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A New Covenant

Date: Apr. 23, 2017

Author: Bob Henkins

Hebrews 8:1-13

Key Verse: Hebrews 8:10

“This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

How many of you have heard of the word “covenant”? It sounds like a word that was used a long time ago doesn’t it. It doesn’t seem like it’s used a whole lot nowadays. However, when I googled it, it returned about 67.6M results in roughly 0.7 seconds. That’s a lot of information on something that we don’t think is very relevant. When I googled the Cubs there were 91.8M and the Sox had 29.5M, so it’s somewhere in between. Who knows what a covenant is? The simple definition is: an agreement, usually formal and binding, between two or more people to do, or not do, something specified. Now, let me ask who has ever made a covenant before? People don’t think they’ve made any but I’m willing to bet most of us have. How many apps do you have on your smart phone? I have about 200. Most likely when you’ve downloaded them from the app store, installed them, clicking all those buttons – did you know that you made a covenant with the software company. They presented you a covenant through their terms and conditions and all of you agreed to it. Have you ever read that agreement fully? Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into by signing that covenant? You know they are legal and binding, right? Someday, you should read the fine print. Here are few things that you may, or may not, know that you have agreed to. Twitter retains the rights to everything you put on it, even if you close or deactivate your account they own it. Pretty much all the apps own your stuff – for example: No matter how much money you spend on iTunes, you don't actually own any of it. You own the right to watch or listen their content and they can actually delete it from your phone anytime they want. Amazon deleted all of a person’s content on Kindle just because they suspected it may have been hacked and they didn’t want someone to get content for free, so they deleted it even though he was a loyal customer and spent hundreds on it. Oh and by the way you’ve agreed not to make biological weapons with anything bought from iTunes, which is probably a good thing. Who has a Facebook account? When you accepted Facebook’s terms and conditions you guys agreed that any content you put on there now belongs to them, and they can use it anyway they want. They can use your pictures to sell things, even if you don’t like the product. Did you know that they can use that picture of you from the beach last year, in a weight loss ad or maybe a head shot in a hair loss campaign? You might not want that. And you have agreed to let them conduct controversial psychological studies on you. In the agreement, you made with your cell phone provider you have given them permission to put that phone into brick mode (which makes that device useless) anytime they want. Napster used to use your computer’s hard drive as storage and CPU’s processing power. How many have heard of Onstar, it’s a feature on new cars that is an automatic crash-response system, it provides stolen vehicle tracking and roadside assistance. However, when you accept the terms and conditions, you have agreed to let them legally spy on everything you do and they can sell that information to whomever they want. Where you are going and just how fast you got there, maybe your insurance company would pay for that data. And if any of these things make you mad, don’t worry, you’ve also agreed that you will never sue any of these companies, even if they’ve done something you don’t like.

Even though I have presented these covenants negatively, they are actually very important to life. Marriages are covenants in which the husband and wife make vows with one another. Covenants can help keep order, or provide a service, for example when we remodeled the Bible house, we signed a covenant with the contractor. We agreed that he would provide the material and labor and we would give him x amount of money. And every Sunday afternoon we enjoy the benefits of that covenant we made when we eat lunch together.

Now if you read the Bible long enough eventually you’re going to come across the word covenant. And what we find is that God doesn’t make a lot of covenants but when he does, he definitely doesn’t take them lightly as we do with agreeing to terms and conditions. If you have a study Bible, around Genesis 9, (my Bible pg 18) you can find a chart of God’s covenants with man. Listed here are covenants with Noah, two with Abraham, Moses, Phinehas, King David and the New Covenant. It’s amazing to think about, but who are we, that the Creator of the universe would put his promise in writing for us? One of the first questions we may have is why does God establish covenants with mankind? However, the Bible doesn’t explicitly give us the reason as to why God does it, but I believe that God expresses his relationship with us through his covenants. God makes his intentions known up front, not hidden in the background only to be pulled out later and used against us. God’s covenant binds us together and unites us as one.

Today’s passage is primarily focused upon the last of God’s covenant with mankind called the New Covenant. And “new” isn’t a reference to time but to quality like “new and improved”. And so, in going with the “Greater Than” theme of Hebrews, we are going to see why this new covenant is better than the old covenant.

