Living Biblically III: New and Improved!

After 1,200 years, God reveals to the people of Israel that a new and improved covenant is coming. It will be everything He has always promised and more!

Sermon Series: Living Biblically, Part III ~ New and Improved! ~ April 22, 2018 ~ Jeremiah 31:31-34

We are working our way through my Living Biblically sermon series. We are on part 3 this morning. The reading is in Jeremiah. Let me tell you a little bit about Jeremiah first. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. Now, why would somebody be called the weeping prophet? Because Jeremiah usually was a bearer of bad news. In fact… well, let’s pray first. Would you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to learn, to study, the word of God. Let us pray: Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Alright, now, Jeremiah. The bearer of bad news, the weeping prophet. In fact, there are some famous artists – Michelangelo painted Jeremiah like this:

Michelangelo: Prophet Jeremiah; Source: Wikipedia

Rembrandt painted Jeremiah like this:

Rembrandt: Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem; Source: Wikipedia Commons

He always seems kind of sad, kind of forlorn, kind of weeping. Why? Well, because his message was primarily a message of warning to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. In fact, in Jeremiah chapter 9, he describes his situation, his state of mind, this way: If only my head were a pool of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night. Why? Because of his people. He says they are all adulterers – a pack of treacherous liars. He knows the state in which his people have devolved into, descended into, and he knows what God has in store for them because of their disobedience. And that’s why he comes to them and tells them if they continue to live in defiance of God’s truth and refuse to repent of their sins, their destruction as a nation is inevitable. It’s as if they’ve forgotten already – you know that story about that giant boat, and the flood? There are consequences for disobedience. And that’s what the book of Jeremiah mostly contains. It’s a message of judgment upon Judah for their rampant idolatry, for their disobedience. You see, after the death of King Josiah, the last of the righteous kings in the southern kingdom of Judah, Judah had almost completely abandoned God and his commandments. Now, in the past, God had delivered them from destruction, but he was now at his tipping point. His mercy was at an end. God has a tipping point, just like I’m sure most parents here, right, have a tipping point. God has a tipping point, when he will do anything he has to, whatever is necessary, in order to fulfill his plan and his purpose. He doesn’t necessarily want to be punitive. That flood story that I mentioned – God knew at that point it was the only way that we were gonna get it, only way that we were going to learn that there are consequences when we try to figure it out on our own and reject him. And the only way to do that is to make it rain. He didn’t really want to do that. If you look in Genesis 6 it says, The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil… It broke his heart. It says in verse 6. It broke his heart to know that people had been disobedient, had been idolaters, had been sinners for so long and no matter what he did, they would not change. And so he had to do what a parent has to do sometimes. Let the consequences flow.

What does that have to do with us? I suggest this: When we are experiencing a particularly difficult stretch of road in our lives, I suggest that we need to consider it’s because of two possibilities. Number one, that we are drawing closer to God. Satan hates that. He hates when you end up getting closer and closer to the Lord, because he knows he is now at risk of losing you. Before, when you didn’t know Jesus, when you didn’t know that Christ was going to take the penalty for you, let you have the cheese, you were headed his way. So he just sat back and waited for you to take up residence in his realm. But when you proclaim Christ, when you proclaim faith in Jesus and what he has done on the cross, now you’re at risk of not entering the room he has prepared for you. Instead you are going to enter the room that God has prepared for you, and Satan doesn’t want that to happen. So he will throw everything and anything at you to stop that from happening. To change your mind. So if you’re going through a particularly difficult stretch of road in your life, it might be because you are really worrying Satan. He’s nervous, because you are getting closer to God. Of course, the other option if things are going tough right now, is that it might be because we are drawing farther away from God, and the only way he can get our attention is with some rain. There are times when everything else fails, so God uses whatever he has to, however drastic, to make his point.

Now, even though, for the vast majority of the weeping prophet’s forty year ministry the news was bad, there were moments. In Jeremiah 29, he says to the people: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” So there were bright spots within Jeremiah’s ministry. If you were the people of Judah, you might have said, do I dare? Do we dare hope for hope? Things are pretty bleak right now. Yes, that is true. Jeremiah was calling out for the nation to return to God. They appeared to be in a season of divine correction. But just because God is giving correction, does not mean he stops loving us, any more than when you discipline your children. You don’t stop loving them, right? I mean, I just smacked her hand. Why? Because I stopped loving her? No! She was about to stick it down a running garbage disposal! I smacked it to stop her, because I love her. Not because I stopped loving her. You take the keys away from your teenage daughter, for the car. Why? Because she got pulled over and given a ticket for texting while driving, and you know how lethal that can be. So you take the car keys away. Your son’s grades have dropped precipitously (and I’m not looking at anyone in particular…) so he gets grounded, because you know that if you don’t have an education, you are sentencing yourself to a lifetime of poverty. You don’t do these things because you stopped loving your children, you do them because you love your children, despite what they have done! God does the same.

So Jeremiah was telling the nation of Judah to repent, but he was also pointing to a wonderful new hope. There was something on the horizon, there was reason for hope. God, Jeremiah says, was going to send a shepherd, the Messiah, to lead his people into a new relationship with himself. And he says in verse 31: “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be lit the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Praise God. So after 1,200 years, God reveals to the people of Israel that a new and improved covenant will be made, and it will be everything he has ever promised and more.

