In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages; (Isaiah 49:8)
It’s fascinating how many signs God has provided for His people through the ages. We only have to look at through the Bible to see that each time God covenanted with His people, He provided some kind of a sign. Think for a moment of the Exodus, when God covenanted to go with the people of Israel through the wilderness. The sign was the pillar of fire at night and the cloud during the day. When He covenanted with Abraham, the sign was the stars in the sky. There are too many others to mention them individually, but it’s a worthwhile study.
One that particularly stands out is His covenant with Noah after the flood, confirmed forever by the appearance of a rainbow. While all God’s covenant signs have relevant truth for any believer, Noah’s story is a very strong type of salvation. Just as he and his family were saved by the Ark, the type of Christ and salvation, so we are saved if we remain ‘in Christ.’ The analogy is very clear, and it stands out because it pertains particularly to sin and judgement. This covenant points us directly to the covenant contained in today’s verse – that in which Christ is promised.
One particular phrase stands out: I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages; Noah’s covenant related to God’s promise not to destroy the earth with water ever again. Here, however, the covenant is expanded to include restoration, a transformation of that which is desolate. God covenants to first be merciful, to provide the answer to His own justice. Then He covenants grace – while mercy entails Him holding back, grace entails Him giving out. Noah’s covenant is mercy based. This covenant includes both mercy and grace.
What is especially remarkable is the sign of the covenant: Christ Himself. As Christians, we use the cross to identify ourselves and to remind us of His sacrifice, but how often do we stop to consider that Christ Himself is the sign of the faithfulness of His covenant? What makes this so remarkable is God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18
By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.
There, in the very beginning of the Old Testament, is the pre-echo of this vast, all-sufficient promise. God swears by Himself, because He is the only thing that is holy. In swearing by His own holiness, He renders the covenant complete, a ‘done deal.’ The parallel of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son is enormously significant, because that is the very basis of God’s covenant is His own Son. Our heavenly father gives a covenant that is, like Himself, holy and therefore unbreakable, and then proceeds to give His own Son as the eternal sign that it was, is and will forever stand.
In Christ is the mercy of God, the giving of Himself to save a lost and fallen world. But He also manifests the grace of God, taking us beyond mercy and forgiveness of sin to restoration and manifold blessings. What is truly astonishing in this, however, is that the covenant will never be broken by God. He made the covenant with all the earth before any of us even considered our sinfulness. The covenant itself is unshakeable. It stands, whether or not we choose to respond and enter into it. It’s a holy, sacred thing, and His faithfullness to it cannot be shaken by our acceptance or rejection of it.
That is the covenant from God’s side. The tragedy lies in our not entering in. In simple terms, it’s rather like a prisoner being given freedom, pardon and a mansion, car, new family and everything they could ask for, and not being willing to accept it. While He may remain faithful to His covenant, He will never force it on us. We have free choice in the matter, but the moment anyone calls on the name of the Lord in faith and repentance, the full terms of the covenant click in and His faithfulness will see it through. If we turn away, the covenant remains, but we cannot expect its benefits.
We should never forget the magnitude and awesome implications of the covenant of salvation. Neither, however, should we forget that every covenant God made involved sacrifice in one form or another. That is our side of the covenant – a willingness to sacrifice our fleshly selves and become ‘living sacrifices.’ We cannot escape this part of the covenant. I will be your God, and you will be My people. A covenant is, by its very nature, a mutual agreement between two parties. Jesus has already fulfilled the covenant, representing the Trinity. Jesus is both the sacrifice and the sign.
The reality is that we receive the benefits of the covenant in direct proportion to our willingness to partake in it. We may receive salvation, but are we willing to set everything else in second place to Christ? Are we willing to live our lives in submission and obedience to His Word, His Spirit and His will, or are we still holding on to self and expecting God to do His part while we compromise on ours?
Lord, we thank You for Your mercy and Your grace, for the completeness of Your covenant, and for the assurance that it will remain forever. Help us to understand our part, that we don’t take You for granted, but live in thankfulness and joy as living sacrifices, partakers of both Your many blessings and Your life which You gave so willingly for our sakes.