2012-04-01 Jesus Christ, A Better Ministry and a Better Covenant (Hebrews 8:1-13) Palm Sunday
Today is Palm Sunday. On this day in history, Jesus, by his actions, announced that he was the promised Messiah. But he made clear he was a certain kind of Messiah, one that is humble and faithful, not arrogant and self-serving. By entering Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, he announced to believers and unbelievers his intention to go humbly to the cross and rise victoriously from the dead and later to ascend to a place of authority and power next to his Father’s throne – to accomplish all that had been prophesied of him in the Scriptures.
During the season of Lent we have been engaged in a series from Hebrews on the excellencies of Christ.
So far, we have seen that Jesus is superior to angels, superior to Moses, and serves as our faithful high priest in heaven.
This week in Heb 8, we will see in more detail what he has done in history and how and why he is able right now, in the present, to help us from his position in heaven.
Do you ever wonder what Jesus is doing right now in heaven? Is he simply sitting on some kind of heavenly throne next to the Father, watching to see what we will do next, talking with the angels and saints of old, maybe cheering us on or saying a prayer for us from time to time?
This passage tells us two primary things about what he is doing. It tells us
- The nature of his heavenly ministry as our high priest (vv 1-6)
- The nature of the new covenant he is mediating (vv 7-13)
Hebrews 8:1-13 (ESV) Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 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. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: 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. 11 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. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Let’s look first at
- The nature of Jesus’ ministry as our high priest
-We are told it’s a new ministry, and a better ministry
- It is a new ministry,
6 …Christ1 has obtained a ministry that is aas much more excellent than the old…
A few weeks ago in Heb 1 we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, “but in these last days, God has spoken to us through his Son. After making purification for sins, he has down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… (vv1-3).
Jesus’ ministry as our high priest became effective in time and space after his ascension at his exaltation in heaven. Just as Aaron went into the holy of holies to offer the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, Christ went into the heavenly sanctuary to present his offering of himself to God to secure our eternal salvation.
Heb 9:11-12, 15 ESV 11 …when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (15) Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
V 6 tells us that Jesus has obtained a ministry that is more excellent than the old. This ministry was obtained through his own blood and the presentation of that blood before the Father in heaven. We’ll learn more about what this means a little later.
V6 tells us second that
- Jesus’ ministry is a better ministry than the old ministry of Israel’s priests.
– it is a better ministry in two ways – it is a heavenly ministry rather than an earthly ministry, and it is an eternal ministry rather than a temporal one
- It is a heavenly ministry, not an earthly ministry;
8:1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
We are told in verse 1 that he is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. His current physical address, so to speak, is heaven.
The point is that Jesus, as our high priest, is no longer on earth, like the Levitical priests, but in heaven. Because he died and rose again and ascended, he is in heaven with his Father. And because he humbled himself and perfectly fulfilled his Father’s will, he was given a position of power and authority above any other than his Father. So his ministry is located in heaven, no longer on earth like the OT priests.
Second, we are told that he carries out some kind of ministry in heaven.
2 a minister in the holy places, in athe true tent1 that the Lord bset up, not man.
He is said to be a minister, literally, a liturgist, a servant, minister with special ref. to accountability before God (Ro 13:6; 15:16; Hb 1:7; 8:2).
We saw this word in Heb 1:7 when it speaks of the angels of God. Hebrews 1:7 (ESV) Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” So Jesus is a servant, a minister of God.
And he is located in what the writer calls “the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” to indicate a contrast in the place of Jesus ministry with that of the earthly high priests. Jesus’ ministry in the true tent that the Lord set up is heaven, while the ministry of the OT high priests is on earth, by implication, in an earthly tent that man set up.
The phrase “true tent” does not intend, by contrast, to indicate the tent or tabernacle of the OT priests was false in some way, but rather, imperfect, less valuable, symbolic. Their tent was an imperfect, less valuable copy or symbol of the true tent in heaven, as we will see later.
