Hebrews 8:1-6 - Jesus' Ministry Is Superior To The Ministry of The Old Covenant
As many of you know, I am on the board of a classical academy. I have come to appreciate the mission statement that all of the kids know and recite each day. It says, “Veritas Christi Classical Academy exists to train students to become discerning thinkers, eloquent communicators, and virtuous ambassadors of Christ, who love the True, Good and Beautiful, and live joyful lives of true worship of God.”
This vision statement refers to many of the things that the author of Hebrews is addressing in our text today. Let me take just a few moments to explain.
From the very beginning of our text we see that the author of Hebrews wants to train these believers to be discerning thinkers. He will say in Hebrews 8:1, “Now the point in what we are saying is this…”. The author of Hebrews again stops to make clear what his main point is. He doesn’t want any confusion about what he is saying. He wants clarity and competency in the hearers.
This week I talked to a retired teacher who told me a story. He said one time he spent the whole class talking to the students on a topic. Near the end of class he handed out the homework but he could see that they did not understand it. He realized the fault was his because he did not explain it well.
Instead of sending the kids home confused he told the kids to throw the homework away because they should not be punished for his failure. Instead he told them that he would go home and figure out a way to teach the subject better so they could understand the point that he was trying to make.
The author of Hebrews wants to make sure these believers understand what he has said. To remove any doubt or confusion he tells them exactly what the main point is. One commentator says, “These words show that the writer is not content just to state truth correctly. He wants to inform minds, so as to affect lives...God’s truth is for the head and the heart.”1
The author of Hebrews wants these believers to know these wonderful truths that he has been speaking about so they can be eloquent communicators of the gospel. As this happens they will become virtuous ambassadors of Christ(in the church and within the culture)He wants them to not just have a head knowledge of the truth but he wants them to love the true, the good and the beautiful. Then they will no longer embrace the useless and fruitless shadows and copies of the Old Covenant but they will live joyful lives of true worship of God through Christ.
These believers had lost their joy in Christ and they were tempted to return to the Law and the Levitical Priesthood. They were in danger of walking away from the true worship of God which is only found in Christ.
Only through Christ can we have hearts that will love the true, the good and the beautiful. And as we experience these things we can experience great joy of true worship of God. Therefore, the author of Hebrews does not want them to walk away still being confused because the consequences of such confusion are serious. Another commentator says, “The whole purpose of the first seven chapters of Hebrews has been to get across to us the surpassing greatness of Christ, and in that context to show us why apostasy is a peril. If you walk out on the glory of God, there is nowhere to go except into outer darkness.”2
As we read our text and go through this sermon we will begin to appreciate the fact that we desperately need to come to the book of Hebrews to “train ourselves to become discerning thinkers, eloquent communicators, and virtuous ambassadors of Christ alone. We are to be those who love the True, the Good and Beautiful even if we are surrounded by a culture who hates these things. And if we will do this we will live joyful lives of true worship of God.”
Our text this morning is found in Hebrews 8:1-6. It says,
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he meditates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.
Over the past week my family and I attended a wedding in Oklahoma. It took us fourteen hours to drive there. Along the way there are countless billboards that try to get your attention so that you will stop at their particular attraction.
One of the signs that I saw was a billboard that invited us to go through the Jesse James Museum. Of all of the signs that we passed by this was the sign that came with the most temptation for me to pull off the highway and attend. When I was younger I had gone through a similar museum and I wondered if this was the same attraction. I enjoyed it when I was younger so maybe I would enjoy seeing it again.
While I was driving I happened to look over and see the Museum just off the highway. When I saw it the desire to get off the highway and spend the time going through it was gone. The building was was very small. It was probably a little bit bigger than our church foyer. Because of this it did not seem to be anything that would make me want to prolong our trip home so that I could go and see it. The invitation given on the billboards seemed far more exciting than the actual building that the attraction was housed in.
Throughout the book of Hebrews we have seen that the Jewish Christians who received this letter had become distracted from looking upon Christ. They were beginning to drift away from Him and from the church. These believers were sojourners (pilgrims, travelers) who had begun to off ramp from their hope in Christ and they had begun to move farther away from Jesus and the destination that they had one time embarked upon.
These believers lived in a culture that surrounded them with countless invitations to return to the Law, Temple Worship, and the Levitical Priesthood. Some of these believers were given invitations to return to Temple Worship from their loved ones. At other times, however, these believers received threats from the religious and political authorities if they did not return to Judaism.
When I saw the Jesse James Museum I was not tempted to get off the highway and deviate from my course. But when these believers were tempted to return to forsake Christ because they looked out into their culture they saw the enormity of the Temple, they saw the Levitical Priests functioning in their various roles, they heard Moses being spoken of, and they were told of the benefits and promises to be enjoyed under that system.
