March 25/26, 2012
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“DROP THE OLD FOR THE NEW!”
1. When the old doesn’t work.
2. When the new is better.
3. When God gives it to you.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV 1984) “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers 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. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house 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. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘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.”
I know it’s not a good idea to air your dirty laundry, especially when you live in a parsonage, but I’m going to anyway. Chris and I have this ongoing debate. It has to do with the old and the new, clothes that is. You see Chris is very comfortable getting rid of clothes that are not worn out, donating or reselling them, and replacing them with new. I, well, I’m just not. I like to wear the clothes until they are worn out and then get rid of them and reluctantly replace them with new. The latest lightning rod for this debate is this shirt. My shirt. I really like it. It’s comfortable. Now to be fair to Chris, it does have some holes in it. On the other hand I just wear it to bed as a jammy top. You know I guess the reason I really don’t want to let this shirt go is its message. It says, “Nitschke never wore an earring.” I love that. Young guys if you don’t know who Nitschke is, Google it. Nitschke never wore an earring. I just love that. So I hold on to the old and want nothing new.
Actually this old versus new debate is nothing new but old. It’s been going on for centuries and still goes on in the heart of man with something much more important than clothing. Spiritual matters. The relationship with God and His people. I’m talking about the Old versus New covenant that God announced to His people through Jeremiah. A little context might help. Jeremiah wrote to God’s people who were stuck in Babylon. Why were they stuck there? Repeated idolatry. Blatant worshipping of fake gods. Trusting political alliances and plans instead of God to save them. The Lord had announced that he would bring these people back from Babylon. God’s purpose in both the exile and return was not just a change of location but to effect a change of heart in their attitudes to Him.
And so He said, “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers 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.” God announced a new covenant to replace the old because the old didn’t work. The old was the covenant God made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. It was two sided. It required obedience on the part of God’s people and blessing on the part of God. You know how well it worked. Even while the covenant was being established, Israel was worshipping a golden calf. Then they grumbled and complained against God. Engaged in the idol worshipping orgy with the Moabites. Phineas. Remember that? In fact all the historical books of the nation of Israel from those Moses wrote to Joshua, Judges, Kings and Chronicles, are a monotonous history of Israel breaking the covenant. The old didn’t work. As hard as they tried they didn’t stay faithful to God.
You can relate can’t you? How many times hasn’t it happened in your life that you tried to keep a two sided agreement with God? “Lord, if you make grandpa or dad better I’ll be better at getting to church,” but that effort lasted just a bit. Or think of whatever pet sin you have, your weakness that you promise God never to do again as you joyfully leave the communion rail only to find yourself falling again within the week because you’re weak. Any covenant with God that makes our relationship with Him dependent on us does not work. So give it up. Drop the old for the new. Reject those ways of thinking that have you earning or deserving blessings from God. The old doesn’t work. It didn’t work for Israel. It doesn’t work for us. That’s the weakness of the sinful nature.
Thankfully God Himself came up with a new covenant. Thankfully the new is better. Listen to how the Lord describes it. “This is the covenant I will make with the house 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. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘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.” Did you notice anything about this covenant God announces? It’s one sided. He does all the work. “I will. I will. I will,” says the Lord. It can’t fail when it’s only God dependent. And what does He promise to do? Put His law on our hearts and minds. He’s talking about how the new creation part of us knows His will and wants to do it. And did you catch the last part of the deal? “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” You know all of those sins that you remember and are bothered about? God has already forgotten them! How can He do that?
Jesus. You can’t talk forgiveness without talking Jesus. God doesn’t. Neither can we. When God talks forgiveness in Old Testament times it’s because He promised to send a Savior. In New Testament times we know all the details from the birth in Bethlehem to the death on the cross. Jesus comes as our substitute. He perfectly obeys because we can’t. He pays for our sins so we don’t have to. Instead of requiring people to live a life they cannot like the old covenant did the new one that centers on Jesus allows people to freely receive forgiveness of sins and the Lord who knows all and sees all binds Himself to forget! The new covenant frees God’s people to obey Him because they want to, not because they have to. I can’t help but reminded of two recent conversations I had with members. One was with a man who was diligently studying the Old Testament. He commented on all the laws. He said, “Wow. I don’t think I could possibly keep all of those laws.” I said, “That’s the point. That’s what you were supposed to find out. You couldn’t keep them. You needed a Savior.” Another was with a member whose friend had grown up in a Christian church. This friend was now considering switching to the Jewish faith with his son. Our members comment to his friend? “So let me get this straight. You are planning on going from a religion that has a Savior to one that does not. Why would you want to do that?” Why indeed. Why hang on to the old when the new is better?
Why hang on the old when the new is given to you by God Himself? Think of how this worked in history. God the Father Himself planned and promised this New Covenant. God the Son Himself put the new covenant into effect, signed and sealed with His blood. God the Holy Spirit Himself delivers this new covenant through the Gospel message proclaimed, drops of water applied and Holy Communion celebrated. Why hold on to the old when the new is given by God? Sadly it happens. It happens blatantly among the Jewish people today who reject Jesus as Messiah and still live vainly trying to keep the Old Covenant. It happens with all the pagan religions that prop up a made up god that they try to appease by what they do. It happens with us whenever we try to make the things we do or how we live a cause or reason for God forgiving us, choosing us, blessing us. Drop the old for the new because the old does not work, the new is better and it was given to us by God.
And if you can imagine it, that brings me right back to my old shirt. Why do I like it so? Well it could be that it finally smells good having been worn a few times by me. But I can do that to any shirt. It could be that it is comfortable. But any worn shirt feels comfortable. It’s really because of the message. What a good reason for us to hold on to the New Covenant, right? It’s message. God says, “I love you. I forgive you. Now let me help you get better.” Thank you, God. Thank you Jesus! Amen.