We welcome back John and Diane Curry for the Fifth Sunday in Lent with music by Ed Kapsha
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The word covenant is a word that appears with some frequency in the Bible.
We read it and hear it often enough to think that we have a good understanding of
its meaning, and maybe we do. In any case, covenant is defined in the Merriam-
Webster Dictionary as follows:
1: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement.
2: a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more
parties especially for the performance of some action.
Three weeks ago, we read about the promise that God made to Abraham and Sarah: That he would give them a son in their advanced old age. In this case, God Himself speaks directly to Abraham when making this promise, or this covenant, as it were. Today, we read from Jeremiah, the prophet, about another promise from God. Jeremiah 31:31-34 is a “go to” reading for us Lutherans. Not only is it often in the Lectionary during Advent and Lent, but it is used on Reformation Sunday as well. We do well to remember, however, that this promise was not spoken directly by God to any one person, but by His prophet, Jeremiah, to the remnant of His chosen people in exile.
Turning again to Merriam-Webster, we learn that the word prophet is defined thusly:
1: one who utters divinely inspired revelations: such as the writer of one of the prophetic books of the Bible; or one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God’s will.
2: one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight. 3: one who foretells future events.
In our minds, we often think of prophets as predictors of the future, and we tend to ignore the prophet as one who literally speaks to us for God in His name. In the case of Jeremiah, he lived after the fall of the Northern Kingdom to the Assyrians in 721 BC. He cried out vehemently, even desperately, to the nation of Judah, warning them that they, too, would be conquered if they did not repent and return to the Lord. They didn’t repent, and they did fall to the Babylonians, in 586 BC. Jeremiah continued to prophesy to God’s people in exile. Jeremiah clearly was a predictor, but he also relayed God’s promise to His people, which we heard today:
31 “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, 32 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. 33 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. 34 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.”
Jeremiah is speaking to people who are feeling hopeless and abandoned by
God, for they themselves abandoned Him. God’s promise through Jeremiah is, in part, a renewal of the promise he made at Sinai centuries before; but it is more. It has a new addition to the covenant made at Sinai. The old covenant, which was written first on the stone tablets carried by Moses, then on the scrolls that men copied for centuries, will be supplanted by the new covenant, which will be written on our hearts. We will truly know God, and he will forgive us our iniquities.
Is it any wonder, then, that this passage appears so frequently in the Lectionary? The Jews living in Judea under Roman occupation were also feeling bereft of hope and were looking for God to make good His promise. Fifteen centuries later, the Reformers of the Christian Church were struggling mightily, and they took comfort in Jeremiah’s prophetic words, words that were both predictive and a promise from God.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the last time, as he explains to His disciples. He tells us: “…the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” So He is predicting His death here, but He is also predicting the subsequent spread of God’s Word. Jesus also promises: “My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”
Now Jesus is on a roll, and He calls on God: “Father, glorify Your Name!” The response must have been simultaneously frightening, awe-inspiring, and mysterious when “…a Voice came from Heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” So we have God Himself speaking to the disciples, and to us. Finally, Jesus interprets the event, as a prophet would: “This Voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
We take comfort in these prophesies and promises, even if we have heard them and read them for decades. We believe that God meant what He said, and that someday they will come to pass. We expect God to keep His promises, to fulfill His covenant with us. But what about our own promises, the promises we
make throughout our lives. How seriously do we take them when we make them? Here is a sample of some promises that we humans make:
I’ll pay you back on pay day. I’ll never do it again.
We’ll go to Kennywood soon. If I’m elected…
‘til death do us part.
I pledge allegiance to the flag…
I promise to help my children grow in the Christian faith and life.
Political promises are easily made and easily broken. Adults can take the promises they make to children rather lightly. We are rightly skeptical of many promises made for a variety of reasons by a variety of people. We are certain to be disappointed if we believe the promises made to us by other humans without maintaining a Biblical perspective.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, 6 the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever.
• • • • • • •
We believe Jeremiah and the Apostle John when they speak for God and articulate His promises to us. Faith guides us and strengthens our belief in His promises, even in the face of grave challenges and overwhelming adversity. God’s New Covenant in Jesus Christ was foretold by Jeremiah, re-stated and enacted by Jesus Himself. It is written on our hearts, and our sins are indeed forgiven. As it is written:
Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.