The Essence of Advent--a New Covenant
O Lord Jesus come to me with Your grace and blessing! Lead me to forsake all vain efforts to secure Your favor by my own works and merit. Rather, move me to put my trust in Your work of redemption and in the righteousness You bestow upon me by faith. Cause my heart to rejoice this day in Your forgiving love, and open my lips to sing Your praise, for then, and only then, will I find true hope and genuine security. It is in Your saving name that I pray this day. Amen.
Paul reminds us that the time of Jesus’ second coming is near. He urges us to “cast off the works of darkness” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” as we look forward to the promised fulfillment of our salvation!
Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday amidst a crowd shouting out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Jesus was indeed the promised Savior-King, who came “in the name of the LORD” and brought salvation!
Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
In Christ Jesus, whose advent has graciously impacted our faith and eternal destiny, dear fellow redeemed:
Have you already begun the marathon that we call December? The shopping, the decorating, the parties, the present-wrapping, the cookie baking…all those things that are associated with the season, and which are both exhilarating and often times exhausting. The unexpected death of our sister-in-Christ, Jeanette Brenner, however, should bring into sharp focus for us once again that in the end all of these activities are but an outer shell when compared to the real meaning—the essence of the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Advent means “coming” and refers to the coming of our Savior, who was sent by our loving, heavenly Father to rescue us from both sin and its devastating consequence, death. It reminds us of Jesus’ future coming at the end of time, when the dead will be raised and all believers will be ushered into the courts of heaven.
My dear friends—during our regular services this Advent Season we will look beyond the outer shell to consider THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT! Today we will consider, in particular, A NEW COVENANT! Our knowledge of that new covenant, heralded by the prophet Jeremiah in our text, introduced by our Savior Himself at the time of His first coming—yes, that covenant, which will find its completion only when we all walk the halls of heaven, should bring us true comfort and joy as we meet each of the challenges of this life.
Isaiah informs us, first of all, that this new covenant is intended for all who believe! Of course, the fact that we are talking about a “new” covenant suggests there was an “old” covenant, and yes there was! The old covenant was the covenant God made with His Old Testament people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Jeremiah refers to it as he introduces the new covenant in the opening words of our text: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.”
The old covenant was God’s covenant with the Old Testament nation of Israel. After Moses led Israel out of Egypt and to Mount Sinai, the LORD told His people prior to giving them His law: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’” (Ex. 19:4-6a). This old covenant was unique in view of its limitation to Israel. Moses, prior to his death, asked the people: “What great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us?” (Deut 4:7). This old covenant was tied to God’s promise to give the descendants of Abraham the land of Palestine. Moses admonished the people in his final series of sermons: “You shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD swore to give your father, to them and their descendants, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’” (Deut. 11:8-9).
But as Jeremiah noted, God’s Old Testament people of Israel broke that covenant. They did not keep God’s laws, nor were they faithful in their singular relationship with their God—a relationship the LORD Himself described as a spiritual marriage. The result was that God withheld His blessings from His people. He divided His people into two nations—Israel and Judah after the time of Solomon. The northern kingdom of Israel ceased to exist, when in view of their rebellion and unfaithfulness the LORD permitted them to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. As Jeremiah wrote the words of our text, the Babylonians under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judah and were about to take it into seventy years of captivity.
Into this desperate situation of war and coming destruction, Jeremiah uplifted the hearts of those people in Israel who remained faithful to the LORD with His promise of a new covenant—a different covenant. Jeremiah describes it as “a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,” but remember Israel no longer existed, and Judah was about to be destroyed. The LORD, while using Old Testament terms, was in fact announcing and emphasizing the universal nature of His new covenant. The new covenant was intended for all who believe.
