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A Better Covenant

We can rest in a covenant that God has made and that God keeps and that God rewards.


These Jewish Christians, who've grown up under the law, but now they've come to trust Christ are facing possible persecution from Rome. They can go back into Judaism and Rome will leave them alone, at least that's what they think. They're nostalgic perhaps for their old way of life and worship. And to suddenly stop going to the temple, to stop offering the sacrifices, and keeping the law, and to really trust in Christ alone, must've felt strange.

It's like walking the tight rope without a net. There's nothing else to catch you. Your faith is completely in Jesus and nothing else. Then Satan comes along every now and then and he says, "Are you sure that's enough? Are you sure that Christ really is enough?" Maybe you should keep the law too. Maybe we should offer those sacrifices too. Just hedge your bets. Put your trust in something else. But of course, you know if salvation is a result of faith in Christ alone, then if you're trusting in anything in addition to Christ, that's not genuine salvation.

The writer of Hebrews is urging them to keep moving forward in your faith. You can't turn back. You can't let up. You've got to keep pressing on in your pursuit of Christ and your application of the gospel in every way.

The writer has walked us through several things and really what he's doing is, he's teaching us how we read the Old Testament. That the Old Testament certainly has the meaning that it had for the Jews, but that it was also a picture of Christ. We don't even understand the Old Testament if we don't understand how it points us to Jesus. So he's giving us a hermeneutic, a way of understanding that, a way of interpreting the Old Testament.

As he's walked us through several different aspects of the Law, he shows us, Jesus as the High Priest. He showed us that incredible encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek and he said, "Now, this Melchizedek, that's a picture of Jesus." He was a High Priest. We don't know anything about his father, mother, or his genealogy. As far as we know, he has no beginning, he has no end. There's no date of his death given. And this is the way we think of Jesus' eternality. He didn't inherit his priesthood. He was appointed a priest. He didn't lose his priesthood and give it to somebody else. This is a picture of Jesus. Jesus is a priest forever just like after the order of Melchizedek.

Now he's going to talk about why we need a different high priest because there's a new covenant. It's not the same covenant that the Old Testament Jews were under. That covenant was not sufficient, it was weak and useless, and it pointed to a new covenant and that new covenant was brought and guaranteed by Jesus Christ and what he did.

After this discussion of Melchizedek, Jesus being the Priest after the order of Melchizedek, the writer of Hebrews moves on to Chapter 8.

(Read Heb. 8:1-3)

Keep Moving Forward

The writer here is looking at the relationship of the new covenant to the old covenant. He repeats the main point of what he just said, and that is you need to keep moving forward in trusting Jesus. It's very, very simple. Because humanity is bent to drift.

We used to sing a hymn and in it, it said, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." Every one of us knows that the natural state, if we just give in to who we are, we drift. Is it easier to stay in bed on a Sunday morning or to get up and get ready to come to church? Which is easier? It's easier to stay in bed. Is it easier to sit down, pop there and watch television or is it easier to open up your Bible and read your Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you? Which is easier? Everything in this world can just happened by default. It's easy.

If we're going to pursue Christ, it's got to be a relentless pursuit. That genuine belief in Jesus Christ is a belief that perseveres. You have to keep moving forward in trusting Jesus.

A few years ago, Eric Gungor, who is a Christian musician and who has written beautiful songs that are sung at churches across the country, said he doesn't believe that there was a literal Adam and Eve. He doesn't believe in those miracles of the Old Testament. He said if science just absolutely proved something is true or false then our understanding of Scripture can't be just based on whether or not something's true or false. We have to understand it. Can these myths, can these stories have meaning that's greater than just whether or not they actually happened?

What's funny is, he still claims to believe in miracles of the New Testament and certainly the miracle of the resurrection of the body of Jesus. I'm pretty sure science disproves that dead people get up out of graves too. So all Eric’s done is pick and choose where he's going to default to science and where he's going to believe the Bible, but he's clearly still set himself up as the authority over the Scripture rather than the Scripture over him and over all other systems of thought. He's changed his worldview.

It's easy for that to happen. That happens with a lot of people because that's our nature. We're prone to drift. When we have that initial encounter with Jesus Christ, we're excited about it and then Satan begins to work and he brings doubts into our minds. Sometimes they're intellectual doubts. Sometimes it's the daily grind of living with people.

But the writer here is saying, "No, you've got to always keep moving forward and trust in Jesus. Let me give you some reasons why."

Jesus is a New High Priest, King, and Sacrifice

First of all, he says, "Jesus is a new kind of high priest." The writer spent all of chapter seven, the end of chapter six, and even mentioned in chapter five, that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. So if Jesus is a new kind of high priest, he's got to have a new kind of covenant that he ministers.

Remember, Jesus is not a Levite. He's not a descendant of Aaron, not in the tribe of Levi because they became high priest because somebody died and they had it as long as they lived and then they died. Jesus did not inherit his priesthood. He was appointed priest. He didn't die and pass it on.

In fact, he's a priest forever. Remember he used the word "forerunner." He's our forerunner who has gone into the most holy place. No priests in the Old Testament were a forerunner. Jesus didn't go into the holy place and then invite everybody else in. The old priests went in, did their ministry, and came out. Jesus has gone into the holy place, the place of intimacy with God as our forerunner. He invites us in with him.

He is at God's throne. Did you catch that it said that that he's now seated at the right hand of the throne of the majesty on high? Who's on a throne? A king. Well, here's a different kind of priesthood. In Israel, the priest are always from the tribe of Levi. The kings are from the tribe of Judah, the descendants of David. The writer says that Jesus is a priest. He's not a Levi, he's a priest after the order of Melchizedek, but he is of the tribe of Judah. So he is a Priest and a King.

This is a very different kind of priest. There's no priest in the Old Testament who's also a king. Jesus is Priest and King. He ministers in the true place of worship. It's not a figure that you notice. He makes much of the fact that when God told Moses to build the tabernacle, the writer of Hebrews says, "God told Moses to build a tabernacle exactly like you were," now notice the verb. He does not say like he were told on the mountain. You build it like you are what? Shown.

Moses wasn't told something. Nothing was described to him. Moses was shown heaven. When he was up on Mount Sinai there alone with God, God gave him a glimpse of heaven, and he showed Moses what heaven is like.

If you read the Book of Revelation, the description of heaven there, you can see exactly how it overlays the tabernacle, the temple, the entranceway. You've got the furniture there, like for instance what the King James caused the brazen laver, that brass washstand that they made of the mirrors, the brass mirrors of women. In the Book of Revelation, you see the sea of glass before the throne. It's describing that same thing. But on earth, we had pieces of furniture and candles that were pictures of the light in heaven, going into the Ark of the Covenant that is like the throne in heaven, the mercy seat.

So the tabernacle, later the temple, is an essence, a replica of the way God has laid out heaven. He showed it to Moses. Why did Moses came down from the mountain a glowing man? He had seen God, he had seen the glory of heaven and his face was radiating with that. God said, "I want the tabernacle to always be a figure and it's going to point people to the truth."

How do we enter the place of intimacy with God? It has to be through blood sacrifice. Ultimately that sacrifice is Jesus. Jesus is the Priest, he's the King, he's the sacrifice. He's the One who makes the sacrifice, it's his blood that's sprinkled there. And he's our forerunner who goes in there. Everything about Jesus, escorts us into the very presence of God and gives us intimacy with God.

So Jesus ministers in the true place of worship in heaven, not like the Levites who were going through the ritual, the routine on earth, which is merely a picture. The writer of Hebrews says. Jesus is a better. The implication here is why would you be content with the picture? Why would you want to go back to the picture when Jesus, our Savior is the One who ministers in the truth? He could never work in type because he is the antitype. Jesus could never be the picture. He's the reality. Everything else is the picture.

These Jewish Christians wanted something that is so much lesser than what God has for you and what God wants for you. Jesus could never be a picture because he's real. He's a new kind of high priest and therefore we need a new kind of covenant. And what is that new kind of covenant?

A Better Covenant

Now, this word “better” is dominant. The writer of Hebrews uses this word “better” repeatedly over and over and over. He's saying, "What God has given us in Christ is better." We have a better covenant.

