2016 was an exciting and adventurous year for all of us and I believe this year will also bring a lot of surprises. I’m personally hoping and praying to see some more marriages happen this year and the possibility of planting a new church as the Lord leads us.
Coming to today’s sermon as you all know that we love to do expository preaching through the books of the bible which we believe to be most beneficial for the body of Christ. Last year we studied and preached through the book of Nehemiah for 7 months (April to October) followed by a short series on Mission which we did along with our family of churches.
The next book we will look into is 1 Timothy but we will start the series from the first week of February.
Meanwhile for the next couple of Sundays the leaders at The Gathering felt God leading us to do a series on The Church.
As we begin this new year we thought it would be great for us to look and understand what the scripture has to say about the true church of Jesus Christ.
We live in a generation where people have different ideas about church, these ideas are formed because of the influence of society, people, culture, needs, history etc.
Let me give you some examples:
- Some think of church as a building with a cross on it where people go to find peace.
- Some think of it as a place where people gather to sing godly songs to rejuvenate their minds
- Some think of church as a place where their needs are met, whether financial, mental or emotional
- Some think of church as a place to build network, make friends and have fun
But when we read and investigate the scriptures we realize that church is much more than what we have made of it. And in the next couple of Sundays that’s exactly what we will be doing.
We will read and remind ourselves of what the true church of Jesus should look like.
And we will begin our journey today by firstly finding our identity as a church.
Who are we as a Church?
What does the Bible say about our identity as a Church community?
Our passage for today is Hebrews 8. (Please turn with me to the book of Hebrews 8)
In this passage the writer is presenting Jesus as the High Priest of a Better Covenant and therefore addresses us as a people of the new covenant in Christ, which in fact is our identity as a church. We are a covenant community.
But what does the word ‘Covenant’ really mean and why is there an old covenant and a new covenant mentioned in this passage.
It might sound a bit complicated to you in the beginning but I will try my best to simplify and explain it better. So please do hang on with me.
To start with, let us first understand the meaning of the word ‘Covenant’. This word is not very commonly used in our culture. We’ve probably heard the synonyms of this word.
Like for example ‘Agreement’, ‘Commitment’, ‘Deed’, ‘Treaty’ etc but I believe the word ‘Covenant’ has a much deeper meaning and none of these synonyms justify that.
Here’s what I mean by that.
Like for example the word ‘agreement’ is often used to describe an arrangement between two or more people to do or not to do something specific. An agreement can have an expiry date and can be broken anytime with mutual consent.
Wherein the word ‘Covenant’ is always used in context with God to describe a conditional promise/promises made by God to his people. And unlike an agreement a covenant is irrevocable because the conditions are laid down by God and we cannot amend them.
The Old Covenant was a conditional or bilateral agreement that God made with the Israelite’s. The Old Covenant was in effect during the dispensation of the Law that was given to Moses, the ten commandments been the center of all others laws.
The amazing thing about the 10 commandments is no matter what faith and religious background you come from these commands which were given to Israelite’s thousands and thousands of years back will resonate in your mind even today. These are still the norms in many religious beliefs to attain a perfect life pleasing to God.
Listen to them. (Exodus 20:2-17)
- You shall have no other God before me.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness that is in heaven above, or that in the earth beneath.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
- Remember the day of rest and keep it holy.
- Honour your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s house.
In the Old Covenant, the Israelites were required to obey God and keep the Law, and in return God protected and blessed them. The Old Covenant required repeated, daily sacrifices of animals as a reminder of the people’s sin. Under the Old Covenant, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place where God’s presence dwelt—and that only once a year. The Old Covenant was a set of “external regulations”.
This understanding presents God as someone who is really mean and unreachable which is exactly how people perceive him to be even today. Isn’t it?
– they need to do good things in order to please God
– they need to offer sacrifices and offerings so that God can forgive me
– they need to visit the church/temple/mosque as often as I can so that God can protect and provide for me
The truth is that God’s intention for giving us these laws were not to press us down or make us feel miserable rather as it is written in Hebrews 8:5 these were a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. The laws were meant to point us to the standard of Gods holiness and reminds us of our sinfulness.
These commands were not just meant to be external activities but a heart condition. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Knowingly or unknowingly we all end up doing things and trying to please God with all the external activities. You take any world religion for example including the Christianity, it’s all about rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, practices and rituals that are just meant to exhaust us and lead us nowhere.
Verse 7 and 8 says
“ For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says ..”
Verse 9 – “For they did not continue in my covenant”
You see the fault is not in the covenant or in the law per SE, the verse suggest that the fault is with us, the sinful human heart.
You see our sinful heart is so sinful that no matter how hard we try we can never please God. Because God’s standard of holiness is way above our reach.
And that is exactly why verse 6 of Hebrews 8 is a good news to all of us.
“But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
Remember, this good news is not just for Christians, but for people from all background, faith and religious belief’s. Christ is the answer to man’s deepest need. The search for peace, fulfillment, satisfaction, salvation ends when you encounter Christ.
God presented these moral laws to reveal our immorality and then provides and answer through the sacrifice of His only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Bible says in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Which means fulfilling the requirements of the old covenant or the laws are no more the norms to please God and win his favor.
Christ fulfilled the law for us by living a perfect life and dying on our behalf for all our sinfulness.
And therefore, believing this truth and putting our faith in Christ is the new norm to please God.
And that is why the writer of Hebrews in verse 8 says “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
And this is the new covenant that we are called into.
Does that mean that we no more obey the commandments in the Old testament?
No – We must obey the OT commandments the same way we obey the NT commandments—not in order to win God’s favor. We have already won his favor by putting our trust in his son Jesus.
We obey because we depend on his free grace and trust that his commands will lead to full and lasting joy.
We should delight in God’s law, meditate on it day and night, and sing of its value unto all generations.
Listen – As a Church this is our true Identity and that is exactly why we are a covenant community.
John 1:12 – In Christ we have been given the right to become children of God
Colossians 2:10 – In Christ we have been brought to fullness
Romans 6:6 – The day we put out faith in Christ our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin
1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now we are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it
We as a Church is a covenant community, the bride of Christ, holy, blameless and set apart for His glory. That is our identity.
And, therefore here’s what it means to live out our identity as a Church?
1. Stop trying to please God in your own efforts
We are not a miserable bunch of people who needs to do a certain number of things to win God’s favour.
You are not part of his church because you are a good guy. In fact the bible says in Romans 5:8
“God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Hebrews 8:10 says
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
2. Live a life that declares his goodness all the time
To all the people – whether in your neighborhood, or our workplace or your place of study.
Hebrews 8:11 says
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
3. Stay humble and remind yourself every single day that you are mercied by God
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
It is important that we constantly remind ourselves this gospel truth
– by thanking him daily in our prayers
– by meditating on this truth everyday
– by living a life centered around the gospel
– by letting the gospel truth influence every decision in your life
I believe everything begins on a right note when we truly understand our true identity. And every outcome of our lives should flow from that identity.