Hebrews 8 – A Better Covenant with Better Promises

Hebrews 8 – A Better Covenant with Better Promises

Please find a Bible and turn with me to Hebrews chapter 8. 

When we are trying to understand what the Bible says to us, our primary task is to try to figure out what the original author was trying to communicate to the original audience. What point was he trying to get across to them? Once we know that, our next task is to try to figure out what relevance that message has for us today. 

Sometimes it is a little complicated to figure out precisely what point a Biblical author is getting at, what problem they are trying to address, what truth they are trying to convey. So you have to look for clues in the text that help you understand what their point is. So lets take a look at Hebrews chapter 8, starting in verse 1, to see if we can get any clues as to what point the author is trying to make.

Now the main point of what is being said is this: 

Hebrews 8:1 (CSB)

Ah ha!  A clue! 🙂   Okay, so, what is his point?

We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man. 

Hebrews 8:1–2 (CSB)

If you’ve been following along with us these past few weeks, we’ve seen that Hebrews begins by saying that when the Jews were under the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, God would deliver messages through His prophets, and especially the prophet Moses, through whom God gave His people the covenant and its laws. 

In chapter 3, we hear Jesus being called “The Apostle and High Priest of our Confession…” — Greater than Moses! Jesus’s message completes, fulfills, and replaces Moses’s message. That’s what it means that Jesus is the “Apostle of our confession.” (In other words, the one sent by God to bring the news that we are to believe and tell people about…”)

And in the past several chapters, we see that under the old covenant, the Levites served as priests for Israel, offering sacrifices in the tabernacle and later in the temple, to atone for the sins of the people. But now, Jesus has been appointed by God as a new kind of priest. 

Jesus is a High Priest who not only brings a sacrifice to God, but who brought a final sacrifice once and for all!  This is what it means that he “sat down” – The old covenant priests could never “sit down” because their work was never finished. Day after day they had to offer sacrifices.  

And no priest could offer sacrifices forever, because eventually they died and someone had to take their place.  But Christ is a better priest: never dying but instead he rose from the dead to be seated directly in the throne room with the father. Jesus has offered a better sacrifice. 

Another thing we learn from chapter 7 verse 12 is that because there has been a change in the priesthood, there is now also a change in the covenant. And that is what we’re going to hear more about in today’s passage.

So this is the point that the author of Hebrews is making in the whole letter. We have a new and better High Priest, Jesus, who brings us complete forgiveness, more clear revelation about God, and a better covenant relationship with God.

Let’s read the rest of today’s passage. 

For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; therefore, it was necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he wouldn’t be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law. These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For God said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain. 

But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. But finding fault with his people, he says: 

See, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. I showed no concern for them, says the Lord, because they did not continue in my covenant. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, and each his brother or sister, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will forgive their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins. 

By saying a new covenant, he has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away.

Hebrews 8:3–13 (CSB)


Let’s talk about the word “obsolete” for a minute. 

Obsolete farm tools

Does anyone know what this is? It’s a scythe. Does anyone know what it is used for?  Mowing or harvesting grain.

A John Deere Combine Harvesting Wheat

Now, does anyone know what this is? It’s a combine. Does anyone know what it is used for? Harvesting grain.

Why do people today use the combine instead of the scythe? Well, because it’s so much more effective! Why would you bother with a scythe?  It is an ineffective way of getting the job done. In fact the combine not only does the job of the scythe more effectively, it does two other things, threshing and separating, at the same time. It “combines” those three tools into one machine.

In the 1830s it used to take about 300 man hours to plant and harvest 100 bushels of wheat. By 1975, this time was reduced from 300 man hours to 3.  Hand tools are out-of-date. Obsolete. Replaced by modern machinery. The combine is better!

Obsolete covenant

The author of Hebrews uses this language of obsolescence, out-of-date-ness, to describe the Old Covenant priestly and sacrificial system, in comparison to the New Covenant, Christ’s Priesthood, and sacrificial work on the cross. The Old Covenant has been replaced by a New covenant that is vastly superior in every way. There is no reason for anyone to try to be under the Old Covenant! God has made a new covenant with Jew and Gentile alike! One based on Jesus’s work. 

Jesus is a better priest of a better covenant. The old covenant is over forever, never to be reinstated, because why would you reinstate an ineffective, out of date covenant?! 

The Problem with the Old Covenant

Why did God need to do away with the Old Covenant and bring in a new covenant? 

Hebrews 8:7-8 tells us the problem with the Old Covenant: The people.

