In today’s reading, the author of Hebrews continues to examine the role of Jesus as high priest and explain the new covenant he established. He states Jesus’ credentials as the One who sits at the right hand of God and ministers in the heavenly tabernacle, and tells how mortal high priests from the tribe of Levi offered repeated gifts and sacrifices whereas Jesus offered a once and for all sacrifice. The earthly high priests made sacrifices according to the law; Jesus, our holy high priest, sacrificed himself for the new covenant of grace.
Christ’s ministry is superior to the law in many ways. Verse 6 says ‘…the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises’. Jesus brings us back into a relationship with God, our Father, and His promises are greater. Before we go on to look at what these promises are, there is a perplexing statement in the following verse, verse 7: ‘For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second’. How do we square the idea of an ‘imperfect’ covenant with a perfect God?
When we drive along the road in front of an emergency services vehicle, we can see the words ‘ambulance’ or ‘police’, written in a mirror-image format on the vehicle bonnet, which makes it easily readable from a glance in our rear-view mirror. In contrast, if we were to look at the vehicle head on, we would see that the words are back to front and find them, for an instant, harder to decipher. The vehicle stays the same. The difference in our capacity to understand the wording is in our perspective – rear view mirror or head on! The author of Hebrews is seeking to help us to consider the law from the right perspective – not that the ‘imperfect’ covenant was created by an imperfect God, but that the covenant was faulty because we, as humans, were faulty in applying it! The Jeremiah 31:31-34 passage quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 says, ‘For they did not continue in my covenant’.
God wasn’t caught on the hop, though, wondering how He could put this right! 1 Peter 1:18-20 says, ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake’ (NIV). God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was prepared before the foundations of the earth!
Hebrews 10-12, quoting Jeremiah, who prophesied between 627 and 586BC, says
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbour
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 towards their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.
God had already planned that His laws would be in our minds and written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone. God speaks of the reconciliation that Jesus would bring about as the holy high priest who sacrificed the most precious gift he could – himself, in verse 10b: ‘I will be their God and they shall be my people’. We will all know God for ourselves and His fame shall spread throughout the world! Our sins are forgiven and forgotten as God sees us through the atoning blood of Jesus. The law which covered sin was replaced with a covenant which cleanses sin. Directives from external law have become transformation from within. These are the ‘better promises that the new covenant is enacted on’! Hallelujah!
Lastly, in verse 8:13, we are told that the new covenant makes the old one obsolete. The word for ‘new’ is ‘kainos’, which refers to a completely new creation, not just a revamped version of something formerly in existence. The new covenant is a radical change and replaces the old law covenant. The two do not co-exist. The old one served its purpose and brought about an awareness of sin and need for repentance. It was always pointing to Jesus. In the new covenant, Jesus makes a way for us to be forgiven and live under the amazing grace of God.
Thank you, Lord, for Jesus our high priest, who sits with you at your right hand and ministers in the holy places. Thank you for His sacrifice which changed the world and made a way for us all, Jew or Gentile, to draw close to you. Thank you that your laws are in our minds and written on our hearts; that you are our God and we are your people; and that you are merciful towards our iniquities and remember our sins no more. In Jesus name. Amen!