************ Sermon on Hebrews 8:7-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 8, 2016
"A New Covenant"
When he was 5 or 6, one of our boys picked out the Christmas present he wanted from a Christian catalog we got in the mail. What caught his eye and imagination was the "Armor of God." After we ordered it, he cut the picture out of the catalog. He would carry it around. He would look at it before he went to sleep. He dreamt of wearing the armor and slaying demons and dragons and all the forces of evil.
Christmas came and he eagerly tore off the wrapping paper and opened the box. The "Armor of God" was a bust. The sword of the Spirit was a flimsy plastic thing. The breastplate of righteousness was thin and fragile. The belt of truth was a skinny rope. The helmet of salvation barely squeezed on his head. We felt bad when he ignored the real thing and went back to the picture and his dreams and imagination.
The Hebrew Christians were in danger of doing something similar. They were in danger of ignoring the real thing and going back to what Hebrews calls shadows and copies.
I The Jewish Religion
A I don't know whether you realized this or not, but as we've been going through Hebrews we've been looking at the different parts of the Jewish religion. We looked at the prophets through whom God spoke at many times and in various ways. We looked at God's mighty angels. We looked at Moses. We looked at the generation that perished in the wilderness because they tested and tried the Lord. We looked at the Sabbath-rest of the promised land. We looked at Joshua. We looked at Aaron the high priest. We looked at that mysterious figure by the name of Melchizedek. We looked at the sacrifices and offerings of the priests. We looked at the tabernacle and temple.
Do you remember what Hebrews has told us about everyone of these elements of the Jewish religion? NOT. They are nothing next to Jesus. They are copies and shadows. They are of little importance next to Jesus. Jesus is better, greater, superior to all of these.
B Now do you realize what part of the Jewish religion we have not looked at yet? Hebrews has not yet directed our attention to the most important part of the Jewish religion. Hebrews has not yet directed our attention to the covenant. Everything else Hebrews has looked at so far is secondary to the covenant. For at the center of the Jewish religion lies the covenant relationship with God. The Jews took pride in this covenant. They found comfort in this covenant. Even in the midst of their disobedience and punishment, they drew comfort and strength from this covenant. They said to one another, "We have Abraham as our father" (Mt 3:9). In other words, they thought they were safe because they were part of the covenant.
It should not surprise us that Hebrews says the same thing about the covenant that it said about everything else in the Jewish religion: NOT. Because the old covenant is nothing compared to the new covenant. If you remember, this is how our Bible reading ended the last time we looked at Hebrews:
(Heb 8:6) But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.Did you hear that? The new covenant mediated by Jesus is superior to the old one and is founded on better promises.
C The audience of Hebrews needed to hear all of this. To everything about their old Jewish faith they needed to hear NOT. They needed to hear that everything about Jesus is better, greater, superior. They needed to hear this because, under pressure from Jewish family members and under persecution from the Romans, they were tempted to abandon their Christian faith and go back to their old Jewish faith. They needed to hear that their old Jewish faith was not the real deal; they needed to hear that their old Jewish faith was but copies and shadows; they needed to hear about the inadequacies of the old covenant.
As we look at our Bible reading this evening, we are directed to seven features about the new covenant. The first three describe the new covenant. The next four define its better promises.
II The Covenant Described
A We start with the covenant described. Our first point is found in verse 6 which tells us Jesus is its Mediator. You know what a mediator is. A mediator is a middleman between two parties; it is his job to bring the two parties together. In today's world we use mediators between two warring countries or groups, labor relations, marriage counseling; until Ted Cruz threw in the towel this past week it looked like the Republican Party was going to need a mediator.
Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. The two parties who need to be brought together are God and man. The cause of the separation is sin. It is Jesus Who stands between the two sides to remove the barrier that separates them. What exactly does He do to bring the two sides together? You know! He satisfies God's demand for justice and man's need for forgiveness. How? "He offered Himself" says Hebrews 7:27. And in doing so He brought God and man back together.
In the old covenant Moses took the blood of the sin offering. Half of it was sprinkled on the altar (that is, it was given to God) and the other half was sprinkled on the people. In the same way, the blood of Jesus was sacrificed to God and applied to the people.
We celebrated the new covenant this morning in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Remember what we heard from 1 Corinthians:
(1 Cor 11:25) In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant.
B As we describe the new covenant, our second point is that it is superior to the old covenant. Again we need to go back to verse 6 which tells us the covenant of which Jesus is mediator is superior to the old one. Not only is the old covenant inferior but verse 7 tells us there is also something "wrong with the first covenant." For this reason, says verse 7, people living under the old covenant wanted and were searching for something better.
The terms of the old covenant were pretty straight forward: obey and God will bless; reject and God will punish. Israel was given both positive and negative reasons to keep the covenant:
If you obey me I will bless you with land, rest, prosperity, long and happy lives, numerous children. If you don't obey me I will curse you with poverty, defeat, barren land and barren wombs, captivity, misery.
So what happened? "They did not remain faithful to my covenant" (Heb 8:9). They did not remain faithful even though God "took them by the hand" (Heb 8:9). Our granddaughter Adriana is just starting to walk. We hold her by the hand and she totters beside us. That's the picture God raises: the image of a father with a child. They are walking together in intimacy. But Israel did not want to walk with God. They chased after other gods. And God "turned away from them."
