Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hebrews 8: better ministry, better covenant, better promises

I had an Old Testament professor in seminary (Dr. M) whom I grew to greatly respect. He was one of the smartest people I ever met and he was a stereotypical professor type with small glasses, poor posture, big words, and a pacing-while-looking-at-the-floor style when he lectured.
And he had a sincerely, grand passion for the Old Testament.* He felt strongly that typical preachers at most churches spent far too much time in the New Testament and far too little in the Old.**

I can assure you that Dr. M inspired me to learn more about the Old Testament. His excitement for the teachings there was contagious and they way he applied them was compelling. There is no question in my mind that the OT is a critical part of God's word to us. The call from some Christ followers to ditch the first 39 books of the Bible and essentially ignore them is irresponsible. They are foundational, needed and valuable. God put them in the Bible for a reason. We must spend time there.

But the Writer of Hebrews takes a firm stand on their 'placement' in terms of importance.

"But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another." (v.6-7)

Wow! Dr. M would not like this conversation! Nor would any OT professor, I suspect. The Writer basically says that, 'When compared with the Old Days, Jesus has a better ministry, offers a better covenant, and makes better promises. There was something wrong with the first covenant. This one is perfect.'

I can assure you that this would make every OT scholar's blood boil.

But there it is...right in the Bible.

Now, let's be fair. The Writer is not specifically talking about the entire Old Testament. He's talking about the covenant that God offered to Abraham and passed down to his children. He's referring to the Law that God gave to Moses (loosely referenced in v.6 and v.10). Still, it's not hard to make the practical application here.

It's not that God is changing what is right and wrong. It's that, through Jesus, God is changing his delivery system of that law and code and the method of salvation that is final. It used to be we required a priest to stand in for us, but because of what Jesus did, that system is obsolete (v.13).

There is no doubt that the Writer is talking to a Jewish audience here, trying to convince them that what Jesus brings is superior to the old law, better than the old prophets, greater than the old promises. It may not sit well with lovers of the OT, but it's an indication of we are to approach the Bible.

What's the practical application? For me, I want to be sure I keep a good balance. While the OT takes 60% of the Bible's pages, I want to be sure that I lean into Jesus. (NOT to the neglect of the OT. It's still VERY important). The truth is, if I was stranded on a deserted island and could only take 3 or 4 books of the Bible with me, there wouldn't be any OT books in my selection.

I think the Writer would agree!

*Scholars - especially OT scholars - don't call it the 'Old Testament'. They call it the 'Hebrew Scriptures'.

**This is because the OT makes up about 60% of the Bible, but most teaching pastors only give it 20-30% of their attention from the teaching platform. I am also in this 20-30% range, intentionally, and I think Hebrews 8 describes why I feel that is appropriate.

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