Sunday, June 12, 2016

Covenant

So much of the Bible is simply about watching God at work. Reading the Bible with that in mind provides a helpful perspective. It also leads to helpful questions. Here’s one good question to pose as you read. ‘What’s He doing?’ So, reading Genesis 1 you could ask that question. And the answer would be, ‘He’s building a world from scratch.’ That just might lead to another question. ‘Why is He doing that?’ That’s a really good question. After all, He didn’t need to build a world. So, why did He? Once you get some sort of answer to that question a good follow up might be, ‘What difference does this make?’ And here, you can let your imagination loose to see the different possibilities.

This morning we’re going to watch God at work. And then, we’re going to ask those questions: What’s He doing? Why is He doing that? What difference does this make?

Let’s start by listening in on something God said to Noah.

But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. Genesis 6.18

So, first question. What’s He doing? God is talking to Noah, and He’s talking to him about establishing a covenant with him. That’s a pretty obvious answer. But, we can’t move on to the next question quite yet. There’s something here that we need to take a closer look at. It’s this thing called a covenant. God is going to establish one of these with Noah. But what does that mean? What’s a covenant?

A covenant is a bond that is formally established. Consider two guys. They grew up spending a lot of time talking and doing things together. They have become great friends. There is a bond there. But the bond of a covenant is a little different. There is a certain formality that is a part of how that bond is established. And that formality affects the nature of the bond. So, two people are getting married. A bond is being established. As part of the ritual they take vows. He promises to be whatever a husband is supposed to be. She promises to be whatever a wife is supposed to be. And they make those promises before God and the witnesses before whom they stand. Those vows say something about what that bond is supposed to be like not just on that day but years down the pike. These two have bound themselves to each other till death do them part. Their marriage is a bond that is formally established.

This is what God is talking about. He is going to establish a bond with Noah, and it’s going to be established by means of particular formalities. It will be a bond that will last.

Here, in Genesis six, God is only talking about what He is going to do. When He actually establishes this covenant we will see what promises and formalities are associated with this bond. All of that is in Genesis 9, and we’ll deal with them when we get there.

But there is something that we can focus on here. When God makes this covenant with Noah He is committing Himself. God will be obligating Himself when this covenant is made. Try to imagine what that would be like. The great and awesome God who needs no one decides to obligate Himself to one of His puny creatures. And He will obligate Himself in such a way that Noah could say to God, ‘You made a covenant with me. You must do what You promised. You can’t break Your word.’ Put yourself into that picture saying to God, ‘You can’t break Your word!’ There’s a good Yiddish word that some might use to describe that: ‘chutzpah’. It’s impudence, gall, sass. You can’t say that to God! Or can you? God has obligated Himself. He has bound Himself to Noah. It would not be wrong for Noah to remind God of His obligations, His promises, if, somehow, God were to neglect them. That’s what’s going on when someone establishes a covenant with someone else. That’s what a covenant is about.

We’re ready for our next question. Why is God doing that? Now, there’s a question worth pondering. Why would God obligate Himself in that way to one of His creatures? Well, here’s one reason that doesn’t work. God owed it to Noah. Really? How could that be? What could have happened that God owed Noah anything, let alone to obligate Himself by a covenant? That just doesn’t work. Noah has no leverage over God.

In the absence of anything in Noah to bring this about, there must be something in God that brought it about. And the only thing that makes sense here is God’s grace. God obligated Himself to Noah, but He had no obligation to do that. God did it just because He wanted to. That has to be the reason when you remember some things about Noah. To be sure, he was a righteous man. But that doesn’t mean that he was a perfect man. Noah sinned just like the rest of us. And because of that Noah had no basis to demand that God establish that covenant with him. But even if Noah were perfect, even if he had been as innocent as Adam one minute after he was created, he would still have no basis for demanding God do anything, let alone obligate Himself by a covenant. God made His covenant with Noah for no good reason except that He wanted to do good to Noah.

And that leads to our last question. God will establish a covenant and bind Himself to Noah. God will obligate Himself to keep certain promises He will make. So, what difference does this make? Here’s one thing. Noah knows, knows for sure, what God will do. He promised. So, Noah doesn’t have to think about, doesn’t have to be concerned about, doesn’t need to be anxious about, any of those things that were promised to him in that covenant. God said He would take care of them. He obligated Himself to take care of them. He will do what He promised. He established a covenant. The difference a covenant makes can be summed up with this word: peace. Once the covenant is established Noah can consider the particulars of that covenant, and he can have peace about them. God has made promises. He has sealed those promises with a covenant.

So, we’ve watched God at work. He tells Noah He is going to establish a covenant with him. And we’ve answered these three questions: What’s God doing? Why is He doing that? What difference does this make?

What I want to do now is to take what we’ve seen here with this covenant between God and Noah, and apply it to a different covenant. I want to apply it to the covenant that God has made with you. You may remember that I spoke to you about this covenant a few weeks ago when I talked about Jesus’ ascension. It’s the one that Jeremiah refers to as the new covenant. Let’s look at this different - yet related - covenant and ask the same questions.

When it comes to this other covenant, what’s God doing? By the ministry of Jesus, God has established a covenant with you, the people of God, the Church. There are quite a number of particulars when it comes to this covenant. But let me summarize them in this way. God has promised to take care of you, body and soul. To get what that means, you need to remember who you were and what your situation was before He included you in this covenant. You were a rebellious sinner on your way to the just consequences of your sin. But God went to work. He included you in this covenant. When that happened, everything changed.

You are now no longer that rebellious sinner who was alone and clueless about life. Now, you have a Father who is determined to do you good. You have an older brother who loves you so much that He suffered unimaginable torments so that you could be included in this covenant. You also have an abiding friend who goes with you wherever you go, watching over you. This is what God was doing when He included you in His covenant.

That takes us to our second question. Why did He do that? Why did God decide to establish this covenant and include you? Did He owe it to you? Was He somehow in your debt? To say those words is to reveal how absurd they are. God owed you nothing, nothing except death. And yet, He still decided to establish His covenant, with you a part of it. Why? This is the mystery of grace. God, for reasons that He thought sufficient, decided to obligate Himself to you, the rebellious sinner that you were. He made promises to care for you. And He sealed those promises with vows. I sincerely hope that you will always be struck speechless when you consider these things. And bear in mind that there are lots of people just as rebellious as you were whom God did not include in any covenant. And when He consigns them to their just desserts, no one can challenge His justice in doing so. You and I deserve to suffer the same fate. But we won’t. God has established a covenant with us. Ponder that, and then try to answer why He would do such a thing.

And that leaves us with our third question. What difference does this make? I think that the way that I summarized Noah’s situation also fits well here: peace. Now, the particulars of Noah’s covenant are much more limited than the particulars of the covenant God has made with you. In Noah’s case the covenant was just about future floods. But in your case the covenant is about everything, all of life. You can have peace when you consider any aspect of your life. The covenant that the Father established through Jesus covers it all.

And so, Paul’s exhortation makes complete sense.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

Peace. The peace of God. This gift is yours. It’s yours because of God’s covenant with you. He has obligated Himself to you. So, relax and entrust yourself to His care.

Last thought. So, what should you get out of this sermon? There are several things that you can profitably spend some time meditating on. But here is one aspect of what I’ve said that I want to stand out to you. What kind of God is this who makes covenants with His creatures? What kind of God is this who commits Himself wholeheartedly, obligates Himself completely, to people like us? This is the God we worship. And rightly so.

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