STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them,’ says the Lord. ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days,’ says the Lord, ‘I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying “Know the Lord,” for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:7-13).
Covenant = Contract
Anyone who follows sports knows that professional athletes play under a contract. A contract is an agreement established through an agent in which the player promises to play, and the owner promises to pay the athlete. If the athlete’s play surpasses expectation, the athlete may look for a new contract when the terms of the old contract are completed. While we use the word covenant far less today, a covenant is a contract.
The Greatest of All
In the Letter to the Hebrews, the Spirit of God repeatedly shows that our Savior Jesus is the “Greatest of All” in a number of different ways. Jesus the Son of God is greater than the angels. Jesus is the Great High Priest, greater than every other high priest. Christ’s sacrifice is greater than every other sacrifice. In order to show that Jesus is the greatest of all, a comparison is made.
Agents and Contracts
Therefore, in the eighth chapter of Hebrews, the Spirit of God compares both mediators and covenants (or agents and contracts if you like).
The Old Contract
The “Old Contract” is the Law of God, given by God and put in place through the mediator (agent) Moses. This contract was originally hard-wired into every human heart (Romans 2:14-15), but it was reissued in written form because of sin. This contract required obedience, and in exchange God promised to bless those who kept the contract and be their God.
The Old Testament Scriptures show that time and again the Israelites reneged on their end of the contract and did not keep their promise to be faithful to God and His Commandments. Lest we look down our noses at them, God’s Word reveals the same about us—we have disobeyed His Law.
The problem isn’t that the contract, God’s Law, is imperfect—it was established by the righteous and Holy God (Romans 7:12). The problem lies in those with whom the contract was established (us). Since we are corrupt and sinful by nature, we cannot keep this perfect contract and can rightfully expect no good thing from it.
Even though we have broken the agreement, and despite our unfaithfulness, God still blesses us during our time of grace because He is gracious. But God did even more—He promised a new contract for sinners.
A New Contract
God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) to relate His promise of a future “contract renegotiation.” In mercy, God promised a new contract, one that would be different in form from the other. The old contract depended in part upon the obedience of man; the new contract would depend entirely upon the faithfulness and forgiveness of God.
While the old contract was established through Moses, the new contract was established through God the Son Himself. The old was established on Mount Sinai and written on stone tablets; the new was established on Mount Calvary and is written on the “parchment” of the cross in blood—the blood of God’s Son. On Calvary the Son of God made atonement for all sins, including those committed against the first contract (Acts 13:38-39).
The old contract still has a place; it reveals the futility of every human attempt to measure up to God’s holiness. The new contract is testimony to God’s amazing grace. While both of these are perfect, once-lost sinners who truly know both contracts recognize that the second is greater by far.
The old contract was fulfilled by Christ on our behalf, and the new contract—the contract of grace!—is signed, sealed and delivered to us by Christ.
Andrew Schaller is pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Marquette, Michigan.