Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday - "The New Testament in My Blood."

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Dear Fellow Redeemed and Heir of Heaven:
"Therefore [Jesus] is the mediator of a new testament, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first testament. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death ... ." (Hebrews 9:15-17a)
God doesn't really mind it that much when we remind him of what he has promised to us. Actually, God loves it when we remind him of his promises. That's the difference between fallen people such as you and me and our gracious gift-giving God. Too often we have little patience when someone goes on about what we have promised to them, especially when it makes our lives more complicated and difficult and stressful and burdensome. "I know, I know. You don't have to remind me!" we think or even say out loud. But, as Martin Luther once said, God loves it when we rub his promises in his ears and — in faith — allow him to do what he loves to do: be faithful to what he has promised on behalf of undeserving, wandering and wayward sheep.
That's the life of true faith: to hold on, come what may, to the promises — the promises that come not from our mouth, but the promises that come from the merciful mouth of the Lord. It's his promise, his commitment, his doing, his faithfulness, his follow-through, his sacrifice of himself on behalf of a people who could not even begin to make amends for their sins and sinfulness.
When the children of Israel heard the Book of the Testament read at the foot of Mount Sinai, they mistakenly believed that it was all about them. "Do this and don't do that, and then you'll be saved." is what they heard. But everything outside of faith can only go one way, and that is the way of the Law and contract and two-way deal. "I'll do this for you if only you first do that for me." is the way a fallen world and a fallen nature always operates — a way that can only lead to one of two spiritual dead-ends: pride or despair.
But God announced his one-way covenant with his people and desired that they would respond with a simple "Amen." But in their fallen-ness the children of Israel replied, "We'll do our duty. We'll fulfill our part of the bargain God, and then we expect you to keep yours."
Yet, for even that sin of believing our redemption begins and ends with our decision and commitment and will-power and action, God freely offers forgiveness undeserved.
Tonight we again hear and take to heart the covenant God made with his people at Mount Sinai and Mount Calvary, a covenant like no other covenant in it's character and its effect. A testament given to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob — a testament that is, from beginning to end, a one-way arrangement: from a faithful God to unfaithful sheep caught tight in the brambles of their sin.
The covenant of the Lord is a one-way covenant. It is the Lord's covenant and promise and testament, in the same way it is the Lord's Word and the Lord's Baptism and the Lord's Supper — despite all our foolish attempts to make it something that we do and accomplish.
The Lord will have no talk of two-way deal-making when it comes to the deliverance of his enslaved people. At Passover he comes to save — simply because he loves to show grace and mercy and forgiveness, even when it costs us nothing and costs him everything.
That was the Gospel at the foot of Mount Sinai and that was the Gospel as Jesus stooped at the feet of the disciples in the upper room. "Salvation will be secured eternally through one great sacrifice for your sin and for the sin of an entire fallen world." Jesus is saying. "But it was to my blood that the sacrifices under Abraham and Moses pointed. I have come to not only usher in another covenant and testament and promise; I am that new testament and the final Word on salvation. I am that gracious, saving promise first given to Adam and Eve and to all who would receive it in faith. In the giving up of my life-blood, blessed communion between God and his people is restored. Fellowship at heaven's table is, this night, resurrected with my sacrificial death and the pouring out of my life before God's altar."
On the night of the Passover, the Lord delivered sinful, undeserving people through his Word of grace and promise in, with and under the marks of life offered up and blood shed. There was no "Do this for me and then maybe I'll get you out of your helpless situation." — at least from God. God saves because he loves to save. God forgives because he loves to forgive. God offers up his beloved Son because he is a God of abundant grace who will spare nothing that his people might again enjoy that perfect fellowship given to man before the Fall.
Scripture is very clear: there is no redeeming testament without the shedding of blood. There is no purification without the death of the appointed sacrifice.
God has little need of our great-sounding but empty promises to perfectly obey him and make him proud of us by never sinning again. Christ came to wash us from our sins and take upon himself the dust and dirt of our transgressions.
Christ came to establish forever the eternal, once-for-all new testament, a last will and testament that could only go into effect with his death on the altar of the Cross. And he bids us to simply respond in faith with the words, "Amen. Let it be so for me."
Everything in this miserable world that will not acknowledge and receive in faith the verdict of the last will and testament established by the Lamb of God stands condemned.
Because, when it comes to your salvation, God will hear nothing but the voice of his Son, our High Priest. His cries for us from the manger. His cries for us as he submits to circumcision and the Law. His cries for us as he looked upon helpless and wandering sheep. His cries as he looked to heaven, gave thanks and broke bread as he fed his own with — himself.
Tonight we have been gathered to receive God's pure and saving gift. We have been gathered to hear salvation announced, salvation promised, salvation offered, salvation secured, and, trustingly receive it — as the last will and testament of our Lord is spoken, and the fruits of his death are taken in and extolled with cleansed lips and hearts.
Tonight, around the Lord's Table, we take to heart again the great and final Word on our salvation from John the Evangelist:
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1 ESV)