Why does Aaron Rodgers play for the Packers?1 That’s not a complaint from a Vikings fan; it’s a question for you to think about. Why does Aaron Rodgers play for the Packers?
Does he play for the Packers because of his great love for Northeastern Wisconsin? Well, he might love NE Wisconsin, and he seems to be a positive person in the community. But that’s not why he plays for the Packers. Does he play for the Packers because of his pure love of football? I have no doubt he loves football; some days he probably loves it more than others. But again, that’s not the reason he plays for the Packers.
It’s actually pretty simple. Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers because he signed a contract that says he has to play for the Packers. It goes back to when the Packers drafted him out of college in 2005. He wasn’t drafted because he was a nice guy; he was drafted because he was a really good football player. He’d played well in college in California, so the Packers gave him a contract.
It’s a two-sided contract. Both parties, Rodgers and the Packers are doing something for each other to fulfill the contract. Rodgers’s side of the contract is that he plays football for the Packers. In return, the Packers pay him money. It’s a pretty good deal for both of them, actually. In fact, he’s signed new contracts a couple of times, including his current one for many millions of dollars.
How long will he continue to play and how successful will he be? Nobody knows that for sure, but we do know that he is currently under contract to continue playing for the Packers.
Through the course of history, God himself has put people under contracts. Think about it; God drafted Abraham once upon a time. He called Abraham to leave his home and go to the promised land. (Gen. 12:1-9) God’s contract with Abraham——we usually call it a “covenant” when God makes a contract——later included promising to bless Abraham, to make his offspring like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and to bless all people through him. In other words, God promised to send the Savior.
Then after God’s people Israel left their captivity in Egypt, God started a different contract. He gave them the Ten Commandments, which was the moral law of how they were to live. He gave them other civil laws about how their society was supposed to operate, and he gave them ceremonial laws giving them the specifics on how to worship. This contract——this covenant——was two-sided. God had to keep his side to bring the people safely to the Promised Land and then bless them once they were there. And the people of Israel had to keep their side by obeying his laws and commands. He even signed this contract in blood2. It was all official, and everything was in place. If all went well, they’d live happily ever after.
The thing is, it didn’t all go well. Israel didn’t live up to their side of the contract. They not only didn’t obey all of God’s laws, they chose other gods and worshiped them. And with the contract broken, God no longer had to keep his end. They didn’t stay safe in the Promised Land. They were taken over by their enemies. The city of Jerusalem and the temple of God were destroyed, and the people went into exile. The contract was done. Over.
But what about us? Are we running around this world as undrafted free agents, unsigned players with no connection to God whatsoever? Well, judging from the fact that you’re here in church, I’d guess that’s not how you feel. But what is your contract with God?
We might not think about it much, but it’s easy for us to live our lives as if we have contract set in place with God. The contract might go something like this: our side of the agreement is that we need to believe in God, belong to a church, and behave ourselves. We need to live that life as a believer. Then, God’s side of the agreement is that He will protect us, watch over us, and make things work out for our good. Sounds like a decent contract, right?
But it runs into problems. An example would be when something bad happens in our lives. We lose someone we love, or we get sick, or we lose our job, or you can pretty much fill in the blank with something bad. When that happens, we ask ourselves, “Why?”
It looks like God isn’t keeping his end of the contract anymore, otherwise we wouldn’t be having these problems! So, the reasons for this would be that either God isn’t really so great after all, or maybe we didn’t keep our end of the bargain well enough. So either we’re mad at God or we’re racking our brains with guilt over how we must have messed up.
The truth is, neither of those are good options. And if we’ve been living like this, living with this supposed “contract” with God where he promises to love us as long as we believe, belong, and behave, then it’s time for a new contract. It’s time to look at what God actually tells us in his Word.
And we see it clearly and beautifully here in the book of Jeremiah. “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Jer. 31:34) Here God was telling his people that it was time for a new contract, a new covenant.
I’ll tell you, this would’ve been very good news to the people in Jeremiah’s day. They were in desperate need of a new contract. Let’s just say the old one wasn’t going so well. Jeremiah started his ministry as a prophet during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. Unfortunately, Josiah was the last good king of Judah. And when he was killed in battle, things went downhill dramatically.
The last kings of Judah didn’t listen to what God tried to teach them through his prophets. In fact, just a few chapters after our text we see a glaring example of this. (Jer. 36:17-26) King Jehoiakim was given a scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecy. It was a prophecy that condemned the sins of Jehoiakim’s reign and the sins of the people. And the King read the prophecies. But he didn’t just read them, after he read a few lines he would cut those few lines off of the scroll and throw them into a fire. Then he’d read the next few lines and throw them in the fire. The King would not listen to the real King, God.
