“A Change of Heart”
The people of Judah faced a huge problem.
The Babylonians had demolished the Temple in Jerusalem and dragged the king off in chains.
The situation was bleak and the Prophet Jeremiah laid the blame on the Israelites and their inability to follow the law and/or their rebellion against the Law of God.
After-all, Jeremiah had been wailing and trying to get the people to see that their idolatrous ways would lead them to destruction.
But now that the destruction has come God, through Jeremiah, offers great hope.
Despite the people’s disloyalty, despite corrupt kings and priests, despite injustice and the exploitation of people, despite idolatry, despite all the ways people have sinned against God—God will not stop loving them, will not stop seeking to restore them, rescue them, save them.
So, now that the people are completely broken…
…Now that they have hit rock bottom, God doesn’t condemn them or judge them, God gives them an amazing promise—real unexpected Good News!!!
God will bring newness out of destruction, hope where there is none, life out of death…
…God will make a way where there is no way.
And that is how God works, is it not?
How many testimonies from people have you heard, where they had ignored God, lived life on their own terms, went their own way only to find themselves either literally, figuratively or spiritually…
…or all three--face down in the gutters of skid row?
I’ve experienced that myself, how about you?
But it is often in the deepest valleys that we come to our senses.
It is often when we are most desperate that we are able to finally hear the voice of God.
And if and when we do—God will raise us up to new life in Christ.
In Jeremiah, God speaks to the broken and hopeless Israelites: “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant…
…it will not be like the old covenant…
…this is the covenant I will make…
…I will write my law in [your] minds and write it on [your] hearts.
I will be [your] God and [you] will be my people.”
You know, this New Covenant God speaks of is where we get what we call the New Testament.
It is the New Covenant that, as Jesus says in Matthew 26:28 is His blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
And we remember and give thanks for this New Covenant every time we take Holy Communion.
Along with, hopefully, every minute of every day.
In the Book of Hebrews, which quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 word for word we are told that Jesus Christ is “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set [us] free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
What we couldn’t do on our own, God has done for us through His blood shed on the Cross.
And the New Covenant that God talks about is no longer the law written on stones for all to see but none to follow.
The New Covenant is the law of love engraved on people’s hearts and displayed by the new lives we live in Christ.
What does Jesus say is the greatest commandment?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And what does this look like in practice:
It looks like the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It looks like the Sermon on the Mount.
It looks like Jesus.
In Romans Chapter 8 the Apostle Paul writes: “what the law was powerless to do…
…God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering…
…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us…”
Not being able to follow the Law of the Old Testament or Old Covenant was not just Israel’s problem, it is our problem as well.
That is why we all need Jesus.
The New Covenant is based on Grace through faith in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.
It is a gift of God.
And if we accept this gift, God writes the Law on our hearts.
You know, there is a big difference between being required to live a certain way because of some outside Laws and seeking to live a certain way because we want to, because of Love.
A colleague writes the following:
“After I graduated from college I worked in a Christian facility that houses teenaged wards of the state.
In the unit where I worked someone had to unlock doors for the resident teenagers to get nearly everywhere.
Those young people were in such a restricted environment because they’d proven to be largely unable to handle freedom.
So, workers tried everything to convince them to use their freedom wisely.
We imposed stiff punishments for wrong behavior and gave rewards for good behavior.
Yet I never saw any of those kids really change because of punishments and rewards.
They sometimes changed their ways to avoid punishment and gain rewards.
But they never really wanted to be good people—unless God changed their hearts.”
In verse 34 of Jeremiah Chapter 31 God says: “No longer will a person teach their neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…”
What does He mean by this?
It’s about a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, is it not?
It is intimate, it is real, it is written on our hearts and minds, and it comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Before Jesus was crucified He told His disciples it was good that He was going away.
Because His Father would send the Holy Spirit to be their Counselor, their guide and all people would have the opportunity to know God personally.
That got its big kick-off on Pentecost when the formerly clueless disciples, started to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ and explain what this meant.
And just like any relationship, it took time to develop.
It took time for them to understand God’s ways.
For instance, at first, the disciples thought that Jesus had only died for the Jewish people and that they still had to follow the Old Testament dietary restrictions.
But slowly as they followed the leading of the Holy Spirit they came to find that non-Jews were getting saved as well.
And then Peter had a vision where God told him that all food is clean to eat.
Paul tells us: “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
Having the law of love engraved in our hearts is the ultimate freedom.
As a matter of fact, as many can testify, having the love of God written in one’s heart is the essence of freedom.
It’s the freedom to act spontaneously, knowing that our actions will reflect what is in our heart.
It is the freedom to be who we truly are, and to give one’s life in such a way that our lives will be good news to the needy, the lonely, the anxious and the seeking.
In Acts Chapter 17 when the Apostle Paul arrived in Athens he noticed all kinds of idols and a shrine with the words written: “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD”?
So Paul spoke to the people of Athens and proclaimed, “I see that in every way you are very religious…now what you worship I am going to proclaim to you.”
How many of our neighbors, friends, the children in our schools, the people we work believe in a god but it is an “UNKNOWN GOD”?
They say that there are no atheists in foxholes and I think that’s right.
God is not some far off and indifferent Being.
He is with us all—all the time, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He is knocking on the door of all of our hearts.
And if we open the door He will make His home in us and life will become like brand new.
Now, this does not mean, in any way that when the law is written on our hearts, we become perfect or don’t sin.
Even the disciples, the Apostles never got it perfectly right either.
But, as God’s people whose sins were remembered no more, they persevered with the desire to please God through the power of walking with the Holy Spirit.
Let me ask you this:
Is there anyone, even a spouse, a child, a best friend…
…is there anyone who you know everything there is to know about them, their inner most thoughts and everything?
Just because we know someone, doesn’t mean we know everything about someone.
Most of us don’t even know ourselves completely—we might not know why we become sad at certain times, or stay up late worrying or why we feed the stray cats in the neighborhood or why a certain person irritates us so…
…that’s why we might go to counseling, and so forth, in order to learn more about ourselves.
Or we take all kinds of personality tests to try and figure out what makes us tick, what we are interested in and what we might want to do as far as a career goes.
In a similar way, even though we know God—we, in no way, know everything about God.
We learn a lot about God through reading the Bible, coming to Church, spending time with other Christians, prayer, service and so forth.
But, in this lifetime we will never know everything—not even close.
And so, Jeremiah’s prophecy is still not complete…
…rather it is in the process…
…for those who believe.
For certainly, none of us have gotten to a day when we don’t need to be taught about the Lord.
I love what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13: “…Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
He goes on to say: “these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
Love fulfills the Law.
It all works together doesn’t it?
We are told in 1st John that God is Love.
And there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”
What a glorious miracle.
What a love divine.
We don’t have to fear!!!
God loves you.
God loves me.
And, if we are in Christ, God has written His Law of Love on our hearts!!!
Just live into it and live free!!!
Someday, we will see God face to face and we will know God just as God knows us.
That’s something to look forward to.
Praise the Lord.