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Covenant

Maundy Thursday 2016
Jeremiah 31:31-34

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, what is a “covenant”? That term is used all over Scripture, but it’s not something that we use a whole lot in our day to day lives, right? Perhaps we could think of a covenant as being something like a two sided contract that determines a relationship between two parties. We do have contracts in our society. If you contract someone to build a house for you, what you are saying is that you will pay a certain amount of money and the contractor will purchase the materials and hire the workers to build your home. So, in the end you get a home and they get money. It’s a two sided covenant. What about a one-sided covenant? Perhaps the closest thing in our world to a one-sided covenant is an infant child. The mom goes through a lot of pain to give the child birth, feed the child, nourish the child, protect the child, take care of the child and often at a lot of work and expense. What does the child offer the parent? The child isn’t going to offer emotional support, financial support, physical support. In a way it’s a one sided covenant because even in our society it’s still viewed as a deplorable crime for a parent to neglect or abandon an infant child.

Now, in Scripture there’s all kinds of “covenants.” There are covenants between two parties of people, there are two sided covenants between people and God – where both have a responsibility, and there’s unilateral or one-sided covenant where God promises something despite the action or non-action of people. It’s such a new covenant that God is promising in this text. But first we have to understand the old covenant.

One of the most important covenants was the covenant God made at Mt. Sinai with the Israelites- this covenant described how God was going to interact with his old covenant people. After God had wondrously led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt they assembled at Mt. Sinai and God made a covenant with them. It was a conditional covenant – He would be their God, their Protector, He would guarantee a great future for them- the condition was that the Israelites would remain faithful and totally consecrated to Him and live by all His commands. In a way, God treated them like children- he spelled everything out for them. And to ratify this Sinai covenant Moses took blood from young bulls and half of it he sprinkled on the altar offering it to God, the other half he sprinkled onto the bodies of the people (Exodus 24). That ratified this old covenant.

But this conditional Old Covenant was always meant to be temporary. They had to repeat all these offerings and sacrifices over and over again. It was also meant to keep the OT people separate and distinct from all other nations until the promised Savior would come. It also, in a way, showed that it was impossible to earn God’s love by obedience. There was just almost this impossible list of rules, regulations, laws, and commands. Imagine living as an Old Testament believer- almost every aspect of your life was regulated from the food you ate to contact with dead bodies to how to clean mold or mildew!

Now, we have to keep in mind that the way of salvation, however, is exactly the same in both the old covenant and the new. In the OT a person was saved exactly like a person is saved today: through faith in Christ. It’s just that the OT person looked ahead to the Savior, while the NT person looks back to the Savior who has come. But God understood the human weaknesses and tendencies to sin, so in the old covenant, in the old way that God interacted with people, He provided a ton of pictures for people of what forgiveness looks like. They had all these sacrifices and offerings which pointed ahead to a future sacrifice and offering and assured repentant sinners that they were forgiven by God.

So, the Old Covenant was: obey me, keep my commands and laws, and God will protect you and you’ll live long in the land. But the people broke God’s covenant with them. Instead of sacrificing to God, they sacrificed to idols and false gods, they abandoned God, didn’t keep His commands. That’s what was happening at the time of Jeremiah –and because they broke the Old conditional covenant- the people were on the verge of experiencing the most severe covenant curse – their land was about to be destroyed and they were about to be hauled into captivity in Babylon.

So, in the midst of all of this, God promises a “new covenant.” A different covenant, a new way He is going to interact with His people. It is not conditional, it is unconditional and unilateral. It is an unconditional promise of God to the unfaithful Israelites.

We live in the new covenant. But do we sometimes think that church, religion, the Bible is all about following rules and laws? There are two pitfalls we can fall into. On the one side we could view God’s moral laws as burdensome- “Ugh, all this stuff about sexual immorality, coveting, honoring God by hearing His Word – it’s burdensome! Why can’t I just do what I want?” Or, on the other hand we could view keeping God’s moral laws as a way to deserve God’s blessings, like “As long as I do this, as long as I go to church, as long as I’m good, God will have to reward me and give me the things in life I really want.” But both are wrong.

You see, the new covenant is totally different. He’s going to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. What does that mean? This is a different covenant. It’s not about outward obedience but heart transformation. There are no rules, or laws, or commands that have to be kept. It’s about the heart, trust, believing. The center of this new covenant is “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”  When did that happen? It happened when Christ offered the one sacrifice that really matters. He offered the once-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes sin and guilt. His blood shed on the cross removes sin forever. The new covenant announces salvation that is complete, finished, and above all, free through Christ. The new covenant is forgiveness of sins.

In baptism God seals this new covenant to us because in it He gives us the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins and the faith to believe it. In baptism we hear this promise of God, “I forgive your wickedness and remember your sins no more.” But that’s not it! In further grace God shares the meal of the new covenant with us in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies, seals this covenant of forgiveness with us. In the old covenant blood of bulls was sprinkled as an offering on the altar of God, in the new covenant Jesus sheds his blood on the altar of the cross, in the old covenant blood was sprinkled on the bodies of the people, in the new covenant God gives us his own body and blood personally in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies this new covenant, He removes any doubts about His love for us, He comes to each of us personally to touch it, taste it, hear it, see it that we belong to him, we are one with him, all that is his is ours. When we receive the Lord’s Supper it’s a special assurance that we are the recipients of this new covenant- In the Lord’s Supper you receive the blessings of the New Covenant- the forgiveness of your sins. His lifeblood is our life.

In the new covenant God deals with us differently than in the old. Now God doesn’t have to beat you and tell you- now here are all the rules and laws you have to follow. Rather, God tells you what He’s done to save you and rescue you, so eternal life is yours. You know what that does? It sinks deep inside of you, in the Supper He gives you His own body and blood in a supernatural way with the bread the wine, and you literally cannot help but live a new life, a life of love! The new “law” is to live a life of love. And you want to! It’s not from a heart that’s enslaved but a heart that’s been set free, a heart that’s been forgiven.

So as you receive the Lord’s Supper this evening, receive forgiveness, receive the blood of the covenant, Jesus’ body and blood together with bread and wine that unites you with Jesus and transforms your heart to a live a life of love and service to God and others.