The In-Between Years - Part 10

Series: The In-Between Years

July 05, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years - Part 10

There’s no anticipation quite like that of waiting for a baby to be born. And there’s something about the firstborn too, isn’t there? I remember the nine months of waiting for my first daughter, Abbie. It seemed like she would never get here; but when she did it went so fast. The moments leading up to and just after her birth are burned into my memory, though.

I’m not gonna lie, for a few minutes after Abbie was born the woman lying in that hospital bed wasn’t my wife, she was just the UPS driver who delivered my package. Talk about being smitten. I got to enjoy that two more times with two more beautiful daughters. And now my oldest will soon deliver our first grandchild in just a few weeks. Another little girl. I have decided not to allow myself to be so smitten this time.

We have been anticipating the birth of the church in Acts 2 ever since we began our In-Between Years series in chapter one, for nine weeks to be exact. I think that’s very appropriate. It seemed like it would never get here and here it is. So we begin chapter two with verse one…

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  Acts 2:1 (ESV) 

Before the church is officially born, we see those 120 disciples who would become the church doing what it does, gathering together. They were gathered because they wanted the fellowship but also because Jesus had commanded them to…

49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  Luke 24:49 (ESV)

The Father’s promise of power from on high is the coming of the Spirit. The role of the Spirit in the birth of the church and its life afterward cannot be overemphasized. We spent a whole sermon last week looking at that. 

That’s why they were gathered together, banking on the Father’s promise. But Luke also tells us specifically when. Pentecost. He wouldn’t have mentioned that if it wasn’t important. That’s the way Luke writes by the way. 

Pentecost. 2,000 years after the events recorded here Christianity celebrates Pentecost as the day the church was born (usually the first of June or so), but Luke wasn’t including an anachronism here, in other words, he wasn’t taking what would become a Christian holy day and writing it into this volume before the fact.

He was referring to a specific ancient Jewish celebration existing long before, known as the Feast of Weeks. On that day Jews would take the firstfruits of their grain harvest to Jerusalem and make a special offering in the Temple. By the time of Jesus it had become a big deal, with thousands of Jewish families traveling to the Holy City from all over to partake in the festivities. 

It was called Pentecost because it occurred fifty days or seven weeks after Passover, another big Jewish celebration. Thousands upon thousands would fill the city for that as well.

Jesus, you are probably aware, was crucified at Passover. Fifty days later the church was born at Pentecost. The timing for both these occasions was more than just about the city being packed with people. God has a way of weaving meaning into every aspect of a divine event.

Take the Passover. It celebrates the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage. I’m sure you know that story.  I mention it often. For 400 years God’s people suffered as Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. They cried out for deliverance, thinking God had forgotten them. But he hadn’t. He raised up Moses to be their deliverer. He went to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” Nine times Pharaoh refused and nine times God sent plagues on Egypt in response. 

The last plague, the tenth, was the worst. The firstborn of every household in Egypt would die. The Israelites were instructed to apply the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes so they’d be “passed over” by the angel of death, hence Passover. That did it. God’s people were let go and began making their way to the Promised Land.

Jesus, who was crucified at the Passover, was the one like Moses God raised up to deliver us. He was also the Lamb who was slain. When you come to God through him, his blood is applied to the doorposts of your heart, delivering you from the bondage of sin; death passes over you! The connection is unmistakable.

Pentecost was about the grain harvest but it was also associated with something else. Go back to ancient Israel’s deliverance through Moses. On their way to the Promised Land, they camped out at a place called Mt. Sinai. Look at what happened there (noting the sights and sounds for next week)…

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Exodus 19:16–20 (ESV)

While Moses was up there, God handed down the Law, the Ten Commandments. That Law signified the covenant God would make with his people through their mediator, Moses. That’s why it’s called the Mosaic covenant. The covenant was ratified between parties — God and the Israelites — through the sacrifice of animals. When animals are sacrificed their is blood.. 

8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  Exodus 24:8 (ESV)

Stay with me here. Guess when the Mt. Sinai event and the blood covenant ratification would have most likely happened? Somewhere around fifty days after that original Passover. That’s why, by the time of Jesus, the Jews had begun associating the Feast of Weeks with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. It “became a covenant renewal festival and a celebration of God giving the law.”[1] You might say it was an Exodus 24:8 party.

So the church was born at Pentecost, a celebration that highlighted the giving of the Law, the Mosaic covenant made with the blood of sacrificed animals.

Okay. Now, go with me to Luke’s first volume were he records what we have come to call the Last Supper, the last time Jesus and the disciples dined together. It happened the night Jesus was arrested…

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”  Luke 22:7–8 (ESV)

See, Jesus was crucified at the Passover. Listen closely to what Jesus says during dinner that night…

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  Luke 22:14–20 (ESV)

Let’s reread that last verse. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Of course, Jesus is talking about the crucifixion, which would happen a few hours later. Jesus’ blood ratifies the new covenant. What must the old covenant have been? The Mosaic covenant. 

The old covenant of the Law given through Moses affirmed the Israelites’ special, covenantal relationship with God. Forgiveness for breaking the Law was provided through the regular blood sacrifice of animals.

