Hope in God’s Promise, 29 March 2020

Joyfully Hope in God’s Promise
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 31

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him.

I did it! It took a while, but I finally did it. I know I was given an extension, but seeing those two letters from the federal government for days—weeks?—led me to just do it. I went online and did the US Census!

I couldn’t remember what questions would be asked. It’s been ten years! I expected to answer my name and address. I wasn’t surprised by the race question. I marked the “White” box. But then it asked me for more detail. The Census website says,

The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.

There was a blank under “White” and it wanted more detail. German? Yes. Irish? I don’t think so. Of course, many have been surprised by their results. I’ve never taken one of those tests, but I’m fairly confident of the ethnic heritage of both of my parents.

What is your ethnicity? Do you know much about your family of origin, your nationality?

By the way, I believe there’s only one “race…” the human race!

Few people groups on the planet have endured more hardship and persecution than the Jews. They’ve had and lost land. They’ve had and lost their temple. Thousands of years after God’s covenant with Abraham, the Jews continue to follow and break that covenant. Fortunately, there’s a new covenant…and Jews and Gentiles alike are invited to participate in it.

This month we’ve been looking at the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some uncomfortable truths to the Jewish people. After Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land. The Jewish nation divided and became the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 11-12). Even worse than their relationship with one another was their relationship with God. It seemed to change like the weather. There were moments when they worshipped God and moments when they turned to worship idols…sometimes even in God’s temple! There were times when they were repentant of their sins—ashamed of their behavior—and other times when they were proud of their rebellion and evil. Like a roller coaster, their righteousness went up and down, and along with it, their relationship with God.

The remarkable thing about God is grace. He is a God of second-chances. He is a God of mercy and forgiveness. But we must repent. We must turn away from our sin and return to God. When we repent and return, He will restore us into a right relationship with Him. That’s where we find true joy—not in circumstances, but in a relationship with God.

Some people flippantly say God loves everyone. While that’s true—for God so loved the world—a relationship requires two parties. I may love you, but if you reject me, we won’t have fellowship. We’re all on God’s “bad list” until we repent and obey.

God and the Israelites have had a complicated history, a relationship that is sometimes hot, but usually cold. Quite simply, the people were usually more concerned about being like their neighbors than living a radical, counter-cultural lifestyle devoted to the LORD.

This might sound familiar. This might describe our nation. Whether or not we were ever a “Christian nation,” we seem to trust the money which bears the slogan “In God We Trust” more than God. That was, at least, until COVID-19. Is God getting our attention? Is God getting your attention?

He has a way of doing that! He gives us freedom. We weren’t created to be robots. Every day we choose whether to follow God or the world. Every hour we make such decisions.

Our text today is from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 31. God has expressed His displeasure with the people and begins to cast a vision for the future, for a time when the people will return to Him, trust Him, make Him LORD, and obey.

“At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)

He declares they will be a united people. The sins of King Solomon and his foolish son Rehoboam which divided the Jewish nation will be reunited. The land will be restored. People will accept responsibility for their sins.

The next nineteen verses speak of a restored Israel. In the end times, God will restore the Jews to their land (Ephraim is a reference to the northern kingdom of Israel). Verses 21-26 talk about a restored Judah. People will experience the blessing of the LORD as people come together in harmony despite their past differences.

Are you with me? It’s about to get good!

“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. 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 them,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

God had made a covenant with the Jews, but they repeatedly broke it. Unlike a contract, a covenant is a solemn commitment. In biblical times, it usually involved the sacrifice of an animal, the shedding of blood. God made such a covenant with Abraham. Abraham and his descendants would be God’s people, and through the Jewish people, all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The old covenant was made with Abraham, but now God describes a new covenant, a future relationship.

“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. (Jeremiah 31:33)

This was God’s plan from the beginning, to be LORD, to be their guide. In the old covenant, people would receive temporary blessings as they turned back to God (as they did under Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Hezekiah and Josiah). They had moments of revival, but they didn’t last.

The great evangelist Billy Sunday was once told revivals weren’t necessary because they didn’t last. He replied, “A bath doesn’t last, but it’s good to have one occasionally.”

This new covenant is more than just renewal or revival. It’s not just something for the people to obey, but something in both their minds and hearts, not on stone tablets. It’s personal. Instead of focusing on conduct, the new covenant changes character. God is saying in the future, a beautiful relationship will emerge.

The new covenant is internalized in minds and hearts.

