Last week, we began talking about being Christians and being part of the Christian Church.  We said that a Christian and the Christian Church are supernatural creations, meaning that we become Christians only through the supernatural work of God and that God is the supernatural creator of the Christian Church itself.  In today’s Scripture reading, we learned that the provision for our transformation as a Christian and formation of the Christian Church comes about through the establishment of a covenant by God.

          God is the God of covenants.  Although we read our church covenant this morning, we do not often use the word covenant in our daily life.  However, covenants, in Biblical times, were used often to establish relationships between the powerful and those under their power.  That is what ancient covenants did.  And there were two basic types of covenants. 

Just for a moment, let’s consider each type of covenant.  There was the Suzerain Vassal Covenant in which the superior, say a king, placed demands upon the inferior (vassal).  In return for meeting the king’s demands, there were promises of reward and protection. We understand this sort of covenant because in many ways it has the look of a business relationship in which the needs of each party are being addressed.

The other type of covenant was called the Royal Grant Covenant. In the Royal Grant Covenant, a gift is given from the superior to the lesser as a blessing.  In the case of the Royal Grant Covenant, everything about what is provided in the covenant is dependent upon the one who gave the blessing. And that blessing was given because giver wanted to do so, not because giver needed to do so.  A king, for example, through a Royal Grant Covenant would blessing those he chose to bless because he wanted to bless them.

These ancient human covenants give us insight to relate to covenants established by God.  One of the earliest covenants God made was with a man named Abram.  Genesis 12, verse 1, begins with God reaching out to establish a covenant with Abram.  “1The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).  God’s covenant with Abram has the feel of a Royal Grant Covenant.  The King, God, decided, without need on his part, to bless Abram. Everything that would be accomplished through the covenant would be done by the King, God, for the benefit of the recipient of the covenant, Abram.  The requirement upon Abram was simply that Abram would follow God’s plan to bless him. This is the typical pattern of God’s covenants; I, God, will accomplish My desires and bless you but you must follow the plan.

God would establish other covenants of this nature with the Hebrew people who would make up the nation of Israel.  We also saw in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Jeremiah that God would make a promise of a new covenant.  There Jeremiah wrote,” 31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  l be their God, and they will be my people…For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-33, 34b).  God had spoken of a time coming in which He would establish a new covenant dependent upon Him in which He would draw a group of people to Him to bless them.  We now know that it would not be the calling of a nation, it would be the calling of individuals, one by one, and that those people would be drawn together into church.  We gathered here today are fulfilment of the word of God spoken in Jeremiah.  We are the fulfilment of God’s word because we have accepted Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives within us, and we have been drawn together into the Christian Church.  How do we know we are the fulfilment of God’s word? Let’s look at just a few Scripture references to bring this point home.

Jesus said most simply, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus would fulfil the promise of God in establishing a new covenant.  Jesus then said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  The Son of God will fulfil the covenant by establishing the church, the collection of people He saved.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).  The cornerstone of the fulfilment of God’s covenantal word is Jesus and the outworking of the Church is the outworking of the covenant.

The Apostle Peter wrote of the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).  The King, God, has drawn us, you and me, out of the world of darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ.  This was and is an act of mercy completely dependent upon God.

When we accept the mercy offered by God through Jesus to come into the light, we then come to see that God’s covenant, His decision of love us, to extend grace to us, and to care for us is not based on us being sinless or having accomplished some set of tasks. God extended His grace because we have accepted the completed work of Christ upon the cross for our sake.

Now what I just said that our status is based upon the completed work of Christ, is, in today’s world, an offensive statement.  Did you know that?  What offends people about the cross, and our preaching, and our existence as a church, is the idea that we bring nothing to the party and Christ must do it all. People are offended by that statement. They are offended because we live in a self-help obsessed culture.  We live in self-centered obsessed culture.  We live in a “I’m a good person because of the work I do,” obsessed culture.  And what does God call all these self-motivated efforts?  God calls them filthy rags compared to the grace of the covenant He has offered. This offends people’s pride and that is why the Church is persecuted.  People would rather define their god through their own standards and their own accomplishments than to accept a part in the covenant given by the one true God.

Now we are not immune to the culture around us.  That is why Church, the gathering of saved people, is so important.  Saved people need saved people.  We need to fellowship and care of one another to help us celebrate the joyful moments of life and to get us over the rough ground when things do not go as smoothly as we would prefer.  That is what we said this morning when we opened with the church covenant.

