In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Where there is a covenant, there is a sacrifice. When God makes His covenant with Noah after the flood, Noah offers a sacrifice of clean animals, which is pleasing to God and He promises never to flood the whole earth again. And the rainbow will be the sign by which God will remember His promise (Genesis 8:20-9:17).
When God makes His covenant with Abraham, God says, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon” (Genesis 15:9). Abraham does, and cuts them in half, except for the birds. Then, while Abraham is sleeping, a fire pot and flaming torch pass between the severed animals, and Yahweh makes His covenant: the whole land will be given to Abraham’s descendants. God Himself promises His own death if the covenant is broken.
When Yahweh tells the people of Israel through Moses that their exodus from Egypt is near, and that He will bring them to the Land of Promise, He gives them the Passover sacrifice as a sign of His mercy to them. The blood marked their doors, and God saw the blood and did not put them to death. So Moses tells them, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of Yahweh’s Passover, for He passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when He struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ And the people bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 12:26-27).
And when the people come to Sinai and hear the whole Instruction of Yahweh, Moses writes down all the words, and they offer sacrifices at the foot of the mountain. Then Moses takes the blood of the sacrifice and throws half of it against the altar and the other half he throws on the people. “Look! The blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words!” (Exodus 24:8). Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel, and they ate and drank (24:9, 11).
Even so, when God makes a covenant, He will have a sacrifice. “Look, this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). Here is the blood of the sacrifice, poured out against the altar of God at the base of the mountain called Calvary, where God makes His covenant with the whole world. It is this blood which has been sprinkled on you, and it is this blood which you drink. So also you eat and drink and see God, not through something like a pavement of sapphire, but through the flesh of a Man. This is our Passover feast, not a reenactment of what Jesus may or may not have done in that upper room, but our Passover Lamb, sacrificed on the cross. We have no lamb meat on the altar, because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But we do eat and drink in accordance with all the words that Yahweh has spoken to us. You see that this meal is not a symbol of an absent Jesus’ and His long-ago love for us; it is not a side-note, not a peripheral issue, not something that can be taken or left according to our own predilections or preferences. This is it: the body given and the blood poured out. In the end, there can be no debate about what it is or is not; there can be only faith in the words or unbelief. This Holy Supper is the sacrifice and the covenant.
But it is not the sacrifice we offer or the covenant we make. Abraham does not make the covenant. He is sleeping. God makes it, and it is one-sided—as one-sided as God Himself dying when every single one of His people smashes His covenant into a million little pieces. As one-sided as God promising never to destroy the earth by a flood. If He did not promise it, who could stop Him? But He does promise, and He gives His own sign: a rainbow. And the sign is not primarily for us, though we may see it. It is the sign that God gives for Himself, that His condemnation of sinners will not take place by the flooding of the earth. And this sacrifice, of which we eat tonight, it is also a sign that God gives for Himself, that His condemnation of sinners has taken place once for all in the flesh of His willing Son. It is the Lamb’s blood—a sign for Himself—which marks these bodies, our earthly homes, so that death passes over us and we have peace. It is His covenant and His sacrifice, and He gives it to us as the once-for-all sacrifice for sins, an eternal covenant made in a body given and blood poured out. It is His promise to you of His mercy instead of His judgment; a promise of His love instead of His wrath; a promise of eternal life instead of death and hell. And the Body and the Blood are the signs of that promise. On the night in which He was betrayed, He promised the covenant; it was completed when He died, and made absolutely certain in His resurrection. It is nothing but this covenant and this sacrifice which He gives to His Christians to eat and drink, until we all eat and drink it new with Him in the eternal, new creation.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/31/15