New covenant replaces the old one

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

Let me tell you about a meeting that took place in a church office in Belfast at the turn of the century.

There was a prophet who plied his trade 2,600 years ago; an apostle who wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to the early churches around 60 AD, most of them preserved in what we now call the New Testament; a serial protester who is alive and well; and a mystical character, who drifted in and out of the meeting.

It was one of those rare occasions when it occurred to the protester that there might be deeper truths in the Bible than those stored up in the libraries and lecture theatres of the Whitfield Bible College. He did most of the talking.

An observer couldn’t fail to notice the surprise and sadness in the faces of the prophet and the apostle as he spelt out his beliefs about the law of Moses, and in particular, the importance of observing the Lord’s Day.

‘There’s so much you seem not to comprehend,’ the apostle told the protester. Two thousand years ago, I wrote that the day had already come when the laws that are so central to your church had passed away. And yet... what were you doing outside that old building in Belfast last week?’

‘And the banner you carried,’ chipped in the prophet. ‘It said something about keeping the Sabbath Day holy. What did you mean by that?’

‘The Fourth Commandment!’ proclaimed the protester indignantly. ‘Remember the Sabbath Day... are you saying we should disregard it?’

‘It has already been rendered obsolete,’ said the apostle, hardly able to believe what he had just heard. ‘I said so in my letter to the early Hebrews; “When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date”.’

‘You don’t know what the people in my church are like,’ complained the protester. ‘If I don’t control them, there’s no telling what they’ll end up doing!’ ‘Why would you want to control people for whom I gave my life to set free?” asked one who had just joined them. ‘Haven’t you read what the apostle wrote to people like you in the early church in Galatia, about the law being like a schoolmaster until I came?’

Said the protester: ‘If my people think they’re free, they might not come back to church!’

‘The Christians in Colosse were beginning to sound like that,’ continued the apostle. ‘They were being controlled by their leaders and I had to tell them, “Don’t let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to religious festivals or Sabbath days.” Haven’t you read that one either?’

‘We were never taught that one in college, but surely we can’t be that free, can we?’ asked the protester.

‘My son,’ said the one who had just joined them, ‘today you have heard truths you’ve never thought possible. From this day, you must preach the good news of freedom. Remind your people that everything changed when I came. Tell them that those who allow me to set free, are truly free.’ Sadly, the protester wasn’t listening. The words of the Messiah were drowned out by the rustling of pages in his big black Bible.