Comes a Time: A Maundy Thursday Covenant Renewal Message

The Reading

Joshua 24.1-2,14-18,22,25communion-cup.jpg

 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. Joshua 24.1 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 2

 

  “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Joshua 24.14 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 15

 

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, Joshua 24.16 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 17 And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” 18

 

Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” Joshua 24.22

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. Joshua 24.25 

The Sermon 

There is a song from my old folk days that came to me this week. A song by Neil Young, I used to sing:”Comes a time when you’re driftingComes a time when you settle downComes a light feelings liftedLift that baby right up off the ground.”[1]“Comes a Time” is a song that speaks of marking significant shifts in time, times of renewal in life.There have come times of renewal in our lives. Perhaps as we graduated from high school or college, we recognized, in some sort of assembly, that a responsibility was being place upon us. Certainly, as we got married, we knew this. This Sunday, there will times of renewal in the lives of over 30 people in our church as some confess Christ for the first time publicly, some recommit their lives to Him, some publicly say that “this is the church where they will take their stand for Christ,” and some will be baptized. Easter will be a day for them for marking a new movement in their lives.In the Bible, there “comes a time” for marking such movements with God Himself. Those times are referred to as covenant renewal; times when God’s people recognize God’s movement among them and pause to renew the covenant of grace with Him.In the Bible, covenant renewal is a significant season in the lives of God’s people, which happens after or before great events. It is a time of regrouping, renewing, reordering, and reliving the story of God’s grace, of re-centering our lives in God and His plans for our lives. Covenant renewal happened after God gave the Law, with Nehemiah, after retuning from the Exile, and tonight, as we will see in Joshua 24, before Joshua died.After going through a pastoral transition, after going through seasons of change, after going through our 40-Days of Purpose leading us to this Holy Week of Easter, after seeing our church grow in numbers of worshippers and members and, in particular, of seeing God save souls and build up lives, in seeing, as a pastor, the sins and consequences of it in our day, I felt greatly moved of God to have this service of renewal. And I am thankful that our Session approved it.Tonight, we will study Joshua 24 to learn that in covenant renewal there comes a time for four great events. Let’s consider them and take them away for our own lives and our own church.

1.   In Covenant Renewal, there comes a time for sacred assembly (1)

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel co Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God.  Joshua 24.1[2]“The entire narrative accentuates God’s sovereign action in redemptive history.”[3]Joshua is at the end of his life. He calls for a sacred assembly and he calls for it at Shechem. There had been a covenant renewal service at the beginning of Joshua’s ministry at Shiloh. But now he chooses Shechem. Why? Shechem was the place where the covenant was first given to Abram (Gen. 35.2-4). At Shechem Jacob renewed the covenant (Gen. 33.19-20). Here, under an oak, Jacob put away the strange gods of his family (Gen. 35.2-4). Here, also, the covenant had been renewed after the fall of Ai (Joshua 8.30-35).There is a time for personal renewal before the Lord. These times may happen in our bedrooms, in our cars, at campfires¾I renewed this covenant on my knees in my bathroom many years ago. But there is a season of sacred assembly. There comes a time when the people of God gather.Tonight, in this place, where the Gospel has been preached for so long, we gather. I cannot help but to think about the words engraved over the porch of this House of Worship. Part of a dedication prayer of my predecessor, Dr. Bachman, in the early 1900s, it reads:”Whosoever thou art that entereth this church, remember it is the House of God. Be reverent, be silent, be thoughtful and leave it not without one prayer to God for thyself, for him who ministers, and for those who worship here.”As I said last Sunday, we assemble in a place where great saints, great ministers of the Gospel, have labored for Jesus Christ.And what a night to reaffirm our lives to Christ as His people. On the night recalling Jesus’ last supper, His covenant renewal meal with His disciples, we gather here.In a real sense, each and every Lord’s Day should be a covenant renewal as we gather here.You know what it teaches us? God relates to us¾not only as individuals¾but also as families and as covenanted communities of faith. God is looking down on our assembly. I believe He is here and sees our hearts. What does He see? I pray God sees a pastor and people gathered in a common mission: to glorify Christ, to proclaim His saving work, to offer His rich grace to all who would receive it, and to go back to the wells from which our fathers and mothers drank: the deep, deep well of Scripture, of Spirit-filled worship, of personal commitment to being the people of God in our generation.There comes a time for sacred assembly.

2.   In Covenant Renewal, there comes a time for sacred story (2-13)

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.  Joshua 24.2-3And when they come together, Joshua tells the old, old story. We learn that Abraham worshipped foreign gods, but God called him and made a promise to him. We learn that God was faithful as the children of Israel made their way from Egypt to the point where they were that day.It is also interesting to note something here: Joshua talks as if all of the people had gone through the Exodus. Maybe some had, but not all for sure. But because they were God’s people, Israel’s story had become their story. The Bible says that the Old Testament stories are written for our edification. We are told that out of two God made one new man. We are told that we have been engrafted into Israel. This is our story.It was a time for sacred story when Jesus gathered them together that night so long ago.And it is a sacred story we re-tell tonight. Tonight, let’s sanctify this place right now by all of us, for a moment, remembering how God saved us. Maybe through a parent, or a pastor, or a friend, or a spouse. Maybe even a child led you to the Lord. Let’s all do that now. Now, let those stories come together. As our lives are interwoven as the people of God, together in this place, God’s story is being told. This is now our story.

