You may now turn in the Word of God to the 8th chapter of the book of Hebrews; Hebrews, chapter 8. John 17 records the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Father in which He prays for His people to be brought to heaven. It is called the High Priestly Prayer. Since our Lord ascended into heaven after His resurrection, He has continually been at the right hand of the Father praying for His people: praying for them to come to salvation, praying for them to come to glory. He intercedes for us.
We have looked also at the role that a high priest played under the old covenant in Israel. Once a year, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, or the temple, which symbolized God’s throne: “Go into the very presence of God.” He was the only one who could go there, and he could only go once a year. But he couldn’t go in until he had made a sacrifice, an acceptable offering to God. So on the outside, a sacrifice would be made, a sacrifice according to the prescription that God had revealed in Scripture. And then the blood of that sacrifice would be taken by the high priest into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant. He would also have a sensor with incense in his hand which symbolized the prayers of the high priest for his nation. Prayers were offered, but only after the sacrifice had been made.
And so it is with our Lord Himself. He now lives, interceding for us, constantly praying us into eternal glory, and He has the right to do that because He has also made the appropriate sacrifice. And unlike any priest or high priest before Him, He sacrificed Himself. Chapter 7, the end of verse 27, “He offered up Himself, Himself.” This is the first time ever a high priest was also the sacrifice. He ever-lives to make intercession for us in the presence of God in the heavenly Holy of Holies, because He has full access, having provided the acceptable sacrifice.
The book of Hebrews makes much of the priestly work of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a subject that is all throughout this amazing book. His priesthood is referred to in chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6, chapter 7, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 10. He is our Great High Priest. He is our Great High Priest who has offered the sacrifice of Himself.
If you’ll look for just a moment to chapter 9 and verse 12, you will read, “And not through the blood of goat and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
And again in chapter 10 and verse 11, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Here is the true Great High Priest who not only intercedes for His people, but who made the sacrifice acceptable to God, which was the sacrifice of Himself.
Coming into chapter 8, we read these words in verse 1: “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest;” a high priest who made the sacrifice of Himself; a high priest, Chapter 7 verse 24, who is permanent; a high priest, verse 25, who always lives to make intercession for us; a high priest, verse 26, who is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens; a high priest who once for all offered up Himself; a high priest, verse 28, who is perfect forever. That’s the main point of everything that’s been said in Hebrews. What a high priest we have.
Notice in verse 1 His seat. There was no seat in the Holy of Holies under the old covenant. The high priest went in, sprinkled the blood, waved the incense, and left immediately. But this high priest is such a high priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. He sat down permanently in the presence of God, fully acceptable to God, honored above all other priests.
And why at the right hand of God? Interesting perception here. The supreme court of Israel, the Sanhedrin, had seventy members, plus the high priest. They were the adjudicating body of the nation Israel. They made the final decision; they were the final court of appeal. On the left side of that body of men, there sat a scribe; and on the right side, there sat another scribe. If the verdict was condemnation, the scribe on the left rendered the verdict condemnation. If the verdict was acquittal, the scribe on the right side rendered the verdict acquittal. Our Lord is on the right side saying to God the Father, “Acquittal, acquittal, acquittal,” no matter what the crime is, no matter what the offense is, because He has Himself paid in full the punishment for that crime. He ever-lives to declare that we have been acquitted, forgiven.
He is incomparable because He has a seat in the Holy Place. He is incomparable because of His sacrifice. All the other high priests offered gifts and sacrifices, but no one offered a sacrifice like His once and for all, never to be offered again. He is also incomparable not only because of His seat in the Holy Place, because of His single sacrifice, but because of His sanctuary. Verse 2 says, “He’s a minister in the sanctuary in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” The heavenly sanctuary. There has never been a high priest like this high priest.
Then the writer of Hebrew says that, “If He was on earth – ” in verse 4 “ – He wouldn’t be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the law.” That would mean that the priests on earth had to be descendants of Aaron or descendants of Levi. He was neither. So if He had been an earthly man only, He would not have qualified to be a priest. But the earthy priesthood, verse 5 says, is just a copy, it’s just a shadow of the heavenly. And that illustrated by the fact that when God told Moses to build the tabernacle, He gave him plans that were launched out of heaven, the earthly tabernacle being in some ways fashioned as a kind of shadow of the heavenly temple where God dwells.
