[Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 NRSV]
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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.
34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Can laws passed by our government make us more loving, more caring, or more religious? Legislation cannot change hearts but it can limit choices. I remember a famous quote from the Civil Rights Era. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a crowd of angry racists saying, “Civil Rights Legislation cannot make you love me but it can keep you from lynching me.”
I can remember a time when the government limited what I could do on a Sunday. Remember the old Blue Laws of North Carolina? These laws promoted the observance of a day of worship and rest every Sunday. The first Blue Laws were designed and established to restrict or ban some or all Sunday shopping for religious reasons. Blue Laws began in the New Haven Colony in 1655.
In 1716 the colonial assembly of North Carolina adopted the first Sabbath Observance Act prohibiting improper activities, including profanity and prostitution, on Sunday. The Act of 1741 replaced this legislation and remained the Sabbath Law of North Carolina throughout the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries.
Although this Sabbath Law was never repealed, it was often observed in a very casual manner. An observer in 1858 noted the people conducted business, gambled, hunted, fished, and engaged in all sorts of other activity on Sunday throughout North Carolina.
Blue Laws were designed to slow things down on Sundays. In the 1930s through the 1950s the only stores that were allowed to be open in most counties of NC were gas stations and drug stores. Most people went to church on Sunday and spent Sunday afternoon with their grandparents and parents.
Those days are long gone even in the Bible Belt. We live in a time of 24-hour convenience. When I worked at the railroad it was a 24 hour a day 7 day a week operation. Everything is open and available on Sundays except government offices, banks, and Chick-Fil-A restaurants.
Some people would say good riddance to the Blue Laws. We don’t need the government to tell us what to do or how to act on Sunday. The question is, “Are we spiritually mature enough to make the right choices?” What does the Bible tell us?
Our scripture this morning is about God helping us to make the right choices. God helped Abraham choose wisely with the offer of making a Covenant. This covenant promised to make Abraham great. It promised to give him more descendants than stars in the heavens. It promised to give him land. It also promised to bless all people through him. Abraham’s only condition was to be obedient to God and God would bless him.
This covenant made between God and Abraham was renewed under the leadership of Moses. God took a small tribe of slaves by the hand and led them to the Promised Land. This was the promise of the Old Covenant made with Abraham. But these newly freed slaves did not know how to govern themselves. They needed God to help them make the right decisions and right choices.
The Old Covenant was established through Moses and the Law. We are familiar with the Ten Commandments but did you know there are 603 other laws in the Old Testament? God gave Moses and the Jews 613 laws in the first five books of the Bible. These laws helped form a national identity. The Jews were to be a nation of Priests to the entire world.
Failure to Keep the Law
But the Jews failed to keep the Covenant that God had made with them and after centuries of disobedience, the prophet Jeremiah comes on the scene and prophesies a New Covenant.
What do you think when you hear the word “new”? The word “new” can mean many things. New can mean: different, better, shinier, faster, smarter, and improved over the original.
We acquire many new things in life such as: a new job, new cars, new homes, new clothes, new shoes, new computers, and new phones. These things have one thing in common other than being new. These new things are replacing something that is old.
Why do we replace the old? Typically, we replace the old because the old no longer works. We replace light bulbs because they are burned out. But sometimes we replace the old because the new is so much better than the old.
God’s New Covenant
God’s New Covenant will be much better than the Old Covenant. God will no longer lead the people by the hand. God will expect the people to be mature in their faith. The Old Covenant condemned all of us to death due to our sins. The New Covenant promised to forgive our sins. The Old Covenant was external and written in stone. The New Covenant will be internal and written on the minds and hearts of all people.
What is written on your heart?
What is written on your heart? It is hard to know what is written on someone’s heart unless they wear their heart on their sleeve. Many people have deep dark secrets about what is on their heart while others freely publish their true feelings on Facebook. The things that are in our heart are usually manifested in our actions. How we treat others is a sign of what is on our hearts. How we are remembered is a sign of what was on our hearts.
Alfred Nobel Image
Everyone is probably familiar with the Nobel Prize. There are several prizes awarded in science, poetry, and peace. What you do not hear about is how the prize was established. Alfred Nobel came from a wealthy family. They made their money by building weapons. Alfred Nobel is best known for inventing dynamite but he also continued to make weapons.
When his brother died in France the French newspaper thought it was Alfred and they published his obituary. The heading of the obituary said, “The Merchant of Death has died.” Alfred was disturbed. He did not want to be remembered as the Merchant of Death. He secretly went to his lawyer and put all his money into a trust to establish prizes for science, literature, and peace. Now Alfred Nobel is known for the very generous and rewarding Nobel Prizes.
Alfred Nobel was moved by what was in his heart. He truly cared about others and wanted to celebrate the achievements that were good for humanity. What is on your heart this morning?
The Promise of the New Covenant
God promised to write the New Covenant on our hearts but God also established the New Covenant through the body and blood of Jesus. The Old Covenant was sealed with the blood of Lambs. The New Covenant was sealed with the blood of Jesus.
Jesus freely gave his life to save us and free us from our sins. Through the New Covenant, God promises not only to forgive our sins but also to forget our sins. This is the Good News.
The Good News of this passage is that our God continues to work with us and lead us to salvation. God’s word holds out hope in a world filled with sin, pain, suffering, and despair. God’s word holds out hope where we see no hope.
God never promises that it will be easy being a Christian. Times of trials will come but God promises to be with us during our times of trial and tribulation. And the best news of all is that God promises to forgive us and save us from sin and death.
God sent us a sign. That sign was Jesus dying on a cross not for his sins but for our sins. God will save you and God will save me. How do we respond to this good news?
Our response is to worship and give thanks to God for continuing to save us from our wrong choices. The Old Covenant written in stone reminded us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The New Covenant written on our hearts and established by the blood of Jesus reminds us that we are forgiven even though we have failed to keep the Law. We celebrate this victory over sin and death every time we receive Holy Communion.
Hear the Good News
Before you receive Holy Communion, this morning remember to confess your sins before God and each other. When you confess your sins, you are opening the way to reconcile your broken relationship with God and others. Hear the Good News! In the Name of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant you are forgiven!
When you receive, the bread this morning remember to cup your hands together and receive the body of Jesus Christ not as something we achieve but as a gift from our Lord and Savior. Hear the Good News! In the Name of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant you are forgiven!
Finally, when you receive, the cup this morning remember that this is the blood of Jesus Christ given for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Hear the Good News! In the Name of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant you are forgiven!
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Couturier, Guy P. Jeremiah. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.
Feinberg, Charles L. Jeremiah. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Volume 6. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986.
Miller, Patrick. Jeremiah. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Thompson, J. A. The Book of Jeremiah. The New International Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
“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[a] them,[b]”
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.”