Jesus and a Greater Covenant

Hebrews 8:1-6

August 27, 2017

I love tents. So, there you go, the old Boy Scout in me is coming out. Back when I was a kid, mom and dad owned a pop up trailer and that was where we spent our summer vacations, traveling from one campground to the next…and, even though there were ample beds in the pop up, I still took a tent with me because camping is not really camping unless you are sleeping on the ground in a tent. That’s the Boy Scout in me.

Tents serve a function. They are simple and practical and the more simple and practical they are, the better…that is, all tents except for one.

The Bible speaks of a tent for the worship of God’s people in the wilderness. It was anything but simple and anything but basic and practical.

Have you ever wondered why the Bible goes into so much detail about the Tabernacle (which was a big tent)? Page after page is dedicated to the embroidery on the tabernacle’s curtains to the detail on its furniture and other finishings. It was ornate to say the least.

So, what’s the big deal? It is a tent dedicated for worship and it would be the model upon which the Temple would be based, but wouldn’t it have been more functional if it was more basic…something like an ancient yurt. They were living like the Bedouins, why not have a tent like them? Or, perhaps in more contemporary terms, why buy a luxury RV when a simple tent would suffice?

The answer is found in what the tent represented — it was more than a place of worship, it was a place that reminded the people of God’s presence in their midst.

If you recall, at the end of Exodus, when the Tabernacle was dedicated, the Glory of the Lord descended onto the tent and within — it was a visual reminder to the people that God was in their midst.

As an aside, as this is not a direct parallel, I should say up front that this idea of God’s presence in the community is one of the reasons that I favor traditional church buildings for worship…as they are a reminder to the community that God is worshiped in their midst. This, of course, witnesses to those outside of the church, where God’s glory in the Tabernacle witnessed to people inside of the people of Israel, but it was a witness nonetheless.

As a side note, the Hebrew phrase, “Immanuel” means, “God with us.”

This is what the Tabernacle symbolized until it was replaced by the Temple…but the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC when the Babylonians wiped it out and exiled the people for 70 years. During that time, God sent the prophet Haggai to tell the people that the new Temple would be of greater glory than the old temple. And why is that? The new Temple was not the one of brick and mortar finished by Herod the Great, it was Christ himself.

And John 1:14 ties these ideas together:

“And the Word became flesh and Tabernacled amongst us, and we have seen His glory.”

This is the glory of God dwelling in an earthly tabernacle — God the Son taking on flesh with John witnessing the Glory of God within his midst — first at the Transfiguration and later at the Resurrection and Ascension. God with us — Immanuel in Jesus.

And because of that, the author in Hebrews 8:6 tells us that we have a greater covenant. Verse 6 is the heart of our passage this morning, and so we will come back to it but first I want to walk you through this passage, so we can appreciate what it is that the author is saying.

Verse 1-2:

“The point of what we are saying is that we have this kind of High Priest — one who is seated at the right hand of he throne of majesty in the heavens, the holy minister and the true Tabernacle that the Lord established…not established by men.”

Jesus is what the Old Testament Tabernacle ultimately represented.

God gave man the pattern for the Tabernacle, but they built it.

God made the pattern for Jesus but He crafted Jesus’ body in the womb of Mary sovereignly.

Verse 3:

“For every High Priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices — therefore it is necessary that he also have something to offer up.”

We have covered this ground already and will come back to it again as it is important, but the Levitical High Priests were sinners themselves and could not make intercession for the people unless they made an offering for their own sin first. Jesus doesn’t need to to this, thus it can be truly said that he lives to make intercession for us.

Verse 4:

“Therefore, if indeed he were on earth, he would not ever be a priest like the ones offering up gifts according to the Law.”

Why? Because he didn’t need to.

Verse 5: “They minister as a pattern and a shadow of the heavens, just as Moses was wanted, being about to complete the Tabernacle, ‘Behold!’ he says, ‘Make everything according to the imprint shown to you on the mountain.”

As a place of his worship and dwelling, God expected it to be done his way, not man’s way.

And so we arrive at verse 6…

“But now he has obtained a more excellent ministry…” Literally, a “qualitatively different ministry.”

