Let me explain my sermon title (since I don’t really have time to unpack it in the sermon itself). What do I mean when I speak of The Ministers of the Church as the Son’s Gift and the Spirit’s Servants for the Realization of Jeremiah’s New Covenant Prophecy in the Life of the Congregation?
Five passages exemplify my points.
Ephesians 4:11-13 shows us that the ministers of the church are the Son’s gift, and these ministers especially teach, so that and until we attain to the knowledge of the Son of God. So these teachers are working for our present and ultimate knowledge of the Lord. There is a now and a not yet in Ephesians 4:13 and the surrounding context.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
12 to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (ESV)
Jeremiah 31:34 tells us that in the in the fullness of the realization of the new covenant, we will not need to teach one another to ‘know” the Lord, because
34 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 sin no more.” (ESV)
Jeremiah 9:23-24 speaks of the wise only boasting in the understanding and knowledge of God (by experiencing and acknowledging his love, justice and righteous)
23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,
24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (ESV)
Ezekiel 36/37 speaks of the Spirit as God’s agent in changing our hearts and enabling us to know him.
As a quick, but important aside, in Ezekiel, repeatedly the Spirit is the agent of this heart work and knowledge of the Lord, for instance, Ezekiel 36:27 (and 37:13-14). 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV) And you shall know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 37:13 ESV)
Philippians 3:8-16 Paul speaks similarly of the surpassing worth of his knowledge of Christ. And notice he speaks of presently experiencing it, but not in its final fullness. There is a now and not yet in Paul’s knowledge of Christ.
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Phi 3:8-16 ESV)
Now, here’s how I got to my title, which is actually a theological assertion.
- Jeremiah 31:34 speaks of a new covenant that will not require teachers to teach us to “know the Lord”
- In context, “Know the Lord” at least means trusting in the true God and not false gods. But it certainly means more.
- The idea of knowing the Lord in the old testament is a key theological concept from Exodus to Ezekiel. And Jeremiah deploys it too.
- In Jeremiah 9:23-24 “let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD” clearly Jeremiah is speaking of a real, true, saving, experiential knowledge of God because of his self-disclosure of his character in redemption and judgment.
- That’s what Jeremiah says that the new covenant will bring about, in all of us, from the greatest to the least.
- Ezekiel makes it clear that it is God’s Spirit who will bring this to pass and Jeremiah makes it clear that this comes especially through a saving knowledge of God’s gracious forgiveness of our sins, which opens to us a window into the very heart of our gracious God.
- When Jesus comes, lives, dies, is raised, ascends and reigns he brings about the new covenant (Luke 22:20)! Yet, he gives us teachers!! The Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 so that the new covenant blessings will be realized, and yet the risen and ascended Christ Jesus gifts the church with teachers! What can this mean?
- It means (1) that there is an already and not yet in Jeremiah 31:34 and (2) it means that ministers are the Spirit’s servants or means in bringing about the knowledge of God, the knowledge of Christ, in new covenant believers. In the fullness of our final glorification, the need for such teachers will have passed. We will all know the Lord perfectly. We will praise him as we ought because we know him as he is.
- Meanwhile, Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 4:11-13 that pastor-teachers are working to equip, serve and edify the church, so that we come to a more mature understanding and greater knowledge of the Lord now, until one day, all believers fully know him as is. Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:10,12 when the perfect comes I will know fully just as I have been fully known.
- Thus, the Ministers (the pastor-teachers) of the Church are both the Son’s Gift and the Spirit’s Servants for the realization of Jeremiah’s New Covenant Prophecy in the life of the congregation, which will only fully and finally be realized in the age to come, in glorification, in the consummation of all things.