These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, October 6, 2019.
Bible Passage: Matthew 26:26-28.
When I was in high school, I was sent on a three week outward bound course in the Scottish Highlands. We hiked, camped, climbed cliffs, rappelled down them, sailed, and kayaked. It was an amazing adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it.
I wasn't very good at kayaking. I kept tipping over. We were learning how to do the eskimo roll, but before the instructor could show us, I'd already tipped over. I kept capsizing. Everything built up to tackling the white water rapids, but I tipped right at the start and was upside down the whole way.
You get the picture: I'm a tippy person. Obviously, that's not an ideal situation in a kayak. But it's also not the best way to live life; unstable, easily tipped over by events; moody, frustrated, afraid, and defeated.
I slowly got better at kayaking. In fact, a number of years ago, Kim and I took our Canadian youth group on a week-long kayak adventure in Algonquin Park and I didn't tip over once.
In the same way, God has provided us with a very helpful resource to be stable and standing strong through the storms of life. The resource is the New Covenant with all of its unbreakable promises to us. The New Covenant means that that we don't have to face life alone.
Today, I want to teach you about God's New Covenant in our lives: what it is, how it happens, and what difference it makes. I believe we will all leave here stronger, more stable, less likely to capsize in the storms of life. Here are the three secrets to standing firm in the New Covenant no matter what you face:
THE SECRET TO A STRONG, STABLE LIFE
A. HOLD ON TO THE SOURCE OF THE NEW COVENANT - v. 28.
When Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, he did something very surprising: he added words to the traditional Passover liturgy. He added, "Take and eat; this is my body." He also added, This is my blood of the (new - Luke 22:20) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Those words were new and they re-directed the focus of the Passover meal from its original setting in the Exodus and the Old Covenant. Instead, he pointed to himself (the bread, the body), and his blood of the New Covenant.
This was an exciting announcement because these disciples had heard about the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, but they never expected to see it in effect in their lifetimes.
In order to grasp the significance of the New Covenant, we have to take a moment and discuss the Old Covenant.
God made the Old Covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. The old covenant regulated the relationship between God and Israel. The Ten Commandments, for example, are the summary of the covenant regulations.
Exodus 24 describes how the Old Covenant came into effect:
(Exodus 24:3-8) When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” 4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” 8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Note two features of the Old Covenant:
It came into effect - it was ratified - when Moses sprinkled the blood of bulls on the altar (which represented God) and on the people (who represented the nation). It was "the blood of the covenant" (verse 7) - the same words as Jesus used in Matthew 26:28, except he called it "MY blood."
It was a two-way covenant: God made promises and the people made promises: "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey" (verse 7).
Well, they didn't obey and they broke covenant with God in all kinds of ways so that all the covenant curses for disobedience rained down on Israel (see Deuteronomy 28). The old covenant failed because a promise is only as good as the one making it and the people weren't very good. If we're honest, we wouldn't have kept it either.
But God is relentless and his loves endures forever. So, he worked out a solution to the broken-promises problem. He promised to make a New Covenant that would not be a two-way covenant. It would be based on his promise alone and would not depend on us at all; a one-way agreement that he would keep because he is faithful and righteous.
At the Passover meal Jesus told the disciples that the New Covenant sealed with his blood, based on God's promises alone, was coming into effect.
Here's the first secret to standing strong through whatever life brings: hold on to the source of the New Covenant; the promise-making, promise-keeping God who pursued us in Jesus and shed his own blood at the cross. We may fail, but Jesus never fails. His blood has no expiration date. His promises never run out.
When you feel like you're falling under the pressures of life, remember this: God is bound to you by his covenant. He won't let you go. He cannot break his word.
Kim and I watch a show on Netflix about people who design and build incredible houses. One time, the house was on the Scottish Isle of Skye, which is out in the Atlantic and exposed to these heavy winds. The house was specially built to withstand the winds, so it was shaped like a wedge, sort of streamlined do that the wind won't blow it down.
When the strong winds of adversity try to blow you down, picture yourself safe inside the specially designed storm-proof house that is Jesus Christ, our covenant making, covenant keeping God.
B. HOLD ON TO THE SUPPORT OF THE NEW COVENANT - v. 28.
The cross of Christ is like the altar in the Old Covenant ratification ceremony; the blood of bulls was sprinkled there to represent God's side of the covenant. In a similar way, the blood of Christ was sprinkled on the cross to represent God's side of the New Covenant. Jesus ratified the New Covenant and put it into effect on the cross. Everything God wants to do for us flows from there. He supports us by his New Covenant promises.
