• Steven Marsh

Learning–An Adventure in Freedom: a Reflection on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33

We are to live our lives captured by a vision that is bigger than ourselves and circumstances. Jeremiah 31 depicts a vision of God restoring human to our original intent, restoring human in and through our brokenness. Woody Bartlett, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, writes, “…this passage begs us to explore the ways we need the law of love to be written on our hearts. More importantly, it sets up the exploration…of how the power of the resurrection can find a home in our hearts so that we, and those around us, can truly live a new life.”[1]

In November of 2008 one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance was restored to its original splendor and returned to its home at the world-renowned gallery in Florence. The Madonna del Cardellino was painted by Raphael in 1505 for the wedding of his friend, a wealthy Florence merchant. It portrays Jesus Christ’s mother, Mary, with two children who are playing with a bird. The children symbolized John the Baptist and his young cousin Jesus. The gold finch bird that feeds among thorns is interpreted as representing Christ’s future suffering…Forty years after it was created, there was an earthquake in the house in which this painting was kept, and the painting was shattered into 17 different pieces…So, another artist took long iron nails and tried to patch the pieces together. And then he tried to paint over it to conceal the breaks and make it look whole again. But over the years, there were so many layers of paint added and so much dust and grime over this painting that the original colors, the original art, was completely obscured. The contemporary restoration project fixed the shattered areas and removed layers of paint and dirt to get the colors back. It was a team effort. It took fifty people ten years of working on this painting, and the result is stunning. The cracks are gone. Centuries of brown film and grime are gone. The dulling veneers and patches have been stripped away, and the finished product glows with all the deep colors: the reds, and blues, and golds of the original work of art. Given how badly it was damaged, the restoration of Raphael’s painting is arguably even more amazing than the painting itself. The original was splendid, but the miracle of restoration compounds the beauty…The spiritual parallels are profound. They speak to a far greater masterpiece of restoration, the one that the Lord wants to do in your life and in mine. Tragically, the beautiful design of who God created us to be has been marred by sin; and layers of grime and dirt have collected. Maybe you’ve felt them and sensed them in your life. You thought you could paint over the damage, but it didn’t work, and the patches, the veneers that you applied just made things worse, and the cracks are showing. Maybe you’ve experienced earthquakes that have shattered you, but the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has the power to make all things new.[2]

In Jeremiah 31:31-32, God is doing something new. These verses are clear that the people of God would receive a new covenant, yet the covenant made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 would not change. The Abrahamic Covenant had four major components. First, God would make Abraham’s name great. Second, Abraham and his people would become a great nation. Third, Abraham and his people would be a blessing to all nations. And fourth, Abraham and his people would be given a land, a geographical place of identity. The promise of blessing would not change. How it was experienced and advanced would.

In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the ability to live a life of forgiveness becomes the core of human experience. The law of God would be written on the people’s hearts. In other words, the people had the Torah, God’s law written. Now, God would write this law on the people’s hearts. The people would become the “living Law.” God would forgive the people’s sins and remember them no more. According to this reframing of the original promise, all people would know God.

God sent the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to be the Savior and Lord of the world. Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice for the sins of humanity. By placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the law of God is written on the believer’s heart. All a person needs to do is confess their sin and trust in Jesus. John Piper in Think writes, “…thinking is dangerous and indispensable. Without a profound work of grace in the heart, knowledge–the fruit of thinking–puffs up. But with that grace, thinking opens the door of humble knowledge. And that knowledge is the fuel of the fire of love for God and man. If we turn away from serious thinking in our pursuit of God, that fire will eventually go out.”[3]

In one week’s time, we will begin the journey of remembering the something new God promised and delivered. From Jesus’ faithful walk into Jerusalem, his reframing of the Passover Seder meal, betrayal, beating by the Romans, crucifixion, and resurrection, we know that death loses, and love wins. The text in John 12:20-33 keeps our focus that “Jesus’ crucifixion judges ‘the world’ and drives out the ‘ruler of the world.’”[4] Jesus is here and invites you to participate in something bigger than yourself.

God’s promise of doing something new and forgiveness invites us into the vision that is bigger than ourselves. Jesus asks you and me to allow him the opportunity to do something new in our lives; to write forgiveness on our hearts. Think about the implications of forgiveness for you, others, and our society. Once again Woody Bartlett writes, “What would it be like if God wrote the law on our hearts so that we would live within the creation, not above it, so that we would cherish our neighbors, the birds, animals, and fish? What would this creation look like if we lived with restraint and humility, living for the whole creation, not just our singular, insular selves and our own narrow corner of creation?”[5] On the road of redemption you will do the good work of forgiveness and cherish your neighbors. Will you trust Jesus Christ to restore you to God’s original intent for the sake of all creation? Walk the road of redemption.

[1]Woody Bartlett in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 127.

[2]Mary Kassian, from the sermon “The Genesis of Gender” as found on http://www.preachingtoday.com, March 15, 2018.

[3]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 164-165.

[4]Charles L. Campbell in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 141.

[5]Woody Bartlett in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 127.

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