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The Covenant of Jesus
We’re studying together the theme of covenant. Our purpose being to build up to an understanding of the New Covenant that was made through the cross of Jesus. But the concept of covenant goes right back in the history of God’s people and I feel that many Christians just use the word covenant without any real appreciation of what’s involved. So my purpose has been to go back to some of the original covenants of God, particularly the one he made with Abraham that we examined in some detail in Genesis 15. I pointed out to you that those who want to be saints, or holy ones, or hassidimmust have a covenant that’s based on a sacrifice. That’s the only relationship that God acknowledges permanently. In fact, in the Bible every permanent relationship between persons has to be based on a covenant. There is no other basis for permanent relationships.
One of the features of our contemporary scene is that there are very few permanent relationships. And the basic reason is that people are no longer willing to accept the commitment of a covenant. And without a covenant you cannot have scriptural, permanent relationships.
The covenant of Abraham with God in Genesis 15 we noticed was based on the sacrifice of animals. Abraham was required to produce the sacrificial animals, kill them, cut them in pieces and then in the person of the Holy Spirit in the form of a burning lamp the Lord passed between the pieces. I believe Abraham also passed between the pieces. And passing through the pieces of the sacrifice they entered into a covenant with one another.
That could be described as rather a primitive form of covenant but the principle is very vivid and that’s why I chose to go there. The only basis for a permanent relationship is a covenant. A covenant requires a sacrifice. And through the sacrifice the parties that make the covenant enter into a totally new relationship with each other.
However, the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham in Genesis 15 was in many ways incomplete. If you study it, it’s very interesting that no provision is made for Abraham himself in that covenant. The only provisions are for his descendants.
Secondly, it is never called an everlasting covenant. As I’ve stated, in my opinion, and there are people that would challenge this, that covenant was fulfilled when God brought Israel into the land of Canaan under Joshua. However, it was not the final covenant between God and Abraham.
So I want to go on now to Genesis 17 and look at the description of what was the final covenant. And as you’re looking at it I want you to be saying to yourself where’s the sacrifice? It’s a kind of Biblical riddle. Where is the sacrifice? So we begin now in Genesis 17:1 and we’ll read through verse 8. This is the actual statement of the making of the covenant.
“When Abraham was ninety nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said to him, I am Almighty God...”
In Hebrew, El Shaddai, the all sufficient God. It’s interesting that the Lord told Moses he had never appeared to Abraham by the name Jehovah. If you check in Exodus 3, the name by which he was actually visibly seen by Abraham was El Shaddai, the Almighty God, the all sufficient God. Verse 2:
“I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
Now notice the first covenant was “a” covenant. This one God calls “my” covenant. It’s different. In Psalm 50:5 the Lord said:
“Gather my saints together unto me, those that have made my covenant on the basis of a sacrifice...”
There’s two streams in the Bible. There’s “a” covenant and there’s “my” covenant.
“Then Abraham fell on his face: and God talked with him...”
I just want to say never be ashamed to be on your face before God. A lot of wonderful men of God have been in that position before you.
“...saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.”
Now here comes the name change that we looked at. Up to that time he was exalted father, Ab Ram. Now he’s going to become Abraham, father of a multitude.
“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be called Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.”
Notice God speaks in the perfect tense when nothing has changed visibly. As far is God is concerned, when he says it, it’s there. There had been no change in Abraham, he still didn’t have a son of his own by Sarah. God said, “I have made you a father of many nations.” Paul said in Romans 4, “God calls the things that are not as though they were.” And once God has called a thing, that is what it is. You may not see the evidence but that’s the way it is, it’s settled. Verse 6:
“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you, in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”
Notice now the first person mentioned of this covenant all the way through is Abraham himself. And then his descendants after him. Notice also that there was a change of name. The first covenant didn’t change his name. In the Bible a change of name is always extremely significant. It indicates something that God has brought about in a person. And then notice this is an everlasting covenant. I’ll read verse 7 again.
“I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your descendants after you, in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”
Notice now the first emphasis is not on a land, it’s on a relationship. “I will be your God.” Then we come to the land, verse 8:
“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
Now that, as far as I’m concerned being a believer in the Bible, settles the question of to whom the land of Canaan belongs. It was settled 4,000 years ago. People can argue, the United Nations can vote, people can fight but in the last resort that’s settled. That’s the covenant.
