Jeremiah 31:31-34 – A New Covenant

The Last Supper by Francis Newton Souza, 1990

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT)

For the past few weeks, the Daily Lectionary readings brought us steady admonitions of passing faith onto future generations, with obedience as the key to it all. However, God’s ancient people kept going through significant times of unfaithfulness, infidelity, and disobedience. As if they had some sort of spiritual A.D.D., the people could not seem to keep their eyes off the glittering gods from the surrounding nations.

For certain, God has always possessed a faithful remnant of people devoted to observing the covenant. Yet, the nation in the prophet Jeremiah’s day floundered and broke faith with the teaching given to them.

Since God’s grace has the last word, the sins and shortcomings of the backslidden people who failed to pass on the covenant teachings to their progeny would have a better ending than judgment.

God’s answer to repeated human failings was to establish a new covenant, unprecedented in its audacious mercy.

Rather than rewriting commands on stone tablets (as with Moses on Mount Sinai) and having a remedial class on covenant, God would instead do the extraordinary by writing the law on human hearts – that way they would know the Lord in a direct and immediate way. What is more, it would be for everybody, neither only for the remnant nor for the spiritual elite.

From the least to the greatest, from young to old, even from Jew to Gentile, God would forgive once and for all.

If that is not the most gracious act ever decreed, I do not know what is. This was a radical move of spiritual amnesty which was completely undeserved and most definitely not something any other god from any other nation would ever do. It was unthinkable – completely off everyone’s radar. Yet, that is exactly what grace does.

From a New Testament (New Covenant) perspective, Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s good covenant promises to the people. Furthermore, God’s Holy Spirit serves as the continuing presence of Jesus within us, teaching us and guiding us in the ways of God. Our only task, then, is to live into those promises – to know them, claim them, and bank on them. 

We are most obedient when we believe the promises of God and throw all our hope in them.

The implications of this divine decree are enormous. It means:

  • I cannot do a dang thing to earn God’s acceptance because I already have it! (John 6:37; Colossians 1:21-22; Romans 8:33-39, 15:7-12)
  • I need not fear judgment because Jesus has already taken care of the sin issue, once for all! (Romans 6:5-10; Hebrews 7:27-28, 10:5-10; 1 John 4:17-18)
  • I lack nothing because God has already given me everything I need for life and godliness in this present evil age! (Philippians 4:19; 2 Peter 1:3-4)
  • I can know God, right now, without jumping through spiritual hoops or over imposed hurdles because Jesus leveled the way and made it clear! (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 2:9-18)
  • I can enjoy forgiveness and a clean heart because God has decreed it to be so! (Psalm 103:8-12; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:14-18)

If this were not enough, Jesus has sent the Spirit to be with us forever, to guide us and lead us into realizing the law written on our hearts. We are never alone. God is with us.

Jesus said, “The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sends, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Do not be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:26-27, CEB)

In this world of trepidation, fear, uncertainty, and unrest, there is peace, grace, and love because of Father, Son, and Spirit, the one true God, the Blessed Holy Trinity, the Divine Warrior who fights our battles, the Lord of Hosts who has our backs. Yes, this God, and no other god, has the chutzpah to make promises to us and the power to back them up.

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes! Yes! Amen!

Joshua 8:30-35 – Recall the Ancient Ways

One day, Joshua led the people of Israel to Mount Ebal, where he told some of his men, “Build an altar for offering sacrifices to the Lord. And use stones that have never been cut with iron tools, because that is what Moses taught in The Book of the Law.”

Joshua offered sacrifices to please the Lord and to ask his blessing. Then with the Israelites still watching, he copied parts of The Book of the Law of Moses onto stones.

Moses had said that everyone in Israel was to go to the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where they were to be blessed. So, everyone went there, including the foreigners, the leaders, officials, and judges. Half of the people stood on one side of the valley, and half on the other side, with the priests from the Levi tribe standing in the middle with the sacred chest. Then in a loud voice, Joshua read the blessings and curses from The Book of the Law of Moses. (CEV)

The ancient Israelites were in the Promised Land. Finally! It was quite the circuitous journey to get to this point. It might have been easy to kick back and celebrate. However, Joshua, their leader, knew there was a prerequisite to jubilation. First, the tone had to be set for how they were going to live and be as the inhabitants of this land.

So, Joshua gathered the entire nation and copied God’s Law in front of them, as given to Moses from God. Then, in the hearing of all the people, Joshua read the attitudes, activities, and attributes which would bring them ongoing blessing, as well as the behaviors which would bring a curse.

Joshua’s work is paradigmatic for us. Just as Moses received the Law from God and read it to the people; and, then, did it again just before the people started their campaign to enter the land, so Joshua followed his mentor’s lead and did the same. Reminders of God’s work and faithfulness, recollecting God’s gracious commands, and renewing our vows to God are all significant and ongoing works for every generation to emulate.

Why, pray tell, must we engage in such a ritual repeatedly? For two reasons: we tend to forget the things we are supposed to remember; and performing a practice again and again helps press it into our minds and hearts. This is precisely why I am a believer in liturgical worship and following the Christian Year. The redemptive events of Jesus become more than doctrines to believe; they are grafted into the soul by the sheer repetition of practice.

Part of the reason why so many Christian evangelicals have fled the Church is that they received no catechetical instruction again and again through time honored methods of worship and instruction. So, when they left, it was as if there was nothing to leave – it was easy. With little awareness of the great inheritance they possess in the faith, many persons have scant knowledge that what they are leaving is a rich historical tradition with the very things they are searching for but never received.

Oh, my goodness, people of God, it behooves us to pass on the faith in ways which both make sense and are true to the ancient way of the commandments, our apostolic tradition, and of Christ. It will do no good to disparage history, as if it began with Billy Graham. If folks are going to walk away, let them do it with the full cognizance of what they are walking away from. I cannot say I could blame anyone for leaving an eviscerated faith that is no faith, at all.

This very blog is partly dedicated to following the Revised Common Lectionary because it is the continual cycle of following Christ daily and yearly which patiently and profoundly constructs the soul over time.

Psychology as a discipline was established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries largely because of a grand collective loss of memory amongst so many people. Psychological studies vigorously investigated the reason why this phenomenon was so ubiquitous.

It is also noteworthy that the great rise in secularism over the past few centuries before the 1800’s, found an apex at this same time with the introduction of psychology as a bona fide academic discipline. If humanity was meant for living in consistent rhythms of life and faith, then it makes sense that, when taken away, what remains is a massive societal memory loss with large implications for the individual.

We must reverse the curse of sacred memory loss and confusion of mind (Deuteronomy 28:28). We ought to recapture the mind, heart, and spirit for their intended purpose and design. We need metaphysicians who will do the important work of soul craft and bring blessings yet again to the world. There is some urgency to mentoring others in the faith, as the Apostle Paul did with his young protégé Timothy:

“You have heard my message, and it’s been confirmed by many witnesses. Entrust this message to faithful individuals who will be competent to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, GW)

Spiritual care and connection are not optional – they are a necessity we cannot live without. A spiritual cultivation and tending of the soul have positive effects on our stress and overall well-being. Spirituality brings health and vitality to our psychosocial selves and reinforces integrity and excellence in relating to others.

So, let us not jettison the important work of tending the soul through ancient practices of breathing, reading, reflecting, contemplating, praying, worshiping, and applying the work of Christ to our world’s greatest issues and needs.

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56 – Night Reflection

Remember your promise to me;
    it is my only hope.
Your promise revives me;
    it comforts me in all my troubles.
The proud hold me in utter contempt,
    but I do not turn away from your instructions.
I meditate on your age-old regulations;
    O Lord, they comfort me.
I become furious with the wicked,
    because they reject your instructions.
Your decrees have been the theme of my songs
    wherever I have lived.
I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord;
    therefore, I obey your instructions.
This is how I spend my life:
    obeying your commandments. (NLT)

Insomnia happens to everyone, some more than others. We all have experienced the inability to sleep. Then, there are those persons who choose to arise in the middle of the night just to pray. Yes, monks do this, but there are common people who do, as well. In my own times of trying to get to sleep, I think about such persons. I especially and reflexively go to the psalms. Along with the psalmist, I reflect at night on the character and nature of the Lord.

The psalmist seems to be awake at night because he is frustrated and upset with people who both spurn wise instruction and direct their contempt at those trying to live according to God’s Law. Although insomnia might be the result of angry or unwanted feelings, maybe it is something else altogether. Perhaps the psalmist simply chose to be awake at night and do some theological reflection on God, others, and himself.

At various times in my life I have chosen to set my alarm for two o’clock in the morning to pray.  I know it may sound crazy to some. Yet, this discipline has taught me something valuable: God is Lord over all chronological time and every season. And I am a servant of God, not master. 

This nightly exercise of weaving my life around a set time of prayer has caused me to learn that I have spent far too much of my life trying to make time bend to my wishes. It is all really an illusion – that I can somehow control the clock. Time marches forward, seasons come and go, and we are a vapor which lasts only a moment.

Whether we find ourselves awake in the night because we cannot sleep, or intentionally choose to use the night for connecting with God, the wee hours of darkness afford us a unique opportunity to ponder the Lord’s promises and commands, attributes, and works. 

