The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost August 5, 2007
534, 209, 383, 437
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the undeserved love of God be multiplied to you, and may you have peace and comfort in the sure knowledge that Jesus has indeed died for your sins, and that He has won eternal life for you and for all mankind. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Sometimes simply accepting that certain things in life are just the way they are can help us. Yet even as it helps us, sometimes this acceptance can also create challenges in other areas. Here’s an example: When you work for someone, you expect to be paid. When you borrow something, you expect to have to return it. When you are caught breaking the law, you expect to pay the penalty. None of this is new to us or the least bit out of the ordinary. It’s just the way things are.
But here’s where the challenge comes. Everything gets turned on its ear when we shift from the secular to the religious. In other words, once we come to accept that the normal way of thinking is that you get what you pay for and that you are punished for infractions and so on, then we will come to understand just why Christianity—and the Gospel in particular—is such a foreign concept to natural man. It is not that the facts of Christianity are all that difficult to comprehend. A child can easily understand that Jesus lived His life without ever sinning, and then offered that sinless life on the cross to pay for all sins. In the spiritual realm, that’s the way things are. The problem, of course, is that the way things are in Christianity is absolutely contrary to the way things are in the secular world.
It is this contrary nature of the Gospel that makes it so difficult for the Christian to cling steadfastly to the simple truths that are laid out in the Bible. It just seems wrong that someone else (the very Son of God) paid our debt of sin in our place and that God now demands no repayment from us. It just seems wrong that we do not have to work to earn the good things waiting for us in heaven. It just seems wrong that we, having wronged God, would not be forced to make it up to Him somehow and in some way.
In fact the one basic fact of Christianity that is the easiest to understand, but the most difficult to keep straight in our sinful hearts, is the proper understanding of good works and their relation to our salvation. Every single Christian can be used as an example to prove this fact. Every single one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, knows that he is going to heaven because Jesus died for him on the cross and took away his sins. Every Christian undoubtedly knows that he cannot earn heaven by what he does, nor can he repay God for his sins. At least that is what our heads tell us. Our hearts often disagree.
Do you need evidence that this is true also in your life? Ask yourself if you’ve ever felt comforted because you attended a church service, even though you paid no attention and slept through the sermon? If so, you were probably then comforted by what you did and not by what Christ has done for you. You were probably comforted by your own works rather than the works of our Savior Jesus. You felt good about yourself and better about your sins because you went to church. What should have comforted you was the message of grace offered in the Word of God.
Here’s where the problem becomes obvious in connection with accepting that some things are just the way they are. We are sinners, but we are never supposed to grow comfortable with our sinfulness. We are weak, but we dare never grow satisfied with our weakness. We are spiritually lazy, but that’s not how we want to remain.
The bottom line is that only the Word of God can teach us what we need to accept as “the way things are” in this life, and when “the way things are” needs to be corrected. For help in this area we turn to the Word and wisdom of God. That part of God’s Word that we will study this morning is found in the Old Testament book of Exodus, the 24th chapter:
So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”
So far the Holy Word of God. How blessed and privileged we are to have the very words of God as our perfect guide through life. God grant us the wisdom to use them as He intended. To this end we pray, “Sanctify us through Your Truth, O Lord—Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Fellow servants of Christ Jesus, one of the more unfortunate “way things are”—even in the Christian Church today—is that the Old Testament of the Bible remains a largely misunderstood and underappreciated part of God’s Word. The worst part is that Christ remains largely hidden there. In other words, types and pictures of Christ escape our notice. We notice some of the more obvious references largely because Jesus or one of the Apostles pointed them out to us in the New Testament. So the bronze snake that Moses was commanded to build in the wilderness we today recognize as a type of Christ because Jesus said it was. Speaking to Nicodemus Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). We also recognize the fact that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days as a picture of Christ in the tomb, again, because Jesus pointed it out to us: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
We miss countless other Old Testament truths and insights simply because we are not well versed in the way things were back then. Our text gives reference to several of these truths, the first has to do with covenants and how they were established in Old Testament days.
When God gave the Children of Israel His words and laws and the Children of Israel accepted those rules and decrees as their own (and bound themselves to them), this formed the beginning of a covenant between God and the nation of Israel. The covenant said simply, “If you keep me as your one and only God, and obey my commandments and my words, then I will be your God and I will protect and defend and prosper you in this land forever.” This was a conditional covenant—God promised to do His part only on the condition that Israel must fulfill its part by remaining faithful to the One True God. The only other major conditional covenant in the Old Testament was between God and Abraham in Genesis 17. There God made Abraham a promise on the condition that Abraham show his total consecration to the Lord through circumcision. All other major covenants in the Old Testament were unconditional or “Royal Grant” covenants—unilateral promises made by God to man. These include the promise to Noah never again to destroy the earth by flood, the promises to Phinehas (Numbers 25) and David (2 Samuel 7) to establish and maintain their families, and, most importantly, the New Covenant under which we live today. In this covenant, God has unconditionally promised to forgive the sins of his rebellious people. This covenant is the Gospel itself.
