Covenant Through New Hearts
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 10:35–10:45
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 21, 2021
“Covenant Through New Hearts”
More than 50 years ago, medical history was made on January 6, 1968 “in an operating room at Stanford Hospital, [where] two human hearts lay very still in two separate basins near the unconscious body of a 54-year-old patient, and time froze. ‘We both stood there and stared into this huge, empty cavity for a good half a minute,’ said Dr. Edward Stinson, chief resident at the time… The young surgeon… assisting his mentor was Dr. Norman Shumway… chief surgeon, who had just removed Mike Kasperak’s diseased heart in an effort to save the retired steelworker’s life. It was the first attempted heart transplant of an adult in the United States. ‘Do you think this is really legal?’ Stinson asked Shumway. ‘I guess we’ll see,’ Shumway said. One of the two hearts, diseased beyond repair, would never beat again. But the other, if transplanted into Kasperak’s chest within the next hour or two, could start up again and save his life. It was an outrageous act that was being followed with bated breath by the world… That surgery, [more than] 50 years ago, captured a moment in history when transplantation of a human heart was so hard to fathom, so bizarre, it was considered shocking, almost indecent” (taken from The first U.S. adult heart transplant | Stanford Medicine). Although Mr. Kasperak lived only fourteen days after surgery, this medical breakthrough paved the way for future transplants. In today’s Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 31:31-34), the Lord God promises to make a new covenant with his chosen people; in essence, giving them new hearts and writing his law on those new hearts. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus reveals that this new covenant will be fulfilled through Jesus himself as the Son of Man who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The message for this day, following our Lenten preaching series, “People of the Covenant,” is entitled “Covenant Through New Hearts.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, the word “covenant” (בְּרִית) is used four times. When a word is used repeatedly like this, we should pay attention to what’s being said. It is that word “covenant” that is at the heart of what this Lenten preaching series is all about. The prophet Jeremiah lived through some incredibly turbulent times. His prophetic ministry centered in Jerusalem during the closing days of the kingdom of Judah until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Jeremiah is often called the “weeping prophet” because of his sorrow over the message of God’s judgment that was coming upon his chosen people which Jeremiah was called to proclaim. Tough job for sure. God’s people stubbornly refused to heed the messengers sent to them by God. For the most part, they rejected any call to repentance, to receive correction, and return to their covenant calling and serve only the Lord. In short, God’s covenant people had shattered the covenant, and so God was going to shatter their self-pride and idolatry by casting them out of the very promised land that he had led them to. And yet, in the midst of this message of judgment and condemnation for sin, there is a word of hope from the Lord through his servant Jeremiah. That is what we hear in today’s Old Testament lesson: “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… 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” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33b). God’s new covenant will not be just words on paper, or even engraved on stone tablets like the covenant at Mt. Sinai. It won’t be external; it will be internal. It will be etched on the very hearts of his people. They will, in fact, have new hearts – hearts that are reshaped according to God’s gift: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). I encourage you to highlight these verses from Jeremiah in your Bible. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, especially those blessed and comforting words from the Lord about forgiving our iniquity and remembering our sin no more.
New hearts will be required for the new thing which God was doing through his Son Jesus. That is what we hear about in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus had just finished his third Passion prediction (Mark 10:32-34), and just like his two previous Passion predictions (Mark 8:31ff; 9:30ff.), this is followed by confusion on the part of the disciples. James and John want to be first in line to place their order for the best seats in the new kingdom that Jesus has come to bring: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). For James and John – and maybe for us also – there is the mistaken notion that Jesus’ kingdom is about privilege, power, and prestige. It’s about being in a position of authority to order people around; getting others to do things for you. They have no clue about the upside-down kingdom that Jesus has come to bring, or about the new hearts they’re going to need to be part of it. The other disciples are indignant at James and John – not because they believe that this was out of order and inappropriate, but because they didn’t ask first. And so Jesus provides a corrective to everyone’s expectations – ours included – about what life in the kingdom of God is all about. It’s not about privilege, power, and prestige – exactly the opposite – as Jesus makes clear: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42b-45). All of this happens just before Jesus will enter into Jerusalem, and there make good on what he has said. He will indeed give his life as a ransom for many – for each and every one of us. He goes to Jerusalem and to the cross to offer his life as the ransom, the once-for-all sacrifice, for our sins so that we might have new hearts that are set on following Jesus as our Servant King. The prayer of the psalmist has been fulfilled in the cleansing blood of Jesus: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
In our own lives today, we may struggle, as James and John did, with what it means to follow Jesus and live in his upside-down kingdom. In Jesus’ kingdom, the last are first and the first are last (Mark 10:31); the lowly are exalted and the mighty are brought low; the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:52-53). All of this runs counter to the way of the world; in fact, none of this makes any sense to the world. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). In giving us new hearts, Jesus now calls us to follow his own example and, by the power of his Spirit at work in us, transform the world one person at a time by loving and serving others as he himself has loved and served us. That is our servant calling in Christ now during this Lenten season and in every season of our life in Christ. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.