5th Sunday of Lent: Year B:
March 21, 2021
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Recorded Sermon Prep Zoom Call:
Dig deeper into the text! We have recorded an hour-long conversation with the Rev.Jonathan Cornell on Jeremiah 31.
In the following commentary, we examine the lectionary text through three lenses: the ancient, Ἰησοῦς=Jesus, and modern.
Ancient Lens: What can we learn from the historical context?
God’s people Israel lived in relationship with God through a series of covenants initiated by YHWH (Noahic, Genesis 9; Abrahamic, Genesis 12,15; Mosaic, Exodus 19,24; Davidic, 2 Samuel 7). Israel has broken every covenant God made with her.
Since making the demand for a King, instead of living in faith with YHWH, Israel has lived through a long period of evil kings who abandoned God’s Word, desecrated the city of Jerusalem with idols and pagan cult worship, and have forsaken their leadership of the people. Time after time these Kings, “they did what was right in their own eyes.” The glory days of David and Solomon are gone.
Jeremiah is a young Prophet, born during the last decade of the most cruel and godless king in Israel’s history. The people of Israel hardened hearts after having been taken into exile by Babylonian invaders (597 BCE), and their temple lies in ruins. And to add insult to injury, there was a small population of leftovers remaining in Jerusalem—people of so little consequence, it didn’t matter if they were taken or not.
Old and New Covenant: The old covenants, the Davidic and Mosaic made with Israel in Jerusalem and on the slopes of Sinai are (or seem to be) in ruins—as the city of Jerusalem will soon be. Responding to their cries, God speaks directly to Israel, promising to save, restore, and heal. At the heart of these assurances is the conviction that Israel will once again know God’s favor. They will once again find grace in their wilderness. Israel would soon discover what had always been true: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you” (31:3).
The new covenant is made with Israel to ensure that their understanding of God will never again be lost. The character of God is the same; even in the old covenant, God showed care and concern for Israel, taking them by the hand and leading them out of Egypt. What is new is that this covenant will be written on the heart.
Ἰησοῦς Lens: How do we point to Jesus?
In Jesus Christ Jeremiah’s prophecy finds its fulfillment. When Jesus enters into Jerusalem in John 12 he recognizes that the disciples and onlookers still struggle to see and understand God’s plan and purposes unfolding before them (John 12:16). But Jesus announces that his time has come where he will give over his own life in order that he might be glorified (John 12:23-26).
Jesus tells his followers that the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies does so that much fruit may be born. Israel’s unfaithfulness in relationship to God’s faithfulness finds its fulfillment in Jesus losing his life so that when the ruler of this world would be cast out, he will draw all people to himself (John 12:31-32). The covenants that were broken (broken promises, broken tablets), are renewed and expanded to incorporate the hearts of all people.
When the authorities crucify Jesus, God writes God’s law on people’s hearts not just in Israel, but also across the world.
But the final fulfillment of this promise is still to come. Paul writes in Romans 11 that God’s plan for salvation is for Gentiles and for the Jews (even though a partial hardening has come upon Israel). Paul awaits the fullness of the Gentiles receiving of the Gospel, so that in this way all Israel will be saved. The deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins (Romans 11:26-27).
The writer of Hebrews tells us that when Christ came into the world he became the fulfillment of the law. No longer was God desiring of burnt offerings and sin offerings in accordance with the law. Jesus’ body becomes for us the single sacrifice for all sins (Hebrews 10:5-12). The new covenant written on our hearts and our minds Paul calls the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Love is the law of Christ.
Modern Lens: How does this touch my heart, life, emotions, thoughts and relationships today?
A More intimate relationship with God: During this season of Lent in which we intentionally seek to draw closer to God in preparation for Holy Week and Easter, we are reminded that the way in which we are invited. It is not through the burden of activities and sacrifices (though new practices may be a part of our Lenten journey). What Jesus is inviting us to remember is that his passion initiates a new covenant in which the law of Christ is written on our hearts. The new covenant is not something we tap into through what we do; but is made real to us by who Jesus is and what he offers to us in a new heart. So prayer, worship, community, service become our sacrifices of praise.
