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The Blessing of Passover April 2, 2015

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Mark 14:12-26

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

 

Focus:  God does the work.

Function:  That the hearers live as forgiven children of God.

Structure:  Bridging the Old and the New.

 

The Blessing of Passover

 

The week is proceeding according to plan.  We have celebrated the arrival of Christ on Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  He then cleansed the temple and cursed a fig tree on Monday, spent His Tuesday teaching in the temple courts, and on Wednesday, Judas hatched a scheme to betray Jesus for what amounted to 30 pieces of silver, or about 1/3 of a year’s pay.

So today, we find ourselves gathered together for worship on Maundy Thursday.  Maundy is from the Latin words mandatum novum, which are actually the first two words of John 13:34 in Latin, “A new commandment I give to you.”  But even though that’s not our text for today (you’ll just have wait until next year to hear about the new commandment), we can look at something else new that happened on Maundy Thursday.

In fact, over the course of our Scripture readings today, we actually get several new things.  And there’s a common thread, there’s something binding all of them together.  And that’s what we want to look at today.

Mark chapter 14 begins with the words, “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread.”  So before we can even start to look at the events of Maundy Thursday somewhere roughly around the year 30 AD, we have to rewind, we have to return to the year 1446 BC, to the year that Moses returned to Egypt under God’s command, “Set My people free!”

Moses recorded these events for us in Exodus chapter 12.  We learn that God spoke to him and told him about the 10th plague, the plague of the firstborn.  That every firstborn son in the land of Egypt would be killed.  But at the Lord’s command, the firstborn children in the homes of the Israelites would be spared.

So the Lord speaks to Moses and says, “This shall be the first month of the year.”  That’s one that we don’t really ever talk about.  As God is preparing to deliver His people from their slavery in Egypt, He actually tells them that they’re starting a new calendar.  Right now, this moment, is day one of a new year.

And it’s totally unlike our New Year.  We celebrate a New Year and we come up with some kind of a resolution.  And within the first week, we’ve failed.  A New Year means new things to do.  More work to be done.  But not here.  See, this new year begins with God.  It begins with what God has done for them.

Every time you think about the calendar, every time you celebrate a new year, you can remember how God delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians.  You’re free!  It’s not what you do: it’s what God’s done for you.

God continues, and He instructs Moses to tell all the people of Israel that on the 10th day of the month, they are to go out and find a lamb without blemish and bring it into their homes.  And then on the 14th day, at twilight, they are to slaughter the lamb, take its blood, and paint it on their doorposts.  When the angel of death comes that night, he will pass over their homes.  Their sons will be spared.

Then they are to roast the lamb.  There’s dinner to be had and a good one at that.  Roast the lamb, all of it, and eat it together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  This meal is about haste.  There’s no time to let the dough rise, that’s why it’s unleavened.  There’s no coming back for leftovers tomorrow, because you won’t be here.  So finish the meal, leave nothing for the morning.  “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste.  It is Yahweh’s Passover.” (Ex. 12:11)

The Lord then told Moses that this was to be a memorial, a regular celebration among the people.  At this time every year from this point forward, celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, celebrate the Passover.  Remember that God has delivered you and your families from Egypt.  He has saved you.

Begin the week, on the 14th day of the first month of the year, begin with a holy assembly.  You shall do no work that day.  All week long, there shall be no leaven within your homes.  And on the last day of the week, again, have a holy assembly, and do no work.  It’s all to remind God’s people that He has saved them.  He has done the work.

In one of his other writings, Numbers chapter 29, Moses actually tells us that even though it starts on the 14th, there’s also a big feast on the 15th.  You can only imagine, that on the day after the Passover, after Israel had fled Egypt, they celebrated with a feast.  A new year with a new feast.

And in our Old Testament reading today from the book of Exodus, we see Moses come down from the mountain of God with the law in hand, with God’s instructions for how His people were to live.  And they gladly received them and pledged to do them.  It’s the Ten Commandments, a new law, a new word from God to live by. And yet, this is something we struggle with today.

