Weary & Hopeful, The Covenant with Israel

Text: Exodus 2:23-25

Main Point: Jesus came to give the weary rest.

Merry Christmas! Why are we so tired?

Maybe you are tired because you are following in the footsteps of Martin Luther. Do you know the story of that great German reformer of the 16th century? Before he understood grace and the gospel he was wearing himself out trying to obey God and win God’s favor. Luther was constantly worried that he had done something wrong and then after confessing it he was afraid he hadn’t confessed good enough. Luther was never good enough no matter how hard he tried. He was weary trying to obey God. Maybe that’s you. I get that way sometimes.

Today I want to show you how the covenant with Israel addresses our weariness. The covenant with Israel is often called the Mosaic covenant because it was delivered to the people through Moses. The covenant with Israel is also called the old covenant because it is obsolete and passing away.

I want to begin in Exodus 2 and transition from the promises made in the covenant with Abraham to their fulfillment in the covenant with Israel. Let’s look together at Exodus 2:23-25.

I. We are slaves

Why do the same the temptations keep hounding us? Why do we want the things we want? Why do we do the things we do? Part of the answer is slavery.

  • Abraham’s offspring were slaves in Egypt (Gen 15:13)

It is important to understand that the story of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt is the fulfillment of the promise to make Abraham into a great nation. Joshua leading the conquest of the Promised Land is the fulfillment of the promise to give Abraham’s offspring the land. But before fulfillment came slavery.

Fundamentally, to be a slave is to be the property of another. As a slave, you do not have the freedom to rest. Instead, you are required to work and always obey the will of your master. The Exodus from Egypt secured freedom for Abraham’s offspring. Look there on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his chariots drowned by judgment. What do you see? You see a great nation. God’s sons, once slaves, are now a free and great nation. The sons of Abraham are free to worship, rest, and serve God.

What’s the connection and how do we have hope?

  • We have hope because Jesus came to set us free

Jesus’ Exodus from Egypt, recorded in Matthew 2:15, began his work of securing freedom from slavery to sin for Abraham’s offspring. Listen to what Jesus says in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Romans 6&7).

Before Jesus sets us free by giving us new hearts with new desires, we are slaves to our old hearts and old desires. Before Jesus sets us free by giving us the Holy Spirit, we are slaves to our appetites. Jesus sets us free by giving us new desires and new power to obey those new desires.

Let’s be clear that God’s definition of freedom and the world’s definition of freedom are not the same things. The world defines freedom as the unhindered ability to do whatever you desire to do. The world says you must be free to be whatever you want to be and be with whom ever you want to be with. Erotic freedom or sexual freedom rules our culture.  God defines freedom as the unhindered ability to be and do what God originally made man and woman to do. Inside our Creator’s good and loving boundaries we have freedom to enjoy life no longer slaves of our culture or our selfish appetites. The human living in rebellion is like a fish trying to live on land. You can try all you want but in the end the freedom will kill you. The fish is constrained to live in the water. The water is the fish’s freedom.

Tim Keller writes, “Disciplines and constraints liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities…In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions” (The Reason for God). A fish is only free in the water.

We have hope because Jesus came to set us free from our appetites and from our culture so we can enjoy all that God made us to be. We are now set free from slavery to sin. We have power to say no and power to enjoy the good. This freedom gives us hope and

  • We anticipate the day when we are free from the influence of sin and temptation

We are free from slavery to sin, but we are not free from the influence of sin. Christian, go walk around the mall, a grocery store, or a gun shop and you will quickly find that you are not free from the influence of sin and temptation. You will find something to covet! In particular, you may envy the person who is not in the mall, grocery store, or gun shop!

To think you can go through a day without being influenced by sin or tempted toward some sin is to set yourself up for failure. Today we will be tempted but we have the power to say no to the destructive and we have power to enjoy that which is good. In light of this struggle,  to be Christian is to set your hope on the return of Christ. We are headed to a renewed earth where we are made perfect like Christ and no sources of sin, temptation, or uncleaness are allowed (1 John 3:2; Rev 21). Now we are free from slavery to sin. Then we will be free from the influence of sin. That day will bring the fullness of joy. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

One reason we are weary is because of slavery to sin. We are also weary because

II. We are trying to earn our way to God

One of the common misunderstandings about the Old Covenant is that God gave his people the law so that they could earn their way to heaven. It is normal today for some to think the Old Covenant teaches salvation by works and the New Covenant teaches salvation by grace, like there are two different ways to be saved. This is not true.

