The Newer (Covenant) Is Always Better
O perfect and holy Savior, Jesus Christ, if we were to be held accountable for all the sin in our lives, we would surely be lost forever. However, You came into the world to redeem sinners and for that we are forever grateful! Be with us this day as we study Your holy Word and Your mission of salvation. Amen.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Holy Spirit is prophesying concerning the many signs and wonders that Jesus would perform while on earth. These miracles brought the humble joy, yet they brought the terrible to nothing.
Here we find the words of Isaiah being fulfilled. Jesus shows His love for all of mankind by healing this deaf and mute Gentile. May we always remember as well to extend our mission field beyond those we feel comfortable with.
4And we have such trust through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. 11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
Dear Friends in Christ, Fellow Redeemed!
I would like to begin this morning by speaking to you about a common fallacy, that is a common mistaken belief. Philosophers call it the “appeal to novelty” argument. Basically it makes the case that an idea or a proposal or a product is better only because it is newer.
If you think about it, you can see it all over the place in our world. How many people need to have the newest iphone or technological gadget every single year? Every year new styles and fashions come about and leave the old styles and fashions outdated and obsolete. It seems every day you have to upgrade the software on your computer so that your system is more reliable. If you want to lose weight, your best bet is to follow the latest dieting craze. If your sports team is failing, the best thing you can do is fire the old coach and get a new coach.
Just because something is new, doesn’t automatically mean that it is better. In order for a new idea or product to be better it has to be more effective than the previous version and it has to withstand the test of time.
In this section of II Corinthians Paul is really giving us a product review. The two products are the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Letter and the Spirit. The ministry of Condemnation and the ministry of Righteousness. The Passing glory and the Eternal glory. Paul’s conclusion is this: The New Covenant is Always Better.
I. The Letter vs. the Spirit
Before we go any farther we need to define some terms. When Paul here uses the term “letter,” he is talking about the law--the first of the two great teachings of the Bible. The letter, that is the law, is the old covenant. The old covenant was a deal made between God and the children of Israel through Moses.
In about 4 chapters in the book of Exodus we read of the laws that the children of Israel were to keep. Then in chapter 24 we read that Moses, “took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, 'All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient'" (Exodus 24:7).
Of course, did the children of Israel keep up their side of the bargain with God? No. They were sinners. They couldn’t perfectly keep God’s law any more than we can. And that is where the old covenant comes up short.
We are, of course, not saying that God’s law is bad. Paul says in the book of Romans, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). The truth is that we need the law. We need something or someone to point out the sin in our lives.
If you look out at the world, you can see what happens when people lose any sort of moral foundation. The only person who decides what is right and good for me is me. A recent survey showed that only 37% of people under the age of 30 believe that people should always do what is right. 43% said people should balance what is right and what is best for them and 15% said people should always do what is best for them.
In our world of secularism and humanism that is exactly what we would expect to see. Without the absolute authority and truth of the Law given by God in the Bible, that is how people will naturally behave.
The law is good. The letter is good. In a sinful world we need rules to keep from sinking into chaos. But the law does come up short. It comes up short in that it does not offer a solution to all the times when the law is broken. Through the law the Lord says, “You shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).
The law all by itself can result in only two possible outcomes. Either we become Pharisaical in believing that we have perfectly kept God’s law, which of course no one can, so really we’d be living a lie. Or we fall into the desperate realization that we cannot hope to keep God’s law and that there is no way we ever can so we might as well crawl into a hole and die.
But the Lord didn’t leave us to wallow in our failure to keep His law. The Lord set up the new covenant in order to rescue us from all of our transgressions. When you see new covenant and spirit in this section think “gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Now we should be clear that even though the words covenant and testament mean the same thing, we should not think that the Old Testament is all law and the New Testament is all Gospel. Throughout the Old Testament promises of the coming Messiah and His new covenant were made. All the way back in the garden of Eden God gave the first Gospel promise saying, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15)
The Lord also prophesied of this new covenant through the prophet Jeremiah saying, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
That is the new covenant that Christ brought when He went to the cross and shed His blood for you and for me. The new covenant that we celebrate every time we receive the forgiveness of sins through the Lord’s supper that Christ instituted saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Through this new covenant we are now no longer sinners who only break God’s perfect law, rather we are made holy and righteous in His sight.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the new covenant. We read His words in John 6: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). As good and right as the letter of the law is, it cannot accomplish anything for our salvation.