The covenant itself, God’s plan itself, was not somehow flawed, faulty, or a mistake. God did not look down and say, “Oops, I guess that didn’t work. Better try something else.”  The problem was the people. They continuously broke the covenant. They continuously ignored and forgot God. That’s the story of the Old Testament. People’s unwillingness to live in God’s covenant, instead pursuing selfish and sinful desire.

And that was the purpose of the Old Covenant, to show humanity their root problem: their unwillingness to obey God’s commands on their own. 

Better promises of the New Covenant

So the new covenant is not “Oops, let’s try that again” – but rather it’s “see, that didn’t work for you did it? Here’s the better deal.”  And this new covenant wasn’t a new idea that Jesus sprang on people by surprise. God had been telling his people about a new covenant for a very long time. 

Most of our passage today is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Written about 650 years before Jesus’s ministry.  Today’s passage is the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and what is interesting is that the author quotes the passage in its entirety, without comment. The promise delivered by the prophet Jeremiah of a new covenant is so clear, that every single Jew should know its details.

Jeremiah 31 shows us how the new covenant God gave us through Jesus, has better promises than the Old Covenant God gave through Moses.

Better Promise 1: Inward Transformation

“I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts.” 

The Old Covenant was involved almost entirely external realities.  The law was written on stone. The sacrificial system was done with possessions such as your crops and livestock. The Old Covenant even encourages the people to “put copies of the law on your forehead and on your wrist”.  

But where does God place his law under the new covenant? Into our minds. Onto our hearts.

God’s people have always been commanded to worship Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the Old Covenant, this command was to be carried out by our own human will and strength. And that’s why it failed. The reason it was set up like this was to show our inability to do that on our own. 

So how is the New Covenant better? God puts those things in our hearts. He causes us to want these things. He gives us new desires. He transforms our hearts and our minds.

Better Promise 2: Personal Relationship

“I will be their God, and they will be my people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, and each his brother or sister, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them.”

In the old covenant, being a member had to do with being born an Israelite.  Meaning, there were people in the covenant who did not know God! Because of this, God needed to continually act to show them who he was. And not everyone who was otherwise in the covenant community came to know God.

In the New Covenant, every individual in the covenant knows Him personally. God reveals himself to us. Through His Holy Spirit and the clear preaching of The Gospel message.  He calls to us and those of us who are his sheep listen.  Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. My sheep know me. My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me.”  (John 10:14; 27)

Better Promise 3: Forgiveness of sin.

“…I will forgive their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins.”

In the Old Covenant, the sacrificial system was to atone for sins you had committed recently. One sacrifice for one sin. It was temporary atonement. Then you’d immediately go back out and commit another sin and once again bear the guilt. 

In the New Covenant, it’s not just temporary atonement of a recent sin, but entire forgiveness of every sin, past, present, and future!  

The New Covenant is far superior: Entire forgiveness of sin, Inward Spiritual Transformation, Personal Relationship. Isn’t this so much better?  The author of Hebrews asks, why would you want anything else!?

How do we get in on the new deal?

Trust the priest!  

In the Old Covenant, you would bring your required sacrifice, whether it was crops, or livestock, or a bird, or whichever sacrifice was required for your situation by the law. You would give it to the priest, who would present it in the tabernacle or temple on your behalf. You had to trust the priest would do the right thing with it, and had to trust that God was true to his word that your sin was now atoned for. We had to do this every time we sinned.

In the new covenant: we still bring a sacrifice. But we only bring it once. The Apostle Paul says in Romans that we bring ourselves as a living sacrifice, we come to The Great High Priest Jesus and give him our whole selves for our whole life.

We come, believing that He made the final sacrifice of himself, once and for all, on the cross, taking on the punishment we deserve for our sin, and paying the debt we owe because of our rebellion: Life for life. He bought us back from our slavery to sin and death. He forgives our sin and changes us from the inside out. 

That’s how we get in on the new covenant.  We enter the covenant through faith in Christ. Believe that He is who he said he is, and did what he said he did for us. Follow him, and you will find a miraculous thing has happened in your heart and mind: new desires. Inward Transformation. 

Epilogue on Baptism. (This sermon was oringinally given during a baptism service.)

The old covenant had a sign that was to be given to those in the covenant. Circumcision. All males in the old covenant were to be given this sign at birth. 

The new covenant has a sign that is to be given to everyone (male and female) once they enter the covenant through their faith in Christ: Baptism. Baptism doesn’t get you in to the covenant, but it is a symbol that you are in.