Summary: Examines the OT Law and how a NT Christian is to relate to it, and to law-keeping in general

1. Title: What’s Wrong With Keeping The Law?

2. Text: Hebrews 8

3. Audience: Villa Heights Christian Church, AM crowd., August 20, 2006, in the series “Nothing Better Than The Best”

4. Objectives:

-for the people to understand why the Old Covenant has been superseded by the New, and what we are supposed to do now about keeping the Law, or any law for that matter

-for the people to feel comfortable in their understanding of where good works fit into this New Covenant; to feel eager to do good as a means of pleasing God, not of being saved

-for the people to pursue godliness, with joy, because success in this is pleasing to God; to seek to be holy, because God is holy; to cease to try being good enough; to develop a godly hatred for what is evil and to have an attitude toward sin that shows their deadness to it

5. When I finish my sermon I want my audience to understand where good works fit into the grace system of the New Covenant and to make holy living even more of a lifestyle than they would under the Old Covenant approach to God

6. Type: expository

7. Dominant Thought: God’s New Covenant is better, and it’s administered by the Superior Priest Jesus!

8. Outline:

Intro – Skit “Dot Matrix” - see below

(or, hold up a few outdated objects – speak about 68’s, 45’s, and LP’s – now, they’re outdated)

Every time something gets outdated, we have a decision to make. We can decide whether or not we’re going to try to accept that, or try to fight it. And, if we do accept it, we have another decision to make: what do we do with the outdated thing? Do you hang onto your wide ties and hope they’ll come back into style? Do you keep your 8-track tapes and hope to sell them one day to a collector? Do you keep your old typewriter as a decoration around the house? Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the old things and accept that something new is better. And, sometimes when the new thing doesn’t seem to work right, it’s easier to slide back over to the old thing.

What if that thing is your Church life?

What if, today, I was to tell you that the way you’ve been relating to God is outdated, it no longer works, and what you’ve been counting on to make you right with God needs to change? That’s hard to accept. You’d really need to be convinced that there’s a better way, wouldn’t you?

I need to tell you this morning that if your approach to God is legalism, it needs to change.

Understand that legalism doesn’t just mean keeping the Law. On your drive here, if you drove the speed limit, obeyed the traffic signals, and wore your seatbelt, does that make you a legalist? If you prayed before you ate your breakfast, read your Bible, and even confessed the sins you’ve committed so far today, does that make you a legalist? Not necessarily.

A legalist isn’t just someone who keeps God’s moral law. A legalist is someone who tries to use law-keeping as the way to gain heaven. This is what the Old Covenant was. God said, “keep this law, and you’ll live.” That was legalism. Break the Law, suffer the penalty. Keep the law, escape the penalty.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve picked up on a running theme through the NT letter we call Hebrews. It’s all about showing how what we have in Jesus is better than the Old Covenant. The chapter we’re in this morning shows how it’s better than being a legalist, and it even helps us understand what we’re supposed to do with that old, outdated law.

Here are some features of the New Covenant that make it better.

I. Heaven – Better From The Start

Hebrews 8:1-6

The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.

Last week, we talked about the way that Jesus is better as a high priest, and there’s some more of that in this chapter. But, beyond that, there are some other reasons that God’s new way is better.

God gave the Jews a place of worship. First it was the mobile tabernacle, and then later the temple in Jerusalem. Everything about those places of worship was designed by God. From the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place, to the altar for burnt offerings outside, the design for every item was given by God, and it’s here that we learn why. God wasn’t just picking out furniture that He thought would look good. Those designs were a copy and a shadow of what’s in heaven. They gave some preview of what we currently can’t see. That’s why it was so necessary to build it exactly the way God said. There’s something about the design of the whole thing that’s a shadow of heaven.

But, think about it, even at best, that’s all it is – it’s a copy and a shadow. The people worshiped and the priests served in an earth-bound setting that was really just a man-made, colorless, 2-dimensional, distorted representation of the real place – heaven.

Ill- I can take a $10 bill and photocopy it, but if I go to send that through a change machine, someone at the federal level might be very disappointed that what I tried to use was just an image of the real thing!

When Jesus serves as priest, it’s in the real place, where God dwells in all His fullness. It isn’t man-made; it’s not a cheap imitation. It’s the superior place.

