Sunday, July 17, 2011

Makings of a Covenant: The Robe

Although it seems like another lifetime ago, I remember the advent of reality television, when shows like American Choppers or The Bachelor were the exception rather than the rule. As a people-watcher by nature, I was captivated by the first four seasons of Survivor, which presented a snapshot of society's inner workings, albeit in its own hyper-edited way. Even though the two tribes were stripped down to bare necessities, the same dynamics of civilized society existed, showing who people really are when no one is looking (or everyone, in this case).

The concept of tribal alliances was the most interesting, how often those playing the game would give their word to one alliance only to walk behind a shrub in the next clip and whisper an alliance with yet another group of people, one cancelling the other for personal gain.

In one of the finale episodes, one of the women said, "I was just playing the game." Sure--just a game.

How many times have I heard that same concept in another personal or professional context? "It's just business." Such a concept sounds nice, an easier way to swallow a morally unsound action that sticks like a fish bone in our throat because in another context, we would readily agree it doesn't fit well with what Christians believe.

In the B.C. world of the Old Testament, men and women understood what it meant to give their word, to make an oath with another. Although, like us, their actions didn't always reflect adherence to this understanding, ancient societies revolved around the concept of covenant.

Covenant--a solemn, binding agreement--was enforceable irrespective of the passage of time, beyond death in some instances. Even if man didn't enforce a covenant made in God's name, God would serve as that Sovereign covenant administrator.

Throughout the Old Testament, examples abound of covenants. Many were marked by the sacrificing of animals, blood being key to a covenant. Reminders accompanied most as well, such as the placing of rocks, changing of names, planting of trees, giving of gifts. One was marked by a rainbow.

Probably one of the most well-known covenants existed between King Saul's son Jonathan and David. Scripture says, "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt" (1 Sam. 18:1b, 3-4).

The foundation for this covenant was love. The physical reminders of the covenant included (1) a robe, (2) armor, (3) sword, (4) bow, and (5) belt.

Over the next few weeks, I want to camp on this covenant, exploring these five gifts as symbols that foreshadow their ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant made through Christ Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

Through these symbols of David's covenant with the son of a king, one can see how much Christians truly gain by entering into the new covenant with the Almighty King...a covenant also established because of Christ's love for us.

Imagine Jonathan standing before David offering these gifts of covenant. David would have taken off his robe, the robe of a shepherd, one likely well-worn and pungent, perhaps even torn by jagged rocks on the hillside where he pastured his father's sheep or stained with the blood of wild animals he had slain to defend the flock. This was not a robe to be worn by a king or a prince.

Jonathan's robe, on the other hand, would have reflected his regal status, been made of finer materials, unmarked by signs of manual labor. With this robe hanging from David's shoulders, everyone would know he was a friend of the King's son, that to make an enemy of David was to make an enemy of royalty.

Fast forward to The New Testament where Scripture refers to Christians as "servants of a new covenant," a better covenant entered into by the blood of the once-for-all-time sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who serves as "mediator of a new covenant" so that those who believe in Him will "receive the promise of an eternal inheritance" (2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 9:15).

When one enters into this new covenant with God, he takes off his old self to "put on" Jesus Christ Himself: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

Several times, the apostle Paul exhorts his readers using this symbolic language, reminding the believers to "lay aside" their old robes of flesh and "put on" the new robes of Christ.

To the Romans, he writes, " Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light....But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh" (Rom. 13:12-14).

To the Colossians, he says, "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Col. 3:8-10, my italics).

And to the Ephesians, he says, "lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:22-24).

Just imagine! If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, you wear the robe of a King! Christ clothes you, enrobes you, with His righteousness and salvation.

What's more, when we as Christians lay aside our old flesh and put on the person of Christ, the whole world should be able to tell. There can be no secret robe-wearing of righteousness.

To wear the robe of Christ as part of our entering into covenant with Him--it is cause for rejoicing, as did the prophet Isaiah.

"I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness" (Is. 61:10).

Photo: "Clothed in Christ" by Tom DuBois

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