Keeping Covenant With God
When I was in grade 6, we moved and I had to attend a new school. The question in my mind was, who will my friends be? Will I make some good friends? What will I be able to expect in these relationships? Will they want to play with me? Will I be able to trust them? Can I call them up after school and will they want to meet me? I made several friends who stayed friends when we went on to junior high school the next year. These questions don’t stop in school. As we grow older, the process of developing relationships continues and isn’t always easy. We don’t always know what we can expect in the relationship.
Romances begin in much the same way. Who has not considered picking a daisy and pulling off the petals… “she loves me, she loves me not…” This awkwardness continues until a couple begins to talk about formalizing the relationship. At that point, they make a covenant with each other and they tell each other exactly what they can expect of each other. The bride says, I will love you for the rest of my life and the groom declares the same promise, thus making a marriage covenant. Of course, not every covenant is kept. Even in stable marriages, it is a good thing to review and renew what we can expect from each other in a relationship. Last February when we were together with all our children, since it was our 30th anniversary year, we renewed our vows to each other in their presence.
Today we are celebrating a baptism. Like the formalizing of the covenant of marriage, baptism is the formalizing of a covenant with God. At some point, Janae and Andrew have decided to establish a relationship with God by becoming Christians. Today, they are formalizing that relationship by being baptized. At a time like this, it is good to ask, What is expected of the relationship? What are they expecting of God as they declare to all that they want to live their lives in relationship to Him? What is God expecting of them? What promise are they making to God about how they will live their life before Him?
Psalm 50 speaks about such questions. I invite you to open your Bibles and turn to Psalm 50.
As we read the first verse, we notice that God is speaking. “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks…” In this opening verse, three names of God are used. Most often, in the Psalms, it is the Psalmist speaking to God. It is unusual that God is speaking, so we need to listen.
We notice that God is speaking to the people of the world. We read in verse 1, “and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” But as we read on, we notice that his particular interest is in those who have made a covenant with Him. Please take note of verse 5 which says, “Gather to me my consecrated ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” Then also in verse 7 we read, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak…I am God, your God.” So in this Psalm, we notice God speaking to the people with whom he has a relationship and with whom he has formalized the relationship into a covenant. The particular covenant he had in mind was that made at Mt. Sinai, in Exodus 20, when God gave them the law and told them that He would be their God.
Why does he speak to them now? As we read on in verses 7-13, we notice that they had failed to keep their part of the relationship. We read in verse 7, “I will testify against you,” in vs. 8, “I… rebuke you…” But God is gracious and so in verses 14, 15 he tells them what he wants of them. He reminds them what it means to be people who are in a covenant relationship with God. He tells them three expectations that he has of them. He wants them to give thanks to Him, to fulfill the vows they have made and to call upon him.
Today as you formalize the relationship you have with God by being baptized, I want to encourage you to look at these three things because they are still a good way of looking at the relationship which God wants with those who are His followers. As we listen to these instructions, it is also a good time for all of us who have made covenant with God in the past to be reminded of how that relationship should be lived.
I. Thank Him
When God established a relationship with Israel, he gave them a list of the sacrifices he required of them. There are numerous passages in Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus which describe those sacrifices. We read about the burnt offerings, sin offerings, thank offerings and so on. They were a central part of the religious environment of Israel. In Psalm 50, we read that God does not rebuke them for bringing these sacrifices. They had been quite faithful in doing so, and yet, there is a rebuke here. The problem was that their sacrifices had become a ritual. They brought them out of duty and for reasons that God never intended. They brought the sacrifices as if they were doing God a favour. They thought that if they brought them, God would be pleased because they saw God like we see each other. They thought that he would be happy to have more. But God points out how foolish this perspective is. God has never needed the sacrifices they brought. God doesn’t need an animal from them, He owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” so what could they give him that he did not already have? Furthermore, God wasn’t dependent on created things for his food. A rhetorical question in verse 13 implies that God does not eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats. Craigie says, “God is not a hungry God who depends on what we bring Him.” They had forgotten that the covenant was about a relationship to God and not about a ritual by which they could make God happy.
Although we do not bring animal sacrifices to God, we are prey to the same kind of thinking. We think that if we give God our time or our money, that we will somehow be able to please God and move him to favour us. Does God need our money? Does God need our time? One writer asks, “Do men fancy that the Lord needs banners, and music, and incense, and fine linen?” All things that live are his. Sometimes we want to buy a gift for someone who has everything and we don’t know what to get them. How much more is this true of God? If we are trying to please God and move him to favour by our gifts and sacrifices, we have missed the point of the relationship we have with him. We have failed to grasp what the covenant with God is all about.
B. The Sacrifice God Wants
The word “sacrifice” which is found in verse 8 where it refers to animal sacrifices, is the same word as that found in verse 14, where we are told that the sacrifice God wants is a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving. This is not the only place in the Bible where we are called to a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving. In the New Testament, in I Thessalonians 5:18, we are called to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is what God wants of us.
Why does God want us to bring a sacrifice of praise? One writer says, “God did not need thanksgiving to bolster his own self-esteem, as if (in the words of C.S. Lewis) he were ‘like a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who had never met or heard of him.’ God wanted thanksgiving, for that in turn emerged from human lives full of joy…”
Why do we need to give thanks to God? It is because as we do, we recognize that everything we have comes from God. Have you ever sat down and made a list of everything that God has given you? Let’s start with life. What about a roof over your head and the meals you will eat today. What about friendships, meaningful work, a Saviour, eternal life and we could go on and on.