My favorite way to number the commandments is actually different than what we find in our Small Catechisms.  Back in the days of Jesus, the synagogue actually began the numbering of the commandments not with “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Not at all.  Instead, they began with the verse before it: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:1)

The synagogue, known for its rule-abiding religious leaders, like the Pharisees, actually based the commandments on what God has already done for us.  They rooted it in the power of the gospel, that God has saved us.  That’s irony; it’s beautiful, but it’s irony.  A new year with a new feast and a new set of commandments, but it all starts with God.

And so we jump back to Mark chapter 14, to roughly 30 AD.  It’s the Thursday after Jesus rode on the donkey into Jerusalem.  Unbeknownst to eleven of His disciples, He’s already been betrayed.  It’s the 14th day of the first month of the year.  It’s the day that the Passover lambs are to be slaughtered at twilight and then roasted and eaten for dinner.  It’s the day for the feast of haste, for the first day of the Passover of Unleavened Bread.

And Christ sits down with His disciples to eat this meal together, to celebrate salvation together.  They were just doing what they always did.  It was a Passover just like any other, their typical celebration of a fun holiday…until they did a double take.  Until Christ changed the script and said something completely different.

And then in their very midst, He changed the celebration altogether.  We get another new thing.  “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  This is roughly when the night shifts.  This is roughly the time when Judas departs to go and find the soldiers to lead them to the garden.  This is roughly the time when things start to click, and the disciples start to realize that things really are happening here in Jerusalem.  This is it!

But, they still didn’t fully get it.  Jesus even gave them a pretty clear hint: “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  But Jesus, tomorrow’s the 15th, what about our even bigger feast than tonight?  You couldn’t possibly not have wine tomorrow!  But He didn’t…a little vinegar, but no wine.

A new covenant in the blood of Christ.  It’s not something we do, it’s something He did for us.  That He willing went to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  That He allowed Himself to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, tried, and then finally crucified, died and was buried.

And out of this new covenant, we receive the forgiveness of sins.  It’s nothing we do, it’s what He’s done for us.  As we come today to His table in His presence, we take of that blood, we partake in the new covenant which He so willingly gave for us.

In our sinfulness, this is a struggle for us.  We want to do the work.  The Israelites wanted to be out of slavery, but they couldn’t free themselves.  The people at the foot of Mount Sinai so gladly and so willingly received the commandments and said, “All the words that Yahweh has spoken we will do.”  And yet, they failed.  They couldn’t follow through.  And neither do we.  We fall short, we fail to keep the commandments that we so willingly pledged ourselves to, whether in our baptisms or in confirming our baptisms.  We can’t do this alone.

Whether it was the Passover, the Commandments, or the New Covenant, it all starts here (pointing to the cross).  It’s not about what we do.  It’s about what God has done for us and how that transforms who we are.

Through the Passover, they were no longer slaves, but a new nation, God’s nation.  Through the 10 Commandments and the giving of the law, they were no longer people with no leader and no direction, but they knew and trusted that they were headed to the Promised Land.  And through the blood of the New Covenant, we are no longer failed sinners destined for the fiery pits of hell, but we are children of God, blessed, redeemed, and forgiven by the blood of the Lamb.  We are no longer destined for death, but for life, and it all starts right here (again, pointing to the cross).

 

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The Wonder of a New Covenant March 22, 2015

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2015

 

Focus:  God gives us the gift of a new covenant.

Function:  That the hearers look forward to the new covenant and the new creation.

Structure:  Two-Fold Prophecy.

 

The Wonder of a New Covenant

 

Last week, we journeyed together through the book of Numbers.  And we saw a cycle.  God blesses His people, and we grumble.  God blesses His people, and we sin.  Despite the awesome deliverance that they had seen and received from the hands of the Egyptians, through plagues, parting the Red Sea, drowning the Egyptian army, all they could think about was how bad the food tasted.  We broke the covenant of God.

