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Fifth Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text:  Jeremiah 31:31-34

Title “New and Improved”

Date: Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

A Twentieth Century Christian author and theologian named Lewis Smedes wrote an article titled, "The Power of Promises." Within that article, Dr. Smedes writes, “Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert…if you have people you will not forsake…if you have causes you will not abandon…then you are like God.” Notice that at the end of this excerpt from "The Power of Promises," Dr. Smedes makes a very subtle but important point about God. He implies that God always keeps His promise through thick and thin…no matter what.

Indeed, you may recall that throughout the Old Testament, God always kept His promise to His people. Remember God’s three-part promise to Abraham? The promise of descendents who would become a great nation…the promise of a land to call their own…and the promise of a mission to be God’s source of blessing for the world. The LORD promised to make the Israelites His holy people by setting them apart from the nations who worshipped many pagan gods. He would protect them from the pagan nations and provide for all their needs. The LORD graciously led several thousand Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. (c.1280 BC) He led them to the foot of Mount Sinai and said, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Ex 20:2)
         But when the Israelites were delivered from bondage and set free in the wilderness, they had no idea how to conduct themselves in their new life. So at Mt. Sinai, God freely set-up Israel’s life as a covenant community…a covenant people who promise to worship and serve only the Lord. God will be their God and they will be and act like His people. This covenant is a two-sided agreement…much like a contract made between two people. (e.g. Gn. 15:7–21; Ps. 50:5) For instance, a contractual agreement is made when you buy a new car. The auto dealer enters into an agreement with you for a certain price and promises to repair whatever breaks on the car for a fixed period of time. When you buy a home, you sign a plethora of legal documents that detail the price of the home and the terms for the sale. There are also contractual relationships that are life changing. When a man and woman get married, they obtain a marriage license from a local court official that stipulates these two people have now entered into a marriage relationship.

Many centuries after the Mt. Sinai covenant was made, what kind of people did God’s prophet Jeremiah find? (627 B.C. to 570 B.C.) He finds the kings of the Southern Kingdom of Judah weak and corrupt. The priests are cheats and drunkards who lie to the people and lead them to disbelieve God’s Word. (Jer 5:12; 6:13; 23:1; 28:1ff) God’s people are still worshipping false gods and following sleazy fertility cults of the nations around them. They have temple prostitutes. They practice black magic and even sacrifice their own babies to these idols. It is because of this unfaithfulness to God that the Lord directed Jeremiah to beg, plead, warn, and threaten God’s people to turn away from their sinful ways. God wants them to abandon their idolatry and wickedness. If they don’t, they will be exiled like the Northern Kingdom of Israel was over a hundred years earlier.

Like His people in ancient times, God warns all of us today to daily repent of our sinful ways and confess our sins to Him. He wants you and me to act like and live like He is our God. The problem is…we don’t. We are, in fact, sinful in thought, word, deed, and desire. You and I break God’s commandments every single day because we hate God’s laws and we want to be in charge of our lives! We think…as the Israelites did…that we can somehow fix ourselves and our broken relationship with God all on our own! The truth is…you and I can’t! You cannot do anything to fix your broken relationship with Him. You cannot do anything to earn God’s love and favor. You cannot pay for God’s forgiveness. You cannot even come to believe in God on your own.

That is why God wants you to turn away from your greedy, selfish, adulterous hearts and minds, and turn towards Him and His Word…His promise…and His ways. That is why God directs His people in our sermon text to a new and improved covenant of grace through the promised Messiah. The two-sided old covenant is now complete and fulfilled in the new and improved one-sided covenant of God’s grace. St. Paul points this out in Colossians 2 where he writes: "Christ forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." (Col 2:14) This new and improved covenant is God’s promise that is not only one-sided, but also unconditional and completely dependent on God’s life-saving grace rather than on our worthiness.

Imagine the joy of sinful hearts hearing the Lord, in verse 33 of our sermon text, proclaim: “…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.” (v. 33) This is His promise…to the Israelite people in Jeremiah’s day and also to us today. In the midst of all our broken promises…failed intentions…and botched efforts…our Lord says, “I still love you because I chose you.”

In his book titled “A Gentle Thunder,” Max Lucado…the best-selling Christian author, writer, and preacher…writes that“…one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because He is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you are the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while…. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every Spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, [God will] listen.”

Because Jesus loves you and me, “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14; cf. 1 Pet 2:9) Centuries earlier, Jeremiah records these surprising and loving words of the LORD: “For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” (v. 34) In the new and improved covenant, God fully forgives all our sins daily and also forgets them. In this new and improved covenant, all God’s people have assurance, comfort, and hope in the saving grace of Christ. His death on the cross sets us free from sin, death, and the devil. In God’s Word and the Sacraments, the Lord gives us His good gifts of faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

         This new and improved covenant will not let you down. God will always keep His covenant promise, which was fulfilled when God became man in Jesus Christ and died for you. As His baptized child…God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will remind you of His unfailing love, forgiveness and mercy. His love is a never-ending love that forgives you for your disobedience and grants you life with Him in Heaven throughout eternity.

Just “know the Lord” is with you whenever you look into the mirror and see a hopeless, weak sinner.  “Know the Lord” is with you and loves you and “…came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45) Believe in Him as your God and Savior and High Priest (cf. Jer 9:24; Gal 4:8-9; Heb. 5:10) and faithfully serve Him and your neighbor. Amen.

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