the carrot and stick covenant
During week 1 of Unwrapping Christmas, we navigated the first six chapters of Genesis and about 1,500 years of human history. Beginning with Creation and continuing until the great flood, God operated in a mostly “hands off” manner. After Adam and Eve’s original sin, God cursed all the primary players (Adam and Eve, the serpent (Satan) and the natural world He created). There were consequences for their sin, but God allowed man to live “freely” in His creation. Within the span of those 1,500 years, man made a tragic mess of the free reign they were given and God arrived at a place where He regretted having created them. Well, that is, all except 1 man (and his divinely fortunate family). God saw something redeeming in the man, Noah, and saved only he and his family from the purifying work of the great flood. God cleaned the slate and started over with Noah.
This week, we will focus on a 2,500 year timeline which begins immediately after the flood and continues to the birth of Jesus. God chooses differently in this span of years, as it concerns the two-legged creatures He created in His image. He chooses to become very involved and uses what we will heretofore refer to as the “carrot and stick” approach with His people. The earth re-populates and God establishes a covenant (contract) with Abraham. He will make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants. They will be called God’s people and God will be actively involved in their lives as a nation. In establishing “The Law” (or The Commandments), God basically says to the nation of Israel, “If you obey me, I will give you a carrot. But if you don’t do what I ask of you, I’m going to bring out the stick.”
Reward and punishment are fundamental to our lives, right? We understand that approach. It’s what we see all around us. We go to work to earn money (carrot). We work hard so we can get more money (more carrots). Although some of you may be less than thrilled with your job, you still show up to work every day. Why? Because you don’t want to get fired! (stick) So, God makes this carrot and stick covenant (contract) with His people (only the nation of Israel — that’s important) and makes some really clear statements to them about what both look like (read Deuteronomy 28). And what do you suppose happened during these 2,500 years? It’s not really that hard, even if you didn’t know the stories, to guess what happens. It looked a lot like what happens with us and our carrots and sticks. There are periods where things go really great, and then we get full on carrots and we don’t need God so much, and … stick. When it’s only carrots and sticks, there’s this seemingly never-ending, up and down cycle of carrots and sticks.
So, that was the Old Testament. People couldn’t handle God’s freedom (the first 1,500 years), and they couldn’t handle God’s blessing and correction (the next 2,500 years). What was the end result? The Old Testament ends with God’s people in captivity. And if that was how God’s story ended, I’m convinced that’s what our world would still look like. We would be in captivity (in fact, maybe that’s where you are right now are because you have not believed in what God would do next.)
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
And this is why the carrot and stick ultimately don’t work. Because of our sin nature (the curse of Adam and Eve’s original sin), we choose carrots that are not good for us or forget God being the giver of the carrot(s) we have. And then what do we do when God uses the stick to correct us? … we repeat the cycle of bad choices.
a new covenant
There is only one thing powerful enough to break that cycle, and the event we celebrate at Christmas was the launching point from which that one thing happened. Jesus’ coming to earth (His choice to be born and live a period of 33 years among us) was only for one purpose. That was to die for our sins — ALL our sins (mine and yours) — and once and for all break the power they have over our lives … once and for all end the carrot and the stick cycle. The new covenant God makes with us through Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection breaks the old one forever. Although God works in our everyday lives and sometimes uses sticks to correct us and teach us, we do not live bound to that cycle. Jesus paid the price. He died and took every single sin for all time to the cross, then to the grave to be buried there forever. Then He rose from the dead and fulfilled the new covenant, so that we can live free if we’ll simply believe and repent.
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
a city dog and a country dog
So what’s the difference between a city dog and a country dog? A city dog has a fence, and a city dog is always trying to get out beyond the fence. The city dog will try to dig under it or jump over it. The city dog will bolt out of the yard if the gate to that fence is ever opened, because their goal in life is to get out beyond the fence. A country dog is free to roam — free to roam and get all tied up with a skunk, free to roam across the dangerous country road. But where do you find a country dog most often? Lying down next to his/her master on the front porch. What a beautiful picture of the fence of sin and the freedom of faith. Which do you choose?