The new covenant

21 Mar 2021 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Welcome to the Church

Call to worship & welcome

The psalmist sings to God:
‘To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God…

Show me your ways, O Lord
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my saviour,
and my hope is in you all day long’

(Psalm 25:1-2a,4-5)

Welcome to worship! Let us offer God our praise, and listen to his word for us.

Hymn: 153 God is love, let heav’n adore him

Prayers of adoration and confession

Let us glorify and adore the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Almighty God the Father, gracious Lord of all, whose glory knows no bounds.
Lord Jesus Christ the Son, eternal Word of God, whose mercy never ends.
Most good and loving Spirit, source of power and life, whose goodness lasts for ever.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one eternal God, resplendent in brightness, radiant in purity, inconceivable in majesty, to you we give all blessing, glory, honour and power.

You are our God and we are your people,
We depend on you; and we remember your goodness to us and to those who have gone before us.
We worship and adore you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Our prayer of confession is based on Psalm 51, a psalm of David:

Have mercy on us, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out our transgressions.

Wash us thoroughly from our iniquity,
    and cleanse us from our sin.
Against you, you alone, have we sinned,
    and we have done what is evil in your sight.

Purge us, and we shall be clean;
    wash us, and we shall be whiter than snow.
Hide your face from our sins,
    and blot out all our iniquities.

Create in us clean hearts, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within us.
Restore to us the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in us a willing spirit.         


Assurance of forgiveness


The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God says, “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.”

Jeremiah 31:34

And the apostle Paul tells us “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us”.

2 Corinthians 5:19

Hear Christ’s word of grace to us: Your sins are forgiven

Thanks be to God

Hymn: 136 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

Bible Readings

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 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. 34 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.


Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:5-10

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

5:5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

“You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Prayers for others

O God, who has so greatly loved us and mercifully redeemed us, give us grace that in everything we may offer ourselves to you.

We bring our prayers to you for the world.

We pray for peace and justice; especially in Myanmar and West Papua. We pray that persecution, especially of Christians, will cease. We pray for all refugees and those who care for them. We remember those kept in detention by Australia and hope for a better life for them. We pray that the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine in Papua New Guinea will make a difference.

We are very sad that so many have lost their lives or their livelihood because of Covid-19 and we pray that their families will be comforted. We thank you for the hope that we have because you have guided people into new ways of working together to help make the world a better place. We pray for people who feel hopeless to know that you love and care for them.

We pray for the church throughout the world; fill it with truth and peace; where it is in error, correct it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it.

We pray for the work of the Bible Society to flourish. We thank you for literacy classes using the Bible and for new translations in various countries. May these bless the people who receive them.

We pray for our own country and the governments at federal and state levels. We pray for appropriate action on climate change and successful outcomes for Closing the Gap policies which include the voice of aboriginal and islander peoples. We pray for older Australians to receive quality care and we ask for good policies to be carried out.

We pray for those out of work and those struggling to make ends meet, especially as the corona virus supplement is wound back. May the vaccine rollout in Australia be successful.

We pray for our congregation; for Richie as he ministers with us, for the Church Council, WOW and Mainly Music. Teach us how to witness to your love and grace. We pray for clear guidance for the future of our congregation. Help us all to accept change.

We remember those who are not well or having treatment and those who are dealing with difficult circumstances.

May those who are in care or shut in know your loving presence: Audrey, Luke, Pat and Sheila.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.


Hymn: 456 Your hand, O God, has guided

Sermon: The new covenant

At bible study this week, one of the passages we looked at was when Jesus and the disciples were leaving the temple to go to the Mount of Olives, and one of the disciples remarked to Jesus how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God – and Jesus responded “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

I’m pretty sure that the disciples weren’t expecting that response. But the disciples then asked “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” Not who’s going to do it, or why is it going to happen, but when.

‘When?’ is such an important question for people. For us. We have this desire to know when things will happen. How long until? Can I get this done before that happens? And so often in our lives we don’t know when, and we have to live with the uncertainty. Patience is a fruit of the spirit, of course, but so often we find ourselves lacking.

