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TEXT: I Corinthians 16:22
SUBJECT: New Covenant Curses
Deuteronomy 28 has got to be the most sobering chapter in the Old Testament. It was first preached on the other side of the Jordan River, as Israel neared the Promised Land. When the land was settled, it was re-read every year, with the blessings pronounced on Mount Gerazim and the curses on Mount Ebal.
The whole nation had to be present at the annual meetings because every member of the Twelve Tribes was responsible to God. Every man, woman, and child must be loyal to the Covenant. If they were, they would receive the blessings of this chapter. If they were not, its curses would fall on them.
THE SAD HISTORY OF ISRAEL
If you know your history, you know what happened. The People were usually disloyal to God, and--after much patience and pleading--the punishments were meted out. The Lord is good and generous and eager to forgive, but He's no fool and He will not be mocked!
The curses came in stages, with each being more severe than the one before it. In the Book of Judges, the people strayed from the Lord several times, and each time, they were sold into captivity to the Moabites, to the Canaanites, to the Midianites, to the Philistines, and so on.
Many years later, when Israel preferred the golden calves to the Lord, the Lord sold the Northern Kingdom to the Assyrians who carried them from their homes and repopulated that part of the country with foreigners, thus mixing up the national identity.
Some years later, when the sins of Judah topped the sins of Israel, God had their temple burned to the ground and the people sent into Babylonian exile. Though some returned after seventy years, most didn't, and this became the greatest disaster in the history of Israel...to that point.
Finally, some five hundred years after coming home from exile, Israel reached an all-time low. They crucified the Son of God, and were punished for their sins as no people ever have been or will be. The Temple was destroyed, the people were slaughtered, and the country formerly known as Israel was wiped off the face of the map. Just as God said they would be in Deuteronomy 28.
THE NEW COVENANT
On that day, in 70 AD, the curses of the Old Covenant were spent and the thing itself became obsolete. The People of God are no longer subject to the Old Covenant, its laws, promises, or penalties, but live Under a New and Better Covenant, a Covenant with a better Mediator, better laws, and better promises.
The mediator of the Old Covenant was Moses; the Mediator of the New Covenant is Christ, and the disparity between the two men is that of servant and Son.
The laws of the Old Covenant were written on Tables of Stone; the Laws of the New Covenant are written on our hearts.
The promises of the Old Covenant were a long life on a good land; the Promises of the New Covenant are Eternal Life in a Better, that is, a Heavenly Country!
The Blessings of the New Covenant cannot be exaggerated. Charles Wesley was a learned man, a gifted preacher, and an immortal composer of hymns, but even he was stumped at the wonders of the New Covenant--
O, for a thousand tongues to sing,
my great Redeemer's praise.
THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE NEW COVENANT
The New Covenant is all of God's making and all of His doing. It was not bargained for, it was freely given. And the blessings it promises are guaranteed because they don't depend on our faithfulness to God but on Christ's! Was He faithful? No one was humbler than our Lord Jesus, less given to boasting than He, and He said--
I do always those things that please Him.
Of course, a good man can be mistaken. Was Jesus? He wasn't! At His baptism, it wasn't He, or John the Baptist, or Matthew, Mark , or Luke who told the story, but God Himself who affirmed His loyalty--
This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The blessings of the New Covenant are ours by God's grace and are secured by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
This does not mean, however, that we are no longer responsible to God. Because we are. Or that the rules don't matter now. Because they do. Nothing we do or don't do earns God's favor or seals our salvation.
We are responsible to the Lord. We need to keep the rules and repent when we don't. We don't have to be good disciples--thank God we don't!--but we have to be disciples.
This brings us to today's text, I Corinthians 16:22. Most of what Paul says in his closing words is what you'd expect. He sends his friends' greetings; he assures them of his own warm affection; he signs off with a couple blessings. But smack-dab in the middle of all this warmth and good cheer are words we don't expect. They may be angry words, they're certainly deeply-felt words, but they're not cranky or mean or hateful words. They're words the Corinthians needed to hear. And so do we.
Let's have a look at them.
If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema. Maranatha.
The first word to consider is anyone.
There were three kinds of people in Corinth: Pagans, Jews, and Christians. The first two did not claim to love Jesus Christ. The Jews rejected Him because He was not the Messiah they wanted, and the Pagans laughed at Him as a dead man whom some fools took to be alive.
The Pagans and Jews were cursed , as all are without Christ, but they're not the people Paul was writing to or thinking about. He had already warned them, and had he wanted to do it again, he would have sent these words to the synagogue or to the Temple of Aphrodite. But he didn't do that: he sent it to--
The church of God which is at Corinth.
Why would he do this? It's because--looking at the mess the church was in--he had to wonder if they all loved Christ. No one's love for Christ is complete or consistent, but love for Christ creates a kind of life that doesn't look like the one he saw in Corinth.
One can both love Christ and struggle with sexual lust, for example. But re-read Chapter 5 and show me where the struggle is! The man living with his step-mother wasn't being pulled into the affair against his will, he was having a good old time! And the church wasn't struggling to be patient with an erring brother or to find the right way to approach him, they were celebrating their freedom to fornicate!
The same can be said about their easy divorces, their partisanship, their selfishness, the loose hold they had on essential doctrine, even flirting with idols.
Show me a man who struggles with sin, and I'll show you a man who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. But a man who's okay with sin, just fine with his grudges, happy with his fornication, no problem with spending more than he makes, and I'll wonder if he loves the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a warning to Christians, a question we all have to ask ourselves: Do I love the Lord Jesus Christ?
The second word is love.
What does it mean to 'love' the Lord Jesus Christ? It means roughly the same thing as to 'love' your wife or husband or children or friend. Only heightened, of course.
I have a hard time picturing a woman saying she loves her husband who never does what he asks her to do, or--if she does--does it only with a rotten, 'put-upon' attitude.
I have a hard time picturing a man saying he loves his wife but doesn't like spending time with her and has no interest in what she has to say.
I can't picture parents who love their children but make no sacrifices for them. Or friends loving each other but pretending not to.
People who love Christ want to obey Him, and when we don't, we feel badly about it. People who love Christ enjoy His Presence in prayer and Bible-reading, going to church and meeting Him at the Lord's table. When we don't, we feel disappointed. People who love Christ give up things for Him, and are happy to do it because He matters more to them than they do. People who love Christ can be cowed into silence, but we want to speak up for Him and when we're too scared to do it, we're ashamed of ourselves.
This is the love Paul has in mind, the love that is not limited to words and tongue, but reaches out to deeds and truth.
The third word (words, really) are the Lord Jesus Christ. Words can command love, but they cannot create it. Nothing will make a man love his wife less than a long lecture on how he doesn't love her and ought to!
But is this what Paul wants us to do? To love Christ-- because he says so? No. He wants us to love Christ because He is supremely lovable.
Everything about Him is, of course, but to sinners, nothing is more lovable than what He did for us on the Cross. The Eternal Son of God joined the human race, but not to rule it, though He had every right to.
He joined the human race to take the sins of the world onto Himself and to suffer the wrath of God in our place. How can we not love the Man who sweated great drops of blood--for us? Who allowed Himself to be judged by three courts--for us? Who wore a crown of thorns--for us? Who let men ridicule Him--for us? Who let God forsake Him--for us? Who suffered the flames of Hell on the cross--for us?
If a man doesn't love me, that's all right; there's plenty of reason not to. But when he doesn't love Christ, that's not all right, for there's no reason not to! Peter says of Him--
To those who believe, He is precious.
So he is. Not to everyone, but to everyone who believes, to everyone who has a share in the blessings of the New Covenant.
The last two words are, Anathema, Maranatha.
You know what Anathema means: it means 'cursed'. Maranatha is an Aramaic word meaning, 'Our Lord come'. Paul is saying the people who don't love the Lord Jesus Christ will be cursed when the Lord comes.
Scholars differ on whether Paul is asking, saying He will come, or that He's already come (in some sense), but the differences don't matter in the end. People who don't love Christ will suffer all the curses Deuteronomy 28 pointed to and Jesus spelled out--
Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
And so, you've got to love Christ, or you've got to perish. But you'll never be bullied into it and never be argued into it. Love doesn't push, it draws; it doesn't warn, it woos.
And this is what Jesus does by His Gospel, He woos us, He pleads with us, He shows us His great love for us, and thus, causes us to love Him.
May God make us lovers of Christ. Amen. Praise the Lord!
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