Things weren’t good in Jeremiah’s Jerusalem. The city itself had broken down into the kind of factions we see today — the wealthy oppressed the poor, the powerful ignored the plight of the weak, widows and orphans were left to fend for themselves. It had been this way for years; and the consequences were about to unfold. The LORD had warned his people that disobeying his commands and turning aside from his way would result in death and destruction; and death and destruction were on the way. Nebuchadnezzar himself was coming to lay siege to the city, and the survivors would be forced to return to Babylon with him, leaving their homes, their temple, and their land.
Everything was in chaos.
And yet this is the time that God chooses to share his promise, the hope of a new covenant, with Israel.
We’ve talked for the last month or so about the ways God has blessed his people, Israel, and through them, the world. We’ve looked at the promises made to Noah and Abraham and Moses, and all of them have been remarkable and beautiful. But this one is different.
Or perhaps we should call it surprising or counterintuitive — because it comes while the people of God are embroiled in the consequences of their own disobedience. It comes before they’ve figured out what they have done, before they have repented of their sins. God makes this new promise — a promise that features him as the only one doing anything — while humankind is still at odds with the one who made them.
C.S. Lewis once called the story of the Bible, which is the story of everything there is, a comedy — in the classical sense. Unlike a tragedy, which begins with everything being semi-okay and ends with most everyone dead, a comedy begins with everything wrong and ends with everything finally coming to rights. The road to that conclusion doesn’t have to be funny; it can actually be quite tragic. But we know, or the author knows, that the marriage feast awaits.
Ever since that fateful day in the Garden, God has been working to bring his people back to him — and we’ve fought him every step of the way. And yet he’s been forging ahead regardless, using imperfect and sometimes wicked human beings to accomplish his work, to bring us to the end he desires: that we should willingly, happily, joyfully be his people and recognize him as our God.
“Behold, the day is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. . . . 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. . . . For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God doesn’t wait until his people are perfect, until they’ve recognized their sin and repented, to save them. As St. Paul writes, “when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus, God’s own Son, put his life on the line because he wanted more than anything in the world to restore the community we once had with the LORD.
The day is coming for us, too, when we will see God face-to-face. Until then, though, know that however messed up we are, however imperfectly we live our lives, however unloveable we think we are, God is for us. He loves that which he has made, and he is working every minute of every day to save us, to bring us all to the happy end, when we will feast together at the wedding banquet of the Lamb. AMEN.