That old temple is gone, but the place where Jesus is High Priest lasts forever. Tents are OK, for a few days, but after a while, they leave you ready to go home. That’s what we have in Jesus. That old place of meeting has been outdated and replaced by something better. Then, at the end of v.6, there’s something else that’s better: “and it is founded on better promises.”

II. Better Promises For Your Heart

God keeps His promises. Amen? On the list of things God can’t do, one is lie. So, how does God make better promises? It’s simple, really, He makes a promise of better things.

The OT Law promised to tell you what God wanted from you, but didn’t promise to help you do it. It promised to remind you every year that you were a sinner, but didn’t promise to fix it. It promised to remind you that your sin cost the blood of sacrificial animals; that they would have to be killed because of you. It promised to remind you of your need for someone to help you get close to God, and to show you how some priest here on earth wasn’t quite enough to do that.

God’s New Covenant has better promises for us! Listen to them. They originally appeared in Jer. 31…

Hebrews 8:7-12

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said : "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ’Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

Real quick, let’s run over those 4 better promises:

1. Men will want to do God’s will because of a changed heart

Under the Old Covenant, the motivation for keeping the Law was the fear of punishment. They did it because they had to. Do this, and you’ll live. The Law didn’t help a person’s heart be right. It just highlighted where it wasn’t right.

God says that His New Covenant deals with the heart matter – your heart and my heart. “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” God now deals with our wills and our motives, not just the keeping of a written code whether we really want to do it or not.

Philippians 2:13

for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

God promised a similar thing through Ezekiel that reaches beyond Israel:

Ezekiel 36:26-27

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

The Old Covenant never promised help in keeping it. Its purpose was to show us that on our own we can’t even do it. We need help. God’s New Covenant promises to help.

2. People will know God better, because of Messiah

“No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ’Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”

John says,

John 1:18

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

John uses a word that means Jesus has explained God to us. No one can even look upon God’s full glory, but when God comes and lives among us, when the Person of God becomes Immanuel – God with us – then we can better understand what He’s like. God promises that people will know Him.

Jesus told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Have you taken advantage of that? Have you looked upon God through the person of His Son Jesus? People under the Old Covenant were watching for that Person to come. You and I live on this side of the cross. We can understand and know God in ways that previous generations couldn’t approach. We can know God through Jesus.

3. All kinds of people can be included as God’s people

Before the Covenant changed, only Israel was called God’s people. If you weren’t a Jew, too bad. God gave His promises to Israel. But that all changed with the New Covenant.

I’m glad for that this morning, because it means I can be included in on this. Paul calls it the great mystery that has now been revealed, “is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

I’m glad for that, because it means I don’t have to try to pre-screen and decide who needs Jesus and who’s just a hopeless case. God is calling for all men everywhere to repent. God desires for everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth, and anyone who will respond can be included.

Here’s the last promise:

4. Sins are forgiven and truly gone

These have to be some of the greatest words of Scripture: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The Law didn’t let sins go. In fact, it just brought them up again year after year. We’re going to get to ch 10 and read “those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

But God says His New Covenant will be different because He’ll forgive our sins. He’ll even fix the records. Not only will the sin be paid for, but the record of it will be forgotten.

We struggle with this, because God’s forgetter works better than our own, doesn’t it? We look at the white-out and remember. We remember what someone said about us, or to us. We save up stamps, in case we ever need to use them – mental records of the ways other people have messed up. After all, if you can point out someone else’s mess-ups, it makes you look better, right? But God says about your sin, He’ll remember it no more.

You see, if I believe about your sins that God has done away with them, then I shouldn’t be able to recall them either, should I? God has not only dealt with the wrongs I have done, but with the same cross of Jesus is able to deal with the lesser wrongs done to me.

I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Praise God for His promise!

