5th Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Sermon
April 2, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
204 "Father We Praise Thee, Now The Night Is Over"
65 "My Song Is Love Unknown, My Saviour's Love To Me"
428 "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"
461 "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour"
AN UNEXPECTED WORD OF LOVE
TEXT (vs. 33-34): “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Little Bobby was a pretty good boy, most of the time. He helped his mother and father around the house, and he played nicely with his brothers and sisters. His mother and father felt that they could trust him and he usually never let them down.
One Friday after school, Bobby was walking home with some friends, and they went into a convenience store. Bobby’s friends all had money, and so they each bought themselves a candy bar. But Bobby didn’t have any money, so he checked to see if anybody was looking, and then he slipped a Snickers bar into his pocket.
He thought that he was home free, until he stepped outside the store. The manager, who lived just a couple of houses down from Bobby, walked up behind him, put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Okay Bobby; I’ll take that Snickers bar back, thank you.” Bobby knew he had been caught, and handed it back.
All the way home, Bobby had this sick, hollow feeling in his stomach. By now, the manager would have called his mother, and would he ever catch it when he got home.
When he finally got home, there stood his mother with her arms crossed by the front door. His fears had come true. He got a stern lecture from his mother, and he was sent immediately to his room to wait for his father to get home. When his dad got home, he got the same stern lecture and a sound spanking from his father. His punishment was that he would have to stay in the house with no T.V. for the whole weekend, plus he would have to eat his meals out on the back steps, away from the family table for the weekend as well.
Now Fridays were special days in Bobby’s house, because his mother would always make cupcakes as a special treat for the children, and it was always something that Bobby looked forward to having. But that night, after the evening meal, there were no cupcakes for Bobby. And that really hurt him, almost more than the other punishment. Crying, he went up to his bedroom. He was sure that nobody loved him any more because of his mistake.
The next morning, he was really feeling lousy. He came into the kitchen to get his breakfast and take it out on the back steps; when to his absolute delight, he saw on his plate, and nobody else’s, not one, but two cupcakes.
And suddenly his whole outlook changed. He knew that he had done wrong and deserved the punishment that his parents had given him. He knew that he didn’t deserve to have any of the cupcakes. But there they were. What an unexpected, pleasant surprise! He knew that his mother and father really did love him, and that his punishment was for his own good. That was enough to make him see things in a completely different perspective.
Now, I don’t know how many unexpected, pleasant surprises you’ve had in your life, but I would imagine that we’ve all had a few. Unexpected and pleasant surprises are always good for us; and there are many different ways this happens. We may not feel that we deserve or are worthy of such niceties when they happen; but frequently its those little things in life that pick us up and keep us going, and serve to give us a much brighter outlook.
As we look at our text for today, I’d like you to think of this as being God’s unexpected word of love, not only to the Israelites, but to us as well.
I have talked before about the Israelites, and what kind of people they were. They were an obstinate, self-righteous bunch of hypocrites, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone else quite like them. Oh yes, they had religion, but it was all just a fraud. They were going through all the right motions and had all the right words behind it, but there was no substance behind any of it. It was all just for show; they didn’t have their hearts into it at all.
If we jump ahead a bit from our text for today into the next chapter, Jeremiah 32, 30-35, we find God describing the Israelites in this manner: “The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem. They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my name and defiled it. They built high places for Baal in the valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”
Now that’s quite a lengthy quotation, but it just goes to show what kind of people the Israelites were. Quite frankly, when we read Jeremiah’s book, we find him more than just a little frustrated with the whole bunch of them. He was at his wits’ end with them all.
Why in the world were the Israelites so slow to learn that God was a jealous God for his people? God does not tolerate idolatry, whether it is the fancy graven statues and images, or whether it is the idolatry in our own hearts. These people were no better than their forefathers, who created the golden calf while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai; in fact, they were worse. They at least had the benefit of knowing the kind of vengeance God had put forth on their ancestors because of their sin. But the sad fact of it all was that the Israelites loved sin more than they loved God. And that’s it in a nutshell.
Jeremiah’s position was a lonely one, being the spokesman for God, joining the long line of prophets who had spoken the Word of God before him. When Jeremiah received God’s call, probably somewhere around 600 B. C., he knew he wouldn’t like it. He protested and complained from the very beginning. But yet he had to do it. There was no backing out. Jeremiah had to be God’s spokesman.
And so as time progresses, we find the Babylonians entering into the picture. Wicked Babylonia would be God’s instrument of vengeance against the Israelites who gave God only lip service, while their hearts belonged elsewhere. Israel had broken the covenant contract established long ago. The terms of that contract were simple, as verse 33 of our text states: “I shall be your God, and you shall be my people.” It was put in writing on the tablets of stone; yet what was written on that stone wasn’t etched into the hearts of the people. Israel never quite got it right that what God wanted wasn’t meaningless words and outward acts, but a commitment of heart and soul. And so, Israel kept on sinning and sinning, never learning their lesson.
