The giving of the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai is one of the highlights of the Old Testament (Exodus 19-20). The laws were further amplified in detail and made into the Book of the Covenant (see Exodus 21:1-23:19).
This Book of the Covenant was then ratified with the blood of bulls. The animal blood was then sprinkled on both the altar and on the people who heard the reading of the laws (Exodus 24:4-8). It was an agreement between God and the ancient nation of Israel.
Today, as this article is being written, is Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday after Palm Sunday and the Thursday before the Sunday celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. It is the day before Good Friday – the day remembering the day of Christ’s death on the cross.
Maundy Thursday (“mandatum” Latin for “command”) is reflective of the new command given by Christ on that day:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15: 9-14, NIV).
Later, in I John 3, St. John refers to this giving of Christ’s law of love by saying:
“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another...And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (vs. 11, 23-24).
On the day after Christ spoke the commandment of love, he openly displayed that love by shedding his blood on the cross for us. He is the ultimate Passover Lamb. His shed blood is the blood of the New Covenant. The blood of bulls shed at the giving of the Mosaic Covenant merely foreshadowed the future need for the shedding of blood by the Messiah.
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves...But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10: 1, 3-7, note: all the words quoted from Psalm 40:6-8 are found in the LXX).
The author to the Hebrews goes on to explain:
“Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will. He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:9b-10).
What is “the first” that was set aside to “establish the second”? Clearly, it is setting aside the Old Covenant given at Mt. Sinai and establishing the better New Covenant. Indeed, the entire Book of Hebrews emphasizes the superiority of the New Covenant made by Christ over the Old Covenant of Moses.
At the death of Christ, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, signifying the transition from the Old to the New Covenant. We have been made free from the requirements of that first Covenant. Through Christ’s command and his supreme sacrifice and shedding of his own blood, we become free to live under the requirements of the New Covenant.
Through the waters of Holy Baptism, we receive his Spirit and enter His Kingdom of grace. The New Covenant is one we enter through grace – not works – although good works are bound to follow by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This new covenant was long foretold. Moses told the Israelites in his day, 3,500 years ago, that another greater prophet would arise that they must listen to his voice (Deut. 18:15). St. Peter clearly says that Christ is that long-awaited prophet (Acts 3:22). It is his commands that we are told to teach to all the world (Matt. 19: 18-20).
So remember that the day for the giving of the new law was on the eve of Christ’s death. At the Passover meal on that first Maundy Thursday, Christ instituted the New Covenant:
“And then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying: ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26: 27-28).
At the Last Supper, Christ instituted the words and the means of the New Covenant. We remember Christ whenever we communion with the unleavened bread (his body) and the wine (his blood).
Christ’s command to love one another as he has loved us is amplified further by the apostles and other writers of the New Testament. Christ in his ministry began to show how this magnification of the old law in the new way of the Spirit would be applied after his death and the giving of the Spirit (see Matt. 5: 21-48).
Nevertheless, there is no law that saves us by our own doing. All – except Christ – have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. Our salvation comes from Christ alone. Only he perfectly kept his Father’s commandments and shed his blood in our place. It is through his grace (unmerited pardon) we receive forgiveness and eternal life.
May you realize that your “Mt. Sinai” is Christ himself and the Spirit sent to live within all who repent and are baptized. It is through this that we experience the new birth – a new creation. The first creation will pass away, but those born into the new creation in Christ Jesus will live forever.