You have come here today, I presume, to worship the Lord God. Our signs invite you to worship with us on the beach. And we want to encourage you to worship God today. However, Jesus said that God is Spirit, and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And to that end, we must be sure that our worship is according to the way God has intended for us to come to Him.
Not long after Creation, just after the fall of man from the Garden of Eden, two brothers came to worship the Lord. Their names were Cain and Abel. And according to the account in Genesis, God accepted Abel’s worship but He did not accept Cain’s worship. Now that account was given for our instruction, so that we might know that God has a way that He has ordained for man to approach Him, to draw near to Him, and we must fit our worship to accommodate Him.
The Bible teaches us from the very beginning that God is holy, He just, He is righteous, He is the Creator of all things, He is the source of all life, and in Him all things live and have their being. The Bible also teaches us about man, that man is a fallen creature. That the original man sinned, and as a result we have inherited a sinful nature, and thus are by nature sinners. Our sin has separated us from God. In fact, our sin has caused our spiritual death, which will bring about physical death. Just like a plant that is cut off from sunlight will eventually die, thus all men that are cut off from God will die, not only physically, but spiritually.
Our hope then is that our sin that has estranged us from God may be forgiven that we may once again draw near to God. That we might be reconciled to the source of life, the giver of life, the source of righteousness and holiness. If we can enter into the light of God, we can experience spiritual life, and even have eternal life.
The Bible reveals God’s plan to reconcile man to God, that we might have that life; that we might escape death. And so from the first book of the Old Testament to the last book in the New Testament, God’s plan for mankind to be reunited with Him is laid out. Someone has well said, that the Bible is like a two act play. The Old Testament is Act One. And the New Testament is Act Two. You cannot fully understand the play without reading both acts. But the theme of both acts, is the theme of redemption; God bringing man back into fellowship wth Him. And the theme of redemption is a person, who is Jesus Christ. He is the thread throughout the whole of scripture.
In Act One, or the Old Testament, the plan of redemption was presented in types. The temple, the law, the sacrifices, the rituals and ceremonies all were all intended as pictures, or types, or shadows, or copies given by God in order to teach about the fulfillment that was to come in Jesus Christ in the future. Thus in the Old Testament we see Jesus Christ predicted not only in prophecy but in the law and ceremonies. In the gospels, we see Jesus Christ revealed. In the Acts, we see Jesus preached. In the epistles, of which Hebrews is one, we see Jesus explained. And in Revelation, we see Jesus expected. But in all the scriptures, we see Jesus Christ as the way in which we draw near to God.
Today in this passage of Hebrews, we are at a midway point in the epistle in which the author is attempting to explain Jesus in light of the Old Testament pictures. And to do that, he has been contrasting Jesus to various Old Testament figures, showing that in every respect Jesus is superior and He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament shadows or types.
So in vs1, he says that here is the main point of what has been said so far. The main point that has been established in Hebrews so far is that Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, far superior to that of the priesthood of the old covenant, which was the governing instrument of worship in the Old Testament. Now a covenant simply means a promise, or contract, made between two parties. Many of you, I’m sure own property that is governed by a covenant, entitling you to certain rights and privileges. That is what is being talked about here, a covenant which was made by God to man. God made such a covenant with Abraham, He made another through Moses, there was a covenant made to David, all of which in the Old Testament were conditioned upon the law and man’s obedience to the law; and then in the New Testament we are told of a new covenant.
And so he says the chief point is that now God has opened up a new way to Him. And in this new way to worship Him we have a new priesthood, with a new High Priest, which involves a new covenant, and a new sacrifice. In the preceding chapter, chapter 7, he has talked extensively about the new priesthood, which is different than the old priesthood of Aaron, and which is a better priesthood. Now in chapter 8 he is going to talk about the new covenant, which is enacted on better promises. And then next week, in chapter 9, we will look at the new and better sacrifice in great detail.
Now as I alluded to earlier, access to God, or drawing near to God, is the goal of our worship, that we might have spiritual life. And the writer of Hebrews has made it clear that under the old covenant, such access to God was limited, and thus imperfect. Look at 7:19 “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by which we draw nigh to God.” So our access to God is made possible now by a better priesthood or mediator, a better covenant, or promises, and a better sacrifice.
All of those things find their ultimate consummation in vs 12 of this chapter, when God says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” When our sins are dealt with completely in the new covenant, then we can be reconciled to God.
So since the new priesthood has been discussed in chapter 7, he now begins to expound on the new covenant in chapter 8. This new covenant has already been alluded to in chapter 7:22, when he said, “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament,” or a better covenant.
It’s interesting that in the original language, I’m told that the sense of the word for covenant as it’s used in the New Testament indicates more of what we would think of as a will, rather than an agreement between two parties. In other words, this is God’s will towards us, independent of our will towards Him. It’s not predicated on our responsibility, but on His obligations towards us by His promises to us. And that should be of great encouragement; that His promises are not contingent upon us fulfilling some requirement. But His promises are unilateral.