There’s one last better aspect to this New Covenant I’d like us to see in ch 8:

III. Holy Living On Our Part

Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

“…what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” Now, some of us are aging, and we may even feel obsolete, but take heart, these words aren’t about you! Looking at the timing of the writing of Hebrews and the way the author speaks about Old Covenant religion, there’s something that needs to be pointed out. Within about 10 years of this writing, the whole center of Jewish worship was destroyed. The Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 AD. The Roman general Titus laid siege to Jerusalem. The Jews put up quite a fight, but after a while, the Romans broke through, and set fire to the temple. The year was 70 AD. Jerusalem, including the temple, was then destroyed. 10 years later, the Arch of Titus was built in memory of the capture of Jerusalem. It stands today on the highest point of the Via Sacra, a road leading to the Roman Forum. In the relief work on it, you can see the Romans carrying off the candelabra and the Table of Showbread from the captured temple. “…what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”

Now, there are practicing Jews alive today. But there’s no temple in Jerusalem where people go to offer sacrifices. Jesus had prophesied it. He told the disciples that the temple, as magnificent as it was, would be destroyed. There is no Ark of the Covenant. There is no lamp stand or Table of Showbread or Altar of incense. These things – obsolete and aging – have disappeared. So has the Old Covenant as a way to relate to God.

Now, the question we talked about at the beginning remains: what do you with that old, outdated way to approach God – the approach that’s performance-based; the approach that relies on you being good in order to be OK with Him; the approach that takes a list of rules and tells you to keep them if you want to live? After all, it’s old – its name is even old: Old Covenant! It’s outdated. It has become obsolete. And the writer here says it would soon disappear.

At this point, some people cringe. “What are you talking about?! No law! What are you trying to do – tell people they can live any way they want to and it doesn’t matter?” On the other hand, there are some people who really like that idea. “Yea! No law! That sounds a whole lot easier! You just hop on the grace gravy train and ride it to heaven. Who cares how you live?!”

Let me go back to the question we’re dealing with in the title of the message: what’s wrong with keeping the Law? The answer is “Nothing, unless you’re trying to use that approach as the means to enter heaven.” How does a person enter heaven? Paul wrote,

Romans 3:28

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.

Here’s how it works now.

We’re not supposed to be in this just for ourselves. Under a law approach, you take a list of do’s and don’t’s you don’t do the don’t’s and do do the do’s, and then you get what you’re after. In this case, you get heaven. You escape punishment. It’s all about what you do to get in. The problem with that is heaven’s not all about you! You’re not your own! You’ve been created for Someone else. Not only that, but you’ve also been bought with a price. When we look at life and just ask, “OK, what do I have to do to make it to heaven?” we’re making ourselves the center of the question. That’s what we do when we go at this with a list of rules. We make ourselves and what we get the focus. That’s not how the New and better way works.

God’s new way takes our eyes off of ourselves and places them on Him. Now, God has taken care of the way into heaven, not us. That’s been bought and paid for. Not only can we not afford it, but we have to accept it from Him as a gift, not a personal accomplishment. Our relationship with God begins with us humbling ourselves, acknowledging Who He is, and that we need His help. And when we accept that, it’s because that’s what God has made us to be and to do, not just to save our own necks. So, in a system like this, doing what’s right, keeping God’s moral law, isn’t something we do to be saved, but instead it’s something we do because we’re saved. Now, there’s not just a list of rules that we keep and that’s as far as we go, because we have to. Now, there’s a perfect and holy God Who calls us to be like Him – to be holy, because of what He has done for us.

2 Corinthians 5:9

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

1 Thessalonians 4:1

…we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

Why? Because we love Him. Because we’ve left an old, dead way of life. Because our Creator has created us to do good works.

Is it still necessary to keep God’s moral law – to learn and to do what’s right? Yes! Grace doesn’t make it unnecessary. It’s necessary because God is God and He deserves it. It’s necessary because I owe Him my obedience as my Creator and as the One Who has saved me! It’s necessary because I love him, and that love makes God’s desires more important than my own.


In fact, it was God’s desire that I would accept His gift before it was my own desire to have it. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Dot Matrix

(a skit about the Old and New Covenants)

(adapted from a work by Bob Snook)

scene: one chair L, one chair R, two separate but related conversations occur at the same time on the left and right sides of the stage

A-LEFT -- (enters carrying notebook computer, sits, opens computer, begins typing)

A-RIGHT -- (enters opposite reading Bible, sits, reads)

B-LEFT -- (enters carrying old dot matrix printer) Hey, look what I found down in the storeroom.

B-RIGHT -- (enters opposite reading Bible) Hey, look what I found in the Bible.

A-LEFT and A-RIGHT -- That’s nice.

