TEXT: Jeremiah 31:31-40 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — I want you to know that God loves you and I love you too.
Now I want you to imagine being in search of a book — it’s an old one and can only be found in a used bookstore. You’ve heard people rave about it so you’re determined to find it. And after searching through store after store — finally — on the last shelf — there it is. But when you open the book, you notice that the chapters are all out of order and there’s no note from the author explaining how to read the book. But you’ve heard amazing things about it — so you buy the book even though you don’t really understand how to read it.
Now a few weeks go by and you’ve tried your best to understand the book, but you haven’t made any progress — you just can’t figure out how it all goes together. You’ve started at the beginning — made it a few pages — even a few chapters in — but then things got confusing. You were in foreign lands you could hardly pronounce, much less find on a map — and the long lists of names, people in charge, and other such details — just made it hard to know what was going on.
So you call a friend who not only owns the book, but understands it. You meet with her and she explains the book to you and it changes the way you read it. Now you understand it. Now you see how it all fits together. Now you enjoy reading the book.
For many people, the Bible feels like the book I just described. The Bible opens with the words “In the beginning” — OK — we’ve got a starting point — a timeline is set — so you think it’s written chronologically. The problem is that when you start reading it, you realize that the Bible isn’t always in chronological order. Some of the books and chapters follow a timeline and then — others books and chapters seem to jump backwards in time — or even forwards — making the Bible feel disjointed — “what century are we in again” — it can feel foreign — “which nation are we in again — Israel — Judah — Egypt — Babylon” — you Google map “Babylon” — and a nightclub in Indiana comes up — well that’s helpful. And this kind of confusion is especially common when it comes to the Old Testament.
And that’s why we’re in the second week of a series we’re calling “Finding Jesus” — where we’re taking a look at some books in the Old Testament. And my goal is for you to have a better understanding of these books so you'll have an interest in reading them and see how the whole Bible ultimately points us to Jesus.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
And today we’ll be looking at the book of Jeremiah. So if you have your Bible — and I hope you brought one with you today — please turn with me to Jeremiah chapter 31. We’ll be looking at verses 31 through 40.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text it in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
And while you’re finding Jeremiah chapter 31, let me ask you a question. When’s the last time you made a promise to someone or had someone make a promise to you? Now was the promise kept or was it broken?
In a March 2017 article, the Huffington Post asked the question, “Is Marriage an Outdated Tradition?” The author — David Wygant — argues that the phrase, “till death do us part” finds its roots in the 15th century when people only lived into their 20s and 30s. His point is that people today can’t be expected to keep a vow like “till death do us part” — it’s a promise no one can keep. He says that because people are living longer — spouses change — and inevitably become incompatible — so we can’t expect people to remain in such a miserable environment as marriage. There’s no choice — he says — the promise — the wedding vows — must be broken.
Now we make promises all the time — not just marriage vows — but we make all kinds of promises. And others make promises to us. And we have to admit that we break promises and have had others break their promises to us. So here’s the question: Is there any hope for us promise-breakers? Should we just throw in the towel — like that author suggests — and give up on the whole idea of keeping promises and in expecting others to keep their promises to us — even if the promise is made by God?
Well there is hope for us promise-breakers. Because the book of Jeremiah shows us that though we’re promise-breakers — God is a promise-making, but — more importantly — He’s a promise-keeping God.
OVERVIEW OF JEREMIAH
The prophet Jeremiah’s ministry takes place in the city of Jerusalem — which is in the nation of Judah. As I mentioned last week, there were twelve tribes of Israel. These tribes eventually ask for a king. Their first king was Saul — not a great king. Next came David — who’s better than Saul — but don’t be fooled — David had some serious issues. Then David’s son — Solomon — is king.
After Solomon, the nation divides as people fight for the throne. Ten of the tribes join together and form a new nation, but keep the name Israel — they’re in the north. Two tribes join together and form a new nation named Judah — the southern kingdom.
Now last week’s prophet — Isaiah — lived in the middle of the 8th century BC — so 700-800 years before Jesus. Jeremiah’s ministry begins sometime around 627 BC — so we’re now around 100 years into the future. The Assyrians — in the north — have been a world powerhouse — they’ve wiped out the nation of Israel, if you remember — but now Assyria is spread out to thin and another world power is on the rise — the Babylonians.
And while these two world powers collide, the nation of Judah experiences a revival. A young boy becomes king — his name is Josiah — and he has a heart for God and God uses Josiah to bring the people of Judah back to God. Later on Josiah is killed in battle against the Egyptians who were trying to help Assyria stay in power — and I know this can be confusing — but come on — this is war and fighting and kings and stuff we run to the movie theaters to watch — so why not run to our Bibles and read about it in our history?
