Call to Worship
The Lord who calls us to worship today is the same Jesus who refused the temptation to worship the evil one. Rather than receive the glorious kingdoms of this world, he endured the shame of the cross, and today is Lord of lords and King of kings. Now are gathered in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, glory and power. With the saints of all ages we say, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” [BASED ON COLOSSIANS 2:3; REVELATION 5:12]
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we are your covenant people—one church, drawn from all nations. Our citizenship is in heaven. Yet we confess, O Lord, that we sometimes lose sight of your kingdom and its ways. We confess that we sometimes live more as citizens of our own land than as citizens of your kingdom. By your truth you call all peoples to account. Forgive us for losing our distinctiveness. Focus us on the cross and on the salvation you give through him who is the Lord and King and Judge of us all, Jesus, the Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen. [WSB]
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. [MARK 14:22-31]
Can we know for sure that God keeps his promises? Everyone knows how easy it is to make a verbal promise, but then waffle if it becomes too difficult to keep. Could this ever happen with God?
In Genesis, God made a series of promises to Abraham: He promised to give Abraham many descendants and make him into a great nation, to bless him and make his name great, and to bless all the families of the earth through him. He also promised to give the descendants of Abraham a particular land. But Abraham was unsure. His circumstances didn’t indicate that God’s promises could actually come to fruition. So, in Genesis 15, Abraham asked God some questions: “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless,” and, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess [the land]” (15:2)?
In answer to these questions, God did something that seems strange to us in our cultural and historical context. He had Abraham sacrifice some animals, cut them in half, and then lay the pieces of the animals across from each other. Then Abraham fell into a deep sleep, and a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. This ceremony, common in the ancient Near East, was called “cutting a covenant.” Two parties entering into a binding agreement or covenant with one another would cut an animal in pieces and pass between the pieces to inaugurate the covenant. The ceremony signified that the two parties were promising to fulfill the terms of the covenant. If they failed to keep the promises of the covenant, they were saying, “May we become like this animal.” It’s like they were saying, “I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.” The sacrificial ceremony was literally a pledge of one’s life to keep the promises of the covenant.
When the smoking fire pot and flaming torch (which were symbols of God’s presence) passed between the pieces of dead animals, God himself was assuming responsibility to make sure that all the promises of the covenant were kept. Abraham was asleep, completely passive, while God initiated and ratified the covenant. O. Palmer Robertson writes, “The solemn ceremony of self-malediction provides the Lord’s reply [to Abraham’s questions]: ‘I promise. I solemnly commit myself as Almighty God. Death may be necessary. But the promises of the covenant shall be fulfilled’.”
It’s a staggering thought! God was saying, “May I be torn to pieces like these animals if the covenant between me and Abraham’s descendants is broken.” The terms of the covenant would end up being broken—but not by God.
Abraham’s descendants would be unfaithful to God and his covenant. But, God kept his promise. He had sworn on his life to bless Abraham. So, the blessing for Abraham and his descendants (which includes us as Christians) was made possible by the curse of death that fell on Jesus. In Jesus, God the Son took on flesh, and his flesh was torn apart in order to keep his covenant promises to Abraham (and us). Jesus, the covenant- keeper, sacrificially offered himself for us: “Take, eat; this is my body. Drink of this cup, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). The blood of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, is our assurance that God keeps his promises. What better assurance could we ever have?
- What promises of God (which you have in Christ) are you struggling to believe? How can the blood of Christ give you assurance that God keeps his promises to his children?
- Spend a few moments praising God that he is a covenant-keeper and that he has fulfilled all the provisions of the covenant that binds you in everlasting relationship with him.
O Christ, by remaining faithful till death, you show us the road to greater love. O Christ, by taking the burden of sin upon yourself, you reveal to us the way of generosity. O Christ, by praying for those who crucified you, you lead us to forgive without counting the cost. O Christ, by opening paradise to the repentant thief, you awaken hope in us. O Christ, come and help our weak faith. O Christ, create a pure heart in us; renew and strengthen our spirit. O Christ, your Word is near; may it live within us and protect us always. Amen. [WSB]
All biblical quotations taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Journey to the Cross: Readings & Devotions for Lent © 2013 by Providence Church. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from Providence Church.
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First Edition Cover design by Andrew Shepherd. Book design by Kendal Haug. Special thanks to Melanie Hebert, Todd Stewman, and Laura Szymanski for their invaluable contributions in editing and writing.