New Covenant Meditation (1): The Superiority of the New Covenant

Jeremiah 31.31-34

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah’s prophecy, indeed God’s promise of the new covenant, is set against a very gloomy day. Judgment had come upon the people of Israel, indeed the people of God. False prophets were everywhere. They told the people, a sinful, rebellious, stiff-necked, unyielding, stubborn, disobedient, ungodly, unholy people what they wished to hear. ‘All is well’ was their mantra. ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but [the Lord] will give you lasting peace in this place’: this was the song sung to those Jeremiah calls ‘a harlot with many lovers.’ When one reads the first 30 chapters of Jeremiah, one thing becomes abundantly clear – the old covenant people of God did not have a heart for God. Righteousness, living right before God, and for God, thirsting after Him and being faithful to Him, wasn’t anywhere on the radar. Even the priests were polluted with all kinds of corruptions.
Jeremiah laments the spiritual state of his people. “OH, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! O that I had in the desert a wayfarer’s lodging place; That I might leave my people, and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. ‘And they bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me,’ declares the Lord.” Any amount of reflection upon even these few words makes it difficult if not impossible to not see our own nation in this. People use their tongues as weapons. Lies and not truth prevail. Adulteries of all kinds are accepted as the norm.
But let’s not forget who’s in view here. This is the old covenant people of God, a people blessed with the oracles of God. But those oracles, those revelations, even the covenant under which they lived, proved ineffectual for salvation. They did not repent from their own wicked ways and obey the word of God set forth in the old covenant. And so, Divine wrath was their lot/end.
But Jeremiah speaks of another day, of future days. The Lord through him promises there would be a new covenant. He would make a new covenant with Israel and Judah, with His people. We know by several New Testament passages this people is the nation made of many nations. Hebrews, for example, applies Jeremiah 31 to the church, to those in Christ. And so the days of which Jeremiah spoke have come. Every promise is, as Paul writes, ‘yes in [Christ].’ Every blessing, everything promised in this new covenant, indeed the new covenant itself is ours in Christ.
If we look closer at this covenant, we see why it’s new. And this is a glorious thing though a simple thing. One may ask in what sense is it new. We must reply this way. It’s new in the sense that it isn’t old. It isn’t even a newer version of what was. It is altogether new. It stands in contrast to the one before it. That is, the old one given to Israel via Moses at Sinai. The one summarily defined as the Ten Commandments (Ex. 34.28; Deut. 4.13). The one the sign of which was the Sabbath (Ex. 31.12-17). The one blessing was conditioned upon obedience, perfect obedience (Ex. 19.5-6; Gal. 3.10). The one obliging the curse of God upon those who disobey (Deut. 27.26; 28; Gal. 3.10). The old belongs to things old, to the old era. Old things have passed away. With Christ, the new has come.

The new is better. Far better. The New is to the Old what Xbox is to the sandbox. The space shuttle to the Wright brothers. The iPhone to Morse Code. It isn’t that Morse Code had no purpose. Neither must we assume sandboxes are taboo. But in the course of history these things have been surpassed by far more glorious and wonderful things, things able to do what the others could not. This is how we must think of the New Covenant versus the Old. The New is far superior, far more glorious, able to do what the old was never intended to do. It was designed for a different purpose.
Then there is this matter of essence or nature. The very nature of the New is at odds with the Old. They are, in their very essence, altogether different. We see this in where the law is written – not on tablets of stone, not in the scrolls of an ancient people, not even on first century parchment, but on the hearts of God’s people. That’s in fact what the prophet says. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” This is something God will do. This is in fact what God does. We can’t do this for ourselves. Nor can we do this for others. This is a sovereign act of God, one not by fountain pen, but one in which the very Fountain of life, the Law incarnate, the exact imprint of God’s holiness, is etched upon the human heart by/in His Spirit. It is the Spirit of the Son of God who Himself causes (Eze. 36.27), and not merely enables, His people to walk in paths of righteousness.
This is what the New Covenant effects. This internal Law engraved upon the hearts of believers, even Christ Himself, the fullest expression of righteousness, can, all by Himself, produce the fruit of a righteous, holy life. It isn’t that we reject or ignore the imperatives, the commands of Christ and His apostles. They describe the paths of righteousness. But we must understand this, that this internal Law, the indwelling Christ, the Spirit of Christ, is the defining, determining, and governing reality. Christ alone for righteousness. We can rest in that. Christ alone for imputed righteousness by faith alone. And Christ alone for the pursuit of righteousness by faith in Him alone. We trust Him alone to do what He alone can do.
Ultimately, the New Covenant is superior to the Old, not because of pardon of sin or the fact that they ‘shall all know me’, [though these are precious beyond description] but because in the NC Jesus gives us Himself. For this very reason, we, the church, have no reason to look back for growth in grace. We have what Israel and Judah did not have, namely a law written upon the heart whose name is Jesus. May our eyes be forever fixated upon Him, our justification, sanctification, and indwelling, living, effectual Law.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

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