Series on Hebrews, IV Superior Provision, C Superior Passion, Text: Hebrews 9:16-28, Title: A Covenant Sealed


Presbyterians are always talking about God’s covenant with man. What is a covenant? Most of us are involved in covenants throughout our lives. Marriage is a covenant. If you have ever written a will or purchased a house you entered a covenant. The Constitution of the United States of America is a covenant “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”  The Bible itself, in its entirety, is a covenant document or to be more precise it is a covenant. The problem is that it is a different kind of covenant than any of the others we experience. You see we make covenants all the time which are mutual agreements but the distinction of the Biblical covenants is that we have absolutely nothing to do with the initiation of them or with the terms of the covenant. In the ancient middle east Kings made covenants and since they were absolute monarchs they did not ask the people what they wanted. They demanded that the people comply. Unlike the US constitution the suzerainty treaties of the ancient world  did not begin with the words “we the people.”  God’s covenant with man is the same. It begins God Created, God made, God said, thou shalt and thou shalt not. The law of the covenant in Exodus 20 begins, I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me. The Bible is simply a covenant document in which the King of Kings declares: I will fellowship with you and these are the terms. New Testament as well as Old is part of this,  Gospel as well as law, every bit of it, is the terminology of the covenant. This passage of Scripture opens up the concept of the covenant. We shall see three things: The Fateful Force of the Covenant, The Final Fulfillment of the Covenant, and the Favorable Future of the Covenant.

I The Fateful Force of the Covenant

The author of Hebrews is much concerned for us to see that death is  so much a part of the covenant that God has made with man that the covenant takes on the character of a last will and testament.  This is the only place where the Covenant is called a Testament or a will and yet the unique point is powerful. God’s covenant requires death. Throughout the earlier ages, in the Old Testament times, everything was ceremonially cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, as we read in verses 19-22, When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.   He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.”   In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. In order for a covenant to exist between a Holy God and sinful man there must be death. Sin must be punished. For transgressions payment must be made. The beauty of this passage is that it points up in verses 16-18 that it was God’s intention from the beginning that the blessings of the covenant would be secured to his chosen people only by His own death,  In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it,  because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. This is why Jesus Christ the Son of God is referred to as the “the lamb that was slain from the creation of the world,” in Rev.13:8. If you look at Revelation 5 the scene before the Apostle John is the king, the almighty monarch of the universe holding a scroll with seven seals. An angel declares who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? Then one of the elders says Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. And John says, Then I saw a lamb. Looking as if it had been slain standing in the center of the throne. As God Himself! Now suppose the scroll is the covenant document and it is a last will and testament. The reason the lamb can open it is because he has died and suffered the covenantal punishment for our sins. The death has occurred, the blessings shall flow and the inheritance shall be delivered.

II The Final Fulfillment of the Covenant

The author next moves to the final fulfillment about which we have just been speaking. He shows that what Jesus Christ did truly fulfilled the obligation of the covenant. He shows this in two ways. First he says that Christ suffered. The earthly levitical priests went numberless times into an earthly sanctuary while Christ the Son of God went once into a heavenly sanctuary. The levitical priest did not suffer at all. But Christ our great high priest was the offering as well as the priest. Thus his priestly service is one of suffering according to verses 23-26, It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. He could not make the necessary offering without suffering himself. The ultimate requirement of the covenant is your death or His death in your place!! Secondly,  Christ suffered only once. He did not suffer over and over again, v.26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  That is, if his sacrifice were not sufficient for all, He would have had to die over and over for all those Old Testament believers in the same way that the High Priest made annual atonement for the sins of the nation. To the Jewish mind these were powerful arguments. Priesthood and sacrifice was a major part of their lives. The author says we need a priest who offers himself once for all to do away with sin for all his people, for all time, and the Son of God, the Lamb slain from the creation of the world has prevailed to break the seals and open the scroll.

III The Favorable Future of the Covenant

100 years ago, Alexander Maclaren wrote, “The primitive church thought more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than about death or about heaven. The early Christians were looking not for a cleft in the ground called a grave but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory. They were watching not for the undertaker but for the uppertaker.” The essence of the covenant is a hope graciously given by God. It is a hope which totally controls one’s life, affecting every circumstance, every decision, and every responsibility. The New International Version says in verses 27 and 28,  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. This is an especially weak translation. The Greek word for “wait” is used only eight times, in the NT, mostly by Paul. It has been translated eagerly expect, but even that is a little tame. The word without the prefix it has here is used to describe Abraham looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. That was no tame hope, but one  which greatly motivated Abraham. Here, the added prefix suggests the distance between the individual and that which is hoped for. What do people learn to hope for in their lives? Our culture and our educational system imbue people with the philosophy, do a good job and make a little money. Cotton Mathere said “Religion gave birth to prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Thus the implication is that we hope with a boundless ardor,  dedication, and dogged  determination. Paul uses this word in Romans 8:23 when he says, We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. This is the salvation Christ brings at his return. No wonder we are to think of it with passion, excitement and fervent desire. It is either death and judgment, or Christ’s death for us and resurrection. There is no other alternative. No middle condition. No further redemption. This is the only covenant God has sovereignly made with sinful men. We heed it or perish. Our absent Lord has given special commendation to those who not only WAIT for His return, but also earnestly WATCH for Him. The difference between these terms is illustrated by the story of a fishing vessel returning home after many days at sea.  As they neared the shore, the sailors gazed eagerly toward the dock where a group of their loved ones had gathered.  The skipper looked through his binoculars and identified some of them: "I see Bill's Mary, and there is Tom's Margaret and David's Anne."  One man became concerned because his wife was not there.  Later, he left the boat with a heavy heart and hurried up the hill to his cottage.  As he opened the door, she ran to meet him saying, "I have been waiting for you!"  He replied with a gentle rebuke, "Yes, but the other men's wives were watching for them!"