5th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #435
Text – Jeremiah 31:31
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel & the house of Judah…
MAKING A NEW COVENANT
“…the heavens will be set on fire & dissolved, & the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to [God’s] promise we are waiting for new heavens & a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:1-13 ESV)
‘New’ is a good thing when you live in a world ravaged by the effects of mankind’s rebellion against our Father in heaven. For examples of those effects we look to the obvious & easy things like the terrorist attacks occurring here & there around the world. We consider how abortion has become an acceptable solution in the hearts & minds of so many people.
We can look at the great number of lives that have become a living hell due to drug addiction. The mobile society we live in has greatly weakened the cohesiveness & stability of families, churches & communities. It used to be, if little Johnny was misbehaving in public, the neighbors would take him to task & straighten him out. Now, many parents don’t do it.
However, in the end, pointing fingers at other people is a fairly pointless exercise. It does not change ‘those’ people. The place where change truly begins is with each of us holding our own feet to the fire. Since we are God’s children, we do know better, yet our sins also are irrational & self-centered. We don’t come close to loving God above all things.
Right now, people who believe in March Madness will easily spend six to ten hours a week watching basketball. We say that we “believe” in Jesus, but how many hours a week do we spend with our Lord? I could give countless examples of things we dedicate & commit our time & energy to, all of which far exceed what we commit to fearing, loving & trusting in God. And that’s just the 1st commandment. We have nine more to go if we’re going to hold our own feet to the fire. It really is not a pleasant task. It’s much more satisfying to point our fingers at the failings of others, even knowing that we are powerless to change them. Then Christ tells us to love our enemies & to pray for them.
Things were no different 2600 years ago. Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet” for he shed tears for the fate of his people. His writings were almost entirely long lamentations of woe. He wrote the books of Jeremiah & Lamentations & there’s nothing in them to draw God to this nation. They are story after story of lazy unfaithfulness & outright rebellion.
If you read them, you truly have to wonder how the Creator of all the universe could love such a people! And yet, aside from a brief few chapters referred to as the “little book of consolation,” all the long & detailed stories of rebellion & infidelity are good news for us. This is why. If God could love such a people then He can love you & me as well.
Then, if Yahweh loves His people even in their darkest moments, there truly is hope for you, for me, for anyone. Were it not for God’s love, there would be no point in confessing our sin. To do so, would only get us killed. It would be the cruelest of all commands, that of confessing our sins. “Executioner! This man is sorry. Off with his head!” PAUSE
In case you haven’t connected the dots yet – Jesus’ suffering & crucifixion were real. All the sins, of every human being, from the entire world, were concentrated right there, in Christ, on the cross. That is God’s portrait of sin. That, my brothers & sisters in Christ, is what Jeremiah was preaching about in the OT reading for today:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel & the house of Judah…” Since the Lord is making a new covenant, the implication is that there were old ones. To this day, the rainbow of Genesis 9 is God’s promise of His covenant with Noah & his descendants, with the earth & with every living creature: “Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will floodwaters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.” Other covenants were to follow. Each of them was a promise of redemption looking forward to the new covenant.
When that new covenant was sealed, in the body & blood of His only-begotten Son, all of God’s previous covenants, or promises of salvation, reached their goal of fulfillment. Today, in her baptism, Amelia Nowicki received that promise of salvation. The Lord has again made a new covenant with the house of Israel, & the house of Judah, & the house of Nowicki.
When Amelia is old enough to understand what’s happening, she’ll have the privilege of being taught to observe everything that Christ has commanded us. After that instruction, she will have the opportunity to pledge herself to this covenant of grace in the rite of confirmation. Next Sunday three of our young members will be standing before this altar to make their pledge.
The people of Jeremiah’s day were a broken, sinful, rebellious people; as are we. They had rejected God’s previous covenants with them & their forefathers. They did not deserve it, but, at chapter 31, in the midst of Jeremiah’s lamentations, Yahweh then made a new covenant of salvation with them. The route from brokenness & sin to salvation now leads through Christ.
There is no other route to salvation except through God’s forgiveness, earned for us by Jesus on the cross. This season of Lent, & in 12 days the day of Good Friday, remind us of what that forgiveness cost our heavenly Father, & what it cost His Son. St. Luke wrote:
“And when He had taken some bread & given thanks, He broke it & gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’” (Luke 22:19-20 NAU) None other than Jesus Himself interprets the Last Supper for us in terms of the new covenant. Jesus would, on the cross, pour out His blood for us in order to establish the new covenant. Here in the Lord’s Supper we receive the fulfillment of that covenant, & of the last verse of the OT reading: “For I will forgive their iniquity, & I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34b)
That is the essence of the new covenant. As God & Man, Jesus has fulfilled both sides of the agreement. Following God’s saving act in the Exodus from Egypt, He made a covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai. They were asked to do nothing in holding up their end, but were simply shown the path to walk. How could they fail?
But they managed, & an entire generation died in the wilderness. By the time of Jeremiah, Yahweh is about to wipe out the city of Jerusalem. The desolation would be so complete, & the ensuing chaos so far reaching, that the visions of restoration given were in the form of a new creation. The same is true for our day, as St. Peter wrote:
“…the heavens will be set on fire & dissolved, & the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to [God’s] promise we are waiting for new heavens & a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
The Holy Spirit empowers us to repent through the message that our sins are already forgiven. For that reason & because of that good news, by faith in Jesus, we are enabled to hold our own feet to the fire, to repent & to believe in the forgiveness of our sins. That still isn’t easy. At times it is frightening & exhausting, yet, because of Jesus, it is possible.
The gist of Jeremiah’s message in chapter 31 is, although the present suffering may be grievous, & repenting of our sins can be incredibly difficult, a glorious future certainly lies ahead. Our Lord has made a new covenant, & He has kept it on our behalf. He imparts the blessings of that covenant – forgiveness of our sins – through His body & blood in the bread & wine of Holy Communion. Salvation already belongs to all who believe in Jesus as Savior from their sins. In the meantime, the Word of God encourages us with many verses describing the ‘new’ that our Lord is bringing into being through His creative power.
And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.” (Rev 21:5 ESV)
“…they were singing a new song before the throne & before the four living creatures & before the elders.” (Rev 14:3 ESV)
“…to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, & to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:24 ESV)
“…by the new & living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…” (Heb 10:20 ESV)
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices & have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:9-10 ESV)
“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit & not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6 ESV)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2Co 5:17 ESV) Amen.
Come to Calvary’s holy mountain, sinners, ruined by the fall; here a pure & healing fountain flows for you, for me, for all, in a full, perpetual tide, opened when our Savior died. They that drink shall live forever; ’Tis a soul renewing flood. God is faithful; God will never break His covenant of blood, signed when our Redeemer died, sealed when He was glorified. Come in sorrow & contrition, wounded, impotent & blind; here the guilty, free remission, here the troubled, peace may find. Health this fountain will restore; they that drink shall thirst no more. Amen.
 Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2ff; Exodus 24:7ff.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet