Remember from Hebrews 8:5 that the priests serve a copy and a shadow of heavenly things. The tabernacle and temple were a shadow; the official priesthood was a shadow; the animal sacrifices were a shadow; the feasts and dietary laws were a shadow. And when Christ came, the shadows began to fall away, because Christ himself is the Reality. He is our temple and tabernacle, our focus and place of worship. He is our High Priest and Mediator and Intercessor. He is our atoning sacrifice. He is our Passover feast and spiritual food. He is our purity and holiness that sets us off from other people.
And we saw last week that there’s a reason why the worship and focus of the New Testament is so radically spiritual, rather than ritualistic and traditionalistic. The reason is that Christianity is a missionary faith. That is, the message of the New Testament is meant to be preached to all peoples, and the radical worship of the New Testament is meant to be incarnated in all cultures. That was impossible in the Old Testament. The tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices, feasts and dietary laws could not be transferred to other peoples and cultures. It was a come-see religion. Christianity is a go-tell religion. That is why Christianity is radically spiritual. Radically internal. Radically personal. And we could add radically ethical, lest anyone misunderstand “internal” to mean “private.” It is meant for all peoples, tribes, tongues and nations. So almost all the mandated ritualistic, formal, external aspects of worship life are gone. What remains is a radically spiritual, internal, personal joyful dependence on all that God is for us in Jesus, and the outworking of love and justice in community.
Now this week, the writer takes us down this same path a little further. He says that this radically spiritual, internal, personal way of relating to God is, in fact the fulfillment of the promised New Covenant. That’s what today’s text is about. And we are going to spend two weeks on it….
The faultiness of the first covenant—the Mosaic law—was not that God gave bad commands, but that the people had bad hearts. There was divine forgiveness and patience in the first covenant (Exodus 34:6-7). There was the call for faith in the first covenant (Numbers 14:11; Hebrews 3:19; 4:6). There were promises of God’s love in the first covenant (Exodus 34:7). But, by and large, these things did not get into the people’s hearts. It was mainly external rather than internal. Obedience by will-power rather than by reliance on the Spirit; and ritualistic rather than personal.
What Was the Flaw in the Old Covenant?
What was wrong? What was the flaw? There are two ways to answer that question. From the human side and from God’s side. From the human side the problem was unbelief and hard-heartedness (Hebrews 3:8,15,19; 4:7). From God’s side the problem was that God withheld the sovereign enablement of his Spirit.
Listen to Deuteronomy 29:4. Moses is speaking as he looks back over forty years of rebellion in the wilderness: “To this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.” That was the ultimate reason why the old covenant was inadequate. God had lessons he meant to teach in the Old Testament and they involved enduring generations of stubbornness and rebellion and hard-heartedness until the time the new covenant should come.
But now it comes with Jesus Christ, the Mediator of a new covenant. Let’s read the description of it in verses 10 and 11 (and save verses 12-13 for next week):
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 I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them.
He says three things about this new covenant: First, the will of God is going to be written not just on stone tablets or white Bible paper, but in the mind and on the heart. Second, the new covenant will establish a relationship of ownership of us by God: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” And finally, the new covenant will be personal and intimate. When it is perfected we won’t have to exhort each other to know the Lord, because we will know him intimately and personally. “All shall know me from the least to the greatest.”
We Need God’s Will Written on our Hearts
So you can see the new covenant is exactly what we need if God is going to replace shadows with Reality. If God’s will is that we be free from externalism and formalism and ritualism and traditionalism, so that our faith and our corporate worship and our life can be radically spiritual and personal and internal, then we need more than the blowing away of the shadows of the Old Testament. We need for God to write his will on our hearts. We need for him to assert himself powerfully in our lives as our God. We need for him to see to it not just that he is knowable, but that we know him.