Not only does thanksgiving recognize the gifts we have, it acknowledges them. God is, as the Bible says in another place, the giver of every good and perfect gift. When we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, we acknowledge the source. No matter what our situation, we can think about what God has given and thank Him.
Furthermore, in Psalm 50:23, we realize that when we rejoice at God’s gifts to us and thank Him, we honor God. There it says, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honours me…” There is nothing in the world more important than honouring God.
So simply put, God wants us to recognize all the good we have in him and let him know that we understand it is from Him, we appreciate it and thank Him for it. Such a sacrifice moves us away from ritual and a consumer attitude towards God and moves us to love, respect and appreciate our God.
II. Keep Your Promises
When Jacob was on his way away from his home to his uncle Laban’s place, he stopped for night and during the night he had a dream in which he saw heaven and he saw the angels ascending and descending to heaven. In other words, in this dream, he met God. After the dream, he made a promise to God. He said, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
The Bible also tells us the story of Hannah. She had been unable to have a child for many years and really wanted a baby. One day when she was at the temple, she prayed to God in her anguish and made a vow. She said in I Samuel 1:11, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
What are the promises or vows that you have made? Many of us have made promises like the one Janae and Andrew are making today, a promise to live for God and follow in a relationship to him. Perhaps there are other vows that you have made in the presence of God. What about the marriage vow that those of us who are married have made? Or have you ever promised God that if He got you out of trouble you would give a gift to Him? Have you ever made a pledge to donate a certain amount of money to a mission or to a needy person? Have you ever made a promise to God about how you will live your life, perhaps during a revival? Have you made promises to a group that you would do a job or take on an assignment of some kind?
B. Keeping Vows
How frustrating when people promise to do something for us and then forget or fail to follow through and we are left standing alone because they did not show up or we are left having to cover for them because they did not do what they promised.
We weep when marriage vows are broken and although often they are not broken without a great deal of anguish, sometimes it seems they are broken a little too easily. Sometimes the marriage breaks up because the vows were broken long ago because the wife did not submit or the husband did not submit by giving his life for his wife.
Young people go to Bible school or to camp and have a tremendous spiritual experience and in their heart are quite sincere in the promises they make to God, but a few weeks or months later, the promises are forgotten.
We proclaim to the whole congregation, when we are baptized, that we are followers of Jesus. A few years later, it is hard to see evidence of that commitment. What has happened to the covenant we made?
Both Jacob and Hannah made promises in the presence of God and later when the time came and God provided everything they needed, they kept the promises they had made. The Bible puts a high premium on keeping the promises we make. Psalm 50:14 says, “fulfill your vows to the Most High…” If we are in a relationship with God, a part of that relationship is keeping the promises we have made even if it costs us something to keep the promise.
III. Seek Him
A. The Day Of Trouble
When Jesus was about to face the cross, he found himself in a hard place. He cried and sweat in great anguish as he faced death on the cross.
When Paul and Silas were in Philippi they found themselves in jail because they had been proclaiming Jesus and some people who opposed them had them put there. They did not know what their fate would be and experienced the bondage and uncertainty and unpleasantness of being in jail.
In James 5:13 trials become a personal matter when we are asked, “Is any one in trouble?”
What are our situations of distress, which Psalm 50:15 identifies as the “day of trouble?” As a church, we have concerns about the debt on the building. We have this great building, but how is it going to be paid for? In a few weeks, Sunday School will begin and as I came into church, I noticed that the sign up board is not nearly filled yet. The weather this summer has been far from ideal. Wet when dry has been needed, cold when heat has been needed. I know that it must be difficult for those who are farming. We could speak of personal crises of a medical nature, an emotional nature or a relational nature.
B. Call Upon The Lord
What did Jesus and Paul and Silas do in their situation of distress? When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane wrestling with his upcoming crucifixion, it says in Luke 22:44, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly…” When Paul and Silas were in prison, Acts 16:25 tells us that “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
James 5:13 invites us, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.”
In a similar way, in this passage God invites us to “call upon me in the day of trouble.” That is what God wants of us. He does not want a formalized relationship in which we fulfill duties. He wants a relationship in which we know that we need Him and in which we know Him well enough that we will be free to ask Him for help when we are in trouble.
This is really an interesting verse. Notice that there is a fascinating connection between our need, prayer, God’s deliverance and giving glory to God. This is why we are invited to go to God in our time of trouble. When we do, God does what His love moves Him to do, He helps us, He meets out need. This verse contains a promise. When He meets our need, we recognize His grace and the glory goes to Him.
If we can help ourselves, then we don’t really need God and when we get ourselves out of trouble, we receive the glory. If we know that we can’t do it ourselves, then we have nowhere to turn, but to God and God helps us and it is obvious that this happened only because of what God did then the glory goes to Him.
Someone gave me a quote this week that expresses this idea so nicely. It is a quote by John Piper. He says, “Prayer is the antidote for the disease of self-confidence that opposes God’s goal of getting glory by working for those who wait for him.”
That is the relationship God wants - one in which he helps us and we recognize what he has done and glorify Him for it.
I speak to all of us today. God invites us not to a formal religion that is about regulations, but to a relationship with himself. In Psalm 50:14,15, this relationship involves three things - thanking God, keeping the promises we make and seeking Him.
How are you doing in the covenant with God that you have made? Perhaps you entered into a relationship with God a long time ago and the relationship has become formal and ritualized. Today is a good day to renew your relationship with God.
Andrew and Janae, today you are making a formal recognition of the relationship you have with God. We want to encourage you not to let that relationship become a religion, but to live in a growing, loving relationship to God who loves you very much.