“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.
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.
“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.
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.”
Points to Ponder:
To say that everyone has experienced disappointment at some point in life is likely a grotesque understatement. And while some disappointments – abuse, betrayal, loved ones lost too soon, perhaps – are arguably and terribly devastating, I wonder how many routine disappointments today pale in comparison to the life endured by the people of Old Testament Israel due to their continuous cycles of rebellion in the faces of the prophets who warned them of God’s impending judgment. Eventually, that judgment came in the form of exile to a foreign land and culture.
Each time I read today’s passage from the book of Jeremiah, I can’t help but think of these exiles who almost certainly – at some point or other – lived lives of remorse as they dwelled among their Babylonian captors. Likely their memories were filled with fading thoughts of life “back home” in Israel as well as the stories of brutality faced by their elders in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s utter destruction as detailed in the early chapters of Jeremiah. The prophet here records the slow and methodical invasion of Babylon’s army outside of Jerusalem’s gates as Babylon demanded tribute from the Jewish leaders. Eventually the army was needed back in Babylon, so to hold the newly-conquered territory, the soldiers forced vast numbers of Israelites to march back to Babylon with them.
Imagine the scene for a moment. The pain, humiliation and devastation must have been sharp and real, especially for those taken captive as children or born to Israelite parents after the exile occurred. This would have been especially true of the people who longed to be forgiven for their personal sins as well as for the sins of their nation. Forgiveness, after all, was as essential to the process of spiritual restoration as it is today. It was for Israel, in a very real way, the door whose opening would lead them into living under God’s reigning kingdom again.
But of all the regrets that could have haunted these exiled people of God, Scripture never gives us an indication that hopelessness overshadowed their lives. In fact, and due to promises made by God, Scripture impresses upon us that the people of Israel – even held captive in a foreign land – never doubted that their day of redemption would come. They had faith, in other words, that their LORD wouldn’t forget them despite the fact that their nation had blatantly rebelled against Him.
We see this hope in full bloom even as the tone of Jeremiah’s text shifts from one of darkening doom to glimmers of dawn’s breaking light. In stark contrast to the warnings of consequences in those earlier chapters, Jeremiah speaks out in chapter 31 from the very midst of the exiles. Take heart and look to the future, he seems to proclaim. Our God has promised to remember us always. A new day is coming, so hang on. God has not abandoned us.
As it turns out, Jeremiah’s message in chapter 31 is timeless and applies just as much to us today as it did to exiled Israel. Just like the Israelites of the Old Testament, the truly repentant Christ-follower longs to turn from his or her sin, be forgiven and to have our lives made right by God. The difference between the two groups, however, should cause us to rejoice. Israel anxiously awaited the birth of Messiah, the One who would deliver the nation from its exile and thereby redeem it from its sin. Our thirst for forgiveness is unlike that of Israel because for us it can be immediately quenched. God’s promise to Israel as made through Jeremiah can be ours today, this hour, this moment, through faith in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, a process initiated by His birth.
At the same time, however, we look to future redemption much as Israel did when we recognize that the full impact of God’s forgiveness is yet to come. We realize, in other words, that the promised restoration of this earth and all things associated with it has begun but is not yet completed (Isaiah 65:17). In our own lives, furthermore, the impact or consequence of our personal sin can and often does remain despite the fact of our repentance and God’s forgiveness that opens the door to our restoration. Like Jeremiah’s Israel, then, we know what it means to yearn to know the full forgiveness and restoration that is promised to arrive with God’s kingdom as we await Christ’s return.
– Copyright 2016, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All Rights Reserved.
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Focus for Reflection:
Are there ways in which you long to experience the fullness of God’s forgiveness and restoration? If so, in what ways?
Do the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in any way shape or reshape your idea of spiritual restoration as you wait expectantly for Christ’s second coming?
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