Teaching series from Hebrews

The New Covenant

Hebrews 8:6-12; 10:1-18

Teaching t10579


The heart of Hebrews’ message is that through Jesus God has provided a new and better way to relate to him than was possible during the Old Testament period.  He calls this better way the “New Covenant.”  The author is concerned that his Jewish Christian readers are missing this point and still relating to God in OC way.  This is horrible, not only because they are missing out on a better way to relate to God, but also because they are misrepresenting Christianity to people who need Jesus!  And this is still happening!  For the past 2000 years, most forms of Christianity have been stuck in this same mistake!  I call this the “Old Covenant captivity of the church”—and it continues to be the number one problem in Christianity. 

This is not only tragic—it is also ironic, since the Old Testament admitted that its way of relating to God was temporary and inferior.  This is what the author of Hebrews explains in Heb. 8:6-9 (read).  This passage is from Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet who lived some 600 years before Jesus.  Through him, God announces that he was never satisfied with the Old Covenant—and that he would therefore bring in a new and better way of relating to him.  God then explains three ways that the NC is better than the OC...

 Power to follow God

Read 8:10a.  When the Messiah comes, God will “write” his laws upon the minds and hearts of his people.  This refers to power to follow God that his people under the OC did not have.

Under the OC, God revealed his moral character and spelled out what he expected his people to do through what is called the Law.  This Law was distilled into 10 Commandments, which God inscribed on two stone tablets.  The whole arrangement was external—God told them who he was and what he wanted, his people agreed—but they lacked the internal ability to truly follow his direction.  This is why, as you read the Old Testament, the depressing theme of Israel’s disobedience sounds like a monotonous chord.  God rescues them from Egypt and makes them his nation under his law—but they spend the next 40 years wandering around in the wilderness thumbing their noses at God.  When he brings them into their land and promises to protect them from their enemies if they worship him instead of false Gods, they spend the next 400 years lapsing into idolatry, experiencing God’s lack of protection from their enemies, calling out to God for help, God raising up a “judge” (rescuing leader) who delivers them—and then lapsing back into idolatry.  Finally, God gives them a king and says that if only the king stays out of idolatry he’ll bless and protect them.  But the vast majority of kings promote idolatry, so that God allows them to be exiled into idolatrous kingdoms.  The whole story is one long story of God saying “Just follow my directions!” and his people saying “We don’t want to” and/or “We aren’t able to.”  (I remember this before I met Christ.  I’d vow to “be good for God”—but it never lasted very long.)

But now that Jesus has come, he has brought a Helper that changes this situation.  When you embrace Jesus as your Messiah, his Spirit comes to live inside your being—and he internalizes God’s direction in your life.  He actually imparts a new desire/motivation to follow God, and he gives you a new power to follow God (read Phil.2:13).  This doesn’t mean that you never disobey God (in fact, you begin to realize how much more you disobey God than you thought you did!), but things are different inside because now there is Someone else working for God inside you!  (J. H.: convicted about using people; desire to be kinder as boss & excitement about learning God’s Word).

Personal intimacy with God

Read 8:10b-11.  Jeremiah spoke of a day when Messiah would make it possible for all of God’s people to enjoy personal intimacy with him—something not available under the OC.

Under the OC, a very few of God’s people were able to relate to him in a personal way.  Moses spoke with God “face to face;” David describes a personal love relationship with God that he wishes others could “taste and see.”  But for the most part, God’s people could relate to him only through priests and rituals.  We covered this LAST WEEK. God’s tabernacle communicated his desire to be close to them—but the walls and curtains communicated that this wasn’t possible, and the contents of the Ark explained why (REVIEW BRIEFLY).  The best they could do was have priests offer animal sacrifices to symbolically pay for their sins until the real Sacrifice came.  In the meantime, relating to God was like going to church services was for most of us—impersonal ritual observances which emphasized how distant we were from God.

But now that Jesus has come, all this has changed.  Now every single person who comes to God through Jesus (even the newest Christian) can experience personal loving intimacy with God.  The same Holy Spirit that imparts new motivation and power to follow God’s leadership also enables us to experience God’s love and open our hearts up to him (read Rom.8:15,16).  Because of this, God goes from being an abstract, distant authority figure to a personal loving Father whose love we can learn to trust and treasure.  This doesn’t mean that you always feel close to God—many factors beyond the scope of this teaching may affect how close you feel to God—but it means that it is literally possible to experience God’s personal love on a daily basis.  I never cease to marvel at this in my own life.  I often begin the day feeling very far from God, and I often wander from relating to God through the day.  But if I want to, I can spend quality time with God that gives me peace and hope and even joy.  I can go to bed every night with the satisfaction that I have known God today!  And as the years go by, I have the satisfaction that I know God better and better!  (MORE ON THIS NEXT WEEK)

Complete forgiveness by God

Why is it now possible to know God personally and have new motivation and power to follow him?  Because God’s Spirit now lives inside us.  And why can the Holy Spirit live inside us, even though we’re just as guilty and undeserving as God’s people under the OC?  Read 8:11 (translate “for” as “because”)—because through Jesus’ sacrifice, we have complete forgiveness by God.  (“I will remember their sins no more” doesn’t mean that God has become an amnesiac.  It means that Jesus’ payment for our sins is so complete that God will never again remember them against us—they will never again be a barrier between us and God.)

