Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Over the course of this study we have been demonstrating the superiority of Christ to a whole host of things: angels, Moses, priests, etc. Not only that, but what Jesus has done, according to Hebrews, have proven superior to what was accomplished in the Old Testament under an old set of promises. Collectively we might say that Jesus Christ and what He has finished is the best thing since sliced bread. However, to make even this comment more accurate, we should say that Jesus is the best thing since anything. This realization is the very thing that the preacher of Hebrews continues to drill into his audience so that they might fall into temptation, revert back to a more regressive way of living, or leave the faith entirely.
Inasmuch as I commit myself to preaching the text of God’s Word as it appears, I cannot help but believe these same truths have been drilled into our congregation and for the same reasons. As Christianity falls more and more out of favor in our world and copious temptations raise their alluring heads, we must remind ourselves often of how impressive Christ is. Today’s message does just that as it looks at three spectacles in Hebrews 10:1-10 that collectively establish the superiority of Jesus sacrifice. My prayer today is that this reminder helps you fall in even more love with Jesus, and the salvation He has made available.
THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS-10:1-4
So far we have learned over the last several weeks that Jesus is capable of a superior ministry (compared to the Old Testament priests) and has ushered in a New Covenant (to replace the old). However, these marks of Jesus’ superiority are largely connected to the sacrifice that He offered which, similar to what has been stated before, was also superior to what came before it. This juxtaposition between what once was and what now is begins in verse 1 of chapter 10 when the preacher says, “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the every form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near,…”
When verse 1 calls the law a shadow of the good things to come, I cannot help but think of when I finally got my first car. Though, I had been able to drive toy cars and ride bikes to get where I wanted to go, a “real” mode of transportation was offered when I turned 16, a superior way to get where I wanted to go. I can remember my parents telling me when I was young, “one day, you’ll have a real car, when the time is right.” When I turned 16, that time had finally come! The toy cars and inferior modes of transportation when I was young were “shadows” of the highly anticipated reality I would soon experience. The same is true of the Law and Christ. The Law was the place-holder and pointer of Jesus who came in and established an entirely new program. However, with Christ, it wasn’t about a quicker or better form of transportation, it was about a superior mode of transformation.
In the Old Testament, people knew they needed to be transformed so that they could have a relationship with their God. God required as much when he said in Leviticus, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean…” (Lev. 11:44). However, they had no vehicle (pardon the pun) to get them there. Remember, as the second part of verse 1 says, the old system, “can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near…”. In other words, the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament Law were not able to transform the people into what the Law demanded.
One of the illustrations I often offer to those on the in-patient psychiatric unit when I talk about setting reasonable goals involves my complete lack of athletic ability. I mention to the patients that when I was a second grade boy, I wanted more than anything to be a professional basketball player—a Spur! To this end, I requested a basketball hoop from my parents, enrolled in a little-league basketball team for a couple of seasons, and practiced my heart out on our family driveway.
However, no matter how much I practiced and no matter how much my parents supported me (I imagine to their own embarrassment at times), I soon learned that nothing I could do could make up for the complete lack of athletic ability I possess. NO amount of practice, coaching, or parental support could get me to reach my lofty goal of basketball stardom. The same kind of realization must have sunk in with the Old Testament Jews. There they were with the goal of holiness written out for them in the Law and the sacrificial system they had to master to perfection, and yet, in spite of perpetual sacrifices offered, they could never hope to reach the lofty goal of perfection before God.
In fact, the preacher’s insistence on the perpetual nature of the sacrifices demonstrates is ineffectiveness and ultimate inadequacy.
“Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?” (10:2). To be sure, if the Old Testament system of sacrifices was effective, it would “have cleansed” those who followed it, thereby removing their guilt and allowing them to enter a right relationship with God. The word for “have cleansed” means to make clean, purify, or heal. Elements of all three of these words could be involved in this context which deals with the potential consequences of offering sacrifices. However, as intimated in the verse, none of these outcomes took place following the offering of Old Testament sacrifices. The sacrifices of the Old Testament only temporarily cleaned those who offered them, purifying them only for a season, and could only heal the broken relationship with God temporarily.
