New Covenant, New King

Scriptures: Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-28; Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 18:33-38

Focusing on Jeremiah today, he was an Old Testament prophet who was known as the Weeping Prophet. He wrote the book of Lamentations as well as the book of Jeremiah. He cried a lot. Things were pretty desperate in his time.

And he didn’t have a very good relationship with the king, as was noted by the liturgist. The king kicked him out of the temple, and then when Jeremiah got a prophecy anyway, the king cut it up and burned it. So Jeremiah is in a tough spot.

But he is given a ray of hope in the passage in Jeremiah 31. I want to spend today talking a little bit about the old covenant versus the new covenant and the old king versus the new king.

The old covenant was subject to the Law, and that is something that we need to remember. This is the covenant initially given to Abraham, and then to Moses. It was external, and required both constant teaching and reminders from outside sources.

Of course, they didn’t make it any easier when, by Jesus’ day, they had added another 613 rules. The problem with the law, as Jeremiah himself pointed out elsewhere, was that people, even the nation as a whole, could not keep it in its entirety, and inevitably moved away from it.

The leaders of Israel knew that God was to be their King – that was made clear from the get-go, and that God’s covenant was singular. But as far back as the time of Samuel, they wanted to be like all the other “great nations” and to have an earthly king. They wanted one they could see, touch, and hear. Cynics might say they also wanted one they could bully, manipulate, and, at times, idolize.

Yet because these kings were human and fallible, they all inevitably failed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Saul, whether you’re talking about David or Solomon, who were great kings, or any of the other kings. Amaziah, for instance.

They all inevitably either led the people from God, or didn’t keep them following God where it counted most, in their hearts and in the lives that they lived in testimony to that, they worship they gave, when they were gathered together as a people.

This inability to follow the Law is what created the need for a second covenant that God tells Jeremiah about in chapter 31. The law would “be written on our hearts,” and we want to read that as “to be internalized and live within us.”

It would be the law of love. We would need no special teacher or reminder for that basic law, because Jesus himself gave us the parameters, and the Holy Spirit came to dwell within believers as promised.

That law that was spoken of first in the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6, “I the Lord your God am one. You shall worship the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might, and with all your strength.” You shall have no other Gods before Him.

Then it goes on in that passage to talk about how you’re supposed to remind yourself of these words, when you’re lying down, when you’re getting up, when you’re eating breakfast. You need to teach it to your kids, you need to put it on your foreheads. By that, it didn’t mean a brand – they wore these little phylacteries or whatever they call them that were a little box that had the Scripture on a little scroll inside that box and they would be that on their forehead.

We don’t need any of that, because we have the Spirit. As we look at John, Jesus fulfilled so many prophecies, that were admitted to be pointing to the Jewish messiah, or king. But the people of Jesus’ time didn’t see it. Blinded by their hatred of Jesus and their pride in their position, the leaders continued to lead people astray.

For them, the covenant was still rooted in the Law, and required a messiah or king who would bring about a political kingdom, like Saul or David. He would be a warrior and a conqueror, and a judge. He would be a deific figure of majesty and might, bringing the sinful world to its knees.

Then came Jesus, so different, turning everything on its head. He proved his coming from God by signs and miracles and his authority, but it wasn’t enough for them – that is, the leaders and the Jewish people. To them, that just made him dangerous. They could envision neither his kingship nor his kingdom.

I’ll give them this much – neither could the disciples, and they were with Jesus for three and a half years, being taught by the Master himself.

But they went and began to plot against him, and it ultimately culminated in his trial and crucifixion, as the leaders had their way. The law they knew was written in their minds, not their hearts. Not that the new covenant requires blind faith, but it does require far more than intellectual assent.

I’m fond of saying that there’s a difference between belief and faith. In Stages of Faith, James Fowler makes this statement (I’m paraphrasing): Belief is an assent between two parties of the mind. That is, they agree to conditions, and they say, “As long as you do your part, then I’m going to do my part.” (It can have more than two people, but that’s what we’re working with here.)

As long as those conditions are kept by them, things run smoothly. But either side is welcome to leave at either time, and that breaks the contract between them, and then the belief, that they will continue to fulfill their part of whatever agreement was made, falls apart.

A covenant of faith is different. Faith involves trust. There are things that are stated by each party that will be done, but there are no conditions of the agreement standing only if those conditions are fulfilled.

So at times, when it seems to us like “Where is God? How is He doing with fulfilling His part of the bargain?” we have to put our trust in Him. We continue to believe and have faith that He will fulfill His covenant with us. It’s far more than an intellectual assent and practice.

