St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

God’s New Covenant Makes Us Free

Reformation Sermon on Jeremiah 31:31-34

Text: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Many people are resistant to change. They like the familiar. They know how everything works. However, change is necessary when something breaks down. Then, you have to go and find something to replace it. There is always the fear of the unknown, then. You have to get used to something else than what you were accustomed to. For example, you might be absolutely comfortable with a computer and all of the programs that are on it. Then, comes the day when the computer stops working. So, grudgingly, you go out to get a new one. Questions fill your mind. Will all of my old programs work with this new computer? Will I be able to figure out the new operating system? Once you start working with that new computer and get used to the differences between the two, you realize that the new one is better and able to do more things. In our text for this morning, God tells us about something that needed to be replaced, because it was broken. He provides something that is better. We see that GOD’S NEW COVENANT MAKES US FREE: 1. Free From The Curse Of Sin, 2. Free By The Forgiveness Christ Earned and 3. Free For The Service Others Need.

The prophet Jeremiah lived during the last days of the Kingdom of Judah. Judah had been reduced to a second-rate country surrounded by the powerful nations of Babylon and Egypt. Judah’s leaders couldn’t decide which side to be on. For quite some time, Judah’s kings were weak and corrupt. As tragic as the political situation was, the spiritual situation was even worse. The priests got drunk in preparation for their temple duties. The prophets tailored their message to whatever the people wanted to hear, rather than telling them what they needed to hear. They worshiped the fertility cults of the heathen nations that bordered them. They engaged in temple prostitution and black magic. They even sacrificed their own babies by burning them in fire. However, they were convinced that nothing bad would happen to them, since the temple of the Lord was in their midst, treating it like some lucky rabbit’s foot. Judah was in desperate need of reformation.

The same could be said of the church in Martin Luther’s day. Even scholars, who are not Lutheran, note the corruption that was rampant in the church. Church offices were bought and sold. Any political office had to be sanctioned by the church. If you did something that the church didn’t like, they would try to replace you. There was immorality in the clergy. As horrid as all of these things are, the church was in greater need of a spiritual reformation. They were proclaiming many things that ran against what the Scriptures said. The greatest of these was the way that a person got right with God. It was on this backdrop that God raised Dr. Martin Luther. Today, we pause and praise God for the reformation of the church.

In speaking to the people, God speaks of a broken covenant, or agreement. He said, “It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.” (Verse 33) What was the covenant that was broken that needed to be replaced? It was the covenant that God entered into with his people at Mount Sinai, namely, the law. In those laws that were given through Moses, God told his people exactly what he expected of them. His law covered every aspect of their lives. It told them how to worship and what sacrifices they were to make. God’s law covered all of their civil life. In God’s law that was given on Mount Sinai, we find the Ten Commandments. God had been very clear with his demands of the people of Israel. He was also clear about what would happen if they kept his covenant. The people would be blessed. However, if the people rebelled, there would be punishment.

However, the agreement was broken. It couldn’t produce those pleasing results. It could only bring punishment. The reason for this is pictured when God said, “They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.” (Verse 33) God uses the picture of a marriage. He was a faithful husband to the people of Israel. He fulfilled all of the vows that he had made to them. They, however, were like an unfaithful wife. She ran after all of these other gods and sinful practices. There was nothing wrong with the covenant that God had made with the people, nor was God to blame. The fault lay squarely in the Israelites’ shoulders. As a result, there would be punishment. The Old Covenant was broken.

What really started the Reformation was the fact the Martin Luther was scared to death that he would be eternally punished for his sins. He read the law and saw all of his faults. He knew that God is a just God, who does not look the other way when sin happens. He lived in constant fear of dying, lest he meet that just God and receive an eternity of separation from God. He knew that he could never live up to his end of the Old Covenant, the law.

The same is true of us, by nature. We cannot keep our end of the covenant. God has been faithful to us in every aspect. However, what was said of the Israelites is also true of us. We are like that unfaithful wife. We have run after other things and put them as more important to us than our relationship with God. This will look different for each one of us. Some might be running after the fortunes and material things of this world. Others might be placing their family or friends in the place that God demands. Some run after those secret sins that we think we can hide from everyone, including God. The fact is that we have all been unfaithful to God. The Old Covenant that was intended to bring life and blessings ends up bringing us punishment and death. For this reason, the Old Covenant needed to be replaced because it could only bring about curses from our sins.