I can remember, I think it was our second Christmas that I was in Louisville as a professor, online auctions had just started. They were the big deal. You can go online and they would put cruises up there. I'd watch these things and bid and hit it and get it just right when nobody else is bidding.

Well, one day a week, we had plans to go to someone that was at a church where I was serving as interim. They had a house down in the Orlando area and they said, "Why don't you guys go down there for Christmas?" Great, we'll go down there for Christmas. And I just happened to be looking at this online auction one day and there was an auction for just a three day cruise from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and back. Nobody was bidding on the thing. I bet $11 a piece for four tickets on that three-day cruise and won!

So we're going to go down to Orlando. First part of the week we are at the house, then Christmas Day, the cruise left Christmas afternoon. We're going to get on this ship, cruise to the Bahamas and have a couple of stops, come back. Oh, this is a deal. This is great. We just can't wait.

I cannot describe our faces when we saw the ship that we were going to be on this cruise. It was called the Dolphin 4. Immediately I knew what happened to the first three. It was bad. It was old, it was small, it was bad. We got on there and we realized pretty much everybody was on there because it was a gambling cruise. They were there to gamble on the ship and then get to the Bahamas, the two stops we had, they had big casinos right there at the port.

I can't tell you how bad this cruise was. And here I've got my 15-year old and my 13-year old son on there and the behavior of people on the ship was not the best. Not only that, the water was incredibly rough, I don't know if a bad storm came through. That boat bobbed up and down. Three of us got sick as a dog. There was just nothing good about it. The food was bad, the ship was bad, the seas were bad, everything, the weather was bad, nothing went well on that thing.

Now, I lived up to their part of the bargain, I paid $11. When it was over, I felt taken advantage of. They delivered what they promised. But you know what I figured out is next time I'm reading the fine print. Next time I want something better. It's not that they didn't live up to what they promised. It's just that what they promised couldn't really satisfy me to begin with, it was not what I was looking for. I needed something better.

Well, what the writer here is telling these Jewish believers is that really the thing that you're nostalgic for wasn't that good to begin with. It never purified you. It didn't draw you close to God. It can only drive you away from God. It shows you your sin because he says that you need a new covenant. It's a better covenant with a better Mediator. That Jesus Christ is a better mediator. He says, "Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better because it's enacted on better promises."

A better covenant, a better mediator. The One who has negotiated this covenant is better. The one who guarantees the covenant is better because it has better promises. Well, what's wrong with the old covenant?

Well, here's the old covenant. I was reading through Jeremiah and then early this morning I came to Jeremiah 31. Over and over in those first 30 chapters of Jeremiah, God reiterates to Jeremiah and through him to the people: I made this covenant with you and you've broken it. I said, "Do this and you'll live, but you haven't done it and you're going to die." There's one spot in Jeremiah, where God is speaking to Jeremiah and he is so angry with the people he says, "If Moses or Samuel appeared before me, I would not repent of what I'm going to do to these people." God said, "No one can intercede for you. My anger has turned against you. You have broken this covenant."

Jeremiah, he's the bad news prophet, has to hear this from God and deliver this message. He's surrounded by prophets who are saying exactly the opposite. They're going out and telling the people, "Hey, listen, don't listen to that guy. And he is out of step with the times. God is merciful. God is good. God is loving. God would never let his people suffer. God would never let his temple be destroyed. Don't listen to him." Jeremiah is saying, "I know what I'm saying is not popular, I know nobody likes to hear this, but judgment is coming. The Temple's going to be destroyed. You're going to be taken captive for 70 years. Things are going to be bad." That's not a very popular message.

But what Jeremiah is saying over and over to them is, "This covenant is going to be replaced." You broke the covenant. Where the covenant has been broken, there no longer exists a covenant. Why does a bank for clos on a house? Because the covenant has been broken. The person can't say a year later, "I'm going to start paying my house payments again" as though nothing happened. No, the covenant is broken.

