Have you ever watched the movie “Stand By Me”? It is my favorite movie of all time1 and it is basically a feel-good movie about growing up with your best friends. The irony is it is based on a short story by Stephen King, of all people, who is not really known for his charming heartwarming novellas about growing up with your pals and the eventual and hurtful loss of your old school age chums that you just grow up from, move away from, or lose touch with over the years. Still, this movie remains my favorite for a reason. When I was 14 years old and my family was breaking up, it was hard for me to face the reality that I was going to lose my best friends, forever. I had known them all my life. I am not great at making friends, and I already had way too much loss in my life. I needed to feel some control, some ability to forge my own reality. So, on our last fishing outing together, I promised my friends I’d be back after lunch. But I knew I was moving away, literally, that day. I knew I would go home, get in a truck, and drive away forever. And I did just exactly that. I never went back. They waited for me, for who knows how long, but I never showed up.
Have you ever made a promise you have not kept? We all have, it’s human nature. God’s people are no different. Israel made a promise. It was a promise there was no way they could keep! It was a promise made at the base of Mount Sinai
The problem is, they promised the impossible. Does God really expect us to keep a promise we had no business making to him in the first place? Our forefathers promised a 100% obedience to the law of Sinai but they promised something that was beyond their ability; they promised something that would only lead to full fledge legalism, and ergo they would miss the whole point of the Law.
The whole story of the Old Testament is a testament to the fact that man cannot keep the commandments of God in man’s own might. Yes, God wants the law to be kept, it is after all His express will for the whole universe, yet God unlike us humans is not deluded about the abilities of fallen human nature. God knows that if this job is going to be finished, it is going to be with an ability that surpasses humanity.
But I want you to understand this, the first covenant with all its laws, ceremonies, and the sacrificial system was God’s way of seeking to help Israel keep the impossible. Since God knew they could not keep their promise on their own, He sought every way possible to aide them. Perhaps they were like another movie in that they were on to the “Mission Impossible!” The more God tried to help the more they in action said, “Thank you for the ritual, but we got this!”
In fact, that whole system was to lead the whole nation of Israel to the TRUE LAMB OF GOD; the true source of victory, and the true power of God yet all they saw was ritual, deed, action, and self-cleaning.
You see it is by JESUS, alone, that we will have victory.
Is there victory over Sin? Yes! But that victory is only found in the Cross, and only found because of Jesus and the things He did; not us and the things we do.
They promised at the base of Mount Sinai, but God wanted to live in the hearts of His people. But they thought they could do it alone. They went on a solo mission that was not God’s intention.
The whole sanctuary service and system with all its services, rituals, and festivals, was set up to lead Israel to Jesus!
Jesus – Who is our Promise
Jesus– Who is our Power
Jesus – Who is the Answer
Jesus – Who is the Might of God
Jesus– Who is the Way
Jesus– Who is the Truth
Jesus– Who is Life.
Jesus- Who is better than all their Human effort!
But Israel missed the boat! They missed the meaning because they missed Jesus! Understand that missing Jesus is always –Disaster! The story of the Old Testament is Israel failing, going it alone, while God is calling them to get on board. Throughout the old covenant, God kept calling, calling, and calling, them to Jesus. Jesus is better, Jesus is better, come to Jesus… The reality is, you can’t keep going it alone and making it work. Israel would not enter into the rest of Jesus (Hebrews 4) and thus they rejected the Messiah.
Look at the way the author of Hebrews puts it:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.2
What is his point?
Jesus is better!
No fault or no blame
The old had been replaced? Why, because the Law was bad? No, the problem was not the Law but rather that the people sought to misuse it. They did not keep their promise. Because like me, at age 14, when my family was in shambles, they simply did not have the ability to keep their promise. How dare I promise my friends I’d be back when no matter how much i wanted it to be true, I knew it was beyond my ability for I would no longer live there! Israel could no more go back to Sinai and keep the Law perfectly than I could return to a fishing pond years after the fact when all were no longer there.
Jesus Paid It All!
The purpose of God’s law, God’s instruction, God’s sanctuary system is not to perfect us … but to lead us to perfection (Jesus). I like to tell people new to the faith, and we spell things differently at the foot of the cross!
Do you know how to spell Perfection? J.E.S.U.S
Do you know how to spell Victory? J.E.S.U.S
Do you know how to spell Overcomer? J.E.S.U.S
Do you know how to spell Forgiven? J.E.S.U.S
Do you know how to spell Character? J.E.S.U.S
Are you getting the point yet? Jesus is better!
“For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.”3
Jesus brings victory on a whole new level. Jesus changes the name of the game. Jesus makes a New Promise, a new deal, a new way, that does not in the least undo the Law, but rather, changes the doer of the Law and on whom he/she depends. It is no longer me trying to keep a promise I just can’t keep, it is Jesus in me healing me, and building me into a more whole and holy being; even down to my very “desire” level!
I want to tell you, and I want to affirm to you that I believe in Victory over sin. I believe in having my character changed. I believe in transformation. I believe in being a new creature in Christ. Oh, the joy! Yes, the sweet, sweet joy, of knowing, I believe, I don’t have to stay in my sins! Oh, the power, and confidence I find in knowing I don’t have to lay and play victim to my own sin. It does not hold me, because it cannot hold me captive, for it is not me it now faces, but Jesus, in my heart, and Jesus in my mind! Oh yes, once it could defeat me, but it can’t even get close to Him!
In contrast, I remember once I was visiting a former church of mine with a group of students I was mentoring, when to my horror, an older lady got up in front of the Sabbath School, and told the people with all sincerity and self- deluded belief, “I am 6 days without sin! I mean it. I have no sin, in any way at all, in the past 6 days, and I stand before you to testify, it is possible to stand before a Holy God without sin and you, too, can do it. You really can if you just try hard like I did, you can be perfect!” But here is the problem with perfectionism it is easy to tear down. Suddenly a hand went up from a young person I was mentoring and he simply said, “Dear sister, six days without sin is massive. I am impressed but I am sorry that you had to stand up and brag about your perfection because you were a shoo-in for the 7th day until you did!”
Legalism is a funny thing, in that we always want us to go home to it. Legalism for most of us is the faith of our immature years. We can’t go back to legalism anymore then we can go back to preferring diapers and baby bottles over toilets and solid food. Our intent may have been good when we once practiced it but we look just plain silly now when we do it. Legalism is like that old friend from your childhood you never really said goodbye to. There is just that nagging feeling of unfinished business that sends you back for a quick visit every now and then. It is like we want to go back and keep our childhood promise to legalism to fulfill our commitment to be its friend forever.
So, is that our problem, “I never had any friends like the one called legalism, does anyone?” My answer is “Yes, Jesus is a better friend than Legalism.” Some promises are best unkept. Break your friendship off with your childhood immature faith, Ol’ buddy, Legalism and make a new one with Jesus today! He is that best friend of all ages! We don’t need childish things, we need Jesus. I’ll break my promise to be good, but only because Jesus, kept it for me, and declares me good already. How can I do, what was already done? The New Covenant is a matter of heart and mind, let your heart and mind be fixed on Jesus, and stop being so immature as thinking you can keep promises of ignorance. When Jesus keeps the law in you, He keeps to His expectations, not yours, and He is what matters. Let Jesus be your new promise, and new best friend, don’t keep Him waiting as you run away to move. Jesus is better!—