31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
Our passage from Jeremiah catches you off guard if you aren’t careful. I say that because Jeremiah has a bit of a reputation; a reputation as a cry baby. He is a bit of a whiner, a complainer, and a pessimist. He is commonly referred to as “The Weeping Prophet.” Oh sure, Jeremiah is a great prophet, one of the greatest of the entire Bible. But Jeremiah is a bit of a downer. He is always prophesying about destruction and judgment. It seems to me that Jeremiah’s tone is appropriate for Lent.
Our passage from Jeremiah 31 marks a significant change in Jeremiah’s tone. All at once we go from this atmosphere of despair to an atmosphere of hope, an atmosphere of change, an atmosphere of a new promise. God says, “The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah.” Hey, even this cloud has a silver lining! God hadn’t been making a lot of covenants with the Israelites, and why should he? The Israelites keep failing to keep up their end of the deal. God says that he had tried to be a husband to the people, but the people had not been faithful. However, God is ready to try again.
God is going to make a new covenant with the people and he is going to write this one on their hearts, which sounds painful, but I am pretty sure this is symbolic language. This is a little different than the covenant that he made with the people at Mount Sinai. Remember that when God made the covenant with the people at Mt. Sinai he etched 10 commandments in stone. You can’t dispute that, it is chiseled in granite. The law is written in stone. But this new covenant will be written on the hearts of the people.
Just this method of writing the new covenant will mark a significant difference in the lives of the people. I think about “laws” a lot differently than I think about the matters of the heart. When I hear about a law, I immediately start to think about what I can get away with and not get in trouble or get caught. If you listen to local radio or watch local television will be aware of the Virginia Highway Patrol program known as “Click it or Ticket.” If you do not buckle your seatbelt and they see you, you will be ticketed for it.
I am generally good about buckling my seat belt; I know it is the law and I know that this law is for my own good. But sometimes I jump in my car and see the needle pointing to the E. So I know that after making a quick trip to the bank to take out a second mortgage, I need to get gas.
There is a gas station a block-and-a-half away from my home. So when I get in my car and I need to fill up, I drive to that gas station. And the question often runs through my mind, “Do I really need to buckle up for the 30 seconds that it will take me to get to the gas station?”
I know what the law says. It says click it or ticket. It doesn’t say click it or ticket, unless you are driving less than 100 yards. I can be ticketed if I don’t buckle up. So I usually do. That’s the law, and it is written in stone.
In the back seat of my car is a large plastic seat with a five-point harness system intended to protect any little boys or girls that might be riding along with me. Now I know that times have changed, but I wouldn’t consider driving, even those 1.5 blocks, without strapping in my child. I know it is a law that he needs to be buckle in, but I don’t do it because it is the law. I do it because he is important to me. He is in my heart. And furthermore, because I know he is watching everything that I do and say, I am going to buckle my seat belt every time I start up my car to set a good example. I don’t just do it because it is the law written in stone. I do it because I want him to always buckle his seat belt. I want what is best for him and I want him to be safe. We approach these matters of the heart differently than we do the rules set in stone.
When God told Jeremiah that he was giving the people a new covenant, one not written in stone, but written on their hearts, I believe he was showing them a different reason to be faithful. That reason is love. We are faithful because of our love for God and our love for others. Sure, the fear of punishment, whether that be a ticket for not buckling your seat belt or being cut off from God’s people, is going to be an effective motivator. But God would rather we be faithful to him out of love than fear. When we are faithful out of fear, we are always asking what we can get away with. When we are faithful out of love, we are always asking what more we can offer.
So Jeremiah says that the days are coming when God will make this new covenant with the people. He doesn’t say when, just that the days are coming. So the people wait. They wait some more. And they wait about 600 years until the night when Jesus was to be handed over to the authorities. And on that night, Jesus gathered his closest 12 friends together to celebrate the Passover meal. After the meal Jesus took loaf of bread and a cup of wine and he offered it to his friends and he said, This is my body and my blood, a sign of the new covenant. It took over 600 years, but finally God was signing this new covenant on the hearts of his people.
This isn’t the only connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament found in our text for this morning. In the end of the passage from Jeremiah, God tells the people that their neighbors will know the Lord. This new covenant isn’t just between God and the Israelites. No, it is breaking the mold of other covenants, which were always between God and Israel, and reaching to the furthest corners of the world.
We begin to see this come to be in our passage from John’s gospel. Verse 20 tells us that some Greeks come to see Jesus. These were not Jews, but Gentiles. The covenant written on the hearts of humanity is not just for one people group. It is not just for the Jews, but also for the Greeks. Barriers are torn down. As the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So Jesus does what anyone would do when the entire religious system as you know it is shaken up. He begins to teach about agriculture. And not just any old aspect of agriculture. No, Jesus begins to talk about the most exciting subdivision of ag-commerce known to humanity. He starts to talk about wheat. A single grain of wheat can be ground into flour and consumed, but it isn’t going to make much. So Jesus talks about how this single grain of wheat must die and be buried in order for it to produce a bountiful harvest.
Of course we all know what Jesus was talking about, right? He isn’t just talking about agriculture and wheat. Jesus was speaking in a parable. And he was clearly talking about how he had to die and rise again from the dead for his message of this new covenant to grow and spread to all nations and to people like the Greeks. In the text just before this parable Jesus talks about how his time has come and the text right after this parable talks about Jesus being troubled because his time has come near. So this must be about Jesus’ death.
But then again, in verse 25 Jesus says, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” So maybe Jesus is talking about how his followers must be willing to lay down their lives for this new covenant that is being offered to the Israelites and all of the world. And indeed, many people have laid down their lives for this new covenant. Just as a grain of wheat dies and produces many seeds, so too does the death of a Christian often lead to many new followers of Jesus. As the saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
But then again, Jesus says in verse 26, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” So if Jesus is calling us to follow him and his teachings as well as serve him, well I’m no doctor, but I think that requires that one still be alive. Maybe Jesus’ parable is referring to death to our old ways of life, dying to the ways of this world to live a fruitful life of following the Prince of Peace, Lord of lords, King of kings.
If you know me, you know that I like parables precisely because of their multiple layers of meaning. I don’t believe that this is an either/or kind of parable, but a both/and. When Jesus was teaching about the grain of wheat dying to produce more wheat, he was speaking about his own death which would be coming soon; he was speaking about how his followers must be willing to give up everything to follow him and in doing so die to the ways of this world; he was speaking of how sometimes when you are willing to give up everything to follow Jesus it may cost you your earthly life.
Jesus says that this new covenant that he is about to initiate, this new agreement, this new promise that God is about to make with all of the world and write on the hearts of his people is worth dying for because like the death of a grain of wheat, it will not be in vain. It will produce bountifully.