We Partake of a Better Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The following is a sermon delivered at Lake Drive Baptist Church on Sunday morning August 2nd, 2015. You will find both the audio and sermon notes below.


Sermon audio (click here)


Sermon Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord,

“I will put My law within them
and on their heart I will write it;
and I will be their God,
and they shall be My people.
34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor
and each man his brother, saying,
‘Know the Lord,’
for they will all know Me,
from the least of them to the greatest of them,”
declares the Lord,
“for I will forgive their iniquity,
and their sin I will remember no more.”

Background:

Our salvation comes to us in the form of a covenant. [Pause] This may an be odd notion.

God’s purposes to save and restore his people and his creation are promised, planned, worked out, and achieved in human history beginning in the OT. And the covenants throughout the Bible structure, drive, and advance that salvation plan.

Covenant – a binding agreement involving promises and obligations. 

The Biblical covenants aim at and pursue what God’s original intention was in creation. Think about the Garden of Eden – to have a people, in a land, under God’s rule, and amidst God’s presence.Covenant with Noah – After the flood, God expresses his commitment to creation despite human sin. He will not scratch this creation project, but he will redeem it and restore it to his original design.

  • Covenant with Abraham – God chooses Abraham and expresses to him his plan to bring about his intentions from creation: to have Abraham’s offspring (a new humanity) in a promised land (a new Garden of Eden).
  • Having saved Israel out of Egypt based on these covenant commitments, he brings them to Mt. Sinai where he gives them the Mosaic Covenant (the covenant with Moses as its mediator) or what the NT calls the Old Covenant, what Paul refers to as “the Law.”
  • Mosaic (or Old) Covenant – God says, If you obey me, you will receive the blessings of my covenant plans. You will be my new humanity. You will continue to dwell in my new Eden (the promised land). My presence will continue to dwell among you in the form of the tabernacle and temple. And I will rule over you, as the later Covenant with David eventually explains, through a king from David’s line. However, if you disobey, you will receive the opposite of these things. You will be punished.
  • Exile – And that’s exactly what Israel does. She disobeys. And the wages of her sin is national death—exile. God removes her from the land, the temple is destroyed, and her king is dethroned. You see, exile is not just unfortunate historical happenstance; it is actually the anti-fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to his people.
  • But in the midst of this devastating situation, the prophets predict a New Covenant, one to replace and surpass the Old Covenant, one that resolves the problem of human sinfulness and finally bring about God’s covenant plans.

And this New Covenant is our covenant.

  • First, we see ourselves in Israel’s history.
    • Israel’s sinful condition is a mirror image of our own sinful condition.
    • And Israel’s experience under God’s specific law of Moses—one of rebellion resulting in judgment—is the story of all of our experience under God’s law.
  • And second, this solution to Israel’s problem of sin—the New Covenant—is our solution to sin.
    • At the Last Supper, Jesus takes the cup and says, This is the blood of the New Covenant, referring to his death as that thing that brings about the New Covenant.
    • And the book of Hebrews (e.g., ch. 8) as well as many other parts of the NT make clear that Jesus has made this New Covenant a reality for his church.
    • As Eph 2 says, gentiles who were formerly separated from God’s people and covenants are now part of those things, not to the exclusion of God’s salvation purposes for ethnic Jews, but to the inclusion of gentiles as well.
    • And so, because of this, the NT presents the church as this future people of God, this end-time Israel of which Jeremiah here speaks, the community—composed not only of Jews but also of gentiles—that receives the New Covenant.

As we look at our passage, God contrasts this New Covenant with the Old Covenant that he made with the people of Israel at Sinai after he brought them out of Egypt in the Exodus.

vv.31-32 – “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers [i.e., their forefathers] in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

They broke the covenant. They deserve punishment. But yet, this is not the end of the story. God is faithful to his purposes to restore his people. And so he promises a New Covenant that will address the inadequacies of the former covenant.

And notice, the fact that God makes this salvation covenants shows us that salvation is not a human invention. It’s not as if things were like, “Ah, look at this problem we have. Let’s come up with a solution. Oh, God, you should rescue us.” No, the fact that salvation comes to us in the form of a God-made covenant shows us that salvation is God-made; it’s of his initiative, his invention, not ours.

v.33 – “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, …

 And then he begins to lay out this New Covenant.

Now if you are familiar with Mosaic Covenant (the Old Covenant), when you hear this announcement of a new covenant, you would likely expect that what is to follow is a list of commands, conditionals, and threats of punishment – “do this in order that…” and “do this or else…” But what we get is something rather different – just promises.

our ways in which our New Covenant is “not like” – is better than – the Old Covenant (v.33-34). [Note: Other “New Covenant” texts unpack other elements.]

1. The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because God’s law is internalized.

–Continuing v.33 –
“I will put My law within them
and on their heart I will write it;

God will take his law – his will; his requirements; his instruction – and make it a part of who his people are on the deepest level, i.e., their heart – the place of their deepest desires, their motivations, their will.

