First Mennonite Church
October 25, 2015
Autographed on the Heart
Text: Jeremiah 31:27-34
Finally, the moment of God’s promise to plant and to build up (Jer. 1:10) was coming in sight. So far most of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry and message had been those of destruction, uprooting, and judgment. But chapter 31 ushers a new beginning. Something new was on the immediate horizon. It was new not only in terms of how Judah’s life on the outside was going to look like but most importantly how God was going to work and redefine his people. God was going to establish a new covenant in which his word would be written in their mind and heart and Yahweh will be their God.
The promise of restoration and new beginnings start from verse 27. God promised to replenish the land with both people and animals—livestock. The Lord was going to raise a new and abundant generation of people and give them the resources needed to flourish. The people of Judah would be able to sing with joy and thanksgiving. There would be life and life abundant, as Jesus says, for the Lord “will watch over them to build and to plant” (v. 28). The Lord would also break the cycle of intergenerational curse that had cast a sense of fatalism in the spirit of the people. The people of Judah could not rid themselves of a sense of guilt for the sins of their ancestors. In their mind and lips echoed the long-held belief that, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
The parents did the wrong things but the children suffered the consequences. In Judah’s collective psyche was profound sense of guilt and shame for the way their ancestors had responded to God and how they had been unfaithful to the covenant. They felt sort of helpless about their condition of misery, destruction, and exile because they felt all these were brought upon them by the actions of their parents and grandparents. Added to that was the constant message they heard from the prophets: “God saved you ancestors, gave them a commandment and land but they turned away and ran after idols. They polluted their heart and the land. Exile was the reward of their doings.” The parents have eaten the sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.
According to some people, this text echoes to some degree what they see happened here at First Mennonite Church. Very recently I was talking with someone who was raised here in church but now does not come to church. This person cannot overcome his past hurtful experiences of church. Various persons I have talked to whose parents or grandparents were members of this congregation tell me much the same story. Not too long ago, I was re-reading the letter of one such persons. In her letter, she sounds antagonistic and suspicious about the way we handle our business. Their parents ate the sour grapes but the children have their teeth set on edge; they are still suffering the discomfort of their parents and the church leaders’ actions. Yet, what most of these person are unaware of is that God has put in our hearts a new spirit. God has changed our way of being. Those who are here today tell me of how welcomed they felt from the first time they stepped into our doors.
The promise of God to Judah that the past will no longer hold them prisoners is a promise made to us also. God was going to nullify the power of the intergenerational curse.
God’s promise was that this new people he was going to plant and nourish would no longer have to live under the shadow of their past. This promise is echoed the words of Paul: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2Corinthians 5:17).
Dear friends, God’s promise made through Jeremiah is even more real in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We must claim and live this promise. You and I are God’s new creation. The old has gone and the new is here! We are not bound by our past history, therefore, we can move forward. In the power of Jesus’ resurrection we are being empowered through the Holy Spirit to move away from the past that still tries to claim us and our identity. By the power of Jesus’ resurrection the past, both ours and that of our ancestors should not and cannot bind us. Let us hold on to the promise of Jesus who said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:36). This does not mean however that sin will not be punished. God will still hold accountable the sinner, yet the effects of such actions will not be handed down to the next generation. “Everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge,” God said through Jeremiah. God was going to hold everyone responsible for what he or she did or did not do. And this apply to us also.
Let me therefore invite you to think of these promises in light of the present condition of our congregation. God wants to plant and build up. God wants to raise a new and abundant generation and he commits to provide the necessary provisions to sustain us. But along the promises of restoration, new life, and the liberation from the effects of the sins of past generations comes personal accountability before God. The past cannot hold us prisoners but we are fully responsible for the present. If God has released us from the effects of the past, he still holds us accountable for today. But just as Judah could not live for God, we cannot by ourselves either. Just as Judah could not be responsive to God’s invitation, we cannot respond to God’s offer on our own. It takes the grace and mercy of God to be able to please him. It is for that reason that God wanted to establish a new covenant with his people.
The promise of a new covenant is the most famous passage in the Jeremiah, especially for us Christians. We believe the coming of Jesus, his life, ministry, death and resurrection fulfilled this promise. In his death and resurrection the new covenant of God became a reality. And everyone who believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior becomes that new humanity God announced to his people through Jeremiah. Yet the way in which God will operate in this new covenant is what we should take very seriously.
This is what God said:
“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.
Obedience and responsiveness to God today and always are only possible when God himself inscribes in our heart and mind his living word. And this again reminds us that our restoration is dependent on God’s pure grace. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast, Paul would exclaim (Ephesian 2:8, 9). God needs to write in my mind and heart and your mind and heart his word or we cannot obey or respond to his calling and much less be included in the new covenant with his people. It does not matter how many sermons we have heard, it does not matter how long we might have been coming to church, it does not matter how well informed we are about the Bible, but if God has not written his word in our heart and mind, the simple truth is that we are not part of his new covenant. Coming to church for worship, hearing sermons or reading the Bible is about as good as it was for the people of Judah to have the Law of Yahweh written on tablets of stone or scrolls. Becoming a member of his new covenant is only possible when God himself has written his word in your mind and heart.
Envisioned in that new covenant was that prophets nor priests would be needed to teach the Law.
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.
Does it mean I have lost my job? Does it mean we do not need Sunday school teachers, now that we are in the new covenant? Maybe that is not what it is saying. It means that there will be willingness to hear and to obey the word of the Lord. God will no longer have to threaten his people with exile or destruction any more. His people will be guided by the word already inscribed their heart. As for us, it means that we should not serve God out of fear of damnation or hell. It means that we serve the Lord out of gratitude and love.
Let me close with the word of the Apostle Paul.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; 3 and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
So, let me invite you on behalf of Christ, allow God to write his law in your heart and mind. He wants you to be a member of his new covenant. It is his promise to replenish our lives, our faith, and our relationship with him. He wants to raise among us a new generation of those who love and fear him. He promises to provide for our needs. But let us remember this, included in this covenant is our accountability to the Lord for the things we do or do not do.
We are a letter of Christ; read by all. God has autographed your heart and my heart. Amen!