The apostles Paul and Peter were led to understand this truth and emphasize it in their New Testament writings. No longer was God’s covenant to be limited by blood to those people of one nation. Paul informed the Roman Christians: “They are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Rom. 9:6-7). Paul goes on to explain that he had been commissioned to preach to the gospel also to the Gentiles, so that “all Israel (that is, all believers) will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Peter, speaking to all New Testament believers irrespective of their nationality, assures them: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). My dear friends—THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT is A NEW COVENANT in which God speaks directly to your hearts and assures you that in view of Jesus’ coming you are God’s special people!
That new covenant, as Jeremiah now suggests, is revealed through the gospel! Jeremiah writes: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me; from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.” God’s old covenant was the law of Moses given on Mount Sinai. It outlined God’s desires and demands for the moral, civil, and religious life of His people. Those laws controlled the outward life of God’s people, telling them what to eat and not to eat, what to wear and not to wear, how to worship and when to worship, how to live their lives down to the tiniest detail. Those laws were never intended to be a means of salvation, but rather were intended to preserve God’s Old Testament people as a nation through which God would send His promised Savior and to reveal to that nation their need for that Savior. As such the old covenant of the law, at its very best, brought about an outward conformity of life, but it did not touch the heart.
God’s new covenant, He says, will be placed in their minds and written in their hearts. He refers to this covenant also as a “law,” but is in reality referring to the word and truth of the gospel. The gospel reveals God’s love for us. Jesus came to redeem us—to resolve our greatest spiritual need. He has reconciled us to our God and has invited us to share in the riches of heaven. He lived and He died for you and for me. He was raised again to affirm the fact that God’s plan for our salvation had been completed, and He now sits in heaven above to assure that God’s kingdom will and does indeed come to all whom God has chosen.
As Paul contemplated that marvelous nature of God’s gospel covenant, he exclaimed: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19). My dear friends, both Jeremiah and Paul are emphasizing the fact that God’s new covenant is not primarily a matter of externals—intellectual facts and outward laws to enforce conformity, but rather it is a message of love that touches our hearts. Will it affect our outward actions? Of course, it will! “Faith without works is dead!” James cries out! (Jam. 2:26) But for the believing child of God, his or her religious faith is not just a “must do” list, but rather it centers on a love so compelling and so complete that it has captured our hearts and controls our minds, so that we willingly submit to the good and gracious will of our God. THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT is A NEW COVENANT, which is revealed by the gospel…
…and which is based upon God’s forgiveness! Jeremiah concludes our text with these wonderful assurances: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” What greater comfort can we sinners be given than for God Himself to assure us that He will and has forgiven our sins, and that unlike man—including ourselves—He will remember them no more? Believers, more than anyone else, are conscious of their sins. Why is that? It is because believers understand that God is holy and that His righteous demands far exceed their abilities to obey. Believers understand, as James explained, that even were they able to keep the whole law and only sin one time during their entire lifetimes, they would still be “guilty of all” (Jam. 2:10). Believers understand that a holy God must punish sin, but this information does not lead to despair, for any thoughts of despair dissolve before the cross.
One of our brothers-in-Christ, Bob Cochran, is nearing the end of his life due to cancer. Friday, as we neared the end our visit and following his reception of the Lord’s Supper, Bob mentioned to me that as he lay in his bed he had a constant reminder of the cross and the salvation it represents in his room. I looked about and saw no picture of Jesus, and he must have seen my confusion. He said, "Pastor, look at my door." There in the six panel door, it was so obvious—the four upper panels form a perfect cross—perhaps not the intention of the original design, but certainly its result.
My dear friends—because of Jesus’ coming, we can live our lives and approach our deaths with absolute confidence. We have been forgiven. When we appear before our Savior’s throne on the Last Day, we need not fear. God’s new covenant—THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT is a covenant of love and forgiveness, a covenant that brings us into the family of God and assures us that all will be well, both now as we walk the often difficult paths of this life and surely in heaven, where there will be no more sorrow, or pain, or suffering, or death, for Jesus promises all these things will pass away! (Rev. 21:4) Cling, therefore, my brethren to your Savior and His promises. In these you will find comfort and joy! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting