We take a moment to actually think about, express and symbolize our commitment to God.
- I will stop approaching God as if it’s a contract.
- I will evaluate where my covenant to God has been slipping.
- I will renew my covenant with God today.
Full Sermon Script:
I want to say hi to everyone here and those who are joining us online. I’m so glad you’ve been part of this series that we’re concluding today.
This series has been about being ALL IN… and the power of commitments.
We talked the first week about how we live in a society that fears commitment. We tend to be afraid of commitment.
“If I make a commitment, that means I give up my freedom, and I don’t want to give up my freedom. I don’t want to give up control.”
There’s a lot of fear around commitment.
However, we’ve been talking about how it’s actually only when you make a commitment that you’re free to find the kind of life God intended for you to live.
We actually find ourselves, our identity, in the commitments we make.
Then the next week we talked about financial commitment and how Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you.”
He didn’t say, “Give, because God needs your money.”
He said if you give, you’ll actually experience a better life.
I was thinking about this because God’s commandments are always given to us for our benefit.
At the last two churches I’ve been part of, just before the offering, someone (usually the person doing announcements) would say, “If you’re visiting, this is not for you. Just let the offering basket go by. Take a pass. Don’t worry about obeying the command to give.”
You know, we never do that with other commandments in the Bible.
If we were talking about the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” we would never say, “If you’re just visiting today, feel free to take a pass on that commandment.”
Because life is better if you don’t commit adultery.
Life is better if you give.
When we commit ourselves to the commandments of God, we’re not doing it for God. We’re doing it because they make our lives better.
Then last week Scott talked about relationships.
To say to someone, “I’m going to commit my life to you” is something I don’t want to do unless I know, “Can I trust you?”
In friendships, in families, especially in marriages — a wedding ceremony fundamentally isn’t about the music or the clothes. It’s about a promise. “I take you… for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until we are separated by death.”
That promise is so important that it has to be witnessed.
In older wedding ceremonies, there was actually a question that got asked — “Does anyone know any reason why these two should not be married? If you do, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
In movies, that part is always in a wedding… and someone always says something dramatic so Julia Roberts can marry the right guy and not the wrong guy.
It struck me. I go to a lot of weddings. No one ever asks that question in real weddings. Did you ever notice that?
A friend of mine is a pastor and he was officiating his daughter’s wedding. He asked that question at his daughter’s wedding.
He set it up ahead of time so a random person would stand up and say, “Actually, I’m her probation officer, and I have real serious reservations about this wedding.”
They play a lot of practical jokes on each other in their family so he thought that would be a funny way to prank his daughter.
But he forgot to tell the grooms family about it. They didn’t think it was funny at all.
When you’re making a commitment, you want to know, “Can I trust you?”
When I was a kid, we used to actually take a little oath, because we’re often not trustworthy. We get desperate if we really want someone to believe us.
The oath went something like this:
“I promise what I’m telling you is the truth. Cross my heart…”
Anyone remember saying that as a kid?
“…hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.”
Who came up with that? — “I want you to know, if I’m NOT telling the truth, may bad things happen to me.”
All of this leads to the great question today, “Can I trust God?”
I was talking to someone who has suffered a lot. He was telling me, “You know, if I really trust God with everything, he’s going to hurt me.”
“God, can I really trust you with my money, with my relationships, with my sexuality, with my time, with my children, with my life, and with my death?”
It turns out God not only understands this question — he not only tolerates this question — he actually welcomes it.
When that question was asked for the first time in the Bible, it kind of changed history… and it can change your life.
That might happen today, during this service.
We’re going to take a moment to actually think about and express our commitment to God today.
I want to start by going way back to when God was going to begin a redemptive movement in human history.
He came to a man named Abraham (originally his name was Abram).
God said to him, “Abram, I want you to be the father of my people. I’m going to give you a son, and I’m going to start the people of Israel with you. I’m going to bless you, and through you all the people of the world will be blessed.
“I want you to leave your homeland and go to a new land that I will show you, and you will take possession of that land.”
It’s very interesting because Abram is being asked to do a lot.
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” Genesis 15:8
It’s an interesting tension here.
“Sovereign Lord” — that’s a big title — “How do I know I can trust you? How do I know you’re actually going to do this? How do I know you’re not going to hurt me?”
