CONVINCED OF BETTER THINGS: AN EXPOSITION OF HEBREWS 6:1-12

Hebrews 6 has proved to be a contensious passage in the history of exegesis and theology: the strong warning issued in this passage has proved to be the battleground for many soteriological debates. In this paper, I argue that the passage, interpreted within the compatibilist worldview of the Bible, holds together the same tension found elsewhere in the NT: perseverance is assured by God’s protection but dependent on man’s endurance. The author of Hebrews juxtaposes God’s sovereign protection with man’s responsible action in a warning intended to be the very means by which the stagnated Hebrews were to press on to the maturity to which God had called them.

You can read or download it here.

A Proposed Interpretation of Hebrews 9:15-22

“15Therefore He is the mediator of the New Covenant, so that those called for an eternal inheritance might receive the promise, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16For where there is a covenant, it is necessary for the one making the covenant to proffer a death. 17For a covenant is secured by deaths, since it is never strong whilst the one making the covenant is alive.

         18Therefore not even the first covenant was established apart from blood. 19For after all the commandments had been spoken in accord with the Law by Moses to all the people, he, taking the blood of young-bulls and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, sprinkled both the book and all the people. 20He did this saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” 21And both the tent and all the vessels used for ministering were likewise sprinkled with blood. 22Now it is almost the case that under the law everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

 

The majority—if not all—of commentators understand a shift in these verses from the ‘covenants’ to the more specific form of a covenant known as a will (both the same word, διαθηκη, diathēkē). The problem, as I see it, is that the meticulous argumentation the author of Hebrews uses falls apart on this translation—the parallels drawn are purely verbal (a death occurs in both cases), not conceptual. Yet, there is another way to translate this verse. I suggest that the author is presupposing what he has established and what the OT and NT teach, that covenants require priestly sacrifices to cover the transgressions of their sinful participants (v. 15, 22): only if the sin problem is dealt with can the covenant be valid.

Why then is a death required to make the covenant secure? Because the sinful transgressions of the one side making the covenant require redemption. It is not that “wherever there is a will, the death of the one making it needs to be demonstrated”: the idea that we receive our inheritance because of a will, contingent upon the death of the one making the will, is not found elsewhere in Hebrews or in the Bible—our inheritance does not rest in the death of the one from whom we receive it but in Jesus Christ’s receiving of the inheritance through perfect obedience and our participation in His inheritance.

A better interpretation is to read διαθηκη (diathēkē) as ‘covenant’ and understand the genitive του διαθεμενου (tou diathemenou, “of the one making it”) not with θανατοv (thanaton, “death”) but αναγκη (anankē, “necessity”): where there is a covenant, “where there is a covenant, it is necessary for the one making the covenant to proffer a death.” That is, the one making a covenant needs to provide a sacrifice. Why? because “a covenant is secured by deaths”: notice the plural, the one making a will cannot die multiple times, but one making a covenant can slaughter many animals (v. 19). Why do we need the deaths of animals, or in this case Christ? Because “[the covenant] is never strong while the one making the covenant is alive”: if it was a covenant between God and God this would not be true, but in the case of finite and sinful men and women, every moment the human partner is alive, the covenant is in jeopardy! Any sin could snap the covenant, so it needs a sacrifice so that no matter the mistakes they make in their life, the covenant is upheld.

The logic then makes sense: why is a death necessary? because finite men and women necessitate it. Why can we, then, receive the promise? Because Jesus has died once for all time securing for us the forgiveness of sins and redeeming transgressions so that the New Covenant would be valid and secure in the place of the old.

Let us strive to enter the rest of God – A Sermon on Hebrews 3-4

Homiletical Idea: Let us strive to enter the rest of God

 

Introduction

Good morning church! I again have the privilege of bringing you this morning’s sermon. You may remember that over the last two weeks Tom and I have begun to preach through the book of Hebrews, today we will continue to look at the this quite profound book.

Have you ever had a really restful vacation planned, a trip where you would get away from the toils of daily life, and then found it, for one reason or another, fall apart and never happen?

I unfortunately experienced this at the end of last summer. Before heading back here for school I had planned to go on a 3 day hike up in the Rockies with some friends of mine. The night before we were to go we were all getting ready and one of my friends ended up falling down some stairs and as a result, we ended up cancelling the trip!

I was quite disappointed, I had had been working all summer, so I was looking forward to the time of rest away from the city, it would also have been a good time with some close friends. Our trip fell apart before it even began because of an accident, but there have been other times where a trip of mine has fallen apart because something vital was forgotten at home, or someone did something stupid and we had to call it off.

Have you ever had a similar experience?

The ancient Israelites did. Early in the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers, we read a sad story about the nation of Israel.

Israel had been delivered from slavery in the land of Egypt and had entered into a profound relationship with God. God had conveyed upon them the privilege of being His chosen people, a people that would share a unique relationship with Him.

He pledged to be their God and they pledged to be His people. This all took place at Mt. Sinai where God entered into a covenant, which is basically a relationship established or confirmed by a formal agreement, promising to be their God and they promising to be His people.

After this encounter with God the people of Israel set out to enter into the land that God had promised to Abraham and then to the people of Israel; entering into this land was rest for the people, it would be the end of a long sojourn from slavery to journeying and finally ending in peace dwelling under the providing hand of God.

Unfortunately, the people of Israel did not find this rest when they were expecting it; instead of entering accepting God’s promise and entering the land they become afraid and rebelled against God.

Instead of entering the rest they had been promised, they were punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert. This is the background that undergirds the verses we will be looking at today.

Turn with me in your Bibles to, you guessed it; the book of Hebrews. We will be looking today at Hebrews 3:7-4:13. That is Hebrews chapter 3, starting at verse 7.

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your father put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 4 1Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he has somewhere spoke on the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” [i]

(You may remember from a few weeks ago when I introduced the book of Hebrews that at the heart of this book is a warning to the Hebrews to stop turning back to Judaism and to continue in the Christian faith. Today we find ourselves once again in one of the specific messages of warning that the author writes to the Hebrews)

 

Body

The Rest of God:

The author of Hebrews in chapters 3 & 4 warns those he is writing to that unbelief will disqualify them from entering God’s rest. Throughout 3:7-4:13 we find an argument made from Psalm 95 that the rest the Israelites entered when Joshua led them into the promised land was not the final rest promised, there was still a rest waiting for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. It is this future rest that awaits all believers that will become the focal point of these chapters.

(The argument the author of Hebrew is making comes from a detailed explanation of Psalm 95:7-11)

The Exposition of Psalm 95:7-11

In warning the Jews that they are on a dangerous path and that they need to turn back in faith to Jesus the author of Hebrews compares the situation in which his audience finds themselves and the situation in which the Israelites found themselves. Look with me at verses 15-19 of chapter 3, here we read;

“15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

Here we come back to the illustration I gave you this morning, the Jews were all packed up and ready to go! They were on a grand adventure to enter the rest that God had promised their fathers; but because they rebelled against God and were disobedient, because of their unbelief, they were unable to enter this rest. Unbelief was the reason that the Israelites had not entered the promised rest, and the crux of the warning that the author of Hebrews is giving his audience is that if they enter into unbelief, they will, like Israel, fail to enter God’s rest. This would have puzzled the Jews reading this letter for they would have thought; “we already entered God’s rest, we live in the Promised Land!”

