As we start the new year, I wanted to spend a few weeks on what it means to act like a Christian.  To act like a Christian comes under the broad topic of Christian Ethics.  Some of you know that I teach a lay study course on Christian Ethics.  I do not intend to repeat that course here in sermon form, but I think the topic of Christian Ethics is an important one.  Ethics deals with revealing what we genuinely believe through our observable and private actions.  So, Christian Ethics deals with revealing what we genuinely believe about having Christ in our life through our actions, those actions that can be observed by others and those action that are done in private.

          We began worship today with a statement about our Christian Ethics when we read the Church Covenant as our call to worship.  The Church Covenant lays out a series of commitments to behaviors that express we had accepted Jesus Christ into our lives.  Our committed behaviors are expected to reveal the influence of Jesus upon our lives.  Why is that so?  Because we committed to walk in brotherly love, to not forsake coming to church every week, to pray for one another, to give financial support to the church, to educate our children in the ways of the Lord, and to spread the gospel among the nations.  Our church covenant makes Christian Ethics an integral part of our life.  We entered a covenant mutually committing to behaviors to imitate Christ as a sign of what we believe and to enrich the lives of each other.

          And so, we can see that covenants are powerful commitments of faith.  Now, we do not very often speak of covenants. But covenants are part of our heritage. Even as a kid, we made covenants, even if we did not call them covenants.  I can remember when we would make an important promise with a friend, we would put a cut into our thumbs and press the cuts together to seal the deal in blood.  We probably got the idea of a blood seal from watching movies about the old west and not from church.  Nevertheless, a covenant remains part of the Christian faith journey and every month we celebrate a covenantal relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. We read about the covenant we celebrate each month in our Scripture reading from the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 26, verse 26 through 30 when we read, “26 While they [Jesus and his disciples] were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he [Jesus] had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  27 Then he [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he [Jesus] gave it [the cup] to them [his disciples], saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’  30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:26-30).

          There is so much going on in those few words of Scripture, we cannot hope to cover all of them today.  So for today, I would like us to note that Jesus used this meal, we call this meal the Lord’s Supper, to establish and cement into place for us a covenantal relationship with God.  The covenant with God through Jesus Christ gives us confidence and security to live our lives in a righteous manner.  At that meal, Jesus held a cup of wine said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27b-29). 

This was not so much a new covenant as it was a promise from long ago. God made the promise of this covenant, this arrangement, hundreds of years earlier and told of it through the prophet Jeremiah.  31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  32 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, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

          Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was putting in place this promised covenant that had three key points of faith for those who would follow Jesus.  First, the covenant was inaugurated by blood.  Not just any blood.  It was inaugurated by the blood of the Son of God and Son of Man. The blood signified that the covenant was not only binding upon God but that the debt for all sin would be paid for by God, in and through Jesus’ death upon the cross.  Jesus would stand in our place granting us forgiveness of sin.  Jesus’ words were most remarkable because he was making clear that the access to God was being assured not just for the disciples but for many others by addressing their sin even before the sins were committed. Think of it this way, through this covenant, your sins and my sins were addressed, paid for, even before we were born. All we need to do is ask for forgiveness and it is provided.

          The key second point also deals with forgiveness and is very important.  The forgiveness of sin Jesus said was “for many” but not for all.  Jesus going to the cross was sufficient for all the sins of the world but not everyone will accept Jesus’ offer to come into the covenant with God.  There are a great many people who are too proud, too arrogant, too argumentative, too self-centered, and too sure of their own minds to ever receive Jesus.  The covenant is available to all and many will join but not everyone.

          Finally, the words of Jesus that inaugurated the covenant grants security to the believer.  Jesus said he would make this covenant in his blood symbolized by the cup the disciples would share.  Then Jesus said that he would one day drink of the cup again with his disciples. Jesus’ statement was a foretelling that Jesus’ death would not be the end but the beginning of eternal life. Jesus’ resurrection means that Jesus will be present with all of believers.  I think this is one reason why calling this meal the Lord’s Supper is more accurate than calling it the Last Supper because it was not the last supper with Jesus.

          The covenant inaugurated and guaranteed by Jesus for those who would believe in Him gives great relief that our sins are covered, we have been forgiven all, and that Jesus will be with us for all eternity.  It is small wonder that when the disciples finished the meal of the new covenant, they did so by singing a hymn.  This covenant by Jesus gives us the basis for us to enter covenant with one another and to live out our life in a righteous manner.