So Jesus, our high priest is located in heaven, and carries out his ministry as high priest in heaven. By contrast, the high priests of Israel were located earth and were therefore inferior. And their ministry was located in an earthly tent of their own making, which was therefore inferior.
Third, we are told that although his lineage disqualifies him from an earthly ministry, his character qualifies him for a heavenly ministry.
3 For aevery high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus bit is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.
Jesus was from the line of Judah, not the line of Levi, and therefore would not have qualified to serve as a high priest in the temple. Jesus, we learn in chapter 7, however, is from the line or order of Melchizedek, who (7:16) “has become a priest not on the basis of…his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.”
Jesus is a priest because God has declared an oath or promise about him through his ancestor David in Psalm 110:1, “You are a priest forever.” And Heb 7 goes on to say, “because of his oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:21).
So Jesus’ ministry is better than the OT priests because it is a heavenly ministry in contrast to their earthly ministry.
Second, Jesus’ ministry is better not only because it is heavenly but also because
- It is an eternal ministry, not a temporal ministry
5 They serve aa copy and bshadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, c“See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
Israel’s priests served or ministered in what the author calls a copy or shadow of the heavenly. The word “copy” can also be translated “sketch.” What God showed Moses on the mountain, presumably, was the real thing, a vision of the heavenly reality, but all Moses was able to build by comparison was a sketch of heaven.
Exo 25:40 is quoted here, “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.” All Moses could do was follow the pattern God gave him. He could not build the heavenly reality. Dress makers can appreciate the pattern metaphor. The pattern is not the real thing, the dress is.
It’s like the difference between seeing the Grand Canyon itself and seeing a sketch of the Grand Canyon. There’s no comparison.
It’s like a simulation of the real thing. The tent and the ministry of the OT priests were like a simulation of the real thing. Have you ever driven in a simulator of a car or a plane or a tank? They’re temporary, intended to train us and prepare us for the real thing and to be replaced by the real thing.
The purpose of the tent and the OT priesthood was to train us, to prepare us, to point forward to the eternal reality of Christ’s priesthood in heaven. They are temporary sketches or illustrations or simulations of the permanent, the real, the eternal reality in Christ.
So the nature of Jesus’ ministry is new by virtue of his death, resurrection and ascension; and Jesus’ ministry is better because it is heavenly not earthly, and eternal not temporary.
Now, let’s look secondly at
- The nature of the new covenant Jesus is mediating (vv 7-13)
The covenant of grace is one covenant that has passed through various administrations beginning immediately after the fall with Adam. In Gen 3.15, God promised a deliverer from the sin of Adam through the woman. With Adam, (using Robertson’s terms in The Christ of the Covenants) it can be characterized as the “covenant of commencement;” with Noah the “covenant of preservation;” with Abraham, the “covenant of promise;” with David the “covenant of the kingdom;” with Moses, the covenant of the law;” and with Jesus, the covenant of the consummation.”
In each case, the commands and the promises became more clear. So when Hebrews refers to the covenant of Moses as an old covenant, it’s still the covenant of grace. When he refers to the new covenant in Christ as better than the old covenant administered through Moses and the law, it does not mean that it is an essentially different covenant – it is still the covenant of grace – it means that it is a better and final administration of the covenant of grace, the one to which all of the previous administrations were pointing.
We learn two things about the nature of the covenant. It is a better covenant because: 1) it is based on Jesus’ better ministry and because 2) it is based on better promises
- It is a better covenant because it is based on Jesus’ better ministry
6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better…
Verse 6 is transitional between the two sections. It tells us that Jesus’ entrance into the heavenly tabernacle made the new covenant possible and necessary.
A new covenant required a new mediator. The mediator of the so-called old covenant was Moses. The mediator of the new covenant is Jesus:
1) His perfect obedience and death inaugurated a new covenant;
2) his entrance into the heavenly sanctuary guarantees God’s acceptance of his sacrifice and the actualization of the superior covenant he mediated.