This is what God is saying, the covenant that he made with Israel in the beginning was: Here's what you must do. They say to Moses in the Book of Exodus, "You tell the Lord, whatever he tells us to do, we're going to do." Then they don't do it. They break it before Moses gets down off of Sinai. Then they break it from then on.

Jesus is bringing a covenant that's a better covenant because he's a better mediator because this has promises instead of penalties. The first covenant was do this or you'll die. But the new covenant is believe this and you'll live. Well, that's better. It's not dependent on me. Therefore, it's without need for replacement. It never goes out of fashion. It never ends because it's not kept. It's totally a gift.

This isn't an exact analogy, but I think you'll understand. Tanya and I, a couple of years ago, went on a cruise on a big ship. It's like the biggest one to float. I paid enough for a junior suite. But I do it a certain way. When you book, you're guaranteed that room, but you don't necessarily choose any particular cabin. And that way, if that category sells out, they'll bump you up. I know that little trick and I did that little trick. I booked a guarantee for this junior suite. And, you guessed it, they sold out, but they also sold out the next two or three levels of rooms, so we are bumped all the way up to an owner suite. I didn't pay for that owner suite.

They had an owner suite club, with a concierge and it was open 24/7. We'd go in there and eat and they'd serve us food and drinks anytime we wanted it. We got to meet the captain and all this. It was funny. I didn't pay for that. It was better than the Dolphin 4. I promise you, it was way above that.

The funny thing is, is that they weren't contractually obligated to do that. What they did was basically they said, "We're going to put you in this room and you don't have to do anything. We're going to keep both sides of the bargain. We're going to provide the service for you. And that part's on us." Now, this is a covenant I like. This is a deal I can live with.

Do you see how much better salvation is in Jesus Christ? If you go to Jerusalem three times a year and you offer the sacrifices and if you keep the law and if you keep the commandments, and if you trust in the object of those sacrifices, and if you get all the yeast out of your house at Passover, and if you do this, and if you do that and on and on and on it goes, if you do these things, then you'll live.

Now, Jesus has done all that for you. You just have to enter into the covenant where God provides both the demand and the reward. That's a better covenant. Why would we want to go back under the Law? It always amazes me.

When I see Christians who think, Wouldn't it be great if there was a third temple built and we could start offering sacrifices again in Jerusalem. I'm like, why would we insult the Lord Jesus like that? This Man, when he offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down the right hand of the Majesty on high. His work is finished.

Irreplaceable and Never Obsolete

So let’s go back and visit Jeremiah. Jeremiah is in a dark day. He's hated, he's been arrested, he's been thrown in jail, he's been beaten. As far as I can tell he doesn't have a single convert. There's nobody who ever says, "I believe you. I'm trusting the God that you're preaching." Jeremiah gets so fed up with this difficult ministry he has of telling the truth. There comes a point where he says, "I will no longer speak in his name!" He just resigns. But then he says, "But I could not keep silent because there was a fire in my bones." He has to preach. He has to prophesize, he has to tell the truth. So to give him a glimpse of hope, God, just like a shaft of light in a dark dungeon, in Jeremiah 31, lets him see what the new covenant is going to be like.

God says, "I'm going to make a new covenant. It's not going to be like the old one, the covenant that they broke as soon as we made it. In this one, I'm not going to write the law on Tablets of Stone. I'm going to write it on their minds and in their hearts.” And in this covenant, it's never going to be need to be replaced. It's going to be on their hearts instead of on stone. It's going to be based on relationship rather than on personal performance. In Deuteronomy 6, they're all told to go around talking to each other about the Lord and teaching each other about the Lord and tell one another, know the Lord. But he said in this new covenant, they're not going to have to do that because everybody who genuinely enters this covenant is going to know God because it's the only way you get in the covenant.

They shall all know me. My law is going to be on their mind and in their hearts because I'm going to put it there. It's going to be a covenant that deals with our sin permanently, not temporarily. When the Levitical high priest went in, he's making an atonement for one more year, one more year, one more year. All he's doing is rolling the debt forward one more year. But in the new covenant Jesus, our High Priest, he offers one sacrifice for sins forever. He says, "It is finished." And it remains so. It's a covenant that is irreplaceable and never obsolete. The old covenant is weak and useless.