Rebuilding Ruins: We all go through seasons of rebuilding, whether it is a relationship, or a reputation, or a career life has a tendency at times to go sideways. And the hope of Jeremiah’s announcement of a new covenant is that they way of restoration is not by working harder at becoming more acceptable to God. Jeremiah tells us that God’s plan for all people is a heart transplant. God wants to give you a new identity, he wants to cloth you with Christ, so that when God looks at you what he sees is not the sum of your actions, but the righteousness of his Son.
Jonathan Cornell serves as Lead Pastor of Wabash Presbyterian Church in Wabash Indiana. He is the father of three children: Christian, Annie, and Conner, and is engaged to be married to his fiancé the Rev. Jourdan Turner.
In Jonathan’s free-time, he enjoys watching Seinfeld, reading a good book, and watching his beloved Twins, even if they currently have the longest losing streak in post-season history at 18 games. Go Twins!
And his way is truly the way of the heart, or spirit. If we would walk with him, we must walk with him at that interior level. There are very few who really do not understand this about him. He saves us by realistic restoration of our heart to God and then by dwelling there with his Father through the distinctively divine Spirit. The heart thus renovated and inhabited is the only real hope of humanity on earth.
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ
Ted Lasso and Rebecca’s Heart Change
In the Apple Plus television show Ted Lasso, Rebecca, the owner of the English Premiere League (Soccer) team AFC Richmond, hires the eponymous Ted Lasso to coach her team. Everyone assumes she is doing so as a publicity stunt, or worse that she’s gone mad (to use a British colloquialism). Instead, the reason she has done so is to get back at her ex-husband, from whom she has recently inherited the team by way of a nasty divorce. After years of putting up with his infidelity, Rebecca decides she is done with his cheating and the best way to get back at her ex is to run the team into the ground.
At every step of the way Rebecca attempts to sabotage Ted Lasso’s work with the team. Yet at every step of the way Ted’s goodness; his genuine love for his players, belief in their ability to succeed, begins to change Rebecca. Her heart is changed by the kindness, humility, gentleness, and love that Ted exudes. When she finally comes clean, admitting her attempts to foil the season, Ted extends forgiveness and the heart that was consumed with bitterness, revenge, and anger, is replaced by a heart of joy, compassion, and love.
Jonathan Cornell & Stuart Strachan Jr.
More Illustration Ideas:
- There are ways in which God’s prophecy in Jeremiah 31 is not fulfilled yet. Our hearts are still a work in progress. One glaring example of this right now is the struggle we still face as a nation with racial reconciliation.
- Those who receive heart or bone marrow transplants actually receive a new DNA structure. As an analogy, this is similar to what we experience through the new covenant in Jesus: our spiritual DNA changes.
- The Story of Keith Blackburn and Misty Wallace, (Link here) two people whose lives were entwined by a heinous crime, and who each experienced a transformation of their hearts. The two now travel together speaking to groups of people about repentance and reconciliation.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Prayer of Confession
We confess that we are not always able to see your handiwork in the people and things around us. We do not always see your image in our neighbors, and we do not always see your creative fingerprints in the good things in our world. Our eyes and our hearts are darkened by sin, and we too often take our sinful perspectives for granted. Transform our eyes and hearts with your Holy Spirit, so we may see the light of your creation and the love of redemption that we have in Jesus. Help us to see and live according to Jesus’s vision and life. Hear our prayers as we continue our confession in silence…
Submitted by Allen Thompson
Assurance of Pardon
Psalm 51:9-12 & 2 Corinthians 5:21
The God of David is our God. He hides his face from our sins. He blots our all of our iniquities. He creates in us a clean heart. He renews a right spirit within us. We will not be cast away from his presence, nor have his Holy Spirit taken from us. He has restored to us the joy of our salvation, and upholds us with a willing spirit. O, Children of God, we are forgiven because He has given his own sacrifice in place of ours. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” Amen.
(May) Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.