“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in usthat which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21
Our Scripture reading this evening is taken from the NT book of Hebrews. You may find it on page 7 of your program. It is a benediction packed full of wonderful images, each inviting personal reflection—phrases like: “the God of peace” or “the great shepherd of the sheep.”
When we cut away all of the supporting clauses, the basic sentence of benediction is this: “May God equip you with everything good.” This simple prayer of blessing, itself, invites meditation.
But this evening, I’d like to consider the supporting clause “by the blood of the eternal covenant,” which is the key to the benediction. For it is BY the blood of the eternal covenant that God equips us or completes us with everything good so that we might do his will.
This clause, however, is the one that, perhaps, resonates LEAST in our 21st century ears. “Covenant” is a word we seldom use any more, and the Bible’s focus on blood may seem to us barbaric. We imagine (naively, I must say) that we live in a more civilized era that conducts its business, not with blood and covenants, but with ink and contracts.
We understand a contract is a binding financial agreement, usually with two parts. You promise to provide me a product or service; I promise to pay for it. A covenant is similar, but its promises bind in ways that run much deeper than financial commitment. The promises of a marriage covenant, for instance, bind the two joining together in love as one flesh.
The eternal covenant by which God binds Himself to His people is founded on various promises that we find in the Old and New Testament—sometimes called the Old and New Covenant—Scriptures. But the central promise can be summarized like this: I will be your God, and you will be my people.
Ancient covenants were very solemn and never taken lightly. In fact, to ensure that covenant promises would be kept, the joining parties would often confirm their vows with a blood ritual. I will keep this promise, even if I have to die in the process. In fact, if I break my covenant promise, I place myself under the curse of death.
Sure enough, as we read the Scriptures, we discover blood ritual is a part of the covenant God makes.
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the book of beginnings, we find the eternal covenant still in its early stage. There God promises a son to childless Abraham and Sarah in their old age. Furthermore, He promises Abraham that in his Seed (that is, through the Son of promise) all peoples of the earth will be blessed.
Abraham asks God for a sign. How can I know you will keep these promises? What follows in the Genesis account is a covenant blood ritual. God asks Abraham to bring several animals and birds, which Abraham then kills and cuts in half, laying the halves opposite each other on the ground.
The biblical word for establishing a covenant actually stems from the word “to cut,” and Abraham understood God was about to “cut” a covenant with him.
In the darkness after sunset, a blazing torch and smoking firepot passed between the bloody pieces. Abraham understood this meant that God Himself was passing between, and in doing so, was declaring: If I break my promises to you, then may I become like these animals. If I have to die to keep this promise, so be it.
As the eternal covenant develops in the OT Scriptures, we find that God renews the covenant He made with Abraham with subsequent generations of Abraham’s descendants. And we also come to see more clearly the two sides of the covenant relationship—a relationship always initiated by God, who loves and wants to be in relationship with His people.
Just like in a contract, there are terms required on both sides. God will faithfully perform His role as God, with all the blessings that entails. To be faithful for their part, God’s people must also keep the terms of the covenant, which are written in God’s law and outlined in the 10 commandments. Jesus reminds us that the summary of the commandments is love. Indeed, the basis of God’s eternal covenant is LOVE.
God is always faithful to His side of the covenant. But His people are not. WE are not. We do not love God with all our hearts. We fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are like sheep that continually go astray. We break the terms of the covenant every day, by thought, word and deed, and by things left undone. We have confessed as much tonight.
But this means we also fall under the curse of breaking the covenant, which is death. THIS is the chief problem of the ages. All peoples from the beginning of time have neither been able to keep the terms of God’s covenant nor to free themselves from its curse. (If you have ever tried to free yourself from something as trivial as telephone contract, you know such terms are engraved in stone.)
(Pause) On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, saying to His disciples, “This is my body which is broken for you.” (Remember those animals cut in two.) Then He took the cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “This is my blood of the NEW covenant shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The very next day, our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, gave His body to be broken and His blood to be poured out at the Cross. By His death, Jesus, who is both God the Son AND the promised Seed of Abraham—fulfilled, once and for all, BOTH sides of the eternal covenant.
For God’s part, He was faithful to His promise even unto death, and for our part, He kept the law of love perfectly, taking upon Himself our curse, indeed, the curse of death required for all the sins and broken promises of the world.
You and I can receive tonight’s benediction, ONLY by the blood Jesus shed for us at the Cross. But this is the wonder of the Holy Gospel!! That everything good God requires of us—all we need to do His will—He has already given to us by the blood of the eternal covenant in Christ Jesus.
Receive by FAITH the wonderful gifts the God of Peace has purchased for you in this precious blood, and receive the forgiveness He offers you, tonight. Amen.