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April 28th, 2019

The New, Better Covenant

Shawn Carafa

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Hebrews 8:1-13
 
This morning as we look at the eighth chapter of Hebrews, we see in the first two verses that the writer gives a summary of the long argument he has been making about Jesus’ superior high priesthood. The writer has not yet exhausted this argument, it continues into chapter 10, but this summary also transitions us into his next focus. He moves from focusing on Jesus being our perfect and permanent high priest and the nature of his appointment to that role – to examining in further detail the location and the sacrifice of Jesus’ priestly ministry and the superiority of the new covenant of which he is mediator. Let us begin with v 1-2
 
[1] Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, [2] a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 
 
Notice where Jesus’ priestly ministry is located in heaven. Sitting at the right hand of the Majesty, with all authority and rule, is Jesus, who is high priest and king – ministering in the true holy places, the true tent, constructed by God, not by humans. Jesus, the superior priest ministers in the superior place. 
 
Recently we celebrated Easter, marking the day Jesus rose from the dead. Rightly we can join the chorus of voices proclaiming throughout history that the resurrection of Jesus is the most important happening of all time. Also the Bible speaks some about what occurred in the days following Jesus’ resurrection. How Jesus met with and taught his disciples, appearing to hundreds of people. And finally, forty days after rising from the grave, Jesus ascends to heaven. And the book of Acts records this ascension – how his disciples, awestruck are watching Jesus go up in glory. And two men in white robes say “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 
 
The book of Hebrews gives us insight into what is going on now in heaven before Jesus returns. Jesus is seated as King of King and Lord of Lords. Jesus now intercedes for us continually having unobstructed access to the Father. Tim Keller, in a reflection on how crucial Jesus’ ascension is for us reminds us that Jesus returned to heaven in glory as a man. That Jesus is now located in heaven, beyond the space time continuum, as glorified humanity. But without the limitations of these mortal bodies we still possess – Jesus always, for all his people, all over the globe intercedes. His intercession has a cosmic scope.
 
That is truly amazing to consider – that whenever we pray. Jesus is truly available. He really is hearing you and representing you, at that very moment. This is incredible. I think of how difficult it is to pay attention to all four of my children at the same time. When more than one asks me a question at the same time – it is hard for me to fully engage each. When they come bounding home after being at their homeschool group and they all at once, start telling me about what they did that day. I can’t keep up. Now take that and multiply it by billions or more. Jesus hears each one of us. He looks at us with his eyes fixed to ours – he gives you full attention – whenever you pray. That is astounding! 
 
And he does this seated at the right hand of God – fully in control, having a handle on whatever comes his way. Have you ever seen in a circus, someone performing a plate spinning act? How they will have many plates or bowls, spinning on sticks. It’s like chaos and you are just waiting to see if the plates will drop. Jesus’ intercession is not like that at all. Even if billions and billions are crying out to him – it’s like he’s got all right in the palm of his hand. We are secure in Him. Let’s hear v 3-5
 
[3] For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. [4] Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. [5] They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 
 
In these verses the writer addresses the substantial difference between Jesus’ heavenly priestly ministry and that of the old covenant priests. First though, he notes one similarity in v 3, every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices. He must enter into the sanctuary with something to give. But there is also a huge difference. The high priests of the old covenant, entered with gifts and sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. They brought in fruit and grain from the harvest and the bodies and blood of animals. But Jesus Christ he does not bring these, no his high priesthood is of a different order. Jesus does not serve in a copy and shadow of the reality in heaven, but he enters heaven itself. And Jesus offered once his body, his blood for us. We will hear more of this as we progress in Hebrews. For now the author’s focus is more on how Jesus provides both the pattern of the old covenant priesthood and is what that priesthood pointed to.
 
V 5 mentions how God either showed Moses through a vision, or God provided the blueprint of the tabernacle in Exodus 25:40. And Moses was to make everything according to that pattern. What we are learning in Hebrews is that pattern is of the heavenly sanctuary. That Jesus delivered that pattern to Moses. That the old covenant priests served that pattern, and it was meant to point God’s people to something better. And that something better, we discover didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah spoke directly of a new covenant. Ezekiel spoke of a new heart and new spirit that God would give His people. 
 
Even Moses we heard in our Scripture reading from Deuteronomy 30 spoke of what would come to pass. After God would drive His people out of the Promised Land, after they would be sent into exile – God would bring them back. And we saw that occur in history in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. But Moses mentioned a greater promise than even restoration of a people to a plot of land - “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul that you may live.” This is the promise of Ezekiel, of Jeremiah – this is the new covenant, being proclaimed, way back when the first covenant of the law and shadows was enacted. But the question was – how would God’s people receive the blessings of this new covenant? We on this side of the cross know that it is through Jesus. Let us look at v 6-13 which teach us about the superiority of the new covenant.
 
[6] But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. [7] For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
 
[8] For he finds fault with them when he says:
 
            “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
                        when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
                        and with the house of Judah,
            [9] 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.
            For they did not continue in my covenant,
                        and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
            [10] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
                        after those days, declares the Lord:
            I will put my laws into their minds,
                        and write them on their hearts,
            and I will be their God,
                        and they shall be my people.
            [11] And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
                        and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
            for they shall all know me,
                        from the least of them to the greatest.
            [12] For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
                        and I will remember their sins no more.” 
 
