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Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 8:1–13
Now the main 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 the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 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. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. 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 minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear. (NRSV)
Although its author and location remain unknown, the letter to the Hebrews is widely believed to be an early sermon or meditation that tackled questions about how Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection fundamentally changed the relationship between God and Torah (Law). Citing numerous passages of Hebrew scripture throughout the letter, the author makes the case that from Abraham to Moses to David and beyond, God was preparing the way for a new covenant—a covenant that would not only expand the scope of who belonged to God’s people but would change the very way that we connected to and understood God. In our passage today, the author reminds readers that this was always the plan: in Jeremiah 31, the prophet wrote “the days are surely coming when I will establish a new covenant.”
The concept of a priest serving as an intermediary between God and humanity is best known to us today through the Catholic church, but this understanding was pervasive in the first century as well. Under this ancient framework, one cannot have a direct relationship with God—our sin perpetually separates us from God’s holiness. What the author of Hebrews is arguing, though, is that Jesus has fundamentally changed this relationship: he is a “priest forever” and “guarantees a better covenant” (Hebrews 7). No longer will our sin separate us from God, because Jesus intercedes on our behalf.
This promise of a personal relationship with God is one of the most important pieces of good news that Jesus came into this world to bring—and it also puts the onus of responsibility on us to maintain that relationship, recognizing and confessing that we indeed still fall short, even as we are reminded that “God will remember our sins no more.”
Holy God, I am grateful that no matter how many mistakes I make, you forgive “seventy times seven.” Set me on your paths once more, and help me to live into your new covenant. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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