Ralph Erskine was a Scottish churchman who lived from 1685 to 1752, 300 years too early. As I prepared this week’s message “Our Covenant”, I thought of several famous statements he made – all connected to Hebrews 8; the heart of this sermon we call the Book of Hebrews. Listen to these wise words:
“The Law could promise life to me, if my obedience perfect be.”
“A rigid matter was the law,
Demanding brick, denying straw,
But when with Gospel tongue it sings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings.”
There’s another statement he made that unmasks us all. He said, “Faith, without trouble or fighting, is a suspicious faith; for true faith is a fighting, wrestling faith.” So what is it that we fight and wrestle most often in the faith? OURSELVES!
As one man puts it, “You might as well face it, you’re addicted to the law.” In other words, we are all addicted to religion. And nowhere is that addiction more visible than in the church today. We may not use those terms, but listen closely, and what you’ll hear, almost without fail, has to do with rules and judgment. As Walter Marshall put it, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the Gospel, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works (your works)…You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it.”
Against the conditionality of religion comes the glorious and mostly un-apprehended Gospel that says, “By grace are you saved through faith and this is not of your own doing.” (Eph. 2:8) Grace is the gift that has no strings attached. It’s what makes the Good News so darn GOOD! And if there’s anything our basic human nature hates, it’s the truth that we can’t do anything, we can’t earn anything, we are helpless, hopeless, weak, and needy without grace. Thus, the fight.
This Sunday we celebrate communion at Hebron; and God’s timing is impeccable. This Sunday marks the halfway point in our series, “Full Disclosure, a Study of Hebrews”. And the preacher is right on cue for he says, “Now the point in what we are saying is this…” In other words, “Everything I have said to this point is a precursor, a set-up, to what I am now about to tell you.”
You know what he’s going to tell us? He’s going to tell us that religion, all religion, has ended in Jesus. All of the stipulations and requirements of the law have been set aside by a new covenant that the prophets (especially Jeremiah) knew was coming. To these weary persecuted Christians who are asking the question, “If God loves me so much, why is life so hard?” The preacher answers with another facet of Jesus’ incomparable beauty – He is Our Covenant!
The question is: “If God loves me so much, why is life so hard?” But the answer is just as plain: Life’s a long journey and the only way you are going to get home joyfully is by fixing your eyes on Jesus. Do you know what that means? It means that every fight is an opportunity to get your eyes off your circumstances and onto Him. And again the preacher helps with another picture of Jesus – Our Covenant.
In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
- Why do you suppose the preacher begins Chapter 8 as he does?
- Does what follows warrant his summational words in verse 1?
- What does Jesus’ location and posture say about Him as our great High Priest?
- Where else in Scripture is a priest described as being seated on the throne of God?
- What does the preacher mean when he says that Jesus ministers in the true tent set up by the Lord? (verse 2)
- What covenant is he referring to in verse 7 as being less than faultless?
- What is the significance of the preacher quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34 almost verbatim?
- How is Jesus the end of the law?
- What is the conditionality of the new covenant?
- What difference does the preacher point out in verses 10 & 11 between religion and the Gospel?
- How does the new covenant help us fix our eyes on Jesus?