I have heard people say that Jehovah (Yahweh, the I AM) – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the Old Testament – is an angry god. And to prove it they will cite Laws given to Moses and tell you that no civilized man today would consider those statutes just. But if that were a logical argument, how come Jesus did not reach the same conclusion?
Charlie Olsen, the gentleman who introduced me to Jail Ministry, used to tell the incarcerated men in our services that God’s plan of Salvation was not a “cafeteria plan”, where you get to pick and choose what to believe or not believe. It is all or nothing.
And the reason is that if this is the God who invented the Universe, and who gave us the ability to think, He is, among other things, absolutely self-consistent. He invented Truth; He cannot lie. He will not contradict Himself.
This is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us:
Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Which means that anyone that claims to believe in the love and kindness of Jesus’ teachings but then turns around and rejects the Laws of God (say, for instance, by violating ‘Thou shalt not murder’), puts himself in a precarious position. As a minimum that person is being self-contradictory; or else is being deceived. Didn’t Jesus mean what He said in Matthew 5:17-20?
God gave us the ability to reason so we would understand Him
I have said many times that every person in the world is capable of understanding the Word of God. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take thinking about it. Everything in this world takes effort; especially grasping the Truth, because we live in a fallen world. We are exposed 24 hours a day to a multiplicity of voices vying for our attention and our devotion. Many of those are bent on our destruction. But if we stop, listen, think, and ask the questions, we will find the Truth.
Therefore, if you and I have read the story of Jesus, and we find that it is his love that draws us toward Him, if we believe that to be True, then we owe it to ourselves – in the name of Truth and self-consistency – to deal with those other things in the Word that we find difficult.
Jesus has given us no other choice. That is the only way we will come to really know Him.
Did God change His mind from the Old to the New Testament?
That is the question before us. Jesus already said He did not come to invalidate the Old Covenant. But then why was a new one needed? If it wasn’t a change of mind, why does it feel so different? Because it is.
But God had already told us this New Covenant was coming:
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV) “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jesus quoted from this passage and others like it to emphasize the Truth that God speaks to this day; and that today His voice can be heard by anyone willing to listen. John 6:45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.
And that is where the difference is: Once the New Covenant was inaugurated, any person in the world, every person, can hear God’s voice. And Jesus’ death on the cross was to be the guarantee:
John 16:7-11 (NIV) But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
The universal presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our world is the means by which that promise of the New Covenant is carried out. The reason there is no contradiction and no invalidation of the Old Covenant is because the New One is its natural continuation. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains it this way, as he cites the same passage:
Hebrews 8:7-8,13 (NASB) For if that first covenant had been free of fault, no circumstances would have been sought for a second. For in finding fault with them (the people), He says… (citing Jeremiah 31:31-34)… In His saying, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear.
There has always been only One Plan of Salvation. The Old Covenant was designed to eventually become obsolete. But not because there was something wrong with it. The writer to the Hebrews makes this point perfectly clear: The problem with the Old was not with the covenant, it was with the people.
The Law was a covenant, a contract, between God and us. God kept his part. The Law was and ever remains Just. But we broke our part. This is why the Old Covenant was designed to become obsolete. God knew we would break it. And so, He declared that there would come a time when the people of God, and the rest of the whole world, would be forced to acknowledge that humanity cannot save itself. And when that time came, God Himself would intervene.
There comes a time when we all face the grim reality that we author our own destruction; when we realize that we do not have the strength to overthrow the greed of our own self-love.
It said so there in John 16:7-11: Jesus’ promised Holy Spirit, not only opens our ears to hear the Voice of God. In so hearing, our eyes are opened to recognize the utter reality of sin in our lives. “He (The Spirit) will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”
This is a complete reversal of the curse that led to the fall of mankind.
Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked with God. They knew Him, they understood Him. But there was someone else there that hated them and lied to them. Who told them that if they ate from the fruit of the tree of all that can be known about good and evil, their eyes would be opened and they would be like God.
It was all a lie. Instead of their eyes being opened to what mattered, to what they already had with God, they became spiritually blind and deaf and senseless. Instead of becoming like God, eternal and free to choose the goodness of His Kingdom, they became slaves bound to the will of darkness and destruction.
But how can a creature created in the image of God bear living that way? We can’t. It is a self-contradiction. The good that we want to do, we cannot do; and the evil we wish we would reject, that we do (Romans 7:14-23). There is only one mechanism that keeps us going in that state: A callus, as hard as stone, starts growing on our hearts… numbing us to the miserable reality. And then the liar keeps lying to us.
The only One that can reverse this curse is God. And Moses told us so, long ago:
Deuteronomy 30:6 (NIV) The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
God Himself cuts away the callus of stone, and give us again hearts that can love the way they were made to love in the first place. And then He opens our eyes and our ears so that we can see Him and follow His Word. The Living God intervenes and does it all.
Christianity is not a philosophy; otherwise, you could pick and choose what to accept and what to reject. But the choice to believe in Jesus and follow Jesus is not just an action of the intellect, it is an action of the spirit, and it has spiritual, supernatural consequences. When God performs that operation on your heart – as Moses says – something is taken away and it is replaced by the Spirit of Jesus.
It is God who saves us from the consequences of our sins. We live only by His Mercy. And it has been that way from the beginning.
Justice is black and white
If we are going to complain that God changes His mind, we have to start from the very beginning. Because we know that God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate of that fruit, they would surely die. Yet, after they ate of the fruit, they didn’t die! Not that day. They lived hundreds of years after that. Did God change His mind?
The literal construction of that phrase in Hebrew, that is often translated as “surely die” is: “dying you shall die.” It is used as a judicial decree. In other words, it is a declaration: Death is what Justice requires. And that is what the enemy was counting on: Humanity, God’s new created race – made a little lower than the angels, yet given the awesome responsibility to manage physical creation – would be ended before it ever got a chance to get started.
Justice is black and white. Do the crime, pay the price.
Adam and Eve sinned. They knew the commandment, and they willingly, purposefully broke it. They deserved death, and Justice guaranteed that they would pay that price. But what the enemy did not count on was that God – who knew all this was going to happen – had already set a parallel plan in motion. He reserved the right to decree the date of that death.
And so, God pushed that day off into the future, far enough that He could use that time to teach them about the life they had just precipitated onto themselves; far enough to teach them how there was something more powerful than sin, something that could cover it and bind it, something called sacrifice; far enough to give them the time to start the family of man, so that from that family could come One who by His own sacrifice would do away with sin forever.
That is the power of Mercy.
Justice is black and white. It has very little leeway. Its options, most of the time, are constrained to either or. But Mercy… Mercy has access to all the colors of the spectrum. Mercy always finds a way. Because Mercy is the color of Love.