“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
– Exodus 31:31-34
Here is what I think is the most important part of this prophecy and what it says about the new covenant in the Old Testament: God does everything. He removes the barrier between us and Him by forgiving our sins; He puts the law in our minds and writes it on our hearts; we don’t even have to teach each other to know the Lord because we all already know Him.
This is unheard of. This is preposterous to anyone trained in the law. This is the drunk off the street who knows God better than the seminary graduate who has devoted his life to studying about God. This defies all religion and religions.
God does everything and there is nothing we can do to mess it up. The old covenant is the law from God and everything else from us. Good luck with that. The new covenant is everything from God and nothing from us. God does everything. We just show up.
This sounds too good to be true. In fact, we don’t like it. Our identity is too tied to what we do. We want credit… and extra credit. We want things on our own terms. We want to be able to measure ourselves by what other people are doing or not doing. But when we begin to see the extent of our own depravity, we begin to understand why God has to do everything. We will most certainly make a mess of things.
David understood this. “I say to the Lord,” he said, “‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you…’” (Psalm 16:2). No good apart from God. Remove God and there’s nothing good left. That sounds pretty darn close to everything from God and nothing from us … and remember, this is the Old Testament we’re talking about. These people understood that there had to be another way. Left with themselves and the law, they were doomed.
“Our sins testify against us, do something, Lord, for the sake of your name. For we have often rebelled; we have sinned against you” (Jeremiah 14:7). Better do something, Lord, because we can’t be counted on. They didn’t have all the information, but they understood the concept of the new covenant and why there had to be another way. Their hope was in God’s mercy, not in their track record in following the law. It was only the Pharisees who thought they were following the law and that’s only because they had doctored the law until it was something they could do.
The opening song of the New Covenant musical, “Let It Be Free,” is basically asking the same thing: “do something Lord, for the sake of your name,” but leave me out of it because I’ll mess it up.
This whole crazy world’s on its crutches
Man pollutes everything that he touches
If there is a new way to be holy
Let it be free, Lord
Please let it be free, Lord
Don’t leave it to me, Lord
It’s got to be free, Lord
“Do something, Lord, for the sake of your name” because it’s not going to come from us!
So we’re back to showing up being the one thing we do, and lest you think that is easy, think again. Showing up takes courage. Showing up means overcoming fear. Showing up means being vulnerable — putting yourself in situations where if God isn’t in you like He promised, you are surely going to fail. “Showing up” is showing up expecting to have what you know you don’t have in yourself. It’s a pretty scary place to be, but also pretty exhilarating, when God shows up too.
This is David strapping on his armor and going out to face a huge army of Philistines knowing God is with him, just as he faced Goliath as a young boy with a slingshot and five smooth stones. It only took one, because God was with him. He showed up with what he had and enough faith to get him there. That’s the new covenant in the Old Testament. The only difference being, in the Old Testament this happened to them once in a while when the Spirit of God came upon them for a particular task; for us, it can happen all the time, because we have the Spirit as a permanent possession. For us, it is a way of life.
Let’s put some flesh around this. Write me and tell me about a time you showed up and God did too. Or maybe it’s something you need to do that you’re afraid about but are going to show up and count on God anyway.
Hi John! Dale Barkley here (Don’s “little” brother). I really appreciate what you wrote today. It especially caught my attention because 100 years ago (well, in the late 70s) I led the University of Wyoming’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship choir, and we did the New Covenant musical – taking it on tour to churches in Wyoming. “Let It Be Free” is such a great song. The whole musical had a spiritual impact on all of us in the choir, and on the churches we shared it with. I still catch myself humming some of the songs. Anyway, thanks so much for blessing so many people through your writings (some with melodies, and some without!).
How great to meet you, Dale. That’s wild. I didn’t even know Don had a brother. A few years ago we made 4 or 5 trips to Laramie when our son was in a school there. We really grew to love that little town. Inter Varsity must have had a large group on campus to field a choir. I’ve never heard of that. Thanks so much for writing!
If you’re looking for the passage and can’t find it, It’s Jeremiah 31:31-34. Paul quoted part of it in Romans 11:26-27
Yes, and there’s also a more complete rendering of those two verses in Hebrews 10:16-17, which gives you the impression that those verse must have been pretty well known and quoted often to make it in twice to the New Testament.