Old ... But Not Vintage
When God's people were taken into captivity in Babylon, things looked bad. Dark. Discouraging. And they were. Separated from their land and their temple, the people of Judah lived in exile for 70 years.
This catastrophe occurred as the people continued to ignore warnings from prophets that if they continued in their idolatry, they would be taken into captivity. Jeremiah did his best to warn the people, but to no avail, and God's promised judgment came. The Babylonians came, destroyed Jerusalem, and took the people into captivity.
But in the midst of this darkness, Jeremiah wrote to the exiles and prophesied about a period of restoration. The darkness of the preceding warnings makes Jeremiah 31 stand out with amazing brilliance.
- In Jeremiah 31:1, God promises that He will be their God, and they shall be his people.
- In Jeremiah 31:14, God speaks of abundance, goodness, and sastisfaction.
- In Jeremiah 31:25, God points to refreshing and replenishing those who are languishing
All of this is a warm-up to Jeremiah 31:31, where the Lord promises a new covenant. The word covenant simply means a relationship with responsibilities and obligations. But the idea of a new covenant means there was an old one; to appreciate the new, we need to understand the old.
The Old Covenant was initiated in Exodus 24:
- In Exodus 24:3, Moses told the people all of God's laws and rules, and they said, ' We will obey'.
- In Exodus 24:4-8, Moses again read the law, the people confirmed they would obey, and Moses sprinkled them with blood of a sacrifice.
In short, the Old Covenant:
- was based on the law, with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience
- included the people's promise of obedience
- was sealed with blood
The problem with the Old Covenant is the power that animated it, called by Paul the 'law of sin and death' (Romans 8:2). It basically worked like this: if you sin, you die. This means that if you sin you are cut off from the blessings of God's presence and must bear punishment for your sin.
That's a bad deal, and every human since Adam and Eve have been born into this contract. This reminds me of the story about Dolly Parton, the most decorated female country music artist. Porter Wagoner had been her mentor, friend, and colleague who helped her get into the music business. Dolly's first number 1 song was a duet with Wagoner.
But she soon outgrew the arrangement, and, while grateful to Wagoner for the start she gave him, wanted to go out on her own, and wanted out of the contract. He wouldn't not let her. So she thought a song might open his heart, and so she penned - and and sang for him - I will always love you - as a plea to let her out of the contract. Still he said no. It wasn't until she paid him a huge some - estimated to be $1,000,000 - that he let her out of the old contract.
Getting out of a bad contract can be expensive. Getting out of the Old Covenant was super-expensive. It cost the life of the Son of God. To get us out of that bad deal - to set us free from the law of sin and death - Jesus lived a perfect life, the life we should have lived. He died a death in our place - the death we should have died. And he was raised from the dead three days later, demonstrating his victory over death, hell and the grave.
So in Christ's life, death, and resurrection, we are set free from the old contract and given a new, better one. But what are the terms - what's in the new contract? According to Jeremiah 31:31-34 (and Hebrews 8:7-13), this is what's in the new contract:
- The old covenant was broken, the new one won’t be
- The Lord will be their God; they will will be his people
- The law will be written on hearts
- People will personally know God
- Sin will be forgiven and forgotten
The author of Hebrews makes it clear: Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. This new covenant comes with benefits including a new priest - Jesus (Hebrews 9:11); a new price - the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:12); a new purity - a clean conscience (Hebrews 9:14); and a new promise - an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
- The Old Covenant is this: if you sin, you die.
- The New Covenant is this: because Jesus died, we live.
- Through Christ we live in a better covenant. And that's good news.
The Old Covenant is about what we can do; the New Covenant is about what Jesus has done. And it is done - it is finished.