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THE IMPERFECT AND
THE PERFECT COVENANT

A SERMON DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
15 MARCH 1998

Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
<flh@all-creatures.org>

SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:

Amos 6:4-8; 9:13-15
Matthew 5:17
Hebrews 8:1-13

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Have you ever wondered why some denominations eliminate the eating of meat and other indulgences during Lent, or at other times?

It's a way of purifying the body.

It's a way of eliminating our indulgences.

It's considered a way of saying to God, "I am purifying myself for you.  I am eliminating that which is imperfect in my life that I may become more perfect in your sight."

If this is the message that these denominations and these people are trying to convey, then why do this only at certain times of the year?  Why not do it every day?

We don't, because we still want our indulgences.

Listen to what Amos prophesied to the Israelites some 700 years before Jesus' incarnation (6:4-8).

4    You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.

5    You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.


6    You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.


7    Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.


8    The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself-- the LORD God Almighty declares: "I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it."
(NIV)

These people were self-indulgent.

They cared only about themselves and their own pleasures.

They didn't care about anyone or anything else.

In essence, they are saying, "If someone has to suffer for my pleasure, what's that to me."

And this is really why God is so angry.

Now, before we go on, let's look at what Amos prophesies about what will happen when God restores His perfect covenant (9:13-15).

13    "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.

14    I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.


15    I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God.
(NIV)

Note specifically that during the  period of the prophecy of the restoration that the Israelites will be farmers of plants, only.  They will have abundant harvests.

And, there is no mention of the raising of animals, let alone the eating of them.

This is because the eating of animals is considered a self-indulgent act, for it says that the life of the animal is unimportant when compared to the pleasures of humans.

And one day God will put an end to this cruelty, but how much better if we would eliminate all such self-indulgences, now.

Think about something: are we doing what God wants us to do, now, or are we trying to get God to conform to our ways of life, as we saw last week in relationship to Abraham's covenant of grace?

If we move ahead in our Bibles to Hebrews 8, we see an even better explanation of the imperfect and perfect covenants.

1    The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,

2    and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.


3    Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.


4    If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.

Thus far we're talking about the comparison between the priesthood of Jesus Christ and that of the Levitical priests.

5    They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."

That which was perfect was that which was heavenly.

That which was earthly was but a copy, and thus imperfect, which applies to both the tabernacle and the priesthood, as we are told next.

6    But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.

What Amos was telling us is the same kind of thing.

This life upon earth is filled with imperfections and even evil, as with the self-indulgent people, who lack any sensitivity or compassion.

What is to come in the future will once again be perfect.

But in the meantime, we can make a better copy, for what we have now doesn't look anything like what is to come.

7    For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.

Our problem today is that for the most part we aren't even acknowledging there is something wrong.

We seem to think that the ever-increasing hardness of heart in our society is natural, and "just the way things are".

8    But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

And I truly believe that God is finding fault with the Christian Church, today, for the same reasons that He found fault with Israel.

And we don't seem to be listening any better than Israel was then.

Israel had to be destroyed before she began to listen.

We don't even seem to want that new covenant with the Lord our God.

We seem to cherish our own imperfections, and even flaunt them before God.

But the new covenant is coming for all those who have a soft and compassionate heart, and who will accept it.

9    It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

10    This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.


11    No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.


12    For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."


13    By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
(NIV)

When Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law and not abolish it (Matthew 5:17), He was referring to just this.

He was making the imperfect Law, by which no one could earn his or her way into heaven, perfect, with the perfect Law of grace, by which all believers could enter the kingdom of heaven.

Our problem as a society is that we behave as though we believe neither the imperfect Law of works nor the perfect Law of grace.

We behave as though we believe only in the here and now and in everything we can get for ourselves.

Unless we learn to surrender our will to God, very soon, we, like Israel, may find ourselves losing everything.

And remember, God's timing is not ours.

Even though it took several hundred years until Israel received her punishment, it doesn't necessarily mean we will get very much more time to repent and change our ways.

We need to really take time to think and pray about the way we live before God, and about the hardness of heart that is so wide-spread in the world around us.

Amen?

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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