Now, both the old and the new covenant were made by God. Notice the use of "I" in verses 8 & 9:
(Heb 8:8-9) The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (9) It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt ...Question: If God -- Who is holy and perfect in all He is and does -- made the old covenant, what can possible be wrong with it?
The old covenant was law based. It set forth God's demands. But, it did not come with the power to fulfil the law's demands. It showed the people their sin and their need for the Savior but it did not save them from their sin.
So why is the new better? Because of the blood of Jesus it saves the people from their sin. And, because of the Spirit of Jesus it includes the power to keep the law's demands.
C As we describe the new covenant, our third point is that it is made with all the people of God. The old covenant was made with the nation of Israel and only the nation of Israel. It was a national covenant. It was a racial covenant. It was a limited covenant. But the new covenant is not limited to one group, one nation, one people.
"Hold it, pastor" you might say. "Hebrews says the new covenant will be made 'with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.' Isn't that one group, one nation, one people?"
Hebrews is quoting from Jeremiah 31. When Jeremiah wrote those words, the original Israel was two nations: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel in the north was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Judah in the south was soon to be taken into captivity by Babylon. As you know, Judah returned from captivity. But the people of the north never returned and those who were left behind intermarried with the Gentiles and became the group we know as the Samaritans.
A new covenant "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" actually means a new covenant with Gentiles and Jews.
So, does the new covenant include you? And me? It includes all of God's people. It includes everyone who is part of the church.
III The Covenant's Better Promises
A This brings us to the covenant's better promises. I am sure you realize the old covenant was outward and external. It was written on tablets of stone, on wrists, on foreheads, on the doorframes of homes. Its demands were continually before the people. Did this help the people keep the covenant? Does memorizing the law and seeing the law help the people in keeping the covenant? Not really. You see, laws by themselves do not transform people. Laws do not change the heart. You cannot legislate morality. It needs to come from within.
Haven't we seen this again and again in America? Prohibition brought laws against the consumption of alcohol but this did not change behavior. Laws against marijuana use are regularly broken. Homosexual behavior used to be against the law but now it is tolerated and even thrown in our face. Look at how most people do not observe the speed limit.
Change needs to come from within. That's the first promise I want to hold before you. The Lord promises that the new covenant is internal rather than external: "I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts" (Heb 8:10). The heart will be changed. So now God's people will have the power to obey, the will to obey, and the joy of obedience.
The new covenant changes the heart and the will. Through the operation of the Spirit it opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. It makes the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, the stubborn one compliant, so that it produces the fruits of good deeds.
B The second promise concerns a relationship: "I will be their God and they will be my people" (Heb 8:10). See this as a tender, loving, caring relationship. In this relationship God is everything to His people. He is the Father Who loves His children. He is the Shepherd Who leads them and protects them. He is the Savior Who delivers. He is the Power that lifts them up. He is the Wisdom of the ages. He is the Light that shines in the darkness. He is the Friend Who is closer than a brother. He is the Comforter Who binds their wounds and heals their sorrows.
C The third promise has to do with the knowledge of God. Not just knowing about God but personally knowing Him and loving Him:
(Heb 8:11) No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
Many people who were part of the old covenant did not know God in a saving way. Just because a boy was circumcised did not mean he knew God as His Savior and His Lord. Look at Judas; he was part of the old covenant but he was also the son of perdition. Caiaphas, the high priest, was in the old covenant but obviously did not know God. Ahab was part of the old covenant but he had no relationship with God. The sons of Eli were circumcised but were wicked, evil men.
In the old covenant, most knew that God existed. Most knew the Law. But too many did not know God personally and intimately. Every member of the new covenant will know God in a personal and intimate fashion.
Notice "from the least of them to the greatest." From the youngest child to the oldest saint, from the poorest to the richest, from the unlettered to the educated. Don't ever think you are too young or too old to have a personal relationship with God. Don't ever think you are too sophisticated or cultured. Don't think you are too rich to need and know God. Every person, regardless of their status or station in life, can have a personal and intimate relationship with God.
D The fourth promise comes from what is written in verse 12:
(Heb 8:12) For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
That little word "for" is easily the most important word in the entire passage. "For." For what reason? Because. Because of what? "For I will forgive ..."
The new covenant hinges on forgiveness, my brothers and sisters. The forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of our sinful nature. The removal of guilt and shame.
The old covenant only pointed out sin. It couldn't take away sin (Heb 10:4). It is the new covenant that forgives sins. Through Jesus. Because of Jesus. Because of His blood and His sacrifice.
I hope you see and realize the new covenant is NOT meant for perfect people, for sinless people, for self-righteous people. It is meant for sinners. It is meant for the fallen. It is meant for those who know their sin. It is meant for those who know their need for the Savior.
As we conclude, what can we say about the old covenant. Verse 13 uses the words "obsolete, aging, disappear."
Forget about the old covenant. Don't stick with shadows and copies. Go to the real deal. Go to the new covenant.
How is it described?
-mediated by Jesus
-superior to the old covenant
-made with all God's people
What are its better promises?
-internal rather than external
-knowing God personally
-based upon the forgiveness of sins
This is the covenant God makes with sinners. This, by grace, is my covenant and your covenant.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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