April 2, 2012

The Blood of a New Covenant • Matthew 26:26-29

And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28)

There was no command in the Old Testament Law requiring any particular drink while celebrating the Passover. The key element is the lamb that is sacrificed and eaten. In this Passover meal, however, the lamb is very conspicuously absent. We know that the disciples soon came to understand that Jesus was the true Passover Lamb, the true sacrifice to cover sin, to redeem us from Death. But Jesus’ sacrifice will not take place until the following day. Jesus uses the wine they are sharing to teach his disciples about that imminent sacrificial death. The cup filled with red wine is a good illustration of the key component of the Passover sacrifice. Wine will represent blood. Here we have a symbol built on top of a symbol. Throughout the Old Testament Law, God emphasized to the Israelites that blood represented life. Because of this, and because life belongs only to God, who gives it and takes it away, the Israelites did not eat blood. Now Jesus takes the cup of wine, gives thanks for it, and hands it to the disciples. He commands them all to drink of it. Now he explains that this cup of wine represents his blood, his life. Jesus describes his blood as covenant blood. His death will be a sacrifice. His blood poured out will serve an atoning purpose. Blood tied to covenant is a new connection. The Lord’s Supper is not all about Passover. It ties together broader themes in Scripture. Jesus is moving beyond Passover to the moment in which Israel established its first covenant with God, the covenant of the Law. Exodus 24:5-8 describes this moment.

And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to Yahweh. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

The first covenant was sealed with the sprinkled blood of oxen. The blood of the covenant consecrated the altar, the instrument of sacrifice. It consecrated God’s written revelation, which the people promised to keep. And it consecrated the people themselves. This blood sealed an agreement between God and his people. Now, Jesus is telling his disciples that his own blood soon to be shed will establish a new covenant. This new covenant will also involve an instrument of sacrifice, a Law of God, and a people consecrated by Jesus’ shed blood. The cross will be the new altar, and those who follow Christ will not be ashamed of the cruel cross. They will see in it the power of their Lord, his love, his victory through giving himself up for others. A new kind of Law will reign, governed by the indwelling Spirit of God. There will still be Scripture, but the power to understand it and to live it will be granted by the Holy Spirit. And Jesus’ blood will cover the sins of those who have trusted in him. By his blood they will be sealed for God.

There is another Old Testament passage that we must remember as we read Jesus’ words. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a day to come in which God would establish a new covenant with Israel. Jesus clearly is telling his disciples that Jeremiah’s day has come. The new covenant is here. His death within the next 24 hours will establish it. These are Jeremiah’s words (31:31-34).

“Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 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 Yahweh. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: 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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Perhaps no other prophet was more keenly aware of the gaping hole left in the exodus covenant. The people had never been able to keep their commitment within the covenant. Having the Law was not sufficient to enable them to keep it. In the prophet’s despair, God allows Jeremiah a glimpse of the solution he is bringing. There is a new covenant yet to come. Now the things God is trying to communicate, his guidance, his instruction, all of this will be brought inside. It will not be an external thing. God himself will place his Law within their hearts, at the very core of their being. And they will know him intimately, personally. This will be something God shares indiscriminately with everyone who enters into the new covenant. There will not be a hierarchy of intermediaries. Everyone will be directly connected to God. Jesus is telling his disciples that the day has arrived. He will establish a new covenant in his blood shed on the cross that will bring people into an intimate knowledge of God. And this new covenant will be shared indiscriminately. Everyone will be granted the intimate access to God that Moses had.

Jesus tells his disciples that his blood will be poured out for many. There are people who claim, based on these words, that Jesus died on the cross only for the sins of a select few, only for the sins of the elect. The fact that Jesus says this does not mean that his sacrifice is not universal in its efficacy. It merely points out that not all will benefit from it. This blood will do many people much good. It will bring them from death to life. But not everyone will choose to enter into this new covenant. That reality does not mean that Jesus’ blood did not pay for all sin; only that it will not benefit everyone. Matthew is the only writer who spells out here that this blood provides for the forgiveness of sins. All other accounts of this Last Supper assume this fact, but Matthew makes it explicit. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross establishes a new covenant that provides for the forgiveness of sins. That is what Jeremiah had said. God would forgive the iniquity of his people, he would remember their sin no more. Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of those who enter into this new covenant with him. In him we have forgiveness of sins. In him we are granted the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit who writes God’s Law on our hearts. In his blood, an unbreakable agreement is struck between the believer and God. We enter into covenant with God by Jesus’ blood.

This Sunday, April 8, 2012, is Easter Sunday. I will be preaching from Matthew 26:26-29. Worship begins at 10:45 am and we will be celebrating communion together. Come and join us, 3201 W 15th St. Plano, TX 75075. Video and audio of the sermon is posted during the week at our website: www.pcbcplano.org. To access the messages directly, click here.

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