Hebrews 8. Theme: Jesus, priest of the New Covenant.
Sermon by Pastor David Williams. Strathalbyn Church of Christ. 14 Nov 2021.
Harking back to the old. If I was a physio just starting out, I reckon I’d pick a spot near one of the best surfing beaches. You know why? You’ve heard about the mid-life crisis? With men, it happens when they wake up one day and realise they are no longer 18. So, the best surf spots are now full of these old guys trying to prove that they are just as swift and supple as they were when they were at high school. But I guess nothing much is harmed other than damage to their wobbly knees and injured pride.
We can revert to old habits. It is like that with faith. Some get bored with God, with the cross. They turn back to old habits and to old gods instead. Hebrews was written to new Jewish Christians who were at risk of falling back into old habits. They are reminded, as are we, of how special, how superior, how unique Christ is compared to anything else.
To recap, The writer has been comparing the old order with the new. Prophets and Angels, Moses, Priesthood and Temple – all these OT concepts are surpassed by Christ. In chapter 8, the writer looks at the Old and New covenants. A covenant is an agreement – between God and his people. The Old Covenant is compared with the New and we see again how the Old is surpassed by the New.
6 But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.
The Old is not wrong – it was introduced by God. But it was never intended to be the final answer. And so, it is described as a copy, a shadow of what was to come.
5 [The priests] serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven.
This system involved the priests serving in a tent or tabernacle. That earthly tent was but a copy, a pattern of the tent in heaven
For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tent, he was instructed by God, “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain”, v5.
These Old covenant concepts – the priests, the tent - they were visual aids for the promises of God, the promises that were yet to be fulfilled. These promises were all fulfilled by Christ. When the New came, the Old could be retired: it had done its work.
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.
Have you ever been mistaken for a life-sized cardboard cut-out? I have! I was standing at a door handing out leaflets and someone brushed past me and then apologized saying, Sorry, I thought you were a cardboard cut-out! But let’s reverse the picture. Imagine someone with poor eyesight trying to have a conversation with a cardboard cut-out? Without Christ, the Old covenant is as effective as a cardboard cut-out.
We will explore this New Covenant and why it surpasses the old. The New Covenant gives us
- A gift of grace v1-2, 8
- New hearts v10
- New relationships v10
- Better knowledge, and v11
- Better forgiveness v12
a. The New Covenant is a gift of grace.
The Old depended on a two-way agreement. And the people failed to live up to their side of the agreement. But the New Covenant is all of God’s work. It is a gift. It is all about his grace to us. Because it is a work of God’s grace, it cannot fail, for God, the Almighty and all loving – will not let it fail.
We have a High Priest who … ministers in the heavenly Tent, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands, v1-2.
This is God’s doing, not man’s. God built the true tent. The tent where earthly worship happened was a poor copy. Also, it is a covenant that does not depend on human duties. Christianity is not about what we will do for God but what God has already done for us. It is about grace, pure and simple.
It is not just the Jewish Old Covenant that is full of duties. Every other religion and ideology have their duties. Some are very oppressive. Buddhism presents itself as a religion of simplicity and freedom, with just four noble truths and an eight-fold path. Don’t believe that lie. Buddhism is one of the most legalistic religions the human mind has yet invented. There are hundreds of rules that even the most conscientious monk can never hope to fulfil. The secularist, the atheist – they too have their rules. What man, woman or child is ever satisfied? Even the hedonist, relentlessly pursuing his bucket list - what satisfaction, what hope does this bring? When he finally reaches that last mountain top, true contentment still lies beyond his reach.
How you live? Do you live by laws and rules or by grace? Do you lean toward old covenant religion – is your faith in what you must do to please God? Do you strive to follow commands – they may be ones in the Bible, or ones that still ring in your head from your upbringing, or they may be ones that you’ve set for yourself. Or do you live in the freedom of knowing that God accepts you as his own?
b. The New Covenant creates new hearts
I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, v10.
