The Savior in the Old Testament: Jesus and the New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

Countless centuries had passed since the rainbow was first set in the sky. After exiting the ark, God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth with a world-wide flood. Next God made a covenant promising Abraham that a great nation would be formed from his descendants in the promised land of Canaan. Two generations later, God made a covenant with Jacob that He would remember the covenant made with Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather.

Approximately 400 years later, the Lord established another covenant with Israel at the base of Mt. Sinai. There on the mountain, the Lord promised to make them His chosen people. He promised to protect them. He promised to provide for all their needs. He promised to take them by the hand to lead them into the land He had promised to Abraham many generations earlier.

In the covenant that God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai, there was a certain understanding. God called Israel to be different – to be a light to the other nations, a magnet to attract their neighbors to the Lord. Every detail of an Israelite’s life was prescribed under the Law given at Mt. Sinai.

This was a double-sided covenant – like you make with your children. If they clean their room, you will take them to the movies. If they keep their grades up, they will be able to go out for sports. If they do all their chores, they will be able to go out with their friends. The covenant you make with your children is that if they obey, then you will bless them.

God treated Israel as children – but they were His children. God would be their Father if they would be and act like His children. The children of Israel responded to the reading of the Book containing the Covenant: “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24:7). Then Moses sprinkled the blood from the offerings onto the people. This signified that they were bound to this covenant.

But before the blood had even dried, the Israelites were breaking their covenant promise.

As Moses was walking down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments in hand, the people were bowing down before a hunk of gold in the shape of a calf.

That’s the way it continued throughout the history of the Old Testament. God remained faithful to the promises He made to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. The human end of the covenant was another matter. The children were continually disobeying their heavenly Father and worshiping false gods. They were constantly forgetting God, neglecting the call to be God’s chosen ones.

Were things any different by the time of the prophet Jeremiah in 600 B.C.? Not at all! If anything, the people had gotten worse. The children had almost totally run away from their Father. Israel’s kings were weak and corrupt. Its priests were cheats and drunkards. The people were worshiping Baals and Ashorehs – the sleazy fertility gods of the nations around them. They had temple prostitutes, practiced black magic, and even sacrificed their children to the detestable gods, Molech and Chemosh. 

When you think about it, much of the Old Testament is a record of how Israel destroyed the covenant God had established with them. He was a faithful Father, but they were faithless children.

I’m sure the Israelites wanted to be better. They probably even tried to be better. But they just couldn’t do it without God. They kept falling into the same sins year after year, generation after generation.

I think we want to believe that we are getting better as Christians. We are hopeful that the longer we are Christians, the easier it will be for us. We are expecting to be able to look back and see the moral improvement in our character and lives. We make a promise to God that we will try harder, do better, pray longer, worship more, and everything else we think goes into being better Christians.

I don’t know about you, but I see little moral progress in my life. I feel very much like the Old Testament Israelites. They promised one thing but did something completely different. I know exactly where they are coming from. … Maybe you do, too. My heart knows the pain of sins so familiar that they seem like family to me. God’s holiness appears so foreign that it seems like a stranger to me. My life is marked by failures as a husband, failings as a father, and faults as a pastor.

If you have ever been addicted to something – anything – you know what I mean. Sin is our addiction. We are like alcoholics where we are one drink away from losing our sobriety. One unrepentant sin and we could lose everything – our faith, our God, our salvation.

That’s why it is so important that our covenant with God isn’t based on our moral behavior. We would be just like the children of Israel – breaking the covenant over and over again. If God treated us as children, we would never get to do anything fun – like receive forgiveness, enjoy a new life, or live as child who is inheriting His Father’s Kingdom. We try so hard … but we are no different than God’s Old Testament faithless children.

Thank the Lord that He made a new covenant with us. This covenant is one-sided. God no longer treats us as His children. Instead Jesus treats us as His bride. He is the Bridegroom who makes His covenant wedding vows to us. In a marriage, you don’t tell your spouse: “If you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you.” … At least I hope you don’t. If you do, that’s not a husband/wife relationship; that’s a superior/inferior relationship.

