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Online Text Sermon - God Personally Known, Hebrews ch.8 v.11

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleGod Personally Known
TextHebrews ch.8 v.11
Sermon ID78

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"And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest" (Hebrews 8,11).

1. The difference between two covenants.

2. The superiority of the New Covenant

3. The use of this knowledge for the people of God


In this chapter the writer is explaining the difference between two covenants that he refers to here in these verses. For instance, at verse 7, he can write like this: "if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second." And then at verse 8, he says, "the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah". And he ends the chapter at verse 13, like this: "In that he saith, A new covenant, he had made the first old". So, then, it is exceedingly clear that in this chapter he is comparing and contrasting two covenants. Now, we must ask ourselves:

What is a covenant? And the answer we must give is this; a covenant is an arrangement made by God to be the basis of friendship and fellowship between Him and men. God has always dealt with mankind on the basis of covenant, and that is why we speak about the Covenant of Works made with our first father, Adam; and we say that he was the 'covenant head' (as, indeed, he was) in the Covenant of Works. And, similarly, we say that the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the second and last Adam, is the head of the Covenant of Grace, that God has made most mercifully with mankind since the fall of Adam.

So, God has never dealt with mankind except on the basis of a covenant, which, as I say, is an arrangement ordained by Him as the basis of our relationship. We are familiar with such things in everyday life. Marriage is a similar arrangement. It is a covenant, between two parties (a man and a woman) whereby they each pledge themselves to one another for life. Similarly, in the covenants that God makes with mankind, He pledges Himself to be our God, and He promises to take us to be His people. So, he can write like this, at verse 10: "I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people". So you see precisely what I say is written there at the end of verse 10, that the nature of a covenant involves this relationship between God and His people, in which He promises and swears to be to us everything that we need. He promises to be a God to us in every way; and in His love and kindness He undertakes to treat us as being different from others. He makes us to be His own, so that there is this covenantal love, and fellowship, and friendship between Him and us.

Now then, in this chapter, as I began to say, the writer compares two covenants, and it is important for us, if we are to understand the Word of God, to know what these two covenants that he refers to are. If we make a mistake at this point then it would be impossible for us to understand the sense and the meaning of the chapter and its blessings. So then, let's face the question squarely:

What are the two covenants which he places in opposition to one another? Now, many writers have said, and many Christians have thought, that the two covenants mentioned in this chapter are the Covenants of Works and of Grace, which I mentioned a little earlier on. It is very easy to imagine that that is the comparison being made, because we are so familiar, or at least we ought to be so familiar with those two covenants: the Covenant of Works which God made with Adam; and the Covenant of Grace which He makes with His people in Christ. So when we come to this chapter it would be all too possible for us to notice this distinction between two covenants and hastily to conclude (as many have done) that he is talking about the difference between the Covenant of Works and of Grace. Now, if we were to interpret this chapter in that way, I'm afraid we should go wrong.

In fact, what he is comparing and contrasting is the Covenant of Grace made with the Jews (in the Old Testament) with the Covenant of Grace made with believers in the New Testament. What God did to the Jews at Mount Sinai was to make with them a Covenant of Grace whereby He promised them as a nation and as a people that He would be their God. "You only have I known," He said, "of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3,2); you are unique to Me. The Jewish people in the Old Testament, they were His own peculiar treasure. God made no covenant with the Greeks, or the Romans, or the British, or the Chinese, or any other nation. It was with Israel, with the Jews.

Now, that Old Testament covenant at Mount Sinai involved God being to them their own God (the true and living God) and His promise was that He would lead them and guide them, make them a blessing and multiply them, and cause them to be fruitful; which indeed is what He did, although, sadly, because of the sin which was in them they forfeited so many of the blessings which they might have had, had they been more faithful to Him.

Now that covenant is being contrasted with the covenant made in the New Testament times after the Day of Pentecost. We could say that the New Testament age began when the Spirit of God came upon the church in the New Testament age. When the Spirit was given, because Christ was exalted, then a new phenomenon occurred in the world: God began to bring other nations in. The Day of Pentecost, you remember, was extraordinary in that people heard the gospel, every man in his own language. Cretes and Arabians, and people from Mesopotamia, they heard in their own speech the wonderful promises of truth of God. Pentecost, therefore, was a foretaste of what was going to happen all throughout this New Testament age from that day forward: the gathering of all the nations into the kingdom of God.

So the Old Testament period was a period in which God made a covenant simply with Israel, but the New Testament age is an age in which He has opened wide His covenant blessings to all the nations. There is no distinction now between Jew and Gentile. There is no distinction now between one nation and another, so far as God's promises are concerned. The church of the New Testament is not a national church, and we must be very careful how far in our thinking we carry our ideas, and our words, and our names. We talk about the Church of Ireland, we speak about the Church of England, and so forth, but we must realize that we are not talking about things which are essentially distinct the one from the other. The entire world, in our New Testament age, is eligible for membership in the kingdom of God: the grace of God is now manifest to all men. This was, says Paul, the mystery which was hidden (in the Old Testament) from the ages and from the generations that we gentiles should be fellow heirs of the blessings which the Jews had in Old Testament times (Colossians 1,26-27).

So, there is no more Greek nor Jew; there is no more Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free (Colossians 3,11). Those who are in Christ are all one in Christ. There is no concept of national superiority in the eyes of God. In Old Testament time, yes - there was. There was a middle wall of partition between Jew and non-Jew; and in the Temple the non-Jew had to stop, when he came to a certain wall, and there was a notice which said, Any gentile which goes beyond here will be liable to capital punishment; but the Jew could go on; but the gentile had to stop. There was this wall of separation and partition; but that has been broken down in this New Testament times.


Well now, what the Apostle, then, goes on to do in his writing here is to explain to us the respects in which the New Testament aspect of the Covenant of Grace (made with us) is superior to and better than the Covenant of Grace made with the Jews. You see God, in His goodness, is increasing His mercy to mankind with the passing of time. The blessing that the world enjoyed in the Old Testament times was great - but it was not so great as the blessing that God is giving to the world in these New Testament times: as the world goes on God's blessing is getting richer and richer and more wonderful.


In what ways, then, does the writer here tell us that the New Testament aspect of the Covenant of Grace is better than and superior to that of the Old Testament times? Well, the first respect that he mentions is this:

That all those who are the elect of God are now regarded as His Israel; whereas in Old Testament times there were many in Israel who were merely 'nominal' believers. Amongst the Jews there were but some who were the true Israel of God. Many of the Jews had no faith. They had been circumcised (the males among them) but only a small number were the genuine, real people of God. The bulk of the nation, were merely nominal: they were Israel in name - but not in heart. They were circumcised physically - but not spiritually; and the prophets, and Moses, used to speak to the people of Israel and say, that they must "circumcise their heart" (Deuteronomy 10,16; Jeremiah 4,4), that they must not simply rend their garments; but rend their hearts (Joel 2,13). He appealed to them that they should not rest in the mere name of being a Jew; but that they should go on to seek God until they knew Him.

On the other hand, the Israel referred to in the Covenant of Grace in New Testament times, consists of all those throughout the world who are the truly converted people of God. So you see, then, at once, the great superiority between the Old Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace, and this New Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace. You see how whereas in the Old Testament the covenant was made externally with them as a nation; and many of them as a nation didn't have faith, or repentance, or the love of God; but the Israel of God in this New Testament age consists of all those whose hearts have been truly touched by the Holy Spirit.


Now, in explanation of that he tells us these important things, verse 10: "for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people". You see:

Whereas in Old Testament times the people of God had the commandments externally, we in the New Testament age also have these same commandments internally. Let me put that another way: the people of God at Sinai (in the days of Moses) received the Ten Commandments. God dictated them with His own voice, and then He wrote them with His own finger on tables of stone. He told the people how He demanded of them to live: thou shalt not this, and thou shalt not that. He gave them these laws, these commandments, which were dictated by the lips of God, and then written in stone by the finger of God; and, of course, the writing of them in stone was to indicate their solidity, their permanence, their perpetuity, their authority. They were given by the very voice and command of God Himself - and that was a great honour! a great privilege! None of the other nations knew those commandments! It was a great privilege to Israel to be given the Law.

But we, who are believers in Christ in the New Testament age, we, who are the Israel of God, whose hearts have been purified by faith, have a still greater blessing, because God does not simply give us those laws written down in our Bibles in black and white in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. He doesn't only tell His Israel (in the New Testament) what He requires of us to do; but more than that: He takes His laws and He writes them upon our very hearts - not on tables of stone only; but now on fleshly tables of the heart. He makes known to us His will by telling us what He requires of us to do, and by ministering the grace of His Holy Spirit so that we might have a will, and a desire, and an appetite, and a hunger to do those very things which He commands us to do. Now that is a superior blessing, because, of course, it is one thing to know what we ought to do; and a very different thing to have a zeal, and a desire to do what He requires us to do.

So, as an indication of the superiority of this New Testament age He shows us here in this word that the New Testament covenant that He has made with His people (His true Israel) in these days, is superior in this regard that the very commandments which He gave on the mountain, at Sinai, He now writes in the very hearts of His people. "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people" (Hebrews 8,10).


Now, that is not all he is explaining, as I have tried to express to you the superiority of the New Testament period of the administration of the Covenant of Grace. But he doesn't leave it at that only. It's not simply that we have the law written in our hearts. He goes on to tell us more, at verse 11: "and they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest." Now here, again, he is giving an illustration of the way in which we (in these New Testament days) are in a more highly privileged position than the Jews were of old. Many of the Jews were well taught in the things of God. They had their priests and their Levites, as well as their other religious teachers and leaders, who told the people the will of God, and instructed them in the law and in its meaning.

