July 22, 2018
Last week, we ended by talking about this idea of covenant. You’ll remember a covenant is an agreement, even a commitment between two parties – like, two people or, a king and his people – something like that. The agreement spells out stipulations, that is, promises and responsibilities – these are your responsibilities, these are mine. I promise to do this, you promise to do that. And usually, there are consequences for both keeping and breaking the covenant.
Now, when we think about a covenant in the modern sense, we may think of the marriage covenant – an agreement between two people to be committed to each other, to love, honor and cherish till death do us part. Well, as I thought about that, I thought, wait a minute – I’ve officiated lots of wedding ceremonies – I sort of serve as the mediator when two people – a man and a woman bythe way – commit before God, me as the mediator, and the witnesses to fulfill certain responsibilities. There are even wedding vows and ring vows by which those promises are made. Why, there’s even a sign of the covenant – we call it the ring. It’s a symbol to everyone, I belong to him, she belongs to me. We’ve made a mutual covenant.
It got me to thinking about the last wedding I did – that I mediated – right here in this room – three weeks ago. Nathaniel and Audrey. It was a sweet wedding – big wedding. Many of you were there. They committed to the traditional wedding vows that go like this:
“Nathaniel, do you take this woman, whose hand you now hold, to be your wedded wife. Do you solemnly promise before God and these witnesses that you will love, honor, and cherish her; and that forsaking all others for her alone, you will faithfully perform to her all the duties which a husband owes to a wife, so long as you both shall live?” He said, “I do.” I commit to the covenant. Then she said the same thing. Which brought us to the ring vows. Jeremy – that’s the best man – we’ll need Audrey’s ring. So I got the ring – the symbol of their covenant – talked about it a moment, then promptly dropped it. I dropped the ring. Now, I’ve done lots of weddings, and I’ve never done that before.
It’s no big deal, right? Just bend over and pick it up. It was like slow motion. The ring hit the ground, and began to roll – right over to this crack on the platform. Did a couple of circles…and dropped, disappeared… right there. I was horrified – fortunately, Nathaniel and Audrey weren’t. So, I said, Nathaniel, take the ring you don’t have for Audrey, place it at her ring finger, and repeat after me, “I Nathaniel, take you Audrey, to be my wedded wife.” And so on. It ends with this line, “And with this ring, I pledge to you my faithfulness,” so I said, “And with this ring, under the platform, I pledge to you my faithfulness. And Nathaniel, being the kind man that he is, repeated it.
I dropped the ring – the symbol of the covenant. I’m the mediator, and I dropped the ring. And it got me to thinking about the old covenant we’ve been talking about in our study of Hebrews. You see, the Old Covenant was an agreement, a commitment, between God and His people. He had delivered them from Egypt, and brought them safely to Mt. Sinai. There, at the top of the mountain, God gave them, through Moses – a mediator if you will – the provisions of the covenant. Here’s the law – now keep it. Oh, and when you break it, here’s the sacrificial system, by which you’ll find forgiveness. And so in the future, the mediators of that covenant were the Levitical priests – embodied in the high priest – who would act as mediator between God and His people. And so, before Moses went up to the mountain, as he was right there at the base of it, we read these words (Exodus19):
3 Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and howI bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.
5 ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him.
8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.
They said it – I do. And they committed to the covenant that Moses was about to get up on the mountain. So God called Moses up, and gave him the Law – summed up in the Ten Commandments. Moses came back down, and told the people all the words God had given him, and we read this response of the people, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” So they offered some burnt offerings and peace offerings. And Moses took the book of the covenant and read it to the people, and they replied again, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Exodus 24:8 says, “So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” The stipulations of the covenant were agreed upon – they entered a mutual covenant. God and His people.
So then God called Moses back up to the mountain. For forty days He gave him further stipulations of the covenant – the plans for the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices. And while he was gone, in Exodus 32, the people, who had committed to follow God, had Aaron – the first high priest – build a golden calf – behold, the god who brought you out of Egypt. Don’t miss this. Aaron said, give me your earrings, and he dropped the rings into the fire, and fashioned a golden calf. Aaron, the mediator – the high priest, dropped the rings. All the Lord has said, we will do. I do, they said. And the covenant didn’t last for a month.
Go back to the modern marriage covenant – I promise to love, honor and cherish you till death do us part. And most states today offer what is called a no-fault divorce. What does that mean? You don’t have to establish blame – fault. Why? Because the truth is, everyone is to blame. No such thing as a perfect marriage where you love, honor and cherish everyday.
Well, we know by now, there were lots of problems with the Law, and in fact, the Old Covenant. Oh, not there was anything wrong with the Covenant – it was God’s covenant. No, the problem was with the other side of the covenant makers. The people, you see, were covenant breakers.
They couldn’t keep the Law – they broke it over and over. And not just them, you see, the mediators – the priests, to include the high priest – broke it over and over. He dropped the ring. And so, on the Day of Atonement, he would offer a sacrifice, first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people.
