Last week, we thoroughly discussed the situation in Judah. Through Jeremiah, God tells His people that He is fed up. It is time to take action. It is nicely summarized for us in Jeremiah 30:14b.
“I have dealt you the blow of an enemy; the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous.”
But right in the middle of Jeremiah’s gloom and doom prophecy, there is a change of tone. Chapters 30 and 31 are called The Book of Consolation. In ancient times, when conquering armies carried people into exile, they never returned to their homes. They faded away, assimilating into the culture of the victors. Here, God offers a glimmer of hope.
- God tells His people that the day will come when he makes a new covenant with His people. A covenant was the Old Testament equivalent of a binding contract. (v. 31)
- The new covenant will be different. This time, it will be written on their hearts. It is interesting that God’s anger surfaces here, right in the middle of this promise. Yes, He is definitely angry with His beloved people. (vv. 32-33a)
- In the latter part of verse 33, He sheds His anger, and His love shines through—“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
- Verse 34a indicates that their relationship will be so close, so tight, that we won’t even need to teach one another about God; we will all just know Him.
- The second half of verse 34 is the key verse. God will not only forgive our sins, but He will forget them!
To “forgive and forget” is one of those catch phrases that we use, but also abuse. Oftentimes, we forgive, but we do not forget. In this passage, God tells us that when He forgives us of our sins, not only are they wiped clean, but He forgets them! If we were to go to the pearly gates, and bring up one of the sins that have burdened our hearts all those years, Saint Peter would say “Hmm, I have no record of that.”
NOTE: The readings are in an unconventional order, since the best Good News comes from the second reading, from Romans.
At this point in John’s narrative, Jesus is zig-zagging between Jerusalem and Galilee. Along the way, he does and says enough to agitate some of the devout Jews we call Pharisees. Other Jews, like his apostles and many other disciples, believe in him.
- Jesus is addressing the Jews who have chosen to believe in him. He says something that he knows will challenge their thinking. He says that if they are truly his disciples, they will know the truth. Not only that, but this truth will set them free. (vv. 31-32)
- These disciples are taken aback. They live in a time where about a third of the population was slaves. But they were Jews, and not slaves to anybody—ever! (Apparently, they had forgotten about Egypt and Babylon.) They had taken the bait that Jesus had laid out for them. (v. 33)
- Here is the teaching moment that Jesus was waiting for. He tells them that if they are sinners (which we all are), then they are in slavery to their sins! (v. 34)
- Next, he says something which was a well-known fact. In his day, slaves had no rights of inheritance. Only the master’s son could inherit the master’s wealth. So, if the son decided to free a slave, it would be effective immediately. (vv. 35-36)
Many of us have some bad habits. (May we call them sins?) These habit-sins are nearly impossible to break. Others carry the burden of past sins with them their whole lives. Sure, we often forgive, and have been forgiven, but we do not forget. We carry the scars with us forever. When we lay all these at the foot of the cross, they are forgiven. And not only that, God forgets them. We should forget them, too.
At the time when Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome, it consisted of two ethnic groups. There were ethnic Jews who believed in Jesus. There were also many Gentile (Greek) Christians in this church. They all worshipped together. There was, of course, a degree of tension between the two. The main question that is being addressed here is how the Law (of Moses) interacts with the “Righteousness of God” as presented in the gift of His son.
I would like to define two words, to help with our understanding of the text:
- “Justified” is a legal term, which means to be absolved of a crime.
- “Righteousness” means “right actions”. Therefore, the righteousness of God refers to the right actions that God does for the people he loves.
- The passage starts out talking about those “under the law”, or the non-Christian Jews. The law silences them, because it makes them aware of their failure. They are accountable to God for their actions. And we all know that “no human will be justified in His sight”. (vv. 19-20)
- But now, God takes action—He performs a righteous act. This act has been mentioned by the prophets in times past. But now, God has chosen to disclose it. (v. 21)
- This right act is nothing less than the gift of His son for all who believe. (v. 22a)
- It doesn’t matter if you are an ethnic Jew, a Gentile, black or white, or an Asian Christian; there is no distinction. (v. 22b)
- There is no distinction, because we have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. We cannot justify ourselves by obeying the Law, or any church rules. (v. 23)
- Instead, our justification comes as a free gift from God! Why is this? Because He has shown His love for us by sacrificing His only son as an offering for our sins. All we do to receive this free gift is to believe in Jesus. What a deal! (vv. 24-25)
- Why would God do such a thing? It was to prove to us that He is righteous, and does this good act to prove it to us. (v. 26)
- So, we’ve got no business bragging about being a Christian. God gets all the bragging rights. All we did was take the free gift! (v. 27)
- We are free from the Law. Our sin-crime is absolved because of our faith in Jesus, and not by our actions. (v. 28)
God’s loving grace is clearly evident in this passage. We need to know that we cannot save ourselves by obeying the Law of God. The Law was provided as a mirror, so that we can recognize the ways in which we do not measure up to God’s expectations. But our salvation comes to us as a free gift from God. We must simply believe in Jesus to receive it.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Does that mean that we are off the hook for obeying the Law, and don’t have to do good things? Of course not! God still has expectations of us. He wants us to show our love for Him in our actions. He expects us to love and forgive one other. These actions are not things we do to earn God Brownie Points. They are actions we take to show our love and gratitude back to the righteous God who saved us in the first place.