Monday, April 6, 2009

Palm Sunday

Sixth Wednesday in Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Bror Erickson

[31] "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. [33] But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares 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. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… My covenant they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

I harp on this covenant/ testament bit. It is important so I stress it. I stress it often. But here covenant works. You can’t really break a testament. A testament is a will it requires nothing of you. It says what it says. It gives what it gives, the only condition is the death of the testator. But most covenants are able to be broken. God made a covenant with Israel and Judah. They broke it though he was a husband to them. They were unfaithful to him. They broke their marriage vows if you will. And marriage is a covenant. Perhaps one of the most sacred of all covenants, its sacredness surpassed only by that special type of covenant called a Testament, which by default can’t be broken.
Christians take the marriage covenant seriously. At least they should. It is not a light thing to break marriage vows. Sometimes it is necessary. Today marriage is in a slump. The state no longer honors it. Sometimes when I contemplate the laws of the land it amazes me, but I am convinced that the current laws actually encourage divorce. It is somewhat amazing to me that as many marriages survive as do. And society suffers for the ill thought out no fault divorce laws, and especially the bias against fathers and men that are inherent in the laws. No fault, for all intents and purposes means the man’s fault. Society suffers because the children suffer. 90% of the people I see in jail grew up without a father. Mothers don’t know how to raise boys. The prevalence of divorce, also does a number to scare many men from marriage. This puts women and girlfriends at a disadvantage as they often subject themselves to concubinage. That is they end up living with men and performing all the marital duties, without the protections that a marriage historically has provided for women. Children born into these relationships then grow up in a less then stable environment. There is a purpose for marriage. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. Christians have historically known this. There is no law compelling people to be married in the church. A marriage is a marriage with or without the church. But Christians overwhelmingly want to be married in a church, and have the marriage blessed by God. A meet right and salutary thing to do. But then one wonders why “Christian” marriages today have the same 50/50 chance of break up as anyone else’s marriage. Statistics actually show that Christians, or at least those calling themselves Christian, but who am I to question whether they are or not, are more prone to divorce than non Christians. And I am one of those. I suppose I have digressed. The point was that marriage is one of those most sacred of covenants.
God thought of his covenant with Israel in terms of a marriage. But it wasn’t a happy marriage. Israel and Judah were habitually unfaithful. They constantly and repeatedly broke their vows. God the ever loving husband kept taking them back. It was like being married to a prostitute. But it was even worse. God chastised Israel in Ezekiel saying that at least a prostitute gets paid, but Israel paid to be a prostitute. No more. God had had enough. He could not continue with that arrangement. No more with that covenant he says.
The days are coming when I will make a new covenant. Next Thursday we celebrate the institution of that new covenant, not a mere covenant, but a Testament. God is done with covenants. They don’t work with sinful man. Covenants, as it seems marriage vows are too easily broken. And it isn’t as if God didn’t know that when he entered into the covenant with Israel. It would be naïve to think that God did not foresee Israel’s infidelity. He saw it. But it would be equally naïve to think it did not pain Him, and anger Him or that He had no reason to be pained, or angered when it happened. Even man can foresee a lot. It doesn’t numb the pain of the experience. And you foresee, yet you hope you are wrong. I think we have all made decisions against better judgment, with the hope that we were just wrong. I suppose God though had no delusions of such hope. He knew. But he didn’t just know Israel. He knew us.
Yes God knew you. We like sometimes to sit in judgment over ancient Israel and how awfully they treated our God. Like the new wife who can’t stand the ex wife. Didn’t that woman know who she had? How could she treat such a good man so badly. I suppose that wears off with the shine of a new marriage, when the delusions about the man wear off, and you realize he is another man, like all men, prone to his own particular faults and demons. It isn’t like that with God though. God remains blameless. We don’t. We have no reason to look in judgment over ancient Israel. We would be guilty of the same crimes under the old covenant. God foresaw this too. He never meant anyone to be saved under that old covenant. Not ancient Israel, and not us. He meant it to pave the way for Jesus Christ, that the New Covenant, the New Testament in his blood, the forgiveness of sins could save us.
It is really amazing when you look at how God describes this New Covenant. He describes it in a manner that makes it hard to conceive of this new covenant as anything but a testament. No more is God’s law going to be merely written out for us on paper, or even stone. It is going to be in our hearts. Love the Lord your God with all your all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. That will be written on your heart. You will Know to love God, and so will your neighbor. And you will love God, this is what it means to KNOW the Lord. It isn’t just a matter of having some head knowledge, but it is an intimate knowledge of God. And why will we know the Lord? Not because He has told us too. Not because He has promised to bless us if we do. I mean this is where this text gets good. We know God, from the least of us to the greatest, because he forgives our iniquity, and he remembers our sin no more. This is the new covenant, the New Testament in His blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. We know God, because he has known us, and to know us he forgave our sins, and to forgive our sins, he sent his Only begotten Son, to live under the old covenant for us. To live faithfully under that covenant, as one of us. Yes Jesus our propitiation had to take on that covenant enter into it with all of Israel at eight days, as the knife cut into the flesh of his manhood, and his blood shed on our behalf a down payment on our ransom. He entered that covenant. He lived that covenant. He fulfilled that covenant. And not just so we could eat lobster and bacon, though I am grateful for that gift too. But so that that old covenant could finally be put away stamped paid in full, and the new covenant could be put in place, and not a mere covenant but a Testament through which we inherit the forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life. For where ever there is forgiveness of sins, there is also Salvation and eternal live. And this is the new Testament. That our sins are forgiven, and because God has forgiven our sins, and remembers our sin no more, we now know God with a fear love and trust a three cord rope of faith that is not broken. Our faith stands because even though we are not always faithful, God is faithful to forgive. So faithful he made forgiveness the bedrock of his Testament, a covenant that cannot be broken.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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