Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Something new! For some reason most of us like to have something new. There is something about a new item, regardless of what it is, that grabs our attention. Maybe it’s the touch, the way the new item feels in our hands, the emotion that is evoked at the presence of the new item, or maybe it’s the smell. The scent that says, “Brand spanking new.”
This is true in the case of a new car. Oh, that new car smell! There is nothing quite like it. A few weeks ago I had to take my Kia Sorento into the dealership so they could track down the cause of my “check engine” light. My first thought was an evaporator sensor was faulty and would need replacing but, as I’m not a mechanic, I had to bring it in for the professionals to take a look at. So, I dropped the car off and was going to exit the dealership and meet Karen, who was picking me up so I wouldn’t have to wait around all day.
Did I leave through the exit from the service department to walk towards the front of the building where Karen would be waiting? Of course not! I went deeper into the dealership, walked by the waiting area, and continued right into the show room. A very dangerous thing to do. Very dangerous because, right there in front of me, gleaming white, light sparkling off the paint, sat a beautiful new Kia. Ohhh! I went over to it, walked around it, opened the driver door, stuck my head in and took a deep breath, and looked at everything. I sat in it and put my hands on the steering wheel and took a couple more deep breaths. I could see myself driving that new vehicle. I got out and looked at the price, and it wasn’t too bad. I wonder…
At that moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Karen pulling up, and, a little reluctantly, walked away from that new vehicle and went outside and got into our car. Away we went. And, of course, I described the vehicle to Karen in great detail. “Boy, a new car would be great! I have near 100,000 miles on mine.” Then it occurred to me; my vehicle is already paid for. A new one would require new payments for the next several years. Yep, I figured, mine will be new enough once they’ve made the repairs.
The new car smell and the thought of new, there is just something about that. We are, at times, nearly obsessed with new. Consider what we ask people whom we haven’t seen for a while. “What’s new?” There are a variety of answers, from new car, to new house, maybe a new boat to, new clothes, a new relationship. Yes, a new relationship. We enjoy those too, don’t we. What a delight it can be to get to know new people. I know I am a better person today because I have met you and, we are still getting to know each other. Our relationship, in many ways, is still new and there are many fresh angles to explore. I’m looking forward to the new things that are yet to come.
Jeremiah, here in our passage Ruth read for us this morning, is prophesying about something new. Through Jeremiah, God is saying that something new is on the horizon. Let’s hear the words again from Jeremiah 31:31, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…” What is God saying He is going to do? He is going to make a NEW COVENANT. Let’s review for a moment. What is a covenant? Simply put, a covenant is an agreement between two parties, a contract. God is saying He is going to create a new contract with His people.
To be sure, there are several covenants we find God making with people in the Old Testament. The covenants we are interested in this morning are the two main covenants we find in the Bible; the two agreements or contracts. We know them as the Old and New Testament. The word “testament” means covenant, so, the old and new covenant.
In Exodus, we find God making His Covenant with the Hebrew people, the children of Israel, at Mount Sinai. This would be the Old Covenant from our perspective, the covenant He made after he had brought the people out of slavery in Egypt. He led them to this place where Moses went up on the mountain and was there 40 days and 40 nights receiving the Law, the 10 Commandments that would serve as the rule and the guide for the people in their relationship with God. The 10 Commandments were representative of the Covenant, the agreement, God made with them.
God established this relationship. God established that He is the God of all creation and He was going to be the God of this people. If they walked in obedience to the commandments He gave, then they would be blessed and prosper and enjoy everything God promised. However, and God was clear on this, if the people disobeyed, then they would suffer the punishment of being driven from the land God was giving them, they would be filled with disease, separation from God and others, and they would die as a result of their sin.
If you have read any of the first five books of the Bible, then you know what happened. The people hadn’t even received the 10 Commandments yet and they had started worshiping a false god. They made an image of a bull and began to worship that. Even after a time of repentance for that they only stayed obedient for a short time before they started doing whatever they wanted too again.
Over and over and over again the people sinned against God and each other. Time and time again God sent judgment on the people, all while reminding them through the prophets, that if they repented of their sin, and turned back to Him, he would heal their land and bring them back to Himself. Yet, the people stubbornly disobeyed.
As the people continued to fail to live up to the Old Covenant, and they were discouraged and disheartened, God sent Jeremiah to offer them encouragement by speaking of a New Covenant.
What made this covenant “new”? For one thing, it wasn’t going to be a covenant like God had made with the people before. Mainly because the people couldn’t keep it. Even though God had always been faithful to the people, they could not remain faithful to God. In some ways, it is the story of today. We can try all we want to be good people and to do the right thing, and still wind up not being the people God made us and called us to be. On our own we are broken. We can know all the “rules” and still do not abide by them. Knowing the rules doesn’t really mean much if we don’t “buy into” them. Knowing the rules doesn’t mean anything if they don’t affect the way we live.
This is why the New Covenant is so important. God is saying to the people, here is the covenant I’m going to be making. Listen again to Jeremiah 31:33-34, “…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
The New Covenant would not be external, something that was distant and, perhaps, hard to put in practice. No, the New Covenant would be internal. This New Covenant was significant because it indicated a brand new kind of relationship between God and humanity. A relationship wherein God was not just the Supreme Being who was “out there” somewhere, but rather, the God who wants an intimate relationship with us. One where we obey Him out of love, not out of fear. A relationship where we really have the opportunity to know God on a personal level.
This is what God is saying through Jeremiah. Through the New Covenant we will know God. We won’t just know about God. We will know God. We will know him not just through a set of rules and commands, but we will know him personally.
This is what the New Covenant offers us: a new relationship with God at His invitation. The New Covenant, a vision offered to encourage the people of Jeremiah’s day, is a reality to encourage us today. We are the beneficiaries of the New Covenant. How did God create the New Covenant? Through His Son Jesus the Christ. The story of the life of Christ and the beginning of His church is called the New Testament. Remember the word “Testament” means covenant. The new agreement between God and people; the way of the gospel of grace. In the death and resurrection of Christ, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
When Christ came, the New Covenant began. In Christ, the newness of God’s kingdom, his reign over us for our own good, approached. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood of the NEW Covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Through Jesus, God is doing something new. The reality of this is seen in our gospel reading from John. At the beginning of the reading we hear about people of other cultures and races wanting to see Jesus. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” the Greeks told Philip. When Philip told Jesus about the people who wanted to see him, Jesus spoke and concluded by saying, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself” (John 12:32) In other words, “They can see me on the cross. That’s where they can really see me.” That is the New Covenant in action. In the cross, people of all colors and kinds experience the magnetism of the uplifted Lord.
In the person of Jesus, the kingdom of God draws near. In the death of Jesus, the New Covenant of grace is established, and people are drawn into the sacrifice made for them. Jesus died so we could have new life and a new relationship with God. Jesus was raised from the dead to make that relationship a reality for all time.
We need to grab hold of this New Covenant today because it is the covenant that gives us hope, joy, life, and relationship with God. God made a New Covenant with us through Christ because He loves us and wants a relationship with us. He knows all the things we’ve done wrong, all the sins we’ve committed against Him and each other, yet He’s reaching out. He is reaching out and calling us back to Himself. He calls us and reminds us that He desires to forgive our sin, and better than that, He will forgive it and not remember it anymore.
New things are great! New things bring joy and satisfaction and the desire to tell others about it. Even better than new stuff, is a new relationship with God through Jesus. This new relationship with Jesus brings joy and satisfaction, and a great desire to tell others about it. Receive this new life today, be refreshed, and let others know there is something new. A relationship with God established and lived out in love and grace because of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.