Jeremiah 31:31-34
The New Covenant

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. After this we will observe the Lord's Supper. In communion, there is a passage of scripture that is usually read. It is the section in The First Epistle To The Corinthian Disciples in chapter eleven and verses twenty-three through [twenty-six]. "What I have told you, I myself have received from the Lord. That is, the Lord Jesus, the night he was betrayed, took bread, offered a prayer of thanksgiving, broke [the bread], and said, 'This is my body for you. Do like this as a memorial to me.' Then, after the meal, doing the cup the same way, he said, 'This cup is the new covenant to be established by my blood. When you drink, do like this as a memorial to me.' Therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, until the Lord comes, it will inform you of the Lord's death," (First Corinthians 11:23-26). Here we find the phrase "new covenant." Each time we take part in the Lord's Supper we are confirming that we have a new covenantal relationship with God. As we think today about this "new covenant," let's consider anew and afresh the significance of our joint participation in the Lord's Supper.

The New Covenant And The Old Covenant

2. In the Old Testament, it is in Jeremiah chapter thirty-one and verse thirty-one, which we read today, that speaks on "the new covenant/testament." It talks about "the new covenant" because there is, as you'd expect, "an old covenant" in contrast to it. In order to understand the new covenant, first we need to get an understanding of the old covenant.

3. In regard to the old covenant, the description is given that "I made a covenant with them when I once took the hands of their ancestors and led them out of the land of Egypt," (verse thirty-two). That was the covenant the Lord made on Sinai with the people he had brought out of Egypt. In this covenant it is the ten commandments that hold the central position. The people saved by God's grace became the people with the ten commandments through the covenant at Sinai. The contents of the Decalogue are concluded in loving God and loving one's neighbor. God willed that the people exist with his ten commands on this earth. That means that God has willed that while on earth, a people would exist to love God and to love one's neighbor on a mutual basis. The reason they became the people with the law of God was to become a blessing for the various nations of peoples in this world.

4. But, in today's passage of scripture it states that "They broke the covenant." We certainly see in the Old Testament the history of the Israelites, which is summarized in the short phrase of "They broke the covenant." Covenants are in effect during the truthfulness of two parties. If one of them breaks it, it's over. It should be over with. But, God's purposes are not thwarted by humanity's disloyalty. In the downfall of the nation, in which Jeremiah could only see the end of the covenant, he heard the following word from the Lord, "Behold, the day is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah." The old covenant was broken by human sin. So, the new covenant would begin coming into effect by being based on forgiveness of sin. Therefore, even at the end of verse thirty-four, the Bible puts it like this, "I will forgive their sin and I will not remember their sins again."

5. Using these words as a backdrop, Jesus stated that evening to his disciples that "This cup is the new covenant to be established by my blood." What the Lord was pointing to through "my blood" for the new covenant that he was speaking about was the redemption of sin through the blood of Christ. It was the forgiveness of sin given by the blood shed on the cross. Jesus saw that day when he was crucified as the day [God] was setting the new covenant.

6. Well then, God, who made the new covenant, is the same God who made the old covenant once before at Sinai. By that then, it means that even in the new covenant what God wants is the same also in it. We shouldn't think that the cross of Christ is just for our own personal sins. That wasn't the ultimate purpose. What God wanted was to have a people on this earth to love Him and to love their neighbors. The reason Christ shed his blood on this earth was really for that purpose.

7. Therefore, we do not practice communion individually. We do not rejoice just individually in our relationship with Christ. As people of the new covenant we take part 'together' in the Lord's Supper. As people of the new covenant, we offer our worship 'together.' The assembling of ourselves together is not some additional option we have in our lives. This is the core of our faith life.

The House Of Israel And Gentile Christians

8. We also see from what it says that the day is coming when he will make a new covenant with "The house of Israel and the house of Judah." God is not making a new covenant with individuals. The new covenant is always a covenant with God and his people. To the extent that we belong to God as his people, we have been cut into a new covenant based relationship with God. There is no such thing as a relationship with God based on the new covenant apart from the people of God.