Scripture is clear: It’s not as if there was something wrong with the Law itself. As Paul says in Rom 7, the law is holy and good. It wasn’t the law that bad or corrupt, but the sinfulness of the people under the law.

You see, the law was external. It stood outside of the people. It could only tell them what to do; but it could not make them able to do it.

And thus the law, which could not address the problem of human sin, ultimately lead to exile. The Old Covenant was proven to be inadequate.

But while obedience was one of the things required of the people under the Old Covenant, under the New Covenant, obedience is actually one of the things promised by God for his people.

Jeremiah’s language alludes to how the 10 commandments were written on stone tablets. He says, Instead of writing his law on stone tablets, God will write them on stony hearts and transform them into hearts that beat after God.

Notice how Jeremiah speaks of the condition of the heart elsewhere:

Jer 5:23
‘But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
They have turned aside and departed.

Jer 17:9
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

Instead of being utterly wicked and rebellious, these hearts will now yield to God’s law.

Notice how this is a reversal of Jeremiah 17:1.

Jer 17:1
“The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus;
With a diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart.”

Instead of being tattooed with the portrait of sin, the heart of God’s people will now be engraved with His law.

Cf. Other prophetic writings = Holy Spirit:

E.g., Ezek 36:26-27 – “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 [How?] “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

How is God’s law written on the hearts of his people? God’s very own Spirit is given to those people, takes control of those people, and transforms their stony, cold, unresponsive hearts to fleshy hearts that beat after God.

 And this is anticipated and spoken of elsewhere.

The Old Covenant itself points to its own inadequacy and anticipates a day in which God will give his people transformed hearts.

Deut 30:6 – The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.

And Paul speaks about these realties being true of Christian believers.

2 Cor 3 – Paul describes believers as letters “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v.3).

Rom 7:6 – [In contrast to being under the Law, under the Old Covenant,] We [now] serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter [not in terms of a law that is merely external but one that has become a part of who we are through the work of the Spirit].

Rom 8:4 – The requirement of the Law [is] fulfilled in us, who … walk according … to the Spirit.

We begin to meet the expectations of God’s law, we “fulfill” it, through the work of the New Covenant Spirit.

Reflections:

  • Inability/grace – This means that true God-loving obedience is not something we can achieve in and of ourselves. All of us are born with hearts tattooed with sin. And there’s nothing we can do in our own strength to fix ourselves. It requires a gracious act of God to transform us by his Spirit. Our place in this salvation from our sinfulness is merely to receive by faith.
  • Expectation of obedience – But also, we see from this text, that if we are a part of that saved community, the New Covenant community, those who have placed their faith in Christ, obedience is required. It’s not optional. It’s a necessary part of the salvation provided us in the New Covenant. We’ve are talking a lot about what’s new in the New Covenant. But what is not new in the New Covenant is God’s standard of obedience. The Gospel of grace and the fact that we are not saved by our works does not somehow eliminate the need for those works. God’s salvation purposes involve his purpose to restore a people that is faithful to him.

The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because God’s law is internalized.

2. The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because a perfect relationship with God is achieved.

–End of v.33
and I will be their God,
and they shall be My people.

He chose them. He redeemed them out of Egypt. And he established his relationship with them in the covenant at Sinai. So, what exactly does this mean that God will be there God?

This formula – “I will be their God and they shall be my people” – is used all throughout scripture. And interestingly, it’s always used in the context of and in association with God’s covenants with his people. It spells out God’s intended goal in the covenant relationship—that God would be able to restore people back to his original intention in the Garden of Eden—a pure, unhindered relationship with God; a mutual, loving and faithful commitment between God and his people.

But as we’ve seen, the relationship between God and his people in the OT was far from fulfilling that covenant goal.

It’s helpful to use marriage as a way of understanding this sort of relationship.

We may not often think about it this way; but marriage is a covenant commitment. Because marriage is a covenant commitment, God often depicts his covenant relationship with his people in terms of a marriage relationship. And likewise Christ and the church are portrayed as husband and bride.

Marriage is the most intense sort of relationship possible among humans. It even surpasses that of the family relationship, for as Gen 2 says (v.24), man shall leave his parents and join himself to his wife. The biological family is no longer the primary social unit. It is this new family created by marriage. There is a raw level of intimacy in marriage that is to be experienced nowhere else.

And so God uses this relationship to express the sort of intense intimacy and mutual commitment he desires between he and his people.

Think about this… [improvisation]

Yet Israel breaks this marriage relationship with God and, as scripture says, plays the whore. She commits what is in effect spiritual adultery by being unfaithful to God in this covenant relationship. God’s covenant intention for a perfect relationship with his people is not achieved.

Yet what was not achieved under the Old Covenant is accomplished in the New. Christ purifies and transforms his bride so that this perfect marriage-covenant relationship can be achieved.

