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Jul 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 5, 2020


In the summer of 1992, a close friend asked me for a favor. After twenty-five years, Jack and his wife wanted to renew their marriage vows. I asked my daughter Jennifer to go with me–she was a teenager at the time and friends with Jack’s daughter. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were on our way up the coast to the home where the brief ceremony would be celebrated. Suddenly it occurred to me that I didn’t have anything prepared to say, not even the vows for them to recite. I asked Jenn to reach in the glove box, grab a pen, and look for something to write on. She found an old envelope, and as I began dictating she began writing. there were a few edits, words crossed out and replaced, but it was readable and I was rescued from embarrassment. Today I cannot remember a word of what was written on that envelope. But that’s okay, it was for them and no one else.
During reception that followed, Jack came over to our table and asked if I would give him the vows. He said they were perfect and he wanted to hang onto them. I promised that as soon as we got home I would type them out and email them to me. He said he wanted the vows exactly as they were. I explained the reason they were not presentable and he said, “I don’t care. I want them exactly as they are.” So I handed him that wrinkled envelope with Jenn’s scribbling on it. Jack was really pleased with it and said he was going to frame it as it was and hang it in his home as a reminder.

A renewal of vows mirrors one of most important themes in scripture
– God’s covenant
• there is a major division in the Christian Bible
◦ one part is the Old Testament (covenant) and the other part is the New
◦ our Bibles are one story told in two parts and both of them having to do with covenans
Walther Eichrodt, in his Theology of the Old Testament says that covenant
◦ “gave definitive expression to the binding of the people to God”
◦ and established from the start, expressed their particular “knowledge of him”
Eichrodt, “. . . the basis of the relationship with God can be regarded as embodied in a covenant from Mosaic times [on].”
William Dyrness wrote, “In the [Old Testament] the covenant rests on God’s promises and lies at the heart of the biblical notion of history. . . . It is the core of the Hebrew understanding of their relationship with God.”
– early on, God chose to use covenants in order to connect with people
• covenants were meant to help them feel secure in him and his promise

Our first idea of a covenant is that it is like a contract or treaty

An agreement is made between two parties, for the mutual benefit of both
– an agreement was reached, conditions were stipulated, and then the covenant was sealed
• making a covenant sometimes included a ritual – sometimes a shared meal
– a biblical covenant was more than a contract, because it forms a bond between the two parties
I will bring you into the bond of the covenant (Eze. 20:37)
• the bond of marriage, for example, was formed by a covenant
. . . the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant (Mal. 2:14)
◦ the seal (or sign) of a covenant was like a marriage license or wedding ring
• so the first remarkable thing about the big biblical covenants,
◦ it was God who formed this bond with human persons
Eichrodt, the covenant “was always regarded as a bilateral relationship; for even though the burden is most unequally distributed between the two contracting parties, this makes no difference to the fact that the relationship is still essentially two-sided.”
◦ God always does the heavy lifting

Three early covenants

Noah, after the flood
– God’s stipulation was simple, it was a reiteration of the original design
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:27 & 9:1)
• for God’s part, the earth would never again be totally destroyed by a flood
• the seal or sign of the covenant? the rainbow (Gen. 9:12)

Abraham, in answer to his question, What will you give me for assurance?
– God’s stipulation was, Walk before me and be perfect (Gen. 17:1-2)
• God’s part: he would bless Abraham and his descendants
◦ and through them bless all the families of the earth
• sign of this covenant: circumcision (Gen. 17:10)

Moses, God’s proposed covenant with Israel when they came out of Egypt
. . . if you will indeed keep obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples (Ex. 19:5)
– God’s stipulation was that they would be his people and obey all the words of this law (Ex. 34:28)
• God’s part: he would be their God (in caring for them and blessing them)
• the sign of this covenant: the Sabbath (Ex. 31:12-17)
◦ God’s covenant resembles a marriage covenant
◦ it carries the promise of ultimate intimacy between God and Israel
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God (Ex. 6:7)
(many times Israel will be reminded of this covenant goal)

On the day God’s covenant was confirmed,
– Moses offered a sacrifice and sprinkled its blood on the people, saying,
Behold the blood of the covenant (Ex. 24:8)

The course of Israel’s history was determined by their loyalty to the covenant
– it explains why the northern kingdom was conquered and carried into exile
The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria . . . because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded (2 Ki. 18:11-12; also 17:15, 35-39)
• this was exactly what Moses predicted would happen (De. 29:24-25)
◦ and it was exactly what Jeremiah witnessed (Jer. 22:8-9)