Not only that, but part of what is longed for in the pursuit of holiness is the removal of guilt. The Jews of the Old Testament and believers today do not just want their sins removed, they want the stain of guilt washed clean. This again was something that the Old Testament system was incapable of doing, “but in those sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins, year by year,…” (10:3).
What better way to remind people of their culpability before God than requiring to sacrifice innocent animals, the prettiest ones at that, year after year? This required time, preparation, travel, for some it required money, and (the worst in my opinion) it required a mess. Normally, we try to spend time, prepare for, travel to, spend money on, etc. things we enjoy. However, the yearly imposition of the bloody sacrifice reminded the Old Testament saints of their sin and subsequent guilt.
Though millions of sacrifices were offered, none could do what was desired—none could make those who offered them holy, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,…” (10:4). Because of this, “sin remained a separator, a perennial, detrimental force disallowing a permanently right relationship between God and his people” (Guthrie, 327).
A BODY PREPARED FOR THE WILL OF GOD-10:5-7
Something had to give, something had to do away with all of this bloodshed, something had to pave a way for people to relate meaningfully to their Creator. Thankfully Christ enters the world, “therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifices and offering You have not desired,….in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for Sin You have taken no pleasure” (10:5a & 6). Quoting a prophecy from Psalm 40:7-9, the preacher is referencing Christ who had sense incarnated Himself by becoming a man born into the World. Christ understood how God felt about the sacrifices offered (that these were not originally nor ultimately a part of His plan and that He did not particularly enjoy receiving them) and as a result determined to do something about it.
The first thing that Christ did was take on the body that God had prepared for Him, “but a body You have prepared for Me…” (10:5b). The body referred to here is Christ’s fleshly body used while on the earth.
John 1:14-“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,…”
Philippian 2:6-7-“who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
Step one for Jesus in ridding the world of a largely unsatisfactory sacrificial system was taking on flesh, veiling His glory in human form, in what can only be described as one of the greatest of all miracles. What makes this even more incomprehensible is that the glorious Word of God not only became a man, but a humble man at that!
Isaiah 53:2-“grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root our of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
The second thing that Christ purposed to do was the will of God, “then I said, ‘behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God’…” (10:7). Not only was Christ a humble man, He was a faithful man—faithful to the will of the One who sent Him. Faithful to the cause of bringing men and women into a right relationship with God. His body, humble and faithful, would serve as the vehicle by which all other sacrifice became unnecessary.
THE TRUE SACRIFICE ONCE FOR ALL-10:8-10
What the preacher is trying to emphasize about the Psalm 40 reference is two-fold: God’s dissatisfaction with the old covenant sacrificial system and the willingness of Christ to do something about it. In verse 8-9 the preacher begins to reveal the last spectacle—the true sacrifice once for all—by reiterating what he has just referenced, “after saying above, ‘sacrifices and offering and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the Law)…” (10:8). In this reiteration, the preacher explains that the sacrifices of the old system were unsatisfactory even though God had prescribed them in the law (and this is not a totally new revelation).
1 Sam. 15:22-“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”
Psalm 50:8-9-“I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I shall take no young bull out of your house not male goats out of your folds.”
Psalm 51:16-“For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering.”
Hosea 6:6-“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Thankfully, God purposed to end His dissatisfaction by equipping Christ with a humble and fleshly body to come into the world to do His will, “then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will…” (10:9). This before—after, old—new, dissatisfaction—satisfaction motif sets in motion the argument that is about to be made.
In a nutshell the argument is crystallized in the second part of verse 9, “He takes away the first in order to establish the second” (10:9b).
This week we had to replace Henry’s car seat with a new and bigger one. We needed to do this because Henry no longer fit in his old seat and our growing dissatisfaction with it had reached critical mass. Brianna could not take the small and ill-equipped car seat any longer. Therefore, we took away the old one in order to make space for a new one.
This is what God did with the sacrificial system. After having his fill of blood sacrifices and having been dissatisfied with the system for some time, God took the old system away to make room for a new one. No longer would sacrifices have to be offered, no longer would blood have to be shed, no longer would guilt perpetually stain the consciousness of God’s people. Praise the Lord!