Now what does that have to do with my theme of living biblically? Well, because this new covenant is a complete paradigm shift. It totally changes the way we look at things, the way we walk on our journey of faith. How? Well, in Exodus chapter 20, we read the story of God who gives Moses the commandments, right? And Moses brings it down and he reads all the commandments to the people, and they list it all in Exodus chapter 20. After he gives us the commandments, he follows it with a long list of other requirements. Now we are blessed in modern times, in our Bibles, to have titles to the sections. As a matter of fact, we’re blessed to have chapters and verses! Did you know originally, when the Bible was written in Hebrew and in Greek, it was one long run-on sentence from beginning to end? There was no punctuation, there was no breaks, there were no paragraphs, there were no chapters, no verses. So I couldn’t say to you, “Go to Exodus 20,” because it didn’t exist at the time! It wasn’t until 1560 with the Geneva Bible, the Bible that the pilgrims, the Congregationalists brought to Plymouth Plantation in 1620 with them. They were the first ones to break down the Bible into chapters and verses. Thank you Jesus. So we get to say, “Go to chapter 20, Exodus chapter 20, verse so-and-so.”

Well, after that we have also added these titles, like, headlines to the chapters, what the following verses are all about. So after chapter 20, after we get the Ten Commandments that everybody’s so familiar with, we get all these other rules: “Proper Use of Altars;” “Fair Treatment of Slaves;” what to do in “Cases of Personal Injury;” “Protection of Property;” “Social Responsibility;” “A Call for Justice;” “Three Annual Festivals” we’re supposed to celebrate; “Offerings for the Temple;” “Plans for the Ark of the Covenant,” this little box that they kept the Ten Commandments in; “Plans for the Table” that it sits on – it even has dimensions! Make a table of acacia wood, 36 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 27 inches high. Overlay it with pure gold and run a gold molding around the edge; “Plans for the Lampstand;” “Plans for the Tabernacle,” the big tent that they traveled around the desert in and set up and broke down every time they stopped for a while; “Plans for the Courtyard;” the clothing that the priests are supposed to wear; “Dedication of the Priests,” how you’re supposed to set them aside and anoint them. You know what I love? There’s actually a recipe in here for anointing oil: Collect 12 1/2 pounds of pure myrrh, 6 1/4 pounds of fragrant cinnamon, 6 1/4 pounds of fragrant calamus, and 12 1/2 pounds of cassia – That is a lot of anointment oil! And they have a recipe on how to make it.

So you start off with the Ten Commandments and then you follow it with a whole bunch of fine print, a whole bunch of other requirements. Depending on the size of the font in your Bible – my Bible, for these old eyes, is extra large, giant, super-giant print – 91 pages worth of other stuff that you’re supposed to do after the Ten Commandments. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the doctor’s office, and they give you that form on the clipboard, on the second page there’s a place where you’re supposed to check and sign. You’re supposed to read it first, right? Anybody read it? Nah, we just check and sign, right? After you load some software, some new software onto your computer, that screen comes up which says, “I accept the license agreement,” which every single one of you reads first, right? Of course, yeah. We don’t just click, “I accept this license agreement.” Why? ‘Cause it’s too much, man! It’s overwhelming! And when you look at all the things that you’re supposed to do, it is a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? And did you notice: you’re supposed to do that. It’s all on you. The problem with that is you begin to make people think that you can do something in order to earn your salvation. It’s all on you. In other words, you needed to follow 91 pages worth of fine print in order to live biblically.

Now the Jews still believe that to this day. It is a very works based theology in their faith. “I have to do X, Y, and Z, and I get so many points for doing it correctly, and so many demerits for doing it incorrectly, and at the end of my life, I hope that my positive points outweigh my negative points.” That’s what they believe. There are some Christian faiths that agree with that. There are a lot of believers, I find, that think that’s true, too. You’re all wrong! Because there’s nothing you can do… Look, the weather is finally turning, right? We hope to have some nice weather. I hope to get out and do a little bit of golfing this summer, as soon as Frank’s back gets better. Frank and I went out about 3 times last year? Something like that. Two or three times? Hope to make more than that. Now, I’d like to say that me and Frank are golfers, but you know, what we do, when you stand next to Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson – I’m not so sure you could call it the same thing! Right? In a similar way, in Isaiah 64, the prophet says, We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, when we display all the good things we do, they are nothing but filthy rags. In comparison to God, it’s like my playing golf in comparison to Tiger. It’s not even close! So all of these good things that you think you’re racking up, when you stack it next to the Lord, nothing but filthy rags. There is nothing we can do, nothing, that can earn our salvation.

