Events of the past few days have marked a profound change in our culture. We have yet to see the implications for concepts like personhood, the family, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. As important as these changes in our culture are, and they may well have profoundly disturbing consequences, we need to remember that God is sovereign. As deep as those changes are, however, they are not as profound as the change that Hebrews 8 describes, the change from the old covenant to the new. And in that change lies hope. The church is still a pilgrim people, a nation in exile. Our deepest identity is not national, but rather our belonging to the body of Christ. As you appreciate his work there is hope, both on a personal level and as you look at the world around.
Christ is mediator of a better covenant. His ministry is superior to that of the old covenant. Christ’s ministry is superior. His covenant is founded on better promises. Christ is mediator in a new covenant. That covenant helps you appreciate his greatness. God himself replaced the covenant. Your better mediator has sat down, v.1.He has accomplished his work. He has ascended his throne. Your great High Priest is the theme of the Book of Hebrews.
The new covenant has replaced the old. Jeremiah wrote that it was not enough to rededicate oneself (or the nation) to the old system, the old had to be replaced. God found fault with the old. It was not that the old had something wrong in itself. Rather, as a shadow, it could not deliver from sin. The weakness is not that of the old as a legal system, but that of being a shadow.
God writes his law in your heart. He puts his law in your mind. The law was memorized in the Old Testament. It was always before God’s people, Deuteronomy 6:6-9. But memorizing didn’t guarantee obedience. God changes your heart. The prerequisite of obedience is a new heart, Ezekiel 11:19,20; 36:26,27. The purpose of the new covenant is still obedience, Romans 8:3,4.
God is your God, you are his people. This is a constant theme of the covenant: Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; 2 Corinthians 6;16; Revelation 21:3. God is with you much more richly in Immanuel. The Holy God can be your God only as Christ, your ascended Redeemer, lives in you by his Spirit. “The fruit of the covenant is that God chooses us to be His people, and proclaims that He will be the guardian of our salvation.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews).
In this new covenant you know, you really know God. Israel had a history of forgetting God. But lack of knowledge of God is ultimately sinful rebellion against him (read Romans 1). God first knew you, Galatians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 8:3. Knowledge is not merely an intellectual activity. It is close to love. Knowledge involves an experiential trust in Christ.
God no longer remembers your sins. God is merciful to you, forgiving your wickedness. God’s mercy in ther old covenant led to the sacrificial system. As types, the Old Testament ceremonies did not remove sins, Hebrews 10:1-7. Yet there was no forgiveness without the death of a substitute. It was granted because of the future work of Christ. Your iniquities are a barrier between you and God. Man’s sin, not his creaturehood, is the barrier. God does remove your iniquity. In the new covenant, forgiveness is written in the terms of the covenant. Old Testament sacrifices were shadows of the sacrifice which inaugurated the new covenant. That sacrifice enables a holy God to forgive your sins. “The first thing that is necessary is the free pardon of sin. Without this it is impossible to take part in any other mercy, for while people continue under the guilt of sin, they are also under the curse.” (John Owens, Hebrews).
Through Christ’s work, God banishes your sins from his memory. Memory in the Bible, carries with it the thought of action. If your sins are remembered, God mus take action against them. Christ’s work brings forgiveness. Sin had to be covered to be forgotten. Christ provided that covering by his death. That is why the concept of the substitutionary atonement is so crucial. The Creator of the galaxies became man. He died, rose, and ascended in your place.
In the new covenant there is fellowship with God, there is knowledge of God, because, first, there is forgiveness. Your sins are blotted out of God’s memory. God’s work is complete in Christ. The great High Priest who has forgiven you will continue to care for you—despite and through the complexity of the sufferings you face.