Based on: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Today we celebrate the Reformation. Let’s take a look at the word reformation. That word carries with that the idea that you are changing something for the better, and not just that you are changing something, but you are changing it back to what it once was. You are removing the problems that were not there originally. You are removing faults or abuses that came about over time. That is the sense in which the word reform is used when someone talks about reforming a criminal or someone with an addiction.
Martin Luther was a reformer. Over time the church that understood clearly what Christ was all about slowly drifted away from God’s word. Faults and abuses began to creep into the church. These faults and abuses destroyed the comfort and peace that God’s gospel message gives us. Martin Luther said, "Let’s go back to what Scripture says." Through Martin Luther God brought many people in the church back to his Holy Word and back to that peace and comfort that only the gospel message can give.
It is through this reformation at the time of Martin Luther that many know the good news of another reformation, that wonderful life-saving reformation that God brought about which he describes in the first lesson that we read for today. God describes this reformation as a new covenant, a one-sided covenant.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God is promising a new covenant to the people of Israel. You remember how good God was to the people of Israel. He led them out of slavery in Egypt. He took care of them. He even called them his own people. Remember how he brought those people to mount Sinai where he himself talked to them and made a covenant with them. He said, "These are the rules I want you to follow. This is how I want you to act toward me and others. Here are instructions for building the tabernacle and for the sacrifices you will give me. If you keep your side of this covenant then I will keep my side, and I will bless your land so that it produces crop. I will give you victory over your enemies. You will prosper. I will be your God and you will be my people."
Even though God was faithful we know what the children of Israel did. Before Moses made it down the mountain with those two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments written on them, they had already broken this covenant and had formed that golden calf. In fact throughout Israel’s history, over and over again Israel would stray away from God and start worshiping other gods, and then God would lead them back to himself. He accomplished this through some trouble or usually by bringing some other country to attack them. When Jeremiah writes these words, God is doing that very thing. The Assyrians have already attached and conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel and now the Babylonians are taking many people from the southern portion of Israel, the land of Judah, into captivity.
You and I have not done any better. God says, "The man who does these things will live by them." If you are able to keep God’s law then you have life, eternal life. But let’s look at our track record. All we need to do is look at the first commandment. "You shall have no other gods before me." This means that nothing should take the place of God as the most important thing in our lives. Every moment of our lives should be spent serving him. How often have we failed at that? How often have we thought about ourselves first instead of God? We are no better than the Israelites when it comes to keeping this covenant with God.
But God promises a new covenant. He knew Israel could not keep that covenant he made with them on Mount Sinai. He knows we cannot keep his law either. He said through the prophet Jeremiah, "They broke my covenant." Even though God was faithful to Israel, they broke the covenant with him.
Now comes God’s reformation through a new covenant. God tells the people of Israel and Judah that this new covenant is coming. He will do away with the old covenant made on Mount Sinai and make with them a new one. Yet this new covenant is based on an old promise. This new covenant is based on the plans God had from the very beginning to save mankind from his sin and on the promise made to Adam and Eve through those words spoken to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
God’s new covenant will get rid of the faults and abuses that came about over time. It will remove the sin and the corruption that came about when Adam and Eve gave in to Satan’s temptation. It will remove the sin and corruption that was passed down to every one of us from Adam and Eve. It will also remove the sin and corruption that we ourselves have caused. God tells us that in his New Covenant, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." This is God’s reformation for us, restoring us to the way he created mankind to be, holy and perfect before him.
He has already begun this Reformation in us at our baptism. He created in us a new man that wants to serve and obey him, that dearly loves him. At our baptism God made us part of the true nation of Israel. He made us his people. He is talking about those who trust in him for their salvation, when he says, "I will be their God, and they will be my people." We are God’s very own, and he will protect us and provide us with all that we need.
This new covenant through which this wonderful reformation takes place is the same covenant that Jesus was talking about when he said on Maundy Thursday, "This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." This new covenant is the covenant sealed by his blood on the cross when he paid for this Reformation to take place.
The best part of this new covenant is that it is a one-sided covenant. Remember Mount Sinai? Remember how the Israelites were given rules to follow and they had their own part of the covenant to fulfill. Remember those Ten Commandments that neither you nor I could ever keep? God says that in this new covenant he does all the work. He is the one who says, "I will put my law in their minds", "I will be their God", "I will forgive their wickedness", "I will remember there sins no more." God does all the work.
Think about signing a contract with someone. Normally you would each have to agree to do your part. The contract would have a section for each person signing the contract stating what they must do as part of the contract. In this new covenant or contract there’s a large section of what God has done and will do for us, but there is no part of this covenant that tells us there is something we need to do to fulfill it.
In the old covenant God was faithful, but the covenant failed because Israel could not fulfill its part in the covenant. The same is true for us. We cannot get to heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments. If we try, that only gets us into hell. We can be absolutely certain that this new covenant will succeed because it does not depend on us. It only depends on God.
As a sinful human beings though we sometimes want to go back to that old covenant. We want to try to work our way to heaven. That is sinful human pride, plain and simple. You can see that in every other religion besides Christianity. Every other religion is based on the principle that you must be good in order to avoid punishment or get a reward. Even within Christianity, the temptation to trust in one’s own good deeds is strong. That was the worst of the faults and abuses that had corrupted the Christian church at the time Martin Luther came. That is why God used the Lutheran Reformation to bring people back to that new covenant based on the old promise to Adam and Eve. Thanks be to God that again we can see clearly the reformation God has produced in us.