Thursday, 20 November 2008

A better covenant (Hebrews 8)

I arrived at Hebrews 8 today in supervision time with the Relay Workers. It's another chapter that shows the folly of legalism when compared with the utter supremacy of Jesus' sacrifice and all that it guarantees.

Covenants are legal agreements between two parties, and covenants between God and humans feature significantly in Scripture. Some of the covenants that God makes with humans are unilateral - in other words, they can't be broken by humans. This includes the covenant that God makes with Abram where he promises to give a land and descendants to him.

Other covenants have an element of performance built into them. The most significant of these is the covenant that God makes with the nation of Israel at Sinai. Although the heart of this covenant is faith, covenant blessings and covenant curses are given to Israel dependent on the extent to which they humbly submit to the LORD as their God (see Deuteronomy 28 and 30).

The sad story of the Old Testament is that Israel - themselves, remember, a mirror of humanity - failed to keep the covenant. Indeed, they ended up in exile because of this. And so Jeremiah (31:31-34) foresaw a new covenant - like the Sinai covenant, one that brought the possibility of blessing - but that was unilateral. Indeed, the very things that caused Israel to abandon their blessings - their lack of desire to keep the law, and the way that this showed itself in sin - are those things that are addressed in the new covenant: the law will be internalised, and sin will be forgotten forever.

The writer to the Hebrews was writing to a group of Jewish Christians who felt under pressure to abandon Christianity, keep making the Levitical sacrifices and return to Judaism. Perhaps they considered it necessary to keep making these sacrifices so that they would experience covenantal blessings. But Hebrews 8 shows that vast supremacy of the new covenant: what people hoped for through performance in the old covenant, Jesus has guaranteed through his sacrifice, resurrection and the giving of the Spirit. Christ's sacrifice for us and righteousness imputed to us guarantees our blessing forever (and so led Paul to write Ephesians 1:3).

As we reflected on Hebrews 8 earlier, we spoke of how the human heart causes us to want to write another covenant with God (where our blessing is based on legalism and performance). How ridiculous when Christ has guaranteed our blessings forever! How much better to glory in what has already been won and given to us!


PostTenebrasLux said...

thanks for the post, bro!
just wanted to get some more of your thoughts on the 'heart of this covenant was faith'. do you mean that the purpose of this covenant was to drive them to faith in the gospel? or do you mean that God considered the conditions of the old covenant to be met through faith?

peterdray said...

Sorry for the late reply.

I think that at the very least the purpose of the covenant was to drive the old covenant people to faith in Christ. That's what I meant. Both law and sacrificial system were to drive people to Jesus.

The psalms perhaps suggest that at least some of the condition of the old covenant was faith (I think). But what do you reckon?