In a way, that’s where our text picks up today.  The prophet Jeremiah is telling us of the failed covenant of old, and that instead, God is now promising us a new covenant.  Sure, we’re skipping roughly 500 years of human history, but all that time it’s basically the same cycle:  God blesses His people, and we grumble.

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.

 

At the very mention of the new covenant, I know what my 6th graders are thinking: the Lord’s Supper.  I’m confident!  We’ve talked about it so much recently that they’re probably already regurgitating the words of institution in their minds.  And that’s a beautiful thing!

We’ll be looking at this in much more detail next week during Holy Week, specifically on Maundy Thursday as that’s a very important event from that day.  So for today, for now, it’s good enough to simply make the connection.  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  The power of the new covenant is the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross, poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.  In His blood, your sins are gone.  He redeems us from the broken covenant of old and lifts us up as God’s people once again.

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.

 

We can see how this fits with what Christ taught His disciples that night.  God makes the new covenant with the house of Israel, that is with all His people who believe in Him.  Paul, both in Romans 9 and Galatians 6, speaks of us as being the new Israel, not by flesh, but by believing in the promise.  This covenant belongs to us.

The law was then given to the people.  The people who surrounded Jesus in those days had the Scriptures and the scribes, the teachers of the law, and of course, the Pharisees.  If there was a Pharisee in your community, you could safely bet the family farm that everyone knew the law.

It was written on their hearts from childhood, having learned it from their parents and the religious leaders.  Even Christ, as He grew up, had to learn it.

And the idea that no one would have to tell their brother or their neighbor about the Lord anymore is also evident.  Remember as Jesus traveled about the region in His ministry how massive crowds seemed to follow Him wherever He went.  He was well known in that region, by the greatest and the least of the people.

And then that our sins are forgiven and forgotten comes from His blood shed for us upon the cross.  As often as we drink it, in remembrance of Him.

But yet, at the same time, these verses don’t perfectly fit with Christ’s earthly ministry.  Yet again, we have broken the new covenant.  We have gone right back to what God said, “My covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.”  A marriage works by putting your spouse before yourself.  Their needs before your own.  In that way, you take care of them, and they take care of you.  It’s self-sacrificing.  But it also helps us better understand our relationship with God.

God doesn’t have needs to be met, but it’s similar with God.  That we would put Him before ourselves.  That we would learn to trust in Him to care for us.  That He would indeed sacrifice of Himself to care for us, as He did when He put His Son on the cross.  We have often failed to put Him before ourselves.  To trust in Him before earthly things.  We constantly are putting other things first, typically starting with “me, myself, and I.”

We forgo our relationship with Him by saying it doesn’t matter.  We may not say it out loud, but we often say it with our actions.  That being with Him on a daily basis isn’t an important thing in our lives.  That being with Him and the rest of His family in His house on a regular, weekly basis doesn’t matter.  It’s more important that I sleep in from time to time.  It’s more important that I get all these other things done.

And despite having His law written upon our hearts, we still fight against it.  The angel on your shoulder says “don’t do it,” but we listen to the little devil on the other shoulder telling us how much fun it will be to have a couple drinks too many or encouraging us to get ahead in life by working so much our children don’t even know us anymore.

Despite His law being written in its entirety on paper for us to hold, we ignore it.  We come up with every excuse in the world to not open His Word on a daily basis and actually let it inform our lives, transform our lives.

All too often, we choose not to be His people.  And that is evident by simply looking around us today.  There’s no way we can say that we all know the Lord.  There’s no way we can agree with verse 34 saying that we no longer have to tell our neighbor or our brother about God, because they do need to hear it.

That’s why we know Jeremiah’s prophecy is a two-fold prophecy.  It began to be fulfilled in Christ’s work among us during His life and ministry.  But it will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the awesome return of Jesus Christ.

That day is coming.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  But it’s coming.  When Christ will return for His people and will gather us to Himself.  The day when the tombs will be broken open and the dead will be raised to life.  All of them!  Billions upon billions of people, some to judgment, but many to life.

