O the Blood of the NEW COVENANT
If you would, turn to Genesis 15. We will get to it in a bit. Another set of verses from Matthew’s Gospel will appear on the screen.
Matthew 26:26-28 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
In its purest form a Covenant is an agreement between people that is supposed to bring about a oneness between those people. We might think of it as an oath, but it is more than that. It is more than a promise. It is a relationship whereby those involved in the Covenant bind themselves to the other party and bind themselves to fulfilling the conditions of the Covenant. It is a “You do your part, and I’ll do my part” kind of arrangement.
With Ancient Covenants between two humans the arrangement was seen as two equals who came together to make the Covenant. However, in the Covenants that God makes with His people we are obviously not an equal party in the Covenant. It isn’t an arrangement whereby He does His part and we do our part, but He does it all! We bring nothing to the table when it comes to the New Covenant of Blood between God and us.
God is definitely a God of Covenant. This is how He operates. Remember, you were created for relationship with God. God is so fanatical about that relationship, so intense about wanting you to know He is with you and for you, that He is willing to bind Himself to an agreement on your behalf! We talk a lot about how God wants a relationship with us, and it is true, but it isn’t just a relationship like we may think about human relationships. Our Covenant relationship with God is intentional, purposeful, powerful and more precious. This Covenant-relationship with God becomes life-giving to the point where it is needed and desired on a daily basis.
God made a Covenant with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2. He made a Covenant with Noah in Genesis 9. He made a Covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. He made a Covenant with Moses in Exodus 19. He made a Covenant with David in II Samuel 7.
And God has made a Covenant with you and me through the precious blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Listen, this salvation deal isn’t only about us accepting what God has done for us in Christ, but it is about the reality that God has bound Himself to us through a precious Covenant of Blood!
The Hebrew word for Covenant is “Berith.” Inside the Berith is a blood contract. “Berith” actually means to fetter by cutting. So, a Covenant isn’t just an understanding. There is action behind a Covenant. This idea of a Blood Covenant is a very ancient practice.
In the Ancient world, the blood Covenant was seen as the most binding of contracts.
Let’s look at the Covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15 as it was a typical Ancient Covenant. We won’t discuss every part of this Covenant due to time constraints, but we’ll hit the highlights.
15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield,[a] your very great reward.[b]”2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” 8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land . . .”
When God made a Covenant with Abraham, He was entering into Abraham’s world. He was using a ritual and symbolism Abraham would have understood. He was doing things that Abraham had witnessed many times before. The slaying of animals, the blood spilled, the walking between the animal carcasses, the making of promises . . . all of this was part of Abraham’s Ancient mindset and world. In order to demonstrate His commitment to Abraham, God did something that meant something to Abraham. What I want you to embrace and hold onto is that God came toward Abraham in a way that Abraham could relate to and understand. In ancient terms, God cut a Covenant with Abraham. Abraham would have taken this exchange seriously. He would have viewed this Covenant as binding.
The Covenant process was far more than words. It was filled with action that stood for intense commitments and vows. In Ancient Covenants, an animal was sacrificed. Usually a bull, a goat or a lamb was killed and was cut in half down the center. (A bit gory for Sunday morning, but it is hunting season and it’s WV, so I’m thinking we are okJ). The animal halves would be separated, and the bloody side would be face up. There would be a path of blood between the two halves.
When Jesus instituted Communion in Matthew 26 He used Covenant talk, blood talk, with His disciples.
He said in verse 28: This is my blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. He was explaining to them that what was about to happen on the cross would be more than a moment in time. It would be more than a miracle. It was the making of an everlasting Covenant between God and the people of the earth! Just as Abraham had been chosen to represent humanity in the Covenant in Genesis 15, the Covenant by which all people on earth would be blessed, Jesus represented all of humanity before God on the cross, and the punishment that should have been ours was placed upon Him as the Covenant by which all people on earth could be saved was enacted!
Jesus was not only our representative in the Covenant, but He was also the animal sacrifice that made the Covenant possible. What did John the Baptist say of Jesus in John 1:29? “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” Can you see that Jesus was instituting more than a remembrance in that moment with His disciples before the crucifixion. He was telling them that what was about to happen was not a mere crucifixion, but it would be the cutting of a Covenant.
Remember, I said that God entered Abraham’s world in a way he could understand when He cut a Covenant with Abraham. God entered our world in a way we could understand when He sent Jesus, His only Son, to earth and wrapped Him in human flesh. He came to us in a way we could relate with and understand. He came as one of us.
Often in Ancient Covenants there would also be the exchange of robes, belts and weapons between the parties. They were symbolizing they no longer desired to live as separate parties, but as one. When robes were exchanged it symbolized putting on the other person and becoming one with them. It symbolized that all you had now belonged not only to you, but also to the other person. If you had assets and the other person was in debt, you assumed their debt and your assets became their assets. Your identity was tied to the robe you wore. When you exchanged it with someone you were giving them your identity and authority.
The exchanging of belts signified a person’s strength. For in the person’s belt would be their weapons. The idea was that in a Covenant one person would take on another person’s weakness while lending that person his strength. In giving each other their weapons, Covenant parties were pledging in essence to take on one another’s enemies.
We don’t see the robe and the belt exchange practiced in God’s Covenant with Abraham, but we do see it in God’s Covenant with us. Philippians 2:5-7 is one of the most beautiful passages about how Jesus took off His Divine robes and took on the likeness of humanity. Because of what He accomplished through His life, death, burial and resurrection, His Robe of Righteousness is available to each one of us! It isn’t random that Jesus was stripped of His earthly garments when He was being crucified. He was cutting a Covenant. He was enacting the steps of the Ancient Covenant ritual right before the eyes of every person around the cross. He exchanged His glorious robes for the filthy rags and robes of sins. It was an incredible exchange, church. He who knew no sin became sin because He was taking on the robes of sin in an act of Covenant making!
When we wear Christ’s robes of righteousness we take on His identity and His authority. Though all we have to bring to the table is a debt we can’t pay, Jesus pays our debt and every asset of His becomes ours. I can’t make this stuff up, people! It is incredible what God has done for us!
We had a robe, a filthy robe, to trade with Jesus, but we really didn’t have a belt or any weapons. But just as in that Abrahamic Covenant where Abraham brought nothing to the table, and God did it all, on the cross, while we were still powerless (Romans 5:8) that in our sin we were powerless and without any ability to fight, Christ defeated every enemy we have on our behalf! He defeated sin, Satan, death, hell, and the grave (Colossians 2:15). We are weak, but we have all access to the strength of the Living God! What a great exchange!
One Ancient Covenant piece we do see in the Abrahamic Covenant was the “walk unto death” where persons making the vows would walk around the halves of the animals that had been sacrificed. They would walk in a figure eight between the bloody carcasses, and as the people did they would look upward to the heavens and say, “Do to me what has been done to this animal if I break this Covenant. If I fail to keep it, may I die even as this animal died.” A vow was also recited that said, “Just as this animal gave its life, so I will give my life for you if necessary.”
In Genesis 15:17 it was the Lord who walked between the pieces of the slain animal. God Himself appeared as a smoking firepot and blazing torch that walked the blood path between the animal pieces and swore to fulfill His promise to Abraham regardless of the cost.
What does Philippians 2 tell us? Jesus was obedient even unto death. In shame, bloodied, bruised, beaten, and almost lifeless, He carried the cross down the Via Dolorosa and made His way to Golgotha to be crucified as if He were a guilty criminal. Oh, yes, Jesus walked the bloody path, and as He did, He wasn’t at the mercy of the Roman officials or on parade for mockers to have their “hey day” as they hurled insults at Him. No! He was walking the death path on purpose! He was cutting a Covenant.
In Ancient Covenants there was also a blessings and curses component. In Genesis 13-16 is the blessings and curses section of God’s Covenant with Abraham. God spoke about how the Israelites would face difficult times, but how God would rescue them and help them and prosper and bless them. He talked about what He would do to the enemies of Israel, how they would be punished, and how Israel would gain victory over their enemies.
We see the blessings and curses component of the Ancient Covenant being enacted at Calvary. We know as Jesus hung on the cross He took on the curse of sin and people cursed Him with their words. But what did He offer from the cross? He offered blessings. He prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him. He instructed John to take his mom as his own. He welcomed the repentant thief on the cross that was being crucified next to Him into His Kingdom. When Jesus hung on that cross, He wasn’t talking crazy talk or delusional talk due to the horrific beatings He had suffered and the strain His body and mind were under. No, He was in His right mind, and He was enacting a New Covenant.
The last thing I’ll mention this morning in this Ancient Covenant practice is the celebrated of a meal between those who are making the Covenant. The meal between God and Abraham didn’t occur until Genesis 18, but they had it. Here in Matthew 26 we see the institution of a meal between God and His people to celebrate the New Covenant that has been established because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The grape juice we drink during our time of communion represents the blood that made this New Covenant possible.
We learn in Hebrews 9:15 that the Covenant Jesus instituted was called a “New Covenant.” Hebrews 9:15 “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
If Jesus instituted a New Covenant, what was the Old Covenant? The Old Covenant being referred to was the Covenant God had made with Moses. The Old Covenant, the Law given to Moses with its provision for sin to be taken care of repeatedly by the slaying of animals and through cleansing rituals was helpful in that it showed people who they were. With the establishment of the Law we began to understand we are lawbreakers. We fall short. We are sinners against the Law of God. We don’t measure up to the standard of the Law and lawbreakers deserve punishment. The Old Covenant helped us see we were sinners in need of a Savior, in need of Someone to deliver us from the penalty of the Law. The New Covenant shows us not who we are, but who God is.
It shows us God is the only One who is capable of keeping His promises, and He is the only perfect One who is able to deal with our sin problem. It reveals the love, grace, and mercy of God who enacted the Covenant that saves us all by Himself. We bring nothing to the table in this Covenant relationship, and yet we owe Him our lives because of what He has done. Perhaps the old hymn says it best, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”
O the blood of this New Covenant, the precious blood that Jesus shed. It is poured out for you and for me for the forgiveness of sins and was accomplished by the God who won’t ever walk away from His Covenant. He has bound Himself to us, to save us, to heal us, to strength us, to defeat our enemies, to give us an inheritance that includes far more than Heaven. Have you been washed this morning in the Covenantal Blood of Christ Jesus? Watch this:
It’s more than words. It was an intentional, calculated plan to save you and me. You can be free this morning because there is a New Covenant, a Blood Covenant between God and those who receive Jesus as Savior.