That was the point. You weren’t supposed to look at the 91 pages worth of stuff and think, “Wow, I got a lot of work ahead of me!” That wasn’t the point. You were supposed to look at the 91 pages worth of stuff and say, “I can’t do that. I am incapable of doing that.” If we can’t follow these 91 pages, then why did God give them to us? That was kind of mean. Well, Paul tells us why. Paul tells us in Galatians 3. He had the same question, or was asked the same question: Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. See, the law has two basic functions: On the plus side, it reveals to us God’s nature. Guess what? God can keep all 91 pages, not a problem for him. But it’s almost as if he reveals the bar to us not so we can say, “Hmm, I gotta really do some work to get up to that bar,” but to say, “There’s no flipping way I’m ever going to reach that bar! I need some help.” So the first point of the law is to reveal to us God’s nature and his will, he shows us how we’re supposed to live biblically, there’s the bar. On the negative side, he reveals it to us to show us we can never reach the bar. To reveal to us our sins. I mean, at some point you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to kill somebody, until God said, “Guess what? You’re not supposed to kill anybody!” So it reveals to us our sins. It should also reveal to us, it is impossible to please God by trying to obey all of his laws completely, because you cannot do it. God says to Abraham, “I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” All you have to do is follow these 91 pages. Oh, and guys, there’s the circumcision thing, but eh.

Then over the next two millennia, we watch as Jews fall short again and again and again. That’s all really the basic Old Testament is. It’s a collection of stories of people messing up for 2,000 years. Not because they’re Jews, because they’re people! The bar’s too high! That’s what the old covenant did. It’s not that the old covenant didn’t work, people say, “Well why’d you do that? The old covenant doesn’t work!” It did work! It’s supposed to drive us to our knees, to reveal to us, we needed some help! That was God’s plan! And he was going to send help. That’s what Jeremiah said. This new covenant: I will put my instructions deep within them.” No longer are you going to have 91 pages worth of stuff. No longer are you going to have two tablets of commandments. They’re all going to be written on the inside, on your heart. It’s going to be completely different. The old covenant was broken by people, it was going to be replaced by a new covenant. The foundation of this new covenant was a Messiah who was coming. Now, this is revolutionary. People are like, “What? Are you saying it’s no longer going to be on me?” No. It’s going to be on him. That’s the first most revolutionary thing about it.

See, I had an awesome week. I gotta tell you, I had an awesome week, and for one particular reason. There’s a young lady here, who has been coming to church here her whole life because her parents knew it was important. They didn’t know if she was getting it, they didn’t know if it was sinking in. It didn’t matter. They were faithful. They knew they were supposed to bring their daughter here, and they did. And she was in and out when she got older, you know we didn’t see her quite as much in her teen years, or in her young twenties, and then all of a sudden, because those seeds were planted, they began to bloom. And last Sunday, she came to me and said, “Can I come in and talk to you? I want to give my life to Christ.” The light bulb went on. I said, “Awesome.” She comes on Thursday nights to Ms. Vicki’s Bible study, so I said, “Come a half an hour early and we’ll talk in my office.” And I brought this out as an example. Her name is Rachael Rivera.

I said to Rachael, “Think of it this way: This new covenant, this light bulb going on is like every single time I sin, every single time I say something I’m not supposed to say, do something I’m not supposed to do, think something I’m not supposed to think, God writes one letter in a book. And at the end of my life, when I stand before the Lord, here’s my book.

On top of that, every single time you put a letter in this book, he charged my credit card $5. Do you know how much I’m in debt? So at the end of time, when I stand before the Lord, when you stand before the Lord, when we all stand before the Lord, he’s going to look at your book. He’s going to look at my book. “Wow, you said that?” “Wow, I can’t believe you did that.” “Wow, you thought that, and you thought I didn’t know.” He’s going to go through it page by page by page, dollar by dollar by dollar, and he’s going to come to the end, and the bill is going to be so astronomically high that I have absolutely no hope of ever paying it off. Then he’s going to turn that final page and he’s going to go, “Oh. Case dismissed.”

“What?” The name on the last page: Paid in full. Jesus.

That’s the gospel, friends. That’s what Jesus does. Not just for the sins that I’ve committed already, but for the sins I have yet to commit. All of them, paid for, because of what Christ did on the cross. That’s why when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our debts.” Because every time we sin we’re in his debt. He pays our debts. So we got to talk about that, and we got to pray about that, and I got to celebrate that this young woman, understood and she gave her life to Jesus that day. And I have been walking on air ever since. It’s been awesome. And she’s going to get baptized! Praise the Lord! So, I got a couple other people who are interested. If you’re interested in getting baptized, you talk to me.

See, it’s all on him now. It’s not on you. Your salvation is on him now. That’s the new covenant. Secondly, it involves not just the nation of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah, but the gentiles. Pagans? Everyone? What? Yes. This new covenant offers to everyone a unique, personal relationship with God himself. And this new covenant will show us exactly how to live biblically without worrying about the 91 pages worth of fine print. Now, Jeremiah, he didn’t know the guy’s name. He just was looking forward to the day when the Messiah would come and establish this new covenant, but we, we know, because the covenant is already here. We have a wonderful opportunity to make a fresh start and establish a permanent and personal relationship with God. And guys? Good news. We don’t have to put any sharp instruments anywhere near our hoo-hoos. That’s not a requirement anymore!

Actually, something else happens. Paul says to us… well, you’re going to have to come back next week and find out what Paul says to us. Let’s pray.