PROMISES, PROMISES, PROMISES
Dear Christian friends,
Someone once said that you can’t break any of God’s promises by leaning on them. I like that. The Lord makes all kinds of promises. If we leaned on the promises of God a whole lot more, we would worry less and stress out less.
These are just a few of the big promises of God:
- His promise of his presence -- "“Never will I leave you "(Heb. 13:5).
- His promise of protection -- "I am your shield" (Gen. 15:1)
- His promise to empower us and help us—“I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isa. 41:10)
- His promise to lead us – As our Good Shepherd “he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:4)
- He has good purposes for us -- "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)
- He promises us rest – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:28)
- His promise to forgive – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
I named seven – only seven! The Bible is filled with promises that are so vital for us to know. Abraham was flooded with “Promises, Promises, Promises” from God. So are we! Let’s take a look at the 1) God’s promises are precise; 2) Some promises are extra special.
Speaking as a flesh and blood human being, don’t you feel sorry for Abraham? God had made incredible promises to Abraham, but they just seemed to remain promises. God promised he would have son. Abraham was in his eighties; Clint Eastwood who is 83 years old had a child when he was 66 years old. That raised eyebrows, but his wife was thirty five years younger. Sarah was only ten years younger. A child? It didn’t seem reasonable.
The Lord also promised that he would have land. He told Abraham when he was in Ur, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Years later when he divided his possessions from his nephew Lot, the Lord said, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever….Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” Yet he had no need to go to a local bank and rent a security deposit box to keep his deed safe. He had none. While he had a lot of herds and flocks, he rented pasture land. In fact, he was living in a tent.
The LORD had just reassured Abraham that he would have a child from his own body. The LORD also reassured him that he would be given the land he was promised too. “But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
This question was asked not in doubt but Abraham was seeking a sign to confirm the promise. God obliged. That’s where heifer, goat and dove were used. I am going to get back to that later in the sermon. What I want to point out here are the details that God included not only about the land he was giving Abraham but also the nation that Abraham’s people would be. “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” The LORD told him the specific facts what would happen in the future.
- His children would live in slavery for four hundred years. That’s what would happen inEgypt.
- “But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” Pharaoh’s army would drown as they pursuedIsrael into the Red Sea and the sea returned to normal and overwhelmed them.
- “You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.” All of this would take place after Abraham would die a peaceful death. God served notice to Abraham full occupancy of the land was after his lifetime.
- “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” A generation was considered a hundred years. Then the wicked people who occupied the Promised Land would be destroyed because of their wickedness andIsrael would take over.
I know this was a lot of history and facts. If history isn’t your cup of tea, the past few minutes might have been torturous.
Give this a little thought. God was telling Abraham the future that was out there 650 years. Pretty precise things, don’t you think? People get hung up on Nostradamus for very vague references that often don’t make sense. We have someone who predicts the future and in amazing details. That someone is God. In the book of Isaiah he challenged other gods to do that. “Who then is like me? “Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let them foretell what will come.”
Let me give you an example of promises that are probably little known. Ninevehwas the capital of ancientAssyria. Jonah once preached there via the belly of a whale. The city repented. Later in its history, they didn’t remember the Lord anymore. They attacked the