new covenant

When God Gets Personal

Jeremiah 31:27-34

These seem like trying times.

There’s the U.S. government, of course. I don’t have to go into more detail for you to understand what I mean. I don’t even have to make any partisan statements. One thing everyone can agree on: something’s broken, and that brokenness triggers suspicion and fear.

As a pastor, I would also say that October more and more is a difficult month for people. I don’t know why; maybe it’s the change of seasons. Other pastors have noticed a change in attitudes around this time, too. People, even church people, act out in anger more, saying or doing things they probably regret later.

I have wondered if the depressing, overarching theme of the month causes some of these disturbances of the soul. I’m personally not crazy about October because Halloween has become such a big deal in our culture, and I feel during the month that I’m constantly inundated with zombies and bloody, evil imagery. If NBC doesn’t stop running those promos for “Dracula” soon, I’m going to have to stop watching the network.

It could be a lot worse, though. As my son is fond of saying, those are all “First World problems.” We’re not surrounded by our enemies, under siege and starving, awaiting an attack that is going to lead to mass slaughter. That’s the situation people have repeatedly found themselves in throughout history; in particular, that’s the position the prophet Jeremiah and the people of Jerusalem found themselves in about 600 years before Jesus Christ was born.

This story is remarkable because of what God said through Jeremiah in the midst of this impending doom. I also love the way Jeremiah personally responded to God’s promises.

Jerusalem clearly was going to fall to the invading Babylonian Empire. In his role as prophet, Jeremiah had said as much, and it did happen. Before the fall, Jewish King Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah for daring to say so.

There was more to Jeremiah’s prophecies, however. He also related promises from God that still resonate in our lives today. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord.” Those are the words marking the beginnings of these promises.

First, the Lord said, the time of tearing down and punishing what had become a divided, disobedient children of God would end. The people of Israel would return to their homes. And not only that, a new way of relating to God would begin. Rather than being judged as a nation, each person would be judged individually for his or her sins. That is the point of the “sour grapes” verses.

Second, that new way of relating to God would lead to a new covenant, a deeply personal one. “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,” Jeremiah said on God’s behalf. There also was a third promise that Jerusalem will one day be remade into a holy place, “sacred to the Lord,” never again to be “uprooted or overthrown.”

Jeremiah even put his money where his mouth was. A cousin came to him, wanting Jeremiah to buy a field in Anathoth, their hometown. Imagine paying valuable silver for a piece of land just as a foreign army is about to take all the land around you—on its face, the transaction looked quite foolish.

Jeremiah bought the field to make a point, however. God’s promises are trustworthy. The land would one day be returned to the Israelites. Jeremiah had the deed of purchase sealed in an earthenware jar so he or his descendants could one day prove ownership of the field in question.

And God’s promises were fulfilled—in fact, they are still being fulfilled—in astounding ways.

For us, these promises were fulfilled most importantly through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life and death on the cross established that promised personal relationship for us. When Jesus died for our sins, we once again had a path to God. Believe in the effectiveness of his Son’s death and resurrection, and we are once again able to go to a holy God despite our sins.

And there’s more. When we enter that relationship, God’s Holy Spirit begins to work within us. That’s as personal as a relationship can be, God’s Spirit whispering to our spirits. Such interaction changes us and shapes us, re-making us into what God intended us to be.

Those promises from God carried Jeremiah and the children of Israel through conquest and captivity, sustaining them until they were returned to the land. And they likely were clueless as to just how far God would go. The Christ who would come centuries later, and how he would actually make salvation possible for all, was beyond their imaginations.

We should fare much better as we face our First World problems, particularly when we consider the knowledge we have about how God is making all things new. We can look to the Bible for sustenance; we can look to our hearts to see what God is doing, assuming we have faithfully let God in.

Jeremiah’s words are a lesson for any trying times.