What has replaced the myriad of Old Testament sacrifices? The answer is a once and for all sacrifice—“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10). In order to fully appreciate this verse, we must remind ourselves of what was desired that the Old Testament sacrifices could never provide—holiness, righteousness, and therefore, salvation. These goals are all wrapped up in the word sanctification here in verse 10. While the sacrifices of old were incapable of making people right with God, the sacrifice of Jesus is. The word “sanctification” means to be set apart and it calls to mind the ongoing salvation experienced by those who have already placed their faith in Jesus.
Jesus’ sacrifice alone and completely paved the way for believers to finally attain a right relationship with God (once for all). No more sacrifices are required, no more blood has to be shed. The solitary sacrifice of Christ has completely satisfied God, thereby removing the sin and guilt of those who accept it. Therefore, we can add Jesus’ sacrifice to list of reasons why He is superior to that which came before Him.
The spectacles that we have beheld in this passage have pointed to a glorious truth: because Christ offered himself as a faithful and humble sacrifice, we no longer have to depend on the blood of bulls and goats. What makes this so great is that now believers are given a way to truly relate to God free of guilt. This is something that the sacrifices of the Old Testament could never accomplish. Therefore, the application of this message depends on where you stand. Have you accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Do you believe in His coming to earth and offering Himself? Do you know that He is the only way to relate properly to a very real God free from guilt and punishment? If not, my prayer is that you come to recognize Jesus’ superior ministry (Hebrews 8), His superior promises (Hebrews 9), and His superior sacrifice (Hebrews 10) that alone can save.
However, perhaps you have embraced what only Christ can provide. Are you living a life of freedom and boldness, or has your flesh or the schemes of the enemy robbed you of your joy by throwing your past or present in your face? Those who are in Christ are to live as those who know that “Jesus Paid it All!” Amen! Because of this, we have peace with God, no reason to fear. When Satan throws your sin in your face and tries to paralyze you in guilt and fear, claim Jesus’ sacrifice again and remember where you stand—in relationship with God the Father, where Satan has no claim and evil has no rights. Praise be to God the Father and Jesus Christ whose sacrifice has covered all my sin!
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Every 5 years or so Sony and Microsoft come out with a new system that is supposed to revolutionize the gaming experience for everyone who enjoys video games. In much the same way, Apple, and Microsoft will upgrade their phones, computers, and tablets every so often and encourage people to buy a new computer/tablet as a result. Whether it is video games or computers, the issue with upgrades is retooling the software. Software is the system that makes the computer or console do what you want it to do. The performance of the computer is largely determined by the sophistication of the software that is downloaded to it. New software is offered to replace the old every now in then because improvements have been made and bugs worked out.
In a similar way, how we live our lives has a lot to do with software of a different kind—spirituality. Our spirituality, like software, is intimately connected with the hardware of our bodies, and minds, in an interdependent relationship. How well we live is dependent on how good our software is and this, even on a biblical level has experienced an update. Windows may have gone through windows 95, 2000, xp, vista, 7, 8, and 10 and Apple phases like mountain lion, snow leopard, mavericks, and el capitan. However, there are only two ways of living biblically that are indicated by two software packages: the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In our passage today, we are given the most robust description (existing in six parts) of the latest and greatest package given to believers that allows them the best possible lives both now and forever. It is called, the New Covenant.
The Occasion for the New Covenant-8:7
In the passage leading up to verse 7, the preacher of Hebrews has just demonstrated the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over and above the priesthood of the Old Testament. His ministry is in the heavens (not on the earth), His ministry is not obsolete (unlike the Old Testament ministry), and his ministry is indicative of a new/current covenant. Having introduced the idea of this New Covenant in verse 6, the preacher now decides to delineate the parts of this covenant and show how it is superior to the Old Covenant that was given to Moses.
The first part of the New Covenant that is identified is the occasion for the New Covenant--“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second,…” (8:7). Here, the logic is simple, Because God saw fit to make a New Covenant, something must have gone wrong with the first. So, what fault was found in the Old Covenant? The first covenant referred to here was not successful at delivering the fullness of a relationship that God ultimately desired to share with humanity. Instead, it served to remind humanity of its inadequacy before God and proved to be merely a tool of conviction.
Though conviction is a good first step, it is not the kind of thing that can sustain a working relationship. Eventually, God’s people needed to move beyond conviction and into a loving relationship that promoted good works not out of compulsion, but out of something more.
As I teach my children right from wrong, what I am hoping for is that they not only know what is wrong, but that they know what is wrong and as a result both desire and are then able to choose to do what is right. The first covenant proved successful at the first step—helping people identify what was wrong. However, it accomplish little more than that. This is why God saw fit to instigate a New Covenant—a faultless covenant that was actually capable of bringing people the rest of the way to
The Prediction is made-8:8
After finding fault with the first covenant and, as a result, finding fault with His people, the preacher continues by referencing an ancient prophecy of the New Covenant that was to come, “he says, Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a New Covenant” (8:8a). In His mercy and foresight, God looked forward to a better system that made Him more accessible to His people. He predicted this better system hundreds of years before it actually came about through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (the quote that is given here in Hebrews 8:8-12).
At the beginning of this reference, God predicts that He will “effect” a New Covenant in the days to come. To “effect” something’s existence means to cause it to exist by virtue of its having been finally accomplished (Louw-Nida). Therefore, the existence of this New Covenant promises in Jeremiah was dependent on the accomplishment of some feat that would be completed sometime in the future (that is the future for Jeremiah).
We know, given what the rest of the New Testament says, that the accomplishment necessary to bring this covenant about centered on Jesus’ sacrifice for Sin. He said as much in the upper room as He broke bread and passed around the cup. He intimated as much while on the cross when he said, “It is finished!” What was finished? The accomplishment necessary to bring in a new era in which God’s people could relate to Him in more intimate ways. Jesus’ completed work on the cross instigated a new way to relate to God.
This new way of relating to God was made available to both “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (8:8b). When Jeremiah originally, gave this prophecy, this would have meant a great deal. During Jeremiah’s day, the Jewish people had split themselves into two kingdoms: Israel to the north and Judah to the South. Although God had intended for His people to be united and committed to Him and His purposes, because of the people’s sin, things had not worked out that way. Here, Jeremiah predicts a new day, when both houses and both kingdoms are reunited under a New Covenant.
Though here this covenant appears to be written exclusively for Israel and Judah, it is important to understand the context in which the preacher of Hebrews is writing. If we remember his audience, largely Jewish Christians, we can understand why this quote and its use makes perfect sense. These Jewish Christians, more than just about anyone else should understand that the New Covenant was for them. God wanted to give HIS people a new way of relating to Him. However, like in their response to the first covenant, the preacher witnessed more and more people denying what God had made available to them. To these he says, “God has given you a New Covenant—a faultless covenant!” Though the New Covenant is elsewhere applied to the gentiles, the preacher is predominately concerned about encouraging his Jewish brethren to embrace what Jesus has made available.
The Reason for the New Covenant-8:9
One reason why the Jewish Christians reading this, or any Christian for that matter, should embrace the New Covenant is witnessed in verse 9—“Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, for they did not continue in My covenant and I did not care for them, says the Lord.” This verses provides the reason for the New Covenant. The Old Covenant, given after a miraculous Exodus to a people who had experienced the grace of God in numerous ways, did not compel perseverance.
There was no guarantee that the people of the Old Covenant would remain in or continue in the promises issued. In fact, many fell away and were not allowed into the Promised Land. Many after that fell away and ended up seeing themselves and their kingdom divided. Many others fell away and landed in exile. On all these occasions, the people of God broke their side of the promise and for that reason, the Lord “did not care for them.” In other words, disobedience was repaid with God’s silence and His judgment. The blessings of Israel and its people under the Old Covenant system was in direct proportion to how well they kept their end of the deal and this they failed to do.
Ultimately, the reason for the New Covenant is this: the Old Covenant system did not establish a lasting relationship between God and His people. Humans failed to keep the covenant and because of that their relationship with God suffered. Something needed to replace this old and unsuccessful system.
The Character of the New Covenant is Identified-8:10
The replacement is described in verse 10. Again, this replacement is said to be primarily intended for the Jews, “for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel” (8:10a). However, this does not mean the Jews exclusively. Though the preacher of Hebrews is writing to Jewish Christians, the Bible teaches that this New Covenant also applies to the gentile world.
Romans 1:16-“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Romans 2:10-11-“but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is not partiality with God.”
