A Runway, A Covenant, And Christ

Last night’s Good Friday service at The Crossing really blessed me as I seek to prepare my heart for Easter Sunday. For those of you who weren’t there, Dave walked us through many of the stories and prophecies of the Old Testament which pointed directly to Christ coming in the New Testament.

In that same motif, I wanted to point your attention to one more of those in Genesis 15.

8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half…

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him…

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land…

What we see here is a covenant ceremony between God and Abraham, where a formal ceremony seals the solemn promise between them. The blessing for Abraham’s descendants (of which we are, by the way, as Dave showed us last night) was to inherit a promise of blessing, of kingship, of a wonderful land flowing with milk and honey. So in verse 8 Abraham is asking God, “How can I know that you will fulfill your promises to my descendants? How can I know that we’ll be blessed, and be a blessing to the nations, and inherit a land?”

So God performs the ceremony to insure that the promises will be upheld. Now, covenant ceremonies were not only a biblical thing, ancient peoples from all over commonly practiced them. To us, it seems a little odd, cutting up animals and arranging them into a runway of sorts. But this was an ancient custom.

When two parties entered a covenant with each other, there had to be consequences if one of them didn’t live up to their end of the deal. We do the same thing today in many legal documents. We sign pre-nuptials, we put clauses into building contracts that if the house isn’t completed by such-and-such date, then X percentage of the price is dropped. In this case, the animals would be cut in two, with their halves separated by several feet to symbolize the consequence. Then the two parties would walk, arm in arm, through the mangled animals. In this they were saying, “May I be like these animals if I don’t keep my end of the covenant” (see Jeremiah 34:18-19 for an example of this).

But the part that is so amazing and completely unheard of in this particular ceremony is who walks through the torn animals. It’s not the two parties. It’s simply God (verse 17).

You see God knew 4,000 years ago that none of us would live up to our end of the bargain. None of us were going to serve God with all our hearts. None of us were going to conquer sin on our own. Even then, 2,000 years before Jesus was killed and then resurrected, God is promising to his people: I’ll walk through. I’ll bear the punishment of your broken promises. I’ll be the one that suffers the fate of these animals that are split in two. I’ll die.

And so what happened at Calvary had been known for all time. God died in our place. He was beaten with a cat of nine tails within inches of his life. He carried his own cross up a hill, then he hung on it. A death so terrible that it was illegal for Roman citizens to be executed in that manner except in cases of treason. In the words of Mark Driscoll: “God became man, and that’s what we did to him.”

But the story didn’t end there. Jesus conquered our sin on Friday by dying, but the proof that his death paid for our sins was seen on Sunday, when he rose from the dead. And in that we have much reason to rejoice.

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