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Thursday 7 October 2021

The Church Has To Be Israel (Hebrews 8).


Sermon video here

Introduction –

So over the last couple of weeks we have looked at what Hebrews 7 says about tithing, and what it has to say about the law of the Old Testament. Last week we looked at how Hebrews tells us the law is “not faultless”. This is a not a fault of design, at all. The law did perfectly what it was designed to do, but people could not live up to it, it was temporary. But it was also good. David tells us the law of the Lord is good, reviving the soul. Yet still, the Old Testament law has a bit of a bad rap in Protestant circles. This is partly because we misunderstand its nature and purpose, and partly because bacon sandwiches and pork are so good. Especially if you are English, or Northern European.

We English people are descendants of the Germanic tribes, the Alemanni as they called themselves, which means “all men”, and German most likely means “spear men”. The Germanic tribes include people from all the way up in the Scandinavian Viking Lands, to the Angles and Saxons of England, to the Franks of France, the Lombards of Italy, the Vandals of north Africa, the Rus of Russia and Germany and its surrounding nations. The Germans were known for every man having his spear and his shield to defend his family, village and nation. But you know what else a spear was good for? A spear is brilliant for taking down a boar, a big pig, so the German man could feast. The “all men” loved their boar. It was a delicacy. The Anglo-Saxons even had a tradition that married couples who could prove that they had not had an argument for a certain period of time, it was a year, or years, somewhere I even read twenty years, could claim a leg of ham, or a chunk of bacon. It was rarely claimed.

But so far back goes the tradition of loving pork in our ancient Germanic veins, pork roast, pork belly, pork crackling, bacon, and the crème-de-le-crème of all pork products BBQ pork ribs, that it is not surprising that our ancestors looked with suspicion at the Old Testament law that said eating pork was evil. There is of course more to it than this, but this is part of the reason why the Old Testament has a bad rap in Protestant circles. Now we are not under the law anymore, and Jesus has declared all foods clean, but this doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the Old Testament law, as we noted last week. It was good and perfect for what it did, and I think it is superior in many ways to our modern laws. One thing our modern laws struggle to do is restrain evil. Indeed, our modern laws encourage it, support it, and give it legal cover, in many ways. This is not good.

But we don’t want to bring back the Old Covenant. It is like not an old Mustang 71 Mach 1 that may be old, but is still cooler than most modern cars on the road. We don’t look back at it with nostalgia. We live in a superior covenant, where the Davidic King rules on his throne. But the fact that we talk about Old Covenant and New Covenant says some important things about our identity, and about what the Hebrew’s writer was seeking to do with these Jewish Christians he is writing to.

What he was seeking to do was to warn these Israelites not to look back to Israel because they were already part of Israel. Sound confusing? Well, what I want to this morning is show you how the Church has to be Israel, otherwise most of the New Testament makes no sense, especially this passage. So, we will look at that, but first we need to recall the context of this letter.

      1. The Context Of Hebrews – I mentioned last week that Hebrews was likely written in about 67AD and it was certainly written before AD70. We can know this, because it refers to the sacrifices as current, and we know exactly when the sacrifices ended. They ended when different Jewish groups fighting in the temple set it on fire while the Romans were bashing down the gates outside of the temple complex. Those stuck inside were the ones who ignored the warnings of Jesus: Luke 21:20-22 – “20 But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”

1.1  From our perspective and the perspective of the disciples, ignoring Jesus when he said this was foolishness. Indeed, many Christians remembered Jesus’ warning and when they saw Jerusalem beginning to be surrounded by armies they took off.

1.2  But from the perspective of the Jews who followed the Sadducees and Pharisees they believed that when they ignored Jesus, they were ignoring a radical rebel rabbi who healed people with witchcraft (they accused him of using the devil’s power [Matt 12]), and broke all of the leaders rules and was rightly punished as a criminal.

1.2.1       Remember Jesus broke many of the Jewish leader’s rules that he considered harmful and wrong and unbiblical. Often doing it deliberately in ways that angered the religious leaders. Like when he healed a man on the Sabbath Day by getting dirt, and mixing it with spit and making mud to put on a man’s eyes (John 9:14). This was technically working on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees traditions.

1.2.2       So, to many Jews, Jesus was the Messiah, and he is the Messiah, we know that. But to many more then and also non-Christian Jews today, Jesus was a rebel who was punished as rebels are punished.