Therefore, keep your ears tuned in to hear what the New Covenant has to say about how New Testament believers are able to relate to God.
“…after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts” (8:10b). In the Old Covenant, God’s law was written on stone and preserved on paper. It was an independent fixture of regulations existing outside the human person that leaned only so heavily on individual will. However, in the New Covenant, one does not escape the compelling nature of God’s standards so easily. God has put it into the minds of His people and written His Law on their hearts. Those of the New Covenant live righteous lives because that is who they are. It is a result of what was been placed into their consciousness and what was been permanently marked on their soul.
The people of God are no longer compelled to live righteously because God told them to do so in a written word, they are motivated to holy living because of an incarnate Word that dwells within them! Though words on a page might be convincing, what is more convincing is what we believe with our hearts.
As a result of this, the text promises the following: “and I will be their God and they shall be My people” (8:10). Relationship is what is promised in the New Covenant—a real unconditional relationship that is not dependent on performance. The future predictive verbs used in the latter part of verse 10 suggest a continuous state of affairs, “I will (forever) be their God and they shall (forever) be My people.”
The Implications of the New Covenant are Given-8:11-12
After referencing the character of the covenant as described in Jeremiah 31, the preacher identifies the implications of the covenant. First, this covenant will yield compelling knowledge of God, “any they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them” (8:11). In other words, everyone within the covenant will know God intimately enough not require constant reminders of His presence and His truth.
The next part of the verse makes is absolutely clear that everyone, regardless of education, wealth, prestige, talent, etc. so long as they belong to the New Covenant, will “know” God (“from the least to the greatest”). Therefore, unlike the Old system in which high priests and prophets enjoyed the special privilege of knowing God in more exclusive ways than others, in the new system, all who belong to it will enjoy the same experiential and intimate knowledge of God.
Part of the reason this compelling knowledge and intimate relationship is available to all is because of the unprecedented access each will have to God because of the forgiveness of sins that is offered under the New Covenant program. The Covenant promises in verse 12, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more.” It is God’s doing, it is His willingness to forgive sin, that allows this New Covenant to take shape. While in the Old Covenant, God required payment for access to Him, in the New Covenant, God accepts Jesus’ payment and bestows forgiveness.
The Conclusion drawn from the New Covenant-8:13
At the end of this passage, we hear again from the preacher himself as he provides his conclusion in light of the extended reference of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (which just so happens to be the longest Old Testament quote in the New Testament). He concludes, “when he said, ‘A new Covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear…”
The Old Covenant Law has been taken over by a better system. This system successfully provides forgiveness from God and intimate knowledge of God that together work to establish a real relationship with God. The Old Covenant gave limited access to God, partial knowledge of God, and temporary appeasement from God. Perhaps this is why the Lord doesn’t support this outdated system anymore. Something greater has taken its place.
What do all of these parts of the presentation have by way of encouragement today for us as believers? Sure, we can see how the New Covenant is better than the Old, however, isn’t this all academic? May it never be! We must, in light of so great a covenant and, as we talked about last week, the superior ministry of Christ, take advantage of the many privileges we are given as those belonging to the family of God under this new system. Given what this passage has said, we are compelled to investigate and appreciate all that we can know about our God because He is, because of Christ’s completed work, knowable! Not only that, but because Jesus paid the ultimate price for our forgiveness, we should live in in the confidence of our standing in His grace—no longer weighed down by sin and mistakes. Finally, because of the relationship we are now capable of having with God, we ought to make the most of it by spending time with Him in prayer, seeking His will in all things, and proving our love through obedience to HIs desires. We are a New Covenant people, Praise the Lord! Therefore, let us live lives of righteousness, love, and obedience to the God that we were once estranged from but are now reacquainted with through Jesus.
