March 31, 2019 Remember The Covenant
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
i or e, *which comes first? It’s “i before e except after c” == that has helped my memory to spell certain words correctly. But that rule doesn’t always work. You might recall the rest of that poem: “i before e except after c = or when sounding like a as in neighbor or weigh; and except seize and seizure, and also in leisure, weird, height, and either forfeit or neither.” Actually, someone did some counting, and found 923 words that break the rule, and only about 44 that actually follow it. *How does that spelling rule relate to our sermon-series on the Bible word: remember ? Let’s ponder it.
We find our theme word in Ps. 105:v8: “He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations.” A covenant is /an agreement, /a contract, /a treaty /or pact. In our world, we have rules for the way covenants & other legal contracts are written. But, if we try to apply our rules to God’s covenant, we’ll find they don’t fit; because God makes exceptions to the way He makes covenants == not for His benefit, but for our eternal benefit. We might not remember the details of our mortgage contract, or our life-insurance covenant. That’s okay; we are assured in Ps.105 that God remembers the most important one. God Remembers His Covenant So That All Generations Are Blessed Forever.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember things, even when we write them down. So, *how were God’s people in the OT supposed to remember the covenant? They didn’t have a paper copy; for a long time they didn’t really have a copy of anything, not even the Scripture. So, without copies, they had to remember everything. God made a simple covenant in Lev.26. He said, “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
That should have been easy enough to remember: ‘God will be God and people will be people.’ That should’ve been easy enough to do = just be God’s people. But the people were not content to be people; they wanted to be God. They wanted to do life their own way in spite of the many warnings God gave them. And sometimes, they weren’t even acting like people; God compared them to dumb animals for breaking the most basic covenants & simple commands.
God had warned them about this in Deut 4: “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
As we say, ‘the ink wasn’t even dry’ before they forgot His covenant. They made carved images, and worshiped those idols. T hey looked at the false gods of other nations, and copied them, because their gods looked like /more fun, /more tolerant, /more fitting for their chosen lifestyle & desires.
Let’s not think that WE are not under the same temptations. +How many people do we know =including ourselves= who have been brought into a church-covenant with our God. That is: He promises to be present here to forgive our sin & guide us in holy living, AND we promise to be present in worship to receive those gifts. And not much time passes, and we break that church-covenant; other things take His place. +Who among us did not have a time in our life, not long after our solemn confirmation vow, when we fell away from that vow, and ran after many things that we treated as more important than the Creator who gave us life, and the Savior who died to win us new life?
The OT people of Israel often ‘talked-the-talk’ but didn’t ‘walk-the-walk.’ I don’t know about you, but that sounds really familiar to me. We should never point our finger at God’s people back then, and accuse; it can be like looking in a mirror at certain times in our life.
According to their agreement, God ~the consuming fire~ had every right to destroy them. But just a few verses after the warning, we read this in Deut 4, “For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you, or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” The people forgot the covenant, but God remembered & kept it for our good. God Remembers His Covenant So That All Generations Are Blessed Forever.
The Ten Commandments seem like a covenant. Most of us had to memorize them at one time, and that’s good. But, *is that the Biblical way of remembering? God’s people have always had to do more than ‘recite’ things; they must ‘remember’ by taking action; to keep or obey those commandments. And when we don’t, we excuse ourselves. We say: “I don’t have any other gods. I haven’t carved an idol and bowed down to it. So, I’ve kept the First Commandment.”
Yet, the Biblical meaning of the First Comm. is this: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” There may be a number of things in our life that break that rule; anything that we put ahead of God & His things: like /work & our bank account, /sleep or friends, /recreation or retirement, /house or family. It doesn’t take too much to show us our idols = things that we /fear more than God, /love more than God, /trust more than God.
And, that’s just the First Command; we can go right down the list = *I wonder which commandment would you want me not to talk about: /misusing God’s name, /taking our neighbors things, /hurting our neighbor’s reputation? But, we’re talking about remembering covenants, not commandments, & there’s a difference. Commandments are for God to make, & for us to keep; and His commandments don’t make exceptions. To break a commandment is sin ~ it’s evil; the man who sins shall die; that’s the Law. The commandments are written for us to keep, but we don’t.
Therefore, God makes a covenant. Normally, a covenant is an agreement between two parties, where we each keep our side of the deal. But since we can’t, God makes an exception to the covenant-writing rule: He ‘remembers.’ That means, God acts to keep His side of the covenant, AND He acts to keep our side for us. That’s the only way all generations will be blessed forever.
