Bible readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119: 1-7 and Hebrews 9: 11-15
We used to have a home group each week in our house in Nelson. This particular night I can’t remember anything about the study but I can remember Trevor declaring “well I’m here until I die, they’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box!” Before we go any further, I would like you all to know we didn’t stuff Trevor in a pine box to get him here he came of his own free will!!...
The statement he made at that moment and time was true… we loved living where we did and our home was a great home for us as a family, it held many great memories… it was the best place for us to live at that moment in time… but what Trevor or myself hadn’t anticipated was that God had a fuller future for us that didn’t include that home!!
This morning we continue on with our journey through the book of Hebrews, remembering it was a sermon written to a group of Jewish Christians who had gone through tough times and were falling away from Christianity and returning to Judaism. So, the writer has skillfully written his sermon comparing and contrasting Christianity with Judaism. So far, he has argued that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, more exceptional than the angels, more exceptional than Moses and more exceptional than the high priests who were mediators between God and the people because Jesus now exists in the very presence of God and is God.
Today he continues on from the HP theme showing that Jesus is not only the high priest extraordinaire but is also the means through which God has established a new covenant that supersedes the old one. I’ve got to admit when I looked at the reading for today, I was tempted to do something else as it’s not easy to understand….
In many ways all this talk of blood and sacrifice can seem like an assault on our thinking today… This is the gift of Hebrews, it challenges us to think of God in ways that might be foreign to us and if we decided to skip over this part we are skipping over the crux of the sermon…
What is this crux?
Jesus has mediated a new covenant, a more exceptional covenant.
A more exceptional covenant where Jesus has entered into heaven to intercede for all humanity through the ultimate sacrifice, the laying down of his life so we might live.
A more exceptional covenant where Jesus action to deal with sin is "once and for all," unique, exclusive and powerfully effective.
For us to fully get a hold of why this is the crux of the sermon we need to understand a few things. Firstly, as we said earlier the writer of this sermon was basing his sermon around comparing Jesus to the way of Judaism to show that, whilst what God put in place under Judaism, or the old covenant was very good, it wasn’t the end product. In 8:5 the writer reminds them that Judaism was only a foretaste of things to come saying “They [High Priests] serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven.”
The writer wants his listeners to grasp that Jesus was the fulfilment of what the old covenant was pointing toward... more than that Jesus was the mediator of a whole new more exceptional, eternal covenant... again from ch 8 we read “But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.”
Perhaps it’s a bit like the difference between and engagement and a marriage... the engagement signals a promise of commitment to each other and to a new way of life, but the marriage brings the fullness of the engagement into fruition through a new covenant or promise made to each other to share life from that moment forward... and marriage requires a legal mediator whereas engagement doesn’t.
And just as it's only the couple who are engaged that can deliver on their marriage, so only God can deliver on God’s promises.
From the beginning God was at work to reconcile the world back to him, to deal with the inherent nature of sin that is a part of our human condition....
As one commentator points out “The author of Hebrews interprets Jesus' death, resurrection, and exaltation in light of the Judaic sacrificial model. The sacrificial system dealt with the people's sin during the time of the Old Covenant, but it also pointed the way toward the ultimate answer to sin. In the same way, Jesus offered a sacrifice so that sins could be forgiven, but the chief difference is that he did so only once.”
Long ago God called a people for himself making a covenant with them to be their God and they would be his people. A people through which God would make himself known to the world. Exodus 19: 4b-6 God speaks to Moses on Mt. Sinai saying ‘You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
But this covenant was just the beginning, this covenant was a covenant of law and it could do a lot of things but it also had severe limitations when it came to dealing with the issue of our sin... sin isn’t understood here as individual things we do wrong but the corporate nature of underlying evil and associated guilt, fear and abandonment that has troubled humanity from the beginning.
Earlier in Ch 10 the writer points out “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared... But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins...”
