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Friday, December 16, 2016

December 16: Christmas According to Jeremiah

"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, 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. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LordI 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." - Jeremiah 31:31-33, ESV

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’" - Jeremiah 33:14-16, ESV

Christmas According to Jeremiah:
The New Covenant for God's People

Have you ever had to wait for something? How long? How hard was it? This time of year, kids around the world are waiting to see if they will get what they want for Christmas. That kind of waiting is fun and exciting, even if sometimes it feels a little painful. But sometimes waiting is painful, very painful.

The Prophet Jeremiah,
Piazza di Spagna, Rome
In Jeremiah's day, God's people were carried off into exile to Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel was carried off with the exiles, but Jeremiah stayed behind in Jerusalem to wait with God's remnant in the land for the bitter end. The exiles wanted to know how long they were going to have to wait until they could be restored. Would they be restored? What should they do in the meantime?

In Jeremiah 29, the prophet writes a letter to the exiles telling them to settle down and make themselves at home. The wait will be long. He told them the message from the Lord: The exile would last for 70 years.

But even then, when they are freed from Babylon and returned to the Promised Land, how long would that last? God's people had been sent into exile because they broke their covenant with God. They worshipped idols and failed to keep the Sabbath. Their hearts were unfaithful. Nothing in their hearts was really changed by the exile, so wouldn't it just be a matter of time before they were punished with exile again.

In Jeremiah 31-33, the prophet gives them the good news: Some day, they would get a new covenant from God. Was something wrong with the covenant God had made with His people at Mount Sinai under Moses over 800 years earlier? No. The problem was not with the covenant but with their hearts. They had broken God's covenant because they did not have hearts for God.

So God promised that "the days are coming" when He would make a new covenant with them. This covenant would be different because it would not depend on their faithfulness. In fact, God would raise up a righteous Branch, from the house of David, and He would execute righteousness and justice. He would deliver God's people from bondage and give them true security.

How would the righteous Branch do this? What would be different about this King from all of the other good kings like David, Hezekiah and Josiah? The key can be found in the name of the Branch: "And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness." This Branch would be different because He would be the very righteousness of God for the people. As Paul would later write in Romans 1:16-17: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith" 

Any covenant that depends on me to establish my own righteousness is doomed to fail. No matter how much good guidance and help I receive, my heart is too wicked to establish my own righteousness. I need a perfect righteousness, which only my perfect Lord can provide. But I also need a human righteousness, and so to provide it God had to become human. 

The good news of Christmas is the message that the days which God promised through Jeremiah have come. The days are here, the days in which the Lord is our righteousness and in which we are given new hearts because of Him. Tomorrow, we'll look more closely at the promise of a new heart, but for that we'll go to another Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel. 

Heavenly Father, Your people spent 70 years in exile waiting for restoration, but they waited even longer for the real restoration they needed for their hearts. Thank You that we are blessed to live on this side of Christmas, when the days have come and Christ has fulfilled all righteousness for us. Thank You for Your perfect righteousness, made human and given to us in Jesus Christ our Savior. In His name, we give thanks and praise You, Amen! 

The Savior of Humanity has come! Praise Him! (Lauren Daigle, "Noel"): 

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