Jesus spoke a New Covenant promise to the disciples: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (verse 28), which is a summary of all the promises God guarantees us. The full list of promises is in Jeremiah 31 and in Hebrews 8:
(Hebrews 8:6-13) But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
The New Covenant is superior to the Old because it is "established on better promises" (verse 6). Better because God does all the promising. But better for other reasons too. Take a look at them; there are six features of the New Covenant that will support us and make us strong in the storms of life. The New Covenant supports us and makes us strong in the storms of life because:
Verse 9: It's eternal. God will never turn away from us for failing to keep our promises because we don't make any. He makes them all. It's a one way covenant.
Verse 10a: It's internal. God writes his law on our hearts (not the Old Covenant laws, but God's intrinsic ethical or moral values, summarized as love) so that we are moved by our deepest drives towards God's heart and ways expressed in a life of love. This is the promised circumcision of the heart in Deuteronomy 30:6 and it is the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:29; 2 Corinthians 3:6).
Verse 10b: It's personal. God will be our God and we will be his people. This has been his goal from the beginning. His loving nature is to initiate relationship with us.
Verse 11: It's universal. "they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest." God will make covenant with everyone who comes to Jesus in faith; there are no barriers, such as ethnicity, gender, religious background, social or economic status. (Revelation 22:17) "... let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."
Verse 12: It's practical. There's no use promising all these blessings if we're still lost in our sins. But the covenant takes care of our guilt problem. "I will forgive their wickedness," which reminds me of Psalms 103:12: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."
Verse 8: It's communal. The Old Covenant formed a nation, Israel. God's covenants are always about groups, nations, communities. God's New Covenant creates a new community called the church, the assembly of God's people. And we're invited in. God pursues us, makes us into his family, and lives in the midst of us forever to love us, help us, and protect us.
C. HOLD ON TO THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE NEW COVENANT - v. 28.
You might be wondering something like this: "OK, Peter, that all sounds great. For someone else; someone who is good enough; who does stuff for God; a religious person. But, I'm not like that. I live on the wrong side of the spiritual tracks."
Let me stop you right there and point out one word that's going to change your mind. Jesus told his disciples that his blood was poured out for "MANY." Jesus meant that the New Covenant is sufficient for everyone who wants it. The New Covenant promises are for you if you want them.
Here's how I know: When Jesus said "many," he used a word that is used in the New Testament to mean a "large crowd, a mass of people, a multitude of people" (EDNT (Eerdman's Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament - polus), and in our context, it means ALL or everyone. The New Covenant has no limits in terms of application. "Many" means everyone, all, without limits. God will never say no to you. If you want in, you're in. You need to know that you're not grandfathered in; you have to opt in.
If you want to find stability in rocky times. If you want to stay standing in the storms of life, Jesus is ready to help. He is ready to apply all his covenant promises to you if you will turn from whatever rules your life now and give yourself over to Jesus. Receive him as your covenant-keeping God.
It occurs to me that there may be some people here today who are thinking, "God and me are OK. I'm a good person. I do a lot of good things for people. I don't need a blood sealed covenant to cover my sins. I'm already in with God."
Well, that's an interesting perspective and you certainly aren't alone in thinking that way. I respect the fact that you are a good person who does good things. But here's my problem. Jesus does not think that's what matters. If he did, he had no need to die on the cross and his blood of the New Covenant is surplus to requirements. I have a difficult time accepting that. The whole Jesus epic culminates at the cross for a reason: his plan was to create a new community bound to God by the New Covenant.
SCANDALOUS, COVENANT LOVE
This is part four of our series on God's scandalous love, but you may be asking why is covenant love scandalous? I asked the same question and here's the answer I came up with. Stop me if you think anything I say is not scandalous. It is scandalous that:
God came into the world in the form of a man, Jesus.
God in Jesus was humble, poor, misunderstood, and rejected.
God in Jesus did not reject sinners and ate with them and was their friend.
God in Jesus embraced the outsiders, the unclean, the weak, and vulnerable.
God in Jesus was betrayed, bullied, beaten, and crucified.
God in Jesus died and was buried in a borrowed grave.
God in Jesus made a blood covenant with his own blood shed on the cross.
God is so driven for relationship that he became a scandal. He wants us so badly that he came looking for us. He hung on a cross gasping for his last breath because even if we don't love him, he loves us with white-hot intensity, beyond any other love.
It's a scandal that God does not give us what we deserve.
It's a scandal that God does not condemn us but forgives us.
It's a scandal that God gives us a second and third and fiftieth chance.
It's a scandal that God lives in us and makes his home in us.
Think about it. Every promise of the New Covenant is motivated by God's love and every promise is scandalous: God makes us his people. He calls us his own. He reshapes our hearts and leads us into the freedom of forgiveness and new life.
God in Jesus applies all the New Covenant promises to everyone who wants them. He makes us strong and stable through the storms of life. Give him thanks. And come in. Turn to Jesus and his promises right now. Don't hesitate and don't resist his love. Come home to God. It would be a scandal to do anything else.