In the OT, before paper & lawyers or a notary public, *how were the people going to remember a binding, legal agreement? They made use of their senses == sight, sound, smell, taste. That was a good idea. It works on me: when I have combination of hot sun, humid air & tar smell, my mind flashes back to an event from 40 yrs ago. (I’ll bet you have things like that.)
So, back in Abraham’s time, when a covenant was made, an animal was butchered & the pieces were laid out on the ground. The two parties of the agreement would walk together among those bloody pieces. That scene impressed on their memories a blunt fact for each party: “May I be like this animal if I break this covenant.” That’s memorable.
Now, here’s where God’s exception to the covenant-writing rule comes in. We have this strange scene in Genesis 15 when God made a covenant with Abraham; God told him to get the animal ready, and set out the pieces. For a covenant, that was the ‘i before e’ rule == that God and Abraham would walk among the pieces together so that they each would remember the covenant, and the consequences of breaking it. BUT, that’s NOT what happened.
God made an exception to the rule. Instead, we read this: “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And… when it was dark, behold, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”
So, in this covenant, God alone moved among the pieces of the animal while Abram slept. God did everything in this covenant. So it must follow that God would be the one who would suffer the consequences if the covenant was broken. Sure enough, Abram & his descendants broke the covenant =they sinned= and God-the-Son suffered the consequences on the cross.
In Gen.15, the smoking firepot & flaming torch is ‘the light of the world’ Himself, who was present there in the OT as a preview of Him becoming a man. The preincarnate Jesus walked among the animal-covenant-pieces in the stead of Abram & his descendants. As Abram is in a deep sleep, the ones there to witness this covenant & remember it is the F,S,&HSp; & His witness stands forever. This covenant of grace with Abraham was cut between God and God so that we could be assured that it would never be broken, and always be remembered.
After Abraham, there were other signs that God’s covenant was being remembered; but the big sign was seen 2,000 years later: the cross. The miracle descendant of old Abraham, Jesus, suffered & died on the cross for our breaking of God’s Law. But He died, so that the covenant of grace would be remembered for us.
So, even down to our generation, He shows us His cross-sign, and causes us to remember and to trust Him. Wherever the sign of the cross is made & kept in faith, God remembers & keeps His covenant of grace & forgiveness upon His people. We are not proud of our part of this covenant: it’s our sin & need to repent. But how glad we are for God’s part: removing those sins from us, and treating us as His blessed people.
How important it is that we understand that it’s not ‘the Jews’ that are the et. descendants of Abraham & this Covenant of Life; it is ALL people of this Biblical faith in God’s one messiah, the Christ, Jesus. You & I are children, descendants, & heirs of blessed Abraham, the friend of God & father of the faith. WE were included in that covenant. We were asleep, like Abram, in the sleep of sin. But, Jesus suffered our consequences of the broken covenant.
The main covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac,& Jacob had 3 parts. God would 1) make of them a great nation, 2) give them a land, and 3) bless all the people of the earth thru them. That covenant always had in mind more people than the OT people of Israel. In the NT, God fully reveals that the great nation of Israel is ALL who have the faith of Abraham == which is The Church of Christ. Since the first sin, this earth would not last. So the real Promised Land is the Lord’s heaven = not the middle east. All the people on earth are blessed with the promise of salvation thru that one descendant of Abraham: Jesus.
As Lutherans we rightly emphasize 2 things: our sleeping & our substitute. In this covenant of salvation’s grace, we are passive with Abram; he did not choose God as his God, God chose him. Likewise, there is nothing we can do to help God, or to add to what God has done for us. We find ourselves chosen by God to be His people; & He has done everything for us in Christ = His cross becomes our covenant of grace & salvation, & the Spirit works on us to receive it & live according to it. The gospel of Christ is proclaimed, and we & our children are blessed with earthly life, holy purpose, & eternal blessings. This happens because God is remembering His covenant. As Ps.105 reminds us: “He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations.”
It’s not a new thing to talk about generations; but we like to label them. So, what generation are you == /the ‘greatest’ generation; /The Silent gen; /Baby Boomer; /Gen X; /a Millennial; /or Gen Z. Some churches think they have to come up with a new appeal to reach out to each different generation, to get them to remember God, and come to church to be with Him.
But, what every generation really needs is to hear that they’re in trouble because of breaking God’s commands & covenants. But God has one solution for our trouble; it’s an exception to the rule: God remembers, & acts in Christ to save us. That’s his good news to all ears; for a thousand generations.
You might label yourself a certain ‘generation’ based on when you were born. But, because you are Baptized and ‘reborn’ in Christ Jesus, so you are among the ‘remembered generation.’ You are the blessed children of Abraham; not live faithfully, like Abraham.