If I was the Sovereign Lord, I would have been tempted to say, “Well, puny little human, how do I know I can trust you?”
God doesn’t do that. God instead responds differently.
So the LORD said to him,
Again, Abram is asking him, “How do I know I can trust you?”
So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other.” Genesis 15:9-10
What in the world is going on here? This is kind of strange, isn’t it?
Well, in the ancient world, everyone would have known immediately.
In the ancient world, when people were going to make a commitment to each other, they would do what was called a covenant. Scott talked about this last week.
Covenant is just a word for a promise, but it’s a real serious promise. It’s a real solemn vow that binds people to each other —
You can trust me.
I will do what I tell you I will do.
You can count on my commitment.
Because we’re often untrustworthy, they would make an oath. It was called an oath of malediction — “May something bad happen to me if I don’t keep my word to you.”
They would take these animals like a calf and a goat and a ram and literally cut them in half.
Now later they would have a big meal, a big celebration, so it was kind of a banquet kind of deal.
But first, they would put one half of the animal on one side and the other half on the other side as a way of saying, “If I don’t keep my word to you, may what happened to these animals happen to me.”
Then, together, they would go on what was called a covenant walk.
It sounds gruesome and bloody to us — a dead calf cut in half.
If you’ve ever heard someone at Starbucks order a “half caf,” now you know where that came from.
Okay, I’m sorry, I don’t know why that seems funny to me. It doesn’t seem funny to anyone else.
Anyway, there’s this covenant walk. It’s a strange thing in our day, but it wasn’t back then… because an oath was so serious.
In fact, if you ever read through the Bible and you see the phrase where two people make a covenant, literally in the text in the Hebrew language, it’s that they CUT a covenant. It’s referring precisely to this custom they had.
It was a way of saying, “I’m telling you the truth. Cross my heart. Hope to die.”
If a covenant was made, say, by a king and a bunch of less powerful people, it would have been because there was something in it for the king.
He would always get grazing rights, or water, or gold, or something.
Then there’s Abram and God — Abram is going to get great blessing, great wealth, a new people group, a child, and land.
What does God get out of this covenant?
Someone to bless. Someone to commit himself to.
This would have been a radical departure from the norm for Israel.
There had never been in the history of the human race the idea of an all-good, all-powerful God who wants to enter into a covenant relationship with people — who wants to commit himself to people… and get nothing out of it.
They all believed in gods, but they thought of it more as a contract kind of a thing.
Zeus or Baal or whoever… would be our god, and we would build him a temple. We would offer him sacrifices, and give him grain, and have a little cult of worship.
Then it was his job to give fertility, or rain, or wealth, or health, or whatever.
It was kind of quid pro quo deal. If Zeus didn’t give me what it is I wanted, I might go to another god. I might go to Apollo.
It was a contract thing.
A lot of people in our day approach God as if it’s a contract kind of relationship.
We don’t think about God when things are going well… but then when I want something —
“God, you have to give me this job.
You have to give me this relationship.
You have to give me my health.
You have to give me my kid’s health.
You have to arrange my circumstances right.
“If you do that, I’ll go to church more often. I’ll tithe. I’ll read the Bible. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”
We think of it as a contract deal.
And then we play all these kind of spiritual games to get what we want from God… and try to look more spiritual than we really are.
A guy prays, “God, I would really like a donut, but only if it’s your will for my life. I will drive to the donut shop, but I will only get a donut if there’s an open parking spot in front of the shop. That way I will know a donut is your will for my life.”
Sure enough, his sixth time around the donut shop, a spot was open right in front.
“God, I just want your will.” It’s a contract deal.
When it’s a contract relationship, I’m always looking for loopholes. I’m always reading the fine print. I’m always wondering, “Are you trying to take advantage of me? How do I get out of it if I need to?”
Have you ever tried to get out of a cell phone contract?
Well, a covenant is different altogether. A covenant is a promise from the heart.
A lot of times people try to make a contract sound like that, but it really isn’t.
I was reading an article recently that said the corporation today is what the family used to be.
Your company, where you work, that’s your new family.
No, it’s not.
That’s a contract.
The quickest way to prove it is… don’t do your job for a couple weeks. Then when you get fired, go to your boss and say, “Hey, you can’t fire me. I’m family.”
They will tell you, “No, you’re not. Yesterday you were family. Today you’re fired.”
