Sunday 17 March 2024 Lent 5
God’s heart for his people
Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
Context: a morning service suitable for all ages in an Anglican/Methodist historical town centre church; mixed congregation of diverse cultural backgrounds
Aim: to understand the depth of God’s heartfelt love
We all know that the heart is an essential physical component of our bodies, a muscle whose healthy function is vital for us to live! But it is not just a part of the body; it represents something far more mystical, the divine source of the strongest human emotion: love. We use heart imagery to describe the people closest to us – ‘dearest heart’ – or something important – ‘the heart of the matter’ – and vibrant – ‘the beating heart of the city’. We make the shape of the heart to express love and kindness. On the other hand, someone who is described as heartless or hard-hearted is regarded as cold, unkind, emotionless.
GOD’S HEART FOR HIS PEOPLE
So, when God tells Jeremiah that he will write his law on people’s hearts, he is not using a throwaway expression. He is signalling a significant action that will be fundamental to people’s lives. The prophet Jeremiah lived at a difficult time. The people were full of sin. They refused to repent and obey God. Despite Jeremiah’s warnings of divine punishment if they failed to turn back to God, the people persisted in their wrongdoing. As a consequence, Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed, the people captured and carried off to Babylon where they endured exile for 70 years. Despite their disobedience, God consistently hoped for a change of heart from his sinning people, promising them eventual restoration, and offering them the possibility of a closer relationship with him in the future. God gave his prophet Jeremiah words of hope and encouragement for his people. No longer would his commandments be written on tablets of stone as they were for Moses. Instead, God would write his laws on his people’s hearts. God’s word would live in people’s hearts and minds, a vital and inseparable part of human life. There would be a revolutionary new beginning, a new relationship between God and his people founded on Jesus Christ, God’s heartfelt gift to the world.
GOD’S BROKEN HEART GIVES HOPE
The irony of this would be that the making of the new covenant between God and his people would break God’s heart, because it would mean that his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, would have to die and suffer the pains of human death. Christ would bear the sins of the people so that they could be forgiven and saved. God’s heart would be torn in two.
John describes how the disciples struggled to understand as Jesus told them that for the kingdom of God to grow, he would have to lose his life. To make it simpler for his followers to grasp, he used the example of a seed which had to fall to the ground and die for a crop to be produced. The sacrifice of his life would open the way for many people coming to know God and gain eternal life.
Jesus admitted that his heart was troubled (John 12:27) by the prospect of his coming suffering. His human nature shrank from the pain that lay ahead. At the same time, he knew that this was the fulfilment of his mission on earth; difficult though it would be, the Son would have to sacrifice himself for the salvation of the world. As Jesus reached this agonising conclusion, God spoke. He affirmed his Son, declaring that through Jesus’ death on the cross, God’s name would be glorified. Those who heard God’s voice were not sure whether it was thunder or an angel. Perhaps God’s voice cracked with grief knowing that his Son had to die for the world to be freed from sin? This was surely heart-breaking for Father and Son, yet the pain was mixed with glory, for in Jesus’ death was the seed of hope for all the world. Through his death on the cross, sin would be forgiven once and for all and people’s lives would be transformed and renewed.
We are told that God made humans in his own image (Genesis 1:26). We can be reassured that in Christ, God knows the human emotions we feel - love, sorrow, joy, fear and righteous anger. He knows the heartbreak felt by a bereaved parent. But God’s heart must be unimaginably bigger than ours, for so great is his love for us that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). In Christ there is eternal hope, redeeming forgiveness, and – above all – never ending heartfelt love.
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