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HEBREWS 8:7-9:15 – A SUPERIOR COVENANT
A LESSON MANUSCRIPT SUBMITTED TO DR. DENNIS WILHITE
IN OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COURSE
“MINISTRY OF TEACHING” – DSMN601
BY ELKE B. SPELIOPOULOS
DOWNINGTOWN, PA SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Hebrews 8:7-9:15 – A Superior Covenant
HOOK Last week, David talked to us about the first part of Hebrews 8, which discusses Jesus Christ’s role as our High Priest and which talks about the elements of priesthood for the Israelites as “copy and shadow of heavenly things”. As such, the promise of a new covenant was already visible in the Old Testament. Today, our focus will be on how the writer of Hebrew further develops this message of the new covenant and uses the model of the tabernacle to show the superiority of the new covenant under Christ. Some of you traveled to Lancaster last week to see the model of the tabernacle, but for those of you who couldn’t go, let me get you caught up – you will be needing this information in a bit. <Slides with video clip of tabernacle and photos of the Lancaster model> Great, now we are all at the same level of knowledge and are ready to go. Let’s test your understanding of what you have learned: 1. Question: What happened when God decided it was time to move the Israelite camp? (wait for some answers) 2. Question: Do you believe the worshipers felt great relief when their sin had been atoned for? How did they feel two days later, when they had “messed up” again?
3 3. Question: Have you ever felt that whatever you do to approach God is not enough, and He may find your performance as a believer lacking? Do you sometimes feel trapped in this cycle?
4 BOOK Even though we have been studying Hebrews for many weeks now, I have to say, I am very glad we are learning more about it. Why? In my preparation for today, it was interesting to note what Donald Guthrie points out as the reason why the letter of Hebrews has been relatively neglected in Biblical teaching. As a student of the Old Testament, it bothered me a bit to realize this: It is because the argument seems obscure to those unfamiliar with the Old Testament background… Yet it gives to our contemporary age the same message as it gave to its original readers, an assurance of the superiority and finality of Christ and a clear insight into the Christian interpretation of Old Testament history and forms of worship. It is no wonder that the language of this epistle has become the language of devotion, moulding the expression of praise and petition, for it meets the fundamental need of man; it speaks of a way of approach and a method of worship which is superior to all others, and which is unaffected by the march of time.1 We will see an example of just how much the writer of Hebrews uses the (beautiful, I might add!) Old Testament to make his argument. Let’s see how he can help us understand all of this a little bit better. Last week, a part of what David was talking about was Hebrews 8:6-7, which speaks of the old covenant in contrast to the new: But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Today, we will continue with this idea of the new covenant a bit. As background, when the Israelites were exiled to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC, the prophet Jeremiah told them that God had found fault with His people. Part of what Jeremiah spoke about was the promise of a new covenant – so to speak a revision of the first covenant, established at the time the Israelites left Egypt – the time of the Exodus. The main problem was very clear to see in all the Israelites had and hadn’t done since their departure from Egypt: they had worshiped idols – an abomination to the one God of the universe 1Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series Taken from Jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990), 716.
- and had not remained faithful to the covenant God had made with them through the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. God took notice, and after many warnings, the people were taken away in bitter exile to Babylon. 2 Yet, God had not given up on His people, so great was His redeeming love for them! The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us what the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites as a word from God Most High, which, as a bit of Bible trivia, is the longest Old Testament quotation in the New Testament3. Let me read this promise from Jeremiah to you: The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Jeremiah concludes in verse 13: “By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” As we follow the historical telling of Old Testament history, we can see a bit of fulfillment of this prophecy after the return from exile under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra (and you can read about this in the books named after them). After the horrible and truly nightmarish experience of exile, the Israelites turned from idolatry and returned to obedience to the Lord. But, of course, that was both short-lived and also exaggerated in behavior, with much human created tradition tacked on, as is very evident by the time of Jesus. Various religious groups are fighting each other while under Roman occupation. I am sure you have heard of at least some of them: Pharisees and Sadducees ring a bell? Remember the many discussions they 2D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, Rev. Ed. of: The New Bible Commentary. 3rd Ed. / Edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press, 1994), Heb 8:1. 3. G. K. Beale, and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 970.