In expounding upon the superiority of the new priesthood, the author says first of all that Christ mediates in a superior sanctuary. The temple of Solomon, and then the refurbished temple of Herod, was considered one of the great architectural marvels of the ancient world. The Jewish temple was made of huge white marble stones and covered in gold panels and it sat high upon a hill, where the reflections of the sun made it shine like a jewel above Jerusalem. It was the place where the priests ministered, and the presence of God dwelled in the Holy of Holies behind the veil.
But this new High Priest, Hebrews tells us in vs 1, “has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man.” So this new covenant has a superior sanctuary. A superior temple. It’s not an earthly tabernacle, but a heavenly tabernacle. The idea of the true tabernacle does not indicate the other was false, but that it was merely a copy of the heavenly one which is the true tabernacle.
And notice especially that it says Jesus has taken His seat at the right hand of God in the sanctuary. This was different than the priesthood in the earthly tabernacle, because their work was never done. They stood in the temple daily, chapter 10:11 tells us, ministering for the sins of the people. But Christ has finished His work on earth by HIs sacrifice once for all, and sat down, having fulfilled perfectly the propitiation for mankind. The satisfaction of the holiness and righteousness of God has been completed and, on the basis of the value of that sacrifice, he is ministering in the true sanctuary. He is ministering directly in the presence of God for us. He is our perfect, holy representative, by which we are able to draw near to God through Him. We are able to enter the presence of God through Him, because of His righteous sacrifice applied on our behalf. That’s how Ephesians 2:5 can say that we too are even now seated in the heavenlies, or the spiritual realm, in Him. We have access to God and to His promises through Christ’s mediation on our behalf.
Now this mediation, or this ministry, of the high priesthood is further elucidated in vs3, “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest at all, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law.”
You will remember that it has already been discussed in chapter 7 that Jesus did not come from the line of Levi, and so He was not qualified to be a priest in the temple service on earth. He was of the tribe of Judah. But Hebrews goes on to say in vs 5 that those earthly priests only “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned [by God] when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.”
He is quoting, by the way, from Exodus 40:5, in which God showed Moses the pattern, or the blueprint of the heavenly tabernacle, and he was instructed to make a copy of it for the Israelites. In contrast though, he says, Christ ministers in a better sanctuary, as the mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises. And as a priest, Christ must offer a sacrifice, albeit a better, permanent sacrifice, a once for all sacrifice, as compared to the continual copies which the earthly priests offered.
Now this ministry of Christ is based upon a better covenant, or better promises Vs6, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” So let’s examine what promises God has made to us that are superior to the old covenant.
First of all, he says that the old covenant was faulty. Vs 7, “For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” The fault in the old covenant was not in the insufficiency of the promises of God, but in the weakness of those to whom it was given. Paul said the law was good, in and of itself. But the flesh is weak. We had no strength to keep the law. That is indicated in the beginning of vs8, where he says, “But finding fault with them, or with the people…” The fault was not in the covenant, but in the ability of the people to meet the requirements of the covenant.
To illustrate this point, he quotes from Jeremiah 31:31, “BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.” So the fault with the old covenant was in the inability of the people to keep the covenant. And even in the old covenant, we see that God has already planned for and promised a new covenant which was still in the future.
So then to this new covenant, what is so different about it? Well, for starters, the new covenant was not made to make it easier to keep God’s law, but it was made to make it possible to keep God’s law. And to accomplish that, God promises to change His people from the inside out, by giving them a new heart.
Vs10, “FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.”
Now this new covenant is founded on three things which I want to explain briefly. First, there is as I just mentioned, God implants HIs law into their new heart. Now understand that when God speaks of your heart, He is not talking about the muscle that pumps blood throughout your body, but He is talking about the soul of man, which is the seat of the will, the seat of the emotions, and the seat of the intellect. And so God is going to implant new desires, a new mind, a new way of thinking, new emotions, new knowledge, a new way of life, by which we may be a people who belong to God. This is what we are seeking, to be able to draw near to God, to be reconciled to God, to have the life of God in us. And what Jeremiah prophesies is that it can only happen by a transformation from God of our heart.
Ezekiel speaks of the same new covenantal transformation in Ezekiel 36:26, ”Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
Now I know that some of you hearing all this talk about law and ordinances are starting to squirm, because you suppose that the law of God is in opposition to the grace of God. But I tell you, they are not, but law and grace are merely reconciled through Jesus Christ. And I would remind you that when Jesus was asked what was the most important law, HE said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your might.” Now if we are truthful, then we must confess that all of us here today fail in that law. On the basis of that law alone, we are sinners.
But that is precisely why in this new covenant God first changes our hearts. He changes our hearts so that we might love the Lord, and if we love the Lord, then we will obey Him. But we cannot Him if we do not love Him. Furthermore, that is how we find power over sin. If I tell my children to eat their spinach, but they hate spinach, then I will have trouble with obedience. But if I tell them to eat ice cream, I have no problem getting to be obedient to eat ice cream because they love it.
When God gives you a new heart, He gives you new desires. It’s still possible for us to sin, but incongruous for us to sin that love God. If you have been transformed by Christ, then the result should be that you hate sin, because God hates sin. You want to please God. And so because you love God, you want to please God. If you hate your sin, then sin has no more power over you. And if you don’t hate sin, then you need to repent of it to God and ask God to cleanse your heart and renew a right spirit within you, that you might have the right attitude towards those things of the world. A new heart is the secret to a new life.
Secondly, the new covenant founded on the knowledge of God as a result of personal relationship with Christ. And this corresponds to some extent with the previous point, because as we come to know God more fully, through our relationship with Christ, then we come to love God more completely. To know Him is to love Him. That is true of earthly relationships as well. When we date someone, we learn about them. We are curious about their past, what they like or dislike. We come to know their character. And we come to know God through Christ. For He is the exact representation of God according to chapter 1 vs 3.
We know God more completely, because we see Him more clearly in Jesus. Thus, Jeremiah said, “AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.”
Now that is not to say that there is no need for preachers or teachers of the word of God, but that whereas a lot of the plans and purposes of God were not clear in the old covenant, but as the writers said, we see through a mirror dimly, or they spoke of things which they did not understand, now in the new covenant, and especially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ we see God manifested in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
Such knowledge of Christ by whom we are known, increases as we progress in our sanctification, until it attains the consummation of knowing even as we are known. We are being continually conformed to the image of Christ, until one day we see Him face to face and we become like Him in all respects. That is the “perfection” or completeness that Hebrews urges us towards.
Thirdly, the new covenant is based upon the forgiveness of sins. This is essential to our knowing God. God is able to forgive us our sins, not on the basis of a daily offering for sin, which could not of itself atone for sin, but He is able to forgive us completely and permanently on the basis of the exceeding sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.
But forgiveness of sins must be consistent with His holiness. A just God requires justice. And to accomplish that we see the fulfillment of the principle of the innocent for the guilty. That was what the sacrifices of the first covenant represented. In the old covenant an innocent lamb died in the place of sinners. So it was that when John the Baptist saw Jesus walking towards him, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In the new covenant, the holy, innocent, spotless Lamb of God suffered the penalty for our sin, that we might be forgiven by God. As 2 Cor.5:21 says, “God made Jesus who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
These then are the three better promises on which the new covenant is established. 1, I will put my laws upon their hearts, 2, they will know Me because of a personal relationship with Christ, and 3, I will remember their sins no more. And our great High Priest, Jesus Christ is the guarantor of these promises, having sealed God’s covenant with His own blood. And because of this great covenant, we are no longer strangers, alienated from God, but we are His own people, His own children, the temple of His Holy Spirit.
True worship in spirit and in truth then, is no longer dependent upon our faithfulness to fulfilling all the requirements of the law, but it’s a result of a transformation from within, which is accomplished by faith in what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. He has made it possible for us to be the sons and daughters of Christ.
Then, almost as an addendum for the sake of the Jews that were still holding on to the old covenant restrictions and ceremonies, the author adds in vs 13, When He said, “A new [covenant,]” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” It’s likely that the temple of Herod was still standing when this was written. But Jesus Christ had already made it obsolete by His atonement. It was further attested to by God when He rent the veil separating the Holy of Holies into from top to bottom, signifying that a new way to God had been established. And within one generation, even as Jesus prophesied in His Olivet Discourse, the temple would be destroyed in 70AD. The services and ministry of the priests and the sacrifices would be done away with. And even today, 2000 years later, the sacrificial service has not been reinstated, because God has determined that something better would take it’s place.
In this new covenant, however, it is not just Judah and Israel that will benefit, but all the world can draw near to God through the sacrifice and mediation of Jesus Christ. In fact, as Jesus Himself said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I was on an airplane yesterday coming home from California after taking Melissa to college, and a man on the seat beside me started questioning me about a commentary I was referring to on the book of Hebrews. And during the conversation, he said he was raised Catholic. And I offered no objections to that. But what I did object to as the conversation continued was his claim that all that really mattered in the end was if you had been a good person. And yet, he concluded that everyone was going to go to a better place when he died.
I think a lot of people have that sort of view of theology. That in some way or another, if there is a God, then He is going to save everyone from death. That no one really needs to be saved. But I would ask you to consider this, if that were true, then why did God need to punish Jesus with such a torturous death? How can God be good and merciful if He required that Jesus be tortured and punished unto death?
No, regardless of what your sensibilities of right and wrong or fair or unfair might suggest, God’s standards of holiness and what is acceptable to Him is far different than what you or I might come up with. And as I told the man next to me, I would rather trust in what God says than what man may say.
Our faith is founded not upon wishful thinking on our part, but upon the promises of God. And in this new covenant, Jesus Christ has offered Himself as our sacrifice that we might have forgiveness of sins, and that we might be transformed into people of God by virtue of receiving a new heart. And the Bible tells us that all of that is possible only through faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
On the basis of that covenant, on the basis of God’s promises I offer to you today the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, that you might be transformed and receive a new heart and find forgiveness of your sins. That you might draw near to God and have eternal life in Him. If you want to receive this new life in Christ then call on Him today to save you, to forgive you, and to give you a new heart, that you might become the people of God.