 that He made through Moses? "O that there were such an heart in them." In another place, He made another lament. He said, "Why will you die, O Israel?" "Why do you keep making those choices - to die? Can you not remember what was written in the law?" I'm interjecting this.
"See this day I have set before you life on the one hand and death on the other. Therefore choose life! (Deuteronomy 30:19) Why are you choosing to die, O Israel?" It is NOT God's will that people suffer in agony. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Let's look at another prophecy that God made in regard to Israel.
What we are seeing here, of course, is a prophecy; but it is a typical human reaction to God. This is not only an Israelite peculiarity or weakness. God reveals Himself; and mankind loves it, at first. Then the relationship begins to deteriorate - for a variety of reasons. Some get bored. The curiosity of some new thing attracts their attention. Some grow impatient. They want things to move faster. Some refuse to conform, because they didn't realize that the relationship was going to demand so much of them. Some lose interest, because other things gradually become more important to them. Some become frustrated, because they expected a free ride from an indulgent "sugar daddy." Some lose sight of how much more wonderful, and powerful, and brilliant the relationship is going to be in the future. Others forget their obligation to Him for what He has done for them.
But whatever the reason, it is mankind that finds a reason to choose to destroy the relationship because it is NOT in his nature to have a relationship of the quality that God desires! Human nature will not remain constant in its affections for God. From the time of birth until God finally calls, the impressionable mind develops an enmity that a person cannot completely control. The history of God's contact with people shows that - even converted people.
Let's go back to Matthew 13. What we are going to look at here is what God said to Isaiah in Isaiah 6 in a New Testament setting - with Jesus being the One who is speaking. Jesus expounds on it just a very little.
He clearly says, in verse 15, that the Israelites have closed their own eyes and ears. It indicates a conscious decision to do so. That conscious decision could easily be done by simply choosing to ignore what God says. Or to neglect what has been given to them. To ignore the works of His hands - the Creation - by which it is clearly shown (according to God's testimony) that He is! Because the carnal mind has an enmity in it, and it does not want to be tied down to a relationship with God - it prefers to do something else.
Look at this section in Romans 1. This apparently was written to the Gentiles, or about them.
That's pretty clear.
It became that way! Even though God may not have given a specific calling to these people, evidence of God's existence is clearly available; and the possibility of a relationship with Him is rejected. That's the way God feels about it. I'm going to show you something very interesting in John 12. Did you realize that this very subject was the subject of Jesus' last sermon to the Jews?
Here we see the principle beginning to work. The carnal mind will NOT sustain a relationship with God. Even though He reveals Himself, and they love what they hear, yet they can't keep their affections with God on a sustainable level; and that enmity begins to assert itself. It begins to find reasons - as we would say in modern parlance - to ditch God (as if He was a boyfriend or a girlfriend). "I've got to find a way to ditch Him!" Verse 43 tells why in this case.
We bring judgment upon ourselves, if we allow to arise within ourselves the effort to reject God. Let's go back to Jeremiah 5; and again, let's think of this in terms of its apparent chronological order in reference to Jeremiah 31. Ostensibly later in Jeremiah's life, Jeremiah 31 contains the proposal of the New Covenant. So what we have here appeared before that.
In that context, he is showing that they were choosing to forsake the relationship established through the Old Covenant. Why? Because this people has a defiant and a rebellious heart! "Revolting" and "departing" indicates a conscious choosing.
Now, how is the fault going to be overcome? By changing the nature of the party making the New Covenant, so that the flaw is removed. Recall Hebrews 8:10. The reason for making the New Covenant is so God's law can be written in the heart. How is this accomplished? Again, like everything else, it was prophesied in the Old Testament - while the Old Covenant was still going on. I'll show you a principle.
Here we see a principle - a pattern. God does not give every detail, but His pattern is to let His people know (at least in generalities) what He is going to do. He gives enough, but not so much that we don't have to live by faith.
Now, remember Jeremiah preceded Ezekiel's prophecies. So we see an unfolding of how this is going to be accomplished. In Jeremiah 5, we find people set their wills - they choose to forsake God. They can't sustain the relationship. In Jeremiah 31, God says He's going to propose a New Covenant; and we find that this flaw is going to be taken away. Ezekiel 36 takes it one step further by beginning to tell us how this is going to be done.
The keeping of the law is directly connected to this new Spirit - His Spirit! In II Corinthians 3, He clarifies that even further. It couldn't get any clearer than this:
Here it is specifically stated that the law is going to be written in the fleshly tables of our heart by the Spirit of the living God! But, as I showed you in an earlier sermon on circumcision, the circumcision of the heart is a co-operative effort. God does His part; and we do ours, by submitting to Him. Both parts are involved within this process by which God is enabling us to have the power to sustain a relationship with Him. And that power that enables this to be done is made ONLY with the children of promise, the children of God, the remnant, the church, those who are in Christ, those who have received the Spirit of God.
God willing, in the next sermon we will begin by showing you the progression (carried a little bit further) that enables us who have made the New Covenant with God, to sustain that relationship with Him so that we can be in His Kingdom. And I will tie this together with the will that Jesus Christ left.