New Hearts

Bible Focus: Jeremiah 29-33

For this is what the LORD says: "When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you"--this is the LORD's declaration--"plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." 
Jeremiah 29:10-13 CSB

When I was a kid, I enjoyed reading Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer. One of my favorite Tom Sawyer stories involves a job that Tom’s Aunt Polly gave to him on a beautiful Saturday morning. She commanded the boy to whitewash a fence. Tom fetched a bucket of whitewash and a brush, walked over to the fence, and then gazed at thirty yards of boards. As he realized how long and hard his job would be, Tom fell into deep despair.

But then Tom had an idea. He decided that he would put on an act, and make it seem like whitewashing the fence was the most wonderful fun a boy could have. In doing so, he hoped to convince others to do the job for him.

Public domain. Available freely from Project Gutenberg.

When a boisterous boy named Ben happened to come along, Tom behaved as if he were totally enraptured with the joy of whitewashing. Ben gave Tom his apple so that he might have a turn with the brush. Other boys came by, and they also offered Tom trades for a chance to whitewash the fence. So Tom worked very little, collected a bunch of loot, gave others an enjoyable experience, and impressed his Aunt Polly with a job well done.

We humans have an affinity for things we want to do, and an aversion to things we ought to do. We’re not very good at following rules that don’t connect to our hearts. But if we get excited about something (or someone), we’ll display some very disciplined behavior. We’ll work hard, make sacrifices, refuse temptation, and overcome obstacles. Our hearts can move us to action far beyond what any set of rules could accomplish.

The same is true when it comes to our relationship with God. Even though God’s rules are good, they won’t make us love him. If we love God, we’ll want to obey him even beyond the words of his commands. But if we don’t love God, we’ll struggle to obey his commands even at a minimal level. If we find it hard to obey God, then we don’t merely need a clearer understanding of his rules. We need hearts that long for God.

We don’t merely need a clearer understanding of God’s rules. We need hearts that long for God.

Jeremiah was a prophet during the last years of the kingdom of Judah. God began to speak through Jeremiah during the reign of King Josiah, Judah’s last good king. God proclaimed that the people of Judah would be conquered and sent into exile, similar to what the kingdom of Israel had already experienced at the hands of Assyria.

After King Josiah died, Judah’s kings could no longer maintain their power against the nations around them. The next king, Jehoahaz, was captured and exiled to Egypt. The next king, Jehoiakim, was captured and exiled to Babylon, along with some of the articles of the LORD’s temple. The next king, Jehoiachin (also known as Jeconiah), was captured and exiled to Babylon, along with all the valuable articles of the LORD’s temple and all the treasures in the king’s palace. At the same time, the king of Babylon also exiled about 10,000 other people to Babylon, including Judah’s highest officials, best soldiers, craftsmen, and metalsmiths.

After this deportation, God sent messages through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. He told them to settle down, submit to their Babylonian rulers, and build a life in Babylon. God also promised them that he would eventually bring them back to their homeland.

But God’s promise of return wasn’t the most precious thing that he promised the exiles. God also promised that after he brought them back to the land of Judah, he would make a new covenant with them to replace the old covenant that they broke. This new covenant would offer them new hearts by which they could know God, and would also offer them total forgiveness of their sins.

"Look, the days are coming"--this is the LORD's declaration--"when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt--my covenant that they broke even though I am their master"--the LORD's declaration.
   "Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days"--the LORD's declaration. "I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them"--this is the LORD's declaration. "For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin."
Jeremiah 31:31-34 CSB

Here’s the good news. Jesus is the one who established the new covenant that brings new hearts to all of God’s people. When Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead, he made a way for our spiritually dead hearts to be replaced by living hearts that long for God.

When we turn to Jesus and trust in him as our Lord and God, we receive a new heart from him. We still struggle with sin, but all of our sins are forgiven. Our bodies are still subject to decay and death, but our new heart will never die. His Spirit lives in our new heart. And no matter what happens, we will forever be truly loved by God and we will truly love him in return.

Featured image from Matt LaVasseur on Unsplash.

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