Covenant Ceremony

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him…

…When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land…

Genesis 15:7-12, 17-18

God promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:1-6), and then promised him land. Abram wanted some kind of sign, some kind of covenant contract to assuage his own insecurities about the promise of land. So God entered into a covenant ceremony, guaranteeing that God’s word will come to pass.

The idea with this ceremony was that a cow, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, were cut in half with a little pathway down the middle between the pieces. Then a dove was placed on one side and a pigeon on the other side next to the halved animals. The expectation was that whoever walked between the pieces of animals was saying, “If I break our covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” And, of course, we expect Abram to be the one to walk between them.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, God put Abram in a trance-like state and delivered a prophetic word to him filled with declarations about the future. Then, when the sun had set, the Presence of the Lord–taking the form of fire–passed between the pieces. Instead of making Abram engage in the covenant ceremony, God Himself makes Himself vulnerable and puts His own life on the line for the sake of His covenant with Abram.

And we would see God do the same thing through Jesus as He established the New Covenant. One way to look at Jesus sacrificing Himself on the cross is that He was fulfilling this oath to Abram as He ended the Old Covenant. He was ending the Old Covenant to establish the New. But since He promised never to end the Old Covenant except on penalty of death, He fulfills His own promise, His own word, in Jesus on the cross.

Jesus on the cross not only fulfilled the Old Covenant in about 15 different ways, but it started the New Covenant. It was once again God making Himself vulnerable, putting His life on the line, in a covenant ceremony. Rather than making us engage in the new covenant ceremony, He did it for us. Jesus passed between life and death and came out on the other side into the newness of resurrection life. Our job now is simply to believe the Lord and have it be credited to us as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

One final thing to notice about this covenant ceremony with Abram is the birds of prey that Abram had to drive away. I wonder if this is what Jesus had in His mind when He told about the seed along the path in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:4). Jesus later interprets the parable to the disciples and tells them that the birds represent when “the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart” (Matthew 13:19).

I believe these birds of prey represent the same thing with Abram. I believe they foreshadow what the enemy is always trying to do when God is establishing His relationship with people. Right before the covenant is ratified, the enemy comes to try to disrupt the process. And he must be driven away.

Least in the Kingdom

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

Matthew 11:11

Let this sink in!

Jesus was saying that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of the old covenant. John alone had the unique privilege of preparing the way for the Messiah. The great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel could only prophesy about the coming Messiah. John the Baptist actually got to usher in the Messiah. And like the rest of the prophets (and some of the kings) of the old covenant, the Holy Spirit rested upon him.

Yet, Jesus declares, even the least in the new covenant is greater than John the Baptist. Those of us who have entered this new covenant by putting our faith in Jesus have the unbelievable privilege of having the Spirit dwell within us and rest upon us. We have the breath of God within us and the wind of God blowing through us. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are indwelled with the Presence of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). As the Body of Christ on earth, we are clothed with the power of God (Luke 24:49). We have the unique privilege of being so empowered by the Spirit of God that we actually get to do the ministry of Jesus on the earth (1 John 4:17).

After Jesus sent out the 72, they came back talking about the miracles they had witnessed. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name‘”(Luke 10:17). And after some instruction, Jesus turns to His disciples and says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it“(Luke 10:23-24).

All the great men and women of the Old Testament longed to see what we see, hear what we hear, know what we know, and experience what we experience. They would have loved to have access to the indwelling Holy Spirit. They would have loved to walk in the delegated authority of the Messiah as we do. They would have loved to be named the “ambassadors of Christ” on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). They would have loved to be conduits of God’s miracles as we are.

Every single believer in Jesus now has access to the authority necessary to cast out demons. Every single believer now has access to the power, through the Holy Spirit, to see healings and miracles (John 14:12). Every single believer now has access to prophetic gifting (1 Corinthians 14:1) and the other miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Every single believer now has access to the unlimited grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

With access to all of this authority, all of this power, all of this gifting, all of this grace, what are we doing with it? What would the great men and women of the Old Testament say about our lives as Christians today? We have been given everything they longed for! What are we doing with it?

As a follower of Jesus, what you have access to in Christ and through the Holy Spirit is greater than the greatest prophet of the Old Testament!

Are you experiencing all that you have access to in the new covenant?

New Wineskins

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:16-17

Jesus was doing a new thing, bringing a new covenant, and it needed a new paradigm in order to hold it. Jesus teaches His disciples that if a new thing (new cloth, new wine) is forced into an old paradigm (old garment, old wineskin) not only will it not work, but it will actually cause damage.

We don’t relate to Jesus through the old covenant paradigm. Jesus is not just a new Moses, teaching new understandings about the Law. Jesus was ushering in a completely new paradigm. In the new covenant, we are filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18) and are made new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1).

This same principle is true for when God does a new thing in your life. About 5 years ago God began to disrupt my life with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in my life. Then about 3 and a half years ago I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that many would call a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Having not been raised in a Christian tradition that talked about or experienced such things, I was experiencing new wine.

Yet, God had been preparing new wineskins–new paradigms of understanding–before He gave me the new wine. I didn’t understand what was happening when I went through it, but the Lord spent a year and a half renewing my mind with a new wineskin before He ever poured out new wine.

I see now that had He given me the new wine first, there could have been real damage done. I was already experiencing a lot of disruption in my life because of all the changes that were happening with the new wineskin. Had the wine come too early, it would have done some serious damage and the wine would have just run out. When the new wine finally came, there was new wineskin to hold it and not burst.

So often, before we can encounter the Lord in a new and fresh way, He will have to take us through a process of renewing our mind (Romans 12:2) which causes us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”(Proverbs 3:5). He creates new wineskins in our heart and mind before He pours out the new wine. This process is not only necessary for individuals but also for whole churches who want to experience God in a new and fresh way.

Do you want new wine?

Even now, do you sense the Lord creating new wineskins in you?