It’s rather interesting, years back in l947 I was living in Jerusalem and this was a time of tremendous tension. The Arabs and the Jews were fighting, there was snipers in the streets, you never knew when a building would be blown up. I mean, everybody was living under tension. I walked into a Jewish electrical supply store and I wanted to buy just some little appliance. The man said to me, “It’s terrible times we’re in.” And being the kind of foolish person I was at that time I said, “Well, I have eternal life so it really doesn’t matter what happens to me.” He said, “In our Bible there’s nothing about eternal life.” By this time everybody in the store got interested in this strange person. I said to him, “What about what it says in Genesis 17?” and I quoted to him in Hebrew “I will give to you and to your descendants after you the whole land in which you are a stranger.” I said, “God said he’d give it to Abraham first and to his descendants after him. Up until this time Abraham has only had enough to be buried in. If there’s no resurrection, that promise can never be fulfilled.” Well, I tell you there was a dead silence in that store. But I convinced myself if nobody else!
Now we’ve got the covenant. We haven’t yet found the sacrifice, have we? No covenant is valid without the sacrifice. So we go on reading now from verse 9:
“God said to Abraham, As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you, and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you; every male child among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generation. He who is born in your house, or bought with money from any stranger who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house, and he is bought with your money must be circumcised. And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Now I pointed out to you that wherever you have a covenant you have a sacrifice, and wherever you have a sacrifice you have shedding of blood. Well, in this you have the covenant and you have the shedding of blood. You can’t circumcise without the shedding of blood, but there’s no sacrifice. But the blood of this covenant is taken from Abraham’s own body and from his descendants. So God is saying, I believe, I’m going to provide a sacrifice out of your descendants. This is just a little indication of where the blood will come from.
So now we’ll go on to the New Testament. First of all, we’ll turn to Hebrews 9. This is in your outline. Some of what I have been telling you isn’t in your outline but it’s in the Bible. Hebrews 9:16–17. One of the themes of Hebrews is covenant. We could perhaps read from verse 13 and then we get the context.
“For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh [these were just animal sacrifices such as were offered under the law]: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God...”
And I pointed out to you already that Jesus was both priest and the sacrifice. He, the priest, offered himself as a pure, sinless sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit.
Just let me pause for a moment and point out that every significant transaction in God’s plan of redemption involves the Father, the Son and the Spirit. The whole Godhead is involved. The incarnation: God the Father incarnated the Son through the Holy Spirit. The baptism of Jesus: God the Father spoke to the Son, the Spirit descended upon him. The ministry of Jesus, Acts 10:38 says “God the Father anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all that were sick.” That always blesses me about the ministry of healing; Father, Son and Spirit are in it. Then we come to the sacrifice: Jesus the Son offered himself to the Father through the Spirit. We come to the resurrection: God the Father raised the Son by the Holy Spirit. And we come to Pentecost: Jesus the Son received from the Father the Spirit and poured out on his disciples. It’s like if I could say this reverently, the three persons of the Godhead are all jealous not to be left out of redemption. So every major transaction of redemption involves the total Godhead; Father, Son and Spirit.
So here we have in this verse Jesus the Son offered himself to the Father through the Spirit. Going on reading that verse:
“How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason he is the mediator of the new covenant [diatheke] by means of death...”
You know, there’s covenant without a death, the laying down of a life.
“...for the redemption of the transgression under the first covenant...”
All the people who had broken the law under the first covenant had no actual sufficient sacrifice until Jesus died. The sacrifices of the law covered sin temporarily, they never dealt with it. In fact, Hebrews says in those sacrifices a remembrance was made again of sin every year. I think the writer was thinking particularly of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement when the Jewish people believe if they do the right things they have forgiveness for a year. But next day of atonement they have to be back again claiming their forgiveness. They could never permanently deal with sin. Going on reading in verse 15:
“For this reason he [Jesus] is the mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
Notice the emphasis on eternal there. It’s an eternal inheritance through the eternal Spirit.
Now, verse 16 you see is a confusion for English speaking people.
“For where there is a testament...”
But the Greek says “where there is a covenant.” It’s the same word. Let’s put in the word covenant.
