Throughout history, there've been lots of theories about how to make a better world. Some politicians seem to think we can make a better society by instituting better government programs. The Soviet Union used to boast about how they were building a “new man.” Every religion out there has a new set of rules or a new program to follow to make you a better person.
They’re all missing the point, and this is best illustrated by one of my favorite Bible-based movies of all time: The Prince of Egypt. Produced by Steven Spielberg, it presents in awe-inspiring detail the story of Moses as told in the book of Exodus. It goes through the parting of the Red Sea and the devastation of Egypt’s army. For the most part, it’s either faithful to the Scriptures or at least doesn’t contradict them, and its depiction of his first encounter with the Lord at the burning bush sent chills up my spine. I had one major problem with it, however. The final scene shows Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in his arms. He returns to the Hebrews, and they are all staring up at him in awe, eagerly waiting for the word from God that he’s about to give them.
Is that what really happened? Um, no. Quite the opposite. When he came down from the mountain, he found them in a sexual orgy as they worshiped a Golden Calf. That’s right: God hadn't even finished giving the Ten Commandments to us before we broke them. I understand why Spielberg wouldn’t want to show that in an animated movie for kids, but his depiction of what occurred when humanity received the Ten Commandments is not just deceptive: It illustrates the fundamental difference between how all religions view our problem/solution and how the Bible views it.
You see, as far as the world is concerned, all we need are the right set of rules. These set of rules don’t work, so let’s try another set of rules. No, those don’t work either, but surely these will do the job! Friend, if all we needed were the right set of rules, then the Torah would have succeeded long ago. I mean, really—Do you think we’re going to come up with a better set of rules than that? As Paul put it, “[If] a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law,” referring to the Old Covenant.
Is the problem with the Torah? Of course not. Again, as Paul said, “[The] law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” In this one case, the “rules” were given directly by God himself. Today’s passage gives both the problem we have and the solution he offers. Let’s look at it.
The Lord here promises that one day he'd make a new covenant with the house of Israel (and with all humanity). This wouldn't be like the old covenant, which was instituted at Mt. Sinai. Why would he make a new covenant? Why would there be a need for a new one? The simple answer is found in vs. 32: “They broke my covenant.” The problem was—and is—us.
We failed. We rebelled. We wouldn’t listen.
So he promised a new covenant, a new contract, a new formal agreement. What would be the characteristics of this?
First, there would be the contrast in what’s being written upon. The first covenant was written on stone. It was permanent and unchangeable. It was a wonderful set of rules. But just because a law is written down in the books, that doesn’t mean people will keep it. The speed limit laws are on the books, but anyone driving on the highway can see how closely followed that is. But what if. . . the government could make you want to follow the speed limit?
That the difference. That’s what the Lord is talking about here. Instead of just telling us not to steal, he can change our hearts so that we don’t want to steal. He places within us a desire to obey and please him.
That’s one of the works of the Spirit. Yes, I still sin and fail. But he’s written his word on my heart, and I want to please him. I don’t want to grieve him anymore.
We’ll save the second characteristic until tomorrow.
Holy Spirit of Truth, thank you for writing your word on my heart. You do what only you can. No one else can change me from the inside-out. Please keep it up.