The new covenant of grace through Jesus affirmed a special, covenantal relationship with God for anyone who would come to him by faith and repentance. Forgiveness was provided once for all through the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. The Apostle John wrote…

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17 (ESV) 

Once again, the parallels here are unmistakable. The timing of the crucifixion and the birth of the church are no accident.

Now let me stop and follow a rabbit trail for a minute. Many people hear this and think, “Oh, now I get it. Jesus’ new covenant of grace replaces the old covenant of law. The new covenant wipes out the old. God doesn’t hold me accountable for the Ten Commandments anymore!”

Hang on. If you don’t read read John 1:17 with 16 you might get the idea John is contrasting one with the other in a that way…

16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:1617 (ESV)

Grace upon grace. John is saying the law given through Moses was God’s grace just as much as what was given through Jesus. That’s right. The Law was a sign of God’s grace too.

The apostle Paul makes a big case for the Law’s continuing value in Romans…

4 So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. 5 When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. 7 Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.”  Romans 7:47 (NLT) 

There’s an old saying I use all the time when preaching, “You got to get a fellow lost before you can get him saved.” In other words, if someone doesn’t realize they need saving, they can’t be saved.

Paul says in that text God was gracious in giving us the Law so we could see the sinfulness of sin and the need to be saved! 

Now listen to what Jesus said about the law…

17 “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. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:17–20 (ESV)

Does that sound like the Law has been wiped out or done away with? No. In fact, Jesus says people will be held accountable for the Law down to the dotting of every “i” and the crossing of every “t.” He said that only those whose righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees would be part of his kingdom. Do you know what the Pharisees were famous for? Keeping God’s Law.

This would be bad if not for what Jesus said in verse 17…

17 “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.  Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

This is huge! Tim Keller explains why…

Here it is. One of the most important statements in all of the Bible to help you understand the overall point of the Bible. How do you fulfill a law…? There are two ways to fulfill a law. You either keep it or you pay the penalty. There’s a law that says you must stop at the stop sign in New York City. If you’re in an automobile and you come to a stop sign, you have to stop before proceeding.

There are two ways to fulfill that law. One is you stop. The other is you go through, get a ticket, and you pay the ticket. You pay the fine. Either way, you fulfilled the law. It has no more claim on you. It cannot condemn you. Right? If you obey the law or you pay the penalty of the law, either way it can now no longer condemn you. You fulfilled it.

But what about Jesus? The law of God … is a life of complete love, complete justice, complete integrity, and complete peace, and Jesus Christ comes to earth and in our place fulfills it twice. How? First of all, he fulfills it by living it, by obeying it…

Not only that, he doesn’t just obey the rules; he fulfills all the exemplars. Abraham and Moses and Joseph and David … They are great examples, but they were flawed. You see that in their lives, but Jesus is the ultimate Abraham. He’s the ultimate Joseph. He’s the ultimate faithful One. He’s the ultimate Moses. He’s the ultimate David, the ultimate King, and he fulfills it completely, but that’s not all he does.

He doesn’t just fulfill the Law by obeying it. Then he fulfills the Law on top of that by paying the penalty. What is so crucial to see is if he only paid the penalty (if your and my punishment went onto his shoulders and he paid it), that would mean only that your past is atoned for. When you believe in him, you are pardoned, but now it’s up to you to live a good life if you’re going to get to heaven.

He doesn’t do that. He not only takes our punishment and fulfills the Law once; he fulfills the Law twice. He’s lived that perfect life, and he has earned the blessings of salvation. What that means is when you believe in him, you get the reward (the regard of God) due to a perfectly obedient person.[2]

Conclusion: So the law of the old covenant wasn’t thrown out, it was fulfilled by Jesus who offers us a relationship with God through the new covenant. One theologian describes the new covenant this way:

The new covenant, made by God with his people, was ratified at the cross of Christ, secures the gift of the Spirit, transforms hearts, and brings to completion the entire divine plan of redemption.[3] 

The new covenant in Jesus was God’s ultimate plan from before the beginning of time.

Now off the rabbit trail and back on our message today as we close.

Who were God’s people under the old covenant in Moses? The Israelites. Who are God’s people under the new covenant in Jesus? Christians. And Christians make up the church. The ekklesia. The called-out ones.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they (the 120 men and women who make up the church at its birth) were all together in one place.  Acts 2:1 (ESV)

How incredibly fitting to time the church’s birth under the new covenant in Jesus with Pentecost, a celebration of the old covenant in Moses. Grace upon grace. God wastes no opportunity to display his glory, doesn’t he?

I know what you’re thinking:

I thought we got to see the church’s birth today?

Did I mention at the beginning of my message that Abbie was about a week late? That happens with births sometimes. We’ll have a front row seat in the delivery room next week.

Until I want you to think about what we’ve talked about today. Being in a special covenant relationship with God. Jesus has made the way for you and me to be a part of his forever family.

He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. He fulfilled all of the law its letter and penalty on our behalf and he offers that to us like a gift when we come to God through him by faith and repentance. 

This is why the Bible says, God promises, all those who call on his name will be saved.

[1] Roberts, R. D. (2016). Pentecost. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[3] Collins, B. (2018). The New Covenant. In M. Ward, J. Parks, B. Ellis, & T. Hains (Eds.), Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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