The Jews thought they had were in God’s rest, but the author Hebrews shows them from Psalm 95 that in fact, they had not entered God’s rest; the promised land merely pointed towards a future rest with God that still awaited them.

The contrast of Rest:

In showing the Jews that there was still a rest to enter the author of Hebrews contrasts the rest they thought they were in and the rest to come.

In the Old Testament we read that the promised land was a land “flowing with milk and honey,” it was a place of abundance and provision where the people of Israel would find peace. The Jews were living in this promised land, but the author of Hebrews argues that this is not the final rest, that the Old Testament speaks of a rest that is still open for believers to enter. In verses 5-8 of chapter 4 we read;

5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.”

The beautiful thing about the book of Hebrews is that the author makes his arguments very clear. In these verses he is quoting from Psalm 95 and argues that if these Jewish Christians had already entered God’s rest, by dwelling in the Promised Land, then it makes no sense for the Psalmist to speak of a rest yet to be entered.

This rest yet to be entered is the hook upon which the author hangs his warning to the Hebrews.

In verse 9-10 the author goes on to tell us a little bit about this rest; “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

In this rest those who believe will find rest from their service in this world and from their struggles and trials in this life. In verse 9 in describing this rest which remains open you may notice that the author switches words describing the rest, he switches from the word we translate “rest” to the word we translate “Sabbath rest”; he does this to highlight the nature of the rest.

Sabbath here in this verse does not refer to the Sabbath day, for the Jews Saturday, but to the idea of the Sabbath celebration.

It does not just speak of rest, but of rest accompanied with praise; this rest is not simply the cessation of activity but rest accompanied with joy and festivities; “expressed in worship and praise of God”.[ii]

(This is what the author of Hebrews is saying through chapters 3:7-4:13; by arguing from Psalm 95 he warns the Hebrews that God’s promised rest is still open and that only those who believe will enter this rest; if the Hebrews continued drifting from the Christian faith back into Judaism they will be disobedient and will find themselves in the same place as Israelites who were unable to enter the Promised land; they would be unable to enter the rest and joy and festivities, manifested in the praise and worship of God, that characterize this final Sabbath rest. What did this mean for the Hebrews who would have heard this message?)

 

Strive for perseverance:

Throughout the book of Hebrews the author is warning the Hebrews that they need to persevere in the Christian faith for if they return to Judaism they will be in the same state as unbelievers and face the same fate as an unbeliever, in chapter 3 and 4 this warning is delivered powerfully.

A warning for perseverance:

in 3:14 the author writes that “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” and in 4:1-2 we read “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

The author is telling the Hebrews in these verses that what they need to do is persevere in the faith, he fears that some would not have this faith characterized by perseverance and therefore fail to enter the rest of God. His application to them was that they need to persevere in Christian faith or their current faith would mean nothing.

The reward he shows that they will receive if they persevere is that they will enter the glorious rest of God; a rest free from the struggles of this life where peace and joy abound in the praise and worship of God.

But the consequence of a failure to persevere is that they will not enter into the final rest of God, this is something which the author of Hebrews finds fearful. In verse 11 of chapter 4 we read succinct statement of what act the author of Hebrews is trying to encourage, he gives this exhortation; “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

(Couched in the this language of warning the Hebrews are told to persevere in the Christian faith, to strive to enter the rest of God by keeping the faith; I don’t think that we need to hear this morning a message of warning towards unbelief like the author of Hebrews here gives, but the exhortation he gives applies to the life of a Christian with or without the need he saw for a warning. With the author of Hebrews we can in our daily lives take up the call to action he gives in 4:11.)

 

Let us strive to enter the rest of God:

Let us strive to enter the rest of God

(To strive is not just to mildly pursue an end but to contend and exert oneself towards a goal, the end for which the author of Hebrews gives for us to strive is entering the rest of God. Have you ever heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words? At times like this I really hate that saying, for it is true! To illustrate this idea of striving I wanted to find a picture of a guy who was putting all his effort into reaching his goal, and then a guy sauntering through a park; illustrating the difference between the exertion involved in “striving” and weaker verbs like “trying.” Even with the internet I was unfortunately unable find a picture that would convey the idea I wanted… so I will attempt to illustrate this in hopefully less than a thousand words. Later in Hebrews, in chapter 12, the author uses the illustration of running a race to describe this perseverance or endurance in faith. This striving that the author of Hebrews is calling for is like that of an athlete giving all he has to give so that he may finish his race; he uses every resource at his disposal so that he may be ready for the race, and then expends everything he has so that he may finish the race. In striving to enter the rest of God we are to give it our all! Not just sauntering down the track, but running with all our might. )

 

Strive to enter the  GLORIOUS REST of God [Application to the Emotions]

This rest of God that the Hebrews were being told to strive for, and end for which we also should strive is glorious rest! As I described it earlier, it is rest from the works of service in this world, from the struggles we face, as well as the positive experience of joy and festivities found in the continual praise and worship of God; picture with me what a glorious state this rest is!

In this rest there will be no pain and struggle that we find in our daily lives, no more disease and death.

There will peace and freedom from the chaos of war.

We will no longer struggle with sin in our lives; there will no longer be any appeal in disobedience, we won’t even desire sin!

There will be everlasting joy in the very presence of God and continual celebration!

(In this rest we will truly and completely know God’s peace. Let us strive to enter the  rest of God! If this is the rest of God for which we are to strive, what does it look like for us to strive for it?)

 

STRIVE to enter the rest of God [Application for the will]

Striving to enter this rest does not mean amassing good works so that God ignores our sins and accepts us into His rest, for on the Cross Christ bore our sins and once and for all brought us into a favourable state before God; but striving to enter the rest of God means continuing to trust in Jesus throughout our lives, persevering in our faith.

In continuing in our faith we have the responsibility of using the resource God has given us to do this.

The reason the author of Hebrews gives the powerful warnings he does is for this very reason; these warnings are a means by which the Hebrews would continue in the faith and enter God’s rest.

We must, like Paul, continually, daily, be in prayer so that we may joyfully endure the trials that consistently appear in our lives; we must talk to God and turn to Him for strength so that we may endure until the very end to enter the rest of God.

Lastly in striving, in making every effort,[iii] to enter this rest we need to continually look to Scripture as our guide for life, for hope in enduring struggles of life, and for the strengthening of our faith so that we will endure to enter God’s rest.

Two weeks ago we looked at Hebrews 1 where the author of Hebrews tells his audience that the Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel. The authority of Scripture conveyed in that chapter holds true here, for in faithfully adhering to the Word and what God has said in it above all else we will find the resources we need to persevere.

As we strive to enter the rest of God we also have a responsibility to help each other out in our daily walk of trusting Jesus.

In 3:13 the Hebrews are given instruction for what they must do to help each other stay true to their shared faith in Jesus, the author of Hebrews gives them this instruction; “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Striving to enter the rest of God is neither something we can, nor something we should try to, do on our own; to persevere in faith is a community effort.

Sin is deceitful and is constantly trying to convince us that God is not real, or at the very least that we shouldn’t follow Him.

As we strive to enter the rest of God we are prayer for our friends and family that they may continue in the faith and we are to encourage one another in walking faithfully according to what God has instructed us to do in His word, and if needed we are to gently correct each other in love so that we may continue in the faith that we share.

Let us strive to enter God’s rest; this striving is something we do together as a body, not something that we can do on our own.

If we were left by ourselves to persevere in and by our own strength, I honestly would feel fear; I know my own strengths and weaknesses and I don’t believe I could endure the trials of this life by myself.

But we are not left by ourselves, God gives us fellowship with one another to strengthen each other in our walk and He promises that He himself will give us strength so that we may successfully strive to enter His rest, to persevere in our faith.

When we read Scripture we are not to read each passage in its own isolated bubble, I have heard Tom in a few of his sermons talk about context and how we must read Scripture within its context.

The immediate context, both the preceding and proceeding verses as well as the entire book, are incredibly important, invaluable, for understanding what a specific section of Scripture is saying; but we are also to look continually at what the rest of Scripture says to better understand an individual passage we are studying. This becomes a sort of spiral; as we better understand an individual passage we better understand the whole of Scripture, and as we better understand the whole of Scripture we better understand the individual passages that make it up.

In 1 Peter 1:5 we find a statement made by Peter that God helps us through our faith to strive for His rest.

Peter speaks of those who have been born again, that is believers, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

The salvation He speaks of is not a synonym for rest, but is an aspect of eternal life, of which our final entrance into God’s rest is also an aspect.  He says that God, in His power, works through our faith so that we may be able to endure in it!

(Let us strive to enter the rest of God, in striving we are to turn to God who strengthens us through our faith, we are to turn to Him in prayer and turn to His word for guidance, and we are to exhort each other so that as a body we may persevere in the faith.)

 

Conclusion

In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the author of Hebrews delivers a warning to His readers; if they continue drifting away from their Christian faith and back towards their old life of Judaism, they will be unbelievers and will fail to enter the glorious rest of God that is still open for them to enter!

He exhorts them to persevere, to strive that they may enter into this open rest of God! The warning he gives here is one of the means by which they may persevere!

We are not in the same situation as them, facing unbelief; but we can take up the call for action that the author of Hebrews gives.

Life is hard, and we all will, at one point or another, face trials; but in it all let us strive to enter the rest of God!

In striving for this glorious rest that awaits us, one of the many aspects of our hope in the future finishing of our salvation with eternal life, we are to turn to God in prayer for His strength to endure trials, strength by which He promises He will guard us through our faith; turn to His word for guidance in our lives, and exhort one another in our striving for our shared goal of perseverance in the faith.

Probably my favorite group of Christian writers and Pastors, Englishmen known in their time as “Puritans,” saw our life as a pilgrimage or a journey, like that of Israel towards the Promised Land.

In one of the most famous books of this time, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the puritan John Bunyan rights of the end of the journey, of the rest achieved when we enter eternity; He writes of the end of the toils of life and the doubt as we see the face of God and find peace. He writes, through the character Mr. Stand-Fast;

“I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going to see that head which was crowned with thorns, and that face which was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too…. His voice to me has been most sweet, and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His words I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. He hath held me, and hath kept me from mine iniquities; year, my steps hath he strengthened in his way.”[iv]

Let us strive to enter the rest of God!


[i] ESV

[ii] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ; Apollos, 2010), 170–171.

[iii] Ibid., 172.

[iv] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress : from This World to That Which Is to Come, Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 263.

The Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel – A Sermon on Hebrews 1

Homiletical Idea: The Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel

Introduction (For whole series)

Good morning church! Today I have the awesome privilege of both bringing you this morning’s sermon and introducing the series of sermons that pastor Tom and I will be preaching over the summer. Throughout the summer we are going to be preaching through the book of Hebrews. As me and Tom were praying about what book we would be preaching through and we decided that God was directing us towards Hebrews, I was actually a little bit scared. I have never really done any studying on the book of Hebrews and have had some interesting discussions over the different passages in Hebrews that are quite difficult to understand, but as I began to study the book for this morning’s sermon and the Holy Spirit began to show me different things in the book of Hebrews I got excited about both this sermon and this whole series! Hopefully as me and Tom preach through this intriguing book you will get a glimpse of why I have enjoyed studying it and come to understand some of the profound truths that the author has to share. Because I am launching our series on Hebrews this morning, I get to lay the groundwork for the following sermons by introducing you to the nature of the book of Hebrews itself.

With most books of the Bible we can say who authored it, who it was going to, and roughly when it was written; Hebrews is one of the few books where we cannot do this. Theories abound as to who wrote the book, some have suggested it was the apostle Paul, or Luke, some have suggested Barnabas, and starting with Martin Luther some have thought may have been Apollos. From the evidence we have in the book of Hebrews itself and historical data it is impossible to draw a sure conclusion on who wrote the book and to whom exactly he was writing. But, from what we find in the book of Hebrews, we are able to understand a little bit about the author, whoever he was, and his audience. Because of the in-depth discussion of the Old Testament and the use of the Greek translation of it, as well as the vocabulary found in the book, we can deduce that the Author himself was a Jewish Christian man from outside of Palestine who was well educated. He was most likely writing to Jewish Christians located in the city of Rome. The Jewish background of the audience is clear from the discussion of the Old Testament’s relation to the New upon which the book revolves.

The reason the author of Hebrews is writing to these Jewish Christians is because they appear to be going back to the life they once knew. Instead of following the Christian truths as taught by Jesus and His apostles these believers were drifting back into their old lifestyle of Judaism. The author of Hebrews writes to them warning that if they continue down the path they are on they will no longer be Christians. To encourage them in following Christ he writes of the Superiority of Christ over the way of life that the Jews were practicing. The letter has sometimes been mistaken as teaching that the Old Testament is bad, that the New Testament has rendered it useless; but what the author of Hebrews is trying to do throughout his letter is show how the New Testament  fulfills a lot of what the Old Testament pointed towards. This is primarily seen in the book of Hebrews in the contrast between two covenants between God and man.

Foundational to Jewish thought, found throughout the Old Testament, is the idea of God making covenants with His people. In the Old Testament we find covenants made with creation, Adam, Noah, the Israelites, and David. Our titles for the New Testament and the Old Testament actually come from this idea of covenant. The word we translate Testament is derived from the Latin word used to translate the Greek and Hebrew words for covenant. The title “New Testament” would mean “New Covenant.” Throughout the book of Hebrews the author has in his sights the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, what is most often called the old covenant; it is this covenant with its priests and sacrifices and rituals that the author Hebrews contrasts with Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, we find the authors looking forward to a new covenant that God will make with His people; this will be an eternal covenant of peace made not just with Israel but with all believing people from every nation of the earth. In the New Testament we read that with Jesus Christ came the institution of this New Covenant, it is this covenant between God and all people made through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the Cross that the author of Hebrews will continually contrast with the Old covenant made at Sinai. With this little bit of background as to the purpose of this letter to the Hebrews we can dive in and take a look at the book itself; if the Author is trying to get the attention of the Hebrews back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how exactly does He do it?