There was a weakness inherent in that first covenant with Israel
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.”
Hebrews 8:7-9

The weakness was not in the covenants formulation, its terms, or conditions
– not even in the covenant concept
• Ezekiel 16 illustrates how beautiful Israel’s marriage to God could be
When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered [you] and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine (Eze. 16:8)
• the weakness was that one of parties couldn’t fulfill their half
For he finds fault with them
– Israel was well aware, the covenant was good for them,
• but only if they kept their end

About the time that nation of Judah was conquered,
– God made this announcement through Jeremiah
the days are coming – this time reference begins in Jeremiah 30:1
◦ and continues all through chapters 30 and 31
(it is the promise of a future restoration)
◦ it highlights the promise in which all blessings are grounded
And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God
(Jer. 30:22)
• the writer continues his quote:
I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah
◦ the two kingdoms would be unified again
– how will this covenant be “new”?
• first, it will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
◦ it would not be a repeat of a failed attempt at forging a bond
• second, two Greek words can be translated “new”
neos something that appears on the scene for the first time
kainos new in time, but also in substance–different
(the new will still be a covenant, but with a significant difference)

A new covenant was necessary, because the first did not produc what God wanted
– early in the Book of Jeremiah, we see God reminiscing
• I know I have a tendency here to be overly sentimental in my interpretation
◦ but it’s as if God were looking at wedding photos from Mount Sinai
I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown (Jer. 2:2)
• what happened to that first covenant?
For they did not continue in my covenant
– compare verse 9 with Jeremiah 31:32, you will see that it reads differently
• that is because the writer is quoting the Greek translation, not the Hebrew
(the Hebrew text says, my covenant they broke though I was their husband)
◦ we have seen that this was the relationship as God viewed it
◦ a broken covenant, breaks the marriage (Jer. 11:10; Eze. 16:59)
• here, the point of the Greek translation,
◦ is that God treats Israel the way they treated him
◦ in Jeremiah and Isaiah, God divorced Israel (Jer. 3:8; Is. 50:1)

The conditions and benefits of the new covenant
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’;
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
Hebrews 8:10-12

The major differences between the first and new covenants:
the first covenant was placed in a box; i.e., the Ark of the Covenant
the new covenant will be placed in their minds
the first covenant was engraved in stone
the new covenant will be written on their hearts
– Israel needed not only a new covenant, but a new heart and spirit
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you (Eze. 36:26)
• finally, God would achieve his goal,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people

The benefits:
– the first, everyone will know the Lord
• the prophet Hosea had the frustrating job of trying to talk Israel into returning to Yahweh
Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth”
(Hos. 6:3)
• but with the new covenant, this kind of message will be unnecessary
– second, God will be merciful toward their guilt and sins
• God’s covenant had always been backed by his mercy and faithfulness
(Hebrew: hesed and emeth)
• but there will be new dimensions to his mercy

The presence of a new covenant does something to the first
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13

When the new, young covenant arrives
– the first covenant will begin to show its age
Luke Timothy Johnson says that “obsolete” is too strong a translation
• in Hebrews 1:11, the same word is translated “worn out”
You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end (Heb. 1:10-12)
– like old, worn out clothes, the time will come to get rid of the first covenant
• either destroying it, or changing it to something else, like a cleaning rag

Conclusion: Now will move from the promise in Jeremiah

To a quiet room in Jerusalem
– in the light that flickers from oil lamps,
• Jesus looks into the face of each disciple
– Paul makes a point of saying that this was the same night he was betrayed
• not only betrayed, but also deserted, arrested, interrogated, and beaten

Jesus has broken the bread and told the disciples it is his body
– now he fills a cup with wine and tells them,
This cup is the new covenant in my blood (1 Cor. 11:25)
• at that moment, the new covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy arrived
• and that covenant is the one that wraps us in Jesus today

The new covenant does mean we are no longer able to sin,
because we no longer have a free will to make our own choices
It means, that if we say yes to Jesus
and drink from the cup he offers us,
the life of his Spirit enters us
and we are energized by him to stay on course
There is still room for us to make right and wrong choices,
but there is a new energy to choose and to do right,
because what we need is planted in us.

In the new covenant with Jesus,
we sing the song of lovers,
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song 6:3)
Continuing in this covenant,
we discover new levels of intimacy with God

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