Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Jesus and the New Covenant(1)

This marks the second division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

One very central tenet in Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old. This second section of Gleanings from Hebrews will cover this central message.

The Greatness of the Old Covenant

It is appropriate to begin this section, however, with a strong reminder of how great the Old Covenant was. The New Covenant is not about the good replacing the bad, but a matter of the best superseding the good. So let's take a hard look at this:

Moses Was a Great Man

There is no clearer statement of the greatness of Moses than this:

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12, NASB

This is an incredible resume to have:

  • The best that has been.
  • Known by the Lord face to face
  • Signs and wonders
  • Mighty power
  • Great terror

And truly, there is no other candidate in all the history of Israel to match Moses. He was the one who saw the birth of the nation and through the Lord fashioned its constitution and its religious systems.

The Law is a Great Thing

Both the Old and the New Testament attest to the greatness of the Law in terms of revealing God and regulating human conduct:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Far from being defective, the delight of the Law is the source of a well-watered firmly rooted life. This is a great thing.

Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The Law gives light and understanding the human condition. By the Law we can learn and live and avoid the pitfalls of a live and learn approach to life.

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?" (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

The Law is a means to national greatness because a nation can be full of wise and understanding people.

“This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’ “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. (Acts 7:37-38)

The opinion of Stephen in the book of Acts was that the Law consisted of "living oracles." This is not the same as a dead code.

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12)

Paul, the champion of grace, understood the Law to be "holy and righteous and good." 

For those of you made uncomfortable by this section, let me say that the problem addressed by Paul, in Galatians for example, was legalism by which someone seeks justification by the Law. This is impossible and any who try that path walk a path of cursing. Hoever, it is the heart of man and not the Law that fails. For more information, see my paper on the New Covenant in Jeremiah.

The Temple and Its Offerings are Great

The temple was modeled after things Moses saw in heaven:

“Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. (Exodus 25:8-9)

The temple represents the presence of God on the earth:

Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:6-9)

The tabernacle and then the temple is the place where God established His Name. The offerings in the temple were a way to:

  • Deal with sin and guilt
  • Provide for national atonement
  • Eat a fellowship meal with the Lord
  • Worship God

The Greatness of the Old Covenant

And so it must be said that the Old Covenant with its Moses, tabernacle, offerings, prophets, and literature was God revealing, light giving, wisdom giving, sin covering, and faith inducing. There are many Christians saved by Jesus' blood who have not experienced these wonderful gifts from the Old much less the increased bounty of the New.

Simply put, we must stop thinking of the Old Covenant as somehow bad and awful.

The New is Brighter than the Old

To put the old and the new in perspective imagine a dark room. Light a single candle and the room is no longer dark. You can find your way, avoid obstacles, and read with its light.

Put a white screen behind a lit candle and hit it with a bright beam and you will see the shadow of the flame cast on the screen. That is how a light can be a shadow. This is the sense of Hebrew's message:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1)

A shadow, yes. But it gave light before the greater light came. To acknowledge the greatness of the Old Covenant is to give all the greater glory to the New. Also, according the Jeremiah, the New Covenant consists of the Law being written on our hearts. In other words, the Holy Spirit gives us greater ability to live the Law from the heart. So the Old Covenant is a key to the most complete understanding of the New.

The Old Covenant was great, but at every point the New Covenant is clearer, closer, more enduring, and more effective. And all of this is because of Jesus: the Son, Redeemer, Advocate, Mediator, High Priest, and Offering of the New Covenant.

No wonder the author of Hebrews spends so much time writing of Jesus' superiority.

Thursday: Jesus, The Greater Word

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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