Introduction to the specific text: Illustration

Do any of you remember in the nineties how the culture, both inside and outside the church, seemed to have a real fascination with angels? During the nineties there were some popular movies and T.V. shows that portrayed angels interacting with men and women in the modern world; there were shows like Touched by an Angel, movies like Michael, City of Angels, and Christian Fiction novels like Frank Perreti’s Piercing the Darkness and this Present Darkness. In shows like touched by an Angel they were portrayed as helping men and women in this life and an idea of personal guardian angels was present in these different movies. More recently there has been a slew of movies dealing with fallen or evil angels and sometimes the correlation between angels and UFOs. Angels portrayed in these movies, shows, and books tend to be much like humans. Growing up I remember having the typical “cupid” idea of an angel: the Cherubim where babies with diapers and harps who lived on clouds. For the Jews during the time of Jesus angels were not babies with harps or invisible humans, but powerful beings created by God to be His messengers. These messengers were pictured as helping the people of Israel, they were seen as guardians of the nation itself, they were instruments God used to bring aid in people’s lives, and they were instruments He used to bring His divine judgment.[i]

In the 1 chapter of Hebrews the author is going to take aim at this Jewish idea of angels.

If you have a Bible with you turn with me to Hebrews 1, we will be looking at all of chapter 1 and the first 4 verses of chapter 2. That is Hebrews 1-2:4, you can find it before James but after Philemon. In these verses the author of Hebrews writes:

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 6And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” 8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning and the heavens are the work of your hand; 11they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 13And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? 2 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who hear, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

(There is so much in this passage that we could look at this morning but we are going to focus on following the author’s reasoning in this chapter and see how the message that he was giving to the Hebrews applies to us today)

Body

Christ is superior

The first four verses of chapter 1 provide an introduction to the entire book of Hebrews and, in the process of giving a tremendous exhortation on who Jesus is, gives an overview of much of what will be talked about throughout the book. Verse four functions as a transition between this introduction and the author’s argument in the rest of the chapter. From the end of verse three to verse four we read: “he[, that is Jesus,] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” This is the idea author of Hebrews is trying to convey through chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews: Christ is superior to the angels. In verse three we read that Jesus sat down at the right hand of His Father, this is something we see in the Gospels as well. At the end of the Gospels we read that Jesus, after His resurrection, tells His disciples that He has been given all authority over the heavens and the earth (Matt. 28:18) and He ascends to the right hand of throne of God (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Luke 22:69), to be at God’s right hand means that Jesus would share in God’s rule and was in position of favour with God. Throughout the rest of chapter one the author of Hebrews will argue from the Old Testament that Jesus is superior to the Angels in the name He has inherited, which is that of the Son of God, in His nature as eternity, and in His authority.

His first argument is that Christ’s name is superior to that of the angels. He argues this by applying three Old Testament Scriptures to Jesus that say He is the Son of God and worthy of worship. Now this may not seem like that powerful of an argument. If a little boy came up to you and said he was the son of Stephen Harper, you wouldn’t assume that he had the authority of Harper and was superior to you; that would be ridiculous! When the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus’s name as the “son of God” is superior to that of the angels, there is more going on. This is a title that no angel could claim; Jesus had a unique relationship to God. As the Son of God from all eternity, when Jesus takes up His place at the right hand of God He is taking up His position as the unique Son of God  and all the authority implied in that role. As God’s unique Son Jesus is equal to God, in v. 6 this is seen in the Old Testament quotation where the angels are told to worship Jesus. Only God is worthy of worship so equality with God is implied in the command to worship, something which angels can never receive. The title “Son of God” makes Jesus superior to the angels because it indicates His unique relationship to God the Father, His equality with Him, and the authority which He takes up when He sits down at the right hand of the Father.

The author of Hebrews then goes on to argue for Christ’s superiority over the angels from the contrast between their fleeting and created nature and Christ’s eternal nature. The description that the author of Hebrews gives of angels in v. 7 has the sense of the angels’ transitory nature; they were created by God and they serve His will. This quotation sets the angels within the created order. The contrast here in the Greek New Testament is made out to be quite strong; it’s like the English expression “on the one hand… but on the other hand.” The author of Hebrews contrasts this with Jesus’ nature as eternal and above the created order![ii] Jesus is superior to the angels because He created them and is himself uncreated!

The last argument that the author of Hebrews makes for the superiority of the son is from His power or authority. He asks the Hebrews rhetorically: “to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?” (v. 13) Jesus was given the position of authority over creation, He was given all authority in the heavens and the earth; of the angels the author of Hebrews writes “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Jesus is superior to the angles because He has all authority while they, while powerful, are ministering spirits serving believers.

(Through these three arguments the author of Hebrews establishes the superiority of the Son; it’s really no contest. The angels have a lot going for them, they are powerful and stand before God in His throne room; but Jesus is God, He created the angels, they had a beginning but He is eternal, He has all authority in the universe and they have the comparatively miniscule role of ministering spirits. The author of Hebrews sets up His argument well and would have proved conclusively to His readers that Jesus is superior to the angels! But the question remaining in their minds, and I’m sure in yours, would be “why is it important that Christ is superior to angels? Why does the author of Hebrews spend the time to establish this contrast?” The answer to this question is given to us in Hebrews 2:1-4)

 

His word is superior

When I introduced this series on Hebrews this morning I said that the author of this letter is writing to Jewish Christians to turn them back towards the Gospel after they seemed to be drifting back into Judaism. This purpose becomes clear for the first time here in Hebrews 2 verses 1-4, the author writes; “therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels prove to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” The author of Hebrews sees the terrible danger that these Christians face, so he gives them a powerful warning of the danger they are in. Because Christ is superior to angels they need to pay much closer attention to the Gospel they received, lest they drift, or fall, away from it! In verse 1 the author uses a nautical analogy to outline the situation of the readers. The word we translate “pay much closer attention” was sometimes used of the action of holding a ship on course towards the harbor. The word we translate “drift away” also has a basis in a boat being carried away on the water. The imagery drawn by the author here is that of a ship which, if it does not hold its course, will drift away and be lost at sea. The author says that the Hebrews need to pay much closer attention to the message of the Gospel which they received, if they did not hold onto it they would drift away and be lost![iii]

The connection between the Superiority of Christ and the situation of the Hebrews comes from a role they understood the angels to have had in the Old Testament. Earlier I spoke of the idea of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant being prominent in the book of Hebrews, this is where the role of angels comes in. The Jews of the early Church believed that at Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments, God’s instructions for the people of Israel, and when God entered into a covenant with the people of Israel angels played an important role in delivering God’s law to Moses. In establishing the superiority of Christ over the angels the author of Hebrews is saying that the Gospel which Jesus brought is better than the Law which the angels brought. His argument is kind of like this:

Imagine that you are at work and your supervisor gives you a list of things to do. This list of things is valid, and because of his superiority in relation to you, you would follow his instructions. But if, after you have received this list, the manager, this supervisor’s boss, comes up to you and gives you a bunch of things to do; this group of things would superseded the list of instructions given by the supervisor. This is because the manger is both superior in relation to you, so he can tell you what to do, and superior to your supervisor, so his instructions will be more important than the supervisors.

