A Better Covenant, part 4 (Hebrews 8:11-13)

We are looking at the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10-12, which is a quotation from Jeremiah 31 and forms the longest New Testament quotation from the Old Testament.  Here it is:

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

So first, the New Covenant was internalized.  No longer written on tablets of stone, it is written upon the minds and hearts of New Covenant participants (by faith), thus giving them a deeper motivation and greater power to keep God’s laws.

That was last week.  Let’s move on to the other benefits of the New Covenant as promised by Jeremiah.

Secondly, the New Covenant gives us the promise of an exclusive relationship with God.  The rest of verse 10 says, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Even this is another motivation for obedience.  As Spurgeon said, “The best way to make a man keep a law is to make him love the law-giver.”  And we love Him because He first loved us!

Now, it is obvious that God is God over all creation, but this is speaking of a truer, more tender relationship that would exist between God and his people that He brought into covenantal relationship with Him.

In a transcendent sense, God is God “to every star that burns, and to every worm that creeps, and to every gnat that dances for a moment. . . . He is a God to every man that lives lavishing upon him manifestations of divinity, and sustaining him in life.”  But there is also a tender, truer relationship of heart to heart, spirit to spirit—so that “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” is true in a deeper, more soul-satisfying way than those on the outside can imagine.

This was one of the most precious truths of the Abrahamic covenant—that the only true God would be the God of this people, Israel, and they would belong to Him as a precious possession.

This is why David said: “Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!” (Psalm 144:15b)  When we have the one and only true God as our Lord, we are truly most blessed!

Jesus expands upon this when He taught His disciples to pray “Our Father.”  This was a revolutionary concept, to believe that God was “my Father.”  Under the Old Covenant, the whole nation was thought of as Yahweh’s son, but not individuals.

One of the means of assurance of our salvation is the very fact that through the Spirit of adoption we can have the courage to pray to “Abba” Father (Romans 8:17).

The new covenant brings a new relationship between people and God.  Intermediaries (priests) who were vital under the old covenant, have changed roles under the new covenant.  No longer is God’s truth apprehended and applied through priestly mediation.  Rather, the new covenant made each believer a priest (1 Pt 2:5, 9).  Every believer has access to God through prayer.  Every believer can understand God’s saving promises as revealed in the Bible because he or she has God as a living presence in his or her heart.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 120)

We are not only His through creation, but through redemption as well.  Redemption means “to be bought back.”  We were once enslaved to sin, held captive by Satan and destined to death.  But like Hosea, who bought his adulterous wife out of slavery (Hosea 3), so God purchased us.  And He paid an infinite price to get us back.  The redemption price was the blood of His beloved Son.

Peter says, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

It was the blood of Jesus Christ that ransomed us from our captivity to Satan.

This double ownership by God is illustrated in this story.

There was a father and son in England.  The boy loved boats.  His dad carved a beautiful model boat out of wood.  It had fabric sails with rigging and carefully painted features.  One summer day, the boy told his father that he was going to sail his model ship in the shallows of the bay.  A sudden squall came up and the wind swept the boat out to sea.  The distraught boy returned home and told his father the sad news of how the boat was lost.

Six months later the boy was walking downtown when to his utter amazement he saw his own boat for sale in the window of the village pawn shop!  He ran in and told that owner that the boat belonged to him.  The shop owner admitted that it may have been true that it had once been his boat, but that he had paid twelve pounds to obtain it.  The next day he returned to the pawn shop with his father.  The boy waited outside.  His father came out of the store with the beautiful boat under his arm.  He had redeemed it by paying the price that had been set.

We are “twice God’s,” meaning that we are His not only by creation but also by redemption.

When he says, “I will be their God…” He means that He will be for us everything that a God should be.

  • Will He be a Father for us?  Yes, a loving, personal Father.  The very best.
  • Will He be a Shepherd?  Yes, a good shepherd supplying all we need, even at the cost of His own life.
  • How about a Friend?  One who sticks closer than a brother.
  • A Savior from our sins?  Yes, He is the Lord our Redeemer.

When He promised, “I will be your God…” all that is included in His being and promises are for us.”

Right after the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:30, Paul asks, “If God is for us who can be against us?”  Then he lists four great assurances of God being “for us,” (1) that He has already done the most difficult thing—giving up His one and only Son for our redemption, so we can believe that He will do everything necessary for our ultimate glorification; (2) that as the ultimate judge He has already declared us righteous, no matter what human judges may say; (3) that Christ is not condemning us for our sins, but interceding for us before God; and (4) that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love found for those in Christ Jesus.

So through the New Covenant we become “His people.”  We belong to God.  He says, “You are my own, my precious possession, my inheritance, my beloved, the apple of my eye.”

This New Covenant relationship is echoed by Peter in his first epistle, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

That last part, “once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” is a quotation from the book of Hosea.  Although Israel, like Gomer, was prostituting themselves with other gods, Yahweh promises that one day He would show them mercy and bring them into an exclusive and eternal relationship with Him.

Like the bride says to her beloved in Song of Solomon “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” (6:3; 7:10) it is an expression of a delightful, intimate relationship.

Charles Spurgeon once said:

People have their treasures, their pearls, their jewels, their rubies, their diamonds, and these are their peculiar store.  Now, all in the covenant of grace are the peculiar store of God.  He values them above all things else besides.  In fact, He keeps the world spinning for them.  The world is but a scaffold for the Church.  He will send creation packing when once it has done with His saints.  Yes, sun, and moon, and stars shall pass away like worn-out rags when once He has gathered together His own elect, and enfolded them forever within the safety of the walls of heaven.  For them time moves; for them the world exists.  He measures the nations according to their number, and He makes the very stars of heaven to fight against their enemies, and to defend them against their foes.  “They will be my people.”  The favor that is contained in such love it is not for tongue to express.  Perhaps on some of those quiet resting-places prepared for the saints in heaven, it shall be a part of our eternal enjoyment to contemplate the heights and depths of these golden lines.

This is why we have such immediate access to our heavenly Father in prayer, like little John John playing under the desk of his father, the President, John F. Kennedy, in the Oval Office.

It is interesting that God made a similar statement in Exodus…

Then (when God brings Israel “out from under the burdens of the Egyptians“) I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

And yet although there is a similarity between God’s declaration in Exodus and the New Covenant, they are not the same.  Leon Morris explains it this way…

The God Who saves people in Christ is the God of His redeemed in a new and definitive way. And when people have been saved at the awful cost of Calvary, they are the people of God in a way never before known. (Gaebelein, F, Editor: Expositor’s Bible Commentary 6-Volume New Testament. Zondervan Publishing)

How do we define the New Covenant?  It is defined by four glorious promises.  The first is the promise of internalized religion in new hearts; the second is the promise of an exclusive relationship with the one true God…

The third is the promise of personal intimacy.  Look at verse 11: “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

So what is this verse referring to?

Remember that our author is drawing a sharp contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  The reality is that although Israel was the covenant nation, many individuals did not know God in a saving way.  Although every boy was circumcised the 8th day and memorized the Torah by age 12, that did not mean he was a recipient of God’s saving grace.  In fact, Judas Iscariot was a part of the covenant community and bore that very mark upon his body, yet Jesus called him the “son of perdition.”  And what about Caiaphas the high priest?

God’s covenant with Moses was a national covenant.  Individuals either trusted God and His promises (like Abraham) or they did not.  Every Israelite knew of God, knew the conditions of the covenant, but very few continued to love God and obey God.

When the New Covenant talks about knowing God, it is not talking about information knowledge, but rather relational knowledge.  It is communicated in Genesis 4:1 where it says “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…”  It is the knowledge of deep, personal intimacy.

Jesus was speaking of this same reality when he said in Matthew 7:23 of those who claimed to minister and do miraculous feats in the name of the Lord, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  Of course, this does not mean that Jesus is ignorant of certain facts about them, but rather that there was no relational intimacy, therefore no relationship.

The wonder of the New Covenant is that every person “from the least of them to the greatest” (in other words, no one is left out), by virtue of believing in Jesus Christ, has an intimate relationship with the living God.

Jesus defined eternal life by saying, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life does not come from merely knowing some facts about God, but about entering into an intimate and personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  That is what our author is talking about here.

While our author says, no one needs to say to his neighbor or brother “know the Lord” for all will know me, this doesn’t mean that we never need to pursue a deeper knowledge and more intimate understanding of God.  In fact, we will be growing in our knowledge and understanding of this marvelous, mysterious God throughout eternity.  He is infinite and we are finite—we will always be learning.  And it doesn’t mean that we have no need of teachers (Eph. 4:11).

What it means is that there are no second-class citizens within the body of Christ.  Everyone has access to this relationship and everyone can grow in this relationship.  Notice how universal this promise is: they will “all,” from “the least of them to the greatest.”  From the youngest child who exercises faith in Jesus to the most sophisticated theologian, this covenant introduces each one into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  You cannot be too young, or too old, too mentally challenged, or too unimportant.  On the other hand, you can’t be too educated, too influential, too affluent or too powerful.

If you are not on intimate terms with Jesus Christ today your problem is not your age, your gender, your social status or race.  Your problem is that you (and I) have fallen short of God’s standard of perfection.

And that is what makes promise four such good news.

The fourth promise is the promise of thorough-going forgiveness.  Verse 12 says, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

What must not be missed is that this sentence, as great as it is, is introduced with the little for “for.”  Little words make a big difference.

Here he is saying that all of the prior promises of the New Covenant are based on this one ultimate promise.  Internalized religion with a new heart, an exclusive relationship with the true God, a personal intimacy with God all are ours because God promises to forgive us.

Because of the death of Jesus Christ, God of His own sovereign will, will never ever call to His attention our sins.  He will never treat us on the basis of our sins IF we have put our trust in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross.

What did Micah say?

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

Did you know that the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean is deeper than Mount Everest is high?  In other words, the farthest distance you could take anything on earth is in the “depths of the sea.”  God has removed your sins from you as far as could possibly be reached.  And that is just a symbol for the infinite distance God moves our sins from us!

The New Covenant promises us complete forgiveness.  This is precisely what the old covenant could not do.  Under the old covenant, sins were never completely forgiven because they were never truly forgotten.  They were covered, awaiting and pointing to the true forgiveness through Christ’s death.

In Romans 3 Paul says…

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God remains just in that He punished our sins, but He is also “the justifier” in that He punished our sins in Jesus Christ.  While he “passed over former sins” Christ has now paid the price for those sins.  Judgment has fallen, but it fell upon Jesus Christ.

Please listen to me.  Those who are listening today as sinners or legalists please hear me.  Christianity is not a religion for perfect people.  Christianity is not a religion for those who have their “acts together.”  It is not a religion for those who are spiritually self-sufficient, but for those (like me) who have failed God again and again and are in dire need of having their sins forgiven.

Your forgiveness is final and complete in Jesus Christ.  Jesus paid it all, everything last bit through every last drop of blood on the cross.

When verse 13 says that the Old Covenant is “obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” he is saying that God is about to put his exclamation point on the finality of the Old Covenant with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  So don’t turn back to the Old Covenant.  You have such better promises in the New Covenant.  Embrace them all through Jesus Christ!

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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