31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors 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 people 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 they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘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.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV)
It’s Holy Thursday—the night Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. You know how it happened. We repeat the words all the time in our services. I bet you could say them with me. Want to try? “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Great!
So what’s the “new covenant”? Right in the middle of those important words is the phrase, “my blood of the new covenant.” So what’s the new covenant? It’s always a danger at church to repeat the same words again and again without thinking about what they mean. Worshipping God isn’t a matter of saying the right things. We want to understand and believe them. So let’s start with the word “covenant.” Do you know what a covenant is? It’s an agreement or a contract between people. Marriage is a covenant—an agreement between two people. That’s a covenant.
So what’s Jesus’ new covenant? To understand the new covenant, we need to understand the old covenant. We have to go back 3,500 years to… Moses. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, he had them stop at Mount Sinai. There God made a covenant with the Israelites. He said, “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). If the Israelites obeyed God’s commands, they would be his people and live in the Promised Land. “You do this, and I’ll do this!” God said. If they obeyed, God would bless them. That was the old covenant. What did the Israelites think? It sounded good! “Yes!”
But instead of signing their names to a piece of paper, God had the Israelites sacrifice some bulls. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant—the book of God’s commands—and read it to the people. They said, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24:7). So Moses took the blood in the bowls, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words” (Exodus 24:8). Sound familiar—the blood of the covenant? Why blood? Covenants are serious stuff! If someone broke the covenant, what should happen to them? Blood. Death! Have you heard this story?
There’s more. It’s a really cool story! After sprinkling the blood on the people, Moses, Aaron, and 70 leaders of the people went up on Mt. Sinai. Do you know what they saw? God! The Bible says that they saw the God of Israel! “Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.” Wow! Do you know what sapphire is? Me neither. It must have been cool! “They saw God, and they ate and drank.” When God made the old covenant with the Israelites, he signed it with blood and had the Israelites sit down and eat a meal with him. Sound familiar? Kind of like the Lord’s Supper? That’s what God did to confirm his “old” covenant.
So how did that old covenant go? To put it kindly, bad! It sounds simple enough. God said, “Keep my commands, and I’ll bless you.” Easy, right? Why didn’t that work out? The Israelites didn’t keep God’s commands. Remember the Ten Commandments? “You shall have no other gods.” While Moses was still on Mt. Sinai they made an idol—a golden calf. “You shall not covet.” They constantly complained about all the things they didn’t have. “You shall not steal.” Broken. “You shall not commit adultery.” Broken. They wanted to be like everybody else more than they wanted to follow God. They broke their covenant with God over and over again.
But we’re better than them, right? I hope you realize that what might sound simple—keeping God’s commands—is impossible for us! Do we keep God’s commands? “Honor your father and mother.” How well are we doing that? Broken. “Do not give false testimony.” Don’t tell lies! Broken. “Do not murder.” Don’t even hate someone else. Broken! If God had made the same covenant with us that he made with the Israelites, would we have fared any better? No way! So what do we deserve? Well, remember what God used to sign the covenant? Blood. This is serious! If someone breaks the covenant, what do they deserve? Blood. Death!
So God kept his promise. He always does! He had promised, “If you obey, I will bless you. If you disobey, I will destroy you.” So God destroyed the Israelites. He sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and waited. The famine got so bad that parents were tempted to eat their children. Can you imagine that? That’s the setting the prophet Jeremiah got to serve in. Great, huh? Know what he told the people? “You are not going to win. You are going to be taken captive. Don’t even bother fighting. God is against you because of your sins.” That’s what happened. The people broke the covenant, so God kept his promise and destroyed them.
But God refused to let that be the end of the story. In the middle of God’s judgment, he made another promise. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.’” Did you hear the phrase? God promised a new covenant! “It will not be like the covenantI made with their ancestorswhen I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant… This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel… 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 they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all knowme, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
“I will forgive their wickedness…” I bet that sounded great! As God talked about his new covenant, he said two words over and over again: “I will…” “I will make a new covenant.” “I will put my law in their minds.” “I will be their God.” “I will forgive.” “I will remember their sins no more.” I will. I will. God’s new covenant is unlike any other contract in the history of the world: It’s one-sided. It’s not, “If you… then I …” It’s “I will… I will… I will…” When people sinned and broke the old covenant, God made a new covenant that doesn’t depend on us at all. It’s all God. All grace! How does that sound? “I will be your God and love you and forgive you.” That’s the new covenant!
After saying all that, it still feels like now I should tell you what you need to do to deserve it. Now would be the perfect time for an altar call, right? “Open up your heart and let God in!” But that’s not what God says. God overwhelms us with his grace. We talk about grace, but often we don’t get it. Even as Christians, we put the pressure back on ourselves. “I’ve gotta believe. I’ve gotta trust. I’ve gotta do this…” But it doesn’t depend on you! Your relationship with God is not based in any way on your performance. On your achievements. On your family history. On your appearance. It’s based completely on God’s grace from beginning to end: “I will. I will!”
Isn’t that a relief? You’re forgiven! But you’re not just forgiven. Here are God’s words: “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” We use the phrase, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” Not God! I will “remember their sins no more.” The devil always wants us to feel guilty for our sins to turn us away from Jesus. He’s so good at it that he even convinces us that we need to go around feeling guilty to be good Christians. As if the guiltier I feel, the better I must be. No! If God has forgiven and forgotten your sin, you can too. Remember his promise: “I will… I will…” This is the new covenant: God has forgiven and forgotten our sins in Jesus.
Does that sound too good to be true? It must have to those Israelites. In fact, this phrase “new covenant” is only used this one time in the whole Old Testament. It’s never mentioned again. For hundreds of years this promise of a new covenant hung in the air. Did God really mean it? When? Until one night, after supper, Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:25). Sound familiar? The new covenant! How is this possible? Remember how God signs covenants? With blood and with a meal. Jesus shed his blood for us. So sins are forgiven. Sins are forgotten.
How do I know this is really meant for me? Jesus says, “Here’s how you can know. Touch it. Taste it! This is my body, given for you. This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” When you see the Lord’s Supper in your hand and when you taste it in your mouth, there can be no doubt. Jesus’ blood on the cross brings us to God. Jesus’ blood of the new covenant forgives every one of your sins. This is God’s grace. For me. For you. It’s the new covenant!