          But what is that righteous manner?  We find the charge for living our life at the very end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus, risen from the dead, when Jesus spoke to the remaining eleven disciples to do one more thing under the covenant.  Jesus said to the eleven, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus wanted the eleven to share the good news of the covenant and to teach new disciples to follow everything Jesus had commanded of the eleven.  And in that statement, to follow the commands of Jesus, Christian Ethics, the summation of behaviors imitating Christ, was commissioned.

          Christian Ethics, born in a covenantal relationship with Jesus, then becomes following the commands of Christ in the way we act.  Now, we could go through the commands of Christ, list them, and say this is Christian Ethics, go forth and do them.  But I think Jesus helped us more to understand what was involved in Christian Ethics by following those commands himself.  So I think it would be good if we looked at Christian Ethics through the behaviors of Jesus.

          Let’s consider this example, from the Gospel of Mark.  Mark wrote, “1Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them [the Pharisees] were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they [the Pharisees] watched him [Jesus] closely to see if he [Jesus] would heal him [the man] on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ Then Jesus asked them [the Pharisees], ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they [the Pharisees] remained silent.  He [Jesus] looked around at them [the Pharisees] in anger and, deeply distressed at their [the Pharisees] stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He [The man] stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they [the Pharisees and Herodians] might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:1-6).  What then are the Christian Ethics Jesus was teaching us through this story.

          First, from this account, we see that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to worship and pray. So we see that our Christian Ethics, our Christian behavior, involves a desire to be gathered for each occasion of worship.  Jesus did not go to the synagogue out of guilt or force. Jesus went to the synagogue out of a yearning to foster the covenantal relationship between himself and the Father and the covenantal relationship between himself and other worshippers.  Faithfulness in worship is part of Christian Ethics.  We should then do as Jesus’ commands by his example.

Second, from this account, we notice that Jesus was interested in who attended worship with particular emphasis on the those who may be suffering. Jesus saw the man with the shriveled hand, a cause of significant suffering.  The man did not come to Jesus.  Jesus saw the suffering of the man and went to him.  So, Jesus teaches us that Christian Ethics requires us to be observant for the suffering of others and seek out those people who are suffering rather than waiting for them to seek us out.  Seeking the suffering people who are part of the congregation gathered to worship is particularly important.  What message does it send to the world about Christian Ethics if Christians do not tend to the suffering of their own?  Therefore, we should do as Jesus’ commands by his example.

Third, from this account, we notice that Jesus was interested in the intent, the purpose of Scripture, and not a surface reading of the text.  Jesus wanted to live out the Scripture through his behaviors.  In this account, Jesus chose to examine the purpose of the Sabbath.  Jesus asked, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  We might rephrase this question slightly and ask it this way, “What is the purpose of the Sabbath?  Is the purpose of the Sabbath to do good and save life or is the purpose of the Sabbath to do evil and kill?”  At the heart of this question then is “Does God seek to limit the number of days of doing good for one another?”  In the Old Testament, God said, “19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life” (Deuteronomy 3:19).  Jesus was teaching us that we need to understand there is no limit to the days of doing good.  To come to the conclusion, we need to understand the purpose of Scripture and uses it to guide our actions, our behaviors.  We cannot live out Christian Ethics without understanding God’s Word. We should do as Jesus’ commands by his example.

Fourth, from this account, we note that in response to Jesus’ question about the purpose of the Sabbath, the Pharisees remained silent and began to seethe in anger.  After Jesus healed the man’s hand, the Pharisees and Herodians immediately conspired to kill Jesus.  The Pharisees, because of their anger, saw a problem with Jesus’ healing the man but saw no problem turning the Sabbath into a day of doing evil and seeking to kill. Jesus for his part was deeply troubled for the Pharisees and their stubborn hearts.  Jesus teaches us that we need to practice the spiritual discipline of allowing weekly worship, the seeing and hearing of the testimony of God to crack the hardness worldly thinking places upon our hearts.  Jesus showed the Pharisees a better way without resorting to anger and hardness himself.  We should do as Jesus’ commands by his example.

The Gospels are rich with examples of what Jesus did to show the people of the new covenant what they are to do and can do.  This is Christian Ethics Jesus is calling us to live out. 

We began our exploration of Christian Ethics by renewing our covenant with each other.  Let us now come to the table of the Lord and remember the covenant we have with God through Jesus Christ.  Amen and Amen.