Failing our Way to Grace

October 20, 2019

Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 121; Ephesians 2:1-10

Last Sunday we took a quick tour through a portion of the Old Testament, calling to mind the exile from Judah and the annihilation that followed. Back on Mount Sinai, in the book of Exodus, God had established a covenant with his people when he handed Moses the commandments. The general idea was that God’s people would follow the rules and God would deal mercifully with His people. But the old covenant perhaps didn’t fully take into account how prone to failure people are. As the generations passed, the Israelites just kept moving further and further away from God. God sent judges, kings and prophets in an attempt to call His people back to Him, to no avail. So when the Babylonians destroy the city of Jerusalem… the temple, the Old Covenant is in tatters. The relationship between God and his people seems almost severed – seems being the key word here.

I’m guessing most of us know about severed relationships, maybe personally or in our extended family. Sometimes the grievous failure inflicted upon someone else is so large and so destructive that in order to preserve health, maybe even sanity, a relationship must be broken. Addiction is often a culprit. Incest. Serial infidelity. In fact, the Old Testament uses that very analogy saying Israel has been repeatedly unfaithful in her relationship with God. And so despite God doing all in his power to bring Israel back home, she has nonetheless turned her back on her God.

The subsequent exile and the destruction of Jerusalem is God saying “Enough already! The Old Covenant I made with you is ruined. Your failures have broken the promise.” But thankfully, this is not the end of the story. This morning’s lectionary passage from Jeremiah is found just two chapters later then our text from last week. I probably can’t overstate how important this passage from Jeremiah 31 is to us.

Elmer Martens, theologian and author of the Believers commentary on Jeremiah writes, “In some ways this passage is the apex of Old Testament salvation history. It has been described as ‘one of the most profound and most moving passages in the entire Bible.’ It looks back to the covenant at Sinai, and forward to the work of the Messiah. Quoted in full in Hebrews 8:7-12, this is the longest Old Testament passage repeated in the New Testament. In fact, it is from the mention of ‘new covenant’ in this passage that we get the designation, the New Testament…”

Reading this text now from the NRSV…“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 the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But 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. 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, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”