Saved people need saved people because we live in a disposal world.  We design one-time-use products.  We like them. Because when that product has been used or it does not work as we prefer, we throw it away.  The world does that with products and it does that with people.  In the world, when people or relationships with certain people are no longer preferred, our culture throws them away.  May be you don’t believe that is true.  Just consider a few examples:

  • Abortion – The termination of an unwanted pregnancy.  Abortion is ending a pregnancy that is not preferred. When I worked as a Court Appointed Advocate for abused and neglected children, I interviewed the mother of one of the children under my supervision.  The woman was in her late 20’s at the time I interviewed her.  By then she had had 3 children, all abused and neglected, and she had had 8 abortions.  Too often the world considers children, unborn and born, disposable.
  • Homelessness – Not in my backyard.  People do not choose to become homeless.  I have never met any child who when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” answer that question, “I want to be homeless.”  But homelessness happens and when it does society says, “I don’t want to see it.”  Not in my backyard.  One of the greatest risks for those experiencing homelessness is invisibility. By invisibility, I do not mean they become like the scientist in the movie who created a secret formula to make himself invisible to others. By invisibility, I mean there is a sense of being hidden away; it is as though they do not matter or even exist. Invisibility extinguishes hope. Noted author C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is always hope if we keep an unsolved problem fairly in view; there’s none [no hope] if we pretend it’s not there.”
  • The Elderly - On March 27, 2018, George and Shirley Brickenden, of Canada, were euthanized, killed, as they lay side-by-side in their bed at a Toronto-area retirement home.  George and Shirley were both in their 90s. Three of their children sat at the foot of their bed while two doctors simultaneously administered the lethal injections that killed George and Shirley.  The Brickendens had been married for almost 73 years and made a deliberate decision that they wanted to die together, at the same time.  Both George and Shirley were mentally competent and neither had terminal illnesses.  The condition George and Shirley suffered from was that they were in their 90’s and no longer felt as though they mattered.  George and Shirley were just disposable.

This is darkness of the world from which God has removed us.  God knows what the world is like with its sinfulness and darkness.  Because God knows, God established a covenant through Jesus to save us in the present and for all time.  God called us individually and for our preservation while on earth God gave us the Church, a place of light surrounded by darkness.

The Church, the Biblical Church, is called to remain faithful in any and every period of culture. Faithful to God’s word.  The Biblical Church is not concerned with imitating the latest fads of culture.  The Biblical Church is concerned about lining up its practices with the Bible and each member in imitating Jesus.  The Biblical Church is concerned about taking only the Scriptures at the final authority for faith and life.  The Biblical Church is not interested in what the denomination says or even what the pastor says because neither has any authority.  There is only God’s Word, God’s covenant that has authority over the Biblical Church.

Not all churches are Biblical churches.  How can you tell the difference between a Biblical church and a church that is not fully following the plan?  A church that is not following God’s plan is interested in reforms.  They are interested in reforming everything in the church and socially outside the church.  They are interested in changing what is old and making it work again.  That is what it means to reform something.  We take what is not quite working well and we apply our own energies to it and make it functional in some manner.

A Biblical Church believes in restoration.  A Biblical Church believes in the restoration of things back to their original condition, the way they were intended to be.  But a Biblical Church realizes that it cannot restore anything, here meaning people.  The work of restoration can only be accomplished by God.  The role those in the Biblical Church, the role then of this church, is to continually point the unsaved toward Christ.  Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).  That is the mission of the Biblical Church to bring the good news of Christ to them.

Why Christ?  Because the foundation of God’s covenant is Christ.  We heard this point made in our New Testament reading today from the Book of Hebrews, “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 …sins…” (Hebrews 9:15).

As the church, we must bear witness to the mercy we have received by being the light into the darkness of the world always calling others to come.  To do that, we must come together to be refreshed and renewed in our faith.  To do the mission of the church, we must embrace those who come into the Church even if that is messy at times.  We cannot be the church by ourselves.  That was never part of God’s plan.

I am glad you are here today. Because in a few moments, as a Biblical Church, we will partake of the bread and the cup.  It was in the cup particularly that Jesus said to his disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25b).  We are part of that new covenant.  Come, let us be united as the Church God intended us to be. Amen and Amen.