The next time you find yourself awake at night, try avoiding the television and a zombie-like state of hoping for sleep. Try using the night-time for thinking about the Lord in ways you might not have considered during the day. Pray. Reflect. Consider. In doing so, you may find a blessing of light within the dark.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Psalm 119:49-56, NKJV

Deuteronomy 5:1-21 – Ten Basic Rules for Life

Invitation to the Decalogue by Romanian sculptor Liviu Mocan

Moses called out to all Israel, saying to them: “Israel! Listen to the regulations and the case laws that I’m recounting in your hearing right now. Learn them and carefully do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Horeb. The Lord didn’t make this covenant with our ancestors but with us—all of us who are here and alive right now. The Lord spoke with you face-to-face on the mountain from the very fire itself. At that time, I was standing between the Lord and you, declaring to you the Lord’s word, because you were terrified of the fire and didn’t go up on the mountain.”

The Lord said:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You must have no other gods before me. Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins—even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.

Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.

Honor your father and your mother, exactly as the Lord your God requires, so that your life will be long and so that things will go well for you on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Do not kill.

Do not commit adultery.

Do not steal.

Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife.

Do not crave your neighbor’s house, field, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (CEB)

Whenever I take my wife’s pooch to our local spacious dog park, he knows he will need to stick to just a few of my basic rules. Although he doesn’t need the leash and is free to roam, he understands not to bark at people or approach them and other dogs without my permission. Those few simple rules are for both his well-being, and others.

We as people are free to live our lives as creatures in God’s image. The Lord has just a few basic rules for us to live by to honor both divinity and humanity, as well as to protect others and ourselves. Most folks know them as “The Ten Commandments.”

The Ten Commandments (The Decalogue or The Ten Words) were given to the ancient Israelites nearly 3,500 years ago. These words have stood the test of time and continue to be understood as a universal standard of morality and relational interactions.

There are hundreds of commands in Holy Scripture – approximately 613 in the Old Testament, and 437 in the New Testament – a whopping 1,050 total commands throughout the entirety of the Bible. So, what, then, makes these Ten so special?  Why do we stick to The Ten Words?

Moses and the Ten Commandments by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Macri (1913-1991)

The reason The Ten Commandments have endured and continue to be learned, spoken, and adhered is that they are foundational commands. Following the Ten Words in the Old Testament are a string of specific commands from God to Moses and then to the people (Exodus 21-23 and Deuteronomy 6-26). Those commands are all a fleshing-out of how to live the basic Decalogue in the Israelites’ context of entering and being in the Promised Land.

In short, every single command of Holy Scripture can be ethically and morally tied back to The Ten Commandments in some way. Whereas many Old Testament laws were given to the Israelites in their ancient Middle Eastern socio-economic culture, The Decalogue was designed to be universal and flexible for every culture and society everywhere, for any time, and every generation.

Therefore, we need to distinguish between The Law (capital “L”) and the law (little “l”). God’s fundamental and foundational ethical Law has always existed and continues to exist – and it is encapsulated in ten short and simple commands which everyone everywhere can obey, whether they are at their jobs, at home, church, or out having fun.

In fact, these ten basic commands are so important that Jesus restated them for us in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Christ got down to the heart of the commands and let everyone know what it truly means to hold, keep, and obey The Ten Words. For example, Jesus said concerning the seventh command:

“You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.’ But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged. If you say bad things to a brother or sister, you will be judged by the council. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22, NCV).

It had become easy over the centuries for people to think everything was jim-dandy if they didn’t physically kill anyone. Yet, Jesus knew that well before any person is murdered by another that anger has been nursed through bitter grudges toward another. 

The Ten Words are the very heart of God’s desire for all humanity, and this is precisely why it is important to know and obey them in their full intent. They contain how to relate to God (Commands 1-4); and, how to relate to one another (Commands 5-10).  Jesus would later say, in response to what is the greatest command of all:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NCV)

Question and answer 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism, a Confession of Faith crafted by Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century, addresses a significant issue:

Question: Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly? 
Answer: First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

When all is said and done, grace will have the last word. Yes, none of us will ever perfectly live-out and embody The Ten Words in their entirety all the time. Yet, the grace of God in Jesus Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves: deliver us from the realm of sin, death, and hell.

Stuff happens. We often fail to live-into the ways of God for our lives through The Decalogue. However, God, always the hound of heaven, will track us down and mercifully redeem us.

So, embrace The Ten Words. Know them, memorize them, and understand them. Post them on the wall of your office or in your house. Most of all, seek to practice them, obey them, and embody them so that you can enjoy all the freedom of God’s big world.

And you just gotta love it that Johnny Cash once sang about them…