Old Testament Text: Exodus 24.3-8 November 6, 2016
New Testament Text: Hebrews 8.6-13 and 9.13-15
What Goes on at Communion?
with Bill Jennings
Introduction: One of the things that Jesus warns us about in the Sermon on the Mount is against the use of vain repetitions in our prayers, and the ironic part of this is that this warning is immediately followed by the Lord’s Prayer, which we repeat every Sunday, often without even thinking about what those words mean – in other words: a vain repetition.
Now the same thing may happen in the Communion Service which we celebrate every month. We may even know the words by heart. And once we get the words down by heart, we can disengage our minds and start thinking about something else, like, “Did I turn off the stove before we left home this morning”, or “Did I lock the door of the house, or the car?”
So, today, I would like to concentrate on just one of the phrases that Jesus used at the Last Supper: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. The key words in this phrase are “Covenant” and “Blood”.
- First: Covenant. What is a covenant? A Covenant is an agreement, a contract, an alliance, a pact between two parties based on a mutual commitment and promises made by both parties. The most common covenant we know about is the marriage covenant between husband and wife, founded on their mutual commitment to each other, and on the promises they make to each other.
But also, any contract, such as an insurance contract, a mortgage, even Social Security is a covenant in which two parties agree to commit themselves to each other, making promises to each other.
Now, God is a God who likes to make covenants with people. He has done this all down through history, beginning with Adam and Eve. He did it with Noah. He did it with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He did it with Joshua for the conquest of Canaan. He did it with David and Solomon for the establishment of David’s Dynasty in Jerusalem.
But the Biggies, the two most important covenants in the Bible, are so big that our entire Bibles are divided up between them, and they are called the “Old Covenant” or Testament, and the “New Covenant” or Testament. In a moment we will be talking about the difference between the two.
But first, why do we find so many covenants in the Bible? Good question! And, the only answer I can give you is that This is simply the way God is! God likes to work with people. He loves people, and even when we may not like him, or try to keep him at arm’s length or ignore him, He keeps on loving us, and pleads with us, Work with me, People! Listen to what Paul wrote about him in Ro. 5.8!
God is a people God. He used to come down and stroll in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. One hot afternoon, he came to Abraham’s tent and had pancakes and cheese with him and Sarah. One time, he wrestled all night long with Jacob!
Then, he came in the person of Jesus to spend 30-some years in the midst of his people. So that in Revelation 21.3 at the end of the whole human story, at the tag end of the Bible, we read the final conclusion of the Bible, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with his people. He will live with them. He will be their God and they will be his people.”
- Now we come to theBlood of the Covenant. We saw in Exodus 24 and Hebrews that both Covenants, the Old and the New, have blood attached to them.
In the Old Testament, whenever the Old Covenant was celebrated, they sacrificed a young bull and took that blood and sprinkled half of it on the Altar and half on the people.
Now, what is this thing about the blood? According to Leviticus 17, Blood means Life. Ancient peoples, including the Hebrews observed that when a person was wounded and lost enough blood, he or she died – so they concluded that the life of the person was in the blood. And, it is true. Even today in our sophisticated scientific society, lives are saved by blood transfusions! Blood means life, and blood poured out means life poured out – life sacrificed!
Now, in the Old Covenant, that blood belonged to a young bull or another animal such as a heifer or lamb or goat. But they had to be without blemish, healthy, not lame, and completely clean – externally. They also cost something! They cost the owner a valuable head of livestock, and of course they cost the life of the animal sacrificed. The only thing was that this unblemished perfection of the animal was onlyexternal – on the outside! That was the old system – and an externally clean sacrifice could only purify worshippers on the outside. (Read Heb. 9). It could never penetrate the conscience of the worshipper! The key question is, How can any sacrifice penetrate and change the conscience of the worshipper?
What the author of Hebrews is saying is this externally unblemished costly blood sacrifice was aforeshadowing of things to come: the infinitely costly sacrifice of Jesus, the perfect Son of God. So now we need to compare and contrast the difference between the sacrifice (blood) of an externally unblemished irrational animal with that of Jesus, the perfect Son of God.
- Irrational animals under the Old Covenant had to be clean on the outside. Jesus was clean on the Jesus was innocent of all sin. Not because he was not tempted. He was tempted as no other human being ever was. Satan exhausted all his powers of temptation with Jesus, and He resisted them all! Have you or I ever resisted temptation until Satan walked away totally frustrated with us? Not really. If he doesn’t get me on Monday, he will on Tuesday, and if not on Tuesday, he will come back to get me on Wednesday! But Jesus resisted, and emerged from His temptations totally clean –inside!
- Irrational animals could never understand what was happening to them at their sacrifice. They had to be lead, coerced, forced to their death! Jesus, by contrast, went to his death voluntarily. Listen to what he says in John 10.18: “I lay down my life for my sheep…no one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord.”
- Now, think of this: The difference between the value of a human life as over against that of an irrational animal. But if you run over a human being; that is infinitely more traumatic than hitting a deer on the highway!
So, the value of this blood, the life-blood of Jesus is infinitely greater than any blood shed by any irrational animal. And when we consider that this is not just any human being, ,but the absolutely innocent Son of God who gave up his life-blood for us under the New Covenant, does not this reach into the very heart of your conscience?
- Now, just a final word about the Promises of the New Covenant. Remember that we said that all covenants of the Old Testament included promises? According to Heb. 8.6, the promises of the New Covenant are better than those of the Old Covenant. In all of the Old Testament Covenants, God promised land, fertility, prosperity, military victories, large families, longevity, political longevity and material wealth.
Today, I want to focus on just one of the promises of the New Covenant, and here it is: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” I will forgive and forget! Think about that!
It may be relatively easy to forgive an offense you have suffered – maybe after some time has passed, but to forget (!) Almost impossible! It costs too much to my pride. If you think it costs us too much for a simple offense, how much do you think it costs for God to look down on his perfect Son in whom He has always been pleased, to suffer hour by hour on the Cross?! At the Communion service, we learn how much it costs our Heavenly Father, because Jesus said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood which can be also expressed, “This is the New Covenant at the cost of my blood. God in Christ established the New Covenant, of infinite forgiveness, but it cost him his own life-blood.
In Conclusion, a final word about what we call Baptism and Communion. They are called sacraments. Sacrament is an interesting word. You won’t find it in the Bible, but you will in the dictionary. It is a word that the early church came up with to describe Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.The word “Sacrament” originally in the Latin meant a Military oath of allegiance , or a sum of money deposited by two parties to an agreement, sort of like “earnest money” in a financial agreement. So, Sacrament was a commitment of loyalty, and that is a very appropriate way to describe the Lord’s Supper or Communion. When we partake of this meal, we commit ourselves to Him to be faithful in “announcing the Lord’s death until he comes.”
So, as we gather around this table, let us remember to be thankful that our God is a people God, who seeks to work with us in this Covenant and who has proven his commitment with the life-blood of his beloved Son and has freed us from all our wickedness and sins: forgiven and forgotten!
And, may we be faithful in witnessing in our life and works to the Lord’s death – until He comes!