These things provided a strong temptation for these believers to abandon the Christian faith. Add to all of these things that they had begun to experience trials, suffering and persecutions for their faith in Christ. Now the temptation to fall away and embrace these other things became even more enticing.
Because of these trials some of these Christians may have begun to ask, “What Happened To Jesus? Is He still alive? Where is He and what is He Doing?”
Don’t we ask similar questions when we are confused and when we are struggling to get through some trial or season of suffering? Job experienced this when he says, “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!...Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.” (Job 23:2-3, 8-9)
These believers probably could identify a lot with what Job expresses in those verses. Over time they had forgotten all that they had seen and heard when they had first come to faith. In the midst of their struggles and troubles they had forgotten how to draw near to the Lord and to the throne of grace.
Wherever these believers turned they saw Judaism, the Temple, the synagogues, they saw the priests doing their tasks, and they heard the Law of Moses. Some wanted to return to these things because they could see it and experience these things. They had begun to ask, “What Happened To Jesus? Is He still alive? Where is He and what is He Doing?”
The author of Hebrews knows that these believers are asking these sort of questions so He writes this letter to tell them, “Jesus is alive and well. At this very moment he sits at God’s right hand to serve as our great High Priest.”3
The author of Hebrews wants to show them that the ministry that Jesus has is far better than these other things even though we cannot see it with our natural eyes. The author of Hebrews wants to show them that all of these things that they see going on around them are weak and useless. They are just copies and shadows of the real things that are in heaven. Therefore, if they turn away from Jesus then they are turning away from the real, ‘the true, the good, the beautiful things’. They would forfeit joy and true worship of God.
2 Corinthians 1:5says, “For as we share in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” These Hebrew believers were discouraged and facing suffering as a result of their faith. Yet, just as they were to share in the sufferings of Christ, they were also to share abundantly in His comfort too. Some of the ways we are comforted in such times is to have our minds and hearts strengthened in the grace of God. During times of suffering we need to be reminded that Jesus is alive and able to comfort us. We need to be reminded that Jesus sits at God’s right hand interceding for us and serving us as our great High Priest.
These are the very truths that the author of Hebrews uses to encourage these believers. We see this in the summary that David Thompson gives concerning our text. He says, “God wants us to know that we have a living High Priest who gives us a new covenant of grace, which is far superior to the old covenant relationship of law.”4
We see why he summarizes the passage this way when we read Hebrews 8:1-2, “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, who is at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” We also see it in Hebrews 8:6 which says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
These ‘better promises’ referred to at the end of Hebrews 8:6 will be given to us next week in Hebrews 8:7-13. For example,
We will see that the New Covenant will not be like the Old Covenant in which God showed them no mercy for the sins of the people.
We will see that in the New Covenant God will put His law into our hearts and minds so that there is an internal change.
We will see that under the New Covenant we have the promise that by the Spirit we will know God in a greater way.
And we will also see that under the New Covenant God will be merciful to us and will not remember our sins anymore.
The ‘main point’ that the author of Hebrews has been trying to convey to us is that the covenant of grace that Jesus mediates in heaven is better than the covenant of Moses which was mediated by the Levitical Priesthood here on earth.
Under this New Covenant Jesus Christ alone is obligated to perfectly fulfill all of the covenant requirements. Since Jesus has achieved this a person needs only to believe in Him and then they are guaranteed to receive all of these ‘better promises’ under this New Covenant. They are given these things by grace and not through the keeping of the Law.
In our text today, Hebrews 8:1-6, we see that there are five reasons why Jesus’ ministry is superior to the ministry of the Levitical Priesthood under the Old Covenant.
Jesus Ministry Is Superior Because Christ Is The Perfect High Priest
We read in Hebrews 8:1, “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest…”. What is the type of High Priest that we have in Jesus? Hebrews 7:26-28has already told us what type of High Priest we have, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”
Jesus is not like the Levitical Priests who had to offer sacrifices for themselves and then for others over and over again. We read, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”
Jesus’ Ministry Is Superior Because Christ Now Sits At The Right Hand Of The Father
Only a High Priest who is ‘holy, innocent, unstained, and separated from sinners’ can be exalted above the heavens and be seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Therefore, we see in Hebrews 8:1that Jesus is better than the Levitical Priesthood because He ‘is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven…”.
The Old Testament priests could never sit down because their tasks were never completed and their obligations were never fulfilled. They continually had to offer sacrifices for themselves and for the people. This continued day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
When you consider all of the items that were placed in the Temple you will not find a chair to sit in. Their work was never done. The High Priest could not go into the Holy of Hollies and sit down and relax. Day after day they had to continue to perform their tasks and duties that were required by the Law.