God has every reason to treat us inferiors. Yet His Son treats us within His Christian Church as His treasured bride.

God spoke of this new covenant through Jeremiah: “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant.”

In a time to come, the Lord says, He will make another covenant – a new covenant. But this time it isn’t going to be like the other ones. This time, His covenant will be written on people’s hearts, and they will not need to tell others about Him, for they will all know Him – instinctively, intuitively, internally. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

This new covenant will be made possible, not because everyone has obeyed one portion of the covenant, but because God will forgive their sins and remember them no more. This covenant doesn’t depend on our ability to keep it at all. The covenant depends instead on our Bridegroom’s ability to keep it. Which Jesus Christ did!

In the old covenant, God treated His believers as children who had to obey. In this new covenant, God treats His believers as His spouse who will remain by His side. This new covenant relationship with God won’t be based on what people do. It will be based on the One in whom they believe.

God is saying that because of His Son’s work through His substitutionary life, His sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection, everyone will know that God has chosen to be forgetful. It’s like what happens when your spouse says something incredibly hurtful, apologizes for it, and you say, “I didn’t hear a thing.” The truth is that you did hear the incredibly hurtful thing … and it did wound you deeply, but because of your love, you have chosen to be forgetful. You have chosen to “remember their sin no more.”

God forgets to punish your sins. He forgets to kill you for your insubordination. He forgets that He has every right for harsh revenge.

Selective amnesia – that’s what God has. And it is this selective amnesia that is yours through Jesus.

Jesus signs the new covenant, not just with Israel, but with the whole of humanity. The old covenant was carved into stone by God’s divine finger. This new covenant is signed with Jesus’ divine blood.

Jesus reaffirmed this new covenant at the Last Supper. You know the words: “This is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). This cup of wine – the blood of Christ – given for you, this is the new covenant, the one Jeremiah talked about 600 years before.

Husbands, how do you show your wife that you still love and cherish her? Hopefully you take her out on a date, not just once in a great while, but every week. You tell her you love her. You converse with her. You take her out to eat or cook a candle-light dinner for her at home. You kiss her goodbye until you see her again.

How does Jesus show that He loves and cherishes you, His eternal Bride? He meets with you, at least once a week, for a formal date. He tells you He loves you in the absolution when He announces that He has forgiven and forgotten everything you’ve done wrong this week. He listens to you pour out your heart to Him in your prayers. Then He comforts, consoles, encourages and excites you as you hear His voice in the Scripture lessons and sermon. He creates a candlelight dinner in His house every week for you where He serves as both your Host and your Meal. Then He kisses you goodbye in the Benediction until He sees you again next week for another date with your Bridegroom.

Will this one-sided covenant of grace improve your behavior? That’s asking the wrong question. Christianity fails when we see it only in terms of moral progress. Christianity succeeds when we see it in terms of forgiveness. God comes to us in the midst of all our broken promises, our failed intentions, and our botched efforts and He says, “I still love you because I have chosen you to be my own.”

Despite our professional efforts at sin and rebellion; despite our amateur claims to be self-sufficient without God; despite our best efforts at moral improvement; we have failed. We could not keep up our end of the old covenant. That’s why God established a new covenant. There are no “ifs” in this covenant. There aren’t any conditions. That’s because it is a new covenant.

God came forward with the divine rescue plan with this new covenant.  In fact, God not only came forward, but He came down to our world in the person of Jesus Christ.  He came with the righteousness that covers our sinful hearts.  He came with the sacrifice that atones for our sin.  He came with the resurrection victory that guarantees our resurrection from the dead and victory over sin.  He comes in his Word to absolve us, at the font to cleanse us, and at the altar to feed us.

Not to make us better Christians … but to make us the forgiven Bride of Christ. Amen.