Eventually Judah falls to the Babylonians who are ruled by a king named Nebuchadnezzar. And in 586 BC something happens to Jerusalem. Do you remember the judgment God promised through Isaiah — what was going to happen to Jerusalem because of the people having abandoned worshipping God alone? The city was going to burn. And that’s what happens in 586 BC.
Now in Isaiah’s day, the spiritual faithfulness of the people was bleak, but now — in Jeremiah’s day — it’s worse. Yes, there was revival under Josiah, but as soon as he died in battle the people abandon God again. They’re going through religious motions, but their hearts aren’t committed to God. They become sort of a post-God culture — much like what we have in the US in our post-Christian culture.
Now Jeremiah was born in a family of priests. He grew up just outside of Jerusalem where the priests lived — not too far from the Temple where they worked. And when Josiah’s revival began, Jeremiah received his call to be God’s spokesman. So Jeremiah has an insider’s view of the revival going on — he’s seeing the change in people’s lives when they encounter the Word of God, which had been forgotten. But after Josiah’s death, Jeremiah has an insider’s view of how quickly the people abandoned God — and His Word. He sees how quickly they slide back into moral corruption, sin, and violence. He has an eyewitness account of Isaiah’s prophecy coming true as the judgment of God comes upon the city of Jerusalem — he’s right there when the Babylonians invade the city.
And the book of Jeremiah can be thought of as his notebook — a journal he kept throughout his ministry. And one thing is clear: Jeremiah spent his life urging the people to repent of their sin and turn back to God and live faithfully for Him. Over a hundred times in his book Jeremiah pleads with the people to repent.
Now it’s also helpful to know that Jeremiah wasn’t alone. Some other Old Testament prophets — whose writings we have in our Bible — were also doing ministry during this time. Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah were all faithfully calling God’s people to repent and turn back to Him. Jeremiah’s just one man — one voice — that God is using at this point in history.
But what makes Jeremiah unique, is the way he emphasizes the covenantal relationship between God and His people. Jeremiah believes in the covenant nature of God — so what does that mean? It means that Jeremiah believes that God is a promise-making — but more importantly — a promise-keeping God. God had made promises — covenants — to His people and these covenants were all pointing towards a New Covenant — a New Promise — that was coming.
So let’s define that word — covenant — so we’re all clear. One pastor gives a helpful definition. He says, “A biblical covenant is a binding relationship of eternal consequence in which God promises to bless and his people promise to obey.” So there’s a promise of blessing by God and a promise of obedience by the people. No obedience — no blessing. And notice that we should be thinking eternally here both for the promises and the consequences. So don’t only think “the destruction of Jerusalem” — but think “eternal destruction.” And don’t only think of the “blessing of returning to the city of Jerusalem” — think of the “eternal blessing of entering a heavenly city called the New Jerusalem.”
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
So let’s look at the words found in Jeremiah chapter 31 — beginning in verse 31 — and then we’ll see how these covenants — these biblical promises of blessings and consequences — point us to Jesus.
“"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." 35 Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord of hosts is his name: 36 "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever." 37 Thus says the Lord: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord." 38 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever."” (Jeremiah 31:31-40 ESV)
So we see the word covenant four times in the first three verses. Back in verse thirty-one we read, “"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.” (Jeremiah 3:31-33 ESV)
God says that He’s going to make a new covenant with the people. And this new covenant is going to be different from a previous covenant — a covenant God made during their exodus out of Egypt — it was a covenant given to Moses — and — I hope you noticed in verse 32 — it was a covenant the people had broke.
Now there’s a beauty happening here that I don’t want you to miss. When the people left Egypt — God gave them a covenant — a promise — and then they wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. And now — hundreds of years later — the people in Jerusalem are about to find themselves — again — wandering in the wilderness — in exile — as they’re kicked out of the Promised Land.
But God — because He’s faithful — has given them a new promise. They will return to the land — they will re-enter the Promised Land. But there’s even more to this new covenant. For in this new covenant God promises to do something to their hearts. God’s law will be written on their hearts — God’s law will be in them. In the Exodus story the law was written on what? On stone tablets. But in this new covenant the law will be written on their hearts. And the culmination of this covenant is God’s promise that He will be their God and they will be His people — go and sell everything you’ve got and buy stock in this promise — it’s a guarantee — He will be their God and they will be His people.
So in the midst of king Nebuchadnezzar coming in and conquering Judah and desolating the city of Jerusalem.
In the midst of God’s judgment coming upon the people because they’ve abandoned Him to worship false gods.
In the midst of Isaiah’s prophecy coming true.
And in the midst of darkness, despair, and hopelessness — once again — God gives hope to the people.
