Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 31:1

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 8, 2015

     Luther said, “Like the other prophets, Jeremiah too prophesies of Christ and his kingdom… (In chapter 31) he clearly prophesies of the person of Christ, of his kingdom, of the New Testament, and of the end of the Old Testament.
     “We learn from Jeremiah among others that, as usual, the nearer the punishment, the worse the people become; and that the more one preaches to them, the more they despise his preaching. Thus we understand that when it is God’s will to inflict punishment, he makes the people to become hardened so they may be destroyed without any mercy and not appease God’s wrath with any repentance…. But Christ will be able to sustain his own, for whose sake he causes his word to shine forth in this shameful time of ours, just as at Babylon he sustained Daniel and those like him, for whose sake Jeremiah’s prophecy had to shine forth. To the same dear Lord be praise and thanks, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God over all and to eternity. Amen.” (LW 35)

31 “At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

In this chapter we hear the promise of the restoration of Israel, the reform of their sinful ways to service to God, and the coming of a new covenant—the New Testament—which will be established by God’s chosen Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Jeremiah begins this message of comfort with a return to the covenant formula: “I am your God and you are my people”  as in 30:22 and other places. The Lord reaches out to the whole nation by calling out to “all the families of Israel.” Clearly this means both the northern tribes and the southern tribes. Whether a family had been swept away to Assyria, or was about to be swept away to Babylon, or had been so despised by Israel’s enemies as to be left behind with the broken stones and the corpses like so much garbage, the Lord was calling to all of them. “I have not forgotten any of you,” the Lord says. “You will all be my people.”

When God first chose them, he was delighted. He described finding Israel as being “like finding grapes in the desert…like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree” (Hosea 9:10). So the Lord looked forward to the time when the true Israel, the spiritual Israel made up of people with faith in him, would look to him and trust in him alone (yet Christ also illustrated the wrath of God when he found a fig tree full of leaves looking like it should be full of fruit, but found none at all, Mark 11:13).

There is a passage in Revelation that I’ve grown very fond of as I’ve grown older. It’s a repetitive list in chapter 7, the one where each of the twelve tribes of Israel are listed as having 12,000 sealed believers. It’s clear from verse 9 that these are not literal numbers, as if one more person than 11,999 was sealed and then no more. 12,000 is a number depicting God’s imputed holiness and righteousness. 12 is the number of God’s interaction with the world together with the holy perfection of ten times ten times ten. Verse 9 gives us the more literal number: “a great multitude that no one could count.” And yet there is a wonderful satisfaction in reading that little list, and knowing that God cares about each and every tribe of his people and making certain that every person with faith is accounted for and brought in (“None has been lost,” John 17:12). Tribe of Gad? They had 12,000 (Revelation 7:5). Tribe of Asher? They had 12,000, too (Revelation 7:6). And so on and on. I don’t think so much about the actual tribes when I read that list, but about Christians I’ve known in different places over the years. Zion church in South Leeds? 12,000. St. Mark in Watertown? They had 12,000. Salem on the south side of Milwaukee? They had 12,000. Light of Life in Covington, Washington? They had 12,000. And St. Paul’s in New Ulm? They had their 12,000, too. God knows all his own, and he assures us with his comforting gospel. “I will be the God of all the families of the true Israel, including (your name here). And they will be my people.”

If this is God just getting started with this chapter, I for one can’t wait to hear the rest of it.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.