This is the end of the first decade of the 21st century – that is, of the 3rd millennium. We had high hopes for the new millennium, because it dawned with real potential for world peace. We could write the history of the 20th century as the history of three wars: WW1; WW2; and the Cold War. But the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – the cold war was over! Maybe we would have a century of peace & goodwill!
We had hoped the new millennium would bring something new, something better. Instead, it’s more of the same old thing. What wars will write the history of the 21st century? Of the 3rd millennium?
For some of us personally, 2011 will be very new, because we’ve finished school or university or just been married or something else life-changing. But for many of us – let’s be honest – it’s just the same old thing, isn’t it? Same old family fights & boring job or annoying study & same old stupid boss who won’t give us the credit you’re due.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world changed – if someone could do something, to change the whole cosmos, the whole fabric of reality – so that things were better? Wouldn't that make 2011 the best new year ever?
In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God promises a new covenant with his people, Israel and Judah:
31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers 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. 33 “This is the covenant that I will make with the house 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. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘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.”
A covenant is a formalised, personal relationship. It’s like a contract, because it involved mutual binding obligations. But it’s more than a contract, because a covenant assumes that you care about the other person. That’s why God calls his relationship with his people a marriage covenant. He loved them, like a husband loves his wife. And, like any normal husband, he wanted his people to love them back.
Under the old covenant, the people kept running off with other men. They were not loyal to God, but worshiped idols – false gods. That breaks the ten commandments: the first command is “you shall have no other Gods before me”, and the second is “you shall not create an idol.” But, more importantly: worshiping a different god is spiritual adultery. It’s like taking your husband’s wedding presents, and giving them to your secret lover.
The amazing thing is – instead of divorcing his people and destroying them – which he had every right to do – God makes a way for them to be forgiven, once and for all. The last line of the passage promises “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Verse 34b)
This is why we need Jesus. In the upper room, “after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20), which, adds Matthew, is “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). If we have been unfaithful to our spouse, even though we deserve to be rejected by them, our spouse may, because they love us, and because they are kind and merciful, forgive us, and restore us to themselves. In Christ, God does exactly this. He deals with his own wrath against us, so that we can be restored to fellowship with him. “For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). And because we’ve been forgiven, we can truly be God's people (Jer 31:33b), know God personally (Jer 31:34a), and live God's way – not because we have to, but because we want to, from the heart (Jer 31:33). In the new testament, this last point is effected by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-26).
We get stressed and frustrated when people who are important to us, or have power over us, don’t treat us how we deserve. We get frustrated when the spouse, the kids, the parents, the boss, the workmates – all those people – don’t give us the love, the respect, the attention, that we want, and that we think we deserve.
God is the most important person in the universe. In Christ, he forgives us everything we have done against him; makes us to be his people; and gives us his Holy Spirit, that we would truly obey him.
That means, for those of us who have entrusted ourselves to God’s new covenant, the world changes for the better. The fabric of reality has shifted, because God – the centre of the universe, the most important person in the cosmos – is our friend, our Father; he is on our side; he loves us, and is for us, come what may. Things can’t get better than that.
The only question for us is: have we given ourselves to God, according to his new covenant? which basically means – have we given ourselves to Jesus Christ? If we haven’t, let’s do it right here, right now. That’s how we can make 2011 the best new year ever.