In case you forgot, last week we looked at a shadowy man of mystery named Melchizedek. We saw how God used Melchizedek as a foreshadow of the kind of person Jesus Christ would be when He came to earth. The main similarity is that Melchizedek and Jesus are the only two people in the Bible who act as both a priest and a king. This week, we are going to see how the writer of Hebrews takes this comparison to the next level.
Have you ever wondered why the Bible has two testaments? I mean, we have one Bible, and yet we have an Old Testament and a New Testament. Why is that? And one thing you have to know before you can answer that question is, “What is a testament?” Basically, a testament is the same as the word covenant. A promise between two parties. In other words, the Bible breaks down into the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant. And just like a new car is better than an old car and a new tomato is much better than an old tomato, the New Covenant is much better than the Old Covenant.
And yet, church, here’s where it gets difficult. We all know that God is perfect, right? We all know that God doesn’t make any mistakes, right? Ok, so it seems like a perfect, all-knowing God would make a perfect covenant the first time around, right? Well then, why is the New Covenant so much better? Did God make a mistake the first time around? These are the kinds of questions that the writer of Hebrews deals with this morning. And because of the length of this passage, I’m not going to read all of it right now. Instead, I’m just going to read verses eleven through the first half of verse nineteen. So if you’re not there already, please turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 7:11-19.
“If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For He testifieth, ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the law made nothing perfect.”
This morning’s sermon is entitled, “Out with the Old, In with the New.” And this sermon is particularly exciting to me, because in essence, this passage ties together the Old Testament and the New Testament in a way that very few passages do. By the end of this sermon, my goal for you is that you will be able to distinguish the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, and you will give all of your praise to God that He has brought in the New Covenant. So let’s begin our study by looking at the Old Testament (a.k.a. the Old Covenant).
The Old Covenant
To truly understand the Old Covenant, we would have to read all of Genesis one through Malachi chapter four. The entire Old Testament is the story of God’s first covenant with His people. But if I started reading Genesis one right now, and we didn’t stop for meals or naps or bathroom breaks, then we might stand a chance of finishing around lunch time next Sunday. So we’re going to have to find a way to sum the Old Testament up a little bit. And thankfully, that’s what the writer of Hebrews does for us in these verses.
But before we specifically get into the qualities of the Old Covenant, I want to give you a quick survey of what the Old Testament is all about. For most of you, this will not be anything you haven’t heard before. And I don’t know about you, but I could listen to the story of the Bible for the rest of eternity! So hopefully, you’re not bored. So church, this is what the Old Testament is all about.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. You all know the story. God created an absolutely perfect universe in all of its splendor. And then, to cap off His perfect creation, He put two perfect human beings in the middle of the most beautiful part of His creation, the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had perfect fellowship with God. They could be face to face with God, because they had no sin whatsoever. But you all know the fateful story of what happened in that garden. Satan came in the form of a snake and he convinced Adam and Eve to taste the fruit that God told them not to eat. When Adam and Eve broke God’s one and only commandment, sin entered the world. Where once was perfect fellowship, now there was pain, separation, death. The perfect relationship between God and man was broken.
But church, God was not okay with this. God wanted mankind to be in fellowship with Him, so He devised a plan. God picked one man through whom He would bring about redemption. And that man was Abraham. Through the story of Genesis, Abraham’s family grew until they numbered a clan of seventy people, and they moved to Egypt. Over time, the Egyptians began to fear Abraham’s family (who were now known as the Israelites), so they enslaved them. After a period lasting approximately 400 years, God chose a man named Moses to lead His people out of slavery. And that is the story of the book of Exodus. God freed the Israelites, and they began wandering through the wilderness for forty years, before they finally arrived in the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised them.
And it was through Moses that God unveiled His plan for the salvation of the people. You see, God knew that the punishment for mankind’s sin was death. There was no way around it. The punishment of sin is death. And yet, God desired for the people to live forever with Him. So through Moses, God instituted a plan where people could offer up sheep, goats, and bulls and that would cover their sins. God gave the Israelites a list of over 600 laws, and any time they would break any of those laws, they would take a sacrifice to the tabernacle, and the priest would kill the animal. That animal would take the place of the person’s sin. By the lamb’s death, the person could find life. Now, we know from the Apostle Paul that it was through faith in God that the sacrifice saved the person, not through any magical properties in the blood itself. But essentially, that is how it worked. Because of their sin, the individual man could never hope to come close to God. All they could hope to do was go before a priest and have the priest kill an animal on their behalf. And while the sacrifice would cover their past sins, it did absolutely nothing for their future sins. If you made a sacrifice today, and then tomorrow you ate something that wasn’t kosher, then you would have to make another sacrifice for that sin.