“Where there is a covenant, there must also of necessity be the death of the one who makes the covenant.”
Now when we use the word testament we have no problem because we are used to speaking about a last will and testament and we know that testament is not valid until the person has died. But, you see, there’s a gap in our thinking because when we think about a covenant we don’t see the same. But what the writer of Hebrews is saying is a covenant is not valid while the one who makes the covenant lives. Let me read that again and the next verse.
“For where there is a covenant, there must also of necessity be the death of the one who makes the covenant. For a covenant is enforced after men are dead; since it has no power [or no validity] at all while the one who makes the covenant lives.”
You see, that’s why there’s no covenant without a sacrifice. When the Lord and Abraham walked between the pieces of those animals, each one of them said, “that’s where I lay down my life.” You can’t come into a covenant without laying down your life.
I hope you can see the implications of this because they’re very far reaching. We have a very superficial view of what the New Testament is because we don’t call it the New Covenant. But it is the New Covenant and it’s not valid while people live. Those who are in covenant relationship must have passed through death. I can see some of you looking puzzled. We’ll work on that one.
Now let’s go to the place where Jesus initiated the New Covenant, the seed of Abraham. Matthew 26:26 and following.
“As they were eating [this is at the last supper], Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat, this is my body. Then he took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it in the same, Drink from it, all of you...”
Anyone that didn’t drink was not in the covenant. You had to drink to be in the covenant. Then he said:
“...for this my blood of the new covenant [some translations leave out the word new] which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
So there is the establishment of the New Covenant, and it’s in the blood of Jesus.
We can take out finger out of Hebrews and keep your finger in Matthew for a moment. I want you to turn to Genesis 14 for a moment. Genesis really is the book of Genesis. It’s the genesis of every significant development. Genesis 14:18. This is another incident in the life of Abraham. He had just defeated the kings who had destroyed Sodom and captured Lot. Abraham went after them because Lot was his nephew. So he was returning from the victory with all the spoil and a strange person met him, one of the most mysterious persons in the Bible. His name was Melchizedek. Melchizedek is a Hebrew word. Melchiis king and zedekis righteousness. His name means king of righteousness. It also says he was priest to the most High God. He combined the two offices of king and priest. We’ll read now verses 18–20:
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; and he was the priest of God most high. And he blessed him [Abraham] and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be God most high who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he [Abram] gave him [Melchizedek] a tithe of all that he had.”
Now that’s the first use in the Bible of the word “priest.” And notice it was not a Levitical priest because under the law the priesthood went to Levi, the kingship went to Judah. They were separated. But here’s a man who combines kingship and priesthood. And he is so high in the things of the Spirit that he blesses Abraham. And the Bible says the less is blessed of the greater.
But I want you to notice the exchange between Melchizedek and Abraham because it really has a lesson for us. First of all, Melchizedek gave Abraham something that Abraham had not given Melchizedek. Now that’s never true of the Levitical priesthood. They only gave the people something that the people had already offered them.
Second, in return Abraham gave him a tenth [or a tithe] of all.
What was the things that Melchizedek gave Abraham? Bread and wine. Now you see, that was extremely significant because at the last supper when Jesus brought out the bread and the wine and gave them to his disciples, he was saying this is the priesthood of Melchizedek restored in me. I think it’s very interesting for us as God’s new covenant people to see that the celebration of the bread and wine goes right back to the father of our faith, Abraham. It’s not initiated under the law, it wasn’t new in the New Testament; it goes back to Abraham. And something else goes back to Abraham with it which is what? Tithing. That wasn’t initiated in the law. It was continued in the law but it started with Abraham.
So really, in a way, you know, we have some denominations that are very interested in their traditions and tracing them back, liturgical traditions. I’m not a member of a liturgical group, I appreciate liturgy but I’m not one. Praise God, I have a tradition that goes back 4,000 years. When I take the bread and the wine I’m saying by that I’m a descendant of Abraham. And when I take the bread and the wine, if I give God my tithe I’m also right in the Abrahamic tradition that goes all the way right back there. I think that should encourage some of us upstarts who don’t have a long denominational background. We at least go back to our roots.