You see, the differences between a company and a family is in a family, you can’t get fired.
A family is built not when someone is born but when there’s a promise.
“I’m your dad. As long as you live, I will always be your dad. I don’t care where you go or what you do. You can betray my values. You can deny my God. You can break my heart. You can spit in my face. I’ll always be your dad.”
It’s a heart thing.
God comes to this little man, Abram, and says, “I’ll always be your Dad. I’ll always love you. I’ll always be there for you. I’ll always walk with you.”
That just blew the minds of people in ancient Israel. They couldn’t get over it.
They loved to talk about God as — the God of the covenant.
The writers of Scripture used that word, covenant, more than 300 times.
They would talk about how God made a covenant with his friend Moses on Mount Sinai when he gave the Ten Commandments.
How God made a covenant with his friend David when he made him king.
How God made a covenant with Noah after the flood.
God was excited to make these covenants because God is a god of love… and love loves to commit.
That’s why God says to Noah:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.
I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Genesis 9:9-13
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you…
God is so excited about this. It’s not just with you, but “with your descendants after you…”
And not just that, but “with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.”
God is making a covenant with the birds, with animals.
“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Noah had to love the rainbow.
Then God comes to this man named Abraham, and says:
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep… You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. Genesis 17:10-11
Which had to be a big disappointment to Abraham after Noah got the rainbow.
“Couldn’t we do some other kind of a symbol of the covenant or something?”
God loves to make a covenant, loves to commit himself to people.
He does that with Abram.
Then there’s the covenant walk, but there’s a really strange thing that happens in it.
It would have been very apparent to people reading this in the ancient world.
As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Genesis 15:12
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram. Genesis 15:17-18
He cut a covenant with Abram.
There are these bloody halves of animals on either side, and it’s time for the covenant walk.
What’s strange is this vision Abram has…
The blazing torch of course would stand for God. Fire is the presence of God. That goes on the covenant walk, but Abram does not. Only God does the covenant walk.
It’s like God is saying, “I’ll do the covenant walk for you. If this covenant gets broken, may the curse of the broken covenant fall on me. Cross my heart. Hope to die.”
You see, a covenant always involves two parties, and that’s what we’re going to be thinking about in a few moments — what I’d like you to consider doing today —
“God, I want to renew my covenant with you, I want to recommit my life to you,” because we have a way of slipping in our covenants.
I was thinking of a picture of this.
Somehow I will end up on email lists that I don’t want to be on. It happens a lot in our day. You buy something online and end up on someone’s email distribution list. It’s annoying.
But there’s a little word at the very bottom of the email.
If I click on that word, it will terminate our email relationship. What word is it?
That’s a wonderful word — unsubscribe.
I was thinking how there are often times in my relationship with God when I will think:
“I really don’t want to obey what God is asking me to do” — unsubscribe.
“I would really rather indulge this sexual appetite” — unsubscribe.
“I don’t really want to bring God my tithe and be generous with my money” — Unsubscribe.
“I don’t really feel like praying to God right now” — unsubscribe.
“I don’t really feel like having my mind shaped by the Bible. I’d rather just let it be shaped by whatever kind of garbage the world is sending my way.” — unsubscribe.
It’s Black history month — “I really don’t feel like learning about what oppression and injustice and a lack of love looks like… and how my own heart is with that kind of stuff. I don’t really want to know where God might be calling me to change.” — unsubscribe.
You see, I do that with God all the time.
And then he feels distant. And it wounds God’s heart.
That’s why God created what’s called a covenant renewal ceremony where people could renew their covenant again.
A long time after Abram, Moses comes along, and God makes a covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai. God reminds the people of Israel, “I’m your father. I’m your dad. I delivered you from slavery in Egypt. I’m going to make you into a great people.”
He gives them the Ten Commandments.
You may know this about the Ten Commandments. They’re chiseled on two tablets. There are two tablets. Moses comes down with two tablets.
I used to think that meant there were five commandments on one tablet and five commandments on the other tablet.
That’s not the deal.
Anytime there was a covenant, there would be two copies, two records of the covenant made, one for each party.
When Moses comes down with two tablets, one tablet belongs to the people of Israel. Guess who the other tablet belongs to? That’s God’s… because God is the other part of the covenant.
It goes into what’s called the ark of the covenant.
Moses reads the covenant to the people. Look what happens.
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.” Exodus 24:7
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.”
It’s all about how much God loves them and what life with God looks like.
They’re so overwhelmed with the idea that, “The God of the universe wants to be in a covenant relationship with me!”
“They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’”
The idea is not that they’re doing it reluctantly.
It’s not, “Someone else is making me do this.”
It’s not, “I guess I have to follow a bunch of rules.”
It’s like, “I want to give God my heart.”
Some friends of mine made it through a rocky season of their marriage, and when they made it through, they decided they wanted to renew their covenant. When they got married the first time, it was kind of a sudden thing.
When they wanted to renew their covenant, they decided they wanted to do it right, so they did it in a beautiful setting on a beach in Maui.
After many many years and all kinds of joys and absolute heartbreaks…
They stood there and said, “For better or worse, in sickness and health, richer or poorer, to love and to cherish, until death do us part… which it’s going to be a lot sooner now.”
You see, love loves to commit. It loves to make a promise. When you love someone, you just want to say, “I’ll be there for you. Just give me a chance to make a promise.”
Now, covenant commitments generally involve symbols, because when the heart is involved, it’s so deep that words can’t quite convey it.
At a wedding it will often be rings.
There’s a symbol in the covenant renewal ceremony that’s very important.
Moses reads the book of the covenant.
People say, “Whatever God says, we’ll do. We’ll obey.”
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24:8
“Moses then took the blood,” Remember it’s a bloody deal. Animals die for this.
“sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”
Now just picture this for a moment.
Moses takes this blood. Animals have died for this. He takes the blood in his hand and sprinkles it on the people.
How would you like it if we did that here?
I thought about it, but I decided I’d like to keep my job.
What is this about? Why would he sprinkle blood on people?
Well, they lived in a completely different world. They lived in a world where they were very aware of life and death and bloody messes.
We live in a different world.
Charles Taylor in a brilliant book says we live with what’s called the “buffered self.” We buffer ourselves from all of the harsh realities of the world in which we live.
We think of the universe like this big, giant machine.
We’re really smart.
We’ve got it figured out.
We can understand it through science.
We can control it through technology.
We can avoid death so we don’t have to look at it. We don’t have to smell it. We put it in hospitals.
We forget what a bloody thing birth is.
I had not seen birth till my wife gave birth to our daughter. That’s where I found children don’t come into this world very neat. They don’t come wrapped in a blanket.
It’s like something out of a movie. If you’ve never seen it, it’s awful. It’s slimy. There are openings and stuff coming out. It’s horrible.
I got white as a ghost, and I was feeling kind of woozy. The doctor said, “You need to sit down on a chair and put your head between your legs.” I did that. A couple of minutes later, Kathy asked the doctor, “Is everything okay?”
The doctor immediately said, “Yes, your husband and your daughter are both pinking up at about the same time.”
You know, we forget because we live in a buffered world with a buffered self.
We’re born in blood, and we live as long as our blood allows us to live. When we lose our blood, we lose our life.
Life is in the blood.
They wanted to know, because they lived in an unbuffered world with an unbuffered self. So a Covenant deal was a heart deal, and that’s a blood deal. It’s a life or death deal.
When a little baby comes into this world, if it cannot trust that someone is going to keep a promise to that baby, “I will be there. I will be with you. I will be your daddy,” that baby is going to die.
When you wake up in the morning, you have the luxury of forgetting about this, because you’re a buffered self in a buffered world.
If the sun doesn’t come up, if the law of gravity doesn’t hold, if your heart doesn’t keep pumping that blood and you can’t control any of that stuff, you have to trust…what?
The universe? God?
You see, there was a day when people were so much more aware of the wonder and the mystery and the uncontrollability of life that faith came easier to them than it does to us… not because they were unscientific or foolish but because they lived in unbuffered reality.
We doubt and we question and we clutch and we hold and we sin. Our hearts get hard and cold.
God makes another promise.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors 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. Jeremiah 31:31-32
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel…
A new covenant — “I’ll make a new promise.”
It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand…
There’s this tender picture — “…when I took them by the hand…” like you do when you love someone.
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,
“Because they broke my heart.”
though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
He uses the most tender, intimate picture possible of human love.
It’s like a husband and a wife. It’s like a groom and a bride. — “Does anyone have any reason why these two shall not be married?”
