Redeemed, We Wait Eagerly for Him
Topic: Covenant/New Covenant Passage: Hebrews 9:15–28
Last week, our family spent some time at my parents in south Texas. One morning I did my Bible reading outside, overlooking a beautiful sunrise across the back pasture. I happened to be in Isaiah 6. Many of you will know it—the Lord pulls back the curtain, so to speak, and gives Isaiah a glimpse of his holiness. Isaiah is undone before God’s majesty. “Woe is me,” he says.
But I wasn’t affected. I felt no wonder, no awe. My eyes moved right along to the next text in my Bible reading. Until it seemed that the Spirit stopped me and asked, “What just happened? The Majestic One, has he become that familiar? Are you that unimpressed?” That was a sobering wake-up call.
When did the Holy One become so familiar that I treated his self-revelation like I would a tree I see every morning on my way to work? I mention this, because we’re going to talk about glorious things today. Some of them we’ve talked about before. The question is, will they be so familiar that our eyes glaze over and we remain unmoved, unaffected. I don’t want that to happen. So, I want to pray that the Holy Spirit would help us truly sense the greatness of God’s self-revelation.
Jesus' Greatness Compels Perseverance
It’s been a few weeks since Hebrews. Recall that some Jews had become Christians. But they’re now wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Part of that is due to their own passivity. They’re drifting away. The other part is due to persecution. The two sides may even be related. You can imagine a Jewish Christian thinking, “Why keep suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to return to our old ways in Judaism? The Jews would leave us alone. Rome would get off our backs. Besides, didn’t God speak in the old covenant? Why bother with Jesus if it means such sacrifice?”
Hebrews exists to address that problem. It does so primarily by magnifying the greatness of Jesus. Seeing Jesus’ greatness compels perseverance. So in chapter one, Jesus is the greater word. Jesus is greater than angels. In two, he’s greater than Adam. In three, he’s greater than Moses. Since chapter 5 we’ve been seeing he’s the greater priest; and with that, we’re now seeing he mediates the greater covenant. Argument after argument has shown that it’s foolish to abandon Jesus. To do so is to abandon everything glorious that the old shadows anticipated and were now here in Jesus.
Chapter 9 continues that effort; and verse 15 provides a perfect summary of what we’re covering today. It encapsulates the main thrust of chapter 9. It says, “Therefore [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
We see here a person—Jesus; he mediates the new covenant. We see what he did to establish that new covenant—he died to redeem his people. Then we lastly see the purpose of it all—to guarantee the eternal inheritance. The rest of the passage explains those three pieces in verse 15. So let’s tackle them one at a time under these headings: the superior mediator, the superior sacrifice, the superior assurance.
The Superior Mediator
First, the superior mediator. Verse 15 calls Jesus “the mediator of a new covenant.” Moses was the mediator of the old covenant; Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. When you hear “mediator,” you may think of that person who helps settle disputes. They try to get two opposing parties to agree. This side needs to compromise; that side needs to compromise—he’s there to make sure both can sign the papers.
That’s not the kind of mediator Jesus is. He’s not there to get the Father to compromise. The terms of our relationship to God are not up for negotiation. God sets them in place as a gift—we relate to him on the terms he sets. The problem is that none of us can meet the terms. Jesus comes to meet the terms for us. Jesus is God’s appointed agent to settle what needs to be settled for us to enter the relationship with God. Jesus comes to enact the covenant and make us one with God.
Now, let’s back up to Moses. Moses mediated the old covenant. He enacted it. Under that old covenant, there were various regulations for worship, how the people were to relate to God. Priests and sacrifices for sins—God put all of it in place to do two things: one, they exposed the problem. Sin separates you from God and you need a bloody substitute to enter God’s presence. That’s what the old covenant taught Israel.
The other thing it did was point to a greater substitute. 9:8 told us that the Holy Spirit indicated something in the old covenant—that the way was not yet opened. A greater sacrifice and substitute had to come. Verses 11-14 tell us who that is: Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come. Christ entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. Christ offered himself without blemish to God to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
“Therefore,” verse 15 says, he is the mediator of a new covenant.” The old covenant could expose the problem—we’re a bunch of sinners. It could also point to the solution—we need a great substitute. But the old covenant never brought it. Jesus did; and that makes Jesus’ role as mediator superior to Moses. Jesus mediates the superior covenant, because Jesus brings the superior sacrifice.