My old classmates had this discussion this week.  What will the new creation look like?  Will we even need to have the new covenant among us?  We most certainly will.  Because God’s covenant of old and new are simply this:  I will be their God and they will be My people.  And unlike with Adam and Eve, God Himself will uphold those covenants and give us the strength to live in them every day for the rest of forever.

That is the day when we will no longer have to teach our neighbor and our brother, because they will all know the Lord.  That is the day when the law will be fully and perfectly written upon our hearts.  That is the day when we will fully be His people.

But as for the new creation, that leaves questions.  Some of the best of our theologians today talk about restoration.  They look at the original creation and how God had called it very good.  How that is the only example of perfection that we know of.  They take that and they say that that is what we have to look forward to.  A new creation, a perfect Paradise.  A place where we all live together in peace in the presence of our God.  A place where we get to enjoy the rich beauty and the wonders of His creation, still filled with plants and animals, food and water, and even the very tree of life.

The blood of Christ shed upon the cross truly does cleanse us of all our sins. And when God says forgiven and forgotten, you can take that to the bank.  We may not know with full certainly what the new creation, what everlasting life will look like, but we can count on that.  That He will be our God and we will be His people.  Sins gone.  And we get to spend forever with Him in Paradise.

Blood of the New Covenant April 17, 2014

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Matthew 26:20-30

Maundy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Focus: God has made with us a new covenant.

Function: That the hearers confess their need for a Savior.

Structure: This is the historical meaning in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Blood of the New Covenant

 

As you well know, seeing as you’re here, today’s Maundy Thursday.  Today marks an important day in the middle of Holy Week, as Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a few days and the moment at the cross draws near.  But just what exactly is Maundy Thursday?  Outside of Holy Week, you never hear that word.

I could quiz my confirmation class right now, make Karl and Adam come up here and answer that for you, but that would be mean.  So I guess I’ll just tell you.  Maundy is from Latin, from the words mandatum novum, or in English, a new commandment.  It refers to the moments after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  It’s supposed to remind us of Jesus’ words in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But this year, this Maundy Thursday, we won’t focus on that aspect of the day.  Instead, we’re focusing on another new commandment that Christ gave that day.  We’re focusing on the Last Supper.  And in order to truly understand the Last Supper we need to see it for what it really is: a bridge, a link, a transition from one thing to another.

See the Last Supper isn’t just any meal.  It’s the celebration of the Passover.  It’s the celebration of what God has done for His people.  You know the connections, you know the accounts that I’m talking about.  In Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham, that He would their God and that they would be His people.

But covenants are tricky things.  It’s not like a promise.  If you break a promise, not much happens.  Okay, maybe a little trust is lost, but that’s about it.  But not with covenants.  If you break a covenant, you die.  Bloodshed is required.  And that’s where all of the animal sacrifices came into play.  God allowed for their blood to cover our sins.

But eventually all of that sin led God’s people into slavery in Egypt.  And it wasn’t pretty.  You can’t make the pyramids without tortured slaves, harsh labor, and death.  God saw the pain of His people and He heard their cries.  And He acted.

Nine plagues later, Pharaoh still wouldn’t let God’s people go.  So God rolled out one last plague, the killing of the firstborn.  And He told Moses what to do.  Have them make a meal and eat it in great haste, for after this plague, they will be driven out of Egypt.  Put no leaven in the bread, as it won’t have time to rise.  Instruct the people to sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on their doorposts.  When the angel of death comes, he will not touch their home.  They will live.

That’s where the name Passover comes from.  The angel literally passed over their homes and spared them.  And that night, the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh, drove the Israelites out of town.  They were free.  God had heard them and He had saved them.

For nearly 1500 years after that night, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.  The meal that reminded them of God’s redemption, of God’s deliverance.  That may seem hard to believe, but we’ve been celebrating Christmas and Easter for nearly 2000 years now.  So did they, year after year, they remembered.