Yeah, I do. I do! — My heart. My ego and my pride and my selfishness.
“I’m going to make a new covenant,” God says, “not like the old one. That got broken. It broke my heart. I tried to take these people by the hand. They broke my heart.”
He thinks, and he thinks, and he thinks.
Then one day he sends his Son Jesus.
No one has ever talked about the heart of God, the love of God the father the way Jesus did. Jesus taught about God’s covenant with his creation in ways no one had ever heard.
Then he faced a lot of opposition, and he was going to die.
He understood something was happening in his death that he wanted the world to know but didn’t get.
The night before he died, he gathered his friends together. He sat them around a table, and he poured out a cup of wine.
He said, “I’m going to die. I’m going to the cross tomorrow. You’re going to be wrecked. You’re going to think it’s the end. You’re going to be in despair. It’s not. I’m going to rise again. Here’s what’s going on.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. Mark 14:24-25
That promise God made a long time ago that’s a life or death deal, that’s a blood deal. He’s quoting Moses here. Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant.”
Jesus doesn’t say, “This is the blood of the covenant.”
Jesus says, “This is my blood. You know that covenant walk that happened so long ago with Abraham and God, that promise God made? It’s my blood.”
You see, when Jesus went to the cross, he was doing the covenant walk for you and for me.
“Cross my heart. Hope to die.” That’s our God.
We’re going to take communion in a moment.
I just want you to have this reminding thought: It is only because of the covenant God made with us that we’re invited to the communion table, that we are worthy to receive the communion elements… as a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.
In spite of all of our fallenness and brokenness… he delights in us like a groom delights in a bride, like a father delights in a son.
We come to the communion table to remember once again the great love of God… that he would send his son to die for us.
I just a moment the band is going to play another song. When they do, I’d like to ask you to come to the stations at the front or the back.
Take a piece of bread that symbolizes Jesus’ body that was broken for you. And dip it into the cup that represents Jesus blood that was shed for you.
And eat it in remembrance of Him.
So that’s one aspect of what we’re going to do in just a moment when the band plays a closing song.
Also, I want to ask you, wherever you are, is there an area where your commitment to God, your covenant to God, has been slipping?
Any secret sin no one knows about?
Any hidden habit?
Any relationship where you’ve hurt someone, you’ve wounded someone, or someone has hurt you?
You’ve been saying to yourself, “You know what? I get to nurse a grudge. I get to put them in a category where I don’t have to love them. I don’t have to live with a tender heart toward them.”
Maybe with your time. Maybe there was a time in your life when, you know, like Israel hearing the book of the covenant. You used to just love to read God’s Word. Now it’s just been sitting on the shelf for a long time.
Or you used to love to pray and talk with God. Now you haven’t talked deeply to God for a long time.
We’re going to renew our covenant with God.
It always helps to have a symbol when we renew our covenant.
You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but we have something we would like to tie around your wrist as a way of saying, “God, I’m renewing my commitment. God, I’m renewing my covenant with you.”
Rather than sprinkling blood on you, we thought we would tie a red bracelet around your wrist as a symbol of your recommitment. Red is a symbol of the blood Jesus shed so we can be in a covenant relationship with God.
Just like in a wedding, we use a ring as a symbol. Just like my friends who stood on the beach to renew their covenanted said to each other — “With all that I am, with all that I have, I’m yours” — let’s say to God, “With all that I am, with all that I have, God, I’m yours.”
Let me pray before we take this next step together.
Heavenly Father, you know about every heart in this room.
God, you know where we’ve gotten cold, or hard, or busy, or distracted, or guilty, or afraid, or angry, or wounded, but now you come to heal us. Now you come to cover us with love and then bring us back to life again.
Thank you, God, that you promise to love us. You promise to be our dad. Thank you, God, that you do the covenant walk we cannot do. You make the sacrifice we cannot offer. You suffer the death we could not give.
Now, God, this is your people. We’re kind of a mess, God. We often think we’re smarter and better and brighter than we are, but we’re kind of a mess. We bring our mess to you. We bring our messy hearts and lives to you.
We do that in our families. We do that in our groups. We do that one-on-one. We’re your children, God, and we want you to have our hearts. We want to tell you again with all that we are, with all that we have, we’re yours.
We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.