The history of redemption is arguably the most beautiful story ever told. From the Garden of Eden to the final words of the book of Revelation, the Bible takes us on a captivating adventure of love, disappointment, hate, sin, and ultimately salvation. One of the deepest valleys of that journey is captured in the life and ministry of Jeremiah, who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of his people. In the middle of this most tragic chapter in the history of Israel, however, a glimmer of light and hope begins to appear as Jeremiah introduces something the people of Israel and Judah had not heard of before: a ‘new covenant’.
In an otherwise quite gloomy book, this phrase in Jeremiah 31 presents a hope to the people of Israel that they had previously not dared to dream of:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The calamity that Jeremiah prophesied about during his life was the direct result of the Israelites’ disobedience. They had transgressed the covenant God gave them through Moses so often that God was finally sending them away with a certificate of divorce. But at the lowest point of Israel’s history, God suddenly gives a tremendous promise with unprecedented repercussions. The book of Hebrews sheds a unique light on this ‘new covenant’ promise as it quotes this passage in Jeremiah:
6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
Apparently, this new covenant offers better promises than the old covenant. This is where the majestic beauty of God’s great redemptive plan begins to unfold: the old covenant offered promises based on performance and keeping of Moses’ Law; the new covenant offers promises based on undeserved and unearned grace. Jeremiah shows us that whereas the old covenant gave us external laws we had to internalize, the new covenant writes those law on our hearts, so we can then externalize them and work them out. No more does man have to work in endless frustration to meet God’s standard! Now God has written that standard on our hearts so that we will love and serve God from the inside out rather than the outside in! What amazing grace!
Jesus makes it abundantly clear in the Gospels that it is, in fact, His blood that enacts this new covenant – it is through the shed blood of Jesus the Passover Lamb that we enter into the new covenant. The contrast between the old and the new could not be greater. Just look at what Paul has to say about this subject:
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
The language Paul uses is fairly strong; he goes so far as to call the old covenant the ‘ministry of death’! The letter of the old covenant could only show us where we fell short and thus ultimately only produce death. An all-important truth is revealed here: letter and law that is imposed from the outside will never produce true life or true, lasting glory. But this new ministry, this new covenant is a ministry of righteousness and a covenant of true glory. Whereas the glory of Moses’ face faded with time, we have been endowed with and made partakers of an eternal glory! The glory we have in Christ will not fade, the righteousness we have been clothed with is unlimited, and God’s Law has been forever engrained upon our hearts!
The fullness of the magnificence of God’s redemptive plan was not yet known when Jeremiah penned those prophetic words in chapter 31, but they certainly did give the depairing Judeans a glimpse of a glorious future – a future of a new covenant, of the law written on the hearts of people. And now, centuries later, we have become the fulfillment of that prophecy. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, we are now the letter that testifies of Christ and His glory – not written with ink or by the power of man but written with the Spirit of God by the blood of Christ:
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.