This was prepared for our local fellowship in April 2016.
Everyone was asked to prepare by looking for everything they could find in the New Testament that was characterized as “new”. The response was excellent. This was an attempt to pull several streams together.
Making Everything New
Jesus’ triumphant statement, “Behold, I am making everything new!”, has been variously interpreted ever since the first time it was recorded, as have so many of the things he talked about.
It is certainly true that commitment to the Lord, especially for someone like me, who at that time had only recently been introduced to the life that Jesus advocated and enabled, often results in what some have called a “honeymoon phase”, where the whole world takes on a surreal sort of beauty. But all too soon, it is time to get down to the business of learning a new way of life.
There are still people and groups who insist on proclaiming a hyped-up “victory” over all problems and situations, which they attribute to their narrow definition of “faith” (auto suggestion?).
There are others who get around the difficulty of when the “magic” doesn’t work, (as well as ignoring any personal responsibility) by postponing all evidence of the “victory” until the Lord comes.
And there are all sorts of variations in between.
One major deviation of the Anabaptist movement from the “mainstream” was its determined effort to bridge the gap between the “already” and the “not yet” in their efforts at Kingdom living. This is especially true of attitudes regarding the contemporary phase of the Kingdom. They made an earnest effort to contradict the little ditty “To live above with the saints in love, Oh that will be glory!
But to live below, with the saints we know,Well, that’s a different story!”
It is precisely among the “saints below”, with all our oddities, stumblings, bruises and warts, where the “newness” of life in Christ most needs to be seen!
The writer to the Hebrews (8:13) observes, “In saying “new”, he has made the first “old”. And what is old and has been superseded, is near to disappearing!”
Even so, to examine the new situation, we have to start somewhere, and the logical place is at the “new creation” that happens whenever a person commits his life to the Lord.
I Cor.5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (or, “creation is new!”) Old things are gone, and something new has happened!”
In other places (notably the first paragraph of Romans 6), Paul uses the figure of baptism to represent death, burial and resurrection, to emphasize the same point, and in Ephesians 2:15, he expands it to include the bringing together of Jew and Gentile – formerly bitter enemies – into what he calls “one new person” – the Body of Christ!
In that Body, LIFE IS EXPECTED TO BE DIFFERENT!!! There has been a New Creation!
For many – perhaps most – of us, this doesn’t happen instantaneously. One is neither “born” nor “re-born” as a fully mature adult! We don’t expect adult behavior of our two-year-olds. That’s the perfectly reasonable impetus for all the admonitions to “grow up” into the image of Christ that appear like a refrain in so many of the New Testament letters. We’re not there yet. The direction has been set, but it will take the rest of our lives to learn to conform them to the “image of Christ”!
Unfortunately, in many groups that represent themselves as “Christian”, no change, radical or not, is expected. If a group represents itself as “welcoming” (the new codeword for “liberal”), people’s “lifestyle choices” – of whatever variety – are considered their own business, and are not to be questioned, let alone challenged or critiqued. “I won’ t mess with your choices, and you better not mess with mine”!
If, on the other hand, a group congratulates itself on its careful “faithfulness” (read, “conservative”), a simple but rigid list of rules is imposed, with very specific (and non-negotiable) requirements and prohibitions regarding both thought and behavior.
Neither of these bears the remotest resemblance to a New Creation!
Jesus’ creation of a Body, growing together into his image, stands in equally sharp contrast to both of these positions.
He spoke very deliberately of a people brought together under a New Covenant.
Probably this is picked up in the most careful detail in the letter to the Hebrews because the concept of “covenant” was such an integral part of their history and culture. But notice how this idea is treated, especially in chapter 8:6-13. Repeatedly, they are reminded that this New Covenant is “NOT LIKE the old one”, which is characterized as a total failure!
To make sense out of this concept, we first need to clarify our understanding of the idea of “covenant”. Most significantly, we need to recognize the error of the assumption that a “covenant” is or was somehow an unconditionally permanent thing! A covenant was and is a legal contract – seriously binding, after ratification, but (as is clear even in many Old Testament accounts) a breach by either party renders a contract or covenant of no effect! Subject to litigation, perhaps, but no longer binding!
There is nothing mysterious about a covenant. Employers have them. Neighborhood associations have them. Real estate or other financial deals require them. They impose responsibilities upon both parties.
A covenant is cast, historically, legally, theologically, and linguistically, in a series of “if x…then y” statements, which, grammatically, are classified as “conditional” constructions. A covenant is neither a threat nor a promise. It is a legal contract – no more and no less.
The writer of Hebrews then goes on to explain the actual historical meaning of the word translated “covenant”. In the larger society, it referred to one’s legal will, and seldom to contracts or covenants at all. (I have devoted two word studies on the web site to this subject, if you are interested). The “doctrinally” over-emphasized, ancient pagan requirement of “blood sacrifice” to seal a covenant is corrected by the simple statement that a will only takes effect after the death of the testator is certified! That topic deserves an entire study of its own, for which we don’t have time this morning. Chapters 8-10 of Hebrews elaborate on the connections between the concepts of covenant, inheritance, and the Body of Christ, which could be very helpful to our understanding. Remember that the letter to the Hebrews is pointing out differences from the old system, not ideas to be copied!
Additionally, as Paul points out in II Cor.3:6, we, the people of God, are the administrators – the executors – of that will! Executors are responsible to see that a will is carried out according to the wishes of the one who wrote it! They don’t make their own rules. They simply follow instructions. And that is our job, people! We have been appointed the executors of our Lord’s will! That is a huge – and perhaps somewhat intimidating – assignment, also calling for deeper study.
Finally, just as the Old Covenant was based upon instructions (“commandments”) relayed to the people for whom it was instituted, so is the New Covenant/ inheritance predicated upon Jesus’ New Commandment.
It would have been so much easier if he had just given us a check-list! Although that obviously had not worked under the old system.
But Jesus must have really meant what he said, since he repeated it so many times (Jn.13:34, 35; 15:12, 17). Love of – and among – the brethren is our passport – our Kingdom ID.
“If you love me, you will follow my instructions!” (Jn.14:15,21) is not a demand, but a simple statement of “cause and effect.”
Interestingly, it is right after this repeated statement that we find the inclusion of his analogy of the Vine (15:1-8). A branch MUST be connected to the vine in order to fulfill its intended purpose – bearing fruit. However, the most elementary observation reveals that branches are connected to a vine only by other branches!!! Connectedness is essential!
Actually, this is the beginning of the formation of Jesus’ people into the Body of Christ! That Body is integral to the New Creation!
Only together can such a disparate collection of people become the “demonstration project” in which the world can see Jesus’ Kingdom. A recent example of this is Shirley’s report of her neighbors’ reaction to the roofing job. Kingdom behavior was demonstrated.
Details of the composition and function of that Body are most specifically outlined in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12-14, and supplemented in Ephesians and Colossians. The lists are not identical. They address different needs, different situations. We could – and should – spend a good chunk of time exploring this aspect of Kingdom life. The common thread, which is absolutely essential, is that each member – everyone! – has a very necessary contribution to make for the formation, growth, and fruitfulness of the Body, and to enable the recognition “by all people” that we are our King’s citizens.
This is a totally new way of operating. It had never been tried before! and therefore extreme caution is required. Creation is new, but not everything represented as “new” is necessarily better. Discernment, one of the Spirit’s essential gifts to the Body through its members, is desperately needed, to distinguish between the actual leading of God and the half-baked theories of “new” ideas (Colossians 2:4-10 is an example) where some were suggesting that Jesus alone was not sufficient, and needed to be understood as just one element of an elaborate, mythological hierarchy invented by some pagan Eastern cultures; or the revisionists referenced in Galatians 1:8-9 whose legalistic, abusive and oppressive teaching threatened the faithful message of freedom in Christ. Both of these are parallel to some contemporary threats as well. Only careful discernment by a faithful Body committed to a reliable standard can evaluate whether what is represented as “new wine” that needs “new wineskins” is really from the Lord. Maybe it is – or maybe not.
This has to be why, after a long discussion of the futility and failures of the old system, the writer to the Hebrews urges (10:24-25) “Let’s concentrate on prodding each other, with love, and good deeds! Let’s don’t neglect getting together, as some have made a habit, but keep on coaching each other more and more, as you all see the Day getting nearer!”
Functioning as his New Creation – under the New Covenant – obedient to the King’s New Commandment – may we learn together to keep coaching each other into greater faithfulness!
April 24, 2016, GMF