3.   In Covenant Renewal, there comes a time for serious challenge (14-15)

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. hut away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  Joshua 24.14Joshua calls them to “throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped…” (14). This is amazing, but after all that God had done for them, they were still infected with sin. Achen had hidden foreign gods and had brought sin into the camp and it was dealt with immediately. But apparently, sin had been tolerated and had grown through the years. It was now time to get rid of sin. Joshua was “going the way of all flesh” and before He died, He called for a cleansing of the church.When I was a little boy, there were workdays at church to clean things up. In Covenant Renewal, there is the work of prayer. There is the work of confession. There is the work of going before God and declaring that we are infected with sinful attitudes, lusts of the eyes, of the heart. We confess that our motives are selfish. Our attention to grace is short and our laundry list of murmurings is long.It is time for us to confess our rebellion. To do away with the love of the gods of this world and love Christ.Tonight, this supper calls us to see our sin that put Jesus on the cross. Tonight it is time to come clean before the Lord through the shed blood of Jesus.

4.   In Covenant Renewal, there comes a time for solemn vows (16-24)

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods,  Joshua 24.16But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is ma holy God…Joshua 24.19aThey took an oath before the Lord. Joshua then tells them in verse 19, “You are not able.” Joshua was not trying to discourage them, but to make them recall it was all of sovereign grace:”Nothing in my hands I bring, only to Thy cross I cling.”It was hard for proud Peter to understand that. It was hard for a alien to grace like Martin Luther to understand that. It was hard for me to get it. It may be for you. This night, then, really is about a solemn vow: “I was dead in trespasses and sins, but God…” In solemn vows, we are not vowing to our ability to keep the Law, but committing by faith to God’s faithfulness to keep the covenant. In Jesus He did. And our response is the response of a vow to grace. Then let grace have its work in our lives and move us to obedience and love for each other.

5.   In Covenant Renewal, there comes a time for sacred signs (25-28)

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And we took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.”  Joshua 24.25-27Finally, Joshua writes up decrees and laws and records these things in the Book of the Law. Likely this was a copy of the Law of Moses. Then he ordered that a stone be set up. This would be a stone of remembrance. Early in Joshua’s career, God had commanded that stones be taken from the Jordan River and set up as a memorial.Tonight, we also come to a memorial. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial to the saving work of Jesus. That night, in which he told us to love one another as He has loved us, was a night of covenant renewal.So it is tonight.

Conclusion

It was March 30, 1981, 10:00 A.M. The President of the United States summed up his vision to 140 sub-Cabinet appointees by quoting a line from a founding father: “We have it in our power to begin the world again.”[4] In only a few hours, his world, in many ways, would have to “begin again.” On that day, after the speech, the deputy chief of staff, Michael Deaver, helped lead Reagan past the press line outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel. An AP reporter shouted out a question, the president turned, smiled, and raised his left arm in a friendly wave, without answering. At that split second in American history, the 40th president in US history was hit by a bullet from a would-be assassin.The president, of course, would make it and show the American people true courage, grace and even wit. Who could ever forget his line to Nancy, “Honey, I forgot to duck!” But he would never be the same. According to Michael Deaver, something spiritually changed in him. He had been a Christian since he was a child, but after March 30, 1981, there was a renewal of faith, of a sense of destiny and purpose. He told his daughter Maureen, while he was still in the hospital, that God has spared him for a reason and that whatever time he had left on earth was dedicated to the Lord. On Good Friday, during his recovery, he called for “a man of the cloth.” His chief of staff called for and brought in Cardinal Terrance Cook, who had worked with Reagan on pro-life concerns. The Cardinal came to the White House. There, Reagan told him:”I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him…Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve Him every way I can.”[5]This was covenant renewal in the life of our president.Tonight, before there can be a true covenant renewal of grace in our camp, as we are gathered before the Table of our Savior, there must be Covenant Renewal in your life. Whatever has come before, in all of our lives, is for a reason. We have been spared from every possible evil to come to this night. How many will say in their hearts: “Whatever time I have left, Lord, I give it to Thee?”There comes a time to renew our lives to the promises of God’s love and grace, a time to hate our sin, to love our Savior, to love one another. And in remembrance of His passion, His love, His sacrifice…now is that time.Let us pray.

Works Cited

Deaver, Michael K. A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.Gaebelein, Frank Ely, and J. D. Douglas. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible. <7> vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1976.Kengor, Paul. God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life. 1st ed. New York: Regan Books, 2004.Young, Neil. Comes a Time. Burbank, Calif.: Reprise Records, 1978. Sound recording. 


[1] Neil Young, Comes a Time (Burbank, Calif.: Reprise Records,, 1978), sound recording.[2] All Scripture is in the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.[3] Frank Ely Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary : With the New International Version of the Holy Bible, <7> vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1976).366.[4] Paul Kengor, God and Ronald Reagan : A Spiritual Life, 1st ed. (New York: Regan Books, 2004).[5] Michael K. Deaver, A Different Drummer : My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan, 1st ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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