C. S. Lewis wrote about some children going into an old wardrobe and finding that it led them to a fantastic place he called Narnia. They had been in a large house doing some exploring when they found a new world filled with wonder and adventure. Their old way of looking at things was challenged by a whole new vision.
In some ways, the first verse in the book of Hebrews is similar. It begins with what had been the normal way of expecting God to communicate to man. He spoke through prophets. “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets…” People who cared about God and what He thought about things were tuned in to the prophets. They had the heaven-sent message. But the inspired writer of Hebrews opens a new vista. “…hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.”
There is a continuum here. God has spoken and He still speaks. There is a message for man and God does not stop His communication. We have a very handy division in our Bibles. It is between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Both are communications from God to man. Both were inspired. Both were what God wanted for specific people at specific times. God continues to speak.
Let’s make a comparison between the two testaments. The first is the beginning of the revelation of God, written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The second is the completion of God’s revelation to man, also inspired. The first is foundational to God’s work of redemption of mankind. The second is the fulfillment of God’s promised redemption in Christ. The first contained types, or ensamples, of what the second would reveal in the Son of God.
In comparing the two testaments, we must conclude that the first was essential. Without it, the second would not make sense. It would be floating all on its own with no mooring. But we must also conclude that the second is better. The customary view of God’s message coming through prophets gives way to His message coming directly from His Son. Why?
He has a better name. In fact, it is “a more excellent name” than even that of angels. It will not be before Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, or Jeremiah that all will kneel, but before the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. His name is above all names. And He is the one who has brought the message to us. At the beginning of His ministry, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel” (Mark 1:14). The gospel is the message of the Son.
This message is good news. It has a better hope. The law could bring people to make a repeated sacrifice but could “make nothing perfect.” Now the Son has brought a word which is a better testament. There is provision for not merely ceremonies for cleansing, but cleansing that is real. “He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:5) and also on better sacrifices. Jesus came preaching the gospel.
It is undeniable that John Wesley had great effect in his preaching. Take the conclusion of one of his sermons, “The Great Assize,” and notice his commitment to the gospel as the solution to any who tremble at the thought of judgment. “He willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance; by repentance, to faith in a bleeding Lord; and producing all holiness of conversation. Can you doubt of this, when you remember, the Judge of all is likewise the Saviour of all? Hath he not bought you with his own blood, that ye might not perish but have everlasting life?”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a paper about Charles Spurgeon in which he asked what made Spurgeon’s preaching so effective. He concluded that it was Spurgeon’s commitment to keeping the gospel central to his preaching that gave his messages such appeal. Spurgeon, when explaining his preaching method, said, “I take a text and make a bee-line to the cross.”
Here are two preachers of the past from different theological persuasions but who both recognized and preached the power of the gospel as the means whereby men and women would be transformed. The gospel includes the sinless life, the substitutionary death, the substantial burial, and the supernatural resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We must conclude that the gospel is the fulfillment of the better covenant. The way God speaks now is better.
Interestingly, the new covenant was preached before the New Testament was written. When Jesus was persecuted by the Jews for His good deed on the Sabbath, he challenged them. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). He emphasized that He was the one who would fulfill the old covenant and bring in the new. Apollos mightily convinced the Jews, “shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:28). Paul was convinced that the power of preaching the scriptures was in applying them to the gospel of the new covenant. The gospel, he said, “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). None of these had a printed New Testament to preach from. Yet, the Son had spoken, the gospel went forth, and the church was born.
Imagine that the Bible is like two halves of a circle. The bottom half is the Old Testament. The top half is the New Testament. Both are necessary for the circle to be completed. By the time the writer of Hebrews got to Chapter 11, he had firmly established the superiority of the new covenant. And then he went back and recounted great heroes of the Old Testament who had stood for God and truth and who had given us great examples of walking by faith. Yet, at the end of the chapter he says something almost startling. “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” They received not the promise? It’s almost as though they had drawn only half of the circle. The inspired pen continued. “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 10:40). Now the circle is complete. The first verses of Chapter 12 provide the glorious conclusion for us who have so greatly benefited from the faith of those witnesses who have gone before. It culminates in the gospel!
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1,2)
Hebrews is better than Narnia. Enter and see that there is a reality of the word from God’s Son that leads to a vision far better than elves and queens. It is the message that grace has answered law, and we can be filled with hope as we walk with Him who “is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).