We would like to know when, but we don’t. Neil reminded us at bible study that the temple wasn’t destroyed until AD70. It’s likely that the people who heard Jesus that day weren’t still alive when it was destroyed. I remember doing New Testament studies and asking my minister what the significance of the destruction being 30 something years after Jesus’ prediction was. Phil, the minister, just shrugged and said, “I dunno”.

While we do not always know God’s timing, we do know God’s faithfulness. If God says it will happen, it will happen.  And we have this wonderful assurance throughout the scriptures as we see what God has promised, happening.

And so we come to this morning’s reading from the book of Jeremiah, and it begins:

‘The days are surely coming…’

And this is a phrase that comes up several times in Jeremiah, where God, through Jeremiah, assures his people of what will happen. Not what might happen, but what will happen.

In chapter 23 we read, ‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’ (23:5)

In chapter 30 ‘For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people…’ (30:3)

Earlier in this chapter ‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.’ (31:27-28)

And he continues into chapter 33, ‘The days are surely coming, says 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.’ (33:14-15)

Jeremiah has a gloomy reputation – in fact he’s often referred to as “the weeping prophet” which is based on his wish to have a "fountain of tears" with which he might weep for the slain of his own people (9:1). He was not simply prophesying gloom and doom for the people, but he also cared for them – deeply. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, we read of his personal grief, anguish, and anger in his doing the work of God. For forty years. And in return he received little more than condemnation and hatred from those to whom he had been sent to prophesy to.

In the book of Jeremiah, we see God expressing his frustration and disappointment with his people because they have wandered away from the covenant relationship that had existed since in the time of Moses. God’s warnings to the people had become reality. Babylon had invaded, the Temple had been destroyed, and the survivors were taken into exile.

But despite Jeremiah’s gloomy reputation, he also shares tremendous hope, hope for the future, hope that the people might not have been able to pin down to a specific date, but hope that was sure and certain. “The days are surely coming!”

In fact, chapters 30 through 33 of the book of Jeremiah are so poignant that they have come to be called “The Book of Comfort,” or “The Little Book of Consolation.” A kind of a book within a book.

Our reading today is part of that book. Comfort for the people of Israel, and comfort for us – because what is promised to the people all those years ago, which we see fulfilled in Jesus, is there for us today.

‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah’ (31:31).

Jeremiah is the only Old Testament prophet to use the term “New Covenant” – we know it well because it is used many times in the New Testament - At the last supper, Jesus said “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Paul uses it in his letters to the Corinthians, and it is used several times in the letter to the Hebrews.

Sometimes in the Old Testament, the prophets refer to a coming “Everlasting Covenant” (Isaiah 55:3, 61:8, Jeremiah 32:40, 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60) , which speaks more to  a renewal of the existing covenant between God and his people - the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But here, Jeremiah, talks of a new covenant. A new covenant that is surely coming for the people.

We, today, know the story of the fulfilment of God’s plan in Jesus. We know that the Old Testament looks forward to Jesus’ arrival in history, we know that it prophesies his life and death and resurrection, and we know that those prophesies are confirmed in Jesus, but when we read the Old Testament we need to remember the original hearers – or indeed the writers – didn’t have that confirmation. In the context of today’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah and his audience didn’t know what we know. They did not have our historical perspective, and nor did they have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.

But Jeremiah lived and prophesied around 600 years before Jesus. From the reign of Josiah, king of Judah, until after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 587 BC.

He was called when he was only a boy, he was called at a time when the country was is in serious trouble. His career spans a time of incredible catastrophe for the people of Judah. Jeremiah was called to speak while the Babylonians were invading Judah, burning Jerusalem, and carrying vast numbers of Jewish people into exile. Jeremiah was then one of a small remnant left in Judah, living in the midst of the rubble. The people who had been promised God’s protection and deliverance were in a place of desolation.

The people had been torn from the land. The Promised Land. The land poetically described as flowing with milk and honey. The very land that God had given them.

And so Jeremiah was called to lead Judah through a time of lament, through weeping and mourning, and to repentance. And in the midst of all the sadness, he revealed hope and promise for God’s people. That even though the circumstances were terrible and everything suggested things were hopeless, Jeremiah and other prophets of the time proclaimed that God’s people could still rejoice and praise God for his promises, even though they had broken the covenant. They assured the people that God would not remain angry, that God would be faithful to his people, and would restore them (see e.g. Lam. 3:19-26, Hab. 3:16-19). They told the people that from death would rise new life, and also a new way of relating to God.