How does one get right with God? This was a question that plagued Dr. Luther. He would try whatever he thought would make God have pity on him. He would starve himself and beat himself. When the guilt of his sins overwhelmed him, the church told him that he just had to try harder. Give up your ordinary life and become a monk. He was told, “Just love the Lord more.” However, all of these suggestions only drove him further and further into despair. He knew that he could never do enough.

The way to this peace of mind that Luther was searching for and that all of humanity needs is found in the New Covenant that God was going to make with his people. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.’” (Verse 32) It’s interesting to note the meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated “make.” The original has the idea of cutting. The way that you would make an agreement or a contract with someone else was that, after the details were ironed out, you would cut an animal in half and the two parties would walk through the two halves, signifying what should happen if either of the two parties went back on their word. The people knew that blood was spilled when a covenant was made. Blood would also be spilled in this New Covenant that God would make with his people. Obviously, this pointed ahead to the blood that was spilled by the innocent Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus truly was innocent in that he never committed a single sin. No matter how hard his enemies tried to find fault with Jesus, they never could, because he was without sin. Then, the Lamb of God was sacrificed on the altar of the cross. That innocent blood has washed away all of the sins of humanity. Because of Jesus’ innocent life, his suffering and death, and his resurrection, the relationship with God has been restored. What the Old Covenant was unable to do because of our sins, the New Covenant is able to do through the work of Jesus Christ. As a result of this New Covenant, God said, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Verse 34)

What great joy filled Martin Luther’s heart when he found this in God’s Word. That mountain of sin that threatened to bury him was lifted off. He finally knew the peace of forgiveness. He, no longer, only saw God as a God of justice, but, also, a God of love and mercy. He realized exactly what God had done for him. Luther wrote, “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.” You and I are heirs of this reformation. We, too, realize that, if we had been left to our own devices, we would surely have perished. However, because of the grace and mercy that have been shown to us, we are at peace with God and have eternal life to look forward to. We are free because of the forgiveness that Christ earned for us. We praise God for this New Covenant, which has freed us.

As a result of this New Covenant that would be put on place, God said, “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time . . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” (Verse 33) At first, these words might not seem to make sense to us. Why would God put his law in our minds and write it in our hearts? After all, we have seen, quite clearly, that we cannot keep the law. However, God isn’t giving us his law here as a way to earn our salvation. Rather, he gives us his law so that we might thank him for all that he has done for us. In this way, we know exactly those things that are pleasing to him and those that are not. Out of love and thanksgiving for all that he has done for us, we want to obey his law. This is seen in our attitude toward our relationship with him. We want it to be of the greatest importance. We want to learn more about him, so we spend our time reading and studying his Word. We take the time out of our schedules to come together to learn from him and praise with our fellow believers in worship services. We praise him as we serve those around us. There are so many different ways that we can do this. We can comfort someone who is feeling down with the news that God loves them. We can encourage someone who is feeling overwhelmed with the fact that God is always with us and wants to help us. If I see someone who can use my help, I gladly do it, because God loved me so much that he rescued me from my situation. The faith that I have is expressed in my service to God and to those around me. Dr. Luther wrote, “Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will to do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches? I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.” The New Covenant provides me with the motivation to serve God and those around me.

Though we usually don’t like change, there are often times when we find that the new is better. The old worked great for a while and it fulfilled a need. However, when we try the new we might find it to be clearer or faster or run better. While some might make the case that, in some instances, the old was better, this can never be said of the New Covenant that God has made with us. The Old Covenant, the law, could never save us. The fault didn’t lie with the covenant. The fault lay with us. We couldn’t hold up our end of the agreement and be perfect, which would have meant our eternal demise. Praise be to God, however, that he made a New Covenant with us, one that didn’t depend on what we do. He has done everything for our salvation. This gospel message is our heritage. It has been handed to us and we have the privilege of handing it to others. We have opportunities every day to thank God for this New Covenant. May God help us to take full advantage of them. On this celebration of the Reformation, we thank God for this New Covenant that he has made with us. Amen.