B-LEFT -- It’s an old dot matrix printer.

B-RIGHT -- I’m reading about the Law of Moses. You know, the world would be a better place if we all kept the law.

A-LEFT -- (looks up) Huh? Oh, I haven’t seen that printer in years. I thought we’d pretty much lost it. You know, that was a state-of-the-art computer printer in its day.

A-RIGHT -- (looks up) Huh? Oh, yeah, the Law was a holy institution of God. It sure was important in God’s plan of salvation.

B-LEFT -- Then, how come we don’t use it anymore?

B-RIGHT -- Then, how come we don’t use it anymore?

A-LEFT -- Because that printer just wasn’t really made for today’s computers.

A-RIGHT -- Because that law just wasn’t really made for today’s people.

B-LEFT -- I don’t understand. I hooked it up to my computer. It still prints OK. What’s wrong with it?

B-RIGHT -- I don’t understand. The law makes a lot of sense. What’s wrong with it?

A-LEFT & A-RIGHT -- There’s nothing WRONG with it.

A-LEFT -- It’s just that this printer was specifically designed to be compatible with the computers of its day. It met the need of its day.

A-RIGHT -- It’s just that the Law was specifically designed to be compatible with the people of its day. It met the need of its day.

B-LEFT & B-RIGHT -- What do you mean?

A-LEFT -- Computers have always been built with the understanding that they’ll become outdated. Old computers had slow clock speeds, with very little RAM. They didn’t have multitasking or plug-and-play technology or even color monitors. Those old accessories just become outdated.

A-RIGHT -- The Law was given to the Jews with the understanding that it would one day be outdated. God’s people needed a moral code to teach them about holy living. But the whole law system was destined to be replaced.

A-LEFT -- So the computer printer didn’t need colors or high resolution graphics?

A-RIGHT -- So, the Law wasn’t really good enough?

A-LEFT -- The problem was, as soon as we started using that printer, we started noticing its shortcomings, the slow speed, and low resolution of the graphics, and the lack of color. It left us wanting.

A-RIGHT -- The problem was, as soon as the Jews started using the Law, they started noticing their own shortcomings. They saw that nobody kept all the law all the time. It left them wanting.

A-LEFT -- Even before they began selling that model, the manufacturers had a better model on the drawing boards.

A-RIGHT -- Even before the Lord gave the Law to the Jews, He had a better model on the drawing boards.

B-LEFT and B-RIGHT -- So, are you saying that because there’s a better model now, I shouldn’t use this one? (points to printer, points to Bible)

A-LEFT & B-RIGHT -- You could. But, why would you want to if there’s something better?

B-LEFT & B-RIGHT-- Better? What’s better?

A-LEFT -- Laser printers. They’re faster, with higher resolution and color – they’re a whole lot better way, and do things the old ones can’t even come close to.

A-RIGHT – God’s new covenant - Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. It’s a whole lot better way, and it does things the old Law can’t even come close to.

B-LEFT -- Oh, I see. Well, I guess I’ll put this thing back in the storeroom, then. Or maybe I should just throw it in the trash.

B-RIGHT -- Oh, I see. Well, I guess I’ll trust in Jesus, then instead of trusting myself to perfectly keep the Law. Or maybe I should just ignore the Old Testament. (turns to exit)

A-LEFT -- No. Keep it. That old printer will be a good reminder for us of how much the technology has improved over the years. Looking it over once in a while will help us all appreciate how great we have it!

A-RIGHT -- No. We need the Old Testament to remind us of how much better God’s New Covenant is than the old one. Looking it over once in a while will help us all appreciate how great God’s grace is.

B-LEFT -- (exiting) OK, but, tell me, why didn’t the manufacturers just come out with laser printers in the first place?

A-LEFT -- (exiting) Call it planned obsolescence. I guess IBM’s ways are not our ways!

B-RIGHT -- (exiting opposite) OK, but, tell me, why didn’t God come out with the New Covenant in the first place?

A-RIGHT -- (exiting opposite) Call it planned obsolescence. I guess God’s ways are not our ways!

©2005 Bob Snook. Conditions for use:

Do not sell any part of this script, even if you rewrite it.

Pay no royalties, even if you make money from performances.

You may reproduce and distribute this script freely,

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