Renewing the Covenant: Covenants Explained

On January 1, 2023 we conducted a traditional Wesleyan covenant renewal service. I was honored to give a 12 minute talk that explained the concept of covenant and gave a (lightening-speed) overview of the major covenants in scripture (starts at 30:00 min mark).

The outline and scripture references are below:

Opening scripture reading – 2 Kings 23:1-3, King Josiah renews the covenant

  1. What is a Covenant?

How a wedding is a modern an example of covenant.

A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties with certain expectations/responsibilities and benefits. It often includes witnesses, a ceremony, a sign/symbol that marks the covenant, and periodic renewal ceremonies.

2. Covenant as a Central Structure of the Bible

Five key covenants, five key individuals

God’s Original Intent in Eden

God’s desire to be in relationship with humankind. Yet we used our free will to choose independence and rebellion. The relationship was broken and things went downhill.

Noah (Genesis 8-9)

  • Flood, as a re-creation event
  • Re-establishment of God’s relationship with humankind
  • Covenant between God and all humankind
  • Promise – never flood the earth again
  • One-sided promise, unconditional
  • Sign of covenant is a rainbow, reminder of God’s faithfulness

Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17)

  • Abrahamic covenant.
  • Covenant between God and those who will be His people/ Abraham as the representative.
  • God’s promises – will be a family, have a land to call home, be blessing to all people.
  • Covenant ceremony was very complex and full of symbolism (Genesis 15).
  • God’s covenant with Abraham was mostly unconditional, God will keep His promises regardless, but Abraham did have a role to play in faith.
  • Symbol of the covenant was circumcision of men, marked them as God’s people.

Moses (Exodus 19-24)

  • Mosiac covenant, also called The Law or the Old Covenant.
  • Covenant is between God and his people/Moses as representative.
  • Ceremony takes place at Mt. Sinai.
  • The Law lays out God’s expectations of His people as a nation and the blessings for obedience/curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28).
  • Clearly conditional covenant – if/then.
  • Covenant ceremony – animal sacrifices, blood sprinkled over the people.
  • Symbol of covenant is the keeping of Sabbath, marked the people as God’s nation.
  • Covenant renewal ceremonies at significant moments.

David (1 Samuel 7)

  • Davidic covenant.
  • David is king over nation of Israel, wants to build a temple as a permanent place of worship for God’s people, a place where God’s presence will rest.
  • Covenant is between God and David’s descendants/David as the representative.
  • God’s promise is that from David’s line will come a king that will rule forever.

History of nation of Israel is long and complex.
After King David things went downhill, coups and rebellions, civil war, split of the kingdom.
The nation did not keep The Law (the covenant of Moses) and all the curses came to pass.
They were occupied by an oppressive regime, more than half of them were wiped out.
They lost the land they had been promised, survivors became refugees.

And yet God was still pursuing a relationship with humankind.

During the season of exile there is the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant
It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant….

Jesus (Hebrews 7-10)

  • In Jesus we have the fulfillment of all the covenants.
  • This is the New Covenant. The Old Covenant/The Law has been fulfilled in Christ and set aside. The new covenant is between God and all who believe in faith and will have Christ as their king.
  • It is an everlasting covenant.
  • It is an unconditional covenant, open to all who will respond in faith and obedience.
  • It offers us forgiveness, a restoration of our relationship with God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that mark’s us a children of God and also to help us communicate with God and give us direction, peace, and comfort.
  • The new covenant was also established by a blood sacrifice, like the old covenants – the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.
  • The symbol of entry into the New Covenant is baptism. Note baptism does not save you, but it marks you as a member of the family of God.
  • The covenant reminder ceremony is communion. When we celebrate communion, we are participating in a covenant renewal ceremony.

Listen to the language Jesus used in Matthew 26:27-28, Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

3. What does this mean for today?

We are the children of Abraham… who believe and follow Christ in faith.
We are under the new covenant… welcomed into a relationship with God.
Today is January 1st, the start of a new year.
Today you have an opportunity to renew your commitment to following Christ,
to renew your covenant relationship with Him.

[Transition to covenant renewal ceremony liturgy]

If you would like a copy of the covenant renewal ceremony liturgy or have questions, please email Mindy@mylhumc.net

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