Christ is a unique priest. In chapter 7, it says “He’s a priest after the order of Melchizedek, a man without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” Melchizedek appears on the scene. He was a man. There’s no genealogy, we don’t know anything about him; and in that sense, Christ’s priesthood can be compared to him. It’s not a priesthood passed down genealogically. It’s not that which belongs to a certain tribe or certain descendants. He is a unique priest. He is the Great High Priest. He is seated, which means He’s honored above all. He offered a sacrifice for all, and He is in a sanctuary that is exalted above all. His seat, His sacrifice, and His sanctuary are the realities of the heavenlies of which those things on earth are mere copies. Now because He is such a superior priest, because there’s no priest like Him, verse 6 then says, “He has obtained a more excellent ministry, a more excellent ministry.”
As we read earlier, the former priests, in verse 23, all died. They had limits. They kept dying, and they kept having to offer sacrifice, after sacrifice, after sacrifice. This priest has a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant which has been enacted on better promises. A better covenant with better promises; He mediates that.
What do we mean a better covenant? Well in verse 8 it says “a new covenant.” And in verse 13, it’s repeated, “a new covenant that makes the old covenant obsolete.”
On that Thursday night of Passion Week when our Lord gathered with His disciples in the upper room, they gathered to hold the Passover. The Passover was a feast commemorating God’s deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and the Passover commemorated the delivering power of God. But on that night, our Lord transformed that Passover into the Communion service.
Listen to Luke 22:14, “When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat the Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.’ And when He had taken some bread and given thinks, He broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they eaten saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’”
The old covenant prescribed the blood of an animal as a symbol; the new covenant requires the blood of the Son of God. Our Lord declares, “The new covenant is in My blood. This new covenant with better promises is in my blood.” When He established that that Thursday night in the upper room, obviously He was anticipating the death He would die in just a few hours, the next day on Friday, a death that He would die to satisfy divine justice, to ratify the new covenant which was promised in the Old Testament, to be a substitute punished for believers, to provide forgiveness, deliverance from judgment and reconciliation with God. This is the new covenant.
And what just exactly are we to understand about that new covenant? How are we to see that new covenant as it applies to us? We understand the death of Christ. We understand His sacrifice for sin. We understand salvation by grace through faith alone in Him. But just what is a covenant? Simply stated: a covenant is a promise. Or a covenant can be a collection of promises. In the case of the old covenant, it was a collection. And in the case of the new, it also is a collection of promises. The new covenant can be said to be this: all God’s promises, all the treasures of heaven promised in one covenant, all the treasures of heaven promised in one covenant through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a lot of ways then you can look at that new covenant. We’ve been looking at it since we started in chapter 13, because every promise Jesus made from 13 right through the end of 16, every promise was one of the promises that make up the great promise of the new covenant. But there’s something here that I want you to look at that will help you understand the power and the uniqueness of the new covenant. I want to show you something that will show you why the first covenant is obsolete and the new covenant has come and is permanent, and you’ll find it in verse 10, verse 10. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
I want you to think with me about the law, “My law, My laws.” The old covenant was a covenant of law. Some people say that the new covenant dispenses with law. Some people say that because we’re in the new covenant we are not under law at all. So rarely are we confronted by the law; certainly, rarely are we comforted by the law. Is the law obsolete? Is the law just part of the shadowy things of verse 5? Or, is there substance to the law? And just what is our relationship as believers to the law?
Yes, the old covenant. Yes, it passed away. Yes, the old covenant as such is obsolete as a covenant. But does that mean that God’s holy righteous law, which is a reflection of His immutable, unchanging holy nature has somehow ceased to mean anything? No; quite the contrary. In the new covenant, verse 10 says, “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their heart.”
The words that you see in this 8th chapter have largely come from Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36, which are the Old Testament promises of the new covenant. And connected to the new covenant is the law, the laws. What is obsolete are not God’s laws, because God’s laws are reflections of His immutable, unchanging nature; but what is obsolete is the stage in which the law is revealed. Let me help you think that through.
