Hebrews is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. One of the author’s express purposes, it seems, is to relate Jesus and new covenant faith to the Law and the old covenant — in order to explain why this new covenant is superior to the old one.
In fact, after talking about how Jesus is superior to angels and Moses and the other Jewish high priests, the writer asks one of the very questions that I’ve been wrestling with:
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood [under the old covenant], why was there still need for another priest [Jesus] to come?” (Hebrews 7:11)
His answer, which I absolutely love, is straightforward: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the Law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (7:18-19)
Weak and useless. That’s what the Law is. Why? Because it could never accomplish God’s ultimate purpose: freedom. Redemption. Restoration.
All the sacrifices made under the old covenant could only temporarily cover our sins. But Jesus, in his Easter weekend sacrifice, accomplished in one action what the Law could not – he took them away:
“Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”
Once. For all.
Those last two words may be some of the most powerful words known to the human soul. For all. Not for some. Not just for the little ones. Not just for the big ones. Not only for the ones up to a certain point in time. Not just the intentional ones.
Every sin you have, are, and ever will commit.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to quote the same prophecy of God making a new covenant with his people that I mentioned in my previous post, and then says this: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”
Weak. Useless. Obsolete. Let’s let go of the rule-bound religiosity of the old covenant and embrace the complete and utter freedom and abundant life of the new one!
All of this, of course, begs the question: if the old covenant was so weak and useless, why even make it in the first place? Why not just start with the new covenant, which is able to achieve God’s ultimate purposes?
Because everything about the old covenant was designed to point us toward the new covenant. It laid the foundation and the groundwork. It prepared the way, so to speak. In fact, a few times the writer refers to things from the old covenant as shadows of things to come — like when he makes the argument about the temple sacrifices again:
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. “
There’s the beautiful freedom again. For all time.
There’s the tension again: sacrifices could never take away sins, so why have them? Why have a law that was powerless to take away sins?
Paul answers this in his treatise to the church in Rome: “No one will be declared righteous by observing the law. Through the law we become conscious of sin.”
The law points us to our need for a savior. For our need for our sins to be not just covered and atoned for, but to be completely taken away. The sacrifices instituted under the old covenant are a shadow of the one sacrifice Jesus will make as the Lamb of God to seal the new covenant. The priesthood established by the old covenant is a shadow of the priesthood Jesus will establish in the new covenant. The celebration of Passover in the old covenant is a shadow of the new meaning of Passover under the new covenant.
Nearly everything from the old covenant has a new, more powerful and deeper parallel in the new covenant. The writer of Hebrews touches on the tabernacle, the temple, and more throughout his explanation.
So my prayer for you on this Easter and always is this: that you would recognize the power in the new covenant, which was brought into existence by Jesus’ death on the cross when the fullness of time had come… that you would live in and experience the complete and utter freedom found in Jesus and that you would not be held captive by a weak and useless Law or rules-based religion… that you would see that Life in the Kingdom is all about love: God’s love for you and your love for him and the others around you.
And if you love, as Paul says several times in different ways, you have fulfilled the Law. That’s it. So this Easter, celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in the best way possible: love deeply.