NOTES on Hebrews
8:7-13 (click here for study)
In this passage, the author of Hebrews is examining the reality of the New Covenant. He quotes Jeremiah's prophecy about it found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and he introduces the quote by stating, "For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people"
"That first covenant" to which he refers is the Mosaic covenant given to Moses for the purposes of organizing Israel into a nation and of illustrating God's holiness and his call for humanity to be holy. It was designed to point out that people's efforts to be holy were doomed to fail and to introduce a tangible, continual reminder that a Redeemer was coming who would atone for their sins.
What's wrong with the Old Covenant?
The New Testament cites several problems with the Old Covenant that prevent it from providing a permanent, effective relationship with God and humanity. While it was necessary in order to define mankind's condition and God's expectations, the Old Covenant was powerless to bring the two into harmony. The priesthood was flawed. Levitical priests were mortal and sinful, and they could not directly approach God to make atonement for their brothers, nor could they offer adequate sacrifices for sin. (Hebrews 7:11)
The law (the basic code of the Old Covenant) was weak and useless and made nothing perfect. (Hebrews 7:18-19) It was only a shadow of things to come, not the reality. It "cannot make perfect those who draw near to worship." (Hebrews 10:1) Because of our sinful nature, the law was powerless to reconcile us with God. (Romans 8:3)
But God provided a solution to our death sentence of separation from God. Through Christ "the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2) Through Jesus we have a better hope than we had under the law, and we can draw near to God.
God foretold this solution in several passages in the Old Testament. Perhaps the clearest description of it is in Jeremiah 31:31-34 which is quoted in this passage of Hebrews we are studying. "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah"
This prophecy promised that God would put his laws in the minds and hearts of his people. He would be their God, and they would be his people. He would forgive all their wickedness and forget their sins.
"By calling this covenant 'new', he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." (v. 13)
The heart of this new covenant is Jesus and his shed blood. Without Jesus' death and resurrection, there could be no New Covenant. When Jesus introduced the New Covenant at the Passover celebration with his disciples just before his death, he said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20)
The ministry of Jesus is superior to that of the Old Covenant priests, and his Covenant is founded on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6) Unlike the Levitical priests, Christ mediates for us directly with God because he died as a ransom for our sins. (Hebrews 9:15) Through Christ we can be confident. He has made us "ministers of a new covnenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:6)
A New Reality
Our whole lives are different when we accept the cleansing grace of Jesus and enter into the New Covenant with him. Under the Old Covenant, the law was external, rigidly carved into stone, unyielding. Law-abiders prospered, and offenders were cursed. Under the New Covenant of Christ's blood and of the Spirit, however, the rigid external standard no longer has power over us. It's been replaced by the living God dwelling in our hearts, teaching and challenging us at every moment. The God of mercy and justice deals with us personally. We can relate to him directly because Jesus' sacrifice has healed the chasm of sin that separated us.
Under the Old Covenant we could not please God. Our most sincere efforts to obey did not span the gap of sin. Now, however, with the blood of Jesus creating an eternal connection between us and the Father, we are free from the "law of sin and death", and he has fulfilled in us all the law's requirements for righteousness. (Romans 8:2-4) Now we live by the Spirit and not by our sinful natures.
We are born spiritually dead, separated from God by our sin which is part of our legacy from Adam. But now, forgiven by Christ's death, we can be spiritually alive and draw near to God. Unlike the Israelites whose priests could not even draw near to God, we can, through Christ, come into the presence of God ourselves. Now we can have our hearts and consciences cleansed; we can draw near to God, and he will draw near to us. Instead of being at arm's length from God, separated by sin and condemned by the law, we are reconnected to him, bound by the blood of Jesus in a bond that not even death can break.
Now God forgives our sins, and our forgiven state is an eternal reality. He no longer remembers our sins. Now, with our sins forgiven and our spirits brought to life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are no longer ruled by sin.
Even though we have still-sinful bodies, our spirits are alive, and in Christ we are truly saints. Instead of being defined by sin, we are now defined by Jesus. Instead of being driven by self-centered desires, we are now motivated by the Holy Spirit. Even though our sinful flesh is in conflict with our now-living spirits, sin no longer rules over us. We are redeemed from our sin, and our new Master is Jesus.
Christ has made the Old Covenant obsolete. When we are in Christ, born from above, the written law no longer has jurisdiction over us. The new law of the Spirit, of Christ's finished work, reigns in our lives. There's no longer any to need to observe the rituals or holy days of the Old Covenant because the reality to which they pointed, Jesus, has come, has died, and has risen to eternal life.
The Old Covenant law still exists. All those who do not accept Christ still live under its curse. Unless a person accepts Jesus and allows the Holy Spirit to give him or her a new birth, his spirit remains dead in sin. Sin still rules over him, and the curse on transgressors implicit in the law defines his future.
When we accept Jesus, the life that was the light of men, we are redeemed from sin's curse and enter eternity. We pass from death to life.
Jesus asks us to enter his covenant with us. He asks nothing of us except our faith and trust in him. He asks us to stop trying to manipulate our lives and to give up searching for happiness. He asks us to be still and recognize that he is God.
Jesus has given us everything we need for holiness and contentment and joy. We won't find those things, however, unless we trust Jesus with everything about us.
Jesus stands before you asking you to risk trusting him. He asks you to turn your anxiety over to him. He asks you to turn your favorite escape mechanism over to him. He asks you to turn your talents and experience over to him. He asks you to give him your identity and your social standing. He asks you to give him your marriage and your family. He asks you to give him the rights to your money and possessions. He asks you to let go of everything to which you've clung as part of your identity and security.
He asks you to let go of everything so he can give you himself. When we finally risk giving up everything about ourselves, the miracle happens. The love of Jesus fills the empty places, and God brings meaning and joy and love and relationships into our lives that nurture us and surpass anything we experienced when we clung tightly to our identities.
Living in the New Covenant is a completely new reality. Our physical world may look the same, but our hearts and minds and perceptions are new. We wake up to find ourselves loving Jesus and experiencing joy. We realize that we are forgiven and accepted, held in love that buffers every assault. God affirms his love and our forgiveness through people he places in our lives. He places the lonely in families, and he gives us new reasons to live. He gives us Today, and he gives us eternity as well.
Praise God for his faithfulness and mercy. Praise Jesus for his sacrifice that restored us to life and for keeping his covenant with us. Praise the Holy Spirit for giving us new hearts and for giving us true love-love that we can trust; love that will deepen and grow without limits.
Praise Jesus for making us new and for opening to us the living way to
our eternity with him.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised March 14, 2001.