“A day is coming,” says the Lord. “When a new covenant will be established. And I will be your God and you will be My people.” What a promise as the darkness, hopelessness, and destruction comes raining down on Jerusalem.
HOW WE FIND JESUS IN JEREMIAH
So how does all of this lead us to Jesus? How does the book of Jeremiah tell the one story that the whole Bible is telling — the story of Jesus? Well this covenant — this new covenant — is the fulfillment of the previous covenants found in the Bible. So I want us to look at the other covenants and show you how they help us find Jesus in the Old Testament.
This first covenant in the Bible is called the covenant of creation or the covenant of works. It’s found in Genesis chapter two.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)
Notice there’s an obedience required on the part of the man and the woman — “work and keep the garden and don’t eat from one tree.” And there’s a promise from God — stated as a consequence — but a promise nonetheless — “if you eat from the tree you will die” — but that implies a blessing from God — “if you obey Me and don’t eat from the tree you will live.”
But you probably know what happens — spoiler alert — they eat from the tree — they break the covenant.
Which leads us to the covenant of redemption also known as the covenant of grace. This is an eternal covenant between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit where — together — they agree to accomplish our salvation. Now technically this is the first covenant — because it was made in eternity past — but it’s the second covenant found in the Bible.
We find it in Genesis 3:15 where — in speaking to the serpent and the woman — God says “I will put enmity (or hostility) between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he (this future descendant of the women — he...) shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
I like the NIV translation as it says, “He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15b NIV)
And this covenant — this promise — is fulfilled on the cross when Christ is crucified. God’s enemy — the Serpent — also known as Satan — saw Jesus on the cross and thought he’d won. But as the nail went through the feet of Christ — as the serpent struck His heel — the nail went through Christ’s feet and straight through the head of that snake as it went into the wood of the cross. For on the cross the serpent was crushed and defeated. I love this promise so much that I have a tattoo of it on my arm because this is the promise that the whole Bible is pointing us to — the promise of God’s eternal love for me — and you — this is the story of the Bible.
The next covenant is the Noahic covenant — the covenant with Noah. After Adam and Eve’s sin, the wickedness of mankind grows leading to the righteous judgment of God — thus the flood. This covenant is found in Genesis chapter 9 — after the flood — when God puts a rainbow in the sky and promises to never again judge His creation through a flood. God promises to preserve His creation — not destroy it. There will be consequences when we break the covenant, but God promises He will preserve His creation in spite of our unfaithfulness.
Then we have the Abrahamic covenant — as you can tell — many of these covenants are named because of the person involved. This covenant is found in Genesis chapters 12, 15, and 17. God makes a promise to Abraham that he — though old and childless — will be the father of many nations. And Abraham believed God. And this is where we really start to see God being the promise-maker and the promise-keeper. Because something happens in this covenant story that’s unexpected.
In verse 17 of Genesis 15 — after Abraham has prepared an animal sacrifice to finalize the covenant — we read “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” and then God goes on to list all of the places that Abraham’s offspring will one day occupy. (Genesis 15:17-18 ESV)
But did you notice the smoking fire pot and flaming torch that passed between the animal pieces — what was that all about? Now usually — when a covenant was made — both parties would walk between the animal pieces — showing that a promise — a covenant — had been made — showing that both parties accepted the responsibility of the covenant and the consequences if the covenant was broken.
But what happens here? This is called the Abrahamic covenant — but does Abraham walk between the pieces? No! So who walks between them? God does — that’s what the smoking fire pot and torch represent — the presence of God. This is God’s way of saying “I’m guaranteeing this covenant. Abraham you just sit there and watch because I — the God who eternally exists— am promising that I’ll keep both sides of this covenant. I’m guaranteeing that this will come true.”
Fast forward a few hundred years and we come to the Mosaic covenant — which is found in Exodus chapters 20 through 25 and again in the book of Deuteronomy. This is the covenant referenced in Jeremiah chapter 31 — the covenant the people broke just after God rescued them out of Egypt. This Mosaic covenant builds on the previous ones but gives us details as to what God’s people should be like — thus all of the laws and ceremonies and celebrations that are found in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. And the point of it all, is that God’s people are to be “a holy kingdom, in distinction from the offspring of the serpent” — if you remember that covenant language in Genesis 3:15. God’s people are to be different than the people who follow Satan.
And notice that this covenant comes after God rescues the people out of slavery in Egypt. They needed saving — they were enslaved — I just want you to see that the saving comes first and then the law. God rescues first — then He gives instructions on how to obey. Obedience is always a result of salvation — obedience is never a way to earn salvation.
The next covenant is the Davidic covenant — it’s found in 2 Samuel chapter 7. And in this covenant the king of Israel stands as a representative for all of God’s people. The king is called to obey God and lead the people in obeying Him. And though king after king will fail to do this, God promises that one day a King will come — from the line of David — who will fulfill what is asked of Him — this King to come will perfectly fulfill the obligations for His people as He obeys God as their representative.
