5th Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2018
“The Ultimate Fix”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for the sermon is today’s First Lesson from Jeremiah 31 as read previously.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
I am not mechanically inclined. Nope. Fix a car? I don’t think so. Fix a small appliance? That’s rich. Fix a TV? Why not just buy a new one? That being said, over the years I got real good at fixing our clothes dryer and vacuum cleaner. Both of those appliances have a tendency to break down, and I decided that I would roll up my sleeves and give it a try. Over the years I bet I fixed our dryer about 10 times: broken belts, blown elements, bad relays, etc. And our vacuum cleaner? I replaced everything in that vacuum and least once if not twice for 17 years before finally retiring it last year.
Now I have no idea how your clothes dryer or vacuum cleaners are functioning these days, but I will venture a guess that everyone in this room knows something about the brokenness of life, and I’m no longer talking about appliances. We all know about the brokenness of life: broken bones, broken promises, broken marriages, broken families, broken budgets, you name it. Is there anything that we touch in life that doesn’t seem to end up broken at one point or another?
All this brokenness in life in symptomatic of our broken relationship with God. Our stuff, our relationships, our bodies, our relationship with God, all have been broken because of the presence of sin in this world. That is the ultimate answer to the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Easy…“bad” things happen to everyone because of sin in this existence. And yet, in today’s First Lesson from Jeremiah, we hear not a word of condemnation, but a word of restoration – a promise of renewal – for the people of God. It is the promise of the ultimate fix.
Did you know that Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible in terms of the total number of words? It’s longer than Revelation, longer than Genesis, even longer than the Psalms. Perhaps it was the situation of the people at that time that required so many words. Jeremiah was a prophet from around 640-586 BC. If you lived in ancient Israel in those days, this was NOT a good time; there was loads of brokenness. The covenant people of God had broken their relationship with God. He had made a covenant promise to be their God back on Mount Sinai, but that had been a long time ago, and the people had become distracted by a great number of things, chief among them the fertility gods of the Canaanite culture. God sent prophet after prophet to call the people back to Him, but they would have none of it.
The terms of the old covenant relationship had been broken, and when an obligation of this nature is broken, then someone has to pay. God sent first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to punish the rebellious and wicked Israelites who worshipped false gods. It is during this time of broken relationship that Jeremiah was a prophet to Israel. The Israelites were losing all that they had as they were taken away one by one into exile in foreign lands. This was God’s way of purging the evil from the land; a way to call His people back to Him through repentance. We know they broke the covenant; verse 32 of today’s lesson verifies that the covenant relationship had been broken, and the Israelites suffered a load of brokenness as a result.
Now, to really understand how God was and still is working with His people, you have to understand a bit about covenants. Today we deal primarily through legal contracts, but in the ancient near east, they used covenants instead. The Hebrew word for making a covenant is literally the verb for “to cut.” In the Old Testament, you “cut” a covenant, that is, you cut an animal in two and the two parties walked through the shed blood of the animal. It was blood that sealed the deal of the covenant and if one party broke the terms of the covenant relationship, their life was taken just as the life of the animal was taken in the creation of the covenant. In terms of being in a covenant relationship, blood has always sealed the deal.
In addition, blood has always been the necessary agent of the forgiveness of sins. As a part of the old covenant relationship, God gave the Israelites a long laundry list of sacrifices that had to be made. Just read the book of Leviticus sometime to get a sense of just how detailed this system was. The old covenant system needed the blood sacrifices of animals to bring about the forgiveness of sins. For the exiles, this is a big problem! Their temple where they made the sacrifices in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC, so just where and how were sacrifices going to be made? When and how will God forgive their sins? This is where the restorative Word of the Lord provides the ultimate fix in Jeremiah 31, the high point of his prophetic ministry.
The terms of the new covenant are different. “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” (31:34). This was a great promise for the people of Jeremiah’s day! God was going to forgive them and remember their sins no more despite their wicked rebellion and brokenness; God was going to make right what they had made oh so wrong without the temple or animal sacrifices.
But don’t forget…to seal a covenant requires blood; it always had. And this, my friends, is why Jesus says on the night when He was betrayed, “…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). When Jesus was beaten and nailed to Calvary’s cross, His shed blood was the price that was needed to seal the new covenant. Just as we pound nails into wood to fix our homes or garages, nails were pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet to bring about the ultimate fix; to restore our broken relationship with God. We’re not talking about fixing some old clothes dryer or vacuum cleaner here. Jesus gave His body and blood to seal the covenant deal between God and His people so that we can be and remain the loved people of God forever and ever! Under the terms of the old covenant, they had to sacrifice animals over and over again. But Jesus, as He fulfills the terms of the new covenant, does what it takes so that God no longer remembers our sins and forgives our iniquities. It is the shed blood of the Lamb of God that seals the covenant relationship once again between God and His people.
Hey…let’s face facts. Stuff like clothes dryers and vacuums will continue to break in this life. But one thing that cannot break ever again is the one thing that has undergone the ultimate fix, and that is our relationship with God because God in Christ has sealed the new covenant deal with the blood of Jesus so that we might be His people forever.