And that brings us to the Last Supper.  Christ’s disciples certainly didn’t know it.  They assumed it was another Passover just like any other.  They assumed they were celebrating their salvation from Egypt.  And they looked forward to sharing it with Jesus, just as they had done the past three years.

They didn’t know that this night would be different.  They didn’t know that Jesus was about to change everything.  They didn’t know that that night would change their lives, and ours, forever.

But it did.  That night Jesus reinterpreted the Passover meal.  The Last Supper became a bridge from something old to something new.  A bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  A bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant.  A bridge between the Passover and the cross.

That night, Jesus reinterpreted the meal and all of its parts in light of Himself.  That night, the Messiah taught the disciples how all things pointed to Him.  The Passover deliverance, the meal, the prophets, the blood, everything was meant to point us to Christ.

The Passover meal begins with a blessing and the first cup of wine, and then a preliminary dish, an appetizer, of mostly herbs.  After that, the host, in this case Jesus, retold the Passover story, retold Israel’s history.  Then they drank the second cup of wine.

The host would then speak a blessing over the unleavened bread.  At that point, they would eat the main course, consisting of the lamb, bread, herbs and finally a word of blessing over the third cup of wine.  The meal would then conclude with some singing of a few psalms of praise, followed by the fourth, and final, cup of wine.

The Passover meal is highly scripted.  If a Jewish family were to invite you to their Seder dinner multiple years in a row, you would begin to notice and catch on.  So imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus broke from the norm and started teaching about Himself.

Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the bread and said, “this is my body.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the cup and said, “this is my blood.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces as Christ took the Passover meal and made it His, as He proclaimed Himself to be the Passover lamb for all people.

That’s the connection, that’s the bridge the Last Supper is building.  Passover, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper.  Christ calls it the “new covenant in My blood.”  As the lambs were sacrificed to save the Israelites, the final lamb, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed to save us.

We are sinners.  We, every one of us, have broken the covenant.  There is no hope of salvation for us now without the shedding of blood.  Without the sacrifice that passes over our sins.  It matters not if it’s lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy or pride.  We need a Savior.

This Maundy Thursday, we wanted to highlight and focus on the Lord’s Supper, on the new covenant, on the forgiveness of sins.  To help us do just that, I baked the bread.  And yes, it’s unleavened.  But today you will see your Pastor break the bread and give it to you, as Christ broke the bread and gave it to His disciples.

Today, you will partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Today you will come into His presence trusting in the words and promises He made in the Last Supper, that this is no mere bread, but His very body.  And this is no mere cup of wine, but His very blood.  Today, you come to His table, trusting in His promise, trusting His words, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Maundy Thursday is not yet over.  Know that the events that are about to happen are part of God’s plan.  Because we have sinned blood must be shed.  But take comfort, for Christ is our Passover lamb!  He is our Savior!  Come, remember, celebrate, and be forgiven!

Christ was Baptized? January 8, 2012

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Mark 1:4-11

 Epiphany 1

January 7-8, 2012

Focus: God fulfilled the covenant of the Old Testament in His Son into a new covenant.

Function: That the hearers may rest assured of their forgiveness and salvation in the New Covenant.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Christ was Baptized?

            We all know that babies are breastfed.  They’re nurtured by their mother’s milk, and the nutrients in it.  That’s just part of the way that God created human life.  But at some point, every little child is weaned off their mother’s milk and starts eating solid food.  This is the point that the author of Hebrews thought the Christians of his day needed to hear.  Now he was speaking of it metaphorically.  “You’re mature enough that you shouldn’t be on milk any more, but should be       on solid food. You know Jesus loves you.  You know your sins are forgiven.  You should be exploring the spiritual and theological depths of Scripture, continuing to grow in knowledge and wisdom.”

Our gospel reading today is solid food.  In our text, Jesus is baptized.  The thing here that makes us confused is our own theology of baptism.  What is baptism?  We view it as a sacrament that both forgives sins and grants the gift of the Holy Spirit.  John the Baptist is even baptizing in our text for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

So why does Jesus Christ, the holy, perfect Son of God, need to be baptized?  That’s the puzzler.  And Mark didn’t see fit to provide a clear answer to that question.  While all four gospel writers tell of Jesus’ baptism, only Matthew gives a reason.  In his account, Jesus tells John the Baptist that it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Maybe that made sense to John, but it seems vague to us.  It really doesn’t do much to help us understand.

