Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
“Move into the New Covenant”
Some of you might be the type who like to celebrate the season or a holiday. For instance, you may like wearing seasonal clothing and decorating your house for holidays like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Independent Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Christmas season, and so on. If you are one of those people, think about what kind of clothing or decorations are proper for the Lenten season. According to the Christian Lectionary, the Lenten season uses purple paraments on the altar. The purple color represents faithfulness and mystery, so it might be called a religious color. The color purple is also, as you may know, mixed with red and blue colors, which means that it is the blended passion of red and sadness of blue. I’m saying that the Lenten season is, perhaps, in a complicated and mysterious mood. We might imagine Christ’s passion and his mysterious gift of love toward us during Lent.
Today, I want to talk about God’s covenant, especially the new covenant. Somehow, the word “covenant” is not as familiar to us as is the word “promise.” However, in the Bible, we find the word “covenant” used many times. We might think that the Old Testament is about God’s old covenant, and the New Testament is about God’s new covenant. Israelites were “the people of covenant” with God. God established a covenant with Noah after the great flood: “never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “this [rainbow] is the sign of the covenant I am making between you and me, and all generations to come” (Genesis 9:12-13). When God called Abraham from his hometown, his father’s house, to the Promised Land, God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendant: “You will be my people, I will be your God” (Genesis 17). When God led the Israelites through Moses from Egypt to the Promised Land, again God made a covenant with the Israelites, “If you keep my Law and Commandments, I will be your God, and I bless you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 6). As evidence, God gave them “tablets of stone,” which God wrote the Law and Commandants on, through Moses on Sini Mount. God made a covenant with Israelites many times. However, as many as God made covenants with them, they repeated that they sinned against God and returned to God. God also repeated that he forgave them and made a covenant again.
Today’s scripture is the only place to talk about the new covenant in the Old Testament. The scripture’s background was the Israelites, who divided North Israel and South Judah, who lost their countries, and were arrested by Assyria and Babylon. God punished them because they sinned against God and worshiped idols. The Prophet Jeremiah has experienced both wars-with Assyria (B.C. 722) and Babylon (B.C. 587) in his life. North Israel and South Judah were both destroyed. It seemed as if there was no hope for the Israelites. However, Jeremiah proclaimed God’s prophetic word, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a covenant that they broke” (Jeremiah 31:31-32). When Moses brought the tablet of stone of God’s covenant from Sini Mount, he saw that the people made Golden Calf and went the wrong way. Moses got upset with them and threw the tablets of stone containing God’s covenant down, and they were broken (Exodus 32), which symbolized how they broke the covenant. Namely, the old covenant was broken by people because it was written on the stone. However, God will give them a new covenant that is not like the old covenant, which is non-breakable, which God will write on their hearts.
People have never kept God’s covenant; they tried to keep the covenant, but they knew that they could not keep them all and they couldn’t be honest with God. Instead, they acted hypocritically before God and the people. The old covenant’s condition was that they had to keep all Laws and commandments, and then they could be God’s people, but people couldn’t keep God’s Law and commandments by themselves. Instead, their sins are revealed before God by the Law. God promised Israelites that God would give them a new covenant, an unconditional and never breakable covenant. God would write on our hearts. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). We are curious about what it mean to write on the heart. It means that God will send the Holy Spirit to us. The Holy Spirit never breaks. The Second Letter of Corinthians 1:22 says, “He (Christ) anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Therefore, God will write His Law on the people’s hearts, which means that God will send the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ.
Verse 34 gives us more senses: “No 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.” The Holy Spirit in us may teach us about God and Jesus and guide us in the right way. Jesus said, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). So, The Holy Spirit, God sends into our heart helps us to keep command if we love Jesus.
We can find the words “new covenant” only once in this passage, Jeremiah in the Old Testament, that God will give them a new covenant. But in the New Testament, Jesus made a new covenant with his disciples when they had the last supper, which was the first communion. “After supper he [Jesus] took the cup, saying, “this is the new covenant in my blood, which poured out for you” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). We have communion service every first Sunday of the month, and hear the words “this is a new covenant, poured out for you, and for many, for forgiveness.” Jesus knew that because of his sacrifice on the cross, all our sins would be forgiven. God says, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). The new covenant God promised through Jeremiah is completed by Jesus’ love, which is unconditional, unbreakable, and everlasting. The new covenant is given to us by God’s grace and Jesus’ love. It might be notified only by the Holy Spirit. Because God wrote on our hearts, nobody knows who got this new covenant, only God knows. However, we surely know that if we love God, we must love one another. John says, “The commandment we have from him [Jesus] is this; those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:21). We also know there will be no more punishments by God for our sins because he paid off all our sins by his death.
Therefore, we have no more sin but only the debt of love. We have to pay the debt of love forward in our everyday life. The new covenant is to love God and love one another. While for the old covenant, “if you keep my commandments, you will be my people and I will be your God,” for the new covenant, “if you love God, the Holy Spirit helps you to love God and love one another.” The Prophet Ezekiel says, “the Lord said, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26) In this Lenten season, our unique seasonal clothing might be a new heart and new spirit. So, no more staying in the old covenant. God gave us a new covenant by grace, and Jesus Christ completed the Law by his love. Therefore, let us move into the new covenant. “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 14:7). Thanks be to God. Amen!