Sermon on Zechariah 9:11 & Mark 14:24, Palm Sunday 2021 (B), "The Blood of the Covenant"
Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Zechariah, the Palm Sunday prophet, describes King Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Some 500 years before it happened, Zechariah wrote about a humble King entering Jerusalem on a donkey, and the joy of the inhabitants. The following chapters of Zechariah go into greater detail and foretell many details surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and the events of Holy Week. But we’re just going to zero in on a narrow phrase today. In Zechariah 9:11, God says “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free”. Then in Mark 14:24, at His Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus gives them the cup to drink and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” What is this “blood of the covenant?”
First, we need some background on covenants. A covenant is a little like a contract made between two groups or individuals. Contracts or agreements usually have terms and conditions, as well as promises that are made, duties to fulfill. Today you might have a formal legal contract, or a formal last will and testament, or a business contract, or just an informal agreement between friends to work together on some project, like building a home and sharing the labor. But in the ancient world, a covenant was made in a particular way. Instead of “signing the deal”, shaking hands, or hiring a lawyer, an agreement was closed and solidified by the sacrifice of an animal. Spilling the blood of an animal solemnized the deal, saying in effect: “If I break the terms of this covenant, let it be done to me as this animal.” It was a sacred oath, not to be violated.
The book of Hebrews says this was the way of all God’s covenants: made with blood, and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (9:22). So, by God’s own precedent and rule, any new covenant had to be made with the shedding of blood, and that this shedding of blood would bring forgiveness of sins. To add another small layer to that, Hebrews speaks about a more specific type of covenant—what we would call a last will and testament—that requires the death of the individual to put the covenant or testament into effect (Hebrews 9:16-17). So, you see where this is leading. When King Jesus enters Jerusalem on the donkey, as the prophet described, Jesus was coming to make a new covenant in His blood, and His death on the cross would put into effect His new covenant, or last will and testament.
Zechariah 9:11 says “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” This shows one promise of King Jesus’ covenant. Freedom for prisoners. And the “my” there describes “my covenant”. God makes the deal, He declares the promises, He fulfills His own terms of the contract. It’s His covenant. But Jesus changes the phrase ever so slightly when He celebrates the Last Supper. He passes them the common cup of wine to drink and says: “This is my blood of the covenant”. It echoes Zechariah’s words, but now the “my” describes “my blood.” It just got personal in a new way. King Jesus is offering His own blood—not the blood of any animal sacrifice—but His own blood, to be spilled on the cross, to seal the covenant and secure the forgiveness of sins.
What a better blood it is! The personal blood of Jesus is without compare. Animal sacrifices were a preview running on an endless loop before Jesus came. But Jesus’ blood of the covenant seals our forgiveness once and for all. The end of the endless sacrificial deaths, the end of the covenant blood of animals. One final, perfect sacrifice. A cleansing, washing blood that purifies us from the deepest stain of sin and guilt.
When I think of King Jesus riding into Jerusalem, One Man rode in to face the odds alone. Once in the OT God opened the eyes of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to see that an army of angels defended them against a vast, besieging army (2 Kings 19). Imagine the image reversed. The gates are open to Jesus. He rides in as a king. But instead of a city under siege, it’s enemy occupied. A city hostage to the power of sin and the spiritual blindness of the devil. A city of prisoners, unknowingly waiting for ransom. One Man rides on a donkey to face the vast enemy army. But its not just the invisible spiritual forces of evil that were rallied against Jesus. As Romans 5 tells us, that while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. Even Jesus’ own disciples and apparent friends needed ransom, His blood of the covenant to set prisoners free.
Single combat wasn’t so strange. David vs. Goliath is one example. In ancient times, sometimes instead of waging a full-out bloody battle, opposing armies could choose a champion to settle a battle in single combat. But Jesus doesn’t ride into Jerusalem to spill His enemies’ blood. He rides a donkey. He has no weapons. In fact, when Peter assaulted a Temple servant at Jesus’ arrest, and cut off his ear, Jesus rebuked him and reattached the man’s ear, healing him. Jesus would not spill the blood of His enemies that day. He would only spill His own blood.
