August 26, 2018
The story is told of a husband and wife who had a miserable marriage – largely because the man was a tyrant. He was just plain mean. On his deathbed, he told his wife, I want you to convert all our assets to cash, put it in a suitcase, and leave it by an upstairs window. I’ll pick it up on my way to heaven when I die. Being the dutiful wife, and because of his incessant hounding, she obeyed his instructions. A few days later, he died. After the funeral, she went upstairs to find the suitcase still sitting by the window. She thought to herself, I knew I should have put it in the basement.
Which reminds me of another story – yet another rich man wanted to take some with him, so he gave his friends, a pastor, a doctor and a lawyer $100,000 each, and asked them to slip it in his coffin when he died. After the funeral, the three were talking. The pastor’s conscience got the better of him – he admitted, I only put in $75,000. The doctor said, I only put in $50,000. The lawyer said, I’m shocked at both of you. I put in a check for the full amount.
Many want to take some with them, but we know, we’ll leave it all behind. And so, a last will and testament are the instructions of the deceased as to what to do with his or her estate. An executor is usually named, beneficiaries are listed. My son gets this, my daughter gets that. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ll get until the reading of the will. For example, Leona Helmsley died in 2007, leaving behind a $4 billion estate. Having outlived her children, she left part of her estate, $10 million each, to two of her four grandchildren – that’s right, two she cut out, “for reasons known to them.” What is famous about her will is she left $12 million to her 8 year old Maltese named Trouble – that’s a dog – so he could continue to live in luxury. By the way, the brother was left with care of the dog. I would have taken care of the mutt for half that.
A year or two ago, my father-in-law called to ask if I would be the executor of his estate. I said sure – what do I get? We actually have a great relationship – we were good friends before I started dating his daughter. Come to think of it, that might be why I was such good friends with him. An executor has the responsibility to make sure the estate is distributed according to the will. My job will be to make sure his heirs get what he says.
So, think about the last will and testament with me for a moment. My father-in-law has to die before anyone gets anything. He lives in Montana. It’s not like I could fly to Missoula, get the keys to his Cadillac, or boat, and say, “I think I’ll take these now.” No, the last will and testament only comes into effect when he dies – when there is a death. That’s the way it works. And nothing separates a family like a will. Money. What do I get?
In the Greek, the word covenant is the word, diatheke. It is translated that way every time in the NT, except our text today. You see, the word can also mean, last will and testament. Which, by the way, is why our Bibles contain the Old and New Testaments. That is, the old and new diatheke – the old and new covenants.
Well, our author of Hebrews has been talking about how the New Covenant is infinitely better than the Old Covenant. It has a better High Priest, better promises, better sacrifices, a better tabernacle, things like that. We’ve been looking at that for weeks. But today, our author capitalizes on the other meaning of the word diatheke – covenant – and uses this idea of last will and testament. It’s sort of a play on words. And he reminds us there must be a death before a will comes into effect. And there was a death – a specific death – and the beneficiaries of the will receive a better inheritance – an eternal inheritance. Read it with me – Hebrews 9:15-22.
That’s what the tabernacle was for, you see – sacrifices, the shedding of blood, death, for forgiveness. As I have suggested before, this author is brilliant, bringing out every nuance of truth found in this comparison and contrast of the Old and New Covenants. Why does he do that? Because, his readers were Jewish believers – converts from Judaism or the Old Covenant to Jesus, the gospel and the New Covenant. But as a result of their new faith, severe persecution had come, and they were considering abandoning Christ and the gospel, and returning to the Old Covenant. So the author writes to both warn and encourage them. We’ve looked at three of his warnings – two are yet to come. But his encouragement has been, Jesus is better – in every way. You see, the New Covenant He brought is better than the Old Covenant.
Now, to be sure, the Old Covenant was not worthless – after all, it was inaugurated by God. It did provide a measure of forgiveness and grace. But it was temporary and typological. That is, it has served its purpose and is now obsolete. It was always intended to point to something greater to come – namely Jesus and His sacrifice. As such, the New Covenant came with better promises – and a better inheritance. We’ll come back to that as we close.
Let’s look first at these verses for a moment before we are reminded of the better inheritance we have. What do I get? The simple outline looks like this:
- Death under the New Covenant (15-17)
- Death under the Old Covenant (18-21)
- The Necessity of Death (22)
Last week, we ended with the author’s lesser to greater argument in verse 14, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
So, since Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice, shedding His own blood – dying in our place to cleanse us from the inside out – verse 15, For this reason, because His sacrifice and blood was better, He is the mediator of a new covenant. We’ve seen this – the author has said over and over Levitical priests, especially the high priest, served as the mediator between God and people. And under the Levitical system, they would offer sacrifices for atonement – to reconcile sinful people to a rightly offended, holy God. (magnitude of our sin)
So also Christ is the mediator of a New Covenant, so that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, stop right there. We need to flesh that out. What transgressions were committed before, and frankly by us, under the first or the Old Covenant? Well, the Old Covenant included the Law of Moses summed up in the Ten Commandments – all the things we are supposed to do or not do. That Law is still intended to expose us as sinners and drive us to Christ and His sacrifice.
In other words, it’s still right to honor God. It’s still wrong to have other gods before Him. It’s still wrong to make a carved idol of Him, or to take His name in vain. It’s still right to honor your parents. It’s still wrong to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, to lie, to covet. And I don’t have to convince you that we have all been guilty, in some way or another, of breaking all those laws. Especially when we remember Jesus drove those commandments to the heart where they belonged. Such that, to lust after a woman is to commit adultery with her, Jesus said. To be angry with someone is to murder them. Do you see? And every time we count something or someone of more value than God, we’ve erected an idol, and put something before Him. And every time we’ve told a white lie or deceived or not been content but rather coveted what others have – we have sinned. Do you see?
And so we have transgressed the law of God, making us guilty, with guilty consciences. And by the way, that’s what the conscience is for – to accuse or excuse our actions. There is an innate morality in all of us – across the globe and time – to know right from wrong. And we all know, in our heart of hearts, that we have done wrong – our consciences accuse us. Paul says it this way in Romans 2:
14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,
15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
So again, we are all guilty, and judgment is coming. But the good news is this: Jesus, the unblemished, perfect, sinless Son of God bore our sins – all of them – in His body on the cross – dying in our place – so that we could be redeemed. Forgiven. So that those who are effectually called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. We’ll come back to that.
The author goes on to explain how, where this new covenant is – there must of necessity be a death of the one who made it, for a covenant or will is only valid when the one who made it dies. We understand that. Again, this is where the author focuses on the other definition of the word diatheke. The makers of a covenant don’t have to die – think about that. We call it a marriage covenant – but it’s not necessary for the groom or the bride to die before the covenant is valid. No – he’s talking about a last will and testament. So before you get the eternal inheritance, there had to be a death. In the case of the New Covenant, it was the death of Jesus.
Now don’t miss this – how can Jesus be both the mediator of the covenant – think of the executor – and the one who dies to make the will valid? How can you be both the testator and the executor? Because of His resurrection! Yes, He died, but He didn’t stay dead. That’s what the author will talk about in verses 23 to the end of the chapter. He presented His sacrifice in the heavenly tabernacle. This is amazing. We are the recipients of the promises of the New Covenant – found in the gospel through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So that by faith in Jesus and His finished work, His death brought the last will and testament of God into effect – and we therefore receive the eternal inheritance. So let me ask you, what did we get? Now think about this, what is it you are holding out for in your mom or your dad’s will? What do you hope to get? Can I remind you that, whatever you get, you’ll eventually leave to your heirs. And, how does that compare with what we get in Jesus? We’ll come back to that.
So, the author is making clear, in terms of the covenant and the will, there had to be a death. Why? Well, even the first covenant, the old covenant, required death – point two, verses 18-21. Therefore, even the first covenant was not inaugurated, put into effect, without blood. We looked at this a few weeks ago. In Exodus 20, God gave Moses the Law – summarized in the Ten Commandments. He had delivered them from Egypt, and brought them safely to Mt. Sinai. There, at the top of the mountain, God gave the people, through Moses 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, we read these words (Exodus 19):
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 how I 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 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.
The author of Hebrews reminds us of this event, saying when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, Moses, took the blood of the calves and the goat, with water, scarlet wool and hyssop – just like in Numbers 19 – and sprinkled the book of the Law itself and the people – this is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded.
Now that sounds a little gross to us. Further, he says in verse 21, in the same way he sprinkled – that actually could be translated – he threw the blood on the tabernacle and all the vessels. Read through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers and you find the presence of blood everywhere, for purification. For cleansing – setting apart – sanctifying that people and those things for God’s use. Why?
