August 9, 2023

The Law-Inscribed Heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31–34

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Open Our Eyes 

As you open your Bibles this morning to Jeremiah 31, also ask God (quietly in your own heart) to make this prayer from the psalmist your prayer. This is Psalm 119:18. The writer here prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Amen? Amen!


II. The Passage: “I Will Put My Law Within Them” (31:31-34)

Before I read through our main text this morning, let me briefly remind you of the context here. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to God's people in Judah and Jerusalem 600 years before the time of Jesus. Like most of his prophetic peers, Jeremiah was deeply unpopular. Why? Because Jeremiah called the people out about their idolatry and their spiritual rebellion against God. And because of their sin, he also promised God's coming judgment on the nation. This judgment would eventually culminate in 586 BC through the Babylonians, who not only destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple, but also exiled a large part of the population.

But God also reassures the people that eventually he will “restore their fortunes”. That phrase, that encouraging news, is clearly an emphasis in this section. It appears seven times in the four Old Testament (OT) chapters you read last week (30:3, 18; 31:23; 32:44; 33:7, 11, 26), So with that in mind, listen to what Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us in light of these “restored fortunes”...

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] 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 Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Okay. Think with me about the covenants mentioned here. One is a broken covenant, the other a new covenant. What is a covenant? It's a contract, an agreement, a treaty, a commitment, a promise; one that defines or qualifies the relationship between two parties.


1. The Broken Covenant (v. 32)

So notice first what we learn about the broken covenant. Which covenant is this? God answers that question plainly in verse 32: “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 Egypt”. Based on that, this is clearly the covenant described in Exodus 19, a covenant we often call the Mosaic or Sinaitic covenant.

How was this covenant broken? Again, God answers that in verse 32. Though God acted like a faithful husband (i.e., a faithful covenant partner), the people were... faithless/unfaithful. They broke their covenant by not abiding by the terms to which they had covenanted. And those terms were laid out in what the Bible calls... “the Law”. Or to express it another way, though God wanted to bless their obedience, Israel and Judah regularly broke God's commandments.


2. The New Covenant (v. 31, 33-34)

But we also read in that same verse, in the opening words of verse 32, that the “new covenant” God promises here is “not like” that older covenant. How is it different? Well, before we talk about differences, it might surprise you to learn that this new covenant also involves “the Law”. Now wait a minute. We're talking about the law the people couldn't keep? Yes. Notice how the Law is part of this new covenant. Look at verse 33: “For this is the covenant [a new covenant] that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”

So if both of these covenants are connected to God's law, how are they different? To help us understand that difference, let me suggest this simple definition of God's law: the law is divine revelation of a good God and his good ways. Now, in that older covenant, this revelation was given to Moses and written on stone or recorded on scrolls. It was something outside of us, to which God called men and women to give their hearts. But think about the radical difference in regard to this “new covenant”. The law would now be inside of us. It would be written, not on stone or scrolls, but on human hearts. On hearts like ours.

No, commandments 1-5 would not be tattooed on the left ventricle, with 6-10 placed on the right ventricle. The heart mentioned here is simply the inner you, from which (or out of which) you live your life: your thoughts, feelings, desires, priorities, convictions, values, etc.. The promise here is that divine revelation of a good God and his good ways will be divinely placed at the very center of a person. Therefore, that revelation can't not radically change a person's life, from the inside out. What do we read about that change? It tells us here that the result of this super-natural, 'inner inscription' will be that everyone will know God in a right relationship; for as the final phrase of verse 34 assures us, forgiveness of every sin (the sin that separates us from God... a new forgiveness) will also characterize this new covenant.

So what does a law-inscribed heart look like? David helps us with this question when he writes in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." This new heart is not simply a deep familiarity with God's will; it is love for God's will. It is joy in doing his will. Other prophets also spoke of those “coming” days when God would perform supernatural heart surgery. Listen to how Ezekiel describes this new, promised change...

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

That's the law-inscribed heart, isn't it? A man or woman who “walk[s] in my statutes” and is “careful to obey my rules”. But remember where that life is flowing from. It's coming from a divinely-inscribed heart, one that knows God; one that is powered by, one that is inspired by, a divine revelation of a good God and his good ways. For a people who would eventually be devastated by their failures and the consequences of their sin, a people who would eventually recognize the true condition of their hearts, this promise must have sounded to good to be true.


III. “On Better Promises”

But Hebrews 8 in the New Testament (NT) reminds us that the prophet's message wasn't too good to be true. Not only does that chapter quote all four of these verses from Jeremiah 31, but it makes it explicitly clear that Jesus Christ is the mediator of covenant “enacted on better promises”; that is, the new covenant promised through the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus himself confirmed this on the night before his crucifixion, when at that table with his disciples he declared, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)

So guess what that means for us, brothers and sisters? It means that if you are, by grace, a new creation in Christ, if you are his disciple, then you under this “new covenant”, and... God's law is inscribed on your heart, just as he promised to his people (of which you are now a member).

Now some might be bothered by all this talk of God's law, since that same law condemns us as sinners, and... has tempted so many to a kind of performance or works mindset when it comes to obedience. But remember the definition we used earlier: the law is divine revelation of a good God and his good ways. Ultimately, we're not talking specifically about that particular expression of God's law to ancient Israel, an expression given for a particular time and a particular people. We're talking about what is always true of God, OT & NT; about what is written (albeit in a differ-ent way) even on the hearts of those who do not know him, as Paul describes in Romans 2:15.

You see, what the NT teaches us is what the prophet Ezekiel already confirmed: that God putting his law in us is another way of talking about God putting his Spirit in us. The Apostle Paul explained all of this in Romans 8:2-4. Listen for the same ideas present in Jeremiah 31...

For the law [i.e., divine principle] of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law [i.e., divine principle] of sin and death. [3] For God has done what the (L)aw, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the (L)aw might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Did you hear that? Through the Holy Spirit, the righteous requirement of God's law can fulfilled in us? How? As faith expressing itself in love reveals God's Spirit at work in us and though us. For as Paul writes later in Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The Holy Spirit is divine revelation inside of you of a good God and his good ways. Paul ties the Spirit and the law together again in Galatians 5,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle-ness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (i.e., all of these are in line with the Law).

Does that encourage you, believer? That because of Jesus, an ancient promise is fulfilled in you today? That God is at work in you even now, right at the very center of who are you, by means of divine revelation? That as you face tempting situations and tempting thoughts, as you feel yourself growing weary, as you feel mired in sin, as you seek to run with endurance the race set before you, are you encouraged that this good God now empowers you? Does any of this mean we now live out God's ways perfectly? No. That's why Jesus, the only perfect Law-keeper is our mediator. It's why his blood has ratified this new covenant. But if our desire is to become like Jesus, then we can give thanks this morning that God has graciously written that into our spiritual DNA. Seek Him this morning in light of this. Let the revelation of Scripture activate that inner revelation, and trust that the Holy Spirit is not only present in you, but available to you. The law apart from us and outside of us condemns us. But the law God puts within us through his Spirit conforms us... to the image of Christ. Will you trust him for that this morning?


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