God didn’t give up on us when things went badly not according to plan in the beginning. Instead God sets in motion a plan using covenants to rescue the relationships that were wrecked. The last covenant is finally being kept – just maybe not in the way you think.
My parents tell a story about me (usually with great glee in front of other people) from back when I was just starting to walk. I had discovered the knobs and buttons on our stereo system, which were – in fairness – at precisely the same height as my eyes. It took only a few loud experimental radio blasts for my parents to ban me from going anywhere near the dials. The ban frequently resulted in my being shouted at (over the screech of radio static at volume 10) – and then, inevitably, tears. It soon reached the point where I would start bawling just looking at those enticing buttons (knowing, I guess, what was likely to happen next.) Must have been fun times for everyone back then…
I wonder if God, or my parents, ever felt like giving up on the having-humans-around idea after seeing firsthand the unpleasant mess that resulted from us wanting to do things our way (trying to turn the great celestial volume button maybe?)
Fortunately neither God nor my parents gave up on the situation they found themselves in. Instead, God begins to roll out a plan to restore the relationships that were messed-up in that inglorious disaster when humans chose to say ‘speak to the hand God, we’re doing this OUR way…’ Paul does some straight talking with us in Romans 2v18-32 about what the knock-on effects were (read The Message version if you can).
It took a serious solution to fix the serious mess we’d made. God’s plan was to fix the very thing that was broken – relationships. God does that by making covenants – binding agreements made to bring two parties together kinda like marriage is a legally recognised and, at least in theory, a binding agreement between two people.
To forge a covenant in ancient times you needed a few key things:
1) two individuals or groups needing to agree on something and benefit from that agreement
2) a list of what each party had to do
3) a list of consequences – both for doing, and not doing, the things they promised.
In many cases an animal was sacrificed – sealing the covenant in blood and making it legally binding. It was also a sign to remind people of the agreement and make sure everyone knew this was serious. Here’s a link to an example of an ancient covenant or treaty
Skip forward a thousand years or so to where a small group of frightened people are having supper together. One of them – who has claimed recently to be one with Yahweh, the God who forged the ancient covenants with people like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David – takes one of the glasses of wine and says: ‘tonight, we celebrate the making of a new covenant between God and everyone else. I’m at the center of it. It will be my blood and my body that gets carved up to seal this deal.
According to the law at that time, any normal bloke should have been killed for making that kind of statement. Oh, wait … Anyway, to get just how ridiculous and radical that must have sounded to the dinner party we need to jump back briefly to the story of the covenants in the Old Testament
Back then God makes a number of covenants with different people. They generally go like this:
1) God promises to show up as God and to bless the people in various ways – by caring for them, guiding them, giving them a place to live, children, even a line of kings. And God promises to bless every nation on earth through the people he chose.
2) The people in the covenant generally have to do just ONE thing – let God be GOD. That meant being faithful to, loving, obeying and worshiping God more than anything else.
3) If the people keep to their side of the deal things will go really well for them. If they don’t things will get pretty ugly really quickly (not because God is mean and vindictive, it’s just that is how life works – with or without God).
(For a more detailed look at the covenants check out this article)
Deuteronomy 28 is probably one of the happiest but also scariest chapters in the Bible. God has just given the Law to Moses and his bunch of followers. The Law was how people back then were to keep their side of the covenant with God.
God spells out just how good and how hard life will be depending on what they choose to do …
Any guesses as to how it turned out for the next few thousand years? (Read an Old Testament prophetic book like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel to track the ups and downs of the next few hundred years.)
So that’s covenants in a very small nutshell – the core part of God’s Relationship Rescue Plan. It’s where we’ll leave the story for now.
So how does this help my faith now?
This may seem a bit like a boring history lesson but it really does set the stage for what comes next (and we’ll be tracking that in the next sessions). For now, the story so far can help in two ways:
1. It can give us a better vision of what God is like. I mean, what kind of God (given all the many alternatives out there) would even want to enter into a covenant with us lot?
It’s worth thinking a bit about the kind of God this whole covenant story shows God to be. God doesn’t need to pursue his relationship with us, but God chooses to. God doesn’t give up on us – even when it cost God something massive. Jeremiah 31v31-33 is one of the best expressions of God’s heart for us – and how he hopes the covenants will work. As you read this ask: how does God feel (like, emotionally) about this?
2. It can give us a better idea of what Jesus did (and does) for us…It turns out that us humans could never keep our side of the deal – people always tried (and still try) to put other things in God’s place. The result is a sense that life is often difficult – ‘cursed’ even? Have you experienced that?
Eventually God sends Jesus to become the ONE faithful human who is able to forge and keep a new covenant with God – sealed in Jesus’ own blood. The terms of the covenant are the same as always (I’ll be your God, you be faithful to me) but now OUR side is being faithfully kept. The curse of breaking the covenant has itself been broken by Jesus. As a result we get to receive every blessing that God has for us just by putting our faith in Jesus – the faithful, human, covenant-keeper (three passages that capture this idea are: Luke 22v19-20, Galatians 3v13-14, Ephesians 1v3).
Doesn’t that sound like a pretty amazing outcome from what was a really messed up situation in the beginning?
A few ideas about how to teach this session to a class or youth group. These are just our ideas – we’re pretty sure there are some way better ones out there. If you know a video clip or intro idea or teaching illustration we’d love to hear about it and include it here too. Use the comment box below to get in touch.
What’s the one thing you want people to remember when they leave?
How are you going to get that idea across in the time you have?
The idea of Covenants might seem a bit dry and disconnected with our world today. It’s easy to miss the deep, crazy love that God had for all of us – a love that drove him to do whatever it took to win us back. Whatever it took – the Covenants plan ended with God sacrificing himself to finally win us back.
Check out this short clip from the movie Frozen. Like Elsa, we also have the power in us to freeze things. Our self-centered sinfulness has wrecked all kinds of relationships. The only thing that can break the spell is a monumental act of love and self-sacrifice. In Frozen, that happens with Anna in this clip. In God’s Story it begins when God decides not to wipe us all out but begin a relationship rescue plan that would take centuries. It ends on the cross with a real death.
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
Have you ever had a massive fight with someone you love? If so, did you manage to patch things up again? How did you do that?
Does it seem to you that God is more out to get you or bless you? Any experiences you’ve had that swings that either way?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o Was there anything in this session that might help your faith in God right now?
o How do you respond to the thought that everything in our lives – even the sinful stuff – can fall under God’s blessing because of Jesus? What would be the things you need to do?
o Is easy or more difficult for you to believe that in Jesus there’s nothing that gets in the way of us receiving the love God drenches us with?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
If you’ve read point 2 at the end of the post in the Story tab – does thinking about how Jesus enables us to experience the blessing of being covenant-keepers change or challenge your idea of who Jesus is?
What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?
Have you encountered something about the lengths God has gone to to rescue his relationship with us that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I kinda need to work on my relationships – with you, or with someone else – or maybe with myself. Help me get rid of anything that’s breaking those relationships down.
Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Jesus might be keeping the new covenant for us, but we still need to live as covenant-keeping people. That’s mainly about worshipping and obeying God. What would it look like to do that more this week?
o Are there any relationships you need to patch up this week? What would it take to go and do that?
o We are still under a relationship-mending covenant, but Jesus is keeping it for us. What practical steps could you take this week to step out from what might seem like the curse of disobedience and into the spiritual blessing Jesus has made available to you?
o Psalm 25 is a great Psalm about living a covenant life. Spend some time this week making this your own prayer.
If you want to read a great passage on even more covenant stuff check out Hebrews 9:11-28
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
God is NOT like Loki. Thor’s foster brother, Loki, is an evil villain who misuses his power. He’s always plotting, scheming, lying and manipulating. Most of all he despises the human race.
Thank goodness this is not a description of our loving God. Don’t believe the lies the devil tries to tell you about our God. God is love and he delights in you and rejoices over you and wants to be in a real vibrant relationship with you. God is truth so he cannot lie.
When God says he loves you so much – he means it! Be encouraged today by Zephaniah 3v14-17 http://bit.ly/14XNvEu
‘If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness so that we can, with reverence, serve you.’ (Psalm 130v3-4)
Ever want to hide from God because of all the stuff in your life you’re not proud of? Here’s an uncomfortable truth: God knows everything about us. On our own we have no hope of being right with God.
The good news is that God doesn’t ‘keep a record’ of all the ways we mess up. God forgives us if we open the dark parts of our lives to him and invites us into an intimate and reverent relationship with him.
That’s our God! That’s what God does. How could you respond?
Psalm 130 here: http://bit.ly/17esQRO
‘Jesus is LORD’ of my heart Jesus sums up his will for our lives in Mark 12v30: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and strength.’
That’s a BIG love God desires from us. How do we begin to do that? In every situation in our lives we should ask: ‘how can Jesus be Lord here?’ When someone or something is ‘Lord’ in your life, it means you allow them or it to rule over your life.
Will you let our Saviour King rule over your life? In saying yes, you step into a FULL life! Do it!
Read Mark 12 here: http://bit.ly/15ajaT9
Jesus is Lord of the ugly stuff.
There is a war in a lot of us! ‘For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.’ (Romans 8v13)
If ‘Jesus is Lord’ in our lives, we need to actively NOT follow our sinful desires: lust, greed, selfishness, disobedience, anger/hate, jealousy, bitterness etc. Instead, ask for and let God’s Spirit lead you in actions of righteousness.
Why keep on living with the ugliness we carry when we mess up? Jesus’ way is not about hurting us; but giving us a FULL life. Is it not time to trust Him now?
Read Romans 8 here: http://bit.ly/1aiLTen
‘I’m mature enough to forgive you, but not dumb enough to trust you again’ (Teenager post #5756)
Is that a familiar thought? Relationships can get pretty messed up. Unforgiveness, lack of trust, anger, jealousy, bitterness, rage. Lovely stuff hey!
In Colossians 3 Paul compares all that stuff to the clothes we wear. We can choose to cover ourselves in that stuff, or change the wardrobe and starting ‘wearing’ patience, kindness, graciousness instead.
To do that you’ll need to trust that God has already made us right with him (Colossians 1v21-23) and that God is working in you to change us into much better versions of ourselves.
You ready for the journey?