6 had with Jesus about what it meant to follow the law? And even today, this is even more obvious in the largely secular population and smaller portion of ultra-orthodox Jews of the modern state of Israel, founded through the hard labor of another group of returning exiles from all the countries where Jews experienced persecution. If you go to Israel today, you will see traditionally clad ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at the Western Wall (what you also may know as the Wailing Wall) bobbing back and forth to show the piety of their prayers in this location, which is the closest they can come today to where the holy of holies of the second temple stood. Now this holy of holies already existed in the tabernacle, a precursor of the temple, called there the most holy place. The instructions God had given Moses to build the tabernacle were very specific. Every detail had to be followed to the exact specification. The Israelites were moving camp from time to time as God moved ahead of them as…do you remember? Yes, pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. For such a people on the move, every component of the tabernacle had to be highly portable, which explains the many pieces it was built out of. The Levites were divided up into groups for specific tasks, outlining who would carry which piece to the next camp site. Even the way the twelve tribes of Israel were to camp around the tabernacle was clearly prescribed by God. I think my husband Nick as a former US Army lieutenant colonel can appreciate the unbelievable detail in logistics God put into how His people would safely move through the desert. Moses was commanded to make the tabernacle after a divinely given pattern described in Exodus 25 and 26. What was needed for the tabernacle was collected through the free-will offerings of the people. The tabernacle was "a moveable tent suited to the unsettled conditions of Israel" and was "designed for manifestation of God’s presence and for his worship"4.
4. R. A. Torrey, “Tabernacle,” in The New Topical Text Book: A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995, c1897).
7 In order to prepare the various items needed for the tabernacle, one Israelite, Bezaleel, was named by God. He was divinely gifted as an artist to fashion all the many things needed. The boards for the tabernacle were made of acacia wood and were almost 15 feet high by 2 1/3 feet wide. They were seated in silver sockets and were gold plated. The door was a curtain of blue and purple suspended by gold rings. The covering was layered: first blue and purple curtains, then curtains of goats' hair, another cover of rams' skins dyed red and finally the outer layer of badgers' skins. You can be sure the tent was protected from the rare rain fall. The interior of the tabernacle was divided into the holy place and the most holy place. In the holy place, the table of showbread, containing twelve loaves of bread, which would be exchanged once a week, the golden candlestick (or menorah), which was continuously lit with oil lamps, and an incense altar, on which incense was burned generating a pleasant smell, were placed. The most holy place was separated from the remainder of the tabernacle by a beautifully woven curtain. Inside of the most holy place only the High Priest was allowed once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ark of the covenant was the only content of the most holy place, but this was the most critical element of the tabernacle. It was a gold overlaid box of acacia wood, containing the tablets of the law, as given to Moses, Aaron’s budding rod and a jar of manna. Above its cover, two cherubim made from gold were facing each other with their wings outspread and touching. It was here that God dwelled with men: on the mercy seat formed by the cherubim. This structure was surrounded by a court spanning about 50 by 25 yards and separated from the camp by curtains of fine linen suspended from pillars with brass sockets. Within the courtyard, the brazen altar, the very important part for the animal sacrifices, and the laver of brass, where the priests would wash, were placed. Once the work was completed, it was first set
8 up by Moses at Mount Sinai and was anointed and consecrated with oil and purified through the sprinkling of blood. God sanctified the structure Himself by His glory appearing over the mercyseat. Josephus Flavius, a first-century Jewish historian and apologist whose works give an important insight into first-century Judaism, described the moment when God came to reside with His people in the tabernacle: (202) Now God showed himself pleased with the work of the Hebrews, and did not permit their labors to be in vain; nor did he disdain to make use of what they had made, but he came and sojourned with them, and pitched his tabernacle in the holy house. And in the following manner did he come to it:—(203) The sky was clear, but there was a mist over the tabernacle only, encompassing it, but not with such a very deep and thick cloud as is seen in the winter season, nor yet in so thin a one as men might be able to discern anything through it; but from it there dropped a sweet dew, and such a one as showed the presence of God to those that desired and believed it.5 The cloud of glory indicated God’s presence and, as we know, was visible as a pillar of cloud by day and one of fire by night. When it moved, the camp moved. The Levites were in charge of carrying the structure to the next place God designated as a resting place for His people. As we already saw, the tabernacle area was surrounded by a portable fence. Inside this area, nobody but the Levites and priests were allowed to enter, with again the holy place restricted to priests and the most holy place limited to the high priest once a year. Whatever sin offerings were made for the Israelites, they were always just a temporary fix. Hebrews 9:7 tell us: “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” To this day, when you greet a Jewish friend for Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, on which all sins are to be forgiven, you wish them that they would be “inscribed in 5Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged, Includes Index. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Ant 3.201-203.
