Blood of the Covenant
By David Feddes
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are two boys trying to keep a secret. How can they make sure neither one will break the secret? Tom wants to hold hands and swear to it. But Huck says, “Oh no, that wouldn’t do for this. That’s good enough for little rubbishy common things… but there orter be writing ‘bout a big thing like this. And blood.” Tom agrees with Huck: this requires writing and blood. So Tom writes the promises on a clean pine shingle. Then each boy pricks his thumb with a needle, squeezes out a little blood, and signs his initials.
Tom and Huck are fictional, but it’s no fiction that the most solemn agreement is not just a matter of holding hands and talking. It involves writing and blood. When God made his covenant with his chosen people, he didn’t just speak words that would make a brief impression and then fade from memory. He wrote things down. He recorded the covenant history of his creative and saving acts, and he recorded covenant commands, promises, and curses as a testimony for all generations. God wrote his covenant in the Bible. (The word testament—as in Old Testament and New Testament—means covenant.) And he sealed this written covenant with blood. This didn’t just involve a pinprick in the thumb and a drop of blood. It involved piercing by nails, thorns, and spear. It involved the complete outpouring of Jesus’ blood. The Lord’s covenant, written in Scripture and sealed with his blood, is unchangeable and eternal.
I don’t know what you think of this covenant, but it is my life. I won’t settle for a religion based on feelings, holding hands, talking, and singing choruses. That might be “good enough for little rubbishy common things,” as Huck Finn put it, but when my life and whole world are at stake, I need something sturdier. I need the covenant, written down and sealed in blood.
Let me tell you what it’s like to be in this covenant with Christ. In this covenant, I don’t have to wonder whether I count for anything. I don’t have to wonder where I stand or whether I belong. Thanks to the blood of the covenant, God accepts me. God loves me. God enjoys me. God delights in me. God sings over me. God doesn’t hold my sins against me but helps me overcome them. God likes having me around. God likes hearing from me. God expects great things from me. God is making the world better through me. God is blessing future generations through me. God calls me a very special person among a very special people. God claims my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren for a thousand generations, if this world lasts that long.
When I say this, it’s not an ego trip. It’s reality. It’s what God guarantees in the Bible for those who hold fast to his covenant in Christ. I don’t need to be stuck in guilt. I don’t need to fear punishment. I don’t need to feel ashamed or worthless. I don’t need to feel frustrated or take my frustration out on others. I don’t need to feel confused about who God is or what he requires of me. I can be clear, confident, purposeful, knowing God welcomes me, treasures me, equips me, directs me, corrects me, disciplines me, and has great things in store for me. All this is God’s gift, not my achievement.
God’s gift is not for me alone. It’s for all who trust his Son and are faithful to his covenant. God doesn’t just choose me as an individual. He chooses me in Christ together with a whole body of people and makes his covenant with them, and it’s only within this covenant body of people that I can flourish. I have a personal relationship with God, but not as an individual on my own. I relate to God in communion with his covenant people, the church. I know I’m special and I teach my children they’re special because Jesus claims us as part of “the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
There’s a lot of talk about the need for self-esteem, and it is terrible for children to grow up feeling unloved, alone, worthless, aimless. But will it work to build self-esteem on frequent flattery by parents and teachers? That’s building a castle on clouds. My sense of self depends on what God thinks of me, on being part of a larger body of people, and on having a high and noble purpose. I ground this in God’s covenant, written in his Word and sealed in Jesus’ blood.
Jesus and Moses
The night before Jesus died, he gave the Lord’s Supper as a covenant celebration for his disciples and all future followers.
Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28)
This was not the first time someone used the phrase “blood of the covenant.” Moses had used it centuries earlier. After God rescued the people of Israel from slavery, the Lord gave a covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai that included writing, blood, and a special meal. He wrote the Ten Commandments and related laws, he required blood from animal sacrifices as a sign of atonement for sin, and he established the Passover as a meal of liberation and covenant fellowship. According to Exodus 24, an altar was built, and some young bulls were sacrificed.
“Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:6-8).
Then Moses, some priests, and the seventy elders of Israel went up to Mount Sinai and saw God. Somehow God made visible something of his invisible being. Such a close encounter with God could have been devastating and deadly. “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:11).
