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Hebrews 8: The Greater Covenant and Our Great High Priest Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 November 2016

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Most of us have entered into some kind of contract at some point in our lives. Some of them are not so significant. We have phone contracts and cable contracts that change constantly without having much impact on our lives. Others are more significant. If you rent an apartment or own a home, then you have contracted with the owners or with the bank for a place to live. If you are married, then you have entered into contract or covenant with your spouse. These contracts are an important part of our lives. But nothing is more important than the contract that we have with the Lord. The Bible calls this a covenant and points to its significance throughout. If you want to be in right relationship with God, then you must be part of the new covenant through faith in Jesus. There is nothing more significant that this.

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The original readers were very familiar with Godís covenant with His people. Since they were Jews, they knew about the covenant that God made with Moses after He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God saved them and then gave them instructions about how to live as His people. God told them that if they kept the covenant, then they would be blessed. But if they did not keep the covenant, then they would be cursed, which is what happened to the people of Israel when they were sent into exile. As we have argued, it seems that some of the original readers were tempted to go back to this covenant arrangement, just as they wanted to go back to the Levitical priesthood. But the author has shown them that Jesusí priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood (see chapter 7) and in our passage this morning he shows them that the new covenant, which has come through Jesus, is better than the old covenant. So how is the new covenant greater than the old?

The new covenant has a Minister in the true tent (v. 1-6)

Building upon what he has just argued in chapter 7, the author writes of the significance of Jesus as our High Priest. Look at verses 1-2. Everything that the author is saying here is important for his argument about the greatness of Jesus. Jesus is our High Priest who is seated at the right hand of God the Father, as the author told us in chapter 1. This means that He is not ministering at the tabernacle or the temple, but in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. It is important for us to understand the point that the author is making here. The Old Covenant involved high priests ministering at a copy or a shadow of the real thing. They offered sacrifices at man-made places. But as the author has argued, Jesus is not such a High Priest. He is from the order of Melchizedek and His offering was once for all and now He ministers in the holy places.

The author solidifies his point in verses 3-6. Look at those with me. Moses was told to build the tabernacle according to the pattern (Exodus 25:40), which he did. The pattern was based on the real thing, which is where Jesus is now ministering. Thus, the new covenant that He brings, the one that He established with the sacrifice of Himself, is greater than the old covenant which was only a copy. This does not make the old covenant bad or untrue, it just means that it served its purpose as a copy of what was to come, namely the death of the true Lamb of God to pay for our sins at the cross. Let me see if I can illustrate. I want everyone who has a phone to take it out and look at the pictures in your phone. Find your favorite. Maybe it is one of your children or one of your favorite places. Itís a great picture. It represents well the person or place that you love. But you would never think of loving that picture more than you love the person. It is just a copy that points to the real thing. This is what the author of Hebrews is saying to his original readers. Why would they want to go back to the copy when the real thing has come? The new covenant is better because it has the Great High Priest who is ministering in the true tent, not a copy.

The new covenant will continue forever (v. 7-9)

Another weakness for the old covenant is that it would not continue forever. In fact, since God promised a new covenant, as we will see in Jeremiah, it is implied that the old covenant needs to be replaced. Look at what the author says in verse 7. The existence of a new covenant points to a fault in the old. If the old had been faultless there would be no need for a new one.

Yet, how did they know to look for a new covenant? Jeremiah wrote of the new covenant that God would establish with His people. Look at verses 8-9. God says through the prophet that He is going to establish a new covenant that will not be like the Mosaic covenant. Why was this new covenant needed? It was needed because the people did not continue in the old covenant. When God gave them the covenant at Sinai it was accompanied by curses and blessings. If the people kept the covenant and obeyed God, then they would be blessed in the Promised Land. But if they disobeyed and rejected God for idols, then they would be cursed and actually thrown out of the Promised Land, which is unfortunately what happened. The people continually sinned and God sent them into Exile, which is what is meant by God showing no concern for them. Yet, through Jeremiah, God promised to establish a new covenant with His people that would not be broken like the old, but would continue forever. Thus, the new covenant is better because it will last forever.

The new covenant will give us victory over sin (v. 10-12)

Jeremiah goes on to describe the new covenant in verses 10-12. Look at those with me. We could break this down into three characteristics of the new covenant. First, God will put the law on our hearts and minds. What does this mean? Under the old covenant people new the law but they did not have the ability to truly obey it. They actually needed new desires, or a new heart as Ezekiel calls it (see Ezekiel 11:19-20). This new heart will enable Godís people to keep His commands. This new heart is now available through faith in Christ. When we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus, we are given new hearts that no longer beat for sin but for the Lord. The promised Holy Spirit indwells every believer so that they can know the law and desire to obey it. The new hearts of the new covenant make it better than the old.

Second, God will be our God and we shall be His people. Under the old covenant there were some who did not really know God or want to follow them. They were simply born as a son or a daughter of Abraham. They belonged to Israel, but they were not really followers of the Lord. This is not the case with the new covenant. All those who have turned from their sins and are following Jesus know the Lord. He is their God and they are His people. You do not have to tell them to know the Lord because they already know Him, unlike under the old covenant. There is a sense in which the phrase ĎI will be your God and you shall be my peopleí is progressing through the Bible. It started with Israel under the old covenant. It has now expanded to those who turn from their sins and believe in Christ. And yet, there is still coming a Day when it will be fully realized, when God brings His people into the New Heavens and the New Earth (see Revelation 21:3ff).

Third, God will be merciful and faithfully deal with our sins. God was gracious to Israel under the old covenant, but with the coming of Christ and the new covenant, He has poured grace upon grace (see John 1:16-18). The sacrificial system under the old covenant was only a copy preparing the way for the sacrifice of Christ, which the author will go on to point out more in chapters 9-10. When Jesus came in the flesh and lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins, God was being merciful toward (our) iniquities and remembering our sins no more. By turning from our sins and trusting in Jesusí finished work at the cross, we can truly be forgiven and reconciled to God. His resurrection demonstrates that His sacrifice was enough to pay for our sins forever. The new covenant is better because it is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, God finally giving men and women ultimate victory over their sins.

The author makes a strong argument for the superiority of the new covenant. Look at verse 13. It has a better High Priest who is ministering in the true tent and not a copy, it will last forever, and it will fully deal with the sinfulness of men so that we can be Godís people and He can be our God. The Lord told us through the prophet Jeremiah that He was going to do this. Did you notice all of the I willÖ statements in Jeremiahís prophecy? This is Godís plan for establishing a covenant with His people and He has brought it about through the sending of His Son Jesus.

So then, let me ask you the all important question: Do you have a covenant with God? This is far more important than any of the covenants or contracts I mentioned at the start. For only through this covenant, only by repenting of your sins and placing your faith in His sacrifice at the cross, can you have a right relationship with God. All other attempts will fail. But through Jesus, through faith in all that He has done, we can have an eternal covenant with God. This is the covenant that He has established and that He will keep and that He will bring to completion. It is by far the covenant that we need. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 12 December 2016 )

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