Let’s take a look at verses 1-2. “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.” We have to think back a couple of weeks ago before Easter when we were last in Hebrews. This passage piggy backs off of chapter 7 where we find that Jesus is the great high priest. In that chapter, we learn about the high priestly order of Melchizedek and how they are better than priest from the order of Aaron. And so, the author of Hebrews’ main point is that all mankind now has a priest of that highest order and Jesus is that great high priest. And the author goes on to point out why Jesus is a better high priest. Looking at these verses we see that today, even as we speak, Jesus is sitting down. Jesus is seated because he finished his work. If you remember, there weren’t any chairs in the tabernacle or temple because the work of the priests was never finished. That’s why they couldn’t sit down. Every repeated sacrifice was just a reminder that NONE of the sacrifices ever completed our salvation. The blood of animals could never wash away sin or cleanse our guilty conscience; it only covered sin UNTIL the day when Jesus died and took away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

Not only is Jesus seated, but it’s where he is seated that’s important. Jesus is seated on the throne. That in itself is high honor, but he sits in the majesty of HEAVEN and not only that he sits at the RIGHT HAND of God the Father. How wonderful is that. This reveals the authority that Jesus has been given. He is God’s right hand man. Through this we see God’s faithfulness as he fulfills the promise he made to his Son: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Ps. 110:1). Not only did the high priest of Israel never sit down in the tabernacle, but he never sat down on a throne. Only a priest “in the order of Melchizedek” could be enthroned, for Melchizedek was both king and priest (Heb. 7:1). Therefore, Jesus is a better priest.

Not only that Jesus has been exalted above everyone else, Philippians 2:9 says, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name," Jesus was the only one who lived a sinless life. (“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)) Since Jesus was perfect and yet identified with us in our needs and temptations therefore he is superior to any other priest, past, present, or future.

Verse 2 also show us that not only is Jesus a better priest he’s serving in a better place. He serves in a place that wasn’t built by men, but by God. Since Jesus is a high priest, and a high priest’s duty, according to verse 3, is to offer gifts and sacrifices, and since Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9) he must have a sanctuary where he is, so he must have a sanctuary in heaven. However, he is not sacrificing all over again, he did it once for all. He is a living sacrifice.

Take a look at verse 5. “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” The earthly priests served in an earthly sanctuary that was a copy or shadow of the heavenly one. As we know, copies are never as good as the original. And a shadow is even worse than a copy, just an outline. Digital copies (a picture or audio) can get close to the original but they can never reproduce it exactly because analog signals are continuous and digital signals are samples represented by pixels so there is inherent error and signal loss. There have been many copies of famous paintings, but the original is always worth more because it is unique, there is only one. Since Jesus is serving in the original sanctuary, and not the copy, he is serving in a better place. Why would you go to a priest who is serving in a copied sanctuary when you can go to Jesus in the original heavenly sanctuary? The priests were like playing with toy replicas, like a Barbie play kitchen, theirs is like the Barbie play sanctuary. I don’t mean to demean it, but it would be like trying to live on the blueprint, or drawing, of a house instead of in the building itself. Why would you want a cheap imitation when you could have the original?

The reason the New Covenant is better is because it is made by a better high priest in a better place and it is built upon a better promise. Verse 6 says, “But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” Throughout the Old Testament God made several covenants; Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, some were unconditional and some had conditions; such as “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6) But what was the problem with these conditional covenants? No one could keep God’s commands. Who can say that they have obeyed God fully? People are too weak, we can NEVER live up to God’s high standards. Verses 7-8 explains this, “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people…” So when God saw this problem, he didn’t push it off on us and say, “Well it’s your fault,” no, God took action and he made the New Covenant. “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.” (v8-9) Because the people were unfaithful to God, he turned away from them, who could blame him. If one partner in a marriage is unfaithful to the other, do they not have the right to be upset? However, God didn’t leave the situation that way, he fixed the problem and made a new covenant that doesn’t depend upon man’s faithfulness.

Take a look at verse 10. “This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” The New Covenant is based upon the promise of God’s grace. The emphasis in the New Covenant is on what GOD WILL DO, he says “I will.” When the nation of Israel met God at Mt Sinai they were terrified and said, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (Ex. 24:3). But they didn’t obey God’s words. It is one thing to say, “We will!” and quite another thing to do it. But the New Covenant does not depend on man’s faithfulness to God but on God’s faithful promise to man. God didn’t find fault with his covenant (who can blame the contract) but with his people. “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). The problem is not with the Law, but with our sinful nature, because by ourselves we can’t keep God’s Law, The Law “made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19) because it could not change the human heart. Only God’s grace can do that. The new covenant is wholly of God’s grace; no one can become a part of this new covenant without faith in Jesus. Grace and faith go together just as the Law and works go together (Rom. 11:6).

The New Covenant is based upon the promise of our internal change. The Law of Moses could only declare God’s holy standard, but it could never provide the power needed for people to obey. Therefore, all the law would do is point out every single one of your faults. What sinful people need is to have a new heart and a new attitude within; and this is just what the New Covenant provides. When we accept and trust in Jesus, we are given a new divine nature that has power (2 Peter 1:1–4). This divine nature creates a desire to love and obey God. By nature, sinful people are hateful and disobedient (Titus 3:3–7); but this new nature gives each believer both the desire and the power to live a godly life. The Law was external and God’s demands were written on stone tablets. But the New Covenant makes it possible for God’s Word to be written on human minds and hearts (2 Cor. 3:1–3). God’s grace makes it possible for us to be transformed on the inside that can make us more and more like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). Until eventually as verse 11 puts it, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

The New Covenant is based upon the promise of forgiveness. Verse 12 states, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” There was no forgiveness under the law because the law was not given for that purpose. (Rom. 3:20). The law could not promise forgiveness to Israel, let alone to all mankind. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that forgiveness is possible to all who will call on Him. The Old Testament sacrifices brought a remembrance of sins, not a remission of them (Heb. 10:1–3, 18). So then what does it mean that God remembers our sins and iniquities no more? (Heb. 8:12) Does it mean that our all-knowing God can actually forget what we have done? If God forgot anything, He would cease to be God! The phrase “remember no more” means “hold against us no more.” God recalls what we have done, but He does not hold it against us. He deals with us on the basis of grace and mercy, not law and merit. Once sin has been forgiven, it is never brought before us again. The matter is settled eternally.

The New Covenant is based upon the promise of eternal blessing. Verse 13 says, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” The Old Covenant was still governing the nation of Israel at the time Hebrews was written. The temple was standing and the priests were offering sacrifices. Devout Jews probably thought that their Christian friends were foolish to abandon such a “solid religion” for a faith that was seemingly intangible and its founder disappeared. What the unbelieving Jews did not realize was that their “solid religion” had grown old and was about to vanish away. In A.D. 70 the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans, and the Jews have not had a temple or a priesthood to serve them ever since (see Hosea 3:4). However, the New Covenant brings eternal blessing. Jesus Christ is the Author of “eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9) and “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). The New Covenant can never get old and disappear. The Greek word translated “new” means “new in quality,” not “new in time.” This New Covenant is of such quality that it will never need to be replaced.

And so, in conclusion, if we have a better high priest, in Jesus, that serves in a better place, in heaven, that is built upon a better promise, therefore the New Covenant is a better covenant. Personally, I thank God for his grace that he gave us this new covenant because as I go through life, I realize more and more how sinful, weak and unfaithful I am. You remember all those terms and conditions I mentioned earlier, whose benefit do you think they are for? Probably not yours. Those companies are protecting themselves. And yet God created this New Covenant for our benefit, not his. He actually lost his son because of this new covenant. That is how amazing God’s love for us is. It’s incomprehensible.

This past week a former NFL player committed suicide. He was in prison for committing a double murder and was just pronounced not guilty in another case. However, they found that he hung himself in his cell. But when they cut him down, they found he had written John 3:16 on his forehead and left his Bible open to that passage. When I hear about this on the radio I had a hard time with it. Especially when the Christian radio announcer said that we as believers might see this guy in heaven. In my mind, I struggled with the thought of someone who commits suicide going to heaven. Some scholars believe in it and some do not. And honestly, I don’t know. But according to this passage, our God created a new covenant for us that takes our sin out of the equation, so maybe it’s possible. Hebrews 7:22 tells us “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” This means that Jesus is one who guarantees this new covenant so I guess it’s up to him. I thank God for his grace upon sinners such as I. I pray that God may be in your heart this week.

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