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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:30am service, 2003-11-02

Text: Hebrews 8:1-13

The current trend that is taking many churches by storm today, is to include almost anything and everything in the worship service. Church growth experts advocate that the main problem why churches are not growing rapidly is that they are not catering to the felt needs of the community. They claim that people must find something that attracts them to the worship service, such as multimedia presentations, lively contemporary music, drama and sketches. Preaching time is reduced to the barest minimum, in order to make way for more of these things. The main objective is to increase attendance by delivering an emotionally uplifting and thrilling experience to people at worship services. Many churches here in Singapore are now following this trend.

In the midst of this disturbing trend, the important truth that many seem to have overlooked, is that Jesus Christ should always be the main attraction of any church. He should have the pre-eminence! Jesus Himself said in John 12:32 - 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.' And the way in which we lift Christ up is to reveal Him fully through faithful Christ-centred preaching, and trust God to draw the people to Christ. This morning's message is meant to direct our thoughts and affections once again to the Lord Jesus Christ. And to do this we shall resume our study of the Book or Hebrews, a book that has the Lord Jesus Christ as its central theme. And if you truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, you are bound to love the teaching of this book of the Bible, a book that demonstrates the supremacy of Christ over all things!

The writer proves over and over again that Jesus is far better than everyone and everything that ever came before Him. As the only begotten son of God, He is better than all the angels. As the Greatest Deliverer, He is far better than Moses and Joshua. As our Perfect High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Christ is also better than the Old Testament priesthood. You may remember that this what we considered in the last message of Hebrews when we reached chapter 7, where the priesthood of Christ is expounded. We learnt that the priesthood of Christ is so much better than the Old Testament priesthood because it is unparalleled, unchangeable, unending, undefiled, unhindered, and unrepeating. 

As we come now to Hebrews 8, we can see the writer summing up the long discourse on the Priesthood ministry of Christ. Hebrew 8:1-2 'Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.' 

The term 'true tabernacle' in this verse does not mean that all the ones pitched by men on earth were false tabernacles. In the history of Israel, God Himself had commanded His people to build a Tabernacle as a place of worship. In fact God was the one who gave the design and pattern for the Tabernacle, and they built it all according to His specifications. But this tabernacle was only meant to be an earthly representation of the true Tabernacle that exists in heaven. The earthly priests were likewise meant to be a representation or preview of the heavenly priesthood ministry of Christ. And the sacrifices that the priests offered at the Tabernacle were meant to be a representation or preview of the true sacrifice for sin that Jesus made at Calvary and that now stands offered to God in heaven for all time.

The point to emphasise here is that now that Christ has come and established all these things (his priesthood ministry which is carried out in heaven on the basis of His sacrifice for sins), they have superceded all the old things that were previews of them. An analogy may help here. 

If a young man is going to be married to a young lady but for some reason they have to be apart until their wedding day, he may keep on gazing at her photograph every day. But when the girl finally arrives on the wedding day and they begin to live together, should he keep gazing at her photograph anymore? No. Because she is now right there with him. The reality has already come! How foolish he would be to still insist on looking at what is only a lifeless representation of her when he should be spending time with her!

Now, many of the things that are found in the Old Testament were like the photograph. They are not permanent but they were designed by God to be eventually replaced with things that are new. The same thing is true of the Covenant that God made with His people in the times of the Old Testament. This is now stated by the writer of Hebrews in Heb 8:6,7 'But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.'

Christ is the mediator of a better covenant, one which was established upon better promises. That is called the New Covenant, also known as the New Testament, after which the latter part of our Bible is named. What is this New Covenant? It is the wonderful covenant by which we are saved and have become part of God's people. Every time we partake of the Lord's Supper we are reminded that we belong to the New Covenant, as Jesus said when He took the cup, 'This is the new testament in My blood which is shed for you.' (Luke 22:20) And this morning we want to study what this new covenant is all about. And I trust that through this study, we will all be moved to praise and thank the Lord for this new covenant. 

First of all we need to understand what is meant by the term 'covenant.' A covenant can be defined as a compact or agreement between two parties binding them mutually to fulfill certain conditions toward each other. Marriage is a good example of a covenant relationship. Husband and wife are bound to each other by the vows they make in their covenant. When we talk about the covenant between God and man however, it is God who enters into a gracious undertaking for the benefit and blessing of man, and specifically of those who by faith receive the promises and commit themselves to keep the obligations that are involved in the covenant.

