As we prepare to enter another quarter of the Gospel Project's chronological walk through the Bible, Joe Hatch helps us to understand one of Jeremiah's most critical themes: The New Covenant.
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one 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, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Behold! The Days are coming!
If you have ever been to my house, you may have noticed the bright red mailbox that is mounted right by my front door. I have always loved getting the mail (although most of it is flyers and credit card offers), and on a typical day I will flip through the mail after I get home from work. A few weeks ago we received a very artsy, creative parcel in the mail. On the outside it looked like a letter, but once I opened it I realized that it was a Save the Date postcard for my cousin’s wedding next summer. On it was a picture of the excited couple and some information about the upcoming wedding. Not only was it a declaration of their engagement, but an announcement of what is to come.
Jeremiah begins this section of scripture as a proclamation and anticipation of things to come. Behold! He writes. Watch out, because this is really important! The days are coming! Something big is about to go down and you need to know about it. We soon find out that he was not excited about a wedding, but a covenant. This may seem like a strange thing to get amped up about, but Jeremiah knows that this is a big deal – not only for his readers (his fellow Jewish people of that time) but for all people.
What is a covenant?
The term “covenant” is one that we don’t use on a regular basis. In the business world, covenants can be interchangeable with contracts or agreements. In these terms, we would look at these agreements between two parties and use a covenant to spell out each side’s obligation to the other. In scripture we see that God establishes a covenant with his people in order to help define the relationship between God and man. A biblical understanding of marriage as a covenant shows that this relationship is much more substantial than a business deal and inseparably binds the husband and wife together. This marriage relationship is supposed to mirror God’s covenant relationship with his people.
What’s wrong with the Old Covenant?
In scripture, we see this theme of covenant used mainly in two ways – the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Much of the Old Testament is dedicated towards living life under the Old Covenant and it is predominantly displayed in the law that God gave to his people through Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20-24). God put these laws in place to instruct the people as to how they were to properly worship God and love others. By defining the people’s relationship with God, this law – given to Moses on tablets of stone – instructed people with regard to life in covenant with their Redeemer.
At first glance, this sounds great! God is telling the people how to make the relationship work best. The only problem was that nobody could keep all of the commands written in the law – it was impossible to perfectly keep the law, and God knew it would be. Therefore, throughout the Old Testament we see the people continually offering sacrifices to God to allow the shed blood of the bull or goat to cover their sin (Hebrews 9)
Imagine living in this type of relationship with God. Picture the moments after the priest has offered sacrifice for your sin. You have just had your sin covered through the atoning blood of a goat or lamb, and now you have broken the law again. Back to the tabernacle or the temple. It may sound crazy, you think, but what if there was one sacrifice that was good enough to not only cover, but take away all sin? What if there was one person that could perfectly keep the law and be completely right with God? What if there was one high priest that perfectly mediated the relationship between God and man? These questions ring with anticipation and may reflect the longing in our own hearts as we read through the Old Covenant. Hebrews 8 tells us that this old covenant law was a copy or a shadow of what was to come. The purpose of the law was to point out the sin problem of the people and divert their gaze to something better, something greater – a new covenant.
New Covenant > Old Covenant
Jeremiah talks about a new covenant that is coming – one that is greater, better than the first. Jeremiah is speaking about the coming Christ and telling about how God will better his covenant relationship with his people (and believers throughout the world) through the work of Jesus on the cross. This covenant isn’t written on tablets of stone. God says that the laws of this new covenant will be within them – written on their hearts. God has now given us his Spirit who dwells inside of us and helps us to understand how we should think and act in light of who God says we are.
The new covenant also gives us an answer as to what to do with our sin problem. God, through Jeremiah, promises that he will “forgive their iniquity, and…remember their sin no more”. The sacrifices under the old covenant were meant to cover sin and point to the continual need for cleansing. This new covenant proclaims an eternal answer to the longing the old covenant creates. God has provided a way for the sinner to be eternally forgiven and for sin to be not only covered, but washed away. We are made right with God through the finished work of Christ on the cross, once for all. Our right standing before God is based on the perfect righteousness of Christ.
Even the new covenant should give believers a sense of hope and anticipation for what is to come. We have already been saved and justified by Christ, but are anxiously awaiting his return. This is what 1 John 3:2 is talking about when it says:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
Won’t it be a glorious day when Christ returns and fulfills this promise? We are thankful that God has covenanted with his people by providing the answer to our problem of sin, making us right with God through Christ, and giving us hope of life eternal worshiping him!