But the problem wasn’t just that they broke the law and thereby broke the covenant. No, you see, God had provided through the sacrificial system, the means of forgiving grace. But the Israelites couldn’t even do that. What do I mean? Over and over through the OT, not only did they break the Law, they turned from God and worshiped other gods. They were unfaithful to the covenant they had made with the Lord. What was the problem? They were unable both to keep the laws of the covenant – and even the provision for finding forgiving grace within the covenant through the sacrificial system. The whole thing was bankrupt – the people, the mediators, the priests, the sacrifices – all because of the unfaithfulness of the people. They were unable within themselves to keep any part of the covenant. Over and over, God had said, I will be your God, and you will be My people. And over and over, they weren’t. This covenant could not be kept because it was external – it did not spring from the hearts of the people. All that the Lord has said, we will do – and they didn’t. And so, a new covenant was needed.
God had taken them by the hand, and led them out of Egypt – out of slavery out of captivity. He led them to the land of promise – to Himself. He made a covenant with them – one which they continually broke for hundreds of years. And so, He would send them back into captivity – the northern kingdom, Israel, to the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom, Judah, to the Babylonians. He sent prophet after prophet to them, and they would not listen. One of the prophets was Jeremiah, who warned Judah of the coming Babylonian Captivity. But in the midst of those warnings, came a promise – a new promise of a New Covenant. Sincethis one didn’t work because of the weakness of your flesh, I’ll make a New Covenant with you. Jeremiah 31, which our Hebrews’ author quotes – Hebrews 8:7-13. Read that with me.
And so we remember the primary purpose for the writing of Hebrews. Facing persecution, the Jewish readers were considering quitting Christianity – the New Covenant – and returning to Judaism – the Old Covenant. And the author reminds them – the Old Covenant didn’t work. If it had been faultless, there wouldn’t have been a second, New Covenant. But since there is a New Covenant, then the old one is obsolete – growing old, about to disappear. So you can’t go back. There’s nothing to go back to.
You see, back in verse 6 of Hebrews 8, the author had said, “But now He, that is Jesus, has obtained a more excellent ministry – as our great high priest – by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. So what are the promises of this New Covenant that make it better? That’s our outline today:
- The Need for a New Covenant(8-9)
- The Promises of the New Covenant (10-12) – we’ll focus most of our time here since I’ve already covered points I and
- The Need for a New Covenant (13) – just in case you are not yet convinced. The old one is passing away – obsolete. Gone.
Look at the need in verses 8-9. For finding fault with them – who is them? The party to the Old Covenant – the Israelites, who had said, I do. But they didn’t. So, finding fault with them, He, God says, Behold, days are coming when I will effect a New Covenant with the house of Israel – the northern kingdom – and the house of Judah – the southern kingdom. Because there was fault with the Old Covenant through them. Now remember Romans 8:3ff:
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh…
So the Law was weak because of us – we were weak sinners – so God stepped in and did it – met the demands of the Law by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh – He wasn’t sinful, but He took on flesh which, for everyone else was sinful – and became an offering for our sinfulness, thus condemning our sin in His flesh. We couldn’t, so God did.
The days are coming – and those days came with Jesus when He brought the New Covenant – when I will – don’t miss that – I will effect a new covenant. It won’t be like the Old Covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt – because, you see, even though they said I do, they did not continue in My covenant – they broke it over and over. And so, I did not care for them. The idea is, they broke the covenant, so I turned my back on them and sent them into captivity. I no longer cared for them in the land. But to be clear, I wasn’t done with them – for I will bring them back from captivity and make a new covenant – with new promises. What’s the primary difference in the promises?
The Old Covenant was, in a sense, external. Here are the stipulations – now keep it. And they had nothing internal by which to comply – not only with the Law, but even the grace available by which to find forgiveness through the sacrificial system. So then, God promised – and brought through Jesus a New Covenant with better promises that would change everything. First, since we couldn’t do it, because despite our best efforts to say, I do – we didn’t, and we couldn’t. So, He stepped and did it – all of it. The New Covenant is God stepping in and providing the perfect mediator through His Son, the perfect sacrifice through His Son, and the perfect promises through His Son. What are the promises? They are threefold in verses10-12:
First, God is going to put His laws within – not without. He will put them in their minds and write them on their hearts. Oh, so does that mean we’ll be able to keep the Ten Commandments and be saved? No – that’s not the point. The Ten Commandments still have their job of exposing our sinfulness. Showing us to be sinners. But now, God will write His law on our minds and hearts, giving us an internal delight to keep His good, moral law. But there something else that has to happen first.
You see, we were dead in trespasses and sin. Our hearts were dead. Yes, the Law exposes our sin and shows us to be sinners, but it doesn’t save us. No, we need a new heart by which we can love God and His law. So He promised to give us a new heart. That’s spelled out more clearly in Ezekiel 36:
23“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.
24“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.
25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
26“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
That’s what Jeremiah means, what the author of Hebrews means when he quotes Jeremiah. I will put My law into your minds and your hearts – a new heart, by which you will keep My good law. Not to be saved, but because you have been saved. You see, all along, the Law and even the sacrifices, part of the Old Covenant which required God’s people to keep the Law, and find forgiveness when they broke the Law – was simply to show the people they couldn’t do it.