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.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

All the people will know God…not just about God, but actually know God, be in a relationship with God. The Hebrew word here for “know” is “yada,” implying a relationship more than just facts. Within that relationship, God will forgive—and forget—their sins. That’s good news! That’s great news!
The new covenant involves the forgiveness of sin.

I need to pause and say these words were not written to us, but they were written for us. Remember, God is speaking to the Jewish people.

This is what the LORD says,

he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name:

“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the LORD, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” (Jeremiah 31:35-36)

If you know the story of the Prodigal Son, you know God is a loving Father who never gives up on His children, even when they walk away and break His heart.

This is what the LORD says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:37)

The imagery is beautiful. God will never break His promises to Israel.

The new covenant involves a new city, a new Jerusalem.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the LORD. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.” (Jeremiah 31:38-40)

When I visited South Korea many years ago, I was surprised to learn the small peninsula had been invaded many times throughout history, some saying as many as 2000 times! While many historians disagree, South Koreans live with an awareness of both past invasions and the potential for a future disruption, demolition, uprooting.

The Jewish people were well-aware of such upheaval throughout their history. This prophecy is wonderful, the promise of God filled with hope.

So What?

The book of Jeremiah was written around 600 BC, so it’s about 2600 years old. Did God keep His promises to the Jews?

Yes…and not yet.

One of the challenges with biblical prophecy is discerning what has been fulfilled and what remains to be fulfilled. The story of humanity is not complete, as I hope you know! There are many events described in the Bible which remain in the future.

The great marker in history was Jesus. He ushered in the new covenant on the cross (Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20). Gentiles have been grafted in with the Jews to participate in the new covenant (Romans 11:12-32; Ephesians 3:1-6), which is why these ancient words have relevance for non-Jews today. All followers of Jesus share in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:14-18). They are born again, made new, alive in Christ, new creations, regenerated into the family of God (John 3:1-21; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:13).

I mentioned biblical covenants involved blood. Jesus’ death on the cross involved blood. He was the perfect sacrifice. I often say First Alliance Church is not about religion, but a relationship…with Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you know Jesus? I don’t mean do you know about Jesus, but do you know him? He came to connect us to our heavenly Father. He showed us what it means to be human. He taught timeless truths which have literally changed the world. His death and resurrection conquered sin and shame, making it possible for all of our failures to be forgotten, all of our mistakes erased, all of our brokenness mended.

Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were anticipating. He’s the one prophesied in the Old Testament. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He’s seated now at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69; Ephesians 1:20), awaiting the moment when he is instructed to return to earth, not as a baby in a manger, but a triumphant king to rule and reign forever.

Some treat the gospel—the good news—as going to heaven when you die. If that’s the case, what do we do in the meantime? The gospel—the good news—is Jesus is LORD, and we get to go to heaven before we die. We get to experience joy, peace, meaning, satisfaction, and love now. Heaven is where God is, and He wants to do life with us now! He wants to lead us now! He wants to be with us now! When you follow Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too, God the Spirit living inside you to fill you with gifts and fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Many of the things described in Jeremiah have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, yet some things remain.

It might be simplistic to say, but the Old Testament was about the old covenant, given to Moses. The New Testament was about the new covenant, rooted in Jesus.

One thing that remains is God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. I’m glad—especially as a Gentile—that I’m living on this side of the cross, a participant in the new covenant. I love grace—unmerited favor—and need a lot of it! I’m grateful for the cross and empty tomb and the forgiveness and freedom it offers.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ friend John who said,

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9)

This pandemic will eventually be over, but the greater enemy in our world is sin. The good news is there is a cure that can wipe away all of our sins…Jesus. He is inviting you and me today into a relationship with him that will last for eternity, both now and in the life to come.

Tragically, many people have rejected God. They did it in Jeremiah’s day and they do it in ours. They think they’re wiser and smarter than God, or they simply want to do things their way. I urge you, don’t be like the fools in the Bible who rejected God. Repent and receive the abundant life Jesus offers. Choose today, tomorrow, and every day to surrender to Jesus.

I don’t understand why COVID-19 is ravaging our planet, but I know who does. I think God might be trying to get our attention, reminding us of the things that really matter, and inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him.

The vision God paints for Jeremiah is beautiful…unity, righteous living, forgiven sins, a new city, and most of all a relationship with Him. Our scripture today is packed with hope for those who follow Jesus, the Messiah who ushered in the new covenant available to every man, woman and child on earth.

Today can be your day to begin your spiritual journey…or get back on the path. Don’t wait another moment to get right with God. He knows you, He loves you, He’s inviting you to do life with Him. God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. The best is yet to come.

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
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