Friday, January 8, 2016
This week we are reentering the series we began last August in the book of Hebrews. Though this book is nearing its 2000th birthday, some things never go out of style or lose their relevance. This is true not only of this book as a whole, but it is also the case for what it has to say to us in the passage we will be looking at today as it addresses one version of an ancient issue involving mankind’s relationship with God. However, before we take a look at Hebrews 8:1-6, I want to call your mind to several things that were once prominent fixtures in our world, but are now rarely in use. VHS players have been replaced by DVD players and even more recently blue ray players. Travel agents have been largely usurped by internet sites like Hotwire, Expedia, and others. Maps, remember those? Who needs a map when every cell phone and most new cars are equipped with GPS? Most classifieds in newspapers have been moved to websites like Craigslist or Monster.com. Even newspapers have taken a hit in our digital age of blogs and online news. Entire volumes of encyclopedias have been replaced by a little thing called Google. Good has also destroyed the need for the yellow pages. Even things as foundational as calling people on the phone have been replaced by texting for quick messages and Facetime for more meaningful conversations. In each of these cases, something new, something better, something more efficient has come to replace the old. The same is true of the way people related to God in the past and now can through what Christ has accomplished. What Jesus ushered in is far greater than the revolutions created by the digital age and far more important. In Hebrews 8:1-6, we are given three reasons why Jesus’ ministry is greater than those before it.
I. It is a Heavenly Ministry-8:1-2
Before we merge back onto the entrance ramp and continue our series on the superiority of Jesus Christ as presented in Hebrews, let us remind ourselves of where we are in the book. After reminding his listeners that God has spoken to the world through His Son in chapter 1, the preacher has so far made the case that Jesus Christ is superior to both the Angels of heaven and the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Chapter 8 nears the end of this latter discussion and comes right after a lengthy comparison between Jesus Christ and Melchizedek’s priesthood. Unlike the tribe of Levi, from which all other priests hailed, Jesus is said to be a priest in a different order—an order that is established by God and lasts forever. All that has been offered in this sermon up to this point has been presented in an effort to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority over everything, especially the old way of relating to God.
This is explained further as Hebrews 8 begins, “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (8:1). While many high priests in the Old Testament may have occupied special places in the synagogue and among the people they served, Jesus is said here to occupy the most powerful seat in the most exclusive boardroom in the universe. This special seat of power and prestige celebrated here was first identified in Psalm 110:1 when it says, “the LORD says to my Lord; Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
As this passage works to continue the theme of Jesus’ superiority, it is important to compare where Jesus’ seat is and where the high priests of old used to sit. Jesus’ ministry as high priest takes place “in the heavens” while the priests of the Old covenant ministered on earth.
Not only that, but while the priests of the Old Testament were mortal ministers serving in an
temporary building built by men, the one who sits at the right hand of the Majesty serves in the heavenly tabernacle built by the hand of the Lord, “a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man” (8:2). In others words, what was offered as a special place for man to communicate with God in the Old Testament (the tabernacle, and later, the temple), has been completely overshadowed by a permanent and perfect tabernacle in which the Lord Jesus intercedes on behalf of His people for eternity.
Once God’s people were saved from their slavery in Egypt, God created a way for them to commune with him that involved a sophisticated tent structure that could be torn down and reassembled along the journey into the Promised Land. This tent was where Moses would speak to God on behalf of his people. Eventually, as the Promised Land was conquered, elements of the tabernacle structure became staples in the Temple that was constructed in Jerusalem, complete with a Holy of Holies where the high priest, like Moses before Him, would intercede on behalf of God’s people. However, both the tabernacle and the temple were mere shadows/shells of what Jesus would one day offer—unprecedented access before God in the “sanctuary and in the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man” (8:2). Where Jesus does His ministry is better than where the high priests of the Old Testament performed theirs because it is eternal and it is made by God. This renders Jesus’ ministry on behalf of His people superior to everything before it.
II. It is Not an Obsolete Ministry-8:3-5
Continuing the comparison between what Jesus brought about and what was once practiced, the preacher in Hebrews 8 writes, “for every priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices so it is necessary that this high priest has something to offer” (8:3). Having already demonstrated the superiority of Jesus’ ministry by means of where it takes place, the preacher is now going to demonstrate how Jesus’ ministry is superior because of what is offered. He recalls, as he did in 5:1, that every high priest, as part of his duty, performs certain rites and rituals—sacrifices, offerings, gifts, etc. Though it is not explicit, the following assumption will soon be made absolute clear: If the high priests of old offered gifts and sacrifices in the Old Testament tabernacle, then what Jesus offers in the heavenly tabernacle by means of His life is far superior.