The most common answer among Christians doesn’t do us much good either.  The simplest answer has typically been: “Christ was baptized to set an example for us.  Because He was baptized, we should be baptized.”  And while I’m not going to tell you not to follow Christ’s examples, to live as Christ did, this answer falls short.  Christ wasn’t a sinner.  Therefore, He didn’t need baptism for forgiveness, because there was nothing to forgive.  Christ didn’t need the gift of faith either.  We aren’t simply following His example then, because in our baptisms we are forgiven of our sin and given faith.

For those of you who have heard a number of my sermons by now, you’ve probably realized that I really like the language of the covenant.  And honestly, why shouldn’t we all?  It’s God’s relationship with man.  In the Old Testament covenant with Abraham, God bound Himself to create a people, a nation, and then to always be there with them.  That’s powerful stuff.  I like God’s covenants.  So by now, it really shouldn’t surprise you that my answer to the question of why was Jesus baptized is for the covenant.  Let me explain, because this is truly solid food.

Over the past couple of months, we talked a lot about God’s covenant with Abraham.  If you didn’t already know, you’ve learned that covenants were pacts that were made in blood.  Sacrifices of animals were offered, blood was shed, to establish a covenant.  That’s probably why the Hebrew phrase is to cut a covenant, rather than just make.  And we also learned that the result, the penalty, of breaking a covenant is death.

There are a number of covenants in the Old Testament, but in some ways, they are all related.  It’s not that the other aren’t important, but we’ve focused so much on the covenant with Abraham, because that’s more of the focal point, the backbone of the Old Testament.  In that covenant, God created and established a people for Himself, the nation of Israel.  And through that covenant, there were many foreshadowings and prophecies of the Savior who was to come.

But as you know, and as we’ve discussed, Israel failed.  They were riddled with sin, and struggled mightily to be God’s people.  You could even argue that they didn’t want to be God’s people.  The punishment for their sin, for breaking the covenant, was to be death.  And so, Jesus Christ, the Savior, came into the world to redeem Israel, to fix the broken relationship they had with God.

Sometimes when we talk about Jesus, we lose sight of the idea that He was the fulfillment.  He fulfilled the covenant.  In Him, God’s kingdom came into the world.  The forgiveness He gives us is important without a doubt, but it’s because He fulfilled the covenant and brought about the kingdom of God that He was able to offer us forgiveness.

Throughout my studies at Concordia University in Nebraska and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, both of the theology staffs liked this idea of a title for Jesus that is still fairly unknown.  We know He’s Christ and Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Prince of Peace, Immanuel and many more.  But they sought to add this one: “Israel Reduced to One.”

In God’s covenant with man, those are the two sides.  God, and man.  Jesus was on God’s side of cutting the covenant.  So in order to fulfill the covenant, to be the sacrifice that mankind needed, Christ had to take man’s place.  Man’s punishment was death.  To save us from it, Christ had to take our place.  He had to become Israel of the covenant.

So there’s the idea behind “Israel Reduced to One.”  But in the life of Christ, we see a lot of things that fit this depiction.  Christ took on flesh and was born of Mary.  He became man.  On the eighth day, like all other little Hebrew boys, Jesus was circumcised.  In Matthew’s account of Jesus, we hear, “Out of Egypt I will call My Son.”  Matthew refers to this as Christ, because Joseph and Mary took an infant Jesus to Egypt to hide from Herod.  But the origin of the text is the nation of Israel being called out of slavery to enter the Promised Land.

Growing up, He did what they did, He went to temple; He grew in knowledge and wisdom.  And He also did many of the normal things.  He formed relationships, He learned a trade, and He kept to the Word of God.