So God says, "I'm going to remember their sins no more." Now, the writer after quoting this long passage from Jeremiah 31, he says, "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete."

I remember being in Brazil. The Brazilian money used to be the Cruzado. The inflation in Brazil was over 2000% a year. There was no such thing as a loan. You couldn't get a car loan because you'd have to pay, I don't know, 6000% interest to make it profitable and you'd have to pay that off in about a year. It was crazy. The value of the Cruzado was falling all the time. So they announced, “We're going to have a new monetary system called Real, the hey-al. And it's going to be real. Hence the name.” It was their own little joke. But the minute they announced there would be a new monetary system, what do you think happened to the value of the old? It changed. It was already bad. It got worse. The minute they said, we're going to a new system and all the money people saved to their banks, it was virtually worthless.

The minute God said there's going to be a new covenant, he made the old one obsolete. When he pointed people to Christ, it already told them that the sacrifices weren't ever enough. That it always was about faith in Jesus.


Now, here's what he's saying. What's becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. It's disappearing. The reason it's disappearing is, it can't meet your need. Here's what God’s driving at. The Hebrews were no different than you and me. They were broken. Their lives were shattered and we come to church, and because everybody looks put together on Sunday, we assume that everybody else has got their lives together more than I do. I got news for you. Your life is a mess. You can hide that from me, but you know it and God knows it. My life is a mess. Everybody's sitting on the same row you're on, their life is a mess.

This is a church filled with broken messy lives. We've put ourselves in such situations. Our sinfulness, our self-centeredness, our neglect, our lack of doing things we should do has broken our lives irreparably as far as we're concerned. Our brokenness is what drives us to Christ. Our brokenness makes me feel my need. My need makes me seek something to address my need.

All right, we're all broken. Our lives shattered. We all live with the consequences even of stuff way in our past. Stuff that maybe we don't do anymore, we'd love to forget, but we can't because we have these daily reminders of our brokenness and this just highlights our need.

Now, what if I told you that the only way you can address that need is you have to be perfect from now on. Does that make you hopeful? Or does that make you more hopeless? Makes you more hopeless. Because ultimately that means it depends on you.

But what if I tell you, that there's a covenant out there that God has made with Christ that he lets us in on, and it is permanent, and it is assured, and it is authentic and it is guaranteed to endure. It's not like that old covenant. It addresses my brokenness. It atones for it, it makes up for my sinfulness. The only thing it demands from me is that I trust. If such a covenant exists, a covenant that God would make, where he keeps both sides of it, he fulfills the demand that it places on you and he gives you the reward for meeting that demand. Isn't that the absolute best deal you've ever heard in your life? Wouldn't you be foolish to not accept that from God?

When I have found that covenant, when I have found that gift of God, I need to treasure it, I need to guard it, I need to trust it, I need to love it, I need to live it, I need to pursue it, I need to cling to it, I need to say that is the pearl of great price. That is the thing worth everything in my life. I'm going to believe it. I'm going to rest in it.

Now here's what the writer is clearly saying, "I can either pursue a covenant that is already broken and obsolete and impossible to keep, the covenant of works. The covenant that depends on my performance." You can pursue that, but it will only lead to condemnation and ultimately the death because you can't do it. It's impossible. Or I can rest in a covenant that God has made and that God keeps and that God rewards.

You've got a choice between two options. First: "I choose to work." You can choose to work. I'm going to make it about me. I'm going to make God's acceptance of me based on my performance, how good I am, how good I do, how I keep the law, how I fixed my own brokenness, how together I've got it and how together I am. I'm going to work and work and work and work and work and work and hope that one day it's enough, even though the brokenness can't be unbroken, the sin can't be erased. I'm just going to work. All right, you can do that.

Or here's another phrase: "I choose to rest." You could use the word trust. I choose to trust, to rest in what Jesus has done. He's keeping the law in his perfection, in his atonement for my sin. I don't have it altogether, but Jesus does and I'm going to rest in him.

Hershael York is pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, as well as professor of Christian Preaching and dean of Southern Seminary's School of Theology in Louisville, Kentucky.

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