God’s laws are no longer written on stone but on our hearts. Our desire is to follow him. He has given us new hearts. After the first heart transplant operation, the patient was invited back into the surgery. “Would you like to see your old heart?” he was asked. The patient held the glass jar and gazed at it in wonder. The first person in history to hold his own heart in his hands. Then he said, “So this is my old heart that has caused me so much trouble”. And he handed it back, never to look at it again.
God had given us new hearts. Not our old hearts full of pride and selfishness but new hearts that delight in following his ways. Yes, we still battle with fear, guilt and sin every day, but we now have a new power at work in us. The Spirit longs to follow God’s ways. As we allow the Spirit to work in us we will find that our desire too is to follow God’s ways. So let us leave our old hearts behind and allow our new hearts free reign to do his will.
The law on stone tablets provided no motivation, no power to obey beyond guilt and fear. What is powering your obedience to God? A carrot or a stick? Guilt, fear or love? What motivates you? What drives you?? Let us remember,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Let us live as people with new hearts for God.
c. New Covenant brings us into a new relationship
I will be their God, and they shall be my people, v10.
There are many images that could be used to describe our relationship with God – images of God’s power and of our helplessness – like master and slave, lender and debtor, jailor and prisoner, ruler and subjects– and the Bible could have stopped there. That is where ancient religions stop. That is where the Qur’an stops. But our relationship with God is far richer and deeper than this. The outlines of this relationship were sketched in the Old covenant but filled out with the vibrant colours of an oil painting in the New covenant. Our relationship is portrayed in the most intimate terms – we are God’s children; God is our father. The church is Christ’s bride. Christ is our brother – we inherit the kingdom together with him. His Spirit lives within us. There are no images that can convey closer bonds than these.
There is a mutual belonging that we enjoy as God’s children. The almighty God is also the one who gives himself to us. And he takes us to be his own.
I will be their God, and they shall be my people, v10.
d. The New covenant brings a better knowledge of God
11 _And they shall not teach, each one his neighbour
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
Under the old covenant, many did not know God personally, but Jesus promised, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). All who have been born again know God, and yet we know only in part (1 Cor 13:12). We long for the day when we will know him fully (Phil 3:10).
There is nothing worth pursuing, nothing worth knowing, like knowing God. So let us cast off all that hinders. Let us open wide the gates and come into his presence daily, willingly, joyfully, and earnestly that we may know him better. Let us daily meditate on his word and speak to him in prayer.
e. The New covenant has better forgiveness
The Old covenant could never bring full forgiveness – the priests could only offer gifts according to the law, v3. But this law could never save us. The law could only show us that we cannot save ourselves, that we need a saviour (Gal 3:24-26).
The high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices, v3. But our great High Priest, Jesus offered a gift and a sacrifice that far surpassed these. It was a gift that exhausted all that God could give. Even God, the all-powerful, could give no more. In offering his life, Jesus had nothing left to give. And he gave himself for you and for me.
You may accept this. But there are still doubts. If you died today, how could you possibly look God in the face knowing what you have done? Well hear this:
12 I will be merciful to their wrongdoing; I will never again remember their sins
When God says he will never again remember their sins, it is not that he is getting so old that he is forgetful. The point is that his son’s death has wiped the slate clean. A couple applied to be missionaries. They were asked the usual questions but then it came to, “any criminal history?” They looked a bit sheepish and said, “yes and no”. They did have a substantial criminal record but then bribed someone in police records to destroy it. They were quick to add that this was before they had seen the light. Our own records have been destroyed – not by some shady dealings but by the holy son of God bearing our sins fully and completely. God does not remember our sins for there is now nothing for him to remember. His death has wiped the slate clean.
Do you know this forgiveness – or do you keep remembering? Don’t keep digging up that which Christ has put to death and buried. You are free of your sins because Christ has set you free.
The new covenant is a gift of grace. God has done everything that is needed. This covenant gives us
- New hearts, with God’s laws written on them
- A new relationship: I will be their God, and they shall be my people, v10.
- Better knowledge: they shall all know me
- Better forgiveness: God will never again remember our sins.
· Adam, P. (2004). The majestic Son: Reading Hebrews today. Sydney South: Aquila.
· Hughes, R. K. (1993). Hebrews: An anchor for the soul. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.