Christmas Coptic Articles Index
The Glorious Feast of Nativity:
The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ marks the beginning of a New Covenant
between God and man, a covenant previously and purposefully foreshadowed and
prepared for by a prior covenant.
In order to understand and appreciate the New Covenant that God has instituted with humanity, it is necessary to take a close look at the old one.
The Old Covenant was between God and Israel "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you" (Genesis 17:7). The New Covenant, however, is established between God and any person who will receive the Son of God "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12,13).
The Old Covenant was temporary, and conditioned upon the Israelites’ obedience of the law. God foretold to Moses that this covenant would not last but would soon be broken, "this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them" (Deut 31:16,17). On the other hand, the New Covenant is designed for eternal life; and will thus last forever. St. Paul says, "The God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant …" (Heb 13:20,21).
In the Old Covenant, there was no hope of eternal life for a person who broke any of the prescribed laws. In that sense, the law could not bring salvation nor justify anyone. All it could do was teach people the need for salvation by a Savior and by His grace granted henceforth. In contrast, in the New Testament, we are justified and sanctified by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The ceremony of the Old Covenant included the slaughter of a heifer, a goat,
a ram, a dove, and a young pigeon. After that Abraham cut the carcasses in
half, and then at sunset only God walked the blood path between the two
pieces of the carcasses (Genesis 15). Usually both parties of the Covenant
would walk the blood path between the slaughtered animals as a symbol of
what would happen to either party if they violated the terms of the
agreement. It is interesting to note that with Abraham, only God walked the
blood path to indicate that if Abraham or his descendants dishonored the
covenant, God and only God would have to pay the price with His own blood.
The New Covenant has been established not by the slaughter of animals but by the slaughter of the Son of God on the holy wood of the Cross, after having walked the blood path Himself. "Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes" (Isaiah 63:2-3).
The old law revolved around a system of animal sacrifices performed by chosen priests from the tribe of Levi. These Levitical priests had to make an offering for their own sins before they could offer sacrifices on behalf of anyone else. It is important to note that, there were many priests, who because of their sins and consequent spiritual death were prevented from continually offering the sacrifice. On the other hand, in the New Covenant our Mediator is a High Priest who being sinless, offered His own blood (for our forgiveness) for us and brought His sacrifice to Heaven itself as the only perfect offering to God. Because He has been raised from the dead, His perfect priesthood continues forever (Heb 7:23,24).
While the Old Covenant was written on two tablets of stone, the New Covenant is an Internal Covenant written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us "I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts" (Heb 8:10).
We knew sin through the Law "the Old Covenant" (Rom 7:7-11) and with the Law, there was no forgiveness but curse and wrath. However, through the New Covenant we have received the forgiveness of our sins: "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Heb 8:12).
The Old Covenant revealed the holiness of God in the righteous standard of the Mosaic Law and promised the coming of the Redeemer, but the New Covenant has shown the holiness of God in the righteousness of His Son.
The Old Covenant became obsolete with the appearance of the New Covenant which is eternal: "When He said, ’A New Covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear" (Heb 8:13).
From the above comparison between the old and new covenants, it is obvious that the New Covenant is a much better one because it establishes a new and better relationship between God and man… As St Paul says, "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the New covenant" (Heb9:15) because "… now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second" (Heb 8:6,7).
Through His incarnation, our Lord Jesus Christ became a Mediator of the New Covenant that was foreseen by Jeremiah the prophet, "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31: 31-34).
St. John Chrysostom explains the meaning of a Mediator, "What is a 'Mediator'? A mediator is not lord of the thing of which he is mediator, but the thing belongs to one person, and the mediator is another: as for instance, the mediator of a marriage is not the bridegroom, but one who aids him who is about to be married. So then also here: The Son became Mediator between the Father and us. The Father willed not to leave us this inheritance, but was wroth against us, and was displeased with us as being estranged from Him; He accordingly became Mediator between us and Him, and prevailed with Him."
The New Covenant has been instituted by the blood of the Lamb, "In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, this cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" (1Cor 11:25). St. John Chrysostom elaborates, "But they were not sprinkled with "scarlet wool," nor yet "with hyssop." Why was this? Because the cleansing was not bodily but spiritual, and the blood was spiritual. How? It flowed not from the body of irrational animals, but from the Body prepared by the Spirit. With this blood not Moses but Christ sprinkled us, through the word which was spoken; "This is the blood of the New Testament, for the remission of sins." This word, instead of hyssop, having been dipped in the blood, sprinkles all. And there indeed the body was cleansed outwardly, for the purifying was bodily; but here, since the purifying is spiritual, it enters into the soul, and cleanses it, not being simply sprinkled over, but gushing forth in our souls. The initiated understand what is said. And in their case indeed one sprinkled just the surface; but he who was sprinkled washed it off again; for surely he did not go about continually stained with blood. But in the case of the soul it is not so, but the blood is mixed with its very substance, making it vigorous and pure, and leading it to the very unapproachable beauty."
Let us praise the Lord with the angels for His birth and the establishment of the New Covenant saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."
May the Glorious Feast of the Nativity bless us and alert us to rededicate our hearts and lives to the New Covenant with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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