Promises, Promises

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What do you do when it appears that God is not keeping His promises? What do you do when everything around you is falling down? When you have one of those days, one of those weeks, one of those months, or years, or decades, or lives? When your life, or family, or marriage, or children, or grandchildren, or the world, just refuses to go the way you’d like it to or hoped it would? When it seems as if everything is hammering you, burdening you, weighing you down so that you can barely take a breath? What do you do when everything around you seems to say the opposite of God’s Word? Maybe a better question is, what does God do? If we believe that He doesn’t forsake His children; that He is goodness and love, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus; that He is not silent, though He sometimes seems to be—what does God do? What does He do for Abram?

Because Abram is struggling with the promise of God. God made a promise to Abram back in Genesis 12, where God said to him, You’re going to leave your homeland, your father’s house, and go to the land I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you will be blessing, and the one blessing you I will bless, and the one cursing you I will curse, and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you. And the land I will give to your offspring. And God repeats the promise a chapter later. The families of Abram and his nephew, Lot, have grown so that there’s conflict between them. Abram says, instead of conflict, Lot, let’s go our separate directions. You get to choose which part of the land you want. So Lot chooses to go toward the good land, naturally. But God says to Abram, I will give you all this land. And your offspring will be as many as the grains of sand on the shore of the sea.

But when we get to chapter 15, the promise still hasn’t been fulfilled. God appears to Abram and says, “I am your shield and your very great reward.” And Abram appears less than overjoyed. “What will You give me? You said You’d give me the whole land, and it would go to my own offspring, and that they’d be as numerous as the grains of sand, but I don’t even have one of my own children. And everything is going to go to my servant Eliezer, who isn’t even my own flesh and blood.” What does God do, when everything that Abram has seen so far appears to speak against God even being able to keep His promise? “The word of Yahweh came to Abram.” And what does He say? Exactly the same thing that He’d already said. He doesn’t give Abram any more proof than what he’d already had. God simply repeats the promise. And when He does, Abram believed in God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.

This is what God does: He says, No, Abram, I told you that I would give this land to your offspring, and that they would be uncountable, and I will do what I said. Go outside and count the stars, if you can; thus will your offspring be. No fewer than eight times in the book of Genesis does God repeat this promise to Abraham. And then He says it again to Isaac, Abraham’s son. And then He says it again to Jacob, Isaac’s son. God repeats the promise, even when Sarah thinks that maybe God’s going to provide a son by Hagar, her servant. But God says, No, you, Sarah and Abraham, will have a son. Your own flesh and blood, just like I said. God repeats the promise, even when He commands Abraham to kill Isaac, through whom the promise was supposed to come. The promise stands, though Abraham and Sarah are as good as dead; even if Isaac dies, God will keep His promise.

Abraham never saw the promise with his own eyes. He and Isaac and Jacob all died before they saw the promise fulfilled. And even when they finally came into the land which God had promised to give to Abraham and his offspring, things didn’t go so well. His offspring worshiped other gods, the great kingdom of David and Solomon was divided, and Israel and Judah were both taken into exile. What will you give me, Lord? We don’t have the land, like you said we would. What does God do? The word of Yahweh comes to His people. He says the same thing that He said before: there will be a Child, descended from Abraham. I will bring you back to the land. The promise stands, though Israel is as good as dead. Even if Israel looks like a dead, dry stump of a once-great tree, God will keep His promise.

The promise comes in the form of a Son, long-promised. I will give you a Son, God says to Mary. And this Son, unlike the son of Abraham, actually will be sacrificed. What will You give us, Lord? The Son is dead, and with Him the promise. But this is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that are not (Romans 4:17). Everything depends on the promise, because there is literally nothing else. If God doesn’t keep His promise, there is nothing else. The offspring of Abraham, in whom the promise is fulfilled, is not many, but one. The offspring, the seed, is Christ. And in Him the promise to Abraham, and all the promises of God, are Yes. Through Abraham’s Seed, all the nations will be blessed; So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:9).

There is literally nothing other than the promise, for Abraham and for us. It’s the same promise: Jesus, whom Abraham never saw, but who has now come, though we have never seen Him. Just as when Abraham wavered, or when he tried to bring about the promise by his own work and action, or when he didn’t see how it could work, when his experience seemed to contradict the very words of the promise, God repeated and affirmed His own words; so He does for you, especially when everything appears to be falling apart, when it’s one of those days or weeks or months or years. Even, and especially, when death seems to have the last word, God will have the last, promised Word. He simply does over and again His Word; He delivers Christ to you again and again. He says, No, I have not forsaken you. I am not silent. I am here, where I said I would always be: Your sins are forgiven. Christ is your life and salvation. This is My Body and Blood for you. I put My Name on you, and I won’t take it back. Especially when it most contradicts are lived experience, we need that repeated promise, which has taken flesh among us. But—and this is the great thing about the Gospel—it is not just for when things are bad. If things are good for you, if everything seems to be going well, if your life, family, marriage, children and grandchildren seem to be holding by the grace of God; if you are able to take a breath for the moment—this, especially, is the time to learn more and more fully the promise of God in Christ. Study the story of God’s salvation in Christ, which was delivered to us by prophets and apostles; hear the Word proclaimed to you; receive the death and resurrection of Christ, delivered to you in the very means He has chosen. And then, for all of us, who walk by faith and not by sight, who have not yet received the fullness of the promise of God, we will together give thanks at all times and in all places, knowing that all is safe in the crucified, but resurrected, hands of Jesus. He will make all things right in His own creation; He will raise your bodies to be like His own glorious body. He who promises is faithful; He will surely do it.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/5/16

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