Now, what is confusing is there have always been people who think they can earn their way to God and there have always been people who think they can obey the law given by Moses and be restored to God. People have genuinely and passionately believed this idea, but they have always been weary. Here is the clear and biblical truth

  • No one can be justified by works of the law (Rom 3:20)

It is a misunderstanding of God’s purposes to read the covenant with Israel as if God was giving them a way to become his people. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 7. I want to read verses 6-11 as we ask the question, “Do the Hebrews become God’s people by obeying the law? Do they earn their way, or deserve their way, into the covenant?” (Read Deuteronomy 7:6-11)

Hold onto this because its important. The Hebrews became God’s people because of God’s gracious choosing. The Hebrews became God’s people because of God’s gracious covenant with Abraham. The Hebrews did not deserve to become the people of God; it was an act of sovereign mercy. The law was then given in order to preserve the people of God. The law was given to protect the people of God and keep them distinct from the rebellious and godless nations that surrounded them.

No one has ever been able to be restored to God by keeping the law. No one can be justified by works of the law.

So, maybe you are weary today because you know you don’t measure up but you are dead set on getting there. Your number one goal in life is to do enough to be worthy. Your grades are an attempt to prove your worth and make your parents or your peers proud. Your work is an attempt to earn enough or accomplish enough so your parents or peers will be proud. Your morality, your bible reading, your family life, and your church attendance are all an attempt to impress God so that just maybe he will love you. Lies!

God loves you and accepts you and makes you his own because of his sovereign mercy, not because of your worth or works. Here is our hope

  • We are justified by Jesus

Jesus lived for us, died for us, and rose again for us

Where do we go? What are our two favorite verses? 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 3:18. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

It is Christ’s righteousness that restores us to God; he lived for us. It is Christ’s death that restores us to God; he was delivered up for our trespasses. It is Christ’s life that restores us to God; he was raised for our justification. The Hebrews in Moses’ day looked away from their works and trusted in the God who is merciful to forgive. They looked to the coming One pictured in the sacrifices and promised to Adam. We look away from our works and trust in the God who is merciful to forgive. We have the full picture. This is the gospel: it is through Christ, and not our works, that we are restored to God.

So, what was the purpose of the law? The law exposes sin so that we turn away from ourselves and turn to God and his mercy. The law preserved the Hebrew people so that God’s promise of a seed and a son and a savior-king would be fulfilled through the offspring of Abraham. The law kept the Hebrews distinct from the unbelieving nations and holy unto the Lord. The law showed them how to live as the people of God. The law did not make them the people of God; God’s sovereign mercy made them his people.

They hoped in the coming One. We believe in the One who has come and is coming again. This is our anticipation

  • Jesus is coming again for us (John 14:3)

Listen to Jesus, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be.” Jesus has not left us as orphans. Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit and his unstoppable promise of his soon return. We have not arrived at heaven on earth. We cannot arrive at heaven on earth. Heaven on earth is coming with Christ at the return of Christ when he brings us into the fullness of the presence of God. We anticipate that day and we use the law lawfully.

So, what is the purpose of the law? The covenant with Israel was given as a temporary covenant that would preserve the people until the coming of the Messiah. Spend some time in Hebrews 8. Hebrews 8 unpacks the temporary nature of the covenant with Israel.

Now that the fullness of time has come, and Christ has been born under the law and fulfilled the law we need to think carefully about the law. Today I simply want to give you a biblical way of thinking. Those aspects of the covenant with Israel that kept Israel distinct until the coming of Christ and those aspects of the covenant with Israel that provided a means of forgiveness until the coming of Christ are no longer authoritative. Those aspects of the covenant with Israel that explain how we are to live as the people of God until Jesus’ return remain authoritative. Now listen, the New Testament apostles get to make this decision you don’t. The sacrifices and the ceremonies have passed away because they are fulfilled in Christ. Those were shadows. Christ is the blazing sun.

What about the moral law? The moral law, understood in light of Christ, protects and preserves us until the return of Christ. Through discipleship we learn how to obey the law. We learn how to obey all that Jesus commanded. We must learn to use the law correctly or it will make us weary. We need discipleship. May your weariness today point you to Christ and with his righteousness may you find rest. By his Spirit may you find strength to obey.