The covenant confirmed that day with Moses was a marvelous gift from God. Each element was precious. The Lord promised to be the God of his chosen people, and they agreed to be his. God wrote down his commands to let them know what he required from them, and they declared their commitment. God knew they couldn’t obey perfectly, so he accepted sacrificial blood on the altar as a way to cover the sins of his people, and he put blood on the people as a claim on them that wouldn’t wash away. He allowed their leaders into his presence to have a meal of fellowship with him and with each other, and he did not strike them dead.
This amazing covenant got even better centuries later. When Jesus gave his disciples a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant,” he declared himself to be fulfilling the older covenant with Moses and establishing a new and even better covenant. “The covenant of which [Jesus] is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises” (Hebrews 8:5). The once-for-all outpouring of Jesus’ blood replaced the oft-repeated animal sacrifices. The coming of God in human flesh replaced the mysterious vision of God in the old covenant.
When Jesus gave the Lord’s Supper and spoke of the blood of the covenant, his disciples probably recalled the time when Moses spoke of the blood of the covenant and the meal where people saw God and lived. One of those in the room with Jesus, Philip, spoke up and asked to see God. He said, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). As Israel’s leaders long ago had been sprinkled with blood and ate with God and saw him, so Jesus’ disciples ate and drank and enjoyed the Lord’s company without being destroyed, thanks to his blood of the covenant.
The new covenant replaced the older covenant, not by contradicting or violating it but by fulfilling and surpassing it. The ceremonies and symbols of the old covenant were fulfilled by Jesus in the new covenant, but the basic covenant structure remained: God graciously chooses a people for himself, commands their obedience to his laws of love, provides a way to pardon those who sin but still want a relationship with him, reveals himself to them, and establishes fellowship that links them to him and each other. He puts this in writing, seals the relationship with blood, and confirms it in the experience of eating and drinking around a table. Every time I eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, I take part in the body of Christ and benefit from his blood of the covenant.
The beauty of Christ and his church make it a beautiful thing to be in his covenant. If you’ve been baptized into Christ, you have a special identity and tremendous privileges, with awesome opportunities and responsibilities. But what if you’re outside the church? What if you’re not baptized and don’t have a covenant relationship with God? Don’t think this message is just for somebody else. Just because you’re outside God’s covenant people doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. God calls you to put your faith in him and enter into his covenant. You can be baptized into his church, live by faith, and embrace covenant blessings and responsibilities.
Holy and Dearly Loved
When Jesus says, “This cup is my blood of the covenant,” do you realize what the Lord is saying to you and other members of his covenant? Listen to what God has written in his covenant book, the Bible. God told the people under Moses, “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). In the newer version of the covenant, God says all that and more: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). You are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12)
Is that how you see yourself? When you wake up in the morning, do you say, “I am holy and dearly loved”? Do you say, “Thank you, Lord, that I am your treasured possession”? Or do you go through each day wondering whether anyone really loves you, doubting whether you really amount to anything? If you ignore the covenant, live in sin without turning from it, and avoid church, you place yourself outside those whom God treasures. But if you count on Jesus’ blood of the covenant to cleanse you, if you count on God’s promises and submit to his commands, and if you stay connected to his church, then you are among “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” Don’t let Satan poison your joy. Don’t let him drag you into doubt and guilt and fear. Let your heart and life glow with gladness!
And don’t limit the joy to yourself. Let your family ring with joy! If you belong to Jesus and you have children, don’t leave your children wondering who they are or where they belong. Children born into believing homes should be baptized and taught from their earliest days that they are among God’s covenant people, “holy and dearly loved.” They should be invited to the Lord’s table at an early age. If children are told not to think of themselves as Christians till they walk an aisle or have some sort of special experience or reach adulthood, we are failing them. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). If you as a parent are in God’s covenant, your children are in his covenant too. Teach them that! Treat them that way! Don’t teach them to doubt. Teach them to believe!
Part of teaching the covenant is to warn of covenant curses, so warn them of the hellfire that awaits any covenant-breaker “who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:26-29). But don’t use such warnings to hammer children with doubt and terror. Treasure your covenant children and keep encouraging them that they are God’s treasured possession in union with Christ and his church.