The Old covenant could moderate external behaviour and it could make people ceremonially clean but it could do nothing to change the conscience or the heart.
That makes sense if you think about the laws of our land... if we choose to live by them life can be good and peaceful but they can do nothing to remove any sense of guilt we might carry... and if laws are broken they only heighten that sense of guilt....
The psalmist put it this way 119:5-6 Oh, that my actions would consistently
reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.” What feeling was the psalmist running from? Shame... what sits under shame? Guilt.... He wants with all his heart to live by God’s laws so that God’s laws can’t make him feel ashamed for not having kept them....
Our reading from Jeremiah indicates that God fully understood the failings of the old covenant and had a plan to improve things... and the writer quotes Jeremiah 31 in ch 8. “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. “But this is the new covenant.... I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people....and I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
As was said earlier only God can deliver God’s promises...
So the writer uses the illustration of the ultimate sacrifice to show how God had established this new covenant... Jesus was not only the ultimate high priest (as we saw last week) who has entered God’s presence on our behalf, Jesus was also the once and for all sacrifice that took the deep existential problem of human sin, guilt, shame, rejection and abandonment into himself and to the cross so it could be dealt with once and for all time. I like the way the Message puts it “Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.” Heb 9:14
Here it is again the crux of the sermon....
Jesus has mediated a new covenant, a more exceptional covenant.
Jesus has entered into heaven to intercede for all humanity through the ultimate sacrifice, the laying down of his life so that we might live.
Jesus action to deal with sin is "once and for all," unique, exclusive and powerfully effective.
So what does that mean for us in the day to day of living?
If I was to ask you who here today feels completely free from Guilt?
Who feels completely free from shame?
Who feels completely free from condemnation?
Who feels completely free from fear?
Who feels completely free from failure?
Who feels completely worthy?
Who feels completely accepted for who they are?
What does your self talk tell you? I’m guessing you will have heard some of these
You don’t deserve that, you’re not good enough, you are such a bad person, you’re a total failure if people really knew what you were like they wouldn’t love you, you don’t belong here, you should have said yes to them, you should have..... fill in the blank! Should haves can be very guilt inducing... (an aside) next time you hear a should replace it with a could.... you are dumb, you are to fat, you are to thin.... on and on it goes...
How do we tend to deal with these bad feelings?
Most often we tend to bury them, the problem with that is we are burying something that is alive and it will work itself out in ways that are harmful to us or to others....
Perfectionism, workaholic, always busy, addictions, the need for control, the need to hurt others can all be ways of dealing with the bad bits of us that we don’t know what to do with so we bury them.
But the writer from Hebrews offers us a different path... the path of healing and forgiveness that comes through our acceptance of God’s new covenant in Jesus. Dr. John Townshend says in his book “Hiding from love” “The uniqueness of the cross is this; Jesus death took morality problems out of the arena of the law, and into the arena of love. We need no longer fear [or feel guilt] that our imperfections will rip us away from God or others because we are to bad.”
Today our writer of Hebrews helps us understand the more exceptional covenant Jesus has invited us into because...
Jesus has carried our guilt, our fear, our condemnation, our unworthiness, our shame, our rejection and all the attached behaviours to the cross, he has dealt to them once and for all time.
Jesus once and for all sacrifice makes it possible for us to be freed from the power of fear, guilt and condemnation.
Jesus' once and for all sacrifice makes it possible for us to serve God right now.
Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice empowers us, when the past comes knocking, to look back and see only forgiveness and healing for our mistakes and failures.
Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice holds the promise of a better future.
Jesus' once and for all sacrifice guarantees salvation and eternal life found in Him.
Jesus once and for all sacrifice means Jesus appears before God on behalf of all humanity, you and I included. All that’s required of us, whoever we are, is to accept by faith what Jesus has done and in living day by day begin to experience the benefits of the more exceptional covenant, sealed with his blood that Jesus invites us into, are we ready to move from good to exceptional?