9. However, we still need to consider another point about this. In this text it says, "The house of Israel and the house of Judah." The new covenant spoken about in the prophecy of Jeremiah is always and ever connected to a revived Israel. We are not that Israel by nature. Biblically speaking, we are "Gentiles." Originally speaking we have nothing to do with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Nor do we have a connection to either Moses, Elijah, the kings of David, or the divided and downfallen Israel and Judah. Therefore, what the Bible is saying here is that originally speaking, there is no direct connection to us at all. The words of Jeremiah as they stand really don't apply to us. In truth, when Jesus spoke his words at the last supper there were no Gentiles there. All the disciples who heard the Lord's words were Jews.

10. Why do we Gentiles even so undeservedly take part of the cup of the new covenant? This is not evident upon its own. If it hadn't been through God's special gracious plan, it would never have been possible.

11. Paul illustrates something that happened that should never have been possible on its own by using the simile of the grafted olive branch. Please look at The Epistle To The Roman Disciples in chapter eleven and verse seventeen. "But, since you like a broken off branch and as a wild olive branch, are engrafted onto the tree in its place and having received abundant nourishment from its root, you should not boast against the broken off branch. You have boasted but yet you are not supporting the root but the root is supporting you. Thus, you [should] say, 'The branch was broken off so that I would be engrafted in.' That is right. The Jew was broken off because of unbelief and you will stand by belief. You should not be high minded. Rather, be afraid," (Romans 11:17-20).

12. In this text it is we Gentiles who are being called the Wild Olive. We are only grafted into [the tree]. On one side, there is the broken branch. This is the Jew who has not received Christ. As persons of the house of Israel they have not partaken of the new covenant due to their unbelief. But on the other side, there we are the wild olive branch grafted in. As persons who never originally belonged to the house of Israel, we take part in the new covenant due to our faith. We must remember this message at all times. Due to the fact that God has grafted us onto the olive tree, which he has granted life through real historical events, we can live as Christians. We should not dreamily think that the tree can go on living apart from the trunk.

Celebration As We Go Unto Perfection

13. So, I stated that since the new covenant is made between God and the people it is not made between God and single individuals. However, since only the relationship with God and the people as a whole is important, we should not be forced to think that the relationship with individual persons only has some secondary significance. No, far from that, in the new covenant God cares so very much about the deepest interior of our personhood.

14. The Lord says, "I will assign my laws into their breasts and upon their hearts," (verse thirty-three). Under the old covenant, the law of God was given as words written on tablets. They were words, you might say, given externally to all the people as a whole. Under the new covenant, God himself is at work in the deepest parts of a human being. God has inscribed his commands inside [the believer]. We experience God not as someone who gives commands from the outside but as one who transforms us on the inside and who moves within us. We experience God as the Holy Spirit living within us.

15. Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant to be established by my blood." And just as the Lord said, he was crucified and died shedding his blood. But, we know that after Good Friday, on the third day, that Easter was coming. We also know that seven weeks later The Festival Of Pentecost would continue. Christ wasn't just crucified, but he would rise again from the dead, ascend to heaven, and pour out the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness of sin wasn't all. After that, there was the work of sanctification to be done through the Holy Spirit.

16. In addition, we know that the work of the Holy Spirit is not yet completed. Jeremiah's prophecy is still not entirely fulfilled. "At that time, people will not have to tell their neighbors or their brothers to 'Know the Lord.' For, they all will know, whether small or great, says the Lord," (verse thirty-four). We have not yet seen these conditions.

17. However, Christ has already shed his blood. He has already cut the new covenant. The work of God based on the new covenant has already begun. We are allowed to celebrate that. Therefore, even on this day, we are taking part in the Lord's Supper. By believing that what God wills will always come to pass, we celebrate the Lord's Supper as people of the new covenant.

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