Grace For The Journey
We are in Hebrews today. There is a lot of ground to cover this morning and I am looking forward to our study today on the important matter of “a better covenant.” Do you know what is the longest Old Testament passage quoted in the New Testament? It is this one in Hebrews 8, verses 8-12. The writer is quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34. We are going to be studying these verses and talking about how they find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We noted yesterday that the entire Bible is a “Him” Book, a book that is all about Him. I do not remember where I got this but, the following is an excellent summary statement about the Bible . . .
Old Testament = Jesus Predicted
Gospels = Jesus Revealed
Acts = Jesus Preached
Epistles (like Hebrews) = Jesus Explained
Revelation = Jesus Expected
The Bible is all about Jesus. Hebrews Chapter 8 presents Jesus as the true and better priest, the greater priest, the Great High Priest. In verses 6-13 the writer presents the Better Covenant. We will learn about that wonderful truth today.
The first two thirds of the Bible is called the “Old Testament” and the remaining third is called the “New Testament.” The word “testament” is a synonym of “covenant.” Even the very structure of our Bibles attests to at least in a very general way in which the old and new covenants can be seen or structured. At the same time, however, it would be wrong to think of the old covenant as the Old Testament entirely. Or, put another way . . .
The Old Testament contains the old covenant,
But the Old Testament is not Itself the old covenant.
What is the old covenant? Before we talk specifically about what the old covenant is, let’s back up a bit and talk about other covenants in the Bible. I think this will be helpful because many Christians stumble at questions about these covenants.
Someone asks, for example, the following questions: “Are people saved by keeping the old covenant?” “If not, then under what covenant were Old Testament believers saved? “Did they have to wait for Jesus to come?” “And in what sense is the new covenant better than the old, as the writer of Hebrews says it is?” I want to slow down a bit today and talk about some of these covenants.
What Is A Covenant In The Bible?
What does that word “covenant” even mean?
A covenant describes the way
In which God relates to His people.
The way God chooses to relate to His people is by virtue of a covenant.
A covenant is God’s word that
He will relate and interact with
His people in a certain way.
Since God is the creator,
He alone sets the terms of the covenant.
Man is not asked to weigh in on covenants. God speaks and says, “Here’s the way it’s going to be between you and Me” and the covenants include promises about what God says He will do.
And if you think about it . . .
If there were no covenants,
How would man know
How to relate to God?
God is a God of love, purpose, and plan. He loves the people He has created and seeks a relationship with them.
He does not just leave man to himself,
Leaving him to try and figure things out.
He creates and says, “Here’s how to know Me
And how to live in this world I created.”
That is a covenant; a description of
How God relates to His people.
When I was in Kindergarten, I remember vividly of our being told to put on our thinking caps; imaginary hats we were to put on when we set our minds to really study and focus. The teacher would say, “Alright class, put on your thinking caps” and that meant, “Get ready, we’re going to need to think hard about some stuff.” I want to encourage you to put on your thinking cap. These truths we’ are talking about is not hard, really. We just do not usually think about it as much as we should.
Got your thinking caps on?? Let’s get started. What is the first covenant in the Bible? The first one is found where you would expect to find in in Genesis chapter 1, where we read about God’s having created the world and created man, Adam and Eve. God entered into a covenant with them. He told them how to obey. He said, “You can do this, and you can do that and, by the way, do not do this – do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” So “do this” and “don’t do that.” This is a Covenant of Works. Adam and Eve are to obey God’s commands. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. But what happened very quickly by Genesis 3? They disobeyed. Adam broke the covenant by sinning and brought sin into the world. Adam disobeyed God. That is talked about in Romans 5, through one man’s sin, through one man’s act of disobedience, sin came into the world and all were made sinners.
In Genesis 3 mankind is in huge trouble! He has failed to keep the covenant and has brought sin and death into the world. How can he hope to be saved? God addresses that with His next covenant – and think of this covenant as a huge umbrella that goes from Genesis 3 all the way over to Revelation.
This wide sweeping covenant
Is a wonderful covenant,
A covenant that encompasses
All the other covenants beneath it.
This overarching covenant
From Genesis 3 to Revelation
Is called the Covenant of Grace.
The Covenant of Grace is God’s choosing to relate to His people in a way they do not deserve and can never earn. That is what grace means; getting something you do not deserve and cannot earn. God’s Covenant of Grace is God’s fix for the broken covenant of works by Adam in the Garden. The Covenant of Grace is the fix that brings God’s people into right relationship to Him.
Now before we go on and talk about these other covenants, namely the Abraham or Abrahamic Covenant and the Moses or Mosaic Covenant, or the Davidic Covenant, let’s be sure to understand this:
God’s people –
Whether living in
Old Testament times
Or New Testament times;
Whether living before
Jesus died on the cross
Or after Jesus
Died on the cross –
God’s people are all
Saved the same way.