Jesus’ ministry is superior because it is effective. It is effective because God has appointed Jesus as our high priest by his oath, his promise, “You are a priest forever.” Heb 7:22 tells us “This makes Jesus the guaranee of a better covenant.” God’s promise is greater than the regulations set down in the law of Moses.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, Gal 3:19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
The law was put in place temporarily because of sin, to mediate until the promised mediator-son arrived to take his place as the permanent mediator.
Verses 7 and 8a tell us that God “found fault” with Israel because of their disobedience, and he found fault, as it were, with the Mosaic covenant itself, because it was always intended to be temporary and was meant to be replaced by the new covenant found in Jeremiah 31.
7 aFor if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8a For he finds fault with them when he says (present tense) 1 a“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with Israel…
Heb 7:11 tells us, Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?
So the new covenant is better because it is based on Jesus’ better ministry.
Second, the new covenant
- Is a better covenant because it is based on better promises
- It is internal, not merely external
- It provides complete forgiveness of sins
- And therefore makes the old obsolete
First, it is a better covenant because
- It is an internal covenant, not merely external (10-11)
10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: 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.
11 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.
God promised a new covenant through Jeremiah, one that would surpass and supplant Moses covenant. The people would no longer follow the law mechanically, simply externally, merely going through the motions. The law would be written on their minds and hearts. Paul could write to the Corinthians, 2Co 3:3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
They would know the Lord because of his indwelling presence by the Spirit because of the work of the mediator of the new covenant. God’s promise to be their God and for them to be his people would become a reality. John could write in his first letter, 1Jo 2:27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie just as it has taught you, abide in him.
Second, God promised the new covenant would
- Provide complete forgiveness for sins. (12)
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
(Heb 10:4 ESV) Reminds us that 4 it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
And Rom 3:23-26 ESV reminds us that God had merely overlooked sins until his Son should arrive and deal with sin definitely and finally. In his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins….to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In the new covenant, God promised, sins are completely forgiven, God remembers them no more.
Finally, verse 13 is a sort of summary the passage. It tells us that the creation of a new covenant makes the old one obsolete.
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “planned obsolescence?” It refers most often to products we buy like cars and washing machines. It means that those who produce them plan for them to no longer be useful at some point in the future, because they will have a new model ready to take its place. That’s why after a while, you can no longer get parts for an old car or an old washing machine. They planned for it to become obsolete so you’ll have to buy a newer model. You can’t keep patching up the old one.
That’s what God had in mind for the law, the covenant of Moses. God planned for it to be replaced by the new covenant in Christ. Like an old washing machine, it still works to some degree. We continue to use the law as our tutor to lead us to Christ, and to serve a normative function to tell us what is right and wrong.
But in Christ, we have that law written in our hearts as well. The written word reminds us, but because we are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, we know right from wrong on the inside.
So what Jesus doing right now as our high priest in heaven? (from Berkhof, pp 402-405)
He is doing at least five things:
- He is reminding God to pass over us in his wrath against sin. The perpetual presence of the completed sacrifice before God is an intercession like the blood of the Passover of which God said, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” Ex 12:13
- He is defending us against the devil. When Satan accuses us, Christ meets all his accusations by pointing him to his completed work. (Rom 8.33-34)
- He is accomplishing our sanctification. He sanctifies our imperfect and sinful prayers and presents them to God as holy. He sanctifies our imperfect and sinful service and presents it to God as holy. And He lovingly helps us in our trials and difficulties as our sympathetic high priest.
- He is praying for us. “He forever lives to make intercession for us.” He is presenting to the Father the spiritual needs that we have not thought to pray; he is praying for our protection against the dangers and enemies that threaten us of which we are unaware; he is praying that our faith may not fail; and that we may come out victorious in the end.
- He is directing all the work of the Holy Spirit on our behalf.
Finally, we should remember that he is
- Constantly interceding for us. He is always on the alert. He is alive to our every need. None of our prayers escape him.
- Authoritatively interceding for us. His are the requests not of a creature to his creator, but of a son to his father, on equal terms.
- Effectively interceding for us. “The Father always hears him.”
As we move to the Lord’s Supper, I hope now we can better understand what Jesus meant when he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”