Jesus, however, completed His task and fulfilled all that was required of Himand He become our perfect High Priest who represents you and I before the Father. Jesus can take His place at the right hand of the Father because there is no more work to be done to qualify Him to deal righteously with our sin, or to be our faithful intercessor, or to be our guardian and protector. His sacrifice has been accepted and therefore He has been enthroned forever!
Jesus’ Ministry Is Superior Because Christ Ministers In The Holy Places
In Hebrews 8:2read that Jesus is ‘a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.’
Have you ever said something like, ‘If Jesus would just show Himself in this way I would believe.’ Or have you ever said, ‘If Jesus would just show up in this manner then my friend would believe.”
This text has reminded me to be more mindful of what is going on in heaven. Christ is in heaven at the right hand of the Majesty. He is ruling and reigning and he is interceding for His people. Jesus is there ministering in the holy places, in the true tent that the LORD set up, not man.
Because of this text I have often thought about what Paul says in Colossians 1:1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Job asked, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!” We know where to find Jesus and through Him we can approach Him boldly and confidently. We may tend to judge a good church service by what we see, feel, or experience here, but are we mindful of the ministry that is going on right now on our behalf in heaven?
Many of the psalms I have read over the last couple weeks has shown me that David strived to be more aware of what God was doing in heaven than than what was going on around him(cf Psalm 31; 35). He sought the LORD in His holy temple and he prayed to the LORD who was sitting on the throne. In Him he hoped, took confidence, trusted, and found His rest. May we be like David in these things!
These believers were struggling to see that the ministry that Jesus has is greater than all the things they saw going on around them. At some point they had stopped seeking the things above where Jesus served as the perfect High Priest. Therefore, he gives them a fourth proof that Jesus Ministry is superior because He offers better gifts in heaven and not here on earth.
Jesus Ministry Is Superior Because Christ Offers Better Gifts In Heaven
In Hebrews 8:3-4it says, “For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.”
When we were in Oklahoma we were in a store and my mom and she was looking at dinosaurs. She had bought a dinosaurs as a gift for one of the younger family members but she realized that the one she had purchased was not nearly as good as the newer ones she was looking at. In that moment she began to plan a way to give the better gift.
Under the Old Covenant every priest had to offer sacrifices before the LORD. Some of these gifts were for themselves and some were for others. Before Jesus came these gifts were required by the Law. But now that Jesus had come these gifts were no longer the best and the sacrifices that would be acceptable before God. Yet, many of the people and the priests continued to offer them and they rejected the better gift that was offered for them.
The author of Hebrews reminds these Christians that Jesus offers better gifts. He was the ‘holy, innocent, unstained’ sacrifice that could be offered for the people once and for all. The sacrifice that he would give would not be offered in the Temple or through the Levitical Priesthood. Jesus would offer Himself to God in heaven.
In fact, because Jesus did not come through the Levitical line He would not be a priest here under the Law; but through the oath (Psalm 110:4) Jesus has become a High Priest who now ministers in heaven for the people. God accepts His perfect sacrifice and accepts all those who by faith receive Jesus’ mediation.
Jesus Ministry Is Superior Because Christ Has A Ministry Enacted On Better Promises
In Hebrews 8:5-6we read, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he meditates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
In this final point that the author of Hebrews shows them that the Tabernacle and the Temple were just copies and shadows of the true, the real, the heavenly things. To prove this the author shows that Moses was given a blueprint to follow precisely because the copies he was to make were to reflect the things that already existed in heaven. It is in heaven that Jesus now serves and ministers for His people. Because of this the shadows and the copies are passing away.
It would be foolish to turn away from the true, the real, the heavenly things and embrace the things that are useless and are passing away.
Only by remaining faithful to Jesus Christ can the people experience the benefits of this better ministry, the benefits of this better covenant, and the blessing of these better promises.
I said earlier that our text helps us to appreciate the fact that we need to “train ourselves to become discerning thinkers, eloquent communicators, and virtuous ambassadors of Christ alone. We are to be those who love the True, the Good and Beautiful even if we are surrounded by a culture who hates these things. And if we will do this we will live joyful lives of true worship of God.”
One of the ways that we get to express these things this morning is by considering Christ as we take communion.
Let us consider Hebrews 9:11-14.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
1Dr. Hywel Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews, p. 80-81
2Stuart Olyott, I Wish Someone Would Explain Hebrews To Me!, p. 90
3The Bible At A Glance Genesis – Revelation, Dr. H. L. Willmington, B, Bible Hub.
4David Thompson, Exposition of Hebrews, Hebrews 8:1-13