A NEW COVENANT
Jeremiah 31:31-34 CSB
Jeremiah 31:31-34 CSB
31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. 33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.
God gave me a tremendous month of rest, recreation, and reinforcement during my vacation, and I am very grateful for that gift. I am also very grateful to be back among you good folks in Delco and preaching the gospel here and serving in this church. Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder, but it is true in this case. I missed you all, and I am glad to see you again.
Before I left for vacation, in our annual meeting – I promised that most of my preaching this coming year will focus on the commands of Christ. He commissioned the apostles to teach the things that he has commanded us to obey, and I take that as a personal imperative as your pastor.
For that reason, I want to spend the next few weeks getting very familiar with what Christ told Nicodemus in John, chapter 3. He told Nicodemus that he and everyone else had to be born again – to experience a new birth.
We are not going to look at that passage today, because I want to begin our study in the Old Testament. There are several passages in the Old Testament that predict that new birth. I want us to study those passages first. After we have seen what God has taught in his word as the foundation for the new birth, then we will look at John 3. After that, we are going to look at what God has taught us in other New Testament passages about the new birth.
My goal is to be systematic and comprehensive. I feel that many people miss some very important biblical truths about the new birth because they don’t know what God has said about it in all the scripture. “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16 NET). That is why when we study the Bible on any topic, we need to compare what we are learning with what every scripture says on that topic. Otherwise, we run the risk of misunderstanding the subject or misapplying it. This is also why a good study Bible will include some cross references in it. By comparing scripture to scripture, we protect ourselves from an inaccurate understanding of what God has revealed in his word.
That is a safety measure. The scientists and engineers who build ships, planes and rockets build redundant systems in their creations for the same reason. If the power system in the plane I am flying on goes kerflooey, the pilot has an auxiliary backup system he can turn on. If the pilot goes kerflooey, he has a copilot who can take over. They even have an autopilot they can use. Those are all safety measures. In most cases, God has built redundancy into his revelation. So, in order to make sure we accurately understand what Jesus has commanded on any topic, we need to read and study what the whole Bible teaches on that topic.
Our topic today is the new covenant that Jeremiah predicts in today’s text: Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The new covenant was God’s idea
God said “I will make a new covenant” (31). The new covenant was God’s idea. It was not invented by Christians. It was not snuck into theology by the some later revisionist. God said that he would make a new covenant and when the time was right for him to make that covenant, he did. In Jeremiah, he gives his people fair warning that he intended to do that.
When God says he’s going to do something, you better believe he’s going to do it. Early in Genesis, God looked at Adam, said he was alone, and concluded that it was not good. So he said he would create a partner for him – a companion who corresponds to him. So he created Eve. In the marriage vows, both the husband and the wife say “I will.” But we can only do that because God said “I will” first! God said he was going to do it, and he did it.
Later in Genesis, God looked at sinful humanity, and the world corrupted by it, and he said he was going to wash it all clean with a flood. When the time was right, the flood came and it did what God promised it would do. Thankfully, God had provided a redundant system in Noah’s ark, or else that would have been the last chapter in the story.
The new covenant is God’s redundant system because he has a new creation that he plans to commence at the end of this age. Our first birth begins the temporary life of this present creation in this age. Just being born is not enough to secure us a reservation in God’s new creation. For that, we need to be born again. For that, we need to be born from above.
Being born again is not the same thing as being immortal. It’s more like a ticket to it. We begin being immortal not at our conversion, but at our resurrection. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 15 (:42, 50, 52-54). He says that when believers die, their old perishable self is planted, and that at the resurrection, our new imperishable self emerges. When Jesus comes, the dead in Christ will be raised imperishable, and those of us who are still alive will be changed so that we are imperishable too.
And that’s why I like singing the chorus to that folk song “when I hear that trumpet sound, I’m gonna get up outta the ground – ain’t no grave gonna keep my body down.” We have the ticket! By being born again, we have booked passage on God’s eternal, immortal new creation. Jeremiah recorded the fact that God decided he was going to make a new covenant. He did. By God’s grace, you and I can be part of that new covenant.
The old covenant has been broken
Jeremiah also tells us what happened to the old covenant. God calls it “my covenant that they broke” (32).
God does not have two covenants in effect at the same time. The old covenant that God established with the Israelites under Moses was broken by the rebellion of the Israelites. Consequently, the covenant of the law that was carved in letters on stone tablets became a ministry of bondage that produced death. Here’s how Paul described that in 2 Corinthians 3(:7-18 NET).