[13] In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
 
We hear that Jesus is the mediator of this new, better covenant. Why is it better? V 6 says that it is enacted on better promises, v 8-12 flesh out what these better promises are. Before we examine them, notice too that the new covenant is necessary because the old covenant was not faultless. V 8 says that God finds fault with them. If we were to get into the Greek here, we would discover that it is possible to look at God’s finding fault being either with the old covenant itself, or with the people under that covenant. Both are true, so whichever interpretation you take, you aren’t going to wander down an odd path.
 
Clearly because of sin – God could rightly fault the people who lived under the Mosaic covenant. But that is probably not the point that the writer of Hebrews is making here – more likely is that God finds fault with the old covenant – because it was a copy of the greater ministry to come. God finds fault with the old covenant because, as we said last week specifically about its priesthood, it could never produce the perfection required to fully reconcile sinners to a holy God. We need a better priest and a better covenant to bring about that perfection. 
 
Hear the better promises of the new covenant – first v 8 tells us that God establishes the new covenant with Israel and Judah. To this you might ask, what’s the big deal, did God not make the promises of the old covenant to Israel and Judah as well? Yes, He did, however by this point in history Israel and Judah had suffered many splits. God’s people were divided into many different camps. When Jeremiah originally wrote this prophecy it was to a divided kingdom – Israel the northern kingdom first was conquered and sent into exile. Later Judah the southern kingdom too falls to Babylon. To speak of Israel and Judah as united was profound. This represented the reconstitution of God’s people. We can be even so bold to see the picture of their reconciliation as the pattern for the reconciliation of all the nations with God through Christ. 
 
The old covenant was made by God through Moses to an ethnic group, Israel, that would become a great nation, having received God’s law. The new covenant is made by God through Jesus Christ for all people who trust in him, apart from the law. V 9-10 capture the significance of this – the people broke the old covenant – they did not continue in it. Why? Because of the power of sin. The Apostle Paul writes that because of humanity’s sin nature, the flesh, the law was powerless to liberate us from sin and death. But what the law could not do, God did through Jesus.
 
The coming of Jesus and his ascension ushers in the age of the Spirit. Through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all believers, young and old, men and women, beginning on the day of Pentecost – the new covenant blessings began to be lavished on God’s people through Christ. God would write His law into our hearts, into our minds by the power of His Spirit dwelling in us. No longer would His law be something external, but it would be internalized within us, and God’s own Spirit would supply us with love for and strength to obey it. For He will be our God and we will be His people – that promise made long ago is brought to a fuller completion in the new covenant. 
 
V 11 contains another one of the better promises of the new covenant – that we all will know the Lord – from the greatest to the least – God will give knowledge of Himself. Jesus explains what this new covenant knowledge entails in the 17th chapter of John’s gospel where he says “this is eternal life that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” On the one hand God’s Word is so deep, so meaty in places that we can never, ever hope to exhaust our knowledge. On the other hand, the message of salvation is clear. As Aleister Begg puts it “the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” God has made these intelligible to great and small.
 
And this knowledge of God is far greater than even understanding the plan of salvation, but it is fellowship with Him. Through Jesus Christ, we know the Lord – we have witnessed in Christ the depth of God’s love for us – the lengths He would go to draw us to Him.
 
And that brings us to one more better promise of the new covenant – that God will forgive our sins and remember them no more. What an incredible promise. Our right relationship with God rests not on our again and again making sacrifice for our sins, but it rests on the one, perfect, sufficient sacrifice of our savior Jesus. And in Christ, God does not remember any of our sins. When he looks at us, he looks at us exactly as he looks at Jesus, His beloved Son. He looks at us and says – with you I am well pleased. We do not have to live in fear, but know that when we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive and He forgets. 
 
I can remember back when I was a kid and after getting into a bit of scuffle with a classmate on the playground, I was sent to the principal’s office. And I was scared that I was going to get suspended and that mark would go on my permanent record. The permanent record hung over every student’s head.  Your attendance – went on that permanent record. Serious infractions – recorded forever. Colleges will read that record, so keep it clean. 
 
God tells us that in Christ – he no longer remembers our sins. There is no longer a record of our wrongdoings that threatens to come crashing down on us. In Christ our permanent record is his perfect record. The people under the old covenant didn’t have that same assurance, so year after year, their high priests made sacrifice, and it reminded them that they had sins that needed atoned for. Under the new covenant we know that our sins have been atoned for. 
 
Finally the writer tells us in v 13 that the old covenant was obsolete. Remember when he wrote this book, the temple still stood in Jerusalem. People would see the outer splendor of Judaism. And there were folks in the church who were tempted to go back. But it was his hope that as he continued to show them the greatness of Jesus they would see that nothing compares. That the old covenant was worn out ready to vanish. And in time, the temple did fall – the outward glory of the old covenant was gone. 
 
This is a reminder to us – that nothing can compare to Jesus. Nothing can outlive him. Nothing can out love him. Anything that we might be tempted to look to instead of him, even if it is stunning now, one day will be obsolete. Jesus has given us better promises, so let us trust in Him.
 
Benediction
 
Now may Jesus, who has lavished us with love and blessing according to his promises, love and bless you today and always.
 
Faith Presbyterian Church
3318 State Road 26 West
West Lafayette, IN 47906
Phone: (765) 743-3683
office@faithpresbyterian.org