But we are in a better position, because multitudes of the Jews, who had so many teachers, and so many who instructed them, were actually ignorant of the law himself. They were Israel in name; but they were not Israel in fact. They were Israel by birth; but they were not Israel by the new birth. On the other hand:

All those who (in the New Testament age) are classed as the Israel of God, all those whom God takes to be His people, out of all the nations, they are distinguished by this truth: that they know the Lord. The true Christian does not need anyone to tell him how to find the Lord. The true Christian knows the Lord. He doesn't need me to tell him who the Lord is. He doesn't need you to tell him who the Lord is. The New Testament Christian - the Israel of God - he knows the Lord.

Now, this, of course, was true of those Jews in Old Testament times who were the real Israel of God; but it was not true of the entire nation. But in New Testament times all believers, out of all nations and languages and families of the earth, who are Christians in fact: they all know the Lord. This is their great honour. This is their great privilege. This is what it means to be a Christian! It is to know the Lord. And we don't need people, therefore, to tell us how to know Him. We do know Him. We don't need our neighbours; we don't need our brothers, to take us by the sleeve and to tell us how to know the Lord. When we are converted, we do know the Lord, and the consequence is that when we come to know the Lord we know Him in His covenant faithfulness. That is to say that all that God has engaged Himself to be to us in the promises of His covenant, these are the ways in which He will reveal Himself to us. His promises are sure. His promises are certain, and steadfast, and they're all summarized in these words: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people" (verse 10).

We are, therefore, to appreciate the peculiar and distinct privilege that God has given to us in this respect: that He counts His people to be distinct from and different from all the people and all the nations of the world. They are to Him a peculiar people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2,9). They are being groomed for glory. They are being educated for heaven. They are being sanctified, in preparation for their being glorified. God is at work in them. He dwells in their hearts, and in their lives. He is present with them in their soul, and in their heart. He teaches them, anoints them, and He instructs them and guides them.


Now, in the course of explaining to us the richness of this covenant, he goes on with one further point which I shall bring to you before we close, and that is to be found in verse 12: "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more". Now, this was not the case always with Israel of old. When the Jews sinned against God, the wrath came upon them, many times, in many forms, but with the true children of God the promise will hold good, that though He will chasten us He will not deal with us as our sins deserve. He will be merciful to our unrighteousness and our sins and iniquities He will remember no more.


Now, that, then, summarizes for us the superiority of the Covenant of Grace in these New Testament times; and it is a superiority, which we must appreciate. We live in the most highly blessed period in the history of mankind! If we were living in the Old Testament time we would not be in that Covenant at all. There would be no room for us in the Covenant of God, because we were outsiders and strangers to the Covenant of God. We were aliens to Israel. We were shut out and the middle wall of partition stood between us and our privileges. We could not know God.

The tiny few gentiles of Old Testament times who did know God all came to know Him by their contact with Israel, and by virtually becoming Jewish - people like Ruth, and Rahab, and some of the Roman centurions who, in God's providence, found their way to Israel, and under the influence of the truth were saved. But the huge mass of mankind were shut out of the kingdom. But now God, in these last days (since Pentecost) has thrown wide the gate of grace and mercy, and He has made His covenant with His people of all nations.

Now, what does that mean in practical terms? What are the practical implications that flow to us as a consequence of this?

First of all, to realize that we belong to a people which is worldwide, and as Christians we must keep our eyes upon the worldwide purpose and people of God. The Lord has His own Israel in all the nations, and we must regard these men and women as our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must realize that they also, wherever they are from, be it Africa, or India, or China, or any nation: they are as much members of the kingdom of God as we are. Indeed, they may be coming from emergent nations, and emergent situations. They may be developing countries (or what they sometimes call 'third-world countries') but, nonetheless, they are as honoured members of the kingdom of God as those of a nation like ours, which has had the gospel for two thousand years, more or less. And we must love, and pray for, and care for, and think about, our brethren throughout the world who are in the kingdom of God's grace, and belong to His covenant purpose, the same as we do.

And then, finally, I would say this. Let us realize that though our sins are most vile, and worthy of the condemnation of God, and to be confessed, and lamented, and grieved over; yet God in His goodness, reassures us that our sins will not keep from us the promises which He makes to us in His covenant: "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more".

Only let a man, or a woman, enter in by faith in Christ into this relationship of covenant love and favour, and the promise will be sealed up to them. Their sins of the past, their sins of the present, their sins of the future - however terrible! however great! - they will not be so terrible nor so great as to deprive them of the fellowship of the living God, and the glorious hope of eternal life which covenant favour has given to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

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