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Heb.7:22 "This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant."
For at least two of my sons when they were students I have had to act as a guarantor. When they wanted to move into private accommodation with some of their friends their prospective landlords wanted the assurance that they were going to get their money. Signing the paper I was accepting the responsibilities of a guarantor – if my sons failed to pay their bills I would have to pay their rent in their place.
Before signing I read the small print carefully. I didn’t want to end up being responsible for paying the rent of somebody else in the house. I might have had sufficient confidence in my own boys that they would act correctly but I wasn’t about to act in the same way for someone I didn’t know at all.
Solomon in the Book of Proverbs advises such caution because he knew that the matter of promising to meet another’s debts was important and could have far-
Pr.11:15 "Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm"
When you become a guarantor for someone in this kind of situation you are effectively uniting yourself with them and although I might never have lived in the house concerned I was every bit as responsible as those sons of mine.
Jesus did just this kind of thing for me and he did it for you too if you are a Christian. That is what our verse tells us, that is what the older word "surety" means. And it is this word, this idea that will be the focus of our attention this evening.
A Better Covenant
The word translated surety, or guarantor, in Heb.7:22 is only used once in the Bible though the idea recurs frequently enough.
Because it only appears in Hebrews 7 we will begin by seeing what points the writer is making there and then we will look at a couple of examples, one from the OT and one from the NT, that serve to illustrate the basic idea of what it means to be a guarantor/surety.
As you’ll remember the writer to the Hebrews was addressing a particular situation. The Jewish Christians to whom he was writing were beginning to look back with nostalgia to the rites and rituals of the Old covenant order that they had left behind when they put their faith in Christ. They were beginning to wonder whether they had been wise to do so, after all the old system with its priests and sacrifices had been around for so long and it was all so comfortable and appealing to them. So the writer of the letter determined that they should realise just how foolish it would be to turn their backs on Christ and go back to the old ways. Christ is superior to anything and everything that has gone before and will be superior to anything or everything that might come later.
In ch.7 the subject he tackles is that of the Levitical priesthood along with the entire legal system of which the levitical priest was a essential element. But, says our author, the whole system of the levitical priesthood was unable to do what needed to be done: that priesthood could never bring anything or anyone to perfection:
v.11 "Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?"
At the end of ch.6 we are told that Jesus belongs to the high priestly order of Melchizedek and in the opening verses of ch.7 Melchizedek himself is introduced to us.
The fact that the levitical priesthood could not secure perfection for anyone does not however mean that God had somehow made a mistake and the whole system was a failure. The levitical system never was designed to be anything other than a temporary one. It was always God’s plan to replace it with a better system which would secure what was necessary for sinners to be brought in to a relationship with a Holy God.
The purpose of the old covenant system was to point the way forward and to keep alive the hope of that better system to come. That better system had come with the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is one thing to make a series of claims and another to back those claims up. The writer to the Hebrews went on to illustrate in a number of different ways just why it was that the new order in Christ was superior to what had preceded his coming:
Christ’s appointment to office was established in a more auspicious manner:
A levite became a priest simply as a consequence of the tribe into which he was born. When he reached the age of 30 he would serve as a priest until the age of 50 (assuming he lived that long). He would then be replaced by the next generation of priests.
How different is Jesus’ priesthood!
Jesus’ priesthood had nothing to do with such matters of heredity – instead he was specifically chosen and confirmed by God’s oath. This was simply not the case for the levite.
The specific terms of the oath not only established Jesus as a priest, it also established him irreversibly in his priestly ministry – his would be a continuing ministry that would know no end. All those serving as levitical priests would one day die a fact that underlined the need for a regular supply of new men who could replace them for a while. But Jesus with the power of an endless, indestructible life can, and does, minister on and on.
The importance of this oath concerning the never-
But it is not just the manner of Christ’s appointment to his priestly ministry that sets him apart from all the priests who preceded him – the exercise of his ministry is greater because his identity and character is greater too!
He, being always alive, is always available to help those who would come to God through him
He, being the God-
He, being himself perfect, is able to represent us in heaven itself for that is where he is! Unlike the levitical priest who could only serve in what was really just a picture of heaven (the temple) Jesus serves in the very presence of God and his presence there guarantees our own acceptance there because he represents us there.
He is himself our Surety and as such Jesus has bound himself to us with an indissoluble bond – in this union he has committed himself to settle all the debts we owe to God. He has assumed the responsibility for our guilt by sealing the covenant with his own blood and his resurrection from the dead is the Father’s open acknowledgement of our Triumphant Saviour.
The consequences of this are enormous. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you are safe now and you will be safe for as long as Jesus lives.
What comfort this should bring us and what an encouragement to get to know him better and to appreciate him and his work all the more.
This assurance of eternal safety, for that is what we are talking about, is not given to us in order to sanction Christians living careless lives . Everyone who is truly born again wants to lead a godly life and what an encouragement to know that in his current intercession for us he prays that we might do just that! But such an assurance of safety takes our eyes off our own performance as the determining factor in our eternal destiny – he has pledged to pay our debts and our eyes will want to turn to him.
Being a surety means paying debts and performing where those in need can neither pay nor do for themselves:
The wages of sin is death but Jesus died for us!
Only the undefiled can enter heaven – but Jesus has lived such a faultless life and has entered heaven -
Col.1:22 "And you... he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,"
A Couple of Examples to Illustrate
The first of our examples is found in the OT.
Do you remember what happened when Joseph’s brothers visited him in Egypt but failed to recognise the second in command of the country as their brother? Well when it came time to leave Joseph said that they would not see his face again unless they brought Benjamin with them. To drive home the seriousness of the matter he kept Simeon and put him in prison.
Jacob was distraught when they returned home without Simeon. Reuben said he’d go back to Egypt and watch out for Benjamin. If he failed Jacob could kill Reuben’s own two sons. Jacob evidently didn’t think much of that idea perhaps thinking that Reuben just wasn’t trustworthy and so he refused.
Time went by and still the famine continued. Finally Judah spoke up; he would go and what was more he would make himself the guarantor of Benjamin’s safety. This is what Judah said:
Gen.43:9 "I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever."
Jacob capitulated and the brothers returned to Egypt. All seems to go well but Joseph still has a test for his brothers who still have not recognised who he is. The brothers are on their return journey when Joseph sends his men after them accusing them of stealing a cup. The cup is found in Benjamin’s sack – you know the story of how it had been planted there but the brothers didn’t. They won’t abandon Benjamin but all return to Egypt where Judah pleads for compassion. He offers to take Benjamin’s place repeating to Joseph the terms of the pledge he had earlier made to his father:
Judah was prepared to relinquish his own freedom that Benjamin might be spared and Jacob spared the pain which he feared would bring him to the grave.
Jesus wasn’t only prepared he died to pay our debt – hallelujah what a surety!
Now it is time to consider a NT example and for that we turn to the Book of Philemon and the slave called Onesimus. Do you know this story?
Onesimus had been a useless servant. Then one day he ran away from his master and made his way to Rome where he met the apostle Paul and was soundly converted. Paul found great encouragement in Onesimus but nevertheless sends him back to Philemon and urges the latter to welcome him as a fellow believer rather than as a runaway slave. Paul writes in some detail about this to Philemon pledging himself to clear any debts Onesimus’s might have run up. It illustrates well what being a surety for another might involve:
Paul actually went on to add a little bit of emotional pressure on Philemon – all illustrations will fail to show the full grandeur of what it is Jesus has done for us. But we do not err if we think of Jesus as our surety speaking to God the Father on our behalf and saying:
"If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account."
Hallelujah! What a Surety!
And to God be the glory.