It is this contrast in authority that author of Hebrews is going for in establishing the superiority of Christ over the angels. The message of the Old Covenant that they brought, though a good thing, is superseded by the message of the New Covenant brought by Jesus.

In verses 2 and 3 the author informs the readers of how much danger they are in. “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard”. The author writes that the message delivered at Mount Sinai by the angels had proven reliable, it was good and solid; it provided a legal standard by which every transgression or disobedience received its just punishment. The revelation at Sinai, delivered by the angels, was important, it had proved reliable, the logical conclusion which the author of Hebrews draws out is that the message delivered by someone superior to angels would be that much more reliable and greater of a standard! This Gospel was declared by Jesus and His apostles, while also being testified to by God and the Holy Spirit through signs, wonders, and miracles accompanied by the spiritual gifts.

The warning that the author draws out of this, the warning he brings to help correct the path of the Hebrews, is that if the message given at Sinai proved reliable and a grounds for judgment, how much more so would the greater salvation revealed by the superior Jesus Christ?

(In case you are experiencing fear that this sermon will descend into message of warning, don’t worry, there is a different application in this passage. The idea that the author of Hebrews conveys through chapter 1 and then the warning in chapter 2 is that)

 

The superiority of Christ means the superiority of His gospel

The superiority of Christ means the superiority of His gospel!

(The fact of who Christ is means that He is superior to angels, and if He is superior to the powerful angels, how much more is He superior to every created thing? Since the Gospel found in the New Testament is given by Him, it is superior in authority to everything else that would guide us in life and offer a way to be saved.)

 

How does this apply to our lives

In Bible College when we were learning how to be better preachers one of the things that we were shown to do to apply a passage in Scripture was find a parallel situation in lives of people in a specific church to what the biblical audience was going through.

As far as I know, thankfully, I don’t think we are in a parallel situation: not many of us are drifting away from the faith to go back to our old lives. But there are other ways to apply a passage in Scripture; we can apply the principle found in the passage to the different circumstances we find in our lives. The principle found in Hebrews 1-2:4 is that the superiority of Christ, the fact that He is the Eternal son of God who has all authority in the heavens and on the earth, means the superiority of His Gospel.

What the Hebrews were going back to wasn’t a bad thing, in fact it was a good thing! We are to use the Old Testament today, it is still God’s word to us and applies to our lives! The problem is that the Hebrews were following it the way they did in Judaism, they were following it as a way to be saved! With the coming of the New Testament came the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the rituals it held! No longer would the rituals save the Jews, it was, and is, only by faith in Christ, who all the rituals in the Old Testament pointed to, that one could be saved. The Jewish Christians being written to were turning back to a good thing, but they were putting it in place where it shouldn’t have been!

For those in our society who are not Christians, they trust in created things for salvation: they trust in the knowledge attained through science, pantheons of gods, unknowable forces, and self for salvation. The natural sciences, the real objects elevated to the level of god, and ourselves are inferior to angels, powerful created being who serve the maker of all these things, and, even more so, they are inferior to Jesus; He instituted the laws of science, created everything in the universe, made us, and created the angels. Because of His superiority it would make sense for someone to trust in the message He brought for salvation then in any created thing.

What about for those of us who already believe, how can the principle that the superiority of Christ means the superiority of His Gospel apply to our lives? I am sure that they are many ways in which this applies, but I think two are especially important in our daily lives. Because the Gospel was brought by Jesus and He is the eternal Son of God possessing all authority over this universe we can trust that the message it has is reliable! We can know, in the face of competing religions, that the way of salvation given in the Gospel is reliable, we can know this because it was delivered by the most reliable being of all; the Son of God Himself came and delivered it! The Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel, it is reliable! The superiority of the Gospel over every created thing also has a profound effect on how we live our lives! If the word delivered by Jesus and written by the Apostles, both the Gospels themselves and the rest of the New Testament, is superior to everything in creation then that means that in everything it discusses we should listen to it over the competing voices of this world. As a guide for life we should follow the message brought by Jesus Christ over everything else in this world. Our cultures idea of success in life and the goals we should aim for is in drastic contrast to that of Scripture; if we are forced, as we often are, to choose between the idea of our culture and that of Scripture the superiority of Christ means that the obvious choice is scripture. Instead of doing everything in our means to gain power we are told to serve, instead of taking joy in the peace of massive amounts of money and an easy life we are told to take joy in the trials of life, in the pain and suffering, enjoying the peace God gives us through these times. Instead of fending for ourselves, we are to look out for others first and depend on God. While the things our culture puts before us often seem appealing, why would we trust something from the creation when we could follow and trust that which was brought by the creator?

(If the Christ is the highest authority in the universe, greater than all created things, shouldn’t His revealed Word be the highest authority for life, practice, ethics, and guidance in our lives? Shouldn’t His Word be higher than the news, horoscopes, astrology, Hollywood, Oprah, and the stock market?)

Conclusion

In Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-4 we read; “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4Having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs…. 2 1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Almost 2000 years ago God came in the flesh to the earth and delivered a greater salvation, His Gospel; He delivered a message that is superior to everything found in the created order!

The Superiority of Christ means the superiority of His Gospel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exegetical Outline (Hebrews 1-2:4)

Exegetical Idea: Christ in taking his place at the right hand of His Father has become as much superior to the Angels as the name He has inherited is greater than theirs.

Exegetical Outline:

  1.                     I.            Introduction: God has spoken through His Son (1:1-4)
    1.                                      a.      God spoke long ago by the prophets (1:1)
    2.                                     b.      But now He has spoken through His Son (1:2-4)
  2.                  II.      Argument of the superiority of the Son over the Angels (1:4-2:18)
    1.                                      a.      The Son’s superiority to the angels (1:4-2:4)
    2.                                     b.      Argument showing the superiority of the Son (1:5-14)
    3.                                      c.      Application/purpose of contrast: If Christ is greater than the angels, so is the word that He brought over the word that they delivered. (2:1-4)
      1.                                                                         1.            The message declared by angels has proved reliable and a grounds for judgment (2:2)
      2.                                                                         2.            How much more the message  brought by the superior LORD testified to by God through miracles, signs, and wonders and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (2:3-4)
      1. His Son who is the creator and exact image etc. of God (1:2-3)
      1. Who is as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs (1:4)
      1. Statement of Idea: The son is superior as the name He has inherited is greater than that of the angels (1:4)
      1. Argument 1: Christ as God’s Son, an equal worthy of worship (1:5-6)
      2. Argument 2: Contrasting the transitory and created nature of the angels to the eminent unchanging and uncreated nature of the son (1:7-12)
      3. Argument 3: Christ in the supreme position of power at the right hand of God contrasted with the angles as ministering Spirits (1:13-14)
      1. Summary: the angels are only ministering Spirit’s sent out to serve (1:14)
      1. Pay closer attention to what has ben heard, lest you drift away (2:1)
      1. For: the first message proved to be reliable and a ground for judgment, how much more the second (2:2-4)