The holy law of God has been revealed to man since creation in several different ways. There was the law of God before the fall, there was the law of God given at Sinai, and there is the law of God that comes in the new covenant. There is the law of God in the new covenant; it’s important to understand that. Before the fall, the law of God was written in Adam’s heart, in his mind.
Let me tell you about Adam. He was a pure reflection of God as much as a creature can be a reflection of the Creator. He was a reflection of God. You might say Adam imitated God. He imitated God naturally, naturally. God’s holy law dominated his mind, controlled his thinking, captured his heart totally, so that all he did was reflect the will and the law of God – perfect obedience.
Adam imitated God, because God’s law was in him naturally. It was just the way he was made. Then came the fall; and when the fall came, Adam’s heart was darkened, and what was natural to him was sin – dominating, relentless sin. In fact, only evil was natural to him and everybody he produced, so that before the flood, God said, “I looked at the world and it was only evil continually.”
Now that’s natural. So God has to send His law back and it must come in a different form, not in the heart, but this time in stone. And when it came in stone, it wasn’t positive, it was negative. It was, “Thou shalt not,” and it was loaded with threats of judgment.
In history after the fall, God eventually chose another son to replace Adam; that son was a nation, Israel. Israel was like every other nation; it was made up of people who naturally did sin and only sin. Like everyone else, they were under the dominating power of iniquity. Evil was normal, and they could not and did not imitate God. So God wrote His law for them, because it wasn’t natural to them. God wrote His law for them, and passed that law down to them for them, and for them to pass down to the world. And that law described how they were to live and how they were to enjoy fellowship with God and blessing from God and escape judgment.
Obedience was unnatural. Obedience was alien. Obedience was foreign. Obedience was impossible. The old covenant did nothing for the heart. Didn’t write anything on the mind or anything on the heart, it just wrote the law of God in cold, hard, crushing stone, threatening everyone who disobeyed it. And by the way, the written law still does that. But that extreme form of the law, that external law with all of its requirements had no power in it to help the sinner. It couldn’t save, it couldn’t change the heart, so it had to become obsolete. The mosaic covenant was as collapsible as the tabernacle in the wilderness.
So what was the purpose of it? What is the purpose of it? Well, the answer to that is clearly given in Scripture; there doesn’t need to be any question about that. Listen to Romans 7:7. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the law; for I wouldn’t have known about coveting if the law hadn’t said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”
If you never saw the law of God, you just go happily through life thinking you were fine. But when facing the law of God, it kills you, it slays you. Why does the law want to do that? Why is that the purpose of the law? What does God have in mind for the law? Here it is, Galatians 3:19. “It was added because of transgression.” Why? Verse 24: “The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The crushing weight of the law, the threat of the law is to put us in a situation of desperation where we are looking for a Savior.
Then the law came in another stage. The law came in a human form in Bethlehem, in a child, the Son of God. This is a far better representation of the law of God, far better than stone, because stone was external. It was written in an external way. But now the law came and the law was internal, and it was in a man, it was in the Lord Jesus Christ; and He even said, “You have heard it said. But I say unto you,” and then He drove the law into the heart, didn’t He? It’s not just what you do, it’s what you think.
He says in Matthew, chapter 5, that He did not come to set aside the law, but to fulfill the law. He said in Matthew, chapter 3, that He came to fulfill all righteousness. So in Christ, you have the perfect, the perfect person, the perfect obedience to the law of God. He kept every divine precept, fulfilled every expression of the will of God. That’s what we read in chapter 7. He was separate from sinners. He was holy, innocent, undefiled. He kept the law. So now the law appears in a visible, tangible human being.
Moses came down from an earthly mountain, Sinai, to bring the law in stone, which neither he nor anyone else could obey perfectly. Moses had a relationship with God of a fading glory. Jesus came down from a heavenly mountain to bring the law of God in flesh, which He perfectly obeyed – a pure embodiment of divine glory unfading. Jesus obeyed God’s law. Why? Because it was holy nature. God’s law was written on His heart, and nothing else was written on His heart. It dominated His mind, and nothing else occupied His mind. That is why the Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.”
