Sunday sermon – Jeremiah 31:31-34 – The New Covenant – 1 November 2020 (Reformation Sunday)

Sorry to be posting this almost a week late! Below is the video produced for those unable to be at our morning services followed by the notes for those shut in at home. Last Sunday was Reformation Sunday and so was an opportunity to look at the glorious of the new covenant.

Introduction

The most important question of all: how do I get right with God? This was the question that led to the Reformation as Luther wrestled with the reality that God was righteous but he (Luther) was not.

Imagine a time when you had no scriptures but could only rely on what the priests told you about God and and about what was right. Imagine that you could not ever be sure of being right with God, although you could try various acts of penance or make a payment of money.

So you had no gospel, no assurance, no certainty as to what was right and wrong and, above all, no way of getting right with God. The way of relating to God was based upon outward performance, attendance at religious gatherings and false hope. The pre-Reformation church was not dissimilar to the situation in Jeremiah’s day.

While we live after the Reformation, we need to be clear that the Christian’s relationship with God is not based upon outward performance. We need to remember that we are in the new covenant and not the old. We need to be sure that we don’t slip from the glorious liberty of salvation by grace alone.

Our standing with God is not based upon our performance, our attendance at church, our prayers or our good works, but only upon the finished work of Christ.

1) The problem (v31-32)

Jeremiah is the prophet who lived through the end of the southern kingdom of Judah. He saw the fall into greater and greater sin and idolatry. He warned about the coming invasion from Babylon and about the exile and he urged repentance. Then he saw the exile itself. It is into this that the promise of the new covenant comes.

God is faithful. The new covenant is about God’s faithfulness – to His original promise of a Redeemer, but also to Abraham to have a people more than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.

So, it underlines grace. But also that the purposes of God are not destroyed even by His failing people. The people are going into exile. The king is going to lose his throne. Into what seemed to be the end, God promises the new covenant. Indeed the whole Reformation began at a time when the church was far from God and the true people of God were a tiny remnant – and then He brought the Reformation that transformed lives and nations.

So, even today there is hope. The new covenant remains unbreakable, an everlasting covenant. Even though things seem so low, especially in the West, God’s faithfulness remains.

But back to the passage. A problem is suggested in v31. God says, “I will make a new covenant.” The people need something new, not because of a problem with God, but with them. The reference to Israel and Judah also reminds them that they are a broken and separated people. Yet, the promise would come to the whole people – and also to us Gentiles who are brought in to be spiritual children of Abraham by grace.

It is a covenant that Israel “broke” (v32). They had disobeyed the commandments, they had worshipped other gods. In Deuteronomy 27, the people had pronounced curses on themselves and their descendants if they failed to keep the commandments.

The problem is seen in solution also: v33: “I will put my law within them.” The good and righteous laws that they wouldn’t and couldn’t keep were no longer on tablets of stone, but written on the heart.

It was a covenant “cut” (that is the literal translation of the word “made”. That is the phrase that is used because the making of a covenant involved the cutting of an animal as the sign of what should happen to the person who breaks the covenant. In the new covenant, the curses fell on Christ Jesus, who died in the place of sinners and who kept our covenant responsibilities Himself.

It is a “covenant”. God has bound Himself to fulfil His promises to us. We are bound to Him (and yet we are kept by grace). It is an agreement of loyalty and commitment, an agreement of love and self-giving. So, it is not a contract. The Lord has bound Himself to His people and we are bound to Him.

It is “new”. In contrast to the former. It is a covenant full of promises that come from Him and are not linked to performance.

2) Transformed lives (v33)

The law (Torah) is written within (v33b), on our hearts (meaning our inner being, our thoughts, emotions and will).

Write is the same word as used for the tablets of stone written by God’s finger in Exodus 31:18.

We are made new (see Jeremiah 32:40). The word is no longer on the outside but on the inside. So, a Christian can obey God. This is why the gospel of grace is not a gospel of no obedience. Grace saves, but grace empowers. The people of God become new creations. The people of God have been set free from the power of sin.

That is not to say that we are perfect. Far from it! That is why the end of v34 is such a comfort. But we are not merely religious people; we are born again people with new life and a new power to obey the Lord.

3) Belonging to God (v33)

v 33c – I will be their God, and they shall be my people. The fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham is found in the new. We are not physical descendants of Abraham but are born again, recipients of the precious and very great promises and partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

This is precious and personal. This was always the purpose of God, His own special people. Until the new covenant, for most of them, God was their God simply because they lived in the land of Israel, like other nations had their gods. But now, God would be their God personally. Each person would have the law on their hearts. Each person would know Him. Each person would be set apart for Him (Titus 2:14).

4) Knowing God (v34)

We don’t just belong to Him, we know Him. This is not simply intellectual knowledge (for the priests or leaders or pastors) but the personal knowledge of each person.

Teach – this is not to say that there is no teaching, because pastors and elders are called to teach in the NT. Jesus Himself taught. However, the teaching is not pleading with God’s people to know the Lord – God’s people will know the Lord and teaching is to grow in that. Now teaching is received and not resisted because God’s people are alive. We have a desire to hear the word of the Lord. There is heart knowledge rather than the simply external knowledge under the old. The teaching transforms rather than simply instructs.

It is an experiential, not simply intellectual knowledge. We can grow in the knowledge of God, but every believer knows Him. Spurgeon says that although we differ in growth in grace we all know God, every believer.

All means all. Knowledge of God is not based upon human standing or status or even maturity – but it is part of what it means to be a Christian.

Furthermore, it is impossible to be a believer without knowing God. In theory under the old you could perform the outward rituals and live a reasonably moral life and think that all is well. The new covenant exposes and removes all reliance on externalism (Jer 3:10). Christianity is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of being born again – and made new and coming to know the true and living God personally because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

5) Sins forgotten (v34b)

“For” – this is important. The foundation of knowing God is to have our sins removed. We cannot know Him while we are still a sinner because sin cannot stand in His presence.

Iniquity – against God, breaking of His law. Sin – missing the mark.

v34b: This is the heart of the glorious assurance that we have. Sins forgotten, sins forgiven.

They are not forgotten because the Lord is forgetful, but because He has removed them from His consideration. Remember – no longer mention, not bring to mind. Our sins are not held against us because they were removed by Jesus.

By grace through faith – in the One who gave His life up for us (who cut the covenant).

The sacrifices were a constant reminder of sins (Heb 10:3), but no more. One sacrifice. “No more” indicates it is once, for all, not again, ever. It is finished.

Conclusion

Praise the Lord for the glory of the new covenant, for salvation by grace alone, for the fact that He has come and rescued us, and He Himself has fulfilled the covenant for us and is our righteousness.

Praise Him for:

  • The security of sins forgiven
  • The joy of knowing God
  • The encouragement of belonging to Him.
  • The power of a transformed life to live for His glory.

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