You know, roots is a thing that really people are excited about today. Well, we need to be excited about our roots today because Paul says we’ve been grafted into the good olive tree and its roots are Abraham. I never feel inferior and you don’t need to feel inferior. Whatever you are, you’ve got the best ancestry if you’re in Jesus. You are the seed of Abraham. That’s better than being any royal family of Europe or the Middle East, or anywhere. There all upstarts by comparison with Abraham.
Let’s go back to this scene in Matthew 26. Jesus says here’s the bread, feed on it. Here’s the wine, drink it. And he says all of you. I mean, they knew enough to know that they were entering into a very special relationship with Jesus and with one another. And this is an important lesson. You can’t enter into this relationship with Jesus without entering into a relationship with the people who have the relationship with Jesus. You’re not merely entering into a covenant with Jesus, you’re entering into a covenant with all those who are in covenant with Jesus.
Of course, we understand this is perpetuated in the Last Supper, or the Eucharist, or the Communion, whatever you want to call it. One of the things we need to bear in mind is we have no right to take the Lord’s supper with other believers if we’re not prepared to fulfill our covenant commitments to them. We have no right to walk out of that place and start to criticize, talk against them. We’re disloyal to the covenant.
There’s a book, I don’t know how many of you have read it called O Jerusalem. Has anybody read it? Well, it’s the story of what happened in Jerusalem during the first Arab/Israel war in l947–48. It’s a very accurate story, it’s written by two Germans and I was there at the time. Much of what was described is like describing things I went through personally. I would say it’s a totally accurate book. If you’re interested, I could recommend it to you. But it describes a certain situation where there was a Jewish settlement, a kibbutz south of Jerusalem called ?Escion? which was overrun by the Arab armies. And it was so far from the rest of the settlements and the places that the Jews occupied that they couldn’t defend it. Basically, all the defenders laid down their lives with the exception of about three survivors.
One of these survivors was a young, Polish Jewess. She was taken prisoner by the Arab legion which is the military force of Jordan. And I don’t want to be misunderstood but it’s kind of accepted practice if soldiers take a woman in war, she’s their booty. So two Arab soldiers seized hold of her, began to strip her clothes off, intending to rape her. And a most amazing thing happened. An Arab officer of the Arab legion walked up, drew his revolver, shot the two soldiers and then he pulled a piece of bread out of his pocket, gave it to this Jewish girl and said, “Take this. Once you’ve eaten this you’re under my protection. You’ve broken bread with me, you’re in covenant with me.” And not one of the soldiers dared to touch her. She survived to tell that story.
See, he was a Moslem but he had a much better understanding of covenant than most Christians. When you’ve broken bread, you’ve made a commitment, a very solemn commitment. You’ve entered into covenant with that person that you’ve broken bread with. In a sense you better not break bread if you’re not prepared to keep your covenant.
The Bible says we need to be careful about breaking bread, we need to examine ourselves. It doesn’t say we have to examine other people. I personally have enough to do to examine myself. I don’t have any time left over to examine other people.
Now, if there is somebody there who is known to be not living the Christian life or not committed to the Lord, probably that person should not be permitted to break bread because there’s a commitment there. In his own interest or her own interest, because once you’ve done that you’re expected to go through with it.
Now, let’s consider the nature of this covenant. What was the sacrifice? It’s not difficult, it’s not a profound question. It was Jesus on the cross. Before he actually went to the cross he instituted the covenant which would be based on the sacrifice that he offered on the cross.
So, you see again God’s saint, his hassidimare those who have cut a covenant with him on the basis of a sacrifice. Now the sacrifices of the law were temporary, they merely foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice. When God instituted with Abraham the rite of circumcision, in a certain sense he said the blood is going to come from your own descendants. And it did.
So, on the cross Jesus became the last sacrifice, the basis of the eternal covenant. Let’s look at the language that’s used in Hebrews 13:20. This is one of those most beautiful prayers or benedictions with which the New Testament abounds. We’ll read 20 and 21.
“Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”
Incidentally, forever and ever there is to the ages of the ages. It’s one of the places where it occurs. Just think of the ages of ages. Every age is made up of ages. And notice God did it through the blood of the everlasting covenant. Notice the word everlasting. This is my covenant that God made with Abraham which was an everlasting covenant. This is the fulfillment of that covenant. And it excited me to think that through the blood God can make us complete in every good work to do his will, working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight.