Jeremiah was given a proclamation to make, that God would initiate a new covenant with his people. His people had violated their existing covenant - they had bowed to Baal and Asthoreth, to Molech and others.

Even though the people weren’t faithful to God, God was faithful to the people. Of course, there was a consequence to the people turning away from God: a terrible – but not permanent – consequence. They were invaded and exiled and taken to the brink of destruction. But even as those things were happening, God spoke through the prophets, and spoke of mercy and compassion, redemption and restoration.

God would not leave his people in the dark place they were in, but would open the way to reconciliation, and would ultimately redeem people, and begin a new – or renewed – relationship with his people.

And so, as we’ve heard this morning, Jeremiah reveals what this new relationship – this new relationship between God and his people – will be like.

 “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” The ‘law’ here isn’t just a set of legal requirements. It’s not simply the ten commandments. To the Jewish people, the law – the Torah – is the first five books of the Old Testament. Not all of that is commandments – most of it is simply the story of God and his people – in particular the story of Israel. So this promise of having God’s Torah within them and on their hearts and minds isn’t about them learning the right thing to do and memorizing and obeying rules, instead, it’s about knowing God and knowing God’s promises and plans.

Jeremiah tells us what God promises: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The New Covenant is not a one way thing: We, together, are God’s people. We are bound to one another. While we each have to make our own decision to follow Jesus, once we do that, we are not just individuals who follow Jesus, but we become part of something bigger than ourselves. God’s people. Or, as Paul later puts it in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:12-13), the body of Christ.

We follow Jesus, together. We take up our crosses and walk together. When each of us decides to follow Jesus we become part of a bigger whole. Each of us has different gifts and uses them in different ways, but we work together. Being a Christian means being part of Christ’s body, one piece of a larger whole.

Jeremiah goes on to say that God tells us “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Those who have been going to church for a long time often take this for granted, or miss the significance of it. We get used to the words and the prayers and the declarations. Yes, yes, God is revealed to us in Jesus, and yes, yes, I have a personal relationship with Jesus.

But this is a profound idea. Take a moment to ponder it. God, the creator of all things, is knowable to you. God isn’t this cosmic idea that we might be able to glimpse or contemplate if we do the right things, or make the right donations or say the right words, or fast or meditate in the correct way.

Instead: we can know God. The greatest of us. The least of us. We can all know God.

God isn’t unapproachable. Quite the opposite: God, in Jesus, chose to approach us! To enter into our world to make himself known to us.

For Abraham to know God and Moses to converse with God was different to what happened in the nations around them with their different gods and different faiths.

In other societies the idea was generally that you had to appease the gods. You wouldn’t become a friend of Baal or Asthoreth or Molech or any other ‘gods’ that they had. You couldn’t know them. You might know about them, and you would do everything you could not to incur their wrath. But you would never enter into something that would be regarded as a ‘relationship’ with those gods.

But we get to know God. Not just know things about God. But have a relationship with God as we would have a relationship with each other.

The challenge for us is to realise that the new covenant is not somewhere off in the future, as it was for the people of Jeremiah’s time, but has been delivered for us in Jesus. And having realised that, to embrace that covenant, to be part of that relationship with God.

We need to let God put his law within us, let him write it on our hearts – not simply to remember and follow God’s commandments, not simply to be good people, but to build our own relationship with God and with each other. To live as God’s people.

And it doesn’t matter what we can do, or what we have done, whether good or bad, because, in Jesus,  we have the assurance that Jeremiah shared with the people of his time “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.


Offering prayer

You are our God, and we are your people,
And you have entrusted us with the riches of this world and our lives.
We ask you to guide us and sustain us, so that we may be your good and faithful servants, as we use the gifts that we offer here and elsewhere, to the benefit of our neighbours and to the growth of your kingdom.

In Jesus name we pray


Hymn: 231 At the name of Jesus


Go, as God’s covenant people, into the world,
And as you go, may the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit; (Romans 15:13)
and may almighty God bless you,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.