Jeremiah 31:31-35 “The New Day Is Dawning”
Before we really get into the meat of the message, I need to point out that for some reason a phrase is missing in our pew Bibles. If you look at verse 32, you should add “in those days” to that sentence. The entire passage begins with the phrase “the days are coming” and then repeats the word “days” two more times. Once in verse 32 and then again in verse 33 (“after those days”) in speaking of the future.
I always say this, if the Bible text says something three times, that should be considered significant. If I say something to you three times, then by the third time hopefully what I am saying is sinking in a little, right?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. It is in fact the first day of the New Liturgical Year in the church. Happy New Year! And, like when we celebrate the other New Year, we look forward. We say good-bye or good riddance to the old and say a blessing for the days that are ahead. This is exactly what the Prophet Jeremiah is doing!
Now the Hebrew language of the Bible has an interesting way of looking at time. Technically the language has no past tense or future tense. Everything that is spoken is from the standpoint of being in the present. However, Hebrew does have the perfect and imperfect tenses. To be “perfected” grammatically means that that action has been completed. To be “imperfect” means that the action is still on-going. It has not come to its conclusion yet.
The line “The days are coming” means that in Jeremiah’s time as well as our own time, days are coming. Maybe you have noticed in your own lives that as soon as one day is over, the next one begins. It continues. So, even though the Prophet Jeremiah lived 600 plus years before Jesus, what he has written carries forward those centuries and even a few millennia after that! It was officially never finished in Jeremiah’s time according to the verb tenses used in Hebrew. The new day of the Lord is still dawning.
The other word that is being repeated three times in this text is “covenant.” This is “berith” in Hebrew. It refers to a promise that is made between God and us. If you remember last week in the final sermon from the Book of Hebrews, so Hebrews 13, this idea of a new covenant with God and God’s people was also lifted up. Furthermore, we discussed the idea of Jesus being the bridegroom and the church (all of us) being the bride as is mentioned in Hebrews 11, and Jesus himself uses this imagery, so here we see that idea once more in verse 32 that states that God was “their husband.”
As an aside, I want you all to note how much the Book of Hebrews that we were just studying sounds like this text from Jeremiah. One could seemingly insert the Book of Jeremiah right into the Book of Hebrews and hardly notice a difference in language! This is a wonderful bridge into the pre-Christmas prophecy texts of Jesus’ coming into the world!
Of course, Jeremiah never celebrated Christmas! He lived six hundred years before the birth of Jesus. How did he know that the bridegroom would be coming and that there would be a New Covenant with God at that time? That is very prophetic!
Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday, although today we begin the Christmas Season of Advent, I want to point out that the idea of “covenant” was always strong in our faith tradition by pointing out that when the Pilgrims of New England came in 1620, the first thing they did was sign a paper to show that they were promised to each other in common cause. This paper was called the Mayflower Compact. It was a pact that was actually rather small. It is right to call it a “compact.” It is not a full-size agreement.
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.:Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.
What a wonderful idea to make a promise to one another to stick together through thick and thin! What a wonderful idea to make this promise before God! Look at those first words of this document “In the name of God, Amen.” When was the last time we spoke that way in this country? “In the name of God, Amen!” That is the very understanding of covenantal theology being applied to the “civil body politic.”
This was what would usher in the new day in America. We would live by “the name of God.” Maybe elsewhere in the world people would make promises and then break them just as easily as they were made, but not here. “. . . .For the general good of the colony, we promise to submit and be obedient.” If we promise to each other in the name of God, then we will be good to one another.
Should we need to write everything always down on paper? You see, in our Scripture for today we see that the New Covenant with the Lord will not even need to be written down on paper. You will recall that the covenant God made with Moses was even written in stone—two stone tablets. We all failed to keep those Ten promises with God. We continue to sin and do everything against God’s Commands.
Our scripture for today, the prophecy of Jeremiah, and the whole understanding of the Christian faith is that it is a covenant that exists because it has been written our hearts. What good is having a list of rules to follow if nobody reads the list or is going to follow them anyway? I think that is how our traffic system works on this island. People know not to make u-turn over a double yellow line, but they do it anyway.
Our text says that the New Covenant is put inside of us. It is right here in our gizzards. We are just like God’s turkey about to be stuffed with the promise of the Lord! This is a living covenant. Jesus lives in me! Jesus lives in you. That does not mean that we should throw our Bibles away because we have the Word in us, but that written word is meaningless if we are not living out the covenant, the promises, of God.
Our text for today says that the new law is written on our hearts! I have to say that in our afternoon Bible study on Tuesday that I was thoroughly questioned about how that is supposed to happen. How does God write something on our hearts? I did not have a good answer, so all I can say is “really gently.” Give your heart over to God, and you will see that it comes back with a God’s message written on it. I do not understand the exact physics behind it, but that is simply the nature of love. Whenever you love somebody and give them your heart, they write all over it. They scribble all kinds of things that become indelible. That is what God does, too.
Lastly we see the final verse says that God is ready to forgive and forget. All the bad stuff, all the broken promises, they are going to be reconciled now through Jesus Christ.
I was thinking about this that if someone breaks a promise with me, and then I go back with them again with another promise, and again that person breaks the promise to me; Does that not make me out to be the biggest fool of all? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?” Why would God risk forgiving us again. Why not just damn us all and be done with it?
Now, we have to remember Hebrews 10:23, “For He who has promised is faithful.” God claims us as His people. God will do what is need to save us, to forgive us of our sins, again and again. That is what someone who has made a promise does. They keep their word.
I want you to consider then, therefore, that one of the most spiritual acts that you can do in your life is to follow this example at Christmas with the sending of God’s Son to us, that you do not give up on others. Keep the faith that God has given you. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. John 3:16. Christ came down at Christmas to save us and to write the New Covenant on our hearts.
In the Spirit of Thanksgiving, I thank the prophets of old such as Jeremiah who could see centuries ahead what people still cannot see after two thousand years.