A time for……..Transformed identity
Sermon date: April 28th
Reading: 2 Corinthians 3 v. 7-18
What deals (or Covenants) have you negotiated in your life time? For example - a mortgage, business deal or marriage perhaps. What changes have they brought about in your life? Have any of them changed your identity?
Considering our recent Easter services and all the events during Holy Week, this seems a perfect time to consider the New Covenant described in this passage.
Q.1 What is a covenant?
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. Sometimes the two parties are equal but more commonly, there is one clearly greater than the other. In each case, both agree to share all that they have and become one. Perhaps the most obvious example of a covenant in our society is marriage. Two individuals agree to become one agree to share everything and commit themselves to each other. In most cases they show a sign of their commitment to this covenant by exchanging a symbol of membership, the rings and they agree to create a new identity with their new marital name. As with many covenant partners, you may celebrate your commitment and union with an annual meal, assuming that is that you remember your wedding anniversary.
The original Passover back in Pharaoh’s Egypt was a demonstration of God’s covenant with his people. The Passover meal described in today’s passage was an annual celebration to remember this covenant, also described as the old covenant, with a particular focus on the Passover event. Now, the communion we share, as instructed by Jesus, is a reminder of God’s new covenant with his people and is our remembrance meal.
In the Old Testament, God made his first covenant agreement with Abram in Genesis 15. In those days a covenant was ‘cut’. Cutting a covenant involved quite a bit of butchery. The two parties would collect their best livestock - cattle, sheep, goats, birds then cut them in half and place each half on either side of a corridor. A corridor created by a red carpet of blood. The two parties would stand at either end of the corridor of blood. They would then walk down through the corridor of blood, pass each other, exchange places and in doing so, agree to share each other’s possessions, protect each other from their now mutual enemies and perhaps most significantly create a new identity.
For example, when God cuts this first covenant with Abram, God shares part of his own name, Yahweh with Abram to form his new identity. Abram is now called Abraham and God becomes the God of all his future offspring, in other words the Israelites and the people are blessed with the promise of ‘the promised land’.
Q. 2 What can you remember about the Old Covenant agreed with Moses referred to in this passage?
Hint: The Israelites are in slavery in Egypt and God rescues them, taking on and destroying their enemies in a series of plagues and demonstrations of power until we reach the final plague – the killing of every family’s firstborn son. God instructed all of his people to make marks on their doors as a symbol of their membership of the covenant.
The Israelites used the blood of a lamb to mark their lintels and doorposts and are spared this tragedy as the angel of death ‘passed over’ their homes – the first ever Passover and an obvious act of God’s protection of his people. Why were the Israelites protected? Good behaviour, ongoing obedience, keeping the laws, promises of future loyalty….no. It was the blood on the doorpost, the symbol of their covenant relationship that had saved them. In many ways this is an absolute scandal. But this is the way of grace. We cannot earn God’s favour – it is part of his covenant agreement.
Q.3 According to the passage, what limitations in their relationship with God were there on Moses and his people under this covenant?
Q.4 How is the New Covenant different? What is the relevance of the ‘veil’ referred to in the passage? Do you feel your face is ‘unveiled?’
Q.5 In what ways does Jesus’ death transform our identity under the New Covenant?
Hints: Jesus spoke in the Gospels of the New Covenant. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
What does this mean? Well let’s imagine - we have Jesus, the Son of God standing at one end of the corridor of blood, blood created by floggings, thorns and nails. We, stand at the other. As with the Old Covenant, the two parties change places to create a new shared identity. Jesus becomes fully human, he takes all that we are, indeed, when he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” – he has reached our end of the corridor. He is now fully human. And us? Well this is the mind-blowing bit. In Paul’s words we now become co-heirs with Christ, we are adopted by God. And when God looks at us, he does not see sins, he sees sons. He justifies us on the basis of our covenant partner’s performance. Jesus’ obedience, Jesus’ purity, Jesus’ perfection is what he sees. The only factor, he takes into consideration is whether or not we are calling on the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus, to save us. It’s a very similar process to the Old covenant but with some key differences.
The New Testament informs us in Hebrews that it is “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” and in Romans 2 Paul, says that circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Holy Spirit. You see when we become members of the new covenant we are in a relationship with a loving God who leads and guides us by his Holy Spirit. In Old Testament times, even God’s chosen people didn’t have the Holy Spirit living inside them, so God gave the 10 commandments to help them understand how to live really well. He meant these commandments to be a kind of baby carrier to hold his people close to his heart. Sadly, by Jesus time God’s people had turned this baby carrier into a strait jacket with hundreds of rules about absolutely everything. That was never God’s intention.
Q.6 How do we see God’s sovereignty throughout the changing story of the covenant?
Hint: In Jeremiah chapter 31, 600 years before Jesus was born the prophet said “The time is coming declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant though I was a husband to them declares the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Q.7 What does the ‘Hope’ and ‘Freedom’ and ‘lasting Glory’ of the New Covenant mean to you?
Hint: We are now in a new covenant with Jesus. It is by the blood of the Lamb and by grace that we share all of the resources, power and privilege that are available to him. We have a lasting glory in Heaven and a shared new identity with Jesus himself. Why do you think we end so many of our prayers….In Jesus’ name?
Q.8 What helps you remember that you are in a New Covenant relationship with God and have a transformed identity? What difference does this make to you on a daily basis?
Pray for anyone you know who is struggling to stick to any kind of covenant they have made.
Pray for your group to have unveiled faces which can contemplate the truth of Christ.
Matt & Anna Barham
Matt and Anna Barham, 23/04/2019