“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
The words above are from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah (31: 33-34), and they are some of the most beautiful in all of scripture, Old Testament or New, in my opinion. While these words were originally written to Israelites who were looking forward to day when exile might be ended and their ways truly restored, the author of Hebrews in the New Testament (Hebrews 8) connects them in wonderful ways to Christ and our “new covenant” in relationship with him.
First off, the verses say that under the new covenant, the law, or instruction, will be written within people. It says that it will be “written in our hearts.” When I think about law, I think of big stacks of dusty old books sitting in a legal library somewhere. Perhaps when the writer of Hebrews wrote his letter in the late first century, people thought about law written on parchment or even in stone as in the original Ten Commandments. However, the old books in the law library seem so distant, aloof, and above us regular folks. Stone seems….cold, hard, unforgiving.
A law written within us, “written on our hearts” needn’t be any of those things. This is the language of relationship, the language of access. We don’t need to go to some ancient, dusty old library to find about God and his covenant with us. We need only to approach Christ, who suffered and experienced the same things we did, to find out how much God loves us. Our hearts shouldn’t then be cold and unyielding like stone, but warm, open, and forgiving in the same spirit of grace that each of us claim for ourselves.
The verses go onto say that we won’t need anyone to teach us how to know God anymore. This is again made possible through the person of Christ, and was one of the main issues of the Reformation. Since the living Christ is a Priest forever, we no longer need anyone to come between us and God as some kind of mediator. We don’t need a high priest to go inside the curtain and make sacrifices. We don’t need a modern priest communicating with God on our behalf. We don’t need some kind of prophet sitting a tidy building somewhere attempting to communicate with God for us. The sacrifice of Christ once and for all makes this possible for each and every one of us.
This is a big deal. In ancient Jewish customs access to God was limited to one time per year on the Day of Atonement, and then it was the only the High Priest who was allowed to go “behind the curtain” into the presence of God. One person, once per year. If you were a woman, it would never happen. Even today many of our faiths restrict the activities of women in leadership. This is unfortunate, and I am proud that my denomination does not. But that’s all gone now. Christ through his sacrifice has made it possible for each and every one of us, male or female, sinner or saint, to boldly come before the throne of God each and every minute of each and every day. As I said, it’s a big deal.
Sinners and Saints. That’s really a false designation isn’t it? Boy, do we like to point out what we perceive to be the faults in others. We love to point out how we think that other guy is breaking God’s law. This is usually coupled with some kind of statement about how wonderful we are for not doing that think that we think breaks God’s law.
But if we do that…..aren’t we missing the point?
Some words from Paul:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” –1 Timothy 1: 15-16 (NIV)
I don’t think we truly realize what a precious gift we have received with forgiveness and grace until we come to grips with the above verses. Guess what, I am not any better than one I might criticize. Period. I don’t have the corner on truth. In reality, I am just as bad off as anyone else, probably worse.
I don’t say this to beat myself up. I don’t say this to make you beat yourself up. I’m not here trying to drop a paraphrase of “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
I say this because I finally, after all these years, experienced what it’s like to know the power of forgiveness and grace. I say this because I finally recognize what is to have, as Jeremiah says, God remember my iniquities no more.
Has it made me perfect? Certainly not. It’s a process of slow, sometimes painful, transformation. Caterpillars don’t just flap their arms and turn into a butterfly. Through this process, over the last year or so really, I’ve become less judgmental, less angry, and hopefully more loving and more accepting. The transformation starts, as did John Wesley, with a heart “strangely warmed” and continues on to become more and more like Christ, not what our society seems to think is a “model Christian.”
Let the love of Christ be written in each of hearts, and let that love warm and brighten our lives so that we may carry his light, his light of love and acceptance, to the world around us. For there is one place in life, in existence, where we truly are all equal, and that place is at the foot of the Cross of Christ.