9 the book of life for another year”. Hebrews 9:9 explains that “the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper”. Forgiveness was – and to them, still is - temporary – and really, more importantly, it is a picture to give us the contrast the writer of Hebrews now transitions to. What follows is what is of such great importance to us: how this temporary offering of forgiveness became one of permanent and complete forgiveness through Christ’s work on the cross. I want to read Hebrews 9:11-15 to you in its entirety: 11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. What the writer of Hebrews is telling us is that this system of temporary forgiveness ended and that the arrival of Jesus Christ as not only our perfect high priest, but as God’s perfect sacrifice, opened the door to the promised new covenant Jeremiah had spoken about. Romans 3:23-25 tells us: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. And just how perfect was God’s plan! According to Isaiah 64:6, our own efforts could never enable us to approach His perfect standard: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. To God, it was never about works or
10 outward piety; it was always about our heart attitude. Listen to how Eugene Peterson’s Bible paraphrase The Message states God’s feelings about rote religion, as stated in Isaiah 1:11-15: "Why this frenzy of sacrifices?" God's asking. "Don't you think I've had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don't you think I've had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? When you come before me, whoever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that— all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? "Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can't stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. The really good news for us comes in Romans 5:6. God gives us a free offer of grace: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” God acted when we could not. God provided the perfect and spotless sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ, whose blood would once and for all times be enough to satisfy God’s righteous requirements. And with it comes a free offer of grace to all who would trust in this work being the completed one, one that allows those who trust in its sufficiency to be redeemed and restored in their relationship to our holy God. We all know Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Faith is what God requires – trust that He had done the work for us. Trust that we can do nothing, but that with Him all things are possible through His Son Jesus. In my studies this week
11 to prepare, I read this and want to share it with you because it was a profound summary to me of what atonement is all about: Literally, “at-one-ment,” the making at one of those who have been separated. The word is used of Christ’s dying to bring God and sinners together. Sin had separated them (Isa. 59:2) and made them enemies (Col. 1:2); it was thus a very serious matter.... Whatever had to be done about sin, Christ’s death did, and thus opened up salvation for sinners.6 Let me bring us to a close. The passage we looked at today shows that the theme of God taking up His dwelling with His people is clear throughout all of Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, starting with His presence in the tabernacle we have looked at and then later in the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem. Important to us as New Testament believers is that we, as individual believers, have now become participants of God’s promised new covenant through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. At the same time, we have become God’s residence – the Holy Spirit now indwells us as our bodies serve as His temple. Looking to future fulfillment, ultimately God will dwell with us in the new creation promised in Revelation 21 and 22.7 If we have trusted in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for our salvation, we can take great comfort that we are participants in this yet developing picture as it is playing out in our lives. To summarize, according to Thomas Lea and David Black, Hebrews teaches us these three things:
1. “The new covenant offered an internalization of the law. God wrote the law in the hearts
and minds of his people. 2. Christ’s covenant provided a new, direct knowledge of God. 3. The new covenant promised complete forgiveness of sin.”8
6Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002; 2002). 7The Evangelical Theological Society, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 38 (The Evangelical
Theological Society, 1995; 2002), 38:207. 8. Thomas D. Lea, and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2d ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 505.
12 The new covenant through Christ’s sacrifice is therefore “superior because he offered himself voluntarily in a never-to-be-repeated death.”9 Let me ask you a few questions to see if we have arrived at a joint understanding not just of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ’s work as both High Priest and perfect sacrificial offering lamb, but ultimately what type of impact this should have on each of us as we live out our lives before God. Question: As a result of what you have seen, is your response one of works or one of faith? Question: How can this faith be shared with those who are still trapped in the belief that God will somehow find their works sufficient and good enough to accept them?
LOOK There are baskets going around. Please take one item out of the basket and pass it along. In the meantime, let me ask you a few more questions about what we heard today. 1. What is the one thing that makes you glad that you are a believer today and not a worshiper of the Israelite people? Why? 2. What does this mean for you personally – what needs to happen for you to be a participant of the mercy poured out through Jesus’ sacrifice? 3. How has what you have learned today impacted your understanding of God’s amazing offer of grace? The final question will be posed as a closing – with the closing prayer: Are you there? Have you received this in faith? If not, you may want to pray along with me. TOOK < Point out Chinese finger traps as a reminder in the coming weeks that the first sacrificial system of animal sacrifices was not the permanent answer to atonement but rather the blood of Christ that washes us white as snow if we accept this free offer of grace. All God wants us to do is to stop pulling through life at our own strength and trying to meet his righteous requirements (demonstrate being “stuck” after pulling with fingers inserted) and instead allowing Him to free us through His Holy Spirit when we push into Him. (demonstrate freeing my fingers by pushing in). Take this with you and let them remind you this week of sharing this amazing freedom with someone else you meet.>
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