Now tomorrow, God helping me, I’m going to deal with the theme of the blood. We won’t move into that today but I want you to see the sacrifice of the shedding of blood without which there can be no covenant.
Then I want you to think in these terms. In the first covenant in Genesis 15 God and Abram passed through the sacrifice into a relationship with each other. There was a different relationship between God and Abraham after that than what there had been before. Now we don’t walk through the pieces of the bodies of animals, what do we walk through? The cross. And when we walk through the cross we enter into a double covenant relationship. First with God and then with all those who have entered into the same relationship. We have to drink the cup that other people have drunk. That’s the covenant. If you refuse the cup you have no covenant. If you don’t like to drink what somebody else has drunk, you don’t have any option. You are in covenant. If you want to belong to God that’s the only way you can belong to God, it’s through the covenant.
If I can express it rightly, let me make it personal. When I walk through the cross I say to God, “I’m laying down my life. From now on I don’t belong to myself, I belong to you. I live for you. Anything you ask from me I’m obligated to give you, even if it’s my Isaac.” But, on the other hand, God has made the same commitment to me. How could I lose? Almighty God says, “I’m committed to you totally, forever, without any reservation. Anything you need that I have is yours.” Well, if you’re not willing to make that covenant you just don’t have any sense of values.
But, friends, you also make the commitment to your fellow believers. Now this is where the application is. It’s not difficult to be committed to God. Sometimes it’s very difficult to be committed to our fellow believers. See, God’s commitment is stated in many places but if you’d like to look in Romans 8:32, it says of God:
“He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
If you want to memorize a verse, that’s a good one to memorize. As the writer of Romans, Paul says if God gave Jesus, there’s nothing he will withhold. That’s a total commitment. With him, not apart from him but with him, God will also freely give us all things. That’s covenant. That’s God’s covenant commitment with every believer that passes through the cross.
But the opposite side of the covenant is, “God, I’ve yielded up everything I have. Even if need be, life itself. Whatever you claim, whatever you require, it’s yours. I hold nothing back.” So it definitely is a commitment.
I think the majority of Christians in the western world that talk about the New Testament or the New Covenant really don’t have any idea of what they’re committing themselves to. If there’s one word that’s unpopular in our current culture, it’s the word commitment. Don’t ask me to make a commitment, I want to be able to back out. When you’ve passed through death you can’t back out. That’s the ultimate.
Not only do you commit yourself to God but as I said, you are in a committed relationship with the others that have made that covenant. It doesn’t matter what race they are, it doesn’t matter what denominational label they bear, it doesn’t matter whether you like what they look like or not. You are in covenant relationship with them.
I think John expressed this pretty clearly in 1John 3:16–17.
“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us...”
What is the ultimate test and proof of love? Laying down your life. That’s New Testament love, New Covenant love. It sets a new standard for love which really hadn’t been stated before. And then it goes on in the same verse:
“...we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Why ought we to lay down our lives for the brethren? Because we’re in covenant with them. When I walk through the sacrifice I’ve laid down my life. You can’t walk through the sacrifice and retain your life.
Now, the next verse brings it down to what they call the nitty-gritty.
“But whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God dwell in him?”
So what is laying down our lives? Making ourselves available. I mean, you know, when it comes to what you own and your money, that’s where, as they say, the rubber meets the road. But that’s the nature of the New Covenant.
And that’s what the world is waiting to see, especially young people. The younger generation which is apparently nearly half the world’s population today, they’re very, very interested in commitment, in a way. They’ll commit themselves to some strange, foolish things because here’s a desire in many people, to find something to commit myself to.
I went through all the ordinances and the services of the Anglican Church and never found what I was looking for because they made things too easy for me. I didn’t know myself, but what I was looking for was something to give my life to. Now, not everybody is like that. If I can say it without getting conceited, those are the people worth having. And if we make our Christianity too easy we won’t attract the people who really could be committed people. We’ll keep them away. They’ll say, “If that’s what the church is like, I don’t want it.” Now I’m not preaching to others, I’m preaching just as much to myself.