I. The Prophecy of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34)

The 'New Covenant' refers to the specific covenant that God made with man. The promises of the New Covenant are given in Hebrews 8:8-12. This whole passage is actually quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34, because it was through the prophet Jeremiah that God had first revealed the details of the new covenant in the form of a prophecy. This prophecy of the New Covenant was made during a very dark period in Israel's history. The year was about 590 BC. The tribes of Israel had split into two kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom gone astray from God and had already been taken into captivity by the Assyrian empire. The southern kingdom had also fallen into apostasy and was about to be taken into captivity now, by the Babylonian empire. Judah was going to be destroyed in just a few short years.

As the prophet Jeremiah looked back now at the history of Israel, he saw the reason for this sad state of affairs: It was their persistent failure to keep God's covenant He made at Mt Sinai. It really appeared as if the people of Israel were totally incapable of obedience. Time and again, God had sent His prophets to call His people to obedience, and time and again they had rebelled against Him, they had persecuted His prophets and even destroyed His Word. They persisted in their sins, and especially in idolatry, seeking help from the powerless pagan gods of their neighbouring nations. 

Although there were some periods of revival the people went back to their old sins after that and became even worse than before. Because of this, there was no other course of action left than to let them reap the awful consequences of breaking the covenant. Many were going to die when the Babylonians attacked, others were going to be taken away into captivity in Babylon, and the Holy Temple at Jerusalem and Jerusalem itself was to be totally destroyed. What a sad state the Jewish nation was in. They had failed miserably to be God's people. Was this going to be the end for them? Was God going to give them up? Was He completely finished with them?

II. The Need for the New Covenant

No, the good news was that God was not finished with His people yet. Their failure under the terms of the Old Covenant had fulfilled a very important purpose. It proved once and for all time, that the human heart is so sinful and depraved, that man would utterly fail to live up to any relationship with God on his own efforts. The Old Covenant here refers specifically to the Covenant that God had made with Israel at Mount Sinai. 

This was the covenant that laid out its conditions in the form of laws and commandments that the Israelites bound themselves to obey. And this covenant was good in itself. There was nothing inherently wrong with it at all. As long as the Israelites obeyed all the commandments and maintained their relationship with God, they would benefit from all the wonderful blessings of this covenant. The Lord would be their God and they would be His people.

But although they tried their best under this covenant, the Israelites found that they could not always obey all of its laws and commandments. They kept on going astray from God, they kept on falling again and again into sin. No one, not even the best of them, could measure up to the high demands of the Old Covenant. This is because of a very basic and universal problem: the depraved sinful nature of man. Jeremiah had made this observation when he said in Jer 17:9 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?'

It is because of this deep-seated problem of the sinful heart, that the Israelites failed in the Old Covenant. It is also because of this same problem of the sinful heart that we too would utterly fail if we were to be under the Old Covenant. As long as the sinful heart remains, we would break the old covenant. And no one has the power to change or reform this sinful heart, no one that is, except God. 

It is in this point that we now find the solution to the problem. There must now be a new covenant in which God Himself will change the sinful heart. This covenant would not be a replacement of the old one, but rather a renovation or a renewal of the old covenant, with something extra added on to it: it will now include the giving of the power to keep the covenant. Like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant will serve the purpose of binding God with His people in a close relationship. But unlike the Old Covenant, this New Covenant will be unbreakable. 

If we think of the Old Covenant as a fragile porcelain bowl, then the New Covenant would be like a stainless steel pot that cannot be broken or even dented. That is why the New Covenant is described at a 'better covenant' in Hebrew 8:6. Now this same verse tells us that the new covenant was established upon better promises than the old covenant. So let us look closely now at:

III. The Promises of the New Covenant

The first promise is found in Hebrews 8:10 God said, 'I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts:' The laws and commandments of God will no longer be only an external code inscribed on stone or written on paper. It will now be implanted in the hearts and minds of the people. Thus, compliance would be by inner desire, not by outward compulsion. It is this implanting of God's law in the heart that will deal effectively with the deep-seated problem of the sinful heart. It results in a transformed heart, or a regenerated heart (cf. Eze 36:26), a heart that beats in tune with God's will.

The second promise of the New Covenant is given in Hebrews 8:11. God said, 'And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.' This implies that the New Covenant will not need human intermediaries in order to relate to God. In the Old Covenant, the Israelites depended on a prophet to receive instruction from God, and a priest in order to offer prayers and sacrifices to God. 