And church, that is the Old Testament in a nutshell. And when the writer of Hebrews looks at the Old Covenant, he sees two primary flaws. The first flaw is seen in verse eighteen. Look at what this verse says. “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.” In this verse, the writer of Hebrews says that the Old Covenant is weak and unprofitable. That word “unprofitable” is actually a bit euphemistic. The word in the Greek literally means, “useless.” And the writer of Hebrews is not saying that the first 39 books of the Bible are useless. No, he’s saying that the plan of salvation found in the Old Testament is weak and useless. These aren’t my words, they’re his. It was weak and useless because the old way only temporarily covered sin. You could have no real assurance in your salvation, because you could easily mess up again!
And the second flaw is seen in the first half of verse nineteen. “For the law made nothing perfect.” The old way of doing things (keeping all of those laws and making sacrifices when you mess up) they never made one single person perfect. As a matter of fact, they did the exact opposite. Paul says in Romans three that the main purpose of the law was to show us all how imperfect we truly are. When you made a sacrifice, it was kind of like taking a bath. It made you clean, but if you rolled in the mud again, then that bath was completely nullified. You need another bath.
So as you can see, the Old Covenant had some problems with it. The sacrifices you made were only temporary fixes, like Band-Aids. And more importantly, they didn’t make you perfect. In reality, they showed you how bad off you really were. And so that raises again the question that I mentioned in the introduction to this morning’s sermon. Why would a perfect God institute such a flawed plan? And church, I want you to hold onto your hats for this answer. Remember how Melchizedek was a foreshadow of Jesus? Remember how the fuzzy details in the life of Melchizedek became completely clear in the life of Jesus Christ? Well, God used the entire Old Testament as a foreshadow for what Jesus would do in the New Testament! God knew that the Old Covenant had flaws. He knew that it only temporarily covered sin. God had a plan all along to use the Old Covenant for a while, and then blow our minds with the beauty of the New Covenant. Because church, I fully believe that we could not really appreciate the New Covenant unless we first saw the Old. Seeing the old way of sacrificing lambs would help us to fully appreciate the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. But now that we’ve looked at the Old Covenant in detail, I want to look at the New Covenant.
The New Covenant
At this time, I want to read the final verses of Hebrews chapter seven. So let’s read verses nineteen through the end again. And please follow along extremely closely as I read these verses, because just reading these verses basically preaches the rest of my sermon for me.
“For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as not without an oath He was made priest: (for those priests were made without an oath; but this was an oath by Him that said unto Him, ‘The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: by this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins, and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.”
Praise the Lord! If those verses do not cause your heart to leap for joy, then either you don’t understand them or there’s something wrong with your heart. These verses bring into crystal-clear focus the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, and they show us how far superior the new is. And because we all love to hear the old, old story of Jesus and His love, let me tell it to you one more time.
Our Father in Heaven knew that the Old Covenant had flaws. So after He waited the absolutely perfect amount of time, He sent His one and only Son, the second member of the Trinity, to come down to earth. Remember those 616 laws of Moses? Jesus kept them perfectly, down to every jot and tittle. Just like those lambs in the Old Testament, Jesus was innocent. And yet, the religious establishment hated Jesus, because Jesus’ teaching revealed them to be wicked just like the people they tried to avoid. So these wicked men arrested Jesus. They beat Him. They spat on His face. They nailed Him to a cross, and then they mocked Him. After hours of grueling torture, the Lamb of God died.
But then, on the third day, Jesus Christ rose up victorious from the grave. He walked and talked with His disciples for forty days after that, before He ascended up to Heaven, where He is currently seated at the right hand of the Father. And the writer of Hebrews reminds us time and time again that Jesus is now serving as our high priest. Just like the high priest in the Old Testament served as a mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ serves as our mediator between us and God. But Jesus is not up in Heaven sacrificing sheep for us. No, He is reminding God that He sacrificed Himself!