And the people wouldn’t listen either. They thought Jeremiah was crazy for pointing out these sins; they thought God would never, ever punish them and allow the temple to be destroyed (after all, they were under contract with God——they were good!). But Jeremiah was telling the truth. They were sinning. God would punish them. Their contract was up, and it was their own fault.
That’s why our text was such good news! There was a new contract, a new covenant, on its way, and this one would be different! It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 31:32)
The old contract was broken! The people hadn’t kept their end of the bargain. Even the kings were wicked and leading people astray. The covenant was done. Even though God had blessed them, and lead them out of Egypt, and blessed them in their land and acted like a perfect husband treating his bride just right, even though God did all that, the people sinned. They broke his contract, his covenant. So a new covenant was needed.
It’s a good time for a reminder for us. We are not under the old covenant that the people of Judah were under in our text. God did not send us to the Promised Land and promised to keep us there as long as we obey his laws. That was for his Old Testament people.
So let’s not live our lives as if we’re somehow still under that covenant, that contract. I mentioned it earlier how it can be easy for to think we’re under that kind of contract from God. How we might feel that as long as we keep our end of the deal, as long as we believe in God, belong to a church, and behave ourselves, we’ll have a good, full life, and God won’t let anything bad happen to us.
But that’s not as good a contract as it sounds. It leads only to bad things. I mentioned before that when trouble strikes, we might think the contract has been broken. Either God messed up or we messed up. Either I’m angry at God for not treating me right or I’m angry at myself for losing everything through my sins.
But even worse would be if nothing bad happens in our lives. We live basically happy and fulfilled lives, which is great, except for the fact that we think God is just keeping up his end of the contract. We think that because we have been so good——we believe, belong, and behave——so God pretty much has to bless us. In fact, we could imagine standing at the gate of heaven, and we could imagine God asking us, “Why should I let you into heaven?” If we think we’re under this kind of contract to God, we might just say, “You should let me into heaven because I’ve been good! I believed, I belonged, I behaved. I’ve earned this!
But he wouldn’t let us in for that! We have earned no such thing from God. We are under no such contract with God to believe, belong, and behave. Or if we are, we’d have to do these things perfectly, and we’ve fallen far short of that. No, the only thing we’ve earned from God is punishment——death and hell.
That’s why it’s time for a new contract. That’s why we need a new contract, a new covenant from God. And that’s what he gives us. It’s the same new covenant in our text.
“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jer. 31:33) God says his law and his teachings aren’t something that we will obey and follow to somehow win God’s favor or keep in order for God to be good to us. He says those things will be in our hearts. We will want to do those things simply because God is our God and we are his people.
And the covenant goes on. “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 31:34) We don’t have to go up to each other and say, “Be a Christian!” No, because it is God who has made us Christians, who has put faith in our hearts. As we study and grow in his Word, the Holy Spirit builds us up, He gives us faith so that we know the Lord. It’s a miracle from him.
And it all leads up to the greatest part of this covenant at the end of our text. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Jer. 31:34) God will forgive. Those are powerful words. True forgiveness isn’t just overlooking something; it’s taking it away completely. True forgiveness isn’t something that you earn; it’s something that you’re given.
That’s the thing with this new covenant, this new contract. God does everything. Jesus did everything. This is not a two-sided covenant where we do good things and then God responds and does good things. This is a one-sided covenant. Jesus did it all. The end!
Jesus accomplished everything. He obeyed God fully and completely. He paid for the my sins and took my punishment. He brought me to faith through his Holy Spirit working in Word and sacrament. He did all that, and I did nothing. You did nothing.
Do you realize that? And nothing is all you can do. Do you realize there’s nothing you can do to make God love less? He forgives sins. He remembers them no more. They are taken away through Jesus. And there’s also nothing you can do to make him love you more. You didn’t earn his forgiveness and you never will.
So friends, hold onto this covenant. Keep this contract close to your heart at all times. And don’t worry about this contract going out of date. Aaron Rodgers’s contract will end. He will eventually retire. But our contract, our covenant, with God will last forever.
We know that because it was signed in blood. What did Jesus say when he gave the Lord’s Supper? This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Lk. 22:20) Jesus signed the covenant himself. He paid for it himself. So all we can do is rejoice with him forever.
- Sermon preached on Jeremiah 31:31-34 for the 5th Sunday in Lent at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Two Rivers, WI on March 22, 2015. ↩
- Athletes like Aaron Rogers have little contract press conferences (ceremonies?), but check out the contract—covenant—ceremony in Exodus 24:1-8! Note especially the signing in blood! ↩