He was a living example of God’s law. That’s a better pattern to follow than something written down. It’s better to see it living, because then you’re dealing not only with the external, but you’re dealing with the internal. You’re dealing with not only behavior, but you’re dealing with attitude. So now we have something more than the law in stone, we have the law in flesh, and it’s clearer, it’s more understandable; but His life doesn’t help us keep the law any more than the tables of stone did.
In a sense, a perfect life is just as useless to us as a perfect written law. Why? Because we can’t keep the law that God gave Moses, and we can’t live like Christ either. And if the law written was to show us our sin and lead us to Christ, then the law lived in Christ was also to show us our sin and lead us to Him. It doesn’t work to preach Jesus as an example and try to follow Him. If you get close to the life of Jesus and you see it for what it is as revealed in Scripture, it will crush you just as much as the stones will crush you.
The perfection of Christ in some ways is more disturbing; it’s more intimidating than even the law in stone. His perfection forces on us a higher view of the law than we could ever know just reading it. He greatly defines the true view of obedience, holiness, and righteousness. In fact, Jesus was so disturbing in His holy obedience to God that He intimidated the most religious people, the superficial legalists to the point where they saw His kind of righteousness as a threat, and they killed Him for it. They didn’t kill Him for the wrong that He did, they killed Him for the intimidation that came from His righteousness.
The old covenant said be like the mosaic law; and when you can’t, you know you’re a sinner who needs a Savior. The new covenant says be like Christ; and when you can’t, you need a Savior. In the new covenant, we aren’t given a lot of laws; we are told to follow Christ. Even Jesus said that: “Follow Me. Follow Me.” But we can’t. We can’t keep the written law. We can’t live holy perfection like Christ did.
So what hope do we have? The answer comes in verse 12 of Hebrews 8. Here’s part of the new covenant from Jeremiah 31: “I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” That’s a new covenant. That does not appear in the old covenant; does not appear in the old covenant. He will forgive our violations. He will forgive our transgressions in the new covenant. That’s why the new covenant has come and the old is obsolete.
So what happens when we come to Christ and we are forgiven through the provision of His sacrifice? What happens? What about the law? There it is, verse 10: “This is the new covenant. I will put My laws into their minds; I will write them on their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be My people.”
What defines us in that way? We are God’s people, He is our God, because His law has been put into our minds and written on our hearts. The law in Adam’s heart was loved and obeyed. The law in Moses’ stone was rebelled against. The law again in Christ’s life perfectly obeyed. And now the law in us is loved and cherished and delighted in and obeyed imperfectly.
You know, our society hates God’s law; they hate God’s law. It’s unnatural; sin is natural. It is an offense to sinners. They resent Christ and they resent a Christ who lives in perfect adherence to God’s law. You proclaim the true Christ in His true holiness and righteous perfection, and you will become more and more hated, as our society becomes more and more ungodly.
Christ is the model, but you can’t follow the pattern. You have to be forgiven for violating the law, even as manifest in Christ. That forgiveness comes because God is merciful and remembers our sins no more.
So what defines a believer? The law in the mind, the law written on the heart; that’s what defines those who belong to God and are His people. We are those who have had God’s law written on our hearts. We love it. We desire to obey it, to follow it, to proclaim it. All our failures and violations are forgiven. Our nature is changed so that now there is a sense in which it is our deepest desire to obey the law of God. “O, how I love Your law,” David says. Paul says, “Your law is holy, just, and good; and I find myself doing things I don’t want to do, because what I want to do is obey Your law.”
There is yet another revelation of God’s law, another stage greater than any yet, and that’s in eternal glory. We will obey from the heart, not in the limited ways we do now, but in a limitless way. What is heaven going to be? Eternal, perfect obedience. We will be like Christ when we see Him as He is: perfect, eternal, obedience, with the accompanying personal blessing that comes from God.
The law is our joy; we are no longer condemned by it. Christ has satisfied its demand. But having it written in our hearts and our minds, we love it, we seek to obey it, to proclaim it. And for all our failures, we seek cleansing. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You that we can gather together this morning to think about these things. We express our love and gratitude to You. May the power of this morning linger long with us and make a change in our lives be honored on out living we pray as You have been in our worship, in the name of Christ, amen.