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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Enjoy the new covenant meal!
Text:LD 30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-04-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 105:2,3                                                                                      

Hy 1

Reading – Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:11-39

Hy 42:1,2,3,4,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 30

Ps 89:1,3

Ps 25:4,5,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, don’t we all want to be included? When you’re in school, it’s hard if you’re left out. You hope to be accepted by your peers, involved in their conversations, get an invite to their get-togethers—and it’s painful when you’re not. This changes a bit when you get older, but not much. There’s still a desire to have people accept you.

I’m sure we all tend to set up walls around ourselves, and only admit those we count worthy. But this is not God’s way. Even as we exclude others, or as we feel excluded ourselves, there’s a bond that we’re a part of—a bond rich and glorious. It’s called the covenant of grace. The LORD our God is not exclusive in whom He welcomes, but He’s generous and welcoming. All who call on his name in a true faith—and their children too!—God embraces to himself.

To the members of his covenant, God promises immense blessing. Membership has its privileges—its obligations, too. We’ll come to that, but later. We never want to think that we can make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight, or that we need to stay on his ‘good side’ by our effort. So this is where to begin, always: the grace of the LORD, showered on his people.

It’s this covenant that undergirds the two sacraments, holy baptism and holy supper. We recently looked at Lord’s Day 27. It was about why we baptize children, knowing and believing that they’re also included by the LORD: “Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation” (Q&A 74). Baptism is the mark of belonging. You can’t understand baptism without covenant. When it comes to the other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, the covenant connection perhaps seems less obvious. How exactly is this a sign and seal of God’s covenant? This is what we’ll focus on in Lord’s Day 30,

Share in Holy Supper as Christ’s new covenant meal:

  1. the splendid glory of the new covenant
  2. the serious demand of the new covenant

 

1) the splendid glory of this new covenant: First, a word or two about the covenant. What was it? We said a few weeks ago that the covenant is at heart a relationship; it’s that loving and mutual unity between God and us. If you wanted a definition, you could say the covenant is a living relationship of love between the LORD and his people, established and sealed in blood.

We also said a few weeks ago that the covenant appears early on in the Scriptures. There is Genesis 15, when the LORD enters into fellowship with Abraham and his family and marks it with blood. God maintains the same relationship with Abraham’s descendants, for it’s reaffirmed at Mount Sinai, where there are glorious promises, there are serious obligations, and more blood—this time, the sprinkled blood of oxen.

It might’ve been four centuries after Abraham, but the core realities haven’t changed. God says, “Therefore if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people… And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5-6).

That sounded very good. What’s better than being in communion with the living God? What’s better than being his special treasure? No wonder the people declare in Exodus 24, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient” (v 7). They rejoiced to share in this reality.

Yet it never worked out as smoothly as God intended, or as zealously the people promised. Not that God failed. But this is what Hebrews 8:9 concludes about Israel’s life in the Old Testament, under the old covenant: “God found fault with the people.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a one-sided relationship, when you do a whole lot of giving and not much receiving. After pouring yourself out, the other person just doesn’t respond in a way that shows they care. Now charity is one thing, as is Christian mercy. But to have a relationship, there must be a mutual love, a willingness to give from both sides. ‘Draw near to me,’ God says, ‘and I will draw near to you.’

For his people Israel, the LORD performed miraculous deeds, vowed great blessing, and laid out his demands. But this was a disobedient people. Israel complained and grumbled, strayed and wandered. She broke covenant with God and invited his judgment.

The LORD ‘found fault,’ and so He could’ve given up. The destruction of the temple and the exile to Babylon could’ve been the last dismal chapter—and no sequel. But listen to what God said through Hosea around that time, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?... My heart churns within me; my sympathy is stirred” (11:8). God would again have mercy and He would restore his people.

But there was no denying that a new covenant was needed. Because it just wasn’t working. There’s only so many times that a relationship can slam into the brick wall of conflict and failure before you realize that something needs to change. God needed to reset his covenant with Israel, give it a more solid foundation.

So some of the later prophets speak about a change in the bond between the LORD and his people. There’s the promise of a fresh start. We read from Jeremiah 31, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (31:31). A new covenant, a rebuilt relationship!

But what was going to be different? How could this coming covenant be considered new? God explains, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” (v 33). God is going to give his people deeper insight into what God wants from us. And we’re also going to have a greater ability to do it. More on that later…

Something else too. God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (v 34). Not that there wasn’t forgiveness of sins in the old covenant. Our Old Testament brother and sisters always knew their God to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Ps 103:8). This forgiveness would become richer. Grace was about to become even more amazing. But in what way?

You could read the entire Old Testament, and still not have a really firm idea of what the new covenant would be all about. As the apostle Peter writes in his first letter, “Of this salvation the prophets inquired and searched carefully” (1 Pet 1:10). Everyone wanted to know what God had in store for his people, but the picture lacked colour.

