Summary: One could make the case that the Bible is the story of God pursuing people who have been running from Him and ruining their lives in the process.
Covenant: God Pursues
Series: “Ancient-Future Christmas”
Rev. Brian Bill
What are you hoping to receive this Christmas? American Express did a survey recently and found that 31% of people said that receiving a “fruitcake” would be the worst gift of all. In fact, more people indicated that given a choice between a fruitcake and receiving nothing at all, they would choose “nothing.” The survey then went on to find out how people get rid of a gift that they don’t want.
• 30% hide it in a closet
• 21% return it
• 19% re-gift the item
One of the best ways to get rid of a gift you don’t want is to have a white elephant exchange. That’s what we did at our staff Christmas party a week ago. Many were speechless when they opened their gifts. It was fun to be able to give away the junk that we had stored in our basement. The only problem is that we went home with other people’s trash!
Well, not everyone went home with their gifts. James and Angie received about 10 ugly green metal trays with flowers from the 70s etched into them (they came from our basement). When we were getting ready to leave I noticed that they had shoved them under Pastor Andy and Corinne’s couch. Their son Asher joined us for the celebration and when his parents received a piece of ugly carpeting from the 70s that actually came out of the South Room upstairs, I told Asher to take it to his bedroom. He happily did so. I found out later that he actually put it on top of his bed, which made his comforter smell for several days. That’s probably the last time they offer to host the staff party.
We’ve been learning in our Advent series that it’s helpful to see the whole story of Scripture as God’s unfolding gift of redemption. One could make the case that the Bible is the story of God pursuing people who have been running from Him and ruining their lives in the process. During this month we’ve moved from the creation of the world to the creation of Adam and Eve. We learned last week that because of their sinful choices, the entire human race was plunged into catastrophe. But God continues to reach out, asking a similar question that he asked of Adam, “Where are you?”
Today I want to retell God’s salvation story, utilizing the major covenants to do so. After all, properly understood, the Bible is not about you, or about me, it’s all about God. He’s the hero in the story. In 2 Kings 23:2, the Bible is called the “Book of the Covenant.” Properly understood, the Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants. In fact, the word “testament” is Latin for Covenant.
God’s response to our rebellion is to make covenants. Covenants address the catastrophe of the Fall, and they all point to Christmas and the Cross. Mark Driscoll defines a covenant as a “life-and-death relationship with God on His terms.” There’s no bargaining or negotiating. God conceives the covenant and He confirms it. The story begins with harmony in creation and ends with a restored creation (which Pastor Andy will preach about that next Sunday). The unfolding story of redemption plays out between these two bookends and the covenants are the major acts in the drama.
Covenant love is described in various terms but the most common is the Hebrew word hesed. Driscoll refers to this as “God’s lovingkindness -- the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, one-way love of God. It is often translated as covenant love, lovingkindness, mercy, steadfast love, loyal love, devotion, commitment, or reliability.”
I really like how the Jesus Storybook Bible says it: “God loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”
Our culture is more familiar with contracts than with covenants. While there are some similarities, there are at least three differences. Covenants are:
• Permanent. A covenant is a permanent arrangement; contracts have an end date.
• Total. A contract generally involves only one aspect or skill or task, while a covenant covers a person’s total being. A covenant is a close relationship where God can be thought of as binding or tying himself to people.
• Costly. More about this later.
When God makes a covenant, He keeps it. When He makes a promise, you can count on Him to come through. Psalm 105:42: “For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham.”
The Covenant with Noah
As we continue in the Genesis narrative, we see that Cain kills Abel. Sin is exploding in the world and multiplying among men and women. Genesis 6:5 gives us a description of what’s going on: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” Because sin is so out of control, God decides to wipe the world out with a flood. Genesis 6:11 sounds a bit like the situation in our society today: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.”