And then we come to our covenant in Jeremiah 31 — the new covenant — the final covenant established in the Bible. And this covenant is the culmination of all the others. The previous covenants have all been building towards the fulfillment of the covenant of redemption — the covenant the Father, Son, and Spirit made together — the promise they made to rescue us promise-breakers.
But why was there a need for a new covenant? What was the problem with the previous ones? The problem was — and is — sin. Ever since the garden, instead of obedience we’ve chosen to rebel against God and disobey Him. And what becomes the ultimate plot twist in God’s story is that these covenants all find their fulfillment — not in our obedience — but in Christ’s obedience.
Nearly all religions are based on some sort of works — some kind of obligation that must be fulfilled in order to appease the god or gods of that religion. And what makes Christianity unique isn’t that we believe differently in this regard — we do believe that there is an obligation that must be fulfilled — a standard must be met — a promise must be kept — in order for a person to be in a right standing with God. What’s unique about Christianity is that we believe everyone has failed in fulfilling our end of the covenant — we’re all promise-breakers.
And that seems to lead us to a place of hopelessness until you realize that what’s also unique about the Christian faith is the belief that it’s not what we do that saves us — it’s what Jesus has done in our place — the work He’s accomplished for us — the promise He has kept on our behalf — this is what makes Christianity unique. It’s Jesus’ promise-keeping that makes us promise-breakers have a right standing with God.
This weekend at Gateway, we’re taking the Lord’s Supper together. Your campus pastor will be leading you in a time of feasting on the grace God promised — which is also the grace God has provided.
On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples. The Passover meal was a celebration of God’s judgment passing over the Israelites who put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. The Egyptians made no such sacrifice and experienced God’s judgment for their sin — but the blood of the lamb covered the sins of the Israelites — thus they were passed over.
And while remembering the Passover, Jesus “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"” (Luke 2:19-22 ESV)
Two things. First, in verse 20 Jesus says that His blood will be poured out as the cup of the “new” covenant. Jesus’ shed blood on the cross is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. And, second, notice in verse 22 that Jesus says He is going — which means He’s headed to the cross — to have His blood poured out just “as it has been determined.”
But when was this plan — that Jesus would shed His blood on the cross — when was this plan determined and who determined it? The Father, Son, and Spirit made this plan before time began. This is the covenant of redemption being fulfilled. This is the culmination of all of the covenants coming together — all leading us to — Jesus and His sacrifice.
You see, Jesus is the King promised in the Davidic covenant who stands in the place for His people. He fulfilled the Mosaic covenant as He perfectly obeyed God’s law. He’s the descendant promised in the Abrahamic covenant — and the descendant of Eve who crushed the head of the serpent. Jesus is the One promised to come — not to judge the world with a flood — but — instead He came to be drowned in the flood of our sin while He hung on the cross.
And just as Jeremiah called the people to repent over a hundred times in his book — to turn to God in faith and turn away from their sin — today — God is calling us to repent and turn to Him. All of us must turn from our sin and turn to Christ in order to experience the promise of salvation that He’s made possible for us.
But be very careful with how you respond to all of this because in the cross we find something offensive. For the cross confronts all of us with the reality of our sin — our promise-breaking nature — and calls us to look to Christ — and the promise-keeping work He’s done for our salvation. And what the cross ultimately does is show us just how offensive our promise-breaking — our sin — is to God.
And when you look to the cross and see Christ — dying for your sins — You see that He’s done the work for you that you couldn’t do for yourself. He’s kept your end of the covenant because you couldn’t keep it. And when you look to Jesus you see a gracious God who’s acted for you — not because you’ve earned it or deserve it — but because He eternally loves you. How will you respond to Jesus’ love? I hope you won’t give up on the idea of promises being kept. Because Jesus is a promise-making God, but — how wonderful it is to know — that He’s also a promise-keeping God. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, as we’ve dived deep in your Word today. I ask that You would open these blind eyes of ours, these deaf ears, give life to these dead hearts — and awaken us to the beauty that’s found only in You. You are the covenant-making and the covenant-keeping God. You make promises and — gloriously — You keep all of Your promises.
And though every single one of us has failed — infinitely failed — in keeping our side of the covenant — though we’re all promise-breakers — You’ve kept the most wonderful promise of all — Your promise to redeem — to save — to rescue us rebellious sinners. Jesus, You did this by fulfilling the covenants in their entirety — our part included — so that we can experience the wonder of Your costly love. So help us Holy Spirit, to respond to the grace offered to us in Jesus our promise-making and promise-keeping Savior. In His name we pray. Amen.