They needed a New Covenant. They needed new promises. They needed a new heart. We call this regeneration – they were dead, they needed to be made alive. They needed the Holy Spirit living within them to give them new desires, and new ability by His presence to keep God’s good laws.
Again, not to be saved, but because we have been saved, we love Him. And we remember the first and second commandments – to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor. And when we love God and love people, with a new heart, we have a new desire to obey.
Now to be clear, the law we obey is the law of Christ. The old law has done its work in breaking us and driving us to Christ. But now, the law of Christ is written on our hearts – andwe have the Holy Spirit by which we obey. How is the law of Christ different from the OT law? Simply this – we now obey God’s moral law as a result of salvation – with new heart and new desires and new motivations to obey from a heart of love for God. Do you see? It’s no longer this external mandate, it’s an internal motivation.
Paul said is this way in Romans 13 – the law is fulfilled in our love for God and others. Because we love God, we won’t have other gods before us. We won’t bow down to idols like golden calves. We won’t take His name in vain. And because we love people as ourselves, we won’t lie to them, steal from them, kill them, covet what they have. Do you see, the love of Christ empowered by the Spirit fulfills the good law of God through Christ.
Because we are new creatures. A new command He gave us, by which all may know we are His disciples.
And as a result – look at the end of verse 10 – I will be their God, and they will be My people. Isn’t that the point? That has been God’s intent all along – to have people for Himself. And under the provisions of the New Covenant, brought by the work of Christ – those people come fromevery tribe, tongue, kindred and nation. God is our God – we are His people.
The second promise is found in verse 11. The promise is, all those under the New Covenant will know God personally. That’s an incredible promise. You see, before, under the Old Covenant, you went through a mediator – however imperfect that mediator was. But now, under the New Covenant – two things guaranteed that you would know God personally. First, He sent His own Son – God in the flesh – to be our mediator. We are no longer approaching God through an imperfect, human mediator. We are approaching God through a perfect mediator – who is both God and man.
And second, He has placed His very Spirit within us by whom we can know God. Paul poses the question in I Corinthians 2 – who really knows a man except the spirit of that man. So also, who really knows God but God’s Spirit within Him? But, we have received the Spirit of God by whom we can actually know the things of God.
This is amazing. I want you to understand – in the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, the Spirit of God would come on people for a time for a certain task. But in the New Covenant the Spirit indwells His people. God has ensured that we will be His people by sending His own Son and His own Spirit. And through the work of Christ, we have been made alive in Christ, sealed by the Spirit, adopted into the family of God whereby we call God, Father. And so comes to fulfillment the promise – I will be their God, and they will be My people. Right out of I Peter 2:
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
Which brings us to our third promise. How is it that God can make us miserable wretches His people? Because the third promise is this – He will be merciful to our iniquities, and remember our sins no more. This was the whole point of the sacrificial system. Yes,they would break the Law. So in giving the Old Covenant, God provided a means of forgiving grace. But even in that, the people walked away from God – because, they were unable to even believe the promises of God. They turned to other gods and idols.
But now, having stepped in and given us a new heart, placing His Spirit within us, we can find saving, forgiving grace through the atonement of Jesus. Again, it’s the work of regeneration. We’ve been made alive in Christ, with sins forgiven, removed, remembered no more. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve – that is, God’s love and forgiveness; mercy is not getting what we do deserve, that’s God’s wrath and judgment. How?
Because He extends mercy to those who believe through the finished work of His Son.
Four final thoughts. First, the word mercy is related to the word, mercy seat we’ve already talked about. The lid on the Ark of the Covenant was called what? The mercy seat. Why? Because when the blood was sprinkled there, it acted as a barrier between God and the broken Law – the broken covenant. But, that blood could never take away sins forever. It would take the blood of His own Son, offered in the true tabernacle in heaven, that would provide atonement and mercy forever.
Second, when Moses instituted the Old Covenant – that is, when he communicated the stipulations of the Old Covenant, all the people said, we’ll do it. I do. Then Moses took the blood of the covenant and sprinkled it on the people. When Jesus instituted the New Covenant – He did so with the symbol of the Lord’s Supper – communion. And we read these incredible words in Matthew 26:
27And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;
28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
Third, remember the point of all this is so that God would be our God, and we would be His people. The final consummation of this New Covenant is yet to be fully realized in the future. Listen to these words – this promise – in Revelation 21 – it is our hope:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
Finally, since the New Covenant is instituted by God, with all the stipulations met by God – the New Covenant, unlike the Old, cannot be broken. Do you see that? He said through this passage, I will effect, I will make, I will put, I will write, I will be, I will be merciful, and I will remember their sins no more. What do you do in this New Covenant? You receive. God will keep His side of the covenant – and we will therefore be finally and eternally saved.
For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares theLord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares theLord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins nomore.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanishaway.