Finding joy in a better covenant

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By Neil Brightbard —

Neil Brightbard

Whenever we think of ‘better’ we expect something superior to what we’re used to. And we usually want to know more.

When Hebrews describes a better covenant, the Greek word used is kreittōn… stronger, best! When Christians consider this phrase, let’s be aware this is speaking of something that is spiritually ultra-superior.

I wish to share why the Hebrews 8:6 and 12:24 covenant is such a stronger, better covenant, one that we should boldly grasp.

The heart of Hebrews

We don’t know who wrote Hebrews, whether it was Paul, Apollos or Luke. The sophisticated teaching and excellent Greek grammar suggest a high intellect. Whoever wrote it revealed things that no other book does, particularly the doctrine of the high priesthood of Jesus.

It was primarily written to discouraged Jewish Christians needing their faith strengthened.

It’s chapters are clearly a –

Declaration

Jesus is God’s powerful Son (Hebrews 1-3, several verses in chapters 2, 3 and 4).

Warning

Not to fall away from their newfound faith through hardness of heart (2:1-3; 5:11-6:12).

Comfort

Exhortations to persevere in their faith despite any suffering  (13:22).

Hope

Encouragement to hold boldly to their salvation through Jesus (6:11).

Revelation

Insights into Jesus’s ministry as great high priest (several verses in chapters 4-8).

Proclamation

Most importantly, confirming a better covenant instituted by Jesus Himself (Hebrews 8:6)!

Overall Hebrews highlights realities that Jewish converts back then needed to know deep in their hearts, and Jewish people today need to realize and accept… especially that Jesus is the great high priest, everlasting friend and intercessor!

It was not only written for Jewish people, but everyone! Jesus willingly allowed Himself to be crucified on Calvary’s cross to pay the price of sin so that everyone – Jew and Gentile – can have forgiveness and eternal life. May we all know that after being resurrected, Jesus returned to heaven where He intercedes before the Father for every Christian. (Hebrews 7:25).

A solemn day!

Coming from a Jewish background, intercession reminds me of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – a very special day to Jewish people, holiest of the Jewish year, a very solemn day indeed!

Observed from sunset on October 4th to nightfall October 5th of this year, it is mainly a time of fasting and prayer… especially for forgiveness of sin through confession (Teshuva), giving (to charities), and reading holy scripture. And here I’m reminded of the Old Testament priests…

Exodus 28 describes the magnificent sacred robe (beged) Aaron, the first high priest, wore. It tells of the significance of various items attached. Note especially verse 30 (NLT): ‘And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord continually.’

Basically, the Urim signified illumination and the Thummim perfection. I draw attention to the fact that the high priest’s heart was to be concerned with the sins of the people. He himself had to be right before going into the Holy of Holies to ask forgiveness for the people!

The miskah (tabernacle) designed by God… had three areas – the Outer Court where sacrifices were made, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies (also called Most Holy Place, representing God’s heavenly throne). On penalty of death, Leviticus 16:2 warned, high priests were never to go casually into the Most Holy Place!

After animal sacrifices were made, Aaron went in twice… first in his regular attire, confessing his own sins, then back in again dressed in his high priestly regalia on behalf of the people who were on his heart, to confess their sins.

Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place on behalf of Israel (Hebrews 9:7). His special ephod had bells around the hem (Exodus 28:33-35) and some have wrongly taught if there was silence, God had struck him dead! No! Listeners would hear jingling and know he was moving around ministering on their behalf.

Overall, the high priest presented God to the people and the people to Him! Personally, I feel that daring to enter God’s presence to confess Israel’s sins and beg forgiveness… knowing they, being human, would again be sinning… must have been an occasion of fear and trembling!

Thank God for the better covenant Christians have in Jesus! Hebrews 9:12 is so comforting: ‘Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.’ Hallelujah!

Covenants

Scripture speaks of several covenants: I mention five… crucial to understanding God’s redemptive plan –

Noahic (Genesis 9)

Abrahamic (Genesis 12 and 15)

Mosaic (Exodus 19 and 24)

Davidic (2 Samuel 7).

And I highlight this fifth one, what is termed The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

The earlier covenants link and lead to this last one which promised God’s desire to have a close, unbroken relationship with His people.

Better Covenant

There came a point when, it seems, God had had enough!

Jeremiah 31 – verse 13 speaks of mourning being turned into joy – prophesies in verses 31-33 that ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors… because they broke my covenant… This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.’

Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (ESB) is also remarkable! ‘And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone… and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.’

Praise God that this promise, first made to Israel, was extended to everyone who comes to Jesus Christ in faith (Hebrews 9:15).

All of God’s promises are based on who He is and His plan for the world. Under the new covenant, sealed with Jesus’ own blood, everyone is offered salvation by grace through faith (Matthew 26:28). Acts 2:21 is a great assuring verse – ‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

I’m so glad I was led to accepting Jesus as my Savior. A converted Jew, I’ve been deeply blessed through knowing His intercessory ministry is continuing every day for me, and for all who convert to Christianity through Jesus. Anyone can experience this if we ask Jesus into our life, genuinely confessing our sins and believing!

Covenant not a contract

Regarding God’s new covenant with Israel and with every born-again believer, it’s vital that we know this is not a contract! Contracts depends on every party fulfilling his or her obligations and keeping to the conditions laid down… otherwise they won’t work, won’t be fulfilled!

The new, superior, better, covenant is a commitment made by God to us. It’s guaranteed by God, not us. We fail but God never fails, He always keep His promises, His word is His bond.

Repeatedly Israel failed to live up to what God expected and would fall from blessings to curses! Moses had given them God’s ten commandments… but their hearts were stony toward knowing God and following Him.

Humans broke the old covenants, consequently there was no real peace and security! But the very essence of God’s new covenant is peace and security because it was established by God Himself in and through His son!

It’s a heart matter, available for anyone today in our troubled world!

1) A striking contrast

The importance of Yom Kippur yearly was that the high priest would confess not only his own sins but those of the children of God, daring to enter the Holy of Holies.

What good news is Hebrews 4:14,16 for all who have accepted Jesus as Savior – ‘We have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God… Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’

Through prayer to God in Jesus’ name we can come  boldly before the throne of grace any time, any day, anywhere without being afraid  – without having any bells attached! Through the shedding of Jesus’ blood on Calvary’s cross, we have had our sins forgiven – sins past, present and future! (The latter by keeping short accounts and humbly asking God).

The writer of Hebrews urged converted Jews to understand this great truth, hang onto it in faith and know their security in Christ, that the real day of celebration for atonement was the day He died for them (what we call Good Friday). They no longer needed the ritual of Yom Kippur; they had the great high priest within them and forgiveness of sin was immediate on personal confession!

Christians are safe and secure in Christ because of what He accomplished at Calvary. These days He ever stands before God and us, interceding on our behalf! This is why the new covenant is a better covenant!

2) God’s laws on our hearts!

Sin is breaking God’s law! 1 John 3:4 makes that clear: ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.’ Never say that for the Christian the law doesn’t apply!

Jesus solemnly said in Matthew 5:17-18, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’

‘Accomplished’ – ‘complete’ or ‘fulfil’ in other versions, is plēroō, meaning replete, or to put it simply ‘cram full.’ Jesus fulfilled the law! This means that we are not under God’s law but under His grace. The key word is ‘under’…  we  are not under the condemnation of the law. We do not live under rules and regulations, but we are to live and walk in the Spirit.

Romans links with Hebrews here. ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8:12).

But we must note that this is no excuse to go on breaking God’s law, or any law! Even the Complete Jewish Bible is very concise here – ‘So then, are we to say, “Let’s keep on sinning, so that there can be more grace”? Heaven forbid! How can we, who have died to sin, still live in it?’ (Romans 6:1-2).

3) Personal note

Being a converted Jew, I personally like Galatians 3:14, ‘He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.’

Verses 28-29 read: ‘It shows us that this is the fulfilment of the new covenant and in fact the fulfilment of everything! There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’

Remember then… every Christian is under –

 

Neil Brightbard worships at Norton Summit Baptist Church, Adelaide. Links: [email protected] / Your Mourning Will Turn Into Joy / High Priest’s Garments  / My Heart may Fail but God is my Strength