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New and improved. How many times have you heard that in advertising and wondered if the only thing new was the packaging? The notification pops up telling you how many of the apps on your phone have been updated to the newest version, or that your operating system has been updated to the newer, faster, safer version. We hear these things so often that we become skeptical. We think, “Even if this is the newest, greatest, fastest, best tasting, yet; in a few weeks or so a newer, greater, faster, better tasting version will come along.” So let’s examine the claim that Jesus, our Great High Priest, is the Mediator of a New and Better Covenant.
First we have to identify what the writer means when he talks about the Old Covenant. He tells us that he is not talking about the covenant God made with Adam and Eve, Abraham and David. He says that he is talking about the covenant he made with Israel when he took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. He is talking about the Covenant he made with Israel at Mt. Sinai.
Scripture reminds us that as important as the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai was, it had its limitations and problems. It was intended for Israel, not for every nation on earth. It was intended to be in place only for a limited time. It was intended to be a guardian, to serve as hedge and a guide, to preserve a remnant of believers among Israel until the Messiah came.
The problem with the Old Covenant had nothing to do with God. He always remained true to the terms of the covenant. The problem was that Israel didn’t remain in the covenant. They did not remain true to their side of the covenant. The covenant at Sinai, unlike the one God made with Adam and Eve, and Abraham, was that it was a two sided covenant, like a marriage contract. God asked the people to commit themselves to him as his special people. He promised that if they remained faithful to him and worshiped him only he would bless them and they would live a long time in the Promised Land. But he also promised that if they were unfaithful to him and worshiped other Gods a curse would come on them and they would lose the land he was about to give them. Although the people agreed and sealed the covenant with blood, they broke their side of the covenant over and over again.
As you study the history of Israel, you can’t help but see yourself. When they doubt God’s promises you are reminded that there are times when you do too. When they grumble and complain because things aren’t going the way they would like them to go and God doesn’t seem to be doing what they would like him to do, you are reminded that there are times when you grumble and complain, when you think you deserve better, even though the only thing we deserve from God is punishment for our sins. When you hear God call them hard hearted and stubborn, you are reminded that you are often hard hearted and stubborn in your dealings with others and in your willingness to admit your sin, or to let God have control. The old covenant of the law doesn’t work any better for us than it did for Israel. There’s nothing wrong with the covenant of the law. It is holy and just. It’s just that we don’t, we can’t, live up to our side of that kind of covenant. If that were God’s last word, the only way he deals with people, then we would all be doomed eternally.
The yearly celebration that reminded people of the Old Covenant was the Passover. It reminded them of how God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Each year they recited the ten plagues that God sent on the Egyptians. Each year they were reminded that all who followed his instructions, slaughtered a lamb, painted its blood around their doors, roasted it and ate it along with unleavened bread, were spared when God passed through Egypt and killed all the firstborn of man and animal. It was the Passover that Jesus was celebrating with his disciples when he gave them a New Covenant. And the writer reminds us that by calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
This New Covenant that Jesus was giving them would no longer involve the blood of a lamb. The New Covenant would be in His blood, the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away not just the sin of Israel, but the sin of the world. No longer would they sacrifice an animal on the Passover because he was about to sacrifice himself, and his sacrifice would not be symbolic, it would actually pay for sin and never have to be repeated again.
But the best part of the New Covenant is that it is not a conditional, or a law covenant. It wasn’t like a marriage contract. It was like a last will and testament. It stated what was going to happen no matter what. It is the covenant foretold through the Prophet Jeremiah. This is the covenant I will establish with the people 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 they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘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.”
Notice that there are no conditions mentioned in this New Covenant. It’s a restatement of the promise he gave to Adam and Eve and Abraham. It simply states what God is going to do. He is going see to it that the fact that he has forgiven their wickedness and that he chooses to remember their sins no more is proclaimed to all. It is only in Jesus that we learn how God is able to do this. As a just and holy God he can’t simply overlook sin. His justice demands satisfaction, punishment for the sinner. But in Jesus God’s justice is satisfied. He punished Jesus for the sins of the world. Because he did, he is able to be just, and at the same time justify, forgive, forget the sins of those who trust in Jesus and not count those sins against us.
While he was celebrating the Passover Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a beautiful proclamation of the New Covenant. He says, “here it is. Here is forgiveness of sins given to you for free. If you had any doubt that your sins were forgiven, here’s proof. Here is my body and my blood that served as the payment for your sins given to you in a miraculous way together with the bread and wine. Be assured that this forgiveness was won for you, because you are the one to whom I am speaking as you eat and drink, you personally, one-on-one. There is nothing for you to do. There is no law for you to keep. Just trust that what I tell you is the truth. I have forgiven your wickedness and I have chosen to remember your sin no more.”
New and improved! We are often skeptical of such a claim. But for those Christians with a Jewish background who were tempted to go back to Judaism, to the Old Covenant of the law, just to avoid persecution, there was nothing to be skeptical about. The New Covenant of free forgiveness in Jesus was and is better by far than the Old Covenant which could only condemn because they couldn’t keep it perfectly. For all Christians today the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, his body and blood given to us under bread and wine, for the forgiveness of our sins; well, there is nothing better.
Rejoice in the proclamation that because of Jesus God forgives your wickedness and remembers your sins no more. Rejoice that because of Jesus the one true God calls you his child, and you are able to call him your God and talk to him as dear children talk to their dear fathers. Come often to receive the New Covenant in his blood so that your doubts may be removed and your faith may be strengthened.