“Sealed in Blood”

February 24, 2013
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Luke 13:31-35 Philippians 3:17 - 4:1

I imagine that most everyone here over the age of 18 probably has, or has had, a credit card. When you signed up for the card, you had, in front of you, a piece of paper with a lot of tiny print on it with a line and a big, bold, letter “X” at the bottom where you were expected to sign. It was, for many of us, our first legally binding contract. In later years many of us probably signed contracts when we bought cars and for some of us, very long and involved contracts for buying a house. Some of us have signed away years of our lives to the Untied States military with enlistment contracts and some have made careers out of being contract agents for signing and keeping track of purchasing contracts for their employers. It is not uncommon at all for many businesses to keep a few, or even teams of, lawyers on staff or on retainer to help write, negotiate and manage their many contracts. Contracts for us are simply a way for us to make a binding agreement with another person or with a company or corporation. A contract spells out who is expected to do what, who is allowed to do what, and, sometimes, what will happen if they do not. Nations and governments sign contracts as well, contract to buy things, contracts to sell things, contracts to ship things, and on and on. But nations and governments also need to make agreements with one another. Agreements that are more important and more serious than what is normally covered by contracts. A contract is not enough to spell out how borders are to be kept secure, and whether or not, and how, criminals might be pursued if they cross that border. Contract are not enough to keep the citizens of one nation safe when they are visiting inside of another and they are not enough to protect soldiers that are sent from one nation to assist another. For these things we have a higher form of contract that we call a treaty. Treaties spell out many more details than contracts, they are generally far longer, and they take teams of people years to negotiate. Treaties spell out the obligations of both nations, who is expected to do what, who is allowed to do what and, again, sometimes, what will happen if they do not. We are all familiar with contracts and have at least heard about treaties on the news and most likely, have read about a few treaties in history class. But, in reality, what happens if a treaty is broken is not something that is often talked about. As far as I can tell, most of the time, what happens when one nation breaks a treaty is that the other nation (or nations) just complains loudly. I imagine that there might be some financial fallout from breaking a treaty, assets in foreign banks might be seized or something, but overall, it doesn’t seem like much happens. That is not the way that it has always been. In ages past, there was one more layer above that of contracts and treaties. An agreement so serious that it could not be overseen by humans alone or even agreed to and witnessed by humans alone. That agreement was, and is, known as a covenant. Covenants were, most often, agreements between people or nations that were unequal. Often one party to the covenant was much more powerful and wealthy than the other. A typical covenant included many of the things that we now find in contracts and treaties, but covenants also included some things that we don’t see any longer. In a typical covenant, the gods of both nations would be invoked, both in writing and in ritual, to express that the gods themselves would watch over those who signed and would, themselves, assist in enforcing the terms of the covenant. A typical covenant would spell out the rights and responsibilities of each party, often including things like mutual protection from enemies, tribute or tax payments from the weaker partner to the stronger, but also would include a listing of the terrible consequences that would fall upon anyone who would violate the 1

agreement. What’s more, as I noted, these agreements were not simply signed, but the signing ceremony was indeed a religious ceremony and ritual, where the gods of both nations were worshipped and called upon to witness and to enforce the agreement. Almost always, animals would be sacrificed to seal the contract in blood, and sometimes the signers would slash themselves in order to shed their own blood as well. After the animal sacrifice, the signers would often walk through the blood, together, in such a way that guaranteed that blood soaked their garments and then the garments themselves were exchanged as a symbol and as proof that the other had signed. Part of the symbolism of a covenant was that a person or a nation could not enter into such a binding agreement without the shedding of blood and that a covenant could likewise not be broken without the shedding of blood, or death. Wealthier, stronger nations made it clear to vassal nations that breaking their covenant by rebellion or by failing to pay their taxes and tributes would result in invasion, destruction, slavery and death. Simply put, blood would be shed to create a covenant, and blood would be shed if it were broken. With this understanding we read the story of Abram and God… (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18)
15:1

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
2

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9

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.”
10

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” What is described in Genesis 15 is not a promise, or a contract, or a treaty, but is, in fact, a good example of a covenant. It has all of the elements we should look for, a stronger party, God is present, animals are sacrificed 2

and blood is shed. The unusual thing about this particular covenant is that God causes Abram to fall asleep so that he is not involved in the actual ceremony. Instead, since Abram is not a part of the ceremony, it is as if God is the only one who bears the burden of keeping the covenant. In any case, God’s promise to Abram is of the highest order, an agreement of the highest legal standing, a contract that cannot be broken. A covenant… sealed in blood. God will give Abram a son, a family, offspring as numerous as the stars themselves, a nation, and the land upon which they can build it. In Luke 13:31-35, we meet some Pharisees that are not out to get Jesus but who instead warn him that Herod wants him dead…
31

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Jesus is warned that the King wants him dead and it is not an idle threat. Herod was not a nice man. He was known to be both violent and brutal to those who he thought were a threat to him and that included family members. He had two of his sons strangled because he thought they were a threat. Emperor Augustus once said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son. And this was the man who wanted Jesus dead. Jesus doesn’t flinch. Jesus looks the Pharisees in the eye as well as the real danger that Herod represents and assures them that he will keep right on doing the things that he has been doing, that he will continue to stay on task and on mission. Jesus knew that Jerusalem had a bad habit of killing the prophets of God but his point of view was different. Jesus, and the God of the universe, longed to gather his people together and keep them safe but they were the ones who turned their backs on God and who rejected his comfort and security. Because of this, Jesus says, they have inherited an empty house and an empty nation. After the Jewish revolt in 70 AD Jerusalem was so empty, and so destroyed, that it was said to be only a place where shepherds grazed their flocks. Jesus knew the promises of God and he knew of the covenant that God had made with Abraham, but he also knew that God would not save a people who had turned their backs on him. It was time for a new covenant. When Jesus met with his friends for their Passover meal he said “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-22) Jesus knew that a new covenant would now have to be, as they always were… 3

…sealed in blood. And so Jesus, the Lamb of God, went to the cross on the day that the Passover sacrifice was made, the sacrifice for the atonement and forgiveness of sins, and shed his own blood, not the blood of an animal, but the blood of God himself, in order to seal a new and eternal covenant with humanity. It is because of this new and enduring covenant that we have confidence in all that we do. In Philippians 3:17 4:1, Paul says this…
17

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
4:1

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we now live under a new covenant from God that assures us of our eternal destiny. We do not live to please our stomachs as others do. We do not live to bring glory to ourselves, we do not focus our lives on material possessions and earthly things, but on eternity and on a Savior who paid the highest price for our freedom. One day we will be like him. One day our bodies will be transformed and we will no longer have headaches, toothaches, joint pain and bad knees, bad backs, bad ears, bad eyes, stomach flu, and a million other things that now plague our mortal bodies. Instead we will have new and glorious bodies like that that of the risen Christ himself. Paul calls upon us to remember these things and stand firm and to live in the way that Christ has called upon us to live. When Jesus met with his friends for their Passover meal he said “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-22) A new covenant… more than a promise, more than a contract, more than a treaty… A new covenant… …sealed in blood.

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You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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