In the covenant, God frees us from family curses and sins passed from generation to generation, and he make faith flourish from generation to generation. Scripture says, “You were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers [by] the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18). Apart from Christ, we “were foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13).
Covenant families and children should shine with joyful confidence, and so should covenant congregations. If you are a pastor, do you keep preaching to the members of your congregation that they are “holy and dearly loved”? If you are a church member, do you see other baptized, believing people as God’s treasured possession? At times God’s people need to correct and warn each other, but above all we need to encourage and remind each other that we are God’s people, holy and dearly loved. Pastors, proclaim it! Congregations, celebrate it!
We don’t have to be perfect to be pleasing to God. We are covered by Jesus’ “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The blood covers all our faults and makes it possible for God to really enjoy having us around. God just plain likes us. He enjoys us. “The Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds” (Psalm 149:4).
When we live in covenant with Christ, striving to please him, we can be free of blame and shame. The Bible often speaks of being blameless. This doesn’t mean any of us can be perfect in this life. Being blameless means we love God’s Word, we strive to obey it, and Jesus’ blood covers all our failings.
Without this freedom, we may be busy blaming and shaming others, or drowning in the blame and shame that others pour on us. Many of the self-destructive things we do spring from a deep drive to suffer for our sins, and many of the cruel things we do to others are driven by making them scapegoats, projecting our guilt onto them and hurting them in order to provide a sense of relief through suffering. But with Jesus’ blood of the covenant, atonement is complete. We don’t need self-inflicted suffering or the suffering of others to relieve our desperate need for atonement. When you are blameless in the blood, you gain freedom from addictions and various destructive behaviors.
Within the covenant, you also gain a healthy sense of right and wrong. You grieve over genuine sin but not over phony guilt. God’s law shows the way. If you stray from it, you repent and return to the right path. If you do something that’s not against God’s law, you don’t let false standards of morality make you feel guilty. Without the covenant standard of God’s law in the Bible, our whole idea of what deserves blame and shame can be turned upside down. You might say, “I feel so guilty eating that chocolate” when it’s no sin at all to eat chocolate. You may feel ashamed of gaining weight when weight gain is not condemned in the Bible. God’s doesn’t command, “Be skinny.” He commands, “Be holy.” God’s law frees us from false law and false guilt.
God’s covenant commands are “the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25). Without the law of liberty, we will still have laws, but those laws will stifle freedom, not enhance it. Instead of upholding the Ten Commandments, governments pass laws against smoking in public places. Instead of outlawing live-in lovers, adultery, and divorce, some governments outlaw all forms of spanking, even though the Bible approves loving discipline. What hurts a child more, a sound spanking from a loving parent, or a broken home where a father or mother is missing from the family? Nations that outlaw spanking but approve sexual revolution and no-fault divorce have turned morality upside down. The covenant laws of God free us from such phony nonsense. In the Bible God tells those who teach upside down morality, “Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives… I will save my people from your hands” (Ezekiel 13:22-23).
When you live in the covenant, you can be clear about what God expects, and you can serve him with confidence. You know your sins are forgiven, you know his Word directs you life, and you know that you have access to the throne of God himself. “In [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). As we approach God with confidence, we can also be confident in dealing with other people. We don’t have to feel intimidated or inferior. “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant… Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold… And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:4-18).
Nowadays it’s trendy to have false humility about religious and moral matters. This false humility says religion is a matter of personal opinion. I have my opinions, you have yours, but nobody can know anything for sure about salvation or moral absolutes. But is that really humility? No, it’s just confusion. Is it arrogant to say that we know God, that we know what it means to have a relationship with him, and that we know his standard for right and wrong? No, it’s just healthy confidence in Christ and his covenant.
Hearty, covenant Christians don’t just offer vague opinions. We know! We don’t just feel or think or hope or guess. We know! In the book of 1 John, the Bible says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3). “We know that we have passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14). “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). “We know that everyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God [Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:18-20).
We know all this because we have it in the Lord’s own writing and sealed with his own blood. Nothing is more certain. The Bible says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you… All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace… No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 54:10-17). Remember and believe this whenever you come to the Lord’s table and hear Jesus’ words: “This is my blood of the covenant.”
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.