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Jeremiah: Covenant and Promise

Sermon on Hebrews 8


  • I’m supposed to start with an entertaining yet thought provoking introduction that catches your attention and makes you think about the subject of the sermon
  • however I spent about an hour trying to think of something and didn’t come up with anything so instead I’m going to tell you a joke!
  • Why did the scarecrow win the Nobel prize?”
    • Because he was outstanding in his field!”

Historical background:

  • Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem in the years leading up to the exile and, as we have heard in earlier talks in this series, was not the most popular person around at the time!
  • From 609 to 587 BC he preached judgement to the people of Judah and prophesied a time when God would carry them off into captivity
  • In 587 BC this came true and the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the city, the walls and the Temple and carried a large proportion of the inhabitants off into captivity (That side of the story is in Daniel)
  • Jeremiah remained behind in Jerusalem and was charged with the rewarding task of prophesying to a people who had seen their entire nation destroyed and who refused to turn to God in spite of (or perhaps because of?) the judgement they had witnessed
  • This is the context of the passage we are looking at here.
  • Jeremiah 30-31 is often called the ‘book of comfort’, it’s a collection of promises and prophesies that are full of hope for a community torn apart by war and exile
  • These promises were meant to remind people that the Exile was not a defeat or failure for God but the catalyst for a redefining of His relationship with His people, He still longs, as he has always done since the creation of the world, to draw people back to himself and restore his relationship with his people
  • 31:31-34 is one of the best known promises from this section of Jeremiah, partly due to it’s messianic undertones, but read in the light of it’s historical background it is a powerful statement of God’s intense desire to renew his relationship with his people
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted by the writer of Hebrews in 8:8-12 to show that God’s purpose was to replace the old covenant with the new, to encourage the believers not to return to their former ways, but to hold on to the reality that was Christ.

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 (page 751)

3 points from the passage

  1. Promise is offered, given and established entirely by God, out of God’s own desire for the new relationship
  2. Promise signals a shift from a ‘taught’ covenant to a ‘known’ covenant
  3. Promise is an absolutely amazing promise of forgiveness!

1 – Promise is offered, given and established entirely by God, out of God’s own desire for the new relationship

  • read through passage: ‘I will make…’, ‘I will establish…’, ‘I will put…’, ‘I will be…’, ‘I will forgive…’
  • New covenant is entirely established and offered at God’s initiative
  • We so often fall back into the trap of thinking that we have earned God’s grace but this is a reminder that we are completely unable to save ourselves
  • Even under the old covenant when there was some kind of mechanism for ‘earning’ forgiveness, and even that was just a shadow of the real thing, the people were unable to live up to it and kept falling away and rebelling
  • We are completely at God’s mercy, fortunately God is very merciful!

2 – Promise signals a shift from a ‘taught’ covenant to a ‘known’ covenant

  • Verse 33-34 (page 751), New covenant will not be written on tablets of stone but on the hearts of God’s people
  • This has profound implications for the way the covenant works
  • Old covenant was a set of external rules to be adhered to and which, as we can see all the way through the OT, were frequently rebelled against and seen as constraints or even as an excuse for arrogance and pride for those who claimed to follow the letter of the law
  • New Covenant is an internal identity which can no more be ignored than eating or breathing
    • example: doctor in hospital vs. doctor on casualty!
    • Someone who has qualified as a doctor is a doctor regardless of where they are – at home, at work, at the pub, on an aeroplane, it is part of who they are, their identity
    • An actor can play a doctor and say all the right words and do all the right things but they are just appearing as a doctor for that small amount of time
    • in a similar way the old covenant system of sacrifices was just a shadow of what was to come and ‘acted out’ the sacrifice that Jesus would eventually make, the people had to keep learning the lines and ‘playing the part’ to stay forgiven
    • under the new covenant fulfilled through Christ’s sacrifice we are already qualified and forgiven and no longer have to keep learning the lines to maintain our status as forgiven people but this state of grace is part of our identity and affects who we are wherever we go.

3 – New promise is amazing!

  • God has broken the cycle of sin and punishment and sacrifice to allow a new relationship built on forgiveness and grace to emerge
  • Verse 34b is key here, the new covenant is built entirely on forgiveness on God’s part and not on performance on our part, grace not works
  • This is an incredible promise which we can sometimes take for granted
  • it’s made even more incredible when we realise that, in order for this promise to be fulfilled there had to be one final sacrifice, God’s own son Jesus
  • This is how much God desires a right relationship with us, all through the story of the Exile in Jeremiah you can see God’s pain at the way this relationship is abused and rejected but all the way through there are glimpses of God’s love and mercy and grace
    • 3:12 – Return faithless Israel, I will frown on you no longer for I am merciful
    • 9:24 – I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for in these I delight declares the Lord
    • 12:15 – After I uproot them I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back into his own inheritance and his own country
    • 23:3 – I myself will gather the remnant of my flock…they will no longer be afraid or terrified nor will any be missing declares the Lord
    • 29:11 – I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future
  • Jeremiah’s prophesy has already come true in Jesus, and yet is still to come in it’s fullness – we’ve got even more to look forward to
  • In the same way that both Jeremiah and Hebrews point us forward and tell us not to look back or go back to things in our past that seem easier or more appealing, we too are called onwards into the excitement of the fullness of the new covenant
  • We are not called to be complacent, or turn away from God, to think that we’ve got our relationship with God sorted or even worse to think that we know all about God
  • We are constantly called to swim deeper into the mystery of God’s grace, there’s always more to discover.

So what does this mean for us?

  • Our first response to God’s grace should always be to fall to our knees in awe and wonder at this amazing God who made the universe and yet actually desires a relationship with us and has gone to such incredible lengths to enable that relationship
  • Our second response to this new covenant is to try and live out God’s commandments, not because we have to to please God, that is why the old covenant fell apart, but because we want to serve the God who has forgiven our wickedness and who remembers our sin no more
  • This is the beauty of the new covenant, it releases us from our need to serve God to avoid punishment and enables us to serve God as our response to His grace and mercy
  • Micah 6:6-8 (page 884):

    what does the LORD require of you?

    To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God.”

  • In our schools and colleges, workplaces and homes, at the pub and at the park and even at Church we are called live merciful, humble and just lives that glorify the God of Grace because, as Jeremiah promises:
  • He is our God and we are his people
  • Amen

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