Is God’s Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?

covenant_gold

According to the late Ray Dillard, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, one of the great themes of the Bible is the question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional.

It is this question and this tension which drives the Old Testament.

There are places where it seems that God says to his people: “It’s conditional. You have to obey me.  I’m a holy God. I can have nothing to do with sin. If you want to be accepted by me, or have a relationship with me, then you have to obey me.”

There are other places where it seems that God is saying: “No matter what you do, I am going to be faithful to you. I will be there, I won’t give up on you, I will save you.”

So which is it?

In a way, you could say that the entire Old Testament is one big plot thickening, in which the big question is: Can we have a relationship with God? And if so: is our relationship with him conditional or unconditional? Is it that we have to fulfill something, or is it that he loves us no matter what?

So what’s the answer?

The answer is actually not found in the Old Testament. It it when we get to the cross of Calvary that the answer is revealed.

The answer is… YES.

It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

The covenant with God is BOTH conditional and unconditional.

In the death of Jesus on the cross you find that you have to take both the conditions of the covenant and the unconditional nature of God’s love seriously at the same time.

Jesus satisfied the conditions of the covenant on our behalf so that God could accept us and love us unconditionally.

 

The King’s Crown

…and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
– Matthew 27:29

Today is Good Friday, the day on which some 2000 years ago Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a Roman cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus wore a crown of thorns?

Clearly, the Roman soldiers put it on his head to mock him.  Jesus had been hailed “King of the Jews”,  so the Romans considered him an insurrectionist.

But there is a deeper meaning.

Back in Genesis chapter 3, we read about what happened when sin entered the world. When by their rebellion and disobedience to his commands, people first told God, “we don’t trust you and we don’t want you – we know better than you what is best for us” – as sin entered into the world, it brought with it a curse: the curse of death.

This curse affected all of creation, and amongst the various effects of this curse, we read:

cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you
– Genesis 3:18

Do you see the symbolism of the crown of thorns?  Thorns, the symbol of the curse of sin and death, were placed upon Jesus’ head because on the cross Jesus was taking our curse upon himself, so that we might be set free from it.

He hung on a wooden cross. Why? Because in his death, he was taking our curse – the curse of sin and death – upon himself.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
– Galatians 3:13

In the same way, the crown of thorns symbolized our curse, which Jesus took upon himself on the cross, so we could be redeemed.

Have a wonderful Good Friday, reflecting on the fact that “It is Finished!”
And don’t forget: Sunday is coming…