Under the OC, God’s forgiveness was never actually given—only “pictures” of it were given through the animal sacrifices.  And because the sacrifices were only pictures, they had to be offered over and over again.  Read 10:1-4.  God’s people kept going through the same depressing cycle (SIN >> RITUAL DEFILEMENT >> SACRIFICE >> RITUAL CLEANSING >> SIN >> DEFILEMENT etc....).  And the priests were never finished (read 10:11)—they had to keep “standing” and offering sacrifices because the sin problem was never dealt with.

But now that Jesus has come, all this has changed.  Read 10:12,14,17.  While the Levitical priests had to keep standing and offering new animal sacrifices for sins, Jesus has “sat down” because his one perfect sacrifice has paid for all our sins forever!  Even though we still sin every day, we are already completely forgiven and completely acceptable to God.  And this means (read 10:18) that we no longer have to make any offering to God for our sins!  And this has huge implications for how we relate to God.

For the original audience (Jewish Christians), this means that they were no longer to have priests offer animals for their continuing sins.  They would catch flak for this from their non-Christian Jewish friends and family members—but to cave into this pressure and make sin-offerings was to say “I don’t believe Jesus’ death really did the job.  I need to add to what he did to make sure that God will forgive me.”  This is the whole why the author wrote this letter!

We think: “How stupid could they be?  Of course Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled and replaced those animal sin offerings.  Of course they shouldn’t relate any longer to God that way.  Of course this was preventing them from enjoying what Jesus died to give them!”  But I have to tell you that most Christians are making this same mistake—not by offering animals, but through a variety of other sin-offerings.  Some of these sin-offerings are formally taught by their church, while others are self-taught.  Some of these sin-offerings are very obvious, while others are more subtle.  But regardless of the differences, they are all sin-offerings and they all distort and impede the way God wants to relate to us.  Let’s take a look...

WORSHIP SERVICE ATTENDANCE: Some churches formally teach that you must attend worship and take communion, etc. in order to maintain God’s forgiveness.  The worship service is a reenactment of Jesus’ death for you sins since your last worship service, and the communion is a re-offering of God’s forgiveness to cover those sins.  Other churches may not teach this formally, but you get the clear impression that unless you go to worship services you can’t stay accepted by God.  In ether case, the worship service has become a sin-offering.

How different this is from relating to God under the NC!  We come together to celebrate our complete forgiveness, and be spiritually refreshed and nourished so we can be lights of Jesus’ love throughout the week.

CONFESSION/ASKING GOD’S FORGIVENESS: Some churches teach that you must confess your sins to a priest before God will forgive you.  Other churches teach that you must ask God to forgive you each time you sin in order to stay forgiven.  Either way, this is a sin-offering. Our forgiveness is not complete, we have to keep receiving God’s forgiveness for our sins—and we aren’t really accepted by him until we do this.  And this produces the same cycle described earlier.

How different this is from relating to God under the NC!  It may surprise you to know that in the New Testament after Jesus’ death, Christians are never told to ask God for forgiveness.  We are told to agree with God when we sin (which is a lot easier to do when you know you’re still forgiven), and we’re urged to thank God that he forgives us for our present sins (and future sins) as well as for our past sins.  But for the Christian who understands the NC, hearing other Christians ask for forgiveness is like fingernails on a blackboard—it shows that the person doing this doesn’t understand or believe that Jesus paid for all of his sins.

PENANCE/PROBATION: Some churches teach that you have to repeat memorized prayers or give money, etc. in order to be forgiven for certain sins (especially “big” ones).  Other churches imply this because they shun fellow-Christians who commit “big” sins (even after they have turned back to God) until they serve probation for a period of time.  In either case, this is a sin-offering—we have to perform some ritual or do some good deed before God will accept them again.

How different this is from relating to God under the NC!  Even the worst of sinners are completely forgiven and accepted the moment they turn to Christ (PRODIGAL SON; PAUL).  And this amazing gift of forgiveness motivates people to love God and do good to others in a way that penance can never produce (Lk.7:47).

SELF-RECRIMINATION: Those who are taught by churches that we must continue to make sin-offerings usually learn to punish themselves for their sins.  Some of the most neurotic people I have ever met come from this kind of background, and they are plagued by never feeling like God is pleased with them, that he is always disappointed with them, that they are forever second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.  But these churches don’t have a monopoly on self-recrimination!  Some of us who were completely unchurched beat ourselves mercilessly when we commit certain sins, or some sin repetitively, etc.  I certainly wrestle with this instinctive reaction.  But consider this—indulging in self-recrimination is a greater sin than the sin I am beating myself for, because it denies that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough!

How different this is from relating to God under the NC!  Read 9:14.  Because Jesus has paid completely for all of my sins, I can agree with God about this sin—and then agree with him that Jesus’ death fully forgave this sin as well, and then choose to resume relating to God and serving him immediately.  When I do this (perhaps with the help of a friend), my conscience is cleansed and I can move forward with God.


Does relating to God this way sound totally foreign to you?  If so, you may have never actually entered into the NC.  Why not make sure by telling God you want to relate to him this way, and by asking him give you this gift through Jesus