 

Passage Outline (Hebrews 1-4:13)

  1.    Introduction to the book (1:1-4 )
  2. The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels (1:4-2:18)
  3. Christ is superior to the angels  in his name, in His nature, and in His authority (1:5-14)
  4. Therefore pay attention to His superior word (the reason for the evidence of Christ’s superiority over the angels)  (2:1-4)
  5. God subjected the world to come to Christ and not to the angels (2:5-18)
    1.                                       i.            Not to angels but to Christ (2:5)
    2.                                     ii.            Proved by Ps. 8:4-6 (v.6-9)
    3. Ps. 8:4-6 (6-8)
    4. Extent and state of subjection, explanation of Ps. 8:6 (v.8)
    5. Glorified and ruling state of Christ, explanation of Ps. 8:5 (v.9-15)
      1. State of Christ (v. 9a)
      2. Means by which the state was achieved (suffering of death) and reason for it (grace) (V.9b)
      3. Further explication of Christ’s suffering and reason for it (v.10-18)
      4.                                                                                             i.            That Christ may be made perfect through suffering for the purpose of sanctifying those who He calls brothers (v. 10-13)
      5.                                                                                           ii.            Christ partook of flesh so as to be like the “children” and that through death he might destroy the power of the devil and deliver the children (v. 14-15)
      6. Christ become like man, not like angels, explanation of Ps. 8:4-5a (v.  16-18)
        1. He became like man, lower than the angels, because it is the children of Abraham He helps (v. 16)
        2. Because it is men He helps He had to become like men in every respect that he might become a merciful and faith high priest (v.17)
        3. Because He suffered and was tempted He is able to help those who suffer and are tempted (v.18)
        4. The Superiority of Christ to Moses (3:1-6)
  6. Christ superior as the faithful Son over His house (v.1-6)
    1.                                       i.            Consider Jesus and His model of faithfulness (cf. O’brien 128-129) (v.1)
    2.                                     ii.            Moses was faithful as a servant but Christ was faithful as a Son (V.2-6a)
    3.                                   iii.            We are Christ’s house over whom He is faithful if we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in hope (v. 6)
  7. Warning about Perseverance and encouragement as to the rest of God, an exposition of Ps. 95:7-11 (the reason for the argument for Christ’s superiority over Moses)(3:7-4:13)
    1.                                       i.            Take care lest there be an evil unbelieving heart in you leading to you falling away from the living God, corresponding to v. 7 of the Ps. 95 (v.12-15)
    2. But exhort on another daily that you may not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (v. 13) (but relating to the “leading you to fall way from the living God
    3. For we have come to share in Christ if we hold our original confidence to the end (endurance is a sign of a true present salvation) (v.14)
    4. As it is said, do not harden your hearts in rebellion, Ps. 95:8[?]
      1.                                     ii.            Unbelief is the cause of the failure of the Israelites led by Moses to enter God’s rest, exposition of  (v.16-19)
      2. Who was it that rebelled? The Israelites (v.16)
      3. And who was God angry at for 40 years? Those who sinned (v.17)
      4. Whom did he say would not enter His rest? Those who were disobedient (v. 18)
      5. Therefore the Israelites [v.16] did not enter God’s rest [v.18] because they unbelief [v.17-18] (v.19)
        1.                                   iii.            Therefore (because the Israelites failed to enter God’s rest because of sin) while this promise of rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it (because of unbelief) (4:1-11)
        2. Like them good news came to us, but this did not benefit them because of their unbelief [implication: the same for you if you do not believe] (V.1-2)
        3. For we who believe enter the rest, a rest for which it remains for some to enter (v.3-9)
          1. We who believe enter the rest (v.3)
          2. What is this rest? The Sabbath rest of God inaugurated on the seventh day of creation (v.3-4)
          3.                                                                                             i.            Ps. 45:11 [focus probably on “my rest” describing the rest] (v. 3)
          4.                                                                                           ii.            The rest is God’s Sabbath from the seventh day (v. 4)
            1. When is it to be enter? Eschatologically (they shall not (as in they have yet to and never will) enter my rest) (v. 5-9)
            2.                                                                                             i.            It remains to be entered, but disobedience led to the failure of those who received the previous good news to enter, exposition of Ps. 95:11 (v. 5-6)
            3.                                                                                           ii.            This rest still remains to be entered and it is the rest of God’s cessation of work (v. 7-9)
              1. Even though they were in the promise land there still was a day in the future (v. 7)
              2. If Joshua had brought them rest there would be no need to speak of a future day (v. 8)
              3. This sabbath rest therefore remains (is eschatological) and entering into this rest means the cessation of work as God did from His (v. 9-10)
              4. Therefore: strive to enter this eschatological rest so that you may not fall by the same disobedience that prevailed with Israel, disobedience will not go unnoticed (v.11-13)
                1. The warning; strive to enter this rest (v. 11)
                2. The word of God is living and active so disobedience will not go unnoticed; not creature is hidden from the sight of Him to whom we must give account (v.12-13)

 


[i] D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 36; Charles Draper, Chad Brand, and Archie England, eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 66–67.

[ii] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ; Apollos, 2010), 71–72.

[iii] Pillar 81-82Ibid., 81–82.

Hebrews 8 – In Christ we have received the better promises of the New Covenant.

A sermon on Hebrews 8 and the superiority of the New Covenant over the old covenant. Because of the differences between the church context where I preached this and the public setting of the internet, some clarification:

The reason the Old Covenant is faulted and obsolete is not because God made a mistake, but because He created it to point to the ultimate fulfillment of His plan for redemption in the Cross of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant ushered in by His blood. (I tried to make this clear in the sermon).

Also, because of contemporary exclusivism/inclusivism debates, I must make the disclaimer that I am not anti-Semitic; I believe that God will call effectively an entire generation of ethnic Israel to salvation before He comes back, but I believe that Scripture teaches that adherence to Old Testament rituals apart from the faith in Jesus Christ will not bring salvation (and they never could, salvation was always through faith Gal. 3, Romans 4). Salvation for Jewish people will now, as with the Gentiles, only come through faith in Jesus Christ.

A written transcript can be found here.

Hebrews 8 – In Christ we have received the better promises of the New Covenant.

This sermon was preached to small congregation in white rock BC, Canada on the 18th of August 2013.

Introduction

Good morning church! In Tom’s absence I have the privilege of bringing you this morning’s sermon, though unfortunately it may be a little bit less lively than Philip’s last week; I won’t be doing any singing…but I guess that is probably something you are grateful for.

Over the summer Tom and I have been preaching through the book of Hebrews; when I preached the first sermon on this series in the middle of July I discussed how the entire book of Hebrews revolves around the biblical idea of a covenant. Over the last weeks we have seen various contrasts between the Old covenant instituted at Sinai and the New Covenant made in Christ’s blood shed on the Cross. Throughout the book of Hebrews the author writes of Christ’s superiority over all created things and institutions, he does this to encourage the Hebrews, to whom he is writing, to stay faithful to the New Covenant revelation they have received, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to not fall back into the rituals of the Old Covenantal Judaism.