1.3  The Christian Jews our writer is addressing, would have had many of their Jewish family and friends begging them to get back involved in the synagogue services, and to stop following the disciples of that “rebel” Jesus. They would have been under immense pressure to return to the ways of Moses.

1.3.1       “Remember what happened to those who rejected Moses’ message in the wilderness?” “Remember what happened to those who challenged Elijah?” “Remember what the leaders did to that rebel Jesus?” They would have been hearing all of this and more.

1.4  For us deciding between Jesus and the Pharisees is a no-brainer. I don’t see anyone here this morning wearing their phylacteries loud and proud. But for these Hebrew Christians this would have been one of the hardest decisions of their lives.

1.4.1       Hindsight makes every decision easier. Some people now are going through a similar hard time. It’s not easy when you have strong voices coming at you from different directions.

1.4.2       Imagine the pressure these Jewish Christians would have been under. Families fracturing, churches fracturing, synagogues fracturing.

1.5  Our Hebrews writer is speaking into this difficult context. His argument to these Hebrew Christians is that it is not a choice between Jesus and Moses. His argument is that from Abraham to Moses to Jesus this is all the same team, working for the same goal, and to be in Jesus is to be in Israel. Hebrews 8 proves this powerfully, as do other passages, let’s have a look:

      2. Christ and Moses Have The Same Tabernacle – We read in Hebrews 8:1-5 – “8 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.’” We noted this last week and the week before, our writer’s point is the kind of priest Jesus is. He is the perfect kind. The priesthood of Aaron and their temple/tabernacle was simply a copy.

2.1  Moses built a holy place, and likewise Jesus is in the “holy places” ministering, as the Mosaic priests did. His ministry is of a higher quality, after all he is the Son of God seated at the right of the throne of majesty in heaven. But he is doing the same thing, ministering on our behalf.

2.1.1       In Job we see the accuser standing before God seeking to attack mankind. But now Satan has been kicked out, and our advocate is speaking up for us: 1 John 2:1 - “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

2.2  Jesus’ holy place is the true tent, “in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” It is fascinating that it is referred to as a ‘tent’ or ‘tabernacle’, because these are temporary shelters. This may be because in the new heaven and the new earth, where sin is no more, it will not be necessary for Jesus to intercede on behalf of our sins, because sin is finally defeated.  

2.2.1       But even though it is a tabernacle, Jesus’ version is the heavenly, incorruptible version, attended to by a better priest.  

2.3  When the Mosaic priests were doing their rituals and sacrifices, this was set up to be a dim reflection of Jesus and his perfect ministry to redeem us. Therefore, Jesus is the new Moses, but he is also the new sacrifice, the new advocate, the new priest, he is all the rituals of the Old Covenant rapped into one person, the God man.

2.3.1       The ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant of Israel were simply an illustration, “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.”

2.3.2       Just like ancient Israel we still have a tabernacle, a sacrifice, a holy place, a priest with something to offer. It is all just focused in and around the person of Jesus, the Son of God himself.

2.3.3       Jesus is not replacing Israel with the Church, he is changing the nature of Israel. National Israel and International Israel, the Church, are different stages of God’s same plan to redeem for himself a people. In national Israel the holy of holies was a building on Mt Zion, now it is the heavenly temple on the true Mt Zion, in heaven.

2.4  To bring this back around to our Hebrew Christians, being tempted to turn away. Hebrews is telling them: you are not leaving Israel by following Jesus instead of Moses. You are remaining in Israel, because Moses and Jesus are the same team, and leaders of the same people, God’s gathering, the Church. He expands on this:

      3. A Different Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-10a) – The Old Covenant was between God and Israel, his people, his gathering, his Church. It might seem odd to refer to the Old Testament Israel as the Church, but the Bible itself does this, if you have your KJV’s there with you, it says in Acts 7:37-38 – “37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. 38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us…” In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word we translate Church was used about 96 times to refer to the congregation of Israel. But let me come at it the way Hebrews does: who did God promise the New Covenant to? To Israel. Therefore, the New Covenant does not create a new people, but rather it changes the nature of God’s people. We read in Hebrews 8:6-9 – “6 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. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord…”

3.1  Who is this New Covenant for? Well he tells us directly, “I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel.” The New Covenant is for the house Israel, the people of Israel. Then how can it apply to us? Because all who believe are now in Israel, and all who do not believe have been cut out:

3.1.1       Romans 11:17-21 - “17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”

3.1.2       The tree is Israel, the way of salvation, the root, is Jesus and those who rejected Jesus were cut off the tree, those who believed Jesus were grafted onto the tree. Jew or Gentile, the only way to be saved is in Jesus, and the New Covenant is for all who believe.

3.2  And this covenant is “…not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…” God was not creating a new people, the covenant just changed the nature of his people. What was once national, is now multinational. Israel was not replaced, Israel has been changed, that is partly why the New Covenant is so different. This was always God’s intention, Ephesians 3:4-6 says, “4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

3.2.1       The Gentiles are “fellow heirs” and “members of the same body”. Fellows heirs with who? The Jews. The mystery is that the Gentiles, the goyim, were always meant to become part of Israel, and Israel was meant to eventually change to bring them.  

3.2.2       We read earlier in Ephesians this, 2:11-20 – “11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”

3.2.3       The two have become one. Israel was not replaced, Israel was opened up so that Gentiles could be “fellow citizens”, no longer far off but “brought near”, no longer “alienated”, no longer separate, no longer strangers, but now made into “one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” The two peoples have become one, we are now “fellow heirs”, “members of the same body” which can be called,  the “commonwealth of Israel”, or the “household of God” or the Church, and they are the same thing: 1 Timothy 3:15 - “15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

3.3  This new covenant is for Israel, just like the Old Covenant. The difference is this: the nature of Israel has been changed. It is not that the Church replaced Israel. It’s that Gentiles replaced the Jewish branches that were cut off, and joined the Jewish branches who believed in Jesus.

3.3.1       All of the early Church started off Jewish, the majority of the Church was Jewish for some decades, and for centuries there was a massive minority of Jewish Christians in the Church.

3.3.2       Both the Jews and Gentiles of the Church considered themselves part of Israel. This is why some Judaizers got so angry, they were upset about Gentiles being allowed to join the Church without being circumcised and still being allowed to eat pork. Because the debate was not about: “did the church replace Israel?” The debate was over: what should Israel look like going forward. The answer was: different.

      4. A Covenant For Pork Eaters (vv.10-13) – Hebrews goes on to say, “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.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

4.1  The Old Covenant is finished because it served its purpose. It was designed to create a particular kind of nation, according to a particular standard, and pave the way for the Messiah to come. It worked, the Messiah is here.

4.2  Now we need the New Covenant, one that is designed to be empowered by the Spirit of God, with the law written on people’s hearts, and certain aspects of the Old law done away with, to make it easier for pork eaters, aka Gentiles, to become a part of God’s people.

4.3  Note that he says in verse 10, “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This promise to Israel is reiterated to the Church many times in the Bible:

4.3.1       2 Corinthians 6:16“16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

4.3.2       Revelation 21:3“3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

4.3.3       1 Peter 2:10“10 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.”

4.3.4       This promise of a New Covenant was made to Israel and is fulfilled in the Church, which is Israel revitalized, made new, and made effective for reaching the pork eaters, people like us.

4.4  The Old Covenant is obsolete in large part because it could not achieve this goal. There are some people who think that the Old Testament law could be applied fully to Gentiles, but Gentiles always struggled with it, especially with the food laws. But that is completely obsolete now:

4.4.1       Mark 7:18-19 – “18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.).”

4.5  A newer, more nimble covenant, designed to spread through many nations was needed, and now we have the Lord within us teaching us whose we are: “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.” Instead of a religion led by priests, Christianity was designed to spread through every believer, who knows Jesus in his or her heart.

4.6  If you believe in Jesus, if you trust in him and worship him, you are saved under the new, superior covenant with the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, and your sins are forgiven: “12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” This promise is for all who believe, Jew or Gentile. If we believe in Jesus, we are saved under the New Covenant.

      5. So, what does this mean for the nation called Israel? There is so much that can be said here, but at the end of the day the answer is very basic and simple: Galatians 3:25-29 - “25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The answer is, like anyone, of any other nation, they need to look to Jesus. There is no advantage of being Jewish on judgement day, unless they have taken advantage of using the law to look to Jesus. All nations will stand before God. The Palestinian and the Israelite, the Chinese man and the Taiwanese man, the Englishman and the Frenchman, the German and the Polish man, whoever we are, whatever nation we are from, there is only salvation by faith in Jesus.

6.     Conclusion – So What Does This Mean For You?? It means you, I and everyone else need to trust in Jesus.