From Unfolding Grace:
“God reveals a spectacular promise through the prophet Jeremiah: a new and better covenant. The first covenant’s problem was that Israel could not keep it because many of their hearts were diamond-hard. But now God promises to forgive them and write His law on their hearts. He will take it upon Himself to ensure that everyone in the new covenant will know Him and walk in His ways. Everyone in the new covenant will have full forgiveness, soft hearts, the Spirit’s presence and power, and a true and permanent relationship with the Lord.
Jesus brings the fulfillment of this new covenant promise on the eve of His crucifixion when He raises a cup and says, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’”
Wednesday, July 21st
Larger Portion of Scripture - Jeremiah 30-33
Focused Passage for Reflection - Jeremiah 31:31-40
Reflecting on the Text:
Recently I had a conversation with a friend who played football in the NFL. He talked about the constant pressure to perform. We tend to focus on the draft, but once players are drafted they must perform to make the roster. Then they must perform to keep their place on the roster. And there is always someone nipping at their heels, trying to take their spot. My friend shared one small example of this existence when his famous coach walked up to him after a bad series of plays and simply said, “Brother, you’re a dead man walking.”
Constant doubt, stress, pressure to perform and maintain your place. That’s not a relationship. It is a contract — a very one-sided contract — which is always up for review. That’s the life of an NFL player, but for some of us, it sounds like the pressure we are under, or at least perceive we are under in our relationships. For some, it sounds like a misguided version of contractual Christianity which we may have falsely experienced.
This passage, however, offers a better, truer picture of God's heart for His people. Though God had previously interacted with His people through a gracious covenant before Jeremiah 31, He does promise a new and better covenant in this passage. And this covenant is ripe with relational promises made by God to His people.
Several points from this new covenant are worth highlighting:
INITIATED BY GOD - This new covenant was sovereignly and graciously initiated by God. The people failed under prior terms, so the Lord provided new terms…which He promises to keep on their behalf.
WRITTEN ON HEARTS - The people failed to obey under previous administrations of the covenant of grace. Their actions flowed out of their hearts, and their hearts were not with the Lord. So the Lord promised to write the terms on their heart by providing a new heart (new birth).
PERMANENT AND LASTING - The new covenant is lasting because it is dependent upon the Lord. The people are secure in this covenant because the Lord has promised it — as long as the sun and moon give light, as long as the heavens are above and the earth below.
RELATIONAL - This covenant is not a contract based on performance but is a relational promise based on the Lord’s claim over our lives. The relational essence of this promise is summarized in the declaration of the Lord: “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
But who is “they” in v. 33? Who is “all” in v. 34? Verse 31 speaks of Israel and Judah, but we must look to the New Testament to find those answers fulfilled. Romans 9:6-8 makes clear that not all Israel is Israel. In other words, the covenant recipients are the children of promise, not merely racial/ethnic Hebrews. Then in Galatians 3:29, we find greater clarity: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
This gracious covenant promise of God is for those who are in Christ. Not for those who have the strongest faith, not for those who have the best religious attendance record, not for those who do not struggle with doubt. This promise is for those who have felt the tug on their hearts toward Jesus and have responded in faith. But it means our hope is not in our faith. Our hope is in Jesus, who came to forgive our iniquities and sins.
My friend, the former football player, got the opportunity to live out a childhood dream. But he wasn’t able to enjoy it because he never felt secure. His place was only as good as his most recent performance. Our place as God’s people, however, is good because Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice was perfect. And because our God took the initiative to join our hearts to Him. So we need not fear…
"In Christ alone, my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand."
Questions for personal reflection:
Has your experience of the Christian life felt like a conditional contract or a gracious covenant?
Why is that?
How does this passage help you see and experience the grace of God more clearly?