Verse 22 – according to the Law, you could almost say, everything is cleansed by blood. And we remember over the past couple of weeks – it was an external, temporary cleansing. It wasn’t permanent and complete. It was never intended to cleanse the conscience of the people – because it could not. Rather, it pointed to something greater to come – a fulfillment to which all the Old Covenant pointed. Because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
This has always been God’s way and God’s plan – from the beginning of time, to the death of Christ. You can trace the necessity of the shedding of blood for forgiveness all the way from the Garden of Eden to the cross of Jesus Christ.
Consider, when Adam and Eve sinned, doing the one thing forbidden to them, they became aware of sin and tried to hide their nakedness. They covered themselves with fig leaves. But God said, that will never cover – that will never atone for your sins. So God clothed them with animal skins. Where did they come from? Most agree, they were the skins of animals offered for atonement – because without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.
Consider, when Cain and Abel offered their gifts to God – Abel’s was accepted, Cain’s was not. Why? Cain brought the produce of harvest, while Abel brought animals from the flock. Because, without the shedding of blood – without a death – there is no forgiveness. Trace the idea all the way through the OT – through the sacrificial system and the Day of Atonement, and we find, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.
Consider, when Jesus came, over and over we are told, He would save His people from their sins. How? John the Baptist pointed Him out and said, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus Himself said, I came not to be served, but to serve, and give my life a ransom for many. Because, without the shedding of blood – without a death – there is no covenant – and there is no will – and there are no beneficiaries. It’s what God required. (John 16:8-9)
So, for just a moment, let’s go back to our introduction. A last will and testament requires the death of the testator in order for the beneficiaries to receive their inheritance. Jesus died – bringing the New Covenant. Of course, He didn’t stay dead. As such, those who believe in Him and His work receive the promise of an eternal inheritance. We are the beneficiaries – known by the Father from before the foundation of the world. (Leona) So what do we get? As we close, let’s briefly review our inheritance, spelled out by the author of Hebrews so far. Listen as I read the will – of which your are beneficiaries, if you believe the gospel.
First, he started this discussion back in chapter 2 – when Jesus took on flesh and blood, through His death He rendered powerless the devil, who till that time had the power of death. As a result, we who were subject to fear of death all our lives need no longer fear. Did you hear that – you need not fear death, and what lies beyond the grave. You have an eternal inheritance.
Second, through His incarnation and death, Jesus became a merciful and faithful high priest for us – making propitiation for our sins. What does that mean? It means the reason we don’t fear death anymore is because Jesus turned God’s wrath away, which had been rightly directed at us because of our sin and rebellion. But now, we have been reconciled to God.
Third, when Jesus was tempted to quit, to give in, because of His sufferings, because He didn’t, He is able to help us when we are also tempted to quit, to give in because of our sufferings.
Further, fourth, because Jesus ascended to heaven as our great high priest, and because He was tempted in every way like we are, He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. So that, we can actually draw near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.
Fifth, don’t miss this – because of His obedience, Jesus has become for us the source of eternal salvation. Through faith in Him, we can be eternally saved from our sin and certain destruction.
Sixth, because He is our high priest, we have as an anchor for our souls – a rock solid hope, sure and steadfast. We can rest in confidence. After all, Jesus has entered into the very presence of God – as a forerunner – meaning, we can too. We can draw near.
Seventh, Jesus has become the guarantee, the absolute assurance of a better covenant. What does that mean? It means He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him – because He forever makes intercession for us. That’s a guarantee.
Eighth, Jesus has brought the New Covenant with better promises – namely, that through the work of Christ, God takes out our dead, cold hearts of stone, and gives us hearts of flesh. And He’s given us His very Holy Spirit to live within us, to cause us to live in obedience.
Bringing us to chapter nine, and a ninth promise regarding our eternal inheritance. Through His blood, Jesus accomplished something the blood of animals could never do – He has given us forgiveness – not just external, but internal – such that we can have a clean, clear conscience.
And all that leads to this – we get God as our God, and we actually get to be His people. We get to draw near. That’s the point of God’s creation – to have people for Himself. And so, listen to me this morning. Are you tired of your guilt? Do you for a moment recognize the magnitude of your sin? Do you understand that your rebellion drove Jesus to die? There is hope, there is healing, there is help, there is forgiveness at cross of Jesus Christ.