It only begins to become clear when we turn the page from the Old Testament to the New. There we see the LORD taking a great leap forward, for He at last sends the promised Messiah. Listen to how John speaks of this turning point in his Gospel: “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Christ” (1:17).

The old covenant, mediated by Moses and based on endless offerings, was suddenly obsolete (Heb 8:13). Replaced by something far better, Covenant 2.0! The temple system of sacrifice was outmoded, and it was supplanted by the finished work of Christ.

The beginning of this glorious new era happens in the closing days of Christ’s life. Picture the scene with his disciples when He’s celebrating the Passover, that old covenant meal. But now there is a change. For Jesus announces: “There’s a new deliverance for God’s people. By my shed blood I’ll bring you back to God.” Then, lifting the cup of wine, Jesus announces, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

Here is the new beginning. Jesus is creating a new fellowship between God and his people, building a bridge between heaven and earth. The covenant is still founded in blood, but not the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of the Lamb. There’s the sharp difference between shadow and reality. From old to new covenant, there is movement from lesser to greater, progress from incomplete and partial to perfectly full. In this new covenant, the promises are richer. The comfort is firmer. The blood is more precious.

For after he puts down that cup, Jesus goes and offers himself to God. And there won’t need to be another! As Hebrews 10 says, Christ “[offers] one sacrifice for sins forever” (v 12). The sacrifice isn’t repeated ad infinitum, for it’s been offered once, and that was enough.

Our great High Priest went to the cross and He put the finishing touches on a perfectly righteous life. From beginning to end, Jesus kept the covenant obligations that no child of God could ever keep. We hear it in those last words of Jesus from the cross: “It is finished.” For He had given everything that was required to open the way into the presence of God. Hebrews 10 says, “Having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (vv 19-21). Draw near to the LORD your God! Because now you can.

It was always a miracle that God would enter fellowship with a sinful people. As Moses asked the Israelites, “What great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?” (Deut 4:7). It was already a marvel back then. But it boggles the mind, shakes the heart, and humbles the spirit, that God would give his one and only Son to bring this relationship to the next level. He would provide the atoning blood, and the blood would be his own!

This blessed new communion is the heart of the Lord’s Supper. And think for a moment about why Christ has given us a covenant meal. The thing about meals is that you don’t typically eat and drink together with just anyone. You put out an invite, you open the door, you give of what you have. Sharing food is something done between family, good friends, fellow believers. For a meal table is an intimate setting; there’s nothing to hide, and everything to share.      

The new covenant meal celebrates this close fellowship. The Catechism speaks of this unity in Q&A 80, “Through the Holy Spirit we are grafted into Christ.” Grafted, like vines to a branch, like skin to skin—such a tight bond that there’s a flow of life from him to us. We get to sit at table with Jesus Christ. He excludes no one who calls on his Name in true faith.

He lifts the cup and reminds us, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.” Notice the personal invitation: ‘I want you to have a part in this,” He says. It’s for you, in all your sin. It’s for me, in all my shame. It’s for us, in all our weakness and unfaithfulness, our pride and anger and greed and envy and idolatry. You know that we should be left out of God’s family, made to fend for ourselves until we die.

But God includes us with Christ and extends mercy. He opens his arms even wider than anyone would’ve dared to hope. At the table, you’re allowed to see it. You’re allowed to taste it. This security gives us freedom to serve him with joy. For we’re not worried about earning God’s love. We’re not worried about winning (or keeping) a spot in God’s family. He has already given himself to us—this is splendid glory of the covenant.

 

2) the serious demand of this new covenant: If our first point emphasized the ‘promise’ side of the covenant, then the second will focus on ‘obligation.’ And this two-part covenant-structure isn’t just borrowed from the Form for Baptism. It’s written deeply into Scripture. For example, we hear it in Exodus 19 when God said to Israel, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people.” The LORD has always had high expectations for his covenant people. He has given much, and He expects much.

Sometimes we reckon that in Israel’s time, the temple sacrifices were God’s one demand. Bring him enough first-rate animals, and He’ll be happy. Keep the altar loaded and the incense rising, and God will bless. And no doubt the Israelites thought like this, at times.

But it wasn’t just an Israelite error. Sometimes we apply the same thinking to the covenant today. Maybe you have moment from time to time when you ponder the question: What does God really want from me?

We’re quick to list the outward things. ‘God wants me in church. He wants me to pray at least once a day. Read the Bible a bit. Be a nice person and don’t break the rules.’ Without realizing it, we take a minimalist approach to our walk with God: ‘What’s the least that I can give? I’ve been baptized, professed my faith—so really, what more do I have to do, besides staying a member of the church and paying a tithe?’

But God’s claim on us is total. Covenant obligation always reaches far beyond whatever might be done outwardly. We hear almost every Sunday how God wants our love, with heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s not minimal commitment, but maximum!

