Jeremiah is usually thought of as a prophet of doom and sorrow, and he did have a message of judgment to deliver which caused him deep anguish. He had to tell the people of Judah that the nation would be conquered and the people exiled because of sin. But the gloom was not unrelieved. Jeremiah also had a message of restoration and forgiveness that looks forward to Christ. He brings us the promise of the New Covenant. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 11. Jeremiah 31:31-34 The New Covenant.
1. The need for the New Covenant
Much of Jeremiah’s preaching aimed to make the people of Judah conscious of sin. That sin was the breach of the Sinai covenant – ‘the covenant that I made with their fathers’ (v32) – the ‘old’ covenant to which succeeding generations were bound. God pledged himself to the nation as a ‘husband’ and gave his law as their guide for life. Nevertheless, the nation turned away and forsook their covenant obligations, bringing God’s covenant curse upon them (Jeremiah 11:8). A replacement for the old covenant was needed. The fault was not in the covenant, but ‘God found fault with the people’ (Hebrews 8:8). The written law showed the right way to live but could not change the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 13:23). Our need for the New Covenant is just as great. In Adam we are covenant breakers and we die ‘in Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). God’s law simply condemns us: we need a change of heart.
2. The basis of the New Covenant
Note that this is still the same Covenant of Grace, made, for example with Abraham. Its basis is stated in v34 ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’. It is the forgiving grace of God to undeserving sinners who could not merit such kindness. It is a promise of grace that includes us. God is sovereign in salvation – ‘I will make a new covenant’. He decrees the terms and even our response is the fruit of regenerating grace. Our sin is dealt with by Christ paying the penalty at the cross (1 Peter 2:24). The death of Christ establishes the New Covenant: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:20). Thus ‘Christ is the Mediator of a new covenant’ (Hebrews 9:15). Forgiveness was mediated in the old Covenant through sacrifices which pointed to the future Saviour. Entrance to the New Covenant is by the grace of God changing the heart.
3. The content of the New Covenant
In v33-34 we have a summary of covenant blessings. The promise is of a deep personal relationship between God and forgiven sinners (v34). Knowing the Triune God is the essence of covenant life (John 17:3). Members of the New Covenant are adopted into the family of God. He is a Father, loving, caring for, protecting, and disciplining. Note the place of God’s law – I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’. The law is an internal principle, with the Lord giving the desire and power to obey. This is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:13). Past guilt is dealt with and we are given a new orientation towards obedience (1 John 5:3). All in the New Covenant will exercise saving faith and have the Lord’s promise of ongoing cleansing.