Notes for a sermon preached by
The Old Testament readings in Lent are focusing on some of the first events in the Israelite faith. Last week we had the covenant with Noah. This week we have the covenant with Abraham. Next week we get the 10 commandments and the covenant with Moses.
You get the impression that the theme of covenant is really quite important in the journey of faith for the Israelites. One of the phrases that's used in Hebrew to describe a covenant is to 'cut a covenant (karat berit) ' - similar to 'cut a deal' but the etymology may well be different.
The word 'cut' is used because often cutting an animal in half was involved to seal the covenant, the shedding of blood being part of the sign and seal of the covenant. The animal would be cut in half with one half being offered to God and the other half being eaten in a meal to celebrate the covenant.
There are lots of covenants in the Old Testament: Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David to name a few.
The covenant with Moses not only talks about the blessings which will follow the Israelites obedience, it talks about the curses which will follow if they are disobedient. That's why the Jewish leaders were keen to follow the law as closely as possible; they understood the penalties of disobedience.
Unfortunately it appears for some it led them into legalism.
Later on Jeremiah the prophet talks about a New Covenant, required because the old ones are beginning to break beyond repair.
In Christ we have the inauguration of that New Covenant. And, just as in the old, it would involve sacrifice and blood being shed to seal the covenant arrangement.
Jesus understood this in a way that Peter clearly did not.
Peter, having just declared Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, had a picture in his mind of what Messiahs did, they ruled, they exercised power and they put right the wrongs and injustices of the past - and Peter was to be His right hand man.
They didn't die, that wasn't in the script, Peter thought.
For Jesus it would have been easy to do just that, to assume power, to rule with a rod of iron and to sort out the Jewish authorities that had lost the plot of salvation and avoid the way of obedience and the cross. He could have taken the easy way out of His calling, and no one, apart from God the Father, would have probably known.
And it would be very easy, especially in Lent, to draw the parallel between Christ and ourselves. For while we are not called to die for the sins of the world we are called to the life of service and obedience that Christ demonstrates to us, obedience even to death on a cross as it says in Philippians
And it's true that in Lent we should take the time to reflect and repent for the times when we have all taken the easy way out.
- Dodged a tricky situation
- Excused ourselves from a situation where we may have been brought into conflict
- Decided to keep quiet and not say anything when we should have spoken out
- Crossed the road to avoid a difficult neighbour or friend with whom we've had a disagreement
Yes, Lent is all about that…
But quite often we're already hard on ourselves. We feel guilty when we do such things (even if it takes a time). It's like we're almost into self-punishment.
Sometimes we even feel as if God's going to come and get us to punish us for our sins, to castigate us for taking the easy way out.
And to think like that is to miss the point of the New Covenant, like Peter.
Because in inaugurating the New Covenant, Christ too build on the Old Covenant and in so doing fulfilled them.
Specifically he took the curses of the Old Mosaic Covenant upon himself when he died on the cross, so that, as Paul put it in Galatians…
'He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles'
Why is it as Christians we can believe that God does not punish us on earth for our wrong doings? It's because Christ removed the curses of the Jewish law and replaced them with New Life in Christ through the promise of His spirit
Yes, our consciences should be pricked when we do wrong, but that's very different to feeling condemned. Christ condemned no-one.
Just as we should look back and reflect on our lives during Lent, and repent of those times we've fallen short of what God would want for us, repent of the times we've let Him down, repent of the times we've taken the easy way out. We should also follow the example of Christ as we look forward, to determine to walk the path that Christ has set before us into the future, whatever that holds
Right now we could consider that the future does indeed look uncertain, with the threat of war in the Middle East looming ever larger.
Each one of us will probably have a different opinion as to whether going to war or not going to war is taking the easy way out.
But as Peter was to discover, faith is not grounded in events or their outcome, not based on the whims of individuals who had Christ sent to the cross to bring an end to His influence.
Faith is grounded in a personal relationship with a God who does what would normally be impossible, like raising Christ from the dead. Just as Abraham looked at God and believed He could give life where none existed.
Our faith is grounded in a Messiah who does rule, who is all-powerful, who hears the injustices of the past and puts them right, but he does so in His own way and in His own time.
We should look back in Lent and repent of the times we have taken the easy way out.
But we should also look forward and try to discern the path that Christ would have us lead into the future, whatever that holds.
To take up our cross and follow Him.
To pray that Christ will give us the grace, humility and courage to follow that path to the best of our ability until we meet Him face to face and the covenant, started with Abraham, will not only be fulfilled, it will be complete.