Rev Jane Wade
Readings: Jeremiah 31 verses 31 - 34
John 12 verses 20 - 33
Our reading from Jeremiah is a prophecy of a new covenant.
The people of Judah needed that reassurance. Jeremiah’s messages were not always ones of encouragement. He lived and he prophesied at a time of national spiritual decline. The nation had failed and Jeremiah, often called ‘the weeping prophet’, told God’s people that they would be taken into exile. This did not make Jeremiah popular.
He did however deliver this remarkable prophecy of a new covenant. It will, he says, be very different from what their ancestors had experienced after they were led out of Egypt. Previously the emphasis of the covenant had been national, see Exodus 24. This new covenant however would be with them as individuals, as in Ezekiel 34:25-27:
“I will make a new covenant of peace with them and rid the land of wild beasts so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forest in safety. I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season, there will be showers of blessing. The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of the yolk and rescue them from the hands of those who enslave them.”
The nation had failed and now God would focus upon an individual response and renewal of heart. No one need depend upon others for instruction - verse 34:
“No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother, saying “know the Lord”, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest declares the Lord”.
Potentially all the people would have the knowledge of God and it would not be merely a matter of external obedience, but would be written on their hearts. In case they are concerned at the loss of temple sacrifices, Jeremiah goes on to reassure them that forgiveness of their sins will come as an integral part of this new covenant.
“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”
The new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah will establish a bonding far deeper than the ‘handholding’ of Exodus. God’s people will ‘know’ him at his level of profound personal relationship. The behaviour God desires will be ingrained in their hearts, that is, in the motivating core of their being. As such, it will be discovered rather than taught; and a powerful incentive to this discovery will be the experience of radical forgiveness. The promise is for everyone, from the least to the greatest. It is a promise to inspire confidence, for God himself undertakes to bring it to pass.
In our New Testament reading from John 12, John recalls the moment when Jesus knows that, in fulfilment of the promised new covenant, He must give up His own life and He does so willingly. In John 12 verse 24 Jesus uses a grain of wheat to make an important point about Himself. He knew that the time He spent with His friends was coming to an end; and that having entered Jerusalem - this passage come straight after the triumphal entry - He would soon be put to death on the cross.
Jesus knew His death would become new life. Jesus knew that His death was like planting a grain of wheat in the ground. The wheat would no longer remain as it had been, but it would achieve the purpose for which it had been designed.
In the same way Jesus’ life had been leading towards this point, so that He might not only show people how to live their lives, but also die on the cross. This is what He meant when He talked about being ‘lifted up from the earth’. Jesus’ one death led to new life and enabled Him to come alive again.
This meant that people could discover that God could forgive them and that their sins could be dealt with.
One thing followed on from another. Just as the grain leads to the ear of wheat which leads to flour, which in turn leads to bread; so Jesus’ death led to His resurrection, which led to the hope of forgiveness of sins, and ultimately led to the Holy Spirit bringing new life. Jesus said “if it dies it produces many seeds”. Jesus’ death would bring many people to know God for themselves as prophesied previously by Jeremiah.
Jesus knows that there are no covenants and no release of new life unless the seed falls into the ground and dies. The time has come for Him to be glorified. And with the language of ‘lifting up’, He points to the crucifixion, echoing His earlier words in John 3:14 where Jesus says:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.“
The ‘glory’ is what happens to him at the cross. Jesus goes on to say:
“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” vs 27-28
The other gospels record a similar moment in Gethsemane. But Jesus’ calling is to seal the new covenant with his own sacrifice - a moment of glory.
“Not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
Jesus chose to suffer and give His life for us, so we might live. Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life that He had bought for us. Through His death and resurrection He showed His power over death and proves that He has eternal life. And because Jesus is God, Jesus can give the same eternal life to all who believe in Him. This is the hope we have in Him.
“My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.
I do not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name.
When darkness seems to hide his face
I rest on his unchanging and grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord for all
His oath, his covenant, his blood
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay
Christ alone, cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord for all.