Why does Jesus come to spill His blood? He’s on a sacred errand, a holy mission. Last week we read how He came to give His life as a ransom for many. The whole world in sin faces off against Him and against God, as His enemies. I’m sure we’re loathe to think of ourselves as Jesus’ enemies. But that’s how sin leaves us before God, until Christ ransoms us from the ranks of His enemies, to become His friends, His ransomed children. Freed from the sin that makes us enemies of God. King Jesus rode into Jerusalem, with the gates open wide to receive their intended victim. He would be crucified back outside the gates, with the unclean and the outcasts. But His blood of the covenant, spilled on the cross would open salvation to the Gentiles.
Come to think of it, Jesus wasn’t unarmed at all. He bore the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God in His mouth. But we’re focused today on the blood of the covenant. No earthly “weapon.” Think how the enemies of Jesus wanted, and succeeded in extinguishing His life on the cross. As the hymn writers poetically describe it: “it was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended” (LSB 458:4). Or “The pow’rs of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed” (LSB 464:2). Death and hell brought its worst against Jesus. Jesus wielded no sling and stones, no sword, no earthly weapon against the legions of death. But when His blood was spilled, when His blood flowed from His sacred veins, it unleashed the power of a cleansing flood, a washing away of sin, that death and the devil had no power to reverse. “God is faithful, God will never, break His covenant of blood, signed when our Redeemer died, sealed when He was glorified!” (LSB 435:4). The “weapon” of Jesus’ blood was so powerful, not to kill or harm, but to heal, restore, and forgive. It scattered the legions of hell.
The timing was no accident either. The events of Holy Week fell on the Jewish Feast of Passover. Jesus and His disciples were celebrating the Passover meal in the upper room. After that meal He instituted a new meal to replace the Passover. As the blood of a lamb was key to the Passover meal, now the blood of the Lamb of God replaces it. So why does Jesus put His “blood of the covenant” in a cup for His disciples, and you and me to drink? Jews eat the Passover meal to remember their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt. Jesus’ disciples, you and I, eat the Lord’s Supper to remember our deliverance from the slavery of sin.
Remember last week? Jesus came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many? Remember today’s reading, Mark 14:24, “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many?” We participate personally in His blood of the covenant poured out on the cross. He pours it into the cup, sealing and washing you in His covenant, setting prisoners free. His blood breaks the chains, the slavery of sin. His blood covers us from the destruction of evil, infuses us with His life. His blood marks the doorposts of the world on the cross, so that we have safe shelter under Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. From the cup to His cross to the cup we drink at His Table, His blood testifies that His death sealed His last will and testament forever. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
Take this cup well. We don’t want to take it unworthily, and sin against the body and blood of the Lord and bring spiritual harm on ourselves. We must examine ourselves—know we are sinners, humbled by our wrongdoing, deserving God’s judgment, but clinging to His throne of mercy. God will not forsake the repentant, He generously pours His ransoming blood upon us. We don’t become “worthy participants” by our good works, but by faith in Him and by discerning His body and blood in the Supper we receive. So, ask yourself: “Am I repentant of my sins? Do I intend to turn away from them? Do I confess to God all my sins, both known and unknown? Do I believe that Jesus forgives me in His body and in His blood? Do I hold any grudges or unforgiveness against anyone else? If so, I have a duty to seek reconciliation if at all possible.” These and other questions should guide our self-examination before the Supper.
And if we are indeed prepared, repentant, and believing disciples, we can take the cup well and with joy. We can obey Jesus’ invitation “drink of it”…“this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” We can drink to our spiritual health and benefit, and to the union of ourselves to Christ and each other. There is ransom, there is life, there is forgiveness, there is promise and power in the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! In His Name, Amen.