Let’s look at a little description of this in Acts 4:32–35. That reference is not in your outline, you may want to jot it down. This is shortly after the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Other things had happened, the apostles had been challenged by the religious leaders and told not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus. They had prayed that one through until the place was shaken where they were praying and now this is the release of what came through their prayers. We better perhaps look at the prayer, it’s one of my favorite prayers. We start in Acts 4:29:
“And now Lord, look on their threats and grant to your servants, that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
That’s a very practical prayer. I want to point out to you it was prayed by the apostles. It received a supernatural endorsement of the Holy Spirit and it’s recorded in the New Testament. So you couldn’t find a more approved prayer. How many times do we ever pray it? Sometimes in our healing services I’ll challenge the people and say, “Are you willing to pray this prayer with me? Grant unto your servants, that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders might be done by the name of Jesus.” I say, “If you don’t believe it, don’t pray it. But if we believe it, let’s pray it together.” I don’t think we’ve ever prayed it without seeing God answer it.
I think, as a matter of fact, for you dear people here and I don’t want to give your name because of the video, who knows where it will end up. I think this is really the missing dimension. It’s supernatural healing. And really, it’s a most scriptural way of impacting a community. There are many other ways and I really appreciate creativity and originality but why bypass this? Those of you that come from other countries, maybe India, places in the Third World...
Let me tell you, I was born in India. I had no choice about that but I’ve never been back to India. I’ve been back to Pakistan which was then part of India. All you have to say is you’re going to pray for the sick, that’s all you need to tell them. They’ll come. And once a few people get healed, you don’t need any more publicity than that. The brief period we were in Pakistan which is a 98% Moslem nation, they put us on national television. Not for long, about two minutes. But you don’t know the way Moslems think. You can’t imagine what a breakthrough that was. And nobody disputed the miracles. They were undisputed. There were nearly as many miracles as I could have wished. There were probably 40 or 50 absolutely definite, miraculous healings. Not because we’re special people but because we did the sensible thing. To me, this is common sense.
All right, that was a by the way incidentally. But some of the things that come by the way can be helpful. Verse 31:
“When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken [God said amen to that prayer]; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit...”
They’d been filled on the day of Pentecost but this was a refilling. How many of you know we need to be refilled pretty often?
“...and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
They got more than they prayed for because they didn’t just get the miracles. Go on reading.
“Now the multitudes of that that believed were of one heart, and one soul: neither did any one say that any of the things he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.”
What’s that? Covenant.
I want to give a few safeguards before we close.
“With great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord: and great grace was upon them all.”
Without the grace of God it won’t work.
“Nor was there any one among them who lacked [that’s marvelous]: for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and they distributed to each if anyone had need.”
Now I don’t believe that’s necessarily a pattern for every situation in which the church finds itself. And I would personally have strong reservations about legalistically enforcing a situation in which that has to happen because the emphasis there is on great grace was upon them all.
But I think when we have prayed and when the grace of God is upon us, we will act like covenant brothers and sisters, whatever is appropriate in a situation.
But I want to point out also there was apostolic authority. They laid their gifts at the apostles’ feet. I just offer a little observation that was made by a brother of mine, one of my co-elders, an Indian brother, Mahesh Chavda. He said this and you can weigh it yourself. “The pastors usually say the tithes belong to the congregation, the pastors. But a pastor’s ministry, God given ministry, is to conserve things. The early church laid them at the feet of the apostles whose ministry was to reach out.” I think it makes a good deal of difference.
In our particular local church we are struggling with a lot of things but our committed aim is to have 50% of all our resources for outreach (human, financial, whatever it may be) and 50% for the congregation. And I believe that even that is a little bit under the New Testament level.
But I want to warn you don’t get manipulated into some kind of covenant community where it’s done by legalism and not by grace. Sooner or later it will blow up. There should be God appointed authority to see that things are done right. Otherwise you’ll get the freeloaders who will move in and just get supported by everybody and make no contributions. Was it Lenin who said, “From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need.” He stole that from the New Testament like a lot of other things.
But that really should be the description of a church. Let’s not talk about a covenant community, let’s just say a church. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. I tell you who are the happy Christians. The ones who are giving to their ability. There’s nothing more frustrating than to sit in church and not give anything. In the end you’ll probably stop coming to church.
Let me just give you that as a picture of the outworking of the New Covenant. I recommend you, each one of you, to consider the implications of covenant relationships with God and with your fellow believers.
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