Jan. 09, 2022
A Radical Declaration Of Love
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Romans 12:1-2
1. The Covenant Renewal Service History
a. It is a distinctively Methodist practice.
b. John Wesley—The first covenant renewal service was held in August 1755.
c. Sunday, January 1, 1775
“We had a larger congregation at the renewal of the Covenant than we have had for many years; and I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing. Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of his grace, healing all their backslidings.” (John Wesley)
d. It was a day of solemn reflection and rededication.
“A covenant renewal service is not a seeker’s service…There is no such thing as ‘covenant renewal lite.’” (Daniel Benedict)
2. The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
a. The context of this scripture passage.
i. God gave Jeremiah a specific task.
“I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10)
ii. For roughly 40 years Jeremiah was faithful to his calling—He prophesized that unless the people of Judah returned to God, the destruction of their nation was inevitable.
iii. Jeremiah then witnessed the utter defeat and dismantling of the nation at the hands of the Babylonian armies.
iv. The first 29 chapters of Jeremiah describe the unrelenting doom and gloom of the people of Judah.
v. Suddenly and unexpectedly at the beginning of chapter 30 the gloom lifts and there is a new message.
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people.” Jeremiah 30:3
vi. After the uprooting, tearing, destroying, and overthrowing, Jeremiah is now to build and plant. This change of tone continues to the end of chapter 33—This part of Jeremiah is often referred to as the “Book of Comfort”.
vii. It looks beyond the present desperate plight of the people to the time when God would heal their wounds, bring them back from the land of exile, and restore the land.
viii. Even the covenant-relationship between God and his people would be restored.
“At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)
b. How could a covenant-relationship so utterly broken be restored?
3. Lessons About Restoration And The New Covenant
a. The covenant is primarily understood as a relationship.
“I was their husband, says the Lord”. (Jeremiah 31:32)
i. The term ‘covenant’ in everyday use today is primarily a legal word, but that was not the case in Biblical times.
“…we need to recall that the concept of covenant was not viewed in the Old Testament in legal terms…Covenant was a metaphorical way to describe the relationship between God and the people in terms of mutual interaction. God revealed himself to the people (“I will be your God”) and expected the people to respond to that revelation with worship and faithfulness (“you shall be my people”). (Dennis Bratcher)
ii. God may have been husband, but the people have been unfaithful. This unfaithfulness is presented in the most graphic terms in chapter 3, where Israel is likened to “an unfaithful wife actively pursuing her many lovers.”
iii. The relationship between God and his people had been destroyed.
“The old covenant “could not be resurrected as if nothing had happened, certainly not by the people who had destroyed it.” (Dennis Bratcher)
iv. Something new and radical needed to be done if there was to be a new relationship between God and people.
“…I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33b)
b. The covenant is written on people’s hearts.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts…” (Jeremiah 31:33a)
i. What the people needed was not a new law or a change of the law but a change of heart, so that they might remain faithful to the relationship to which God had called them; and a change of mind, so that they could live in the way God wanted them to live.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
ii. A Radical Declaration Of Love—The word “love” summarizes the whole of the law. That’s what we need God to inscribe in our innermost beings, so we are people guided, motivated, ruled by love.
c. The initiative for making this covenant is totally with God.
Even if God restores the people to the land, enables them to experience prosperity and joy and shows love to them again, that will not be enough. Something must change within the people themselves. Here God promises to heal them from the inside out. God will change not only their outward circumstances, but their very hearts. (Charles Aaron)
i. God promises to change us; to renew our minds and write his word upon our hearts—This is GRACE!
ii. God offers us both a covenant-relationship with him and the promise to change our hearts so we can be faithful to that relationship.
iii. God even promises to press the reset button if we choose to let Him in.
a. We thank God that He not only offers this covenant-relationship with him, but He gives us the ability to keep it!
b. A new relationship + Written on people’s hearts + Initiated by God = Free Gift (Grace)—It is God’s radical declaration of love for us.
c. Wesley’s Covenant Prayer: It is a radical declaration of our love for God.