All God’s people are
All saved the same way.
And how is that?
Not by works;
A covenant of works,
By a Covenant of Grace,
The condition of which is faith –
And even faith is a gift from God Himself.
Old Testament believers are saved by grace through faith, believing in the promises of God, including the promise of God’s sending Messiah, the Anointed One. Old Testament believers took God at His Word and believed Him. Abel, Enoch, Noah – they believed God and looked forward to the fulfillment of His promises. Saved by grace, through faith – faith in a Messiah or Christ to come.
When we are in the Old Testament
We look back to the coming
Christ who is promised;
When we are in the New Testament
We look at the promised Christ
Who has come.
And both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that, according to the Covenant of Grace, all of God’s people are saved the same way; by grace alone, in Christ alone, and through the instrument of faith alone. No one is saved by the merit or effort, and no one is just saved automatically. You have to believe God and believe His Word.
The Covenant of Grace is the big umbrella covenant for God’s people from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. Underneath this awesome and wonderful Covenant of Grace are the other covenants – and we are going to look at all of them, but I do want to talk about the ones that especially concern us this today; namely the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.
In the Abrahamic Covenant, roughly 2,000 years before Christ, God made a covenant with Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant – given in Genesis 12, Genesis 15, and Genesis 17 – is God’s promise to bless Abraham and his sons, who will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shores. Men and women believers blessed through the Abrahamic Covenant. This is especially significant because this includes all of us who are Christians. If you are a believer, you are one of the many sons of Father Abraham, as the song goes: “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of those and so are you…” That is biblical by the way. The Bible says in Galatians 3:7 and 8, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.”
The Abrahamic Covenant finds a home beneath the larger umbrella of God’s Covenant of Grace which goes from Genesis 3 through Revelation. The essential components of God’s Covenant of Grace are found within the Abrahamic Covenant. This is the Apostle Paul’s point in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 where he writes that Abraham believed God and it was credited to Him as righteousness (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6). Paul’s point is that all of God’s people are all saved the same way . . .
By grace through faith,
By believing God and
Receiving His righteousness.
Now 430 years later in time, so roughly 1430 BC, here comes the Mosaic Covenant, God’s covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai. Now remember: this covenant also finds a home beneath the larger umbrella of God’s Covenant of Grace which goes from where? Genesis 3 through Revelation 22. All of God’s people are all saved the same way – by grace through faith.
But what is this covenant with Moses, the Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant? It is here that God gives very specific rules and laws for His people; rules indicating how they are to live. There are many laws, all of them essentially summarized in the 10 Commandments written in stone, kept in “the Ark of the Covenant.” There were as many as 613 laws given by God through Moses on Mount Sinai, laws governing foods whether clean or unclean, certain clothing whether approved or forbidden, animal sacrifices through Levitical priests as a means by which to show the need for forgiveness for sin, and so on. Much of these laws were to indicate the “separate” way in which God’s people were to live among the world; holy, set apart.
The Davidic Covenant, which came about 600 years later, about 1,000 BC. The Davidic Covenant was God’s promise to David that He would establish a kingdom that would reign forever, finding ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah, who comes from the line of David.
That leads us to this question: “Of all these covenants, which one is the “old covenant?” In answering this question, it is helpful for us to note that the New Testament never refers to the Abrahamic Covenant as the old covenant. Nor does the New Testament ever refer to the Davidic Covenant as the old covenant. The New Testament, however, does refer to the Mosaic Covenant as the old covenant. When we read in Hebrews about the old covenant becoming “obsolete” or “growing old” and being “ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13), we understand the writer to be referring to the Mosaic Covenant with all of its dietary laws and system of Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifice.
Remember . . .
That the Mosaic Covenant, the old covenant,
Is not the means by which
God’s people were saved from sin.
Remember . . .
That all of God’s people are all saved
The same way; by grace through faith.
The Mosaic Covenant finds a home underneath the umbrella of God’s Covenant of Grace. I am not suggesting that all Old Testament believers fully understood God’s Covenant of Grace as we do today, but true believers were those who believed God. That leads us to a second question, “Why does the writer of Hebrews teach that the old covenant needs to be replaced? Why does he describe the old covenant here in Hebrews 8 as “obsolete” and “growing old” and “ready to vanish away?”
It is important to remember the context of this letter to the Hebrews. These Jewish Christians, believers who had been raised under the Mosaic Covenant with all these priests and sacrifices and the temple. They came to know Messiah, Jesus Christ, and received Him as Lord. For this reason, many of them – if not most of them – were undergoing persecution for their faith, persecution largely from family and friends who remained under the old covenant and had not received Christ. These family members and associates excommunicated the Hebrews to whom the writer is addressing. These folks had been cut off from family, from the temple, and from their whole world as they knew it. For this reason, many of them were tempted to go back to the old ways.
The letter to the Hebrews is about why they should not go back. And why? In a word? Better. Jesus is better. Better than the angels, better than Moses, better than Joshua, better than Aaron, better than anyone or anything. To this point in our study we have noted how the writer has done just that, most recently in showing how Jesus Christ is a better, truer High Priest than any human priest throughout history.
And he says in Hebrews chapter and verse 6 he states, “But now He (Jesus) has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” What the writer is doing now is telling these believers: “Don’t go back to the old covenant, the Mosaic Covenant. It is now ‘obsolete … growing old … and vanishing away.’ It has been replaced by such a better covenant, the new covenant.”
And then, the writer quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is a prophetic promise of God through the Prophet Jeremiah some 600 years before Christ. And he writes about this new covenant. Before he does, he says something about it in verse 7, “For if that first covenant (the old covenant, the Mosaic Covenant) had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.” If all we had were verse 7 we might conclude that the first covenant was not faultless because there was something wrong with the covenant itself. The writer says the first covenant was not “faultless,” suggesting fault of some kind. In fact, had it been without fault, he says there would be no need for a second covenant.
But . . .
Verse 8 shows that the problem with
The first covenant was not the covenant itself,
But the people who failed to keep the covenant.
Verse 8 says, “Because finding fault with them (not “it,” not the covenant, but “them”), He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”
The fault lies not
With the covenant,
But with the people.
The fault of the first covenant was “with them.”
It was not that God gave
The people bad laws,
It was that the people
Had bad hearts!
Remember all we studied back in Chapters 3 and 4? How many times did we read about the people hardening their hearts through unbelief and dying out in the wilderness, failing to enter God’s rest? It was not bad laws on the part of God, but bad hearts on the part of His people.
When the people stood with Moses there at Mount Sinai after he read all the law, they replied: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8; 24:7), but they did not do that! They did not continue in the covenant, but they broke the covenant time and again. Therefore, God promises a new covenant. Jeremiah prophesies God saying: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” Then verse 9 declares, “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt(the Mosaic Covenant at Mount Sinai); because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them(or turned His back on them), says the Lord.”
The laws God gave His people were good laws, commands given out of love, but the people broke them routinely. One reason why the people broke them was because their obedience to those commands was largely an external obedience. It was an outer obedience driven by mere human will. Outer conformity that masked an inner, hard-heartedness. These good laws of God were not getting down into them, inside them, not getting into their heads and hearts. In fact, Moses says as much at the end of some 40 years of rebellion in the wilderness. Moses says in Deuteronomy 29, verse 4, “… the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”
In other words . . .
The people in the wilderness
Were rebelling largely
Because God’s commandments
Were not getting
Down inside them.
The divine enabling
Of God’s power.
Now look at verse 10 which says, “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 in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Unlike the old covenant, the Mosaic Covenant of external laws, God promises to bring moral transformation to God’s people by writing His laws not on stone like the 10 Commandments, but by writing on their very hearts. And how does God do this?
By writing His law on our hearts
By way of the Holy Spirit.
This truth about the new covenant is connected to Ezekiel 11 and Ezekiel 36 which describes God’s supernatural power in overcoming our stony heard hearts. Ezekiel 11:19-20 declares, “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”
This is divine enabling of God’s people
To overcome their rebellion and enable
Them to walk in obedience to His commands.
Are you beginning to see how the new covenant is “better” than the old?
There is another way it is better. Verse 11 states, “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.’” Here is yet another reason the new covenant is better than the old Mosaic covenant. Old covenant teachers taught people about God so knowing God was all about learning information, external knowledge. In the new covenant, knowing God is something that is both external and internal. You can know God personally and more fully by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord. God indwells you with His Spirit such that you know Him on the inside. Is not that awesome!
Verse 12 says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sinsand their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” The new covenant is also a better covenant than the old covenant in that the old Mosaic Covenant could not actually remove sin. The blood of bulls and goats through animal sacrifices could never provide actual atonement and remove completely all the guilt and stain of sin.
As we have noted before, animal sacrifice just allowed the people to “get by” for awhile, much like paying the minimum balance due on our credit card allows us to “get by” until the next debt is owed. When Jesus died as the better sacrifice, the more complete and perfect sacrifice, Jesus paid it all. So God says in verse 12, “I will remember their sins no more.” That is a better covenant!
Then the writer concludes with the summary statement in verse 13, “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” His point is that the very notion of a new covenant supersedes the previous covenant. The very mention of something “new” suggests that the “old” must go. It is becoming “obsolete” … “growing old” … “ready to vanish away.”
As we yesterday in the opening verses of chapter 8, all of the things bound up with the old covenant, the Mosaic covenant, are but copies and shadows of the better, the real. All of the Levitical priests who served as mediators between God and the people were but copies of the true and better Great High Priest and Mediator Jesus Christ. All of the animal sacrifices were given by God to illustrate the importance of sacrifice. Sin brought death so death was required as sacrifice and substitute for man’s offense. When an animal was killed by a priest and its blood shed and placed upon the altar and among the people, the people were taught to understand the seriousness of sin, that sin required sacrifice. This sacrificial system pointed up their need for an ultimate perfect sacrifice, the Perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
This is what our Lord Jesus promised His followers in that Last Supper at the conclusion of His earthly ministry. In the upper room Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you (Luke 22:20), “poured out for you for forgiveness of sin” (Matthew 26:28). Now that the Perfect Lamb has come in Jesus Christ through the new covenant then the old has “become obsolete and growing old” and “is ready to vanish away.” The writer is saying, “Don’t go back to the shadows and copies! Embrace the real thing.”
If I had not seen my wife for a week or so and then she comes home and walks through the door, what am I going to do? Am I going to stop and say, “Wait, let’s FaceTime with each other?!” No, that is a copy of her. I am going to embrace the real thing! I am going to embrace her! The writer is saying, “Don’t go back to the shadows and copies! Embrace the real thing, embrace Jesus Christ, the whole who has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).”
To wrap up this marvelous truth, you can write down these two truths for later reflection . . . In What Way is the New Covenant Better than the Old Covenant? Two main ways . . .
1) Better Spiritual Experience For God’s People.
Too often we think of the believers in the Old Testament times as having it somehow better than us, witnessing all those miracles of the exodus, for example. But the Old Testament believers did not live with the same knowledge of God and experience of God as believers today. They knew God only from a distance. They used priests, mediators, who stood for them in the presence of God.
New covenant believers have a richer, fuller understanding and experience of God. They have a clearer viewer of Christ and His redemption. They are in His presence all the time through their Great High Priest Jesus Christ. They have a richer sense of His presence by way of the Spirit. They know God personally in a way no old covenant believer could know God!
New covenant believers also enjoy a better spiritual experience in that they have the guilt of sin removed. Even though they lived under the umbrella of God’s Covenant of Grace, old covenant believers did not understand the fuller application of that grace and therefore were always looking to the next animal sacrifice in the hopes that their ongoing sin and accompanying guilt would be removed. But it was always there. This is why the writer will encourage them in the next two chapters to enjoy a cleansed conscience and to “…draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…” (Hebrews 10:22). And how is all this possible?
That leads us to the second truth. Better experience for God’s people and a better empowering of God’s people.
2) Better Spiritual Empowering Of God’s People.
Apart from the divine enabling and empowering work of the Holy Spirit, we remain unable to believe God, to live by faith in Him. So, God does two things: (1) Jesus Christ comes and fulfills all the commands of the old covenant for us so that we can be forgiven; and (2) God grants us the grace to believe by empowering us to rest in faith in Him, taking out our hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh, writing His very law upon our hearts.
Recall what the Bible says in Deuteronomy 29:4, “… the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”
Laws themselves do not change people. A person who has a drinking problem knows there is a law that says, “Do not drive drunk.” That ss a law and breaking it has consequences. But the law itself changes no one. Laws themselves are powerless to change a single person. But, what happens when that alcoholic turns to Jesus in faith and repentance and the Holy Spirit indwells him now, getting down on the inside, and God writes His laws on that man’s heart? He now has the ability to change. Moral transformation takes place. He now wants to live a life pleasing to the Lord. God has given Him the “want to!” He no longer wants to drink alcohol, he wants to drink from the well of Living Water, Jesus Christ Himself!
True life change and salvation is
Possible for every single one of us.
We need only embrace the Lord Jesus Christ,
To be our Savior, who comes to us in
Fulfillment of God’s new covenant,
His new way of relating to His people.
If you are a Christian, you can enjoy assurance of your salvation. You have a desire within you to do God’s will. You have His laws written on your hearts, giving you the “want to,” you want to do what is right, praise God! Thank God for that. Grow in your obedience to God’s laws on your hearts by doing what His Word teaches. Your heart will grow in greater love for Jesus and delighting in Jesus.
If you are not a believer, you will never be saved by trying to do good. That is like trying to find peace through the old covenant of laws and religious works. Repent today. Turn from your sin and embrace Jesus!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”