What's God to Do? Become Known

Posted 3/18/2018

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34

During Lent we’ve been tracing God’s covenants in the Old Testament. These covenants were made in response to the fact the world had become filled with violence and evil.  We’ve seen how in the days of Noah God promised that his grace, not his judgment would have the final word. We saw God choose a people in his promise to be Abraham’s (and his descendants’) God. We saw God give his people guidance for living in this covenantal relationship in the giving of the Ten Commandments. And last week we saw God become the savior, who steps in and offers life-giving grace and a way of salvation. In each of these we saw the details of God’s initial promise being “filled out.” 

Today we turn to the last of the covenants we will be considering — the covenant found in Jeremiah 31. This covenant could be called the ultimate in the “filling out” in the Old Testament of that first covenant established in the days of Noah. It is the ultimate, not only in being the last in time but also in being the covenant promise that reveals the full intention of God’s covenant. Here we read of “a new covenant” — the one that will finally fulfill all God intended in creation. There are four things to notice about this new covenant.

First, this covenant will be keepable. God’s new covenant is God’s response to the fact the old covenant was broken by Israel’s refusal to keep it and so the covenant had been nullified. The story of Israel is the story of Israel’s resistance to the keeping of God’s covenant — of the Torah way of life that marks the covenant with God. Over and over again Israel ignored and broke God’s commands, refusing to be the people God intended them to become. In this new covenant, however, God’s commandments will be readily embraced as shaping a longed-for relationship with God. God’s people will be eager to enact the way of life that is marked by a covenantal relationship with God.

Second, this covenantal relationship, like all the covenantal relationships we have been looking at, is mutual; This is seen in the renewed promise “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Yet what is to be noted in this renewed promise is God’s forceful assertion of his deep fidelity to the covenantal relationship. God promises fidelity even in the face of the fact that this relationship seems to not have worked. Using the words of the old covenant, God once again asserts a covenantal relationship with God’s people. 

Third, this newly formed covenantal community will be full of the knowledge of God. The phrase “know the Lord” is a rich one which includes the following ideas: a deep, trustful intimacy; acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over all of life; and obedience that is in harmony with the will and character of God. That is, it is a knowing that turns all of one’s life over to the claims of God. Furthermore, this knowing of God among God’s people is to be common to all — there will no “elite” among them who are the one’s “in the know.”

Finally, this renewed covenant is made possible not by Israel’s repentance or conversion; but by the unilateral action of God. God “forgives and forgets.” The future is no longer burdened with the history of resistance and recalcitrance that marked the old relationship. Unlike the covenant with Abraham, which is based upon a promise, or the covenant in the days of Moses, which is based upon God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery, this covenant is based upon God’s forgiveness. 

This promised new covenant is fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Christ we discover God’s unilateral action offering us forgiveness and a new start — one in which the past is forgiven and forgotten. In Christ we discover the knowledge of God — the fulness of God’s love and grace disclosed — the full revelation of God’s character and will. 

Furthermore, in Christ we discover the power that works within us to enable us to live as God’s people. The power that comes not from the Law written on stone or scroll or book but within our hearts. Through the forgiveness that is ours in Christ — through God’s love offered to us — our inner beings are changed and we are empowered to give the response God intends. God’s forgiveness offered to us in and through Christ is the love that breaks into our spirits in a whole new way, enabling us to know ourselves as extraordinarily loved and forgiven people and empowering us to live as God’s people. 

In the end, God’s covenant with God’s people is one in which God himself promises that by God’s forgiveness we will come to know God. And, in Jesus Christ — in his life, death, resurrection and ascension —  God becomes known to us as the God who promises to keep the covenant even when we don’t and to be our God even when we rebel against Him.