Where Is It Written?
Christ the King; November 20, 2016
"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." What a lovely, inspiring notion. If only that day would come. If only we didn't have to have written laws, telling us what speed to drive for the sake of everyone's safety, what you're allowed to put into food so that you don't poison people, what you're not allowed to do to another person for the sake of everyone's well-being. If only we all knew it in our hearts and it didn't have to be written.
God says the time will come. "The days are surely coming," says the Lord. Every time I think the world is getting closer to the kinder, gentler place that the first President Bush dreamed our nation would become, something happens to remind me that you and I are still as selfish, still as aggressive as, for example, those reivers who used to conduct raids along the English-Scottish border to steal their neighbors' livestock.
Jeremiah says that the new covenant – a "covenant" is a formalized relationship with specified expectations and responsibilities; marriage is a covenant – will not be like the old one. The old one was broken. You remember the story: God wrote the covenant (the Ten Commandments) on stone, and when Moses came down the mountain and found the people dancing around the Golden Calf he threw the stones to the ground. Or maybe this story: a woman bought a very nice Bible to send to her grandson to celebrate his confirmation. When she took it to the post office to mail it and the clerk asked, "Is there anything breakable in this package?" she replied, "Only the Ten Commandments."
Yeah, the Ten Commandments get broken all the time. I guess the new covenant, the one written on our hearts, is also supposed to be unbreakable.
In the meantime, we have to deal with what's written on stone and on papyrus and on paper and on a screen. God told Jeremiah to dictate his prophecy to his secretary, a guy named Baruch, and then read it to the public. So Jeremiah wrote down everything that God told him to say – very little of it was pleasant; essentially, God was so disgusted with what the country had become that God had decided to let it fall to its enemies. Anyway, Baruch wrote it down and went to the Temple and read it to the public. Then he went to the palace and read it to the King's advisors. They were alarmed; they decided the King needed to know what was in it. I don't know whether they wanted the King to know because they hoped he would change national policy so that God would change his mind about destroying the kingdom, or whether they wanted the King to shut Jeremiah up. So the scroll was taken to King Jehoiakim, who sat by the fire and read the prophecy. As he read a section, he would cut it off and throw it in the fire. His advisors urged him not to burn it, but apparently he figured that he would rather let the word of God warm his toes than change his policies (Jeremiah 36). So the kingdom went its merry way, ignoring their covenant with God, until the Babylonians wiped them out.
In the midst of that, with the government ignoring God's commands and the people at large breaking the written covenant, God made this simple promise of a new covenant, a new relationship with God, written not on stone or papyrus or paper or screens, but on hearts. A covenant in which you and I will not have to be told "Don't cheat your employees" and "Don't beat up your neighbor" and "Honor the Lord's Day," because you and I will want to do the right things, the Godly things: the covenant will be written on our hearts. When? Or, as the Psalms say, "How long, O Lord?"
God has made a start with us. God has given us a King who governs not from a comfy chair by a fire, but from a Cross. And this King has given us a ritual to share, something to remind us of the sort of King he is whenever we say his words: "This is the Cup of the New Covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
In your life, where is God's covenant written? On paper and screens? What do you do with it – read it, think about it, pray about it and try to do it? Or hit "Delete" or take a knife to cut out the parts that annoy you, that might force you to change your attitudes or your behavior or your policies? Is God's covenant working its way into your heart or do you throw it on the fire?
Take the Bread of Life; let it become part of you. Take the Cup of the New Covenant; let it become part of you. By the Lord Jesus Christ, God is writing God's covenant on your heart.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church