But in the new Covenant, prophets and priests would no longer be needed. God's people will be able to relate to God without needing any intermediary. How will this be done? By the Holy Spirit of God coming to dwell in the heart of each and every believer. This is how we who are believers today are able to enjoy a close relationship with God - through the Holy Spirit that dwells in our hearts. We receive teaching and instructions through the Spirit of God who speaks to us as we read God's Word. We offer prayers and service to God also through the Holy Spirit. By this, each of us can know the Lord and enjoy a close, intimate walk with Him (cf. Eze 36:27; John 6:45; 1 John 2:27).

The third promise is found in Hebrews 8:12v.34 where God said, 'For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.' Complete forgiveness is given under the provisions of the New Covenant, because sin will be put away permanently once and for all, by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. This was not the case in the Old Covenant. The priests of the Old Covenant had to keep on making repeated animal sacrifices to put away sin. There was a continual remembrance of sins by God. But in the New Covenant Christ will make a full atonement for sins by shedding His blood once on the cross. This is why Jesus said when He took the cup at the Last Supper, 'This is the New Testament in My blood which is shed for you.' It is through the shedding of His blood at His death that He becomes the Mediator of the New Covenant, He is the one who implements or puts this covenant into effect. 

IV. The Fulfilment of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15, 8:13)

When Jeremiah first announced the prophecy of the New Covenant, it was nearly six hundred years before Christ. Jeremiah looked forward to its fulfillment, but of course he did not live to see it. And Israel continued to remain under the Old Covenant, up till the time when Jesus Christ died on the cross and made an atonement for sin. The New Covenant came into effect only when the blood of the new covenant was shed at Calvary. Then 49 days later, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers at Pentecost, we see the full implementation of all the terms of the New Covenant. Now believers are not only completely forgiven of their sins, but they can all know God personally through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. 

Christ is therefore the one who mediated this new Covenant. It was His work that made it effective. If not for His death on the cross and His sending of the Holy Spirit, there would be no New Covenant. The Book of Hebrews states this very clearly in two verses: Hebrews 12:24 'And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.' And 9:15 'And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament [or covenant], that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament [the old covenant], they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.' Now this verse also mentions the scope of this New Covenant 'they which are called' And this raises the question of

V. The Application of the New Covenant

To whom does this New Covenant apply? It applies to us who are in Christ today. As the gospel of Christ was preached to us we were saved and made part of God's people. We are 'they which are called.' This means that as true believers of the Jesus Christ we can now experience all the glorious blessings of the New Covenant: Through Christ we are completely forgiven of all our sins by virtue of Christ's death for us. Through Christ we are regenerated or born again at the moment that we receive Him into our lives. God writes His law in our minds and hearts, and we desire to do them. This becomes evident when our lives are changed and conformed to His will. Things become different in our lives after our salvation. We no longer love sin and the world, and we now love the Lord, instead. 

And through Christ, the mediator the New Covenant, we are now able to know God and have a personal relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Dearly beloved, this relationship that we have with God is very precious. We call it a covenant relationship, because it is firmly established upon God's covenant promises to us. One hymnwriter expressed the firm assurance he gained from his covenant relationship with God when he wrote: 'His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood, When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.'

One verse that brings out the closeness of this covenant relationship, is Psalm 25:14 'The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him; and He will shew them His covenant.' This verse shows that we are enjoy the privilege of sharing a special relationship with God that is like the closeness enjoyed only by friends who are so familiar with each other that they can even confide secrets in one another. 

Dearly beloved, are you presently enjoying such a close walk with the Lord? Do you treasure the quiet moments that you spend with Him? Is He real in your life? If He is not, you need to ask yourself why. One possible reason for some people is that they have not really been saved. They may have professed faith in Christ, but it is a mere superficial profession, a mere outward form, but devoid of the inward change. Those who are in such a state do not have a covenant relationship with God and hence, are not able to enjoy all the benefits of the New Covenant. If this is true of you, please let me urge you with all sincerity not to delay turning to Christ any longer. Ask Him to save you now from your sins, and to give you the firm assurance that you are included in His covenant. 

Now there may also be many here who are truly saved and who are already included within the New Covenant, but who are not experiencing all the blessings of the Covenant relationship. This is because you have allowed self and sin to reign in your life and to draw you away from Christ. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to your heart right now to renew your covenant relationship with Him. Listen to His voice saying, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' (Revelation 3:20). These words were first written to the lukewarm Christians at Laodicea, to call them to renew the covenant relationship that the Lord had made with them. Dearly beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ wants to share intimate communion with you now. Will you open the door to Him now as you sup with Him at His table?

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25