The slogan "After Darkness Light" described the dawn of a new era of understanding in the church during the Protestant Reformation. On this Reformation Sunday it is good that we remember that when things seem to be their darkest, it is at that time God acts to bring us his glorious light. After years of warning the people of God's impending judgement and pleading with them to repent the people of Judah's hearts were harder than ever. The dark clouds of the Babylonian invasion were gathering and their seemed little hope.
Then a message of light broke into the darkness, no longer was Jeremiah to preach only judgement, but suddenly we have 3 whole chapters of hope and redemption! Yes there have been glimmers of light scattered through Jeremiah's prophetic word, but now the glimmers have become glorious rays of light!
The brightest of these rays is the promise of a New Covenant. Let us hear God's word from Jeremiah 31:31-34.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: 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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The first of the glorious rays of light to break through is the promise of a new heart!
To appreciate how glorious this promise is we must remember that from the nation of Israel's first days in the exodus from Egypt to her final days in the Exile in Babylon the recurring problem has been their hard heart. At the end of Moses' life and ministry his departing words to Isreal were these:
For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death!
These were not just the bitter words of a tired and disillusioned old minister, all the prophets in Israel's history had the same evaluation of Israel's spiritual condition. Speaking through Jeremiah, God said this about that last generation:
From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.
Lest we be tempted to look down upon the Jews, hear God's evaluation of the spiritual condition of Gentiles:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
If we are honest with ourselves we know there is something desperately wrong with us.
I remember as a child weeping on my bed and saying to myself, "I hate myself." I hated myself because that day I saw something in me that frightened me. I had treating another child cruelly for no other reason than my wicked pleasure. At that young age I had never hear nor read these words of Paul, but they are words I could have penned.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
What good news it is to hear that God himself will make our dead hearts alive by writing his law upon them! No longer will the knowledge of God be limited to a few, but many will know the Lord!
This glorious heart regeneration come to us through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Even with a new heart there is still sin. Moral perfection does not come until we are gloried in Christ. But God's law demands perfection and anyone who does not obey it perfectly is under God's curse. In the book of Deuteronomy which was rediscovered near the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry and greatly influenced him, we read:
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
To enjoy fellowship with God the curse of the Law must be redirected away from us, and this is just what the New Covenant promises!
Let's pick up again in our text were we left off.
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.”
This is an amazing promise in the context of the book of Jeremiah. Throughout this book God has made it plain that he has rejected Judah and turning them over to the Babylonians precisely because they have broken his Law. Yet under this promised New Covenant despite the disobedience of the people, God will no more "cast off all the offspring of Israel for all they have done" than he will upset the order of the physical universe. As sure as the stars are in the heavens God will never, never reject his New Covenant people!
Jeremiah and his hearers must have puzzled over this. The promise is stated, but no explanation is given as to how God could do this and still remain just. It is not until Christ came that the answer was revealed.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
The imputation of our sin to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us was the glorious doctrine that brought light back to the church in the Reformation. The medieval church was in darkness because it was attempting to live under the Old Covenant again, but to rely on our obedience to the Law is to be cursed. This is what Paul warned the Galatian church about.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
On this Reformation Day Sunday we can rejoice that Christ has taken upon himself the curse that was due us. This means that if you are in Christ no sin can "separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rm 8:39)
The doctrine of imputation that Luther rediscovered was not one directional--Christ's righteousness and all the blessings obtained by it flows back towards those who trust in him.
Again this was prophesied by Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”
In these words Jeremiah is echoing Isaiah's prophecy of a New Heaven and New Earth and Ezekiel's prophecy of a New Jerusalem and a New Temple. Something wonderfully glorious is promised for God's people in the future! The blessing described here far exceeds anything promised under the Old Covenant.
Again, these prophecies must have filled Jeremiah and his original hearers with questions. How could God be justified to reward sinful people with such exceedingly great and glorious blessings?
The answer is not fully revealed until the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant. The benefits of the New Covenant are not rewarded to us on the bases of our righteousness, but on the righteousness of Christ. We stand before the face of a holy God not on the merit of our righteousness, but on the merit of of Christ's!
It was this truth that set Martin Luther's heart free and overflowing with joy.
It is the truth that will set your heart free and overflowing with joy once you fully grasp it. To many Christians, even Evangelical Christians, live under the dark cloud of their own righteousness. When you honestly see the darkness of the sin in your own heart, you can't help but weep and hate what you see. When we focus on our own righteousness it is hard to imagine that God would love us--we have a hard time even loving ourselves! But God is not looking at our righteousness. He is loving at the righteousness of his Son Jesus!
This is why all the blessing of the New Covanent are so great and glorious!
We live in an opportune time--we live under the glorious New Covenant. Are you enjoying the benefits of the New Covenant? The only way is through faith in Christ Jesus. Turn from all your false idols--even the idols of trying to establish our own righteousness. Only God through is His Son Jesus can provide what you need--everything else is a false hope. Faith is not simply believing certain facts about Jesus--it is that, but so much more. Faith is trusting in Christ alone to give you a new heart, to take the curse of the Law from you and to give you His glorious righteousness with all it's blessings.
If you have not trusted in Christ alone, as I close in prayer today is your opportunity. If your heart is soften do not delay. If is only softened by the preaching of the Word. Tomorrow, even this afternoon it may be hard again. Do not resist the Holy Spirit. Do not harden you hearts as Judah did to Jeremiah's preaching. Let us pray.