– The sacrifices are done away with

-The Old Testament liturgical rules and festivals are done away with

-the rules of dress and ceremonial foods are done away with

We are no longer a slave to the law but we are bound by grace. Jesus’ priesthood is indeed qualitatively better than the priesthood of Levi.

Again:

“But now, he has obtained a qualitatively better ministry and he is also the mediator of a much greater covenant which has been legislated on the basis of better promises.”

So, a different ministry on one hand and he mediates a better covenant on the other.

We have talked about covenant already, but the thing that you must understand is that all of God’s relations with man are done in the context of a covenant. And, since all mankind descends from Adam and Eve and again from Noah and his wife, all mankind is in a covenantal relationship with God — its just that apart from Christ, people are covenant breakers.

In the economy of God’s covenant with man, he demands a perfect obedience that can be found only in Jesus Christ. And by faith in Jesus Christ that obedience is imputed to us.

Okay… “impute” or “imputation” is one of those “big” theological words that gets people grumpy. But, like it or not, it’s just one of those terms you need to know if you are going to be a Christian. And that should not trip us up. There are always words like that. If you are going to be an auto-mechanic, you need to know the difference between a box wrench and a crescent wrench. If you are in business, you need to know the difference between a debt and a credit is. If you are going to work with electrical things, you need to understand what voltage, resistance, and amperage is. If you are going to be a Christian, you need to know what imputation is.

So, to impute means to “put on” something or to “wear something that doesn’t belong to you.”

The best illustration of imputation that I have run across is the old Mark Twain story of the Prince and the Pauper. I’m finding that my confirmands aren’t as familiar with this story as I had hoped — back when I was their age, Mark Twain was required reading in Middle School.

Anyway the Prince and the Pauper is a story about two boys that looked nearly identical…one a prince and the other a pauper. So, they switch clothes to experience the other person’s life and adventure ensues. Yet, though dressed like the Prince, the Pauper was still a Pauper. In addition, even though the Prince is dressed in the Pauper’s garb, he is still rightfully a prince.

This is imputation (double-imputation, actually) and this is a picture of what Christ has done for us. His righteousness, His obedience to the law are like the clothes that he places on us. Our unrighteousness, our disobedience to the law is placed on Him. Double Imputation.

And thus, by faith, though we are paupers, we stand in the presence of God the King in the righteousness of His Son.

Or, to use the words of Question 60 in the Heidelberg Catechism:

“God imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. This is imputed to me by sheer grace without any merit of my own. And, I stand before God as if I had never committed or had any sin and as if I had accomplished all of the obedience that Christ has fulfilled on my behalf.”

Or, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 5:21

“For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”

One more point, briefly, then we will close.

Why does the author say that this covenant is “legislated” on the basis of better promises?

Covenants have two aspects: a legal aspect and a moral aspect.

The legal side is: do this or the punishment will be that. It is clear cut and decisive

The moral side is found in convincing you that you want to be obedient to the covenant.

The first part, Jesus has completely worked for those whom the Father will draw to him in faith. This we call justification. It is a legal declaration by God that we are forgiven of our sin because of the sacrifice of Christ effectively worked in us by Grace through faith.

The second is progressively worked out as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, little by little, conforming us into the image of Jesus.

Justification is one time and complete. Sanctification is ongoing and will not be complete until we are in glory.

Both are sovereign works of God — for the theologically savvy, we call that “monergism” or “one person working.”

Faith is worked in us by God himself through regeneration — we call that being born again.

Our repentance is the natural outworking of that faith — faith and repentance go hand in hand. Thus, you cannot truly repent without faith and you cannot go on sinning without repenting if you have faith. Likewise, someone who is hardened in their heart as to their sin, and who is unwilling to repent, the Bible says to treat them like an unbeliever because they probably are one.

Your justification is God’s declaration and your adoption into his family is His work as well.

Your sanctification, though progressively worked, too is a work of the Holy Spirit. In a sense you can say you participate here as to whether you cooperate with or rebel against the Spirit’s work in you, but the power of Sanctification comes from God alone.

And finally, as God numbers your days and mine, our glorification is all God’s work.

What is the practical application of this in your life? You have no room to boast in yourself or in anything you have done or have chosen. It is God, it is all about God, it is only about God. And if you try and take credit, it becomes idolatry.  Jesus truly is the mediator of a better covenant than the old covenant of works under which we were born.

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