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The Blood of the New Covenant

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Ash Wednesday is a first night of 40 nights that we seriously reflect on three things.  First we consider our frailty.  We are but flesh.  We come from the earth and to the earth we shall return; Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Second we consider our sinfulness; our complete lack of excuse before God for the sinful things we have done and the good and holy things we fail to do.  And finally, we consider God’s righteousness and His gifts to us and for us, which are ours through Christ Jesus.

Tonight we will look at two covenants or promises that God has provided to save His people.  Both involve the shedding of blood.  One was temporary and the other eternal.

Modern men and women within our society are repulsed by the Old Testament sacrifice of animals, so much so, that many people want to close their eyes to the truths in those portions of Scripture which demand a sacrifice.  They want to close their eyes because it shows how horrid our sins are.  Oh they’ll gladly agree that the Old Testament points to the promised Savior of the New Testament, but the bloody stories of a God who punishes seems to have no place in a civilized society.

But the old covenant demonstrates unashamedly our God who is holy, disciplined, exacting, loving and trustworthy.   In fact, the entire Old Testament reveals the depth of humankind’s depravity, the seriousness of our sin, the extent of God’s anger, the depth of His love, and the need for a redeeming Savior.

Moses understood these issues. Speaking for God, he told the Israelites that to cover human sin, blood must be shed. The power of the blood must accompany any approach to the Father. And as the blood of the old covenant was spilled onto the altar and was sprinkled on the people, God revealed His redeeming grace and the forgiving power of His mercy.

Why blood? Well, as Moses explained, again speaking for God, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). All of the Old Testament rituals involving the spilling of blood made it clear that God takes sin seriously. Lifeblood must be shed to pay for sin. Someone, or something, must give its life. God’s wrath needed satisfaction. So, instead of requiring the death of the sinner, God offered grace by allowing the sacrifice of animals in their place.

But within God’s heart, His delight was not in blood sacrifice but in the yielding and surrendering of His people’s lives in dedication to Him. God desired a new relationship of faith with His children.  As Samuel said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). David also said, “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51:16–17).

Tonight, we approach God with broken spirits and contrite hearts.  And we know, He will not despise those things.  Why?  Because of the blood!

The blood in the Old Covenant, was used to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ, and it pointed to something far deeper. Remember, God desires a right relationship of faith with His children.  He yearns for reconciliation and fellowship—something blood sacrifices could only point to. He knew the blood spilled on the altar and sprinkled on the people was temporary. What was needed was a blood sacrifice greater than the blood of rams and goats.  He needed to take His children’s eyes and hearts off of the Law and instead place their hope in His incomprehensible mercy. But to accomplish this God must provide One final blood sacrifice upon an altar made of wood.

Moses built an altar as his first sign of the covenant relationship to consecrate the people to God (Ex 24:4–5). To the Israelites and other ancient peoples, an altar meant a place for putting something to death, not only physically but also in their hearts. For the people of God, the altar also represented God’s real presence in their lives.

The blood sprinkled on the altar represented a life offered, or poured out, to the One true God in sacrifice. Sacrifices were not wasteful or extravagant acts of worship, in fact after the sacrifice, most of them required that the meat be eaten. So, the altar of God was the place where the people, the priests, and God held a meal together to show that they were in a relationship of peace and fellowship with each other.

As a place of fellowship, consecration, and sacrifice, the altar had to be made holy through the shedding and application of blood. The sanctified altar, then, became holy ground on which to lay the sin offerings of the people. The throwing of blood on the altar signified access to God; the blood of a chosen substitute replaced their lives, lives now committed and dedicated to Him.

Jesus’ disciples understood the blood of the old covenant, but how could they possibly comprehend the depth of Christ’s words on Maundy Thursday when He lifted a cup and spoke of the blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:27–28)? Christ often foretold His suffering and death, yet no words could prepare the disciples for the events that followed.

On Good Friday, another altar rose above the earth towering far above all other altars, and it was wooden and roughly cut. It would hold the Sacrifice, the One whose blood would redeem all people for all eternity. And From heaven, the Father observed His Son Jesus’ obedient death upon the cross and accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. From that time forward, in the heavenly tabernacle, an everlasting covenant—a new covenant—was made (Hebrews 9:11–14). By the cross, Jesus’ disciples, you and me, became partakers in His life and possessors of the heavenly inheritance (Hebrews 9:16–22).

This evening, we have witnessed a baptism.  We have seen two young children snatched from the kingdom of the devil and transferred into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was the blood of the very King of Heaven that was sprinkled upon them in the washing of the water and the Word.  A blood far superior to that of animals, for it’s washing is eternal.

You dear parents are now called to model a life of repentance and faith.  You must agree with God that He is right and you are wrong.  You must turn to the Author and Perfecter of your faith every day for forgiveness and then you must teach your children to do the same.  You must instruct them of the importance of hearing and studying the Word of God, and when they are older, you must ensure that they and you approach the table of the Lord together for His Holy meal of forgiveness.

Just as a meal followed the sacrifices of the old covenant, so God’s people commune with Him today at the Lord’s Table. When you receive the body and blood of Christ, His fullness fills you. His mercy forgives you. His grace redeems you. You rest assured in the blotting out of all your sins (1John 1:7). With immediate deliverance and total justification, you know that God’s wrath has been removed, and that He no longer sees your sins but the covering of Christ’s blood sprinkled upon you and your children on your behalf.

In this new life of faith, I pray that each of you will dedicate yourselves in service to Jesus.  I also pray that as we pass through these 40 days of Lent, you will prepare yourself to be engulfed by all that is Holy Week.  Allow God to create a great hunger within you to dine at the Lord’s table on Maundy Thursday.  Ask Him to prepare your entire soul to enter into the grief of sins, even your own sins on Good Friday, and then prepare your self for the wonderful resurrection joy, which is the experience of Easter morning.  And through it all, I pray for you that God will continue to reveal His redeeming grace, His unlimited love, and the forgiving power of His mercy by the blood of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus Christ spilled on the altar of the cross, which now saves you.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!