The Superior Sacrifice
Now, that needs a bit more explaining. So that’s where he heads next in the passage—the superior sacrifice. Why was such a death necessary? That’s a common question you may encounter with Muslim or Jewish neighbors, or others unfamiliar with the Bible’s storyline. Why did Jesus have to die in order to save us? Why such a bloody, human substitute?
Part of that answer comes with the word redeem. Verse 15 mentions it: “since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” Redemption has to do with payment being made to loose from captivity.[i] Think Exodus with me. The people were in slavery. No ability to liberate themselves. Someone greater than the people, someone greater than Egypt—God had to liberate them. But he did it at the cost of the firstborn. Except, he didn’t take Israel’s firstborn. In their place God provided the blood of a lamb. Their freedom came at the cost of the lamb.
Fast forward to Jesus. Far more serious, we are slaves to sin. We lack the ability to liberate ourselves. Someone greater than us, someone greater than sin—God has to liberate us. But he did it at the cost of his Son. Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Our freedom comes at the cost of Jesus’ life. That’s what every sacrifice following the Exodus pointed to. You need a bloody substitute to be free.
That’s part of the answer for why such a death was necessary: redemption under the new covenant could not take place without a bloody substitute. The other part of the answer comes with the nature of a covenant in general, and with what the old covenant anticipated specifically. Look at verses 16-17: “For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it’s not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.”
Now you might think, “Where’s he going? I thought we were talking about covenant; now he’s talking about a will.” Well, the same Greek word stands behind both English words “covenant” and “will.” So he hasn’t changed the subject on you.
Some say it’s better to keep the word “covenant” (NASB). Instead of reading this as what starts a will; it’s better to read it as what a covenant demands when it’s broken: it demands your death. If you take it this way, the sense would go like this: “where there’s a covenant involved, it’s necessary for the death of the covenant maker to be endured [when transgressions have taken place].” In other words, the bloody sacrifices showed the people what happens to covenant breakers—they die; and that comes into force when they’re put to death for breaking it…unless a substitute dies in your place.
Others read it as we find it in the ESV. That is, he’s simply drawing upon a broader point where the concepts of what we’d call a covenant and a will overlap with one another. They begin upon the death of the covenant maker. If you have a written will, where you leave something to your spouse or children, it doesn’t come into effect until you die. He then takes that broader point of overlap and says, “Hey, didn’t we see this in the law of Moses? The covenant didn’t start without blood, a death had to occur.”
Wasn’t that the case? Verse 18, “Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.’ And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law [that’s the old covenant] almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness of sins.”
Either way you take these verses, I don’t think these two readings are mutually exclusive. The law did, in fact, come into effect when Moses sprinkled the people with blood. At the same time, the law demanded death for covenant-breakers. The sacrifices showed that in order to enter God’s presence, you needed another to die in your place. So we could say that even the blood that started the old covenant also signaled what would need to occur for people to have fellowship with God. A bloody substitute who could actually stand in our place and accomplish our forgiveness—that’s what we needed. We needed someone to take the curse of the law for us.
And that’s what came in Jesus. Look at verses 23-26: “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Jesus became the mediator of the superior covenant, because Jesus brought the superior sacrifice anticipated by the old covenant. How was his sacrifice better? Well, he doesn’t bring the blood of bulls and goats; he brings his own blood. Verse 26 says he sacrificed himself. That’s super important because you’re not an animal; you’re human. Human sinners need a human substitute. It’s also super important because only Jesus’ blood would work. Unlike any other human, Hebrews has told us that Jesus was perfect and without blemish. He alone qualified to become the sacrifice.
Jesus’ sacrifice also puts away sin for real—verse 26. The sacrifices under the old covenant could only picture forgiveness; Jesus accomplishes forgiveness. Verse 28 will say that he was offered once to “bear the sins of many.” That’s straight from Isaiah 53, that great prophecy of the Suffering Servant. Our passage began talking about the transgressions committed under the first covenant. As long as we bear our transgressions, we cannot enter God’s presence. But the good news from Isaiah 53:12 is this: Jesus was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many. He didn’t deserve to be numbered with the transgressors. He chose to be, that we could be forgiven in full and counted righteous in the presence of God.
Jesus brings the superior sacrifice also in that it was once for all. The other high priests had to make their offerings repeatedly, verse 25 indicates. But not Jesus. He didn’t enter God’s presence to keep making more sacrifices. If that was the case, he would’ve had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. Meaning, as Son Jesus has always existed. If one sacrifice at the end of the ages wasn’t going to cut it, then he would’ve been offering himself repeatedly since Adam sinned, and Adam’s children, and Noah, and so on—generation after generation would’ve needed it.
But that’s not what happened? Verse 26 says that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin.” That is a remarkable statement. All the sins of all his people in all the world for all of time—Jesus put them away in a single sacrifice. All the sins of old testament saints, all the sins of the saints spanning the last 2000 years, all the sins of you and me, past, present, and future—God put them away in a single sacrifice. Tell me how much that sacrifice is worth. You cannot calculate it. Jesus’ sacrifice is of infinite value. It’s why heaven sings, “Worthy is the Lamb…”
His sacrifice is also superior in that it purifies the heavenly things. Twice he mentions the earthly copies—verses 23 and 24. These are the holy places made with hands on earth. We read about them at the start of chapter 9. Verse 21 mentions the tent and all the vessels. These things were but pointers to God’s heavenly dwelling. Which puzzles us because what in God’s heavenly dwelling could possibly need purification? We do, my friends. We need the purification in order to enter. The only reason the earthly copies had to be purified was because of their association with guilty people.[ii] In a far greater way, Jesus purifies us such that the heavenly places will never be defiled by our presence there. Our sins are removed from us that far.
The Superior Assurance
That’s good news. These are glorious things. And there’s more to come with our last point: the superior assurance. Back to the purpose statement in verse 15. Jesus mediates the new covenant for this purpose: “so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” When he says “called,” don’t think invitation merely. Don’t think dad calling the kids in for dinner and nobody comes. This call is divine; and it effects in the person what it sets out to do. This call brings us into union with Christ and all his saving benefits from beginning to end.
If you truly belong to Jesus, God will work by grace such that you receive the eternal inheritance. In Hebrews 4 it’s eternal rest. No enemies, creation bountiful, everything rightly ordered, everybody made whole—all in the presence of God. In chapter 11 it’s the better country. It’s the city whose designer and builder is God. No sin will be there. No injustice, no partiality will be there. No civil unrest will be there. No lies will be there. No dangers, no viruses, no death will be there. All will be rightly ordered and holy before the Lord’s presence.
All whom God calls to himself will receive this inheritance. He did not plan an inheritance that nobody will receive. He made the inheritance to fill it, to have his blood-bought people enjoy it. Jesus not only died to inaugurate the new covenant blessings; he also rose to bring you into them. That’s what verses 27-28 say. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Not everyone will be saved. Chapter 10 will add that some will face a fury of fire that will consume God’s adversaries. But for those who are eagerly waiting for Jesus—that’s not what you will face. Why? Because that fury of fire you deserved was satisfied when Jesus died in your place. He will not come to deal with your sins. He already dealt with your sins fully on the cross. Christian, your worst day is behind you—God poured out his judgment on Christ. Now glory awaits us with the return of Jesus.
Encouragement for those who want to give up.
You see how that encourages someone on the brink of apostasy? You see how that my keep these Jewish Christians from abandoning Jesus for the old covenant? “The old covenant couldn’t get you to glory. The law couldn’t guarantee that you receive eternal inheritance. Jesus does. Everyone he calls, he will get you there!”
You see how these things might keep someone in the race when they just want to throw in the towel and give up? Some of you might want to give up after the last couple of months we’ve experienced. Some of you might be thinking, “What’s the point? I’m trying to be faithful, and everything seems to keep falling apart. The church ought to be the one place people are finding answers and hope and unity, but even they can’t get it together on Facebook.” Some of you are exhausted by injustice, the world’s brokenness.
Listen, everyone Jesus calls will receive the eternal inheritance. Your labor is not in vain. Your prayers are not in vain. Your tears and struggle for justice will one day give way to glory at Jesus’ return. If anything, that means labor all the more. Preach the gospel all the more. Pray all the more. The eternal inheritance is secure for all the people God calls to himself. Jesus is the superior mediator, because he brought the superior sacrifice; and by doing so, he secured for us the superior assurance.
Salvation offered for those without Christ.
Some of you listening might not belong to Jesus. Consider the words of verse 28 again, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” A day is appointed for you to die. It could be this afternoon. It could be later this week or next year or at eighty-six. Can you stand before the Holy One in your sins? God says, No. None of us can stand before the Lord in our sins. That’s why we need Jesus. He alone puts away sin. We will die. Judgment will come. But those who trust in Jesus will find themselves forgiven and saved. Come to him. Trust in his work. Take him at his word. People like you and me—he died to free us from our sins.
That’s what you need most. More than any other freedom gained in this world—as good of freedoms they may be—we need forgiveness of sins most, if we are going to be right with God and right with one another.
Behold the blood of the covenant poured out for you.
Are you amazed by the blood of the covenant? Not the blood of the old covenant, but the blood of the new covenant, Jesus’ blood—does it amaze you still? Do you sense its infinite value? Here’s a test. Have you ever been in a place where you’ve said something like this, “I don’t know if I could ever be forgiven for ______. That abortion, that abuse of power, that lie, that manipulation, that sexual deviancy, that slander, that laziness—I don’t know if it can be put away. They are too many. The penalty is too great; I don’t think anything can cover it.”
You don’t know the blood of Jesus very well. It’s of infinite value. It’s totally sufficient for all your sins. However gross they may be, however many they may be—if you are his, the blood covers them all. He puts them all away. It’s like that word from Micah 7:18, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
Jesus death puts away sin like that—all our sins into the depths of the sea. I’ve been watching a World War II documentary. One episode showed the German U-boats sinking over 400 ships in the Atlantic. Four hundred of these massive carrier ships just gone! I’m telling Rachel this and I say, “You’d think they’d start stacking up and sticking up out of the water. She says, “You know how big the ocean is, right? And it’s really deep too.” That’s what our sin is like in the ocean of God’s steadfast love. He puts it away—forever gone and unseen and forgotten about. There’s no other God like this.
And because this is our God, because he enjoys putting away sin by the sacrifice of his Son, we ought to delight in the same. What a joy it is to forgive others the way God in Christ has forgiven us. Let us reflect what he’s like as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Let us tell others about where they can find such forgiveness.
If we’re convinced that Jesus’ blood is of infinite value, wouldn’t we be offering it to everyone? If you were out hiking and stumbled upon an actual fountain of youth—without end the water keeps running to renew life. Wouldn’t you be running to tell others, others dying and wasting away with cancer? “Come! Come! I found the fountain!” But this is real and better. Jesus’ blood reconciles us with God; and so we say, “Come! Come! There is a fountain filled with blood. Behold the blood of the covenant!”
Eagerly waiting for Jesus to return.
Lastly, so many people are grasping for peace right now. So many are longing for true and lasting justice to fill their neighborhoods. So many are looking for a government built on truth, that stands for righteousness. So many want to see sons and daughters playing in the streets with laughter and without fear. Yet so many are looking to the wrong leaders and to the wrong powers and to the wrong stories to make it happen.
Only one man, only one power, only one story, will bring the day of glory, Jesus Christ. Are you eagerly waiting for him? Not just heaven, but Jesus himself. Central to the Christian’s hope is the return of Jesus. Would anybody know that by what your living for now? Could anybody read your Facebook page and conclude, “Now there’s a man whose central hope is Jesus’ return. There’s a woman whose treasure is in heaven.”
What happens when a couple expects a child? They’re telling everybody about the due date. They’re moving furniture and painting walls and buying cribs. They’re researching the best doctors and best foods and best diapers. They’re throwing showers and praying for safe delivery. They’re cackling over the baby’s progress and “Oh! A little shoulder just rolled across your belly!” They adjust the budget. It effects everything; and anyone looking into their lives would be able to say, “They’re expecting a baby!”
When people look into our life, do they say, “That man can’t wait to see Jesus; that woman longs for her King”? Would your zeal for his kingdom convince your peers that he’s returning? Or would it be overshadowed by a zeal for another country, and a far lesser one at that? How eager are you to see Jesus? He will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
[i] See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 11-64.
[ii] See the discussion in Paul M. Hoskins, That Scripture Might Be Fulfilled (Xulon, 2009), 132-33.