Today we are looking at Chapter 8 of the book of Hebrews. In this chapter the author of Hebrews looks straight at the New Covenant made in Christ and its superiority over the Old. Because we are going to be talking about Biblical covenants today it will be useful to look at exactly what a covenant is.

The idea of a Covenant is found throughout Scripture and is foundational to the way God relates to man, unfortunately this idea is not talked about much so most people don’t have a solid idea of what a covenant is. Often we think of a contract.

A contract is pretty common in North American culture today; anytime we get a loan, rent a house, etc. we enter into contracts. With a contract of these kinds we agree to give something in return for something else, it is a legal agreement usually governing the exchange of goods or services. Because I am in school and don’t make much money I have had to enter into loan contracts with the Government so I can pay for my schooling. When I sign a contract for a loan I say that in return for receiving a said amount of money I will pay it back plus interest to make it worth the other parties while. A contract is based on an expected benefit for both parties: I receive money I need at the moment and in return for meeting this momentary need the party lending the money receives more in return than what they gave. For loans with the government, like student loans, the government does not get much back in the form of interest but receives the social and economic benefits of having an educated population.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes the way our relationship with God has been represented. We get something from God, salvation, in return for giving Him something, our service and love. This is not what the Bible has in mind when it speaks of a covenant. A covenant is not a contract: whereas with a contract the foundation is expected benefit and mutual gain, the foundation of a covenant is relationship. We have nothing to give God that He does not have, there is no benefit He could gain from entering into a contract with us: instead God’s covenant with man is the work of the almighty Creator of the universe reaching out to His undeserving creation in love and mercy expressing the very core of His nature. God first made a covenant with Creation, making mankind in His image to represent Him on earth and rule creation, they were called to obedience and given the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After the fall God’s covenants with man slowly unveiled His plan for redeeming mankind from the effects of sin and its consequences, namely the righteous wrath of God toward mankind. This plan of redemption climaxed in the coming of Jesus Christ to die for the sins of fallen men and women and institute the New Covenant that God had promised He would make throughout the Old Testament. In Biblical covenants it is not an agreement between two equal parties for mutual benefit, but the extending of a relationship from a stronger party to the weaker solely on the initiative of the greater.

It is with this idea of a covenant, a relationship made between two parties characterized by both faithfulness and love initiated by God, which we will look at Hebrews 8. Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Hebrews, chapter 8. You can find it after Philemon but before James. In Hebrews 8 we read;

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, 2a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.5They 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.” 6But 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. 7For if that first covenant had been faultless there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8For 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 with the house of Judah, 9not 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. 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 there God and they shall be my people. 11And 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 no more.” 13In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

(The heart of the Jewish religious community and of God’s relationship with mankind is His covenants. The promises that God gave to Israel where foundational to their religion and identity. In this Passage the author of Hebrews takes aim at these promises, He tells the Jewish Christian to whom he is writing that Jesus has a better ministry because He is the mediator of a better covenant, based on better promises!)
 

Body

A Better Covenant Built on Better Promises:

 

In chapter 7, which Tom preached on a few weeks ago, the author of Hebrews establishes the priesthood of Christ according to the order of Melchizedek. He is a high priest forever in the heavenly places who has sat down at the right hand of the Father. The ministry of Christ, His high priesthood, is the main point that the author has been trying to make in the few previous chapters. As a priest in the order of Melchizedek Jesus both fulfills Old Testament prophecy and is able to be priest in spite of the Old Covenant stipulations of the Levitical priesthood. The eternal priesthood of Christ sets the foundation for the argument the author is going to make from chapter 8 to chapter 10; the superiority of Christ’s ministry and His once for all sacrifice. Before the author discusses the sacrifice Jesus made he discusses the superiority of His ministry on the basis of the covenant which He mediates.

In verse 6 the author writes “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.” The priestly ministry of the Levitical priesthood and the ministry of Christ are based upon the covenants which they mediate. The role of the priests in the covenant is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of those who are part of the covenant they administer, the other part of their ministry is intercession, to stand before God on behalf of the covenant people. Because of the intrinsic relationship between priestly ministry and the covenant for which it is performed, a better covenant would naturally lead to the conclusion of a better ministry. To show that in fact the New Covenant which Christ has ushered in by His blood shed on the Cross is superior to the Old Covenant made at Sinai, the author of Hebrews appeals to Jeremiah’s prophecy about the New Covenant made in Jeremiah 31. Writing at a time when God’s people where unfaithful to the Covenant God had made with them, when they were failing to uphold their side of the covenant to be God’s loyal people, Jeremiah speaks of a time when God would make a new covenant with His people, a covenant that would be different and superior to the covenant that God had already made with Israel. Jeremiah writes;

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, When I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel with the house of Judah, 9not 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. 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 there God and they shall be my people. 11And 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 no more.”

The author of Hebrews points out that if the original covenant with Israel had been faultless there would be no reason for God to make a new covenant with Judah and Israel, and—as we can gather from other prophecies about the New Covenant—with the Gentiles. In verse 7 and 8 we read: “7For if that first covenant had been faultless there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8For he finds fault with them when he says….” The failure both of the people in keeping the covenant and fault in the covenant required a New Covenant to be established. This is argument that the author is making: the whole concept of a “NEW” covenant means that the old was faulted and with the coming of the New Covenant, within which the Hebrews found themselves by the work of Christ and through their faith, the Old Covenant was rendered obsolete; it no longer function, relationship with God, His blessing, and salvation could no longer be attained through even faithful adherence to the Old Covenant stipulations. In describing the New Covenant Jeremiah gives the promises that will characterize this new covenantal relationship between God and His people.

One issue with the old covenant, as the author of Hebrews mentions in v. 8, is that the people were unable to keep the covenant; in the new Covenant God promises that the recipients of this covenant will be enabled to keep the covenant by God Himself.

The first of the New Covenant Promises that God gives through Jeremiah’s prophecy is the giving of a new heart, a heart with God’s law written upon it; “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (10). This promise is paralleled by promises in Ezekiel and Isaiah where God says that He will take away the heart of stone from His people and give them a heart of flesh, and that all those in this New Covenant will be taught by Him. Without God’s work in the hearts of men no one would be able to come to Him or be obedient to Him, God here is promising that He will give His people a new heart with His law written upon it so that they will be able to be obedient to Him; obedience would not come from their own ability, for—as was seen with Israel during the Old Covenant—man was unable to keep up their side of God’s covenant; so that we could be in relationship with Him God promised that in the New Covenant He would enable His people to keep His statutes and walk according to His ways. God, while remaining faithful to His covenant promises, promised to enable His people to be faithful and loyal to their covenant obligations, namely obedience.

The next promise God gives, found in verse 11, is that; “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 through Jeremiah that the whole nature of the community of people under His covenant would change. Every person in this covenant would be in a personal relationship with God; this means that all people under the covenant would be those with true faith in God and all of them would have a relationship where they knew God individually, through their personal experience of Him.

