Despite what you may have heard, the first covenant God made with the Israelites was good.1 It was a declaration of fidelity to God, their rescuer. In some ways, it was not unlike our wedding vows—a forsaking of all others and a promise of faithfulness toward our spouse. In that covenant, God was saying, “If you are faithful to me, you will live this way”:
- You will have no other gods before me.
- You will worship me only.
- Do not take my name in vain.
- Keep the Sabbath day holy.
- Honor your mother and father.
- Do not murder.
- Do not steal.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not lie.
- Do not covet.
And these are good laws, make no mistake. They are good commands that are right for us to obey. In keeping them there is life and joy. But as good as the Law is—as good as that first covenant was—it couldn’t empower anyone to keep it.
It couldn’t cure the problem of their hearts.
It couldn’t make something dead live.
The Israelites—and we along with them—needed something else. Something better, as the author of Hebrews might say.
And that’s what’s so beautiful about this passage, isn’t it? God promised something new for his people. “I will put my teaching within them, and write it on their hearts.”
That “new” word is tricky, of course. What do we mean when we use “new” in the context of God? Does it mean the first covenant was a mistake? Had God now moved on to Plan B? Would there be a Plan C, D, E, F, and G, too?
Not at all. When we think about new, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that “new” really does mean new—but that’s new for us. In the history of the world, no covenant like this one had ever been made, and would never be made again. God was doing something totally different… Which is what he had planned from the very beginning.
What God promised in the new covenant is nothing less than the gospel itself. He would write his teaching on the hearts of his people. He would put his teaching within them. And this is how he did it—in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Son of God, the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God himself, made this covenant with God the Father before the foundation of the world. That Jesus would come into the world as a human being, to identify with his people, to perfectly fulfill the commands of the first covenant, so that, as the author of Hebrews wrote,
…those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
Jesus fulfilled the covenant for us and took the punishment our sins deserved in order to forgive us. And if that weren’t enough, he sent his Spirit to give us new hearts, hearts that are no longer enslaved to sin, but instead long to love and please God our Father, and to live within us to enable us to fulfill God’s commands!
That’s the new covenant, friends.
That’s the “something better”!
And I pray it’s a “something better” every single person reading this has experienced or will experience.