Editor’s note: Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe, but the Easter season is right around the corner—Ash Wednesday is March 1. Just like in the past, CTA is offering seven FREE sermon outlines to help you prepare your worshipers for Resurrection Day. This year, the theme is A Love That Never Dies, based on Jeremiah 31:3. You’ll find the first sermon below and be sure to download the entire packet of sermons in CTA’s Resource & Idea Center.
Over the next several weeks, we will spend time together preparing to celebrate our Savior’s Resurrection Day victory. We will do that under the overarching theme “A Love That Never Dies” based on Jeremiah 31:3 (ESV), “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
There are many unknowns in our world, but God’s love is not one of them. This verse makes that very clear. When it comes to God’s love, there are no conditions and no time limitations. There is no expiration date. “I love you,” God says to us, “with an everlasting love!”
The cross of Christ proves that, just as the “Gospel in a Nutshell” testifies: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God’s love is far-reaching and all-encompassing. Indeed, God sent his Son to die and to be raised to life for you, but also for those whom you don’t know, and even for those you don’t particularly like.
How easily we grow narrow in our thinking about God’s love. How often we restrict our thinking to just our own lives, our own families, our own health, our own little worlds. In times like that, we fail to hear the truth that “God so loved the world”! Quite literally, there is not a single, solitary person who has ever lived or who is now living on this planet whom God does not love; we cannot fathom it, but that’s the everlasting, far-reaching, all-encompassing love of the Lord.
God intends that his love for us will create in us a strong and saving faith in him. In a world fraught with confusion and chaos, so many forces, so many troubles, so many temptations try to chip away at our faith. We have so many questions, so many concerns, and our questions, for now, go mostly unanswered. All of us have wondered at times whether God has forgotten our names and addresses, times when our faith is at its weakest and most vulnerable. But again and again in times like that the Holy Spirit reminds us, reassures us of the depth and height and breadth of God’s love, his everlasting love, his love for us demonstrated on the cross of his Son.
Jeremiah 31 is filled with beauty and grace. The prophet begins, “Thus says the LORD: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness’” (verse 2 ESV); that is, the Lord never abandoned his people, even while disciplining them, even in their wilderness times, and the Lord continued, in grace, to embrace them.
Jeremiah 31 also includes great anguish. Verse 15 tells of agony to come:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Jeremiah 31:15 (ESV)
The brutal armies of Babylon would soon descend upon Judah, carrying God’s people into an exile from which most would not return. They would lose their property and many would lose their lives. Worst of all, by their idolatry they had brought these consequences down upon themselves.
But through it all, hope remained because God’s love is everlasting. Not even during the darkest hours of exile would God withdraw his mercy and love.
In Jeremiah 31, we also hear God’s declaration, his promise that he will simply never give up on his chosen people, not ever:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.
Jeremiah 31:31–34 (ESV)
To “forgive and forget” is, humanly speaking and with few exceptions, an impossibility. When someone has injured us deeply, when their sin against is us too hurtful, we may struggle to muster up the courage to forgive. But if we do, when we do, the memory of that hurt lingers. It’s in our ledger in ink. We keep a record of the offenses by which others have hurt us.
Time after time, throughout much of the Book of Jeremiah, God forgave the iniquities and idolatries of his people. But through prophets like Jeremiah, the Lord reminded them of their sordid past. And who could blame him? From God’s perspective, his relationship with Israel was the equivalent of a marriage, marriage in which the call to forgiveness—between husbands and wives—is often the most critical and compelling and, sadly, also the most elusive.
The old covenant, the first covenant, which God established on Mount Sinai, was irreparable. It was based on God’s love, of course. But it also depended upon Israel’s keeping the Law, which they could not, would not, and did not do. Besides that, the old covenant was narrow. It was established strictly between the Lord and the nation Israel.
The new covenant, the covenant sealed at Calvary’s cross, had no such restrictions. God intended it for all humankind, including us. It was anchored in God’s everlasting love, love that extended even to his enemies! That new covenant did not depend on our obedience. Instead, it was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new covenant changed everything. Now sin would be forgiven—and forgotten! That covenant finds its power in those words of promise:
I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.
Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV)
God forgives and forgets! Every hour of every day, the slate is wiped clean. Every hour of every day, God takes us by the hand and leads us out of our enslavement to sin, out from under death’s curse. He makes it possible for us to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 ESV).
But maybe you, like I myself, find it easier to forgive someone who has wronged you than to receive forgiveness from someone you have wronged. Especially when we hurt someone we dearly love, it can be hard to believe that forgiveness is ours. Even though that person may assure us again and again that they love us and forgive us, the guilt lingers. The feeling that we must “do something” to make amends won’t go away.
But God everlasting love is not based on our feelings. It is anchored in the strength and authority of God’s Word. Our Lord’s everlasting love is unalterable fact! “Feeling” God’s forgiving love does not make it more or less true. Rather, we know that God has forgiven us. His forgiving, enduring love is as certain as the cross and the open tomb of our Savior, which bear profound testimony to a “love that never dies.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.