Here is another source of weariness

III. We are not yet in the land of rest

Now, all the covenants have signs or symbols that represent the promise of the covenant. What is the sign for the covenant with creation, the covenant through Noah? The Noahic covenant sign is the rainbow. What is the covenant sign for the covenant with Abraham? The Abrahamic covenant sign is circumcision because it is all about offspring. Now, the Covenant with Israel or the Mosaic Covenant, what is its sign? The sign for the covenant with Israel is the Sabbath. Now, the Sabbath didn’t begin in the days of Moses anymore than the rainbow began in the days of Noah. But the Sabbath is picked up and infused with greater meaning.

Listen to Exodus 31:13, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.”

The Sabbaths were rest from work, rest in the land, and rest in the presence of God as the people of God. Here is the problem

  • Joshua did not give them rest (Heb 4:8-11)

Concerning that first generation who left Egypt, they rebelled against God and God swore in his wrath, “They shall not enter my rest” (Heb 4:3; Ps 95:11). The law was for that generation a means of cursing and not blessing. They refused to obey God. Well, what about the next generation under Joshua’s leadership? They conquered Jericho and the land and experienced peace.

Hebrews 4:8-11, “if Joshua has given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

Joshua didn’t give them rest. David and Solomon didn’t give them rest. They all point forward to a Sabbath rest that is still to come. They point forward to Christ. Here is our hope

  • Jesus gives us rest (Mt 11:28)

I have already pointed you here concerning our weariness and law, Matthew 11:28. Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus came because the law cannot give us rest. The law is powerless to give us rest. The law can expose our sin so that we turn to Christ. The law can preserve us so that we don’t return to the ways of the world. But the law cannot secure rest. Try to get rest by obeying enough and doing enough and it will crush you. We need Jesus if we hope to rest. Jesus gives what Joshua and the law and a sword can never give. Jesus gives us rest.

Think of Zacchaeus working hard to make enough money to get enough stuff to finally rest. Money cannot give you rest. Zacchaeus found his rest in the forgiveness and love of Christ. Think of the woman caught in adultery. She thought she could find rest in the arms of a man. She found forgiveness and love and rest in Christ. Think of Nicodemus and Saul and Luther working hard to keep the law and be good enough and find rest. The law cannot justify. Those men found their rest in the love and forgiveness and strength of Christ.

How about you? Oh soul are you weary and troubled? Jesus invites you today to admit what you are doing. Get honest about the ways you are trying to find rest and acceptance apart from God. And ask Jesus to give you rest. Ask Jesus to forgive you and teach you and strengthen you.

Jesus has fulfilled the law. Jesus has paid for your sins. Jesus has conquered death. Jesus stands ready today to give you life. Believe and anticipate.

  • We anticipate our coming rest

We anticipate death as entering into rest. Listen to Revelation 14:13, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follows them.’”

Hebrews 4:11 commands us Christians, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” We have rest now, rest today, concerning justification. We don’t labor or work to make ourselves right with God. Jesus is our hope. Jesus brings us to God. And we are looking forward to the day when we are free from the influence of sin. We are striving forward toward death and heaven and rest and resurrection.

How do we strive? We strive with the word. Hebrews 4:12 goes on to say, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

That first generation of Hebrews failed to find rest because of unbelief. They refused to listen to the word of God that would teach them to depend on God’s mercy and stay away from sin. They fell because they didn’t have faith. The word of God is full of warnings and encouragement that we need as we strive toward heaven. The word of God is powerful and if we submit to it, it will expose those desires that left unchecked will lure us away from rest. We read our bibles every day because we are tempted every day. We read our bibles every day because we desperately want to know how to trust Christ and enter God’s coming rest.

God help us to hear from Jesus and find our rest.

Prayer- Father, you are the Great Physician. Use the word we have heard to lovingly cut us open and expose the disease within our hearts and minds. Show us our slavery to sin, to anger, to fear, to greed, to lust, and to bitterness. Teach us how to trust Christ who came to set us free. Show us the ridiculous ways we are trying to impress you. Teach us that you love us and have already made us your own. Give us the freedom of loving service. Thrill us with the prospect of perfect rest with you. Fill our struggles with sin and our experience of pain with the promise of eternal life with you. Use us to bring hope and life and encouragement to our brothers and sisters. Give us boldness as we go out to win the lost. Cause us to shine like lights and glorify you.

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