So it’s no surprise that the events that we say mark the beginning of His ministry are really events that securely bind Him to the covenant.  We say His ministry began at His baptism.  There a few ties here.  The simplest is that the Jews by this time were performing a ritual washing, a cleansing.  So He did as the Israelites.  Then some say that Jesus was baptized by John so that all of Israel would begin to acknowledge Him.  But it’s deeper than that.

What are the primary events that make Israel into a nation?  What are the things that truly bring about God’s part of the covenant?  A nation has land.  God promised Israel land.  And as we know from the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were led out of slavery in Egypt.  And when they’re backs were up against wall, the Red Sea, pinned by Pharaoh’s army, God parted the Sea.  The water opened and allowed God’s people to cross.  And when Pharaoh’s men tried to follow, the waters closed and they were drowned.  Saved by God through water.  Sound like baptism?

And at the end of their wandering in the wilderness, the people, led by Joshua, crossed the Jordan River.  Similar to the crossing of the Red Sea, God stopped the water from flowing in the Jordan and allowed the people to cross.  As they came up the other side, they were entering the Promised Land, the land that God had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.  He gave it to them.  Through water, they became a nation.

The Jordan River became a prominent natural feature for the Israelites.  And it’s no coincidence then that is where John the Baptist was baptizing people.  So when Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, He is drawing Israel back to their past, to the covenant faithfulness of God.  We say He’s beginning His ministry, but it’s bigger.  He’s becoming Israel for us.

We see it further when He comes up out of the water and God calls down to Him from heaven “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”  God said this to David when he became king of Israel.  “You are My son.”  It’s yet another connection.  And in the verses after our gospel, Mark describes Jesus’ time being tested in the wilderness by Satan.  The forty days of testing hopefully remind you of Israel’s forty years of wandering, being tested along the way.

When we talk about Jesus fulfilling prophecies, these are some of the things we’re talking about.  Jesus came into the world to be Israel Reduced to One.  You can think of it as a funnel if it helps.  All of the Old Testament, all of God’s people, go through the funnel and there’s Christ.  Jesus was the final Israelite.  Right down to the cross, He was the last faithful Jew.

In His life, He fulfilled the Old Testament; He became Israel in our place.  And in His death, He did something even bigger.  He restored our relationship with God.  He forgave our sins.  But then there’s the how.  How did He do it?  Yes, Christ’s death was the death required for the broken covenant.  But it’s also more than that.

Jesus informed His disciples that His death was something incredible.  Again fulfilling things, Jesus’ death would bring about the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares Yahweh.

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Yahweh, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares Yahweh, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

 

Think of the words Pastor says before the Lord’s Supper.  The Words of the Institution that we use: “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Greek there, and most English translations get this right, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1 Corinthians, they all call the blood of Christ the blood of the New Covenant.  Christ’s death on the cross not only takes the place of our punishment for the broken covenant of old, but it is also the required bloodshed to form, to cut, a new covenant.

When Christ bled on the cross, the new covenant that Jeremiah spoke about began.  The forgiveness of sins is given.  When you come to the altar and partake of the body and blood of Christ, you partake of the new covenant, you receive the forgiveness that Christ died to give you.

Earlier I said you could think of this as a funnel.  But now, it’s really more like an hourglass.  Israel and the Old Testament are the sand at the top.  And as they funnel down, they all are reduced to Christ.  And through Christ and the new covenant, the sand that comes out the of the bottom of the hourglass, the funnel, widens.  Another way to see it would be the old covenant at the top with the new covenant coming out the bottom.  Either way, before Christ, everyone who was God’s child was considered a Jew.  After Christ, they are called Christians.  We are called Christians.

This is why Paul says what he says throughout Romans.  In our text today, we are buried with Christ in our baptisms.  By being baptized, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and coming to faith, we become a part of the new covenant.  We become children of God.  That’s what covenants do: they form the basis for our relationship with God.  That’s why we should all love covenants.  The new covenant is the means by which God chose to save us in Jesus Christ.  Amen.