I think that all of us know only too well the sad story of not keeping God’s’ law. Like Israel, we all know how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving God mere lip service, while our hearts are far from him. For example, if what was stored away in the inner chambers of our minds were to be shouted from the roof tops or printed in the newspaper for all to hear or read, I think that we all would run for the hills. We would all be too ashamed and disgusted over our own disobedience to remain sitting still for very long.
Like the Israelites, we have been chosen only because of God’s grace to be his chosen people in the world; and yet, we hide that special-ness or that unique-ness under a shroud of sin. We can all confess with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, 17-18: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…for I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
Yes, we can stand right along side of the Israelites, convicted of breaking God’s law; and so we brace ourselves to hear from Jeremiah the verdict of God’s doom that we feel is sure to come.
I believe that this is what Jeremiah was expecting; words of gloom and final judgment for the disobedient Israelites. But instead, he is given the words of our text for today. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord.”
No words of judgment here; no, Jeremiah has been given an unexpected and an incredible call of love. One would have expected to feel the sharp edged sword of punishment; but instead, God announces a new beginning. And this new beginning is based upon God’s absolutely incredible love for his people—even in the face of their rejection of him.
If we look at God in relationship to the Israelites, we see that his heart burns with an almost unreal love and concern for this wayward and rebellious group of people. God’s will is to have his children back home and with him again. As he acted to bring them out of slavery in Egypt, so now he will act again to bring them out of the slavery of sin and death. And the incredible part of all this, the best news of all, is that God is willing to forgive, and renew the contract covenant once again.
Indeed, what a God of incredible love and forgiveness Jeremiah proclaims here. What a family we are adopted into through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ! We come before God and we expect to hear the verdict of death for all our misdeeds and wrong doings; but instead, we hear of a new life with the Father. And this new covenant relationship is made possible only through the grace of God, by the forgiveness of sins, through faith in Christ.
In this new covenant, the terms of the contract will not be written on stone as they were on Sinai; but rather they will be inscribed upon the hearts of people. God the Holy Spirit will provide the motivation and the method we need to enter into this new relationship with him. The motivation will not be based upon fear, or with the hope of reward; rather God the Holy Spirit leads us to a faith response based upon love.
So now, God speaks through Jeremiah to spell out the terms of this new covenant contract—this new contract of love. God says in our text for today, “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”
Faith in this new covenant of love will not be based upon clever debates, or convincing arguments, or by some high brow teacher instructing the ignorant. There is no part of this faith that is in any way dependant upon us. Rather, God the Holy Spirit, the Lord himself will create the faith and the trust that’s needed to rely upon his Gospel promise for everybody, great in small. Faith in this new covenant is purely a gift from God.
The concluding line of this unexpected and incredible call of love is, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The power of this call of love becomes most evident right here at its conclusion. Contrary to what we experience from other human beings, God not only forgives, but he forgets as well. Our life with God is not hindered or limited by our past unfaithfulness. Rather, it is based upon God’s present and future mercy as he leads us day by day to experience the complete, full, and free forgiveness he gives to each and every one of us.
With all this talk about the Israelites and Jeremiah, it should be quite clear to all of us that this unexpected word and call of love that God announced through Jeremiah becomes very real to us in Jesus Christ. He who knew no sin takes upon himself our sin, and sheds his blood on the cross so that you and I might experience the forgiveness that Jeremiah announces today.
This incredible call of love in the face of our own rebellion and sin against God can only be understood and experienced with the confession of faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour. Christ himself is the final proof that a new relationship of love exists and is available to all who will call upon his name with a faithful heart.
During the season of Lent, we focus our attention on Christ and what he did on our behalf. We are able to experience the intensity of this incredible love. On Maundy Thursday, we see our Saviour give us his true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and hear the words, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Each time we come to the Lord’s Table, we experience once again our Saviour’s love and forgiveness. And likewise, we can look to Good Friday and see how this incredible love of Jesus became a reality for you and me, as Jesus suffers and dies on the cross. Most certainly, as we move deeper and deeper into the Lenten season, we need to remember how the Saviour’s suffering, death, and resurrection makes this incredible call of love available for you, for me, and for all.
What Jeremiah proclaimed, and what the Israelites experienced was indeed an unexpected word of love from God. To use the illustration of a little boy and his mother’s cupcakes to demonstrate this might seem pale by comparison. However we know that the mother’s love for her son was much greater than simply giving him two cupcakes when he knew he didn’t deserve them. By that simple and unexpected act of love, it brought the boy to his senses, and he realized how much his parents really did love him. We can hear about love all day long; but when it is actually demonstrated to us, it makes it very real.
The point of God’s call of love is that all might know the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s why we need to do more than just hear this call and keep it to ourselves. Rather, we need to heed this call of love as well. We need to live as redeemed children of God, and be living examples and witnesses of that love with which God has loved us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that brings Jeremiah’s words to our hearing today, each and every one of us needs to resolve ourselves that in whatever way we can, that all people everywhere will be given the opportunity to respond to God’s covenant of love, just as we have. And that response is one of faith, faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. And our response can be nothing less than that of the hymnwriter: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”