The Easter Message I Didn’t Preach

Last Sunday I was scheduled to preach, so I prepared a short Resurrection Sunday message. But then I became ill and was unable to preach that sermon. So, I thought, I may as well share what I prepared here.

Hebrews 13:20-21:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

What is this passage?

It is primarily a prayer of blessing, a benediction, for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The author is closing his book with a prayer that can be easily memorized and is packed full of deep theology, information about the identity and work of God, Jesus and the blessings we receive when we believe in Jesus.

There are two parts to this passage that I want to examine: 1. God raised Jesus from the dead 2. God equips us through Jesus to do his will

God raised Jesus from the dead

Verse 20 can be paraphrased this way: The God of peace, through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought again from the dead Jesus Christ who is the great shepherd of the sheep. Or: By the blood of the eternal covenant God raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith and the Abrahamic blessing, passed on to those who would come after him for thousands of years. The resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise and blessing of God through Abraham. Here is a brief history on that promise and blessing.

Recorded in Genesis 12, God made a promise to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, to bless the world through him. This promise, called a covenant, was passed down to his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob and his family moved to Egypt to find refuge during a severe famine. While in Egypt, Jacob’s descendants became a large nation called Israel, and were driven to slavery by Pharaoh. There they lived under oppression of slavery for 400 years.

The Israelites cried out to God for relief from slavery, so God rescued them with Moses as their leader, as God’s representative to His people. Moses led them out into the wilderness East of Egypt, and brought them to a mountain called Sinai. There God told the Israelites about his plan. He gave them instructions on how to live as a nation, and asked them to enter into a covenant with Him as their God.

They agreed to the terms of the covenant and God told them he would bless them as long as they were obedient. But if they were disobedient, the blessings would turn into curses. With God as their guide, the Israelites began to make their way to a land promised by God to be their inheritance, a gift for God’s people.

Along the way, the Israelites repeatedly broke the terms of their covenant with God. Due to disobedience, God increased the time it took to get to the promised land from three weeks to forty years, so that the generation that grew up in Egypt, and were prone to complaining and desiring to go back to slavery in Egypt, would all be dead before entering the land.

When the time came to enter the promised land, Israel renewed their commitment to live within the covenant between them and God, and God promised them success in conquering the land as long as they obeyed his instructions.

The nation of Israel entered the land and after some initial success, they once again became disobedient to God. The temptations of this new land was more attractive to them than obedience to God. They began worshipping other gods and behaving in a way that brought shame and dishonour to the covenant that God established.

This pattern continued for hundreds of years as Israel struggled to stay together as a nation. All throughout the history of the nation of Israel, God raised up leaders—judges, prophets, kings—to represent God to the nation, and most of them failed to lead with integrity and obedience to God.

One prophet, named Jeremiah, was given the following words from God regarding his plans for his people. This prophecy was recorded in Jeremiah 31 and in Hebrews 8:

The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.

The really short version of this story is that God wants to establish a kingdom of people under his rule, a people who will worship him and honour him. A people who will love one another and enjoy the benefits and blessings of being a part of God’s kingdom.
But, thousands of years of history have shown that humanity is hopeless in our efforts to be the sort of people God requires. We, having the darkness of sin in our hearts, reject obedience to God in exchange for the pleasures found in creation.

God has never broke his promises. He has kept his covenant. The old covenant was for God’s people to live in the land promised to them under his rule, kept pure and holy through the sacrificial system and through his laws. But the nation of Israel was unable to keep their end of the covenant. And so, through Jesus, God has established a new covenant.

This new covenant still includes laws and sacrifice. It still requires God’s people to be pure and holy. But there is an important difference. And the difference between the old and the new covenants rests in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived by God’s Spirit, and was born as a human but also as God. He was not born with the sinful nature as we are, yet he lived with the limitations of humanity, including temptation, pain, sorrow and death.

Jesus obeyed God’s laws and kept the old covenant perfectly. He showed us how God has always wanted his people to live. But he came not only to show us how to live, but to offer himself as a sacrifice, an offering to God for the sins of all humanity. His blood was shed and his body was broken to pay for our sins.

God did this because he knew that humans would never be able to keep a covenant with him. We would never be able to purify ourselves and live a holy life. And so, God has not only kept his end of the covenant, but he, through Jesus, has also kept our end of the covenant! We can become God’s holy people merely through accepting an invitation by God. This was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God did this. He raised Jesus from the dead. He did it for us.

Because he is raised from the dead, Jesus is not only the sacrifice for our sins which purify us, but he has also become our eternal shepherd priest, someone who takes care of us and teaches us and equips us.

God equips us to do his will

This leads us to the second verse in this passage:
May the God of peace… equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

Through Jesus Christ, we are being equipped to behave like the sort of people who are ruled by God. It is important to keep in mind the order here: first, we are made holy and pure by the death of Jesus. Then, we are given what we need by God through Jesus, who was raised from death.

We become citizens of the kingdom of God when we accept the free invitation of God. Then we begin to act as people who belong to this kingdom. This is important for those of us who know what a wreck we are. Jesus was killed and was raised from the dead so that you and I can freely receive forgiveness from God, be purified and cleansed, be made into a new person, be given new life, be given eternal hope and unending joy, even, and ESPECIALLY if your life is a complete disaster!

God will receive you as his child, make you into a new person and give you a new heart with new desires and as you continue in your relationship with him, he will teach you, take care of you, equip you, and guide you as you seek to live as his child.
If this is new to you, if this is for the first time good news to you, and if your heart has been stirred as you’ve been reading this, I encourage you to respond in prayer.

Thank God for keeping his end of the covenant for thousands of years, even though humanity has failed him. Thank God that he has never changed his standard of holiness, that he is completely worthy of our worship. Thank God that he has provided a way for us to be his people even through our failures. Thank God that he will forgive us through Jesus and that he will equip us to live as people who belong to his kingdom. Ask God to transform your life and to give you a heart that seeks him.

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