The last promise given is found at the end of verse 11, God speaks through Jeremiah;

“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” The conjunction “for” at the beginning of this part of the verse indicates that this is the grounds for the previous promises. The reason that all New Covenant members would know God personally and have communion with Him is because He in His mercy eradicate their sins and remember them no more. No longer would sin cause a divide between God and man, but through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross the sins of the all who believe would be utterly wiped away never to be remembered again.

(These three promises quoted by the author of Hebrews are profound truths of God’s relationship with His people since the coming of Jesus Christ, these are promises that came to pass under the New Covenant—of which all believers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are members. If the author of Hebrews was quoting these promises to show the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old and therefore the Superiority of Christ’s ministry; what would this have meant to the Hebrews who originally read this letter?)
 

A New Covenant And A New Community:

 

As we have seen in the last 7 chapters of the Book of Hebrews the author is writing to Jewish Christians to warn them that if they walk away from their faith in Jesus and return to Judaism they will no longer be Christians, having compared various aspects of the New Covenant with the Old Covenant here in Heb. 8 the author looks at the heart of the covenants and the promises associate with each. The Jewish audience would have been well schooled in the Old Testament and would have been familiar with both its original promises and the promises given in the Old Testament about the New Covenant.

These promises that the author of Hebrews quotes present a massive transformation of the community of Covenant members as it was found in Old Covenant. In the Old Covenant membership into the covenant was based on descent from Abraham, because of this the Jews circumcised their male children as a symbol of their entrance into the covenant Israel had with God. It was a covenant between God and all of Israel. Because this original covenant was based on genetic heritage and not a personal expression of faith many who were part of Israel where not in fact of Israel, as Paul puts it in Romans 9. There were many in the nation of Israel who were faithful to God and His covenant with them, but there was also many who were unfaithful and who did not know God. In the New Covenant this would change. Instead of a membership based on physical descent, a mixed community of those who had faith in God and those who did not, all those in the New Covenant would be enabled by God to be faithful to the Covenant and each and every one of them, from the least of them to the greatest of them, would have a relationship with Him. This was profound shift in the nature of the Covenant community.

Another huge difference that allowed this shift to happen was that each and every member of the New Covenant would have their sins removed and these sins would never again be remembered by God. This would mean that members of this New Covenant would not have to regularly give sacrifices for their sins because all their sins would be removed, and no longer would the members of the New Covenant have to go through earthly mediators to have access to God but through Jesus Christ, their high priest, they would forever have access to the very throne room of God and have the personal relationship with God that characterized the lives of the Old testament prophets like Jeremiah.

Because the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant the Hebrews would have understood that only through the New Covenant means could one be saved, the Old was now obsolete and no longer functioned as an active means of relationship with God. To go back to the Old Covenant, as they were in danger of doing, would be to give up on all God’s promises; for all of God’s promises would be fulfilled in the New Covenant through Christ and no longer would function through the now obsolete Old Covenant.

(This would have been a very good reason for Hebrews to persevere in their Christian faith, and it would have helped them see how much better the Covenant they were now part of was. Membership into this New Covenant was by faith, the amazing truth of this is that through our faith we now are part of this new covenant relationship with God.)
 

In Christ we have received the better promises of the New Covenant.

(Like the Jews to whom the author of Hebrews was writing, we to have through faith entered into the New Covenant mediated by Christ Jesus our LORD; as members of this New Covenant we have inherited all of its glorious promises)
 

New Covenant Life Built On New Covenant Promises:

 

In Christ we have received the better promises of the New Covenant, and that is tremendous thing for these promises have a profound impact on how we understand our relationship to God. As members of the New Covenant Community, all of us who have come to Jesus Christ in faith have new hearts wrought by the Holy Spirit with His laws written on them enabling us to grow in obedience to Him and be faithful to His covenant, we have access to the very presence of God coming before Him in the name of Jesus Christ with our needs and desires and are able to experience a relationship with Him where we can say that we truly know Him, and because of our faith we have been forgiven of all of our sins and stand in the presence of God without fear of His wrath.

The first promise which is found in the New Covenant is that members of this covenant have God’s law written upon their hearts and minds, and cf. Ezekiel, we understand that this comes about through the giving of a new heart. We can pursue obedience to God in our relationship with Him knowing that while we cannot be faithful by our own strength we have been given new hearts whereby we will desire more and more to be like God and through His strength will be able to become obedient to His commands. As members of the New Covenant with God we are called to be holy as He is holy [1 Pet. 1:14-16] and because of the promise found in this Hebrews 8:8 we can know that God has worked on our hearts so that we can pursue, however imperfectly, this end.

The second promise given by Jeremiah and quoted by the author of Hebrews is that every member of the New Covenant will know God; because of Jesus work as our High Priest, the mediator of this New Covenant, we can approach God with boldness knowing that we are covered by the blood of Christ and we can bring our needs before Him and present the desires of heart to Him. “To know God is to recognize Him, trust Him, and obey Him.” This is something that is made possible by the new heart that He has given us, because we have a new heart with have a personal knowledge of God and are able to be like Him acting out His will as revealed in Scripture in the world.

The last promise given in Hebrews 8 is that our iniquities would be removed and our sins would be remembered no more. Because of Christ’s high priestly work and the sacrifice He gave on the cross we can know that our sins have once and for all been removed; we can have confidence that when we come before God we will receive His love and mercy and not His wrath because Christ has taken away are sins and by His work we have been declared righteous in the sight of God.  Because our sins are remembered no more we come before God even after we have sinned and seek His forgiveness for a restored relationship.

(These promises received through Christ as members of the New Covenant are foundations of what it means to be a Christian, something shared by all those who have faith in Jesus Christ; all Christians have been given new hearts with God’s law written on them, meaning that even though struggles with sin still come upon us we will desire and be enabled to pursue obedience to Him; all Christians know God individually and can come before Him in prayer without the need of an earthly mediator; and lastly all Christians have had their sins forgiven, never to be remembered again by God.)
 

Conclusion:

In Luke 22:20 Luke recounts the Passover supper and the institution of Communion by Jesus. Jesus tells His disciples that “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood”. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the first part of His duty as our High Priest, His death on the Cross, while foremost bearing the wrath of God and bearing the punishment we deserved for our sins, enacted a New Covenant between God and man. Instead of repeated sacrifices for daily sins and repeated failures on the part of God’s people in upholding their side of His covenant with them, instead of a few out of the entire nation of Israel knowing God; now all those who are members of the New Covenant, all those who have believed in Jesus Christ for their salvation and trust Him as the LORD of their life, have received new hearts where they will desire righteousness and are enabled to pursue faithfulness to God, we all know God and have a relationship of personal experience with Him, and we have all received the forgiveness of our sins, standing boldly before God by the intercession and sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whose blood shed on the cross once and for all purchased the forgiveness of sins and the New Covenant relationship with God. It is to this New Covenant reality which we experience that the Old Testament and the Old Covenant point towards, and it is this New Covenant reality which the author of Hebrews presents as a reason why the Hebrews should persevere in their faith. Every time you partake of the Lord’s Supper remember first and foremost His blood shed on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins, but also His blood shed ushering in a New Covenant whereby all Christians experience a profound relationship with God that only a few under the Old Covenant experienced.