This assumption seems to come into focus in 8:4 when the preacher says, “Now if He were on the earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer gifts according to the Law,…” In other words, if Jesus was on the earth, he could only offer what has always been offered under the Old Testament system. Though what was offered in the Old Testament system served its own purposes (reminding the people of God of their constant need for redemption, etc.), it was ineffective at providing lasting salvation.
In fact, the preacher says that these Old Testament practices/offerings/gifts, were not intended to provide lasting results. Instead these “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5a). Everything about the Old Testament practices, in part, served to telegraph what Jesus accomplished and is now performing in the heavens. Now, because of what Christ completed, every time we read about a lamb being led to the slaughter for a sacrifice, we envision Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Every time we witness in the pages of the Old Testament a priest interceding in the Holy of Holies, we catch a glimpse of Jesus who now is in the heavens, interceding on our behalf. In each of these examples, what Jesus did and who Jesus is, far outweighs what used to be done and what once was.
While what was offered the people of God in the days of Moses is called a copy and a shadow in verse 5, it is also called a “pattern,” “for ‘See,’ he says, ‘that you make all things according to the Pattern which was shown you on the mountain…”. This calls attention to Moses’ encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. While meeting with God on the mountaintop in the book of Exodus, Moses received a lot of gifts from God: laws promoting a safe and prosperous community, ordinances for righteous living, and instructions for constructing a way for people to commune with God in a special way—i.e. the tabernacle. However, these gifts, because of what Jesus accomplished, have become obsolete. They are mere shadows, copies, and patterns of something better—Jesus and His ministry.
III. It is a Current Ministry-8:6
This is made clear in the last part of this passage—verse 6—when the current covenant comes into view, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” Here, the preacher comes right out and makes plain what he has been trying to intimate for the better part of this entire book—Jesus is the mediator of a superior ministry—superior even to the ministry of the Old Testament’s most beloved mediator—Moses. Jesus’ ministry is better because it is in the heavens—not on the earth, and because it is not obsolete. However, it is also superior because it is a large part of a better covenant—the New Covenant.
This New Covenant, of which believers are now a part, is first revealed in the book of Jeremiah 33:31-33.
Jeremiah 31:31-33: “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’”
When did the covenant take effect? Upon the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. In fact, Jesus mentions this Himself.
Matthew 26:26-29-“While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
Both Mark and Luke also give their own portrayal of the beginning of this New Covenant program (see Mk. 14; Lk. 22). Jesus’ gestures and words at the Last Supper illustrate what was accomplished on the cross—total payment for sin and total access to God as a result. While in the old covenant a lamb had to be slain perpetually to appease the wrath of God so that man might enjoy limited access to the Lord, in the New Covenant, Jesus offered Himself as the perfect Lamb to be slain once and for all to appease the wrath of God so that man may enjoy unlimited access to the Lord.
Accompanying this superior covenant are superior promises—promises of a hope and a future. In fact, in each of the synoptic gospel’s portrayals of the Last Supper, the same promise (albeit in dissimilar wording) is given.
Matthew 26:29-“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (see also Mk. 14:25; Lk. 22:18).
Here, Jesus promises an eternal heaven in which man and God enjoy perfect fellowship forever. This is something the Old Covenant could never produce nor promise in and of itself. For these reasons, Jesus’ management over the New Covenant is far better than Moses’ management over the Old.
Though the reasons given in this passage for Jesus’ superior ministry speak immediately against an old Jewish system of relating to God, it also speaks against what many people endorse in their own take on spirituality today. In fact, one might say that many “spiritual” or “religious” people have a problem that is even older than the old covenant system. I’m speaking of those who seek for earthly solutions to life’s problems instead of depending on Jesus’ superior heavenly ministry. These must come to understand that nothing from the earth is going to yield eternal solutions. These also, like the Jews to which this was originally written, use obsolete systems with the hope of manufacturing something revolutionary. For them, tired works, ancient efforts, and age-old pietism are believed to earn them good standing with God. However, as the preacher reveals in this passage, religiosity is yesterday’s inferior model. Something new, Jesus’ superior ministry of grace, has replaced it! Those who believe they can work their way, sacrifice their way, or earn their way to God are endorsing an old, outdated, and inferior system. To these Jesus offers Himself, His ministry, and a new program (The New Covenant).