Reading: Matthew 26:26-29
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (ESVUK)
I used to work with organisations that implemented multi-stakeholder projects. Sometimes there’s a contract, other times a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) or a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). From time to time these would be revisited, at times updated so a few pages would be appended and ratified again by the same participating entities. It’s the same with my bank, or PayPal, or the company of the software I’m using—I would receive emails from them or letters by post containing the written Terms and Conditions, i.e., the agreements they and I entered into.
Now what comes to your mind when we think of covenants in ancient times?
In my culture, there was the letting and mingling of blood–each of the two parties would cut their wrists, and then lock them together. Or I imagine sacrifices, meals being prepared wherein everybody partakes and setting up memorials to ratify the deed (Genesis 31:44-54). I also think of taking oaths—by something or Someone higher than oneself (putting one’s hand on the Bible in court, invoking the name of God when we swear/make a promise—although Jesus said to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’)—and so when God made a promise to bless Abraham (i.e., multiply his offspring, being a channel of blessing), He swore by Himself, as there is no one greater than Him (Hebrews 6.13-14; Genesis 22.15-18).
Thinking of these, it is now clear to me how these elements are present in the Bible passage above. It was a Hagada, a Passover meal. There was the meal, there was the symbol for blood (and later the actual sacrifice and shedding of blood), and there was God himself in human form. It was a covenant meal, a new covenant… a better covenant—not nullifying the old ones, but fulfilling them. We partake of the afikomen bread, broken for us, and the 5th cup of wine for Elijah—no longer waiting, but shed for us on the Cross. This is all fulfilled in the second Adam who did not sin—the man of heaven whose image we now have the second chance to bear (1 Corinthians 15:49). Because of Him God remembers His covenant not to completely destroy us all (Genesis 9.16). He is the promised seed, Abraham’s offspring from whom all nations of the world will be blessed (Genesis 3:15 and 22:18). Because of Him we no longer need a tutor or a guardian (Galatians 3:15-29; Hebrews 8:8-13)—we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, we have finally entered God’s rest! And that is unconditional—paid for by the blood of the Lamb.
This is what we are all celebrating this Christmas season—what Jesus, the Messiah has fulfilled in His first advent. And on His second advent He will completely fulfil all his purposes for Israel–the ingathering, and the restoration of their land; and for the whole world–His kingdom that will never end.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15 (ESVUK)
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. – Hebrews 4:1 (ESVUK)
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:11 (ESVUK)