The Need for a Better Covenant
31 “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.”
We have gathered again to listen to God’s story, the history of how he saves a people for his glory and their good through Jesus Christ. To this point we have heard how the Lord God created everything, and how people tragically rejected God, refused to love God, and rebelled against God and his way. Yet God chose to act graciously, and he made a covenant with Abraham to bless all people groups of the world through Abraham’s seed or descendant, Jesus Christ. To work out the fulfillment of this covenant promise, God set Abraham’s seed Israel free from Egypt to give them the land he had promised. At Sinai, he made Israel his own people group and gave them the law covenant with its commands and regulations, so that he could live among them. Although the Lord, Yahweh, gave them the law and the land, Israel sinned against God, and broke the law covenant. For this reason, the Lord sent them into exile away from the land. The Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve) provide God’s viewpoint on the exile and give prophecies about what he would do to bring salvation to his people.
Today, we’ll listen to God’s message as given through the prophet Jeremiah. The book of Jeremiah is the largest book in the Bible, according to the number of words. Jeremiah lived in a very difficult time, when the remaining southern kingdom of Judah collapsed spiritually and its people sent into exile in Babylon. It was a chaotic time both spiritually and physically. Jeremiah had to suffer, because he told the people God’s word. Most everyone rejected the message he proclaimed. He was not a wimp, but he faithfully served God in the most difficult circumstances.
The structure of Jeremiah – The way the book is put together reflects the troubled times in which it was given. The book assumes familiarity with the timeline of the kings of Judah. You might say that it is like a movie that has a number of flashbacks to previous times.
- The call of Jeremiah (1:1-19)
- The coming judgment and a call to repentance (2:1-6:30)
- Messages about false religion (7:1-10:25)
- Messages about judgment and restoration (11:1-29:32)
- The book of consolation (30:1-33:26)
- The sufferings of Jeremiah (34:1-38:28)
- The fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath (39:1-45:5)
- Messages against the nations (46:1-51:64)
- Account of the fall of Jerusalem (52:1-34)
Important ideas and features of Jeremiah
- Intense, personal interaction with God and his word (8:18-9:2; 12:1-4; 20:7-11)
- The use of symbolism to highlight the message, such as a useless belt, a smashed clay jar, a yoke, and stones buried among bricks
- Sin and the radical corruption of humanity (2:11-13; 13:20-27)
- The call to turn around or repent; the concept occurs around 100 times
- Hope after the exile; God promised a future for his people, but they could not escape exile from the land and were told to submit to it
- The need for a better covenant (binding relational agreement between God and his people); Jeremiah exposes the complete failure of the people to keep the law, but proclaims that the Lord would do something new and better
I. Basic facts about the announcement of the new covenant
A.When Jeremiah prophesied, it was still in the future. God works out his plan os salvation in history step by step. Jeremiah said that God’s story would continue, even when everything looked hopeless.
1.Notice how this point is emphasized: “the time is coming… I will make… it will not be like… I will make….” The exile would certainly happen, the people would return from exile, and the Messiah would come (cf. 23:1-7). This process would take about 600 years! (If you think that is a long time, remember that there are still many people groups that have yet to hear the good news. Go and make disciples!)
2.The time arrived for the new covenant when Christ made it through the sacrifice of himself on the cross (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; 2 Cor 3:1-6; Heb 8:1-13; 9:15). Now we live during the age of the new covenant.
Point: Rejoice that you live in the age of fulfillment.
B.It would be a covenant of “radical discontinuity”. Yes, there are some elements of continuity that flow from the fact that Yahweh was making a covenant with people and that he builds upon previous revelation. But to raise such issues misses the clear teaching of the text.
1.The emphasis is on discontinuity: “It will not be like the covenant….” The Lord presents the new covenant in stark contrast with the covenant made with Israel at Sinai. “No longer will….” There will be a different kind of people and a resultant change in ministry. The new covenant is: given without conditions, written on the hearts of the people, and is grounded in God’s overflowing grace.
2.The term “new covenant” presents a covenant with radical newness. That covenant rested on their obedience (cf. Ex 19:4-6). The people could break the covenant by their unbelief and rebellion. The new covenant would come with better promises (Heb 8:6). It would rest upon the firm foundation of God’s holy actions. Listen to the many “I will” statements in this prophecy!
Point: Our salvation rests on what God did in Christ.
II. The blessings of the new covenant
A.The core promise of a personal relationship with the living God
1.This was an important part of previous covenants (Gen 17:7-8; Ex 6:7; 19:5; 20:2; Lev 26:12; Deut 29:13; 2 Sm 7:14; etc.) At various places the Lord compares his relationship with Israel to that of a husband to his wife.
2.The new covenant establishes this relationship permanently (cf. Rm 8:38-39). We are God’s people (Rm 1:6-7; 9:23-26; Eph 2:11-18; 5:22-33; 1 Pt 2:9-10).
Point: Believer in Jesus, live like you’re God’s friend.
B.The reality of renewed hearts – The “heart refers to the totality of one’s inner life, including the intellect, the will, and the emotions” (D. Peterson, Transformed by God, p. 21)
1.The problem of the law: it could not tell what God required, but it could not change the heart of the people. Chapters 2-25 of Jeremiah testify about the sinful hearts of the people. They committed spiritual adultery against the Lord, and it showed up in sinful actions like injustice (5:1-6, 26-31), greed (6:13-15), hypocritical worship (7:1-26), deceit and oppression (9:2-16), and failure to keep the Sabbath (17:19-27). Most had uncircumcised or unregenerate hearts (4:4; 9:25-26; 11:18: 18:12; cf. Deut 10:16) and they could not keep the law.
2.In the new covenant, God promises to write his law (torah) on the hearts of the people. God’s instruction would not be external on tablets of stone. But it would be internalized, written on human hearts. Observe the effects of this action (24:7; 32:39-40). The total devotion that God requires is secured, not by the law, but by Christ’s better covenant.
Point: God has already given you a heart for God; now live like he has.
C.The extensive knowledge of God
1.The problem of the law: people knew about the Lord and perhaps experienced seeing his signs and wonders. But they did not know God personally. They had the knowledge of facts and knowledge of how to approach him, but they didn’t know God in a personal manner. God was not their friend.
2.In the new covenant everyone in the new covenant community knows God. This is the knowledge of persons “who are committed to one another in a relationship that touches mind, emotion, and will” (Thompson, Jeremiah, p. 581). This happens because each one has the Holy Spirit who makes Christ known.
D.The assurance of the forgiveness of sins
1.The problem of the law: its commands only stirred up sin in the hearts of sinners (Rm 7:5), and its sacrifices could never take away sins (Heb 10:1-4).
2.In the new covenant Christ made a better, final, once for all time sacrifice that actually took away our sins, freed us from their guilt, and cleanses our consciences (Heb 9:11-15, 26-28). The conscience either accuses or excuses a person (Rm 2). Through Christ’s shed blood in the new covenant, our consciences testify that our sins are forgiven and so we are right with God.
Point: You can claim a right standing before God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ideas to transform our lives:
- Rejoice that you live in the age of fulfillment
- Our salvation rests on what God did in Christ
- Live like you’re God’s friend
- God has already given you a heart for God
- You can claim a right standing before God through faith in Christ
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.