the BIG Story: Jeremiah 31:21-34

These last few days, we have been reflecting on the impact of broken covenants.  Each covenant’s basic structure is, “I, God, will do this and you, humans, will do that.” From Adam to Moses, when a covenant is broken, it is always broken in the same way – people fail. So what good will it do to establish a new covenant? What is the point in God recreating a new covenant when every one so far has fallen to pieces?

The covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 is not only new, it is different.  We begin to get this sense in 31:22 where Jeremiah says:

The LORD will create a new thing on earth—
       a woman will surround a man.

The word for “created” is the same as in Genesis 1:1. Only God is able to “create” something completely new. The cryptic phrase "a woman will surround a man", probably refers to God’s people clinging onto God and not letting go. Since they have let go every time in the past, then this would definitely be a new thing.

Which then brings us to, what some say is the theological high point in the OT: The new covenant:

"The time is coming," declares the LORD,
       "when I will make a new covenant
       with the house of Israel
       and with the house of Judah (31:31)

This new covenant is powerful and world-changing.

1. There is profound reconciliation.
God’s covenant is with both Israel and Judah – two nations divided by centuries of violent and bloody conflict (31:31b). They will be drawn together in harmony, as one new Kingdom before God. This same theme is developed in Galatians 3:

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (25-28)

2. There is profound regeneration.
God will write his law on their hearts. Jeremiah has already told us what is currently written on our hearts in 17:1:

Sin is engraved with an iron tool,
       inscribed with a flint point,
       on the tablets of their hearts
       and on the horns of their altars.

Now the law will be written in a completely new way:

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.

God wants to take possession of our hearts. What God does is to breathe the very spirit of his law into and through our minds and write them on our hearts. If the Holy Spirit possessed our whole being and takes complete control of our minds and our emotions, everything we did and are would be from God. We would no longer be separated from Him. We would know Him completely; for we are no longer on our own when we are one in Christ Jesus.

It is only when we learn to love and obey the law of God, when our heart and life are together and given wholly to the Lord, devoted to Him and His will that God can be to us the altogether inconceivable blessings which these words express, "I will be their God." God is not hard to find… he lives within us. But it is only when we are truly circumcised (in our hearts), that is, by cutting all those things that separate or blocked us from the face of God that we will truly find Him. Jeremiah 29:13 says, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." That includes total surrender or submission to the Lord. Sincere repentance and turning away from our wicked ways is the route to having eyes focussed on Jesus.

3. There is profound intimacy.
We will all know God and no one will need to teach his neighbour about him. Instead of needing to be reminded of God on a regular and daily basis, we will enjoy such intimacy with him that we will be continually in His presence.

No longer will they teach their neighbours,
       or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
       because they will all know me,
       from the least of them to the greatest,"

4. There is profound atonement
This is where we realize what has changed so dramatically with this new covenant.

For I will forgive their wickedness
       and will remember their sins no more.

In his last conversation with his disciples, Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection and says:

This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Suddenly we realise that this forgiveness comes in a totally new way. If previously, the covenant was between God and humanity, now this new covenant was to be between God and Jesus Christ. This covenant cannot be broken by humanity’s sin and rebellion.  It is permanent and inalienable.

The Christian’s salvation is achieved not by keeping a covenant, but by being an undeserving recipient of the benefits of a covenant between two other parties. Christ fulfilled this covenant on Calvary’s tree and now sits at the right hand of God waiting his reward. We receive unlimited forgiveness and grace through this loving act of a merciful self-giving God who has created something new upon the earth.

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