This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 16th, 2016.
This sermon series began two weeks ago in Lamentations 1:1-6 and ends next week in Joel 2:23-32. This series allows the pastor to trace the arc of redemption as told through Israel’s story with God. This is the foundation of Christ’s coming, through which this story finds its fruition and fulfillment. Such a series permits a congregation to re-engage the movement of their own life with God through this story, starting in Lamentations with disorientation over their own sin and its consequences. This confrontation with sin is necessary if a church is to engage in the faithful application of hope toward Joel’s vision of life and land indwelled with the presence of the Spirit.
Last week in Jeremiah 29, the text focused on living in the tension of brokenness and hope. Today’s passage moves from the midst of this tension into the promise that is to come. Here the prophet promises renewed relationship and renewed covenant. This is hope on the move; hope that propels a people into the practice of a future freedom right now in the present. This hope is on the move because God brings renewal. This God-moving renewal establishes relational wholeness. This relational wholeness is expressed in human life together and covenant life with God.
Verses 27-28 open this passage with an allusion to planting offspring of people and animals. This building and planting references Jeremiah’s call from 1:10. This indicates that the foundational aspect of Jeremiah’s call as a prophet of the Lord is now culminating in a divine promise of renewal. This is now a promise to undo and transform the complete devastation Judah experienced under Babylon’s oppression. That which was torn down will be built back up. Where there was loss of life, new life springs up. Throughout the devastation, and now in renewal, it is Israel’s God who watches over these events as Lord.
Verses 29-30 communicate that the Lord will not hold the sin of former generations against the generations to come. Each person will bear responsibility for their own sin before God. However, merely establishing personal responsibility for sin does not negate sin’s consequences or provide a pathway to restoration with God or with others. The people of God remain powerless to change their situation of loss, grief, and brokenness in life.
In response to this plight, it is God who acts to bring renewal and restoration. Verses 31-32 are an answer to the plight of sin in the previous verses. The Lord makes a declaration, contingent only upon God’s self. God will establish a new covenant, one not reliant upon Israel’s ability to remain faithful. No, Israel proved over and again that they are the unfaithful partners in this marriage. Now, God will write God’s law in their minds and on their hearts. This is an inner transformation wrought by God’s initiative and grace. This is a restoration of covenant relationship. God promises, “I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33, NIV). Thus, this new covenant flows from God’s faithfulness, rather than Israel’s obedience. The claims of this passage mirror Deuteronomy 6:6, as well as the writing of the commandments on the stone tablets. This promise is the culmination of the longings of God’s people in the Old Testament.
This new covenant, a phrase that occurs only here in the Old Testament, necessarily communicates the forgiveness of sins. Verse 34 ends with the assurance that God will forgive and remember Israel’s sins no more. Thus, the new covenant represents the restoration of human wholeness in the land, with each other, and with God. Such wholeness can only occur because this God is on the move toward a people in despair. It can only occur because this God is powerful, faithful, loving, and forgiving. This new covenant represents hope on the move, God moving toward the people. This promise is also hope on the move because it propels a people into the practice of a future freedom in the present.
What direction might this sermon take in the arc of God’s redemption narrative? One might use the unique reference to a new covenant here in the Old Testament to tie together the story of Israel, along with the covenant promises, to the ultimate fulfillment of new covenant in Jesus. In doing so, the pastor might follow the metaphor of faithfulness, God acting as the faithful husband, and ultimately establishing wholeness and healing for people relationally. This wholeness finds fruition between God and people, among people together on earth, and among the people of God living as God always intended. Such wholeness is only made possible through forgiveness and the supernatural transformation wrought by God’s grace in the new covenant.
A second direction this sermon could take focuses on the “already” of God’s Kingdom. Whereas last week’s passage reinforced the tension of a future certainty of ultimate rescue and the present uncertainty of a broken world, this sermon could call a congregation into the practices of corporate and personal life that implement God’s new covenant in the here and now. As such, the pastor could answer the question, “what does it look like to faithfully live as recipients of the new covenant already in the present?” As the people of God experience restoration and renewal in all aspects of their human experience, they are able by grace to live in this new manner of being. As they do so, their lives become witnesses for who God is and what God is doing to establish the new covenant.
Matt Walton, D.Min.
Associate Pastor of Missions & Spiritual Formation
Southland Baptist Church, San Angelo, TX
Tags: hope, new covenant, future, faith, sin, life, restoration, redemption, israel, witness