As simple as Jesus’ law was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, and your strength,” and then the second is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself,” let me tell you that this is even more impossible to live out, on our own strength alone, than the old covenant.

It would require a constant infusion of God’s grace, mercy, and Spirit to achieve. When Jesus called his yoke easy and his burden light, he was speaking of his teachings and example versus that of the Pharisees. No 613 laws, no concern for what day of the week it is, no need for animal sacrifice, each one different for each thing you wanted or were celebrating.

Just Him. His blood, and God’s love, reflected in your own heart and life. Easy to understand. Easy to apply. Incredibly hard to live out in this life.

The kind of kingdom that Jesus spoke of throughout his ministry, and in his trial with Pilate, had to be, at its core, one of the Spirit. It had to be one where hearts are united. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, we have to be “born again” or “born from above” – the Greek can mean either thing. We must be born of the water and the Spirit.

This is the truth that still escapes so many people today. Truth is singular. There is no “your truth and my truth.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Him. It is exclusive in its requirement to follow Jesus, but it is radically inclusive in that it is open to all who earnestly repent of their sin and follow Him.

Your social status, sex, race, ethnicity, economic status, even your history, don’t matter. We’re all equal in Him, and all one in Him. The breaking down of all barriers shows that it has to be something other than the political kingdom that the people of Jesus’ time were expecting.

The new covenant which Jesus brought to us and spoke of during the Last Supper, required a different kind of king. One who was in the Spirit even while in the flesh. One who was perfect both in following the Father’s will and the Law. One who could love us so much that he would sacrifice himself for us on the cross, and one whose love was so great that he was raised again so that we might be with him. Wisdom, power, and glory are all his, and yet it will be hidden away from solely human eyes.

So Jesus tells Pilate that he is a king, but not of this world, and that all who could hear this truth will belong to him. So Jesus is a king, a new king for a new covenant. As we summarize and look at the old versus the new, let me give you some comparisons.

The old covenant was conditional, and required your keeping certain things, the law, versus the unconditional covenant that God gave us through Jesus Christ. The old covenant was dependent on human works and obedience. The new covenant is dependent on Jesus’ obedience and work – for which I thank God, because it’s the only way it would work.

The old covenant was transient. It was temporary. It was never meant to last. The new covenant is eternal. There is no other needed, because it has already been fulfilled in perfection. The old covenant, while designed for God to be King, had been subverted to earthly kings. Jesus, in the new covenant, put God back on the throne as sovereign. So he corrected that problem with the old covenant.

If we compare what I call Messianic Misinterpretation versus Regal Reality – that is, what the people expected of their Messiah versus who Jesus really was – they expected a conqueror in Jesus’ time, but Jesus was a peace-giver. Mind you, by that word “peace,” I don’t mean a lack of conflict. Obviously there was lots of conflict with Jesus. He stirred up things. They called him a rabble-rouser for good reason.

But the peace that he gave, the promise of assurance of God’s presence, of God’s power, of God’s forgiveness and God’s love – that brings you a peace that you cannot know in any other way. It has nothing to do with conflict. It has everything to do with our relationship to God, as Jesus reconciled us to the Father.

They expected a warrior for their messiah and king. Jesus was a healer. Not only in his physical healings, but in the greatest healing of all, of our hearts and minds. In fact, those people in Jesus’ time expected a human with God’s blessing and power, like Moses or Elijah, doing miracles of great magnitude, and his power would be manifest to the masses.

The reality of Jesus was God in human form, who did an even greater miracle of transforming the hearts and minds of people. But it was unseen by all but a few, until the day of Pentecost.

You see, his concern was with each one of us, individually. Even though we together are the body of Christ and the bride of Christ, his first concern was his love for you and me.

Christ is the king for all ages, eternal and powerful. But he came to reconcile us with God the Father, in the Spirit, so that we might love Him with all our hearts and minds and strength, fulfilling the commandments He gave us and completing the covenant that He made with us at the Last Supper.

We’re reminded of this when we have the sacrament of Communion, and we remember not only what Jesus did for us, but what he is doing for us, and what he will do for us, in gaining us our salvation, our forgiveness, and our joy, in the future.

Jesus, through his promise of the Holy Spirit fulfilled at Pentecost, makes us able to do what we could not do on our own, as we live lives of faithful testimony to God and who He is and what He calls us to do and be.

As we enter this Thanksgiving week, let us remember from the beginning that Christ is the king and He is the reason we have for giving thanks. For through Him, and Him alone, can we truly give praise and honor to God for the blessings He has given to us. And may we do so each and every day of this week, and with all of our lives.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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