So it has always been, even in the Old Testament. Think of the words of Psalm 51: “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it… The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (vv 16-17). God seeks our heart and spirit, presented wholly and humbly. Or there is what the prophet Micah said, “What does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). That’s what God requires. Love, justice, and mercy are core covenant obligations: they always were, and still are.

As we said before, we need to remind ourselves often that our life is entirely rooted in God’s grace. What could we ever give to God, that He should repay us? Noting. Yet it’s only to be expected that God’s people should love Him in return. After everything He’s done in Christ, everything He’s given, a humble gratitude is only right. I cannot repay him, but I will praise him. Within this bond of love, serving the LORD is a joy.

Think of normal, healthy relationships with people we care about in this life. When there’s a good bond, we find pleasure in putting others ahead of ourselves. Maybe there’s two good friends, or a devoted husband and wife. When there’s a good bond between people, they actually learn to find pleasure in putting the other ahead of themselves. When there’s a strong connection, we don’t mind serving. We find ourselves saying, in all sincerity, “No, let’s do what you want. It’s up to you. If you’re happy, then I’m happy.” When a relationship is healthy, there’s a delight in service, a joy in being devoted.

So for our covenant obligations to the LORD God. Don’t think of them as things we’ve got to do, like they’re a burden on us that we’d escape if we only got the chance. Covenant obligation are things we get to do. Not got to—but get to! I get to pray to God every day. I get to walk in holiness every week. I get to serve others and bless them. I get to go to church.

These things aren’t always easy—I’d have more time if I didn’t do devotions every day. I would have more money if I didn’t keep giving it away. Yet somehow there’s a delight in service, for this is what we were meant to do. “You are to me a kingdom of priests,” God said, and it’s a privilege to be a priest. It’s an honour to walk in the presence of the LORD.

How can we even do this? Think of what happened to Israel. They had good intentions, we said, but had a hard time with God’s demands. And the LORD had always said what would happen if they didn’t keep their covenant obligation. There’s even a whole section of God’s curses in the law (Deut 28) where God warns his people about disobedience. And God’s curse did come down because of all their failures.

But don’t forget that God promised something else in the new covenant. There would come a day when, God says through Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…and I will cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments” (36:26-27). Jeremiah too, spoke of the law being written on our hearts.

Through Christ and his Spirit, we get to live in the blessings of the new covenant. We have been set free from our guilt in Christ, and we’ve been changed by his Spirit. So God calls us to return with a new vigour, and a new resolve, to do what God asks of us, his blood-bought people.

And there is something critical here. Because this covenant is now so much more glorious, God’s demand is so much more serious. Consider the letter to the Hebrews. It was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to return to the old ways of Judaism, because at that time, it was safer to be a Jew than a Christian. But to those thinking of turning their back on Christ, the author gives a rebuke.

This is what he writes in chapter 10, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (vv 28-29). The greater the promise, the greater the obligation.

Those are serious words. There remains a covenant curse for those who won’t receive the promises of the LORD. It is a covenant curse more severe than anything in the days of Israel! Not because God expects our contribution. But after everything God has invested, everything He’s given—after Jesus Christ has invited you to his table—it’s only fitting that we give him a life of committed praise.

That’s not with half measures, not with empty words, not with a godless life that has just a thin veneer of Christian behaviour, but wholeheartedly. Completely. Without wavering. Being faithful where you are, being busy with love and good works.

This also relates to how we celebrate the new covenant supper. It’s something to think about before we come to the table, that we celebrate in the proper manner. As Question 82 puts it, “Are those also to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who by their confession and life show that they are unbelieving and ungodly?” And underline that key phrase in the answer: “No…for then the covenant of God would be profaned.”

We don’t want to profane God’s covenant with us. We don’t want to treat as a light thing something that is weighty in its glory and holiness. So we must celebrate the covenant meal in the right spirit. And you don’t just work up ‘the right spirit’ on Sunday morning before Holy Supper. It’s not as easy as putting on your favourite tie or doing your hair. The right spirit at the Lord’s table arises from having the right spirit all week, and all month, and your whole life. It arises from the daily process of fleeing from your sins, turning to Christ, and resolving to walk more closely with him.

We can do these things, for God keeps his covenant. God hears you when you pray. He provides you with what you need to serve him. He reaches out to you in your sorrow and trouble and worry and sustains you. For Christ’s sake God walks beside you always, and says, ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people.’

So what about us? Will we covenant with him? Walking with the LORD, and trusting in his grace? Will you live with him in a committed and humble spirit, in whatever you’re doing? Offer God your heartfelt worship, beginning on Sunday, and continuing throughout the week. You have a relationship of love with your God and Saviour. So enjoy this relationship with grateful obedience and humble faith! For that’s what He wants from us. And that’s what will bring delight, both to God and to you.  Amen. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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