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The Blood of the Covenant. Maundy Thursday 2017: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32.

last supper cranach the younger with luther bugenhagen melancthon etcMaundy Thursday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Corinthians 11:23-32

April 13, 2017

“The Blood of the Covenant”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;     the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him;    he remembers his covenant forever.

(Gradual/ Tract for Maundy Thursday: Psalm 111:4-5)

 

“Karl, wilt thou have Angela, here present, to be thy wedded wife?  Wilt thou love, honor, and cherish her, and keep with her this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part?  If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.”

 

Angela, wilt thou have Karl, here present, to be thy wedded husband?  Wilt thou love, honor, cherish, and obey him, and keep with him this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part?  If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.

 

I Karl, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Angela, to be my wedded wife, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.

 

I Angela, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Karl, to be my wedded husband, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.

 

Those words are not the exact words that we said when we were married.  They are from the old version of the hymnal.  You may have said them when you were married.

 

What do we call those words?  Vows.  They are oaths taken before God by which we enter into marriage, into a relationship with this other person.  We ask God to witness our solemn promises, whether we keep them or not.  On other occasions we make different kinds of vows.

 

I.

The people of old had a term for this kind of promise before God and the new relationship established by that promise.  They called it “a covenant.”  (How covenants were entered: witnesses, solemn pledges before God (maybe with a visible or written monument to the pledge).  An animal’s blood would be shed to seal the covenant, often.  And there was often a meal between the two parties, signifying fellowship, peace.  The two would become like brothers, bound by blood.

 

People entered covenants out of need for assurance.  People cannot be trusted simply to keep their word.  We know that too well.  In fact, people cannot even be trusted, many times, to keep the pledges they make before God.  Marriage vows are broken.  So are the vows we make at Baptism and confirmation.  Pastors take vows before God when they are ordained.  None of these vows can be lived up to perfectly by any sinful human being.  Yet often people disregard them entirely; and then these institutions of God are no longer held in high regard.

 

In the Bible, however, the true God does a remarkable thing—He enters into covenant.  He makes a covenant with Noah after the flood; He covenants with Abraham, promising that He will be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants, and that He will bring blessing—that is, salvation—to the whole earth through one of Abraham’s seed, or offspring.

 

He also enters into a covenant with the children of Israel.  He causes Pharaoh to let them go that they may worship the Lord by slaying the firstborn of every household in Egypt, but passing over the houses of the Israelites.  He brings them through the Red Sea, utterly destroying their enemies, and brings them to a divine service at Mt. Sinai, where He appears in fire on top of the mountain and speaks the ten commandments to them.  Then Moses told them the rest of God’s commandments—the terms of His covenant.  The people agreed to obey God as His covenant people.  Then, it tells us in Exodus 24, Moses slaughtered and offered oxen as offerings to God.  He took the blood in bowls, threw half of it against the altar.  Then he read the book of the covenant to the people, and once again they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (Ex. 24:7).  And Moses took the remaining half of the blood and threw it on the people—about a million of them—and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  (Ex. 24: 8)

 

Then, the book of Exodus tells us, that Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons went up on Mt. Sinai, where God was, along with 70 elders of Israel, the leaders of the people.  And they saw the God of Israel.  There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:10-11). 

 

Do you see how this works?

 

God takes the people out of slavery with great power.  He proposes to enter a relationship with them where He will be their God, and they will obey Him and keep His commandments.  Then blood is shed and first splashed on the altar, which signifies that God is in.  Then, when the people agree to the covenant, the blood is splashed on them.  They are in.

 

The blood means God and the people of Israel are bound together.  They are one blood.  But if one party breaks the covenant, the blood signifies that they should die like the oxen whose blood was shed.

 

Think of how amazing it is that God would enter this kind of relationship with His creatures! To make Himself a party in an agreement like this, as though it were possible for Him to lie and be punished for breaking His covenant!

 

Inside of this covenant there is peace between God and sinful human beings.  The leaders of Israel see God and eat and drink in His presence, like you eat at the table of a relative or a friend.

 

However, this peace didn’t last long, because what Israel vowed to do, it did not do.  When Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days to speak with God and then return and tell the people of Israel what God said, the Israelites became anxious and lost patience.  Since the prophet of God didn’t return, they decided they needed new gods to lead them to a land where they could settle down.

 

That was the problem with the Old Covenant made at Sinai.  There was really nothing wrong with the covenant.  There was something wrong with the people of Israel.  At the heart of the covenant God made was the ten commandments, and at the heart of the ten commandments is the first commandment: You shall have no other gods.  The people of Israel couldn’t even keep this covenanant in an external way for a month.  As soon as they became afraid, or desired other things, they started setting up festivals to other gods.  They did not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

 

Israel wasn’t unique.  All the pagan nations of the earth—our ancestors—worshipped false gods.

 

What they did in a formal way, we do in our hearts.  We are anxious and afraid of other people and what they will say and do more than we fear God; we desire other things, we love other things more than we love God.  And we trust what we can see, what we can feel, not the Lord and His Word.

 

Because Israel was like this, God promised a “new covenant.”

 

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

II.

 

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  1 Cor. 11: 25

 

God is faithful to His covenant, even when Israel is unfaithful.  He goes beyond the covenant in faithfulness.

 

Remember how Moses threw half of the blood on the altar and half on the people, and how it meant that whoever broke the covenant would die?  That is the way it works with God’s Law.  “The soul that sins shall die”—Ez. 18.  But God is never unfaithful—we are.

 

Yet Jesus here makes a new covenant.  Lutherans prefer to use the term testament.  That is because the greek word used here usually refers to a “last will and testament”.  But also because a testament simply gives—it does not ask the person it gives to do something in return.

 

Jesus says, This cup is the New Testament in My Blood.  My blood.  Not your blood.  In the covenant between Israel and YHWH, all the transgressions were on the part of unfaithful Israel.  They were the ones who should have had their blood shed.

 

Yet Jesus says His blood—God’s blood—was being shed.  Yes, because God was taking on the transgressions of His covenant committed by His people.  So that they might be in His presence and eat and drink eternally, and the Lord would be at peace with them and be their God.

 

That is what follows tonight.  When we see the altar stripped bare and naked and the chancel become desolate, we see a picture of what should happen to us sinners.  Instead, it happened to Jesus for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.  That is why He is stripped, beaten, mocked, nailed to the cross, forsaken by God.  To “forgive your iniquity”, so that your “sin will be remembered no more.”

 

That is why it is a New Testament.  It is not like the old, which we broke and could not keep in the flesh.  It is new.  The requirements of this testament are all met by Jesus.  You simply receive it.

 

But how do I receive it?  How do I know it applies to me?  How do I know God forgives me?  He declares it to you in preaching; He throws the blood of the covenant on You, making You one blood with Him.  He douses you in it in Baptism.

 

But how do I know it still applies to me, when I have sinned and turned away from Jesus after I was baptized?  He absolves you at the altar tonight, by name.

 

Then He gives you this bread to eat, and this cup to drink; His body, which is for you, given to agony, pain, and death on the cross.

 

His blood, the blood of the New Testament, that seals this new relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t say, This cup symbolizes the New Testament in my blood; He says, This cup is the new Testament in my blood.

 

It is the blood that brings about this new relationship with God where He forgives our sins and remembers our iniquity no more.  No more!  Never!  He never remembers it.  He remembers instead the suffering of His Son for you, who bore your guilt.

 

He writes His law on your heart from within instead of banging it on you from without, so that you keep it willingly.  He makes you know Him.  The Israelites ran away from Him at Sinai, but through the blood of Jesus’ testament you know Him and want to know Him.

 

As often as we eat and drink this body and blood of Jesus, we proclaim His death for us.

 

It is a serious thing to receive it unworthily—results in death and condemnation.

 

What is worthiness?  Not to do…since we are not capable of doing what merits communion with God.  To receive.  That is, to eat and drink, believing Christ’s Words: “My body, given for you.  My blood shed for you.”  This is what Jesus left us in the night He was betrayed– a remembrance of His own death for the ungodly.  The very blood of the testament, that makes peace with God for us, given with the wine to drink.

 

Reformation: not a partial sacrifice to God. Not our act of remembering—how piously we receive it.  It is Jesus’ testament, His pledge before dying.  It is the assurance that His sufferings are for us, and they avail before God to bring us peace with Him; He “remembers our sins no more.”

Instead: “He remembers His covenant forever”—the forgiveness of sins won by the suffering of His Son.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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