First Mennonite Church
July 24, 2022
A New Covenant
These days, the expression, “The days are surely coming . . .” has not been used to predict a better world. You hear the following expressions, “The days are surely coming when you cannot use certain words without being labeled ‘so and so.’” Or, “The days are surely coming when landscaping water sprinklers will become artifacts of a bygone age.” Or, “The days are surely coming when you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without being monitored.”
Jeremiah used this phrase to refer to what God was planning to do for his people. The expression, “The days are surely coming” appears 11 times in the entire book of Jeremiah. But five of those appear in chapters 30-33, a section called “The Book of Consolation,” in Jeremiah. And the message that follows after that phrase in this part of the book, including our passage for today, is that of a message of hope for the depressed and exiled people of God. The phrase introduces aspects of what God would do in favor of his people, once their time in exile was over.
After much bad news and messages of judgement, a message of hope begins to emerge. After Judah had been plucked out, pulled down, destroyed and overthrown (1:10), Yahweh announces that days of sowing, planting, and restoration are drawing near. “I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with seed of humans and the seed of animals,” promises the Lord. Just as God was behind the destruction and the displacement of his people, he now will oversee its restoration. In those coming days, God promises to be directly involved in the renewal process. In the end, he is the one who brought judgment in the form of exile, and he will replenish the land with people and animals.
Along this promise of restoration is God’s new approach in the way he will execute punishment. The whole nation of Judah was punished for the sins that resulted from wicked governance and leadership. The law was twisted in favor of the powerful. The poor, the orphans, and aliens were neglected and abused. Worship became a cover-up for their idolatry and injustices. These were all the result of a failed leadership, both political, coming from the royal house and spiritual, from the priesthood. However, the entire nation suffered the consequences. But in the coming days, collective guilt will give way to personal responsibility. The one who eats the sour grapes with get the bad teeth. The one who sins will face the consequences of their sins.
Then the Lord introduces another promise: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This is one of the most famous passages in the book of Jeremiah, the promise of God ushering a “new covenant.” Although, this is the only reference of a new covenant in the Hebrew Bible, the promise of a future renewal and restoration for the people of Judah included a new heart, a new spirit, and the creation of new things, according to Ezek. 11:19-20; 18:31, 36:26 and Isaiah 42:9, 43:19, 48:6. But a key feature in God’s promise of coming new covenant, according to Jeremiah, is that the Torah, instead of being rewritten and given to the people in stone tablets as were those given at Sinai, this time God will write his laws in the heart of his people. Obedience and faithfulness, which would foster true worship of Yahweh and love and concern towards others, especially those Yahweh had always advocated for, would flow in the land. The sins that led to the captivity will no longer be committed, because the restored people will live according to God’s intent for his chosen nation.
In that renewed and restored relationship between God and his people, where God’s laws will be written in the hearts of the people, teaching the Law of the Lord will not be necessary. Everyone will have God’s words written in their heart and obedience will no longer be called for. It will come by naturally.
An integral aspect of that new covenant will include God’s forgiveness, where God will remember no more the sins of the past. Thus, the sins of Judah that made God’s anger to arise and his judgment to come, will be remembered no more. God offers to forgive unilaterally. That is, it is not on the basis of confession and repentance.
There are some important issues we need to pay close attention to in this passage. First, the promise of return to the land, where there would abundance and the people would be divinely transformed at their core—in their heart, seems to be within a very real and material world of human existence and space, not only in a spiritual realm. Yet, even when the promise of those coming days were made more than two thousand years ago, their entire fulfillment has not yet happened, neither among the Jews nor among us Christians. As for the Judean returnees, restoration of the land, the abundance promised did not materialize neither then, nor ever since. Therefore, gradually, these promises were pushed further away until God’s closing of time.
The Torah of old covenant continued to be relevant in the life of the Judean people and continues to be even today. And they continue to struggle with its observance.
So, what do we make about these promises? Where do we stand in relationship to the new covenant? It is easy for us Christians to claim that the new covenant was indeed fulfilled in the Christ-event. Every time we share the Communion Cup, as we did last Sunday, we are reminded of the words of Jesus who said, “This cup . . . is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The temptation we have is to claim that through our relationship with Christ, we have become that new people of the new covenant, thus superseding the descendants of Abraham. However, we should remember that we have been grafted onto the Jewish tree (Rom. 11) and that our coming into God’s family and into God’s people is out of the grace God extended to all people through Christ. We are late comers, per say, into this household of God. In whatever form God’s new covenant was effectuated with his people, it was only extended to us at the coming of Christ.
God also promised to write his law in the heart of his people, which will render teaching his laws unnecessary. Both the Jewish people and Christians all over the world continue to teach the word of God to their respective communities. I still have a job! That means the promise has not materialized neither for the exile returnees nor for us who believe in Christ. Paul urged his readers from Colossae to allow the word of Christ to dwell in them richly. We know, fully well, that if we do not memorize or hear the word of God it simply is not even in our mind, much less in our heart, the seat of our will and thoughts.
Therefore, God’s promise of the coming days in which he will make a new covenant with his people and will write his laws in their heart should raise our awareness of God’s deep desire to establish an intimate relationship with his people, both the Jewish people and us Christians. Those two main promises should remind us of God’s gracious act in the person of his Son, who through his death ushered us into this covenant and by the continued presence of the Holy Spirit we are instructed in the Word. These two promises point us both to something we have already experienced and to something we are still anticipating in its fullness. Our relationship with God is something we are grateful for. It is a joyous experience. And, yet we know God has even more in store for us. So, we wait patiently for the day of our full redemption, when we will see our Lord face to face, when faith is no longer needed.
Therefore, one of the greatest questions that remains regarding God’s promise of a new covenant, is not, for whom it is? Is it for the Jews or for us Christian, but how are we giving evidence that we are responding to God’s new covenant? The other question is not, who has the living word written in their heart, but how has God’s word shaped our daily lives?
May the Holy Spirit impress in us the words of Jesus, our Lord and Savior who has made us members of that new covenant. May the Holy Spirit write God’s words on our heart and give us the power to live accordingly. Amen!