Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 31:31-34
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.
Gospel Lesson: John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—”Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
I’d like to begin today with a story…
A farmer wakes up one morning and begins his day as usual with a prayer. After he has done his morning devotions, he goes out into the rice fields to begin his days work. About 9 that morning he returns home from the fields to sit down to enjoy a bowl of rice mush for breakfast. After breakfast, he packs a simple lunch and returns to his work in the rice fields. Later that evening, he returns home in a rush to get himself cleaned up and his family to eat their dinners so that they would not be late for the evening worship. That evening, worship was being held in a local home because the church did not have a building to worship in. The farmer and his family goes in to the home where he is greeted and he begins to socialize with some of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The pastor of this church stands up as he begins worship and the people begin to quiet down as they prepare themselves to listen to God’s Word revealed. The pastor, as usual, takes a Bible, and opens it. He begins to read from the selected scriptures, Familiar scriptures to the pastor as he has been reading from them all throughout the past week. The pastor, after reading the selected scripture sets down his Bible and as rehearsed he begins to give the message that he has prepared. As the pastor begins to give his message though, someone is opening the door to his house. The pastor looks up, hoping maybe it may be just a few more stragglers who were coming in late, but to his worst fear it is the police. The police come in and deem this to be an illegal meeting, and they begin to handcuff each of the worshippers and place them in police wagons waiting outside the house. The farmer and his family are among those who are being arrested. Each of the church goers is then taken off to jail to be processed, and detained. Some of those among them who are detained are not released for 2 days. 2 days of not receiving their wages for work, when each day is important to get by.
As I finish this story, I would like to tell you that this story is something of an old timey story, a story that happened during the persecutions of Christians during the 2nd or 3rd century under the rule of the Romans. But this story I tell you is based on a true story that happened last Sunday at A house church in far west China’s region of Xinjiang, a house church that has been meeting for nearly two decades was raided by police, who took more than 70 Christians into custody.
Our Old Testament lesson today is from the prophet Jeremiah, and he also is speaking to a people that are in and amidst hardship and oppression. In the times of this passage from Jeremiah, the Jews had been overpowered and taken captive by the Babylonians. And Jeremiah, prior to this take over had been prophetically preaching to the Jews about how their idolatrous ways will lead to God’s judgment. Jeremiah had tried just about all he could to grab their attention as he would in one of his prophetic sermons be smashing pots and wailing. But to no avail, they do not listen. Now, here they are, captured, down trodden, and maybe like our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in China feel hopeless. But Jeremiah is given a new message to preach. Jeremiah’s words turn from condemnation to a message of great hope!
Jeremiah speaks boldly to his fellow Jews the words of the LORD. He breathes a word of hope as he reiterates what he has heard from God. “The days are surely coming, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”
As we hear the Word from the prophet Jeremiah, we hear this term: Covenant…a term that rarely do we hear in our world, but a term that is at the very core of our being. Throughout the OT, the word Covenant is not an unfamiliar word to many, actually for the majority it is the basis of which they understood the life of a Jew. You see, “throughout the OT, covenants are used frequently to aid understanding of the relationship between God and people.” (Berquist, Jon) For some of us, this importance of relationship between God and humanity has fallen by the wayside. But for those whose faith seeks understanding, covenant is still a word with a great depth of meaning. Often people think of Covenants as a contract between two people. But in the sense of its scriptural meaning, it is less so a contact where two equal parties come to an agreement, but rather it is more of a one way contract with one who is more powerful than another. Hence God makes a covenant with his people. He does not request a covenant, but he makes a covenant. It is a promise, a relational promise between God and a people.
This message from God, spoken through the Prophet does not end though with just an announcement that there will be a new covenant, but rather the prophet continues and contrasts the New Covenant to that of the Old Covenant. The old covenant that Jeremiah refers to sounds a lot like the Mosaic Covenant given to their ancestors on top of Mount Sinai where they received the 10 commandments,. But God said that their ancestors and including them, they did not keep that covenant. So the LORD is telling them that there is a new day coming, a day when the law will not be simply something that is written in stone, but something that is written within the hearts of God’s people. It will be a part of them…no, let me correct myself, it will be their very essence of who they are. You see, God does not desire good church programming, he does not desire that we have the most coolest Vacation Bible School, God does not even desire that we have the biggest and best youth group. But what God does desire is our hearts. God has placed his law not on the walls of the synagogues, but he places them where God knows it will be most beneficial to his glory and to our lives. He places them right here, it what makes up our being, our lives, our faith.
From this new covenant, there are two utopian outcomes. One of the outcomes of this new covenant is that no longer will there be teaching about the LORD for everyone will know God, and the second is that God will forgive our iniquities and will not remember our sins anymore.
I’d like to take a moment and be vulnerable with you all because I want to tell you what as a pastor what often troubles me the most. I spend a lot of time thinking, and at times I look around the world, I see hurt, pain, anguish, children going hungry, war, and evil in the world. These are all certainly things that trouble me, but it still does not compare to the thing that makes me saddened the most. As I look around the world, one of the things I come back to time and time again is the Church of Christ. There are some days that I look to the church and am thankful to see God’s people eagerly seeking and giving their full selves over to God. Like the story of the Christians in China who risk their livelihood just to come together in community to worship God. But then there are other days that I look at the church, and in particular the church here in the US and I just feel like crying as I think how it seems like to so many people, church is a mere addition to their life. It is something of which is a part of them, but the covenantal relationship of God’s law being placed on their hearts, something that is life giving, and “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” is something of only Sunday morning sermons. I just know without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that the church in which Christ instituted is supposed to be much more than what we have become. I long for, and I hope for the day when the people of the Church fully allows God’s claim on their life to be brought into full fruition. For us to claim for ourselves the New Covenant that God so desires for us. The days when everyone from the greatest to the least shall know God, for the day when sin is no more, for the day that we let God’s promises in Jesus Christ rule over our lives.
Jesus answers Andrew and Philip, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—”Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Jesus made this announcement the week of his death. Jesus loved not his life so much, but rather loved humanity so much he gave his life for us all. Through Christ’s sacrifice, death and resurrection, Christ restores the covenantal relationship that God has made. Let us take on God’s new Covenant, take authority and serve Christ as Christ served the world. Let us be ministers unto the Cross, for that is where Christ goes, but does not end. For Christ’s journey does not end on Calvary, but rather in glory! Let us Follow, Let us Serve, Let us Hope, Let us Minister fully in the New Covenant.