Think of it in terms of our school here. In a perfect world we would have no need of a rulebook. All of our students would be respectful and loving toward each other and their teachers. They would keep all of the nonexistent rules out of a spirit of peace and love. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? We live in a sinful world that needs rules.
In the same way, God didn’t originally have to give Adam and Eve a whole long list of rules, commandments, and obligations. They naturally obeyed Him in their perfect state. Even in this sinful world we live in our motivation to keep God’s law is not “do it or else.” Rather, it is the spirit, not the letter. It is the gospel that motivates us to obey our God, not the law.
II. Condemnation vs. Righteousness
What a wonder that God entrusted the responsibility of sharing this wonderful message with the world to us sinful beings! We are ministers of the new covenant. We are ministers of righteousness. That is a great trust that God is putting in us. We should ask the question then with Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Who is sufficient to correctly divide law and gospel? Who is sufficient to know when a person needs the law applied to them and when a person needs the gospel applied? The answer is not from within any of us. Paul answers his own question saying, "Our sufficiency is from God." And thank God it is!
If we did not have the ministry of righteousness from God all we would have is just what all the other religions of the world have, because we are not sufficient in and of ourselves. Mankind, on his own, sets up a set of rules, regulations, and laws that need to be obeyed. Think about every other religion in the world. Every single one has a list of commandments and rules that you need to keep in order to please God.
Every religion in the world, except for Christianity is a “do” religion. Every other religion is about the things that you do for God. All of these religions end up being ministries of condemnation because no one can ever hope to perfectly keep any set of rules or laws.
Only Christianity is a “done” religion. That is not focused on what you are supposed to do for God, but rather on what God has done for you. Our sufficiency is not of ourselves. It is not about us. So often we want to make everything about us. But it is not. Salvation and life is all about God and the gift that He gave us in offering up the life of His Son on the cross for us.
The ministry of righteousness is beyond anything that any human being could come up with. We read in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:9,10)
There is a natural knowledge of God in the world. Simply looking around at nature, staring up at a night sky, studying the wonders of creation, it is obvious that there is a creator. But it is only through the means of grace that we can find out about our Savior, Jesus Christ. The gospel found in the Bible, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s supper are the chosen means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring people to faith.
That is how God chooses to reveal Himself to us and that is why He is our sufficiency as we proclaim the Word of God to others. If it were up to us to come up with a message to turn the hearts of people to God, we would end up like all the other religions of the world and come up with sets of laws. But God gives us His precious word to preach.
Yes, His Word has the good, holy, perfect law in it. But after the law convicts, the gospel of Jesus Christ is ready to move in to comfort those afflicted hearts. So as long as we are preaching God’s law and gospel as it is found in Holy Scripture, we are allowing Him to speak to people and to be our sufficiency.
III. Passing Glory vs. Eternal Glory
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the laws of God written on tablets, he came down with a glow. Not a simple blush, but a bright glow that made the children of Israel so uncomfortable when they looked at him they asked him to wear a veil. This glow was a reflection of the glory of God that Moses saw up on Mount Sinai. Now eventually this reflection began to fade.
This is the account that Paul is referring to when in verse 7 he says, “But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away.”
There is a certain amount of glory here on earth when the law is kept. A child is considered well-behaved if they do their chores and listen to their parents. An upstanding citizen is someone who obeys the country’s laws. A soldier who follows orders in battle is awarded with ribbons and medals. Students are rewarded with good grades when they get their homework done correctly and on time. Workers are promoted when they do their job efficiently and correctly.
But all of these glories really do fade, don’t they? They last for a while and maybe people will even remember your accomplishments for a while after you die, but eventually, just like the glow on Moses’ face, they will be forgotten.
True glory, eternal glory is only found in the ministry of righteousness, in the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because His glory will last forever.
Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
The glory of Christ is the gospel of Christ. Christ’s perfect life that He lived on our behalf, Christ’s sacrificial death that took the place of you and me, Christ’s resurrection that secured our justification. All of it is the glory of Christ and all of it will be the reason why we give Him praise and glory throughout eternity in heaven.
And that really is our ultimate purpose of being here on earth--to share the ministry of righteousness, to share the Redeemer of the world with others, to share the faith in Jesus Christ that is found in your heart, given to you by God with everyone in the world.
Newer is always better? That certainly is not the case all of the time in our world. But when it comes to the old and new covenant, we have to agree with the apostle Paul. The spirit is better than the letter. The ministry of righteousness is better than the ministry of condemnation. Eternal glory is better than passing glory.
The newer covenant is always better! Amen!
Pastor Joe Naumann