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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Berit -- Covenant

The word berit means covenant, treaty, or alliance. It occurs some 285 times in the Jewish Scriptures. Among the covenants God makes are included Noah, the whole world, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the Israelites, Levi and the priests and King David.

The oldest recorded covenants are from the Hittites who ruled from 1400 to 1200 BC. (This time period is probably between Abraham and Moses). The covenant treaties consisted of a promise to submit as a vassal state to the King, and in return the people were assured of the King's protection. The basic composition of the Hittite covenant treaties seem to serve as a model for Israel's covenants (berit) with God. The basic outline is found in the Biblical records as well: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, public reading and preservation in a sacred place, witnesses, and a list of blessings and curses. In our Bible we read that God graciously offers Himself to His people and calls them to pledge their lives in obedience and love to Him as their King and Master. However, a King-Vassal covenant is not the only model. The Bible also speaks of the marriage covenant, where God is the husband and His people a beloved wife. Or the parent-child relationship, where God is a Father and His people are His children. We do well to remember, however, that the words 'husband' or 'father' in the ancient context would still be similar to the royal status of God.

The purpose of God's covenant is to bless and save the world. This is evident in the first covenant in Genesis with Noah and the revived world. However, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Israel, Levi and the priests and King David and his royal line are all intended to bless the world. Jesus, the Son of David and Son of God, the Royal Messiah, comes to save the world and fulfill every covenant promise. The older ones are not former covenants which are annulled, they are superseded, fulfilled and perfected in Christ. It is that covenant which we celebrate tonight, the covenant in His Body and Blood.

Seven weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, I reminded you of that covenant with God. Then I told you that God is not the only option. There are others, false deities, which would also have your allegiance. Those idols claim our hearts and souls. Those idols lie and mislead us into sin and death. I advised you, each day, to begin by breaking covenant with those false gods and renewing covenant with Messiah Jesus. Those who fail to submit as vassals to God our King end up making peace with the world, the flesh and the devil. Our covenants with that diabolical trinity are part and parcel of life in a fallen state. God wants us to love Him and choose Him, but gives us the freedom to choose otherwise. Accept or Reject the covenant with God: the choice is ours.

Sadly we live in the aftermath of The First Rejection. In fact, that original rejection has been multiplied by trillions of trillions of trillions of other rejections. The insurrections, blasphemies, heresies, apostasies, sins and evil in the name and service of the world, the flesh and the devil are compounded with each new day. We are sought out by and brought into alliance with the unholy three to our own destruction.

On Ash Wednesday, I invited you to start each day rebuking satan and any demonic activity in your life, rebuking the world and its false values, and rebuking your own fallen flesh. This call to repentance is a happy work--one which faith, joy, hope and peace should permeate. When we break covenant with the evil three we make room for covenant with the Holy One in Three.

If the word covenant is found 285 times in the Jewish Scriptures, it is much rarer in the Christian Testament (about 28; 16 of those in Hebrews). In fact, it only occurs four times in the Gospels, each one in the Last Supper narratives. The words we hear tonight.

If you have broken covenant with the world, the flesh and the devil, then right now you are prepared to open your heart to the covenant Jesus offers us.

The bread: My Body
The wine: My Blood
The ancient covenant of Passover, now a renewed covenant in Me.
The saving blood of the Passover Lamb is now the saving body and blood of the Messianic Lamb on the cross.

We who eat and drink submits to Him. As His people, His wife, His child--as a people who believe in Him and trust Him, a people which submit to and pledge to obey Him.

We eat Him, we drink Him---and He lives in us and we in Him.
In covenant love and covenant peace.
The eucharist is our covenant because Jesus is our covenant. A covenant offered to us by God. A covenant modeled after the covenants of the Ancient Near East.

A covenant with YHWH the Lord God, whose hesed (covenant mercy and love) is ever faithful. A covenant with the Holy Triune God who is love and calls us to faithful love in covenant with Him.

Tonight we celebrate the great gift of this covenant in the eucharist, but tomorrow we learn, again, the horrible cost of God's free gift to us.

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