To answer the “why” question and its corollaries, we must realize that the interplay between grace and demand permeates the covenantal framework of the Old Testament. In fact, every biblical covenant is grounded in grace—whether that be creation grace, sustaining grace, redeeming grace, or the grace that comes through divine promises about the future. This means that those who enter into covenant with God do so in a gracious reality. In other words, legalism—the attempt to earn God’s favor through meritorious acts—is never in view in the biblical covenants, properly understood.
And yet this gracious foundation never diminishes the divine demand of righteousness. Noah’s deliverance from the flood and the divine promise to maintain the seasonal cycles (Gen. 9:9–16) ground God’s requirement to steward the earth and respect its life (Gen. 9:4–7). Abraham’s reception of the divine promises of incomprehensible blessings (Gen. 12:1–3, 7; 15:5–21) results in God’s command that the patriarch walk faithfully before him (Gen. 17:1–14). Israel’s deliverance from their Egyptian enslavement (Exod. 12:31–42) leads directly to Sinai and the righteous demands of the law (Exod. 20:1–17). We should therefore not be surprised when the same pattern confronts us in the New Covenant—a covenant instituted in the graciousness of Jesus’ atoning death and vicarious life of righteousness, but which leads to his self-denying, cross-bearing summons (e.g., Matt. 10:37–39; 16:24–26).
Yet the answer to our “why” question is not simply found in observing the repetition of this covenantal pattern. The connections to our discipleship go far deeper than this. This is because both sides of the covenantal relationship find their fulfillments in Jesus.
On the one hand, all of the gracious elements of the covenants lead directly to Jesus. For instance, Jesus is the true Seed of Abraham through whom the patriarch’s promises are mediated (Gal. 3:15–29). He himself is the Lamb who provides the climactic fulfillment of the Passover deliverance through his crucifixion and resurrection (Luke 22:19–20). And he is the greater Son of David who fulfills the expectation of an heir reigning on an eternal throne (Luke 1:30–35). In each case, Jesus brings God’s covenantal grace to its zenith. In these and other ways, Jesus mediates God’s covenantal grace, epitomized by his role as the great Servant of the Lord, who does for Israel (and the rest of us) what the people could not do for themselves.
On the other hand, Jesus fulfills the law by articulating the end-time expression of God’s demand of righteousness. This is why he repeatedly places his commands in the neighborhood of discussions about the law (e.g., Matt. 5:17–48). Since he is the great Son of David, he fulfills the expectation of the righteous King, reigning over a transformed people and demanding from them the righteousness befitting members of the kingdom of God.
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