When God told the Israelites, through Moses, all that He expected from them, they replied—no doubt with the best of intentions: “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” [v.3] Look at what happens next. What was the deal with all of the blood? Imagine how much blood! Half of all the blood from the bulls that were sacrificed was sprinkled on the people and the other half was sprinkled on the sacrificial altar. Why the blood?
This is an example of how much we miss in the Old Testament simply because we are partly or wholly ignorant of the way things were back then. Wasn’t the covenant dependent upon Israel keeping God’s commandments? Yes, but what the Jews fully understood was that this was a blood covenant. In other words, the bloody sacrifice of animals was an essential element of this pact between God and his chosen people. That’s just the way things were back then. The Jews knew it and accepted it.
How or why is it important for us to understand such things today? Let me give you one very basic example—something so current that we will hear it later in the service today, but about which many have often puzzled. The words that Moses spoke in our text clue us in on what we are talking about here. When he said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words” [v.8] what other words came to mind? Don’t they remind you of Jesus’ words when he instituted the Lord’s Supper: “Take drink. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness”?
Over the centuries, as the Church struggles to defend the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, many have wondered why Jesus didn’t just say, “This is my blood” as he had previously said, “This is my body.” What we are missing, again is an understanding and acceptance of the way things were back then. Covenants were established with blood sacrifices. When God established the New Covenant with mankind (forgiving man’s sins for the sake of Jesus Christ) the natural question that would have arisen in the minds of the Jews back then would likely have been something like: “What blood sacrifice shall confirm this new covenant?” With His answer, Jesus included a striking addition—did you notice it? He didn’t just say, “This is the blood of the new covenant…” He said, “This is My blood of the new covenant…”
This took what Jesus was doing here to a whole deeper level. It indicated that not only was the new covenant sealed with blood, it was sealed with His blood. He was therefore saying “this is My blood,” but He was also saying much more. He was telling the world that He Himself was the sacrificial lamb. It was His blood that established the new covenant between God and man—God’s promise of the free and compete forgiveness of all sins.
Suddenly it became clear why, for all those centuries, God had insisted on blood sacrifices and why the sacrificial lamb had to be without spot or blemish—without defect of any kind. All pointed ahead to Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God. Now too we can see why God was so angry with the people when they began offering culls and cripples instead of that which was perfect. What an insult to Christ our Savior! What a crass affront to the sinless Son of God whose holy nature was foreshadowed in those Old Testament sacrifices.
There is more to be understood and gained here. Why, for example, was all of that blood sprinkled on the people? Moses knew his people very well by this time. He knew that despite their good intentions and promises, they had demonstrated a tendency to fall away from the Lord very quickly. The promises and the intentions were good, but that did not remove the purpose for the blood. So also with us today. Each time we are confronted with our many sins, we repent of those sins. Part of true repentance is the intention never again to fall into sin. But, like the Children of Israel, our promises and our good intentions do not pay for our sins. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). How easy for us to lose our focus here. How like sinful man to imagine that being thrown the life raft is the same as rescuing ourselves. How like us to suppose that crying out for help and confessing our helplessness is that which saves us. So also the sprinkling of the blood upon the people was a stark reminder of the need for the sacrifice, and how that sacrifice tied them to their Savior God.
God did not give us a conditional promise in the New Covenant. He gave us an unconditional promise. No matter what you have done, Jesus paid for your sins. God has unilaterally promised that He has forgiven every sin of every single human being. That forgiveness was won for us when God placed on his Son the punishment for all sins. That complete forgiveness becomes our own not by doing or not doing, but as a free gift of God’s grace offered through faith to everyone who believes that Jesus has won this forgiveness for us.
Will that new man in us now long to live a Christ-like life of pure, sinless obedience? Absolutely. So also, with the best of intentions, we too shout along with the Children of Israel, “We will do everything the Lord has said. We will obey.” But to this we also add, “But sprinkle us too…” It is only the blood of Jesus Christ that can make us right in God’s eyes. Our promise to obey, even if we could fulfill that promise, could never do what Jesus has done. Even perfect obedience from this point forward could never pay for the sins of the past or win our salvation in the end.
As far as our God and our salvation are concerned, that’s the way things are. It is Jesus Christ, or it is eternal damnation. Man can reject that fact, ridicule it, or try to substitute something else for it. In the end everything else will come to naught. So may God the Holy Spirit forever keep our feet firmly planted upon this one path to eternal life. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.