- “But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective. But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
The old broken covenant cannot save anyone. It is a broken agreement and cannot give anyone life and it will not buy anyone a ticket to God’s new creation. It was a temporary system that pointed people to Christ. But when Christ came, he said “I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5). That is why when that prominent Jewish theologian and spiritual leader Nicodemus came to Jesus to talk to him, Jesus had the audacity to tell him that he had to be born again. The old covenant that he – Nicodemus – represented was not good enough buy him a ticket to the new creation.
That’s why just following the ten commandments is not enough for you and me either. Remember that rich young ruler who came to Jesus, proud of the fact that he had kept all the commandments from his youth? Jesus said he still lacked one thing. He didn’t pay enough for a ticket to the new creation. Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give that money to the poor, and then come and follow him. His all was not on the altar of sacrifice laid. His heart the Spirit did not control. He had not yielded to Christ his body and soul. Jesus loved him, but that was not enough. His superficial obedience to the old covenant was not enough. He was almost perfect, but he was not born again.
So, how do we know if we have paid the full price for our ticket? How do we know that some day we might stand before Christ on the judgment day and find out that we were betting on the wrong horse? We need to understand the new covenant if we want to be part of the new creation. So, what else did Jeremiah teach about this new covenant?
The new covenant is a covenant of discipleship
God says “I will put my teaching within them” (33).
When our Lord commissioned us to make disciples of all nations, he was not coming up with a new job for God’s people to do. Discipling was God’s intention for everyone who entered into a relationship with him via the new covenant. God had begun teaching us how to disciple others in the Old Testament. When Jesus came, he started his earthly ministry by making disciples. He spent three years molding his disciples into people who had a personal relationship with him, and then he set them loose on the world.
You cannot be a disciple without learning something. A disciple by definition is a student. But, unlike high school or college, the school of discipleship does not come to an end after a few years. You don’t graduate from the school of discipleship this side of the resurrection.
God’s disciples are all his children, and no matter how much we learn, that relationship does not change until Jesus comes again. In one of his letters, John wrote:
- Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is (1 John 3:2 NET).
That is the attitude of a disciple. We are all God’s children and children are always naturally learning. We stay curious because we know we are not yet what we will be some day.
The new covenant is a covenant of discipleship. It is an agreement to keep learning and growing. We never get to the point where we have learned enough or grown enough so that we can leave the school.
Even the great apostle Paul had this attitude. He said “My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me” Philippians 3:10-13 NET).
Paul did not rest in his eternal security. He kept striving to learn more and to be more of the new creation he was destined to be. That is what a disciple under the new covenant is like.
The new covenant involves a change of heart
God also said “(he) will… write (his teaching) on (our) hearts” (33). We will talk more about this next week, when we examine what Ezekiel predicted about the new birth (Ezekiel 36:26-30). I’m just going to read that text today, and we will examine it next week:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will summon the grain and make it plentiful, and I will not bring famine on you. I will also make the fruit of the trees and the produce of the field plentiful, so that you will no longer experience reproach among the nations on account of famine” (CSB).
The new covenant begins with forgiveness
Finally, God said “(he) will forgive (our) iniquity” (34). The old covenant had a blood sacrifice that covered sins of the Israelites. The new covenant had a blood sacrifice as well. When Jesus had his first communion with his disciples, he had them all drink from a cup symbolizing his death that was soon to happen. Then he told them “ this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 NET).
His blood was not the blood of the old covenant. The old covenant sacrifices had to be repeated year after year because they could not remove sin and its consequences. But according to the author of Hebrews. Jesus’ death on the cross “put away sin” “once and for all” (Hebrews 9:26). Because of what Jesus Christ did for us, we can be born again. We can be fully and completely forgiven of our past sins, and purchase a ticket for his new creation.
The new covenant begins with forgiveness. Discipleship begins with forgiveness. Our new life in Christ begins with forgiveness. Holiness begins with forgiveness. Sanctification begins with forgiveness. And the best of all is that forgiveness does not have to be earned. In fact, it cannot be earned. It is a free gift waiting to be accepted.
God the Father said “I will” make a new covenant, and he did.
Jesus the Son said “I will” die for their sins, and he did.
Now, the Father and the Son are asking us what we are going to do. If we say “we will” come just as we are and enter into that new covenant, then we can have fellowship with both the Father and the Son and the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:3, 7). Enter the new covenant today. The new creation is about to begin. Don’t be caught without a ticket.