This is the New Testament! The New Covenant between God and His people. So now, I want to point out several differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, just to show you how truly amazing the new is. The first difference is seen in verses twenty-three and twenty-four. Those verses talk about how before, the hundreds of priests throughout Israel’s history all had one thing in common: they died. But verse twenty-four tells us that Jesus lives forever! His priesthood is unchanging! There will never be a day when a new high priest is inaugurated, because the current one is here to stay!
And the second difference is seen in verse twenty-five. And this verse is so powerful that I want to read it again. This time I’m reading it from the English Standard Version. “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” You would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful phrase in the entire Bible than the one located in this verse. This verse says that we who have trusted in Christ have been saved to the uttermost. Praise God! Church, we have to know for sure that if we lived in the Old Testament times, there was no way for us to be saved to the uttermost. Where the writer of the Hebrews described the Old Covenant as one that was weak and useless, God has now brought about a covenant that is able to save us entirely. Where before, our sins were merely temporarily covered, now they have been washed away. Before, the closest we could ever hope to come to God during our lifetimes was talking to a priest, who would intercede for us on our behalf. And now, under the New Covenant, God has said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man will hear my voice, and open the door, then I will come into him.” Under the New Covenant, God has completely removed the vast gulf of separation because of our sin. And it’s all because Jesus has saved us to the uttermost.
The third difference between the old and the new is seen in verse twenty-seven. Look and see what this verse says. “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins, and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself.” Church, the third difference between then and now is perhaps the most beneficial for us. Before, you had to offer up sacrifices as often as you sinned. Remember, I said it was like taking a bath. The bath is only good for as long as you can stay clean. But under the New Covenant, Jesus’ sacrifice is once-for-all good for every man, woman, and child who will put their faith in Him. You know, while I was a little bit proud of thinking of my bath illustration, Jesus really came up with a much better illustration in John chapter four. In that chapter, Jesus told the woman at the well that when you drink water, you’re always going to get thirsty again. But then Jesus told her that if she would drink the living water that He has to offer, she would never thirst again. That is the promise of the New Covenant!
This morning, I have tried hard to weave together the entire Bible into a single sermon. I wanted you to see straight from God’s word how the Old and the New are interconnected, especially seeing that the entire Old Testament looks forward to the day when the Lamb of God would die once and for all, for all people, for all time. God didn’t make a mistake when He did the Old Covenant. In a very beautiful way, He wants the Old Testament to help us appreciate the New Testament more. That’s one of the reasons I love the Old Testament so much. In the midst of all of the stories, and all of the laws, and all of the Psalms and the Proverbs, there is this underlying current that says, “Jesus is coming.” This idea of “Just wait, it gets even better.” Last week we saw it in the life of Melchizedek, and this week we’ve seen it in the covenant God made with His people.
And that, church, is God’s covenant with you. His covenant that if you place your faith in His only Son, then Jesus’s sacrifice will once and for all cover your sins. The Bible says that your sins will be removed as far as the east is from the west. Another verse says that they will be thrown to the bottom of the ocean, never to trouble you again. But perhaps the most beautiful part of the New Covenant is that we have been made new creatures. We have been given the Holy Spirit, Who comes into our lives and convicts us of when we fail, and congratulates us when we succeed. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit resides in you, desiring to make you more and more like the Christ you serve.
And as the pianist and song leader come forward, let me ask you this: “Are you listening to the Holy Spirit?” Are you letting Him transform you from the inside out? Are you closer to Christ today than you were last week? Last month? Last year? And perhaps the biggest question this morning is, “Are you truly grateful for the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ?” I know I am grateful, but I am not grateful enough. Jesus Christ has been the biggest blessing of my life, and my desire is to give Him every part of my life, because He gave us every part of His.
And this morning, if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, then you have really gotten a crash course in Christianity today. You heard me say that our sins have separated us from God. But you also heard me say that salvation does not come by a long list of sacrifices you must make during your life. Salvation comes by trusting in Jesus, our High Priest who became a perfect sacrifice for us. The Bible says that if you will simply put your faith in Him, you will be saved. Will you do that today? Will you trust in Jesus?
And if you decide to come up front and pray, and you would like me to pray with you, please just get my attention. It would be my privilege to pray with you. But before we have an invitation, let’s pray together.
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