This is the relationship we have with God through the Gospel.

Think about the last time you were at a wedding. (If you are a believer), we are that bride adorned in pure white, representing the purity that Christ has achieved for us. Now look down the aisle. See the groom. Smiling his face off. Maybe his eyes are watering, a tear trickling down his cheek. That’s Christ—not merely the one who purifies the bride, but the one who take intense joy in her.

“I will be their God and they will be my people.”

The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because a perfect relationship with God is achieved.

3. The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because all of God’s people know him.

–Beginning of v.34
“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor
and each man his brother, saying,
‘Know the Lord,’
for they will all know Me,
from the least of them to the greatest of them,”
declares the Lord, 

Notice how Jeremiah uses this concept of “knowing” elsewhere.

Jer 9:3 – They proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” declares the Lord.

Notice how “not knowing” God is parallel with doing evil. Knowing, involves not only knowledge about God; but also a personal relationship to God, one of submission to his will.

Jer 22:16 (edited)Is not this what it means to know Me? To pled the cause of the afflicted and needy, i.e., to do what God commands.

In other words, in the New Covenant, all know God in this way, each person embraces a personal knowledge of God and his will.

As Jeremiah says elsewhere (6:13; 8:10), “For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain.” Rather, in the New Covenant, “from the least of them to the greatest of them.” all will know God.

Within the parameters of this New Covenant community, there is no need for what we might call ‘evangelism.’ There is no need for someone to go to other members of this covenant community and say, “You need to know God!” because all in this covenant already know him in this way.

This doesn’t eliminate the need for teachers or the need to encourage and challenge one another or the need to evangelize those outside of this community. But what it does mean is that part of the fundamental meaning of being a Christian, being a member of the Church, being a part of the New Covenant community means that you relate to God in saving faith and submission to his will.

This is contrary to the Old Covenant which was composed of believers who were following after God and those who were not. And the story of Israel tells this story: they constantly rebel against God, violate the covenant, and find themselves in exile.

But the New Covenant addresses this problem of human rebellion. How does it do this? As already mentioned in this text, all come to know God because his law becomes a part of who they are through the work of his Spirit.

As Jer 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know Me.”

I think of Num 11:29 where Moses envisions a day in which all of God’s people will be prophets, that is, all – not merely a select few – will posses this Spirit of prophecy.

And this day has arrived in Christ. As Peter proclaims in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, this Spirit that was once privileged by a select few, such as the prophets, has now been granted to all of God’s people in fulfillment of Moses’ and later Joel’s prediction.

So again, any notion of salvation as merely a get out of hell free card falls apart when you look at the breadth of God’s plan of salvation. He’s not merely interested in canceling our sin debt—although he’s certainly interested in that. He’s interested in recreating a new humanity that’s transformed, knows him, and is committed to his will.

And this is exactly what Christ accomplishes for us in the New Covenant.

The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because all of God’s people know him.

4. The New Covenant, our covenant, is better than the Old Covenant because sin is definitively dealt with.

–End of v.34
“for I will forgive their iniquity,
and their sin I will remember no more.”

As one commentator puts it, “The LORD will write the torah [his law] on a heart polished smooth by forgiveness….”

“Remember” – Implies taking action on what is being brought to mind.

Jer 14:10 – Thus says the Lord to this people, “Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check. Therefore the Lord does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account.”

In other words, when God remembers sin, punishment follows. Thus, to say that God will no longer remember sin is not to tell us that somehow God is forgetful, but that sin will be dealt with such that their will no longer be a grounds for punishment.

And when we think of “iniquity” and “sin” in this context, in the context of Jeremiah, we should be thinking about exile. The wages of Israel’s sin was the nation’s death—exile. And so when we hear “sin” this this context, the Jewish people would be thinking, and we should be thinking as we read this text now, that which caused the exile.

And remember, the exile isn’t just a random unfortunate historical event. It’s the anti-fulfillment of God’s covenant purposes to restore his creation and his people. In the OT, the exile was ultimate reality testifying to the human problem of sin.

And again, it wasn’t merely Israel’s sin. But we see a reflection ourselves in Israel’s history, of our own struggle with sin, and the exile we all face ever since Adam and Eve were exiled out of God’s presence.

And this is why the NT presents Christ in some already-sense beginning to fulfill the end of Israel’s exile. Because the exile is the result of disobedience and sin, Christ’s perfect obedience and death blow to sin in his cross and resurrection is the end of exile for all who trust in him. The exile was first and foremost a spiritual problem, a problem with sin. And inasmuch as Christ is the end of sin, he is the end of exile for all who trust in him. Christ took the punishment for our sin and experienced exile from God for us, crying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 24:46) such that all who trust in Christ and his rescuing work on their behalf have already passed through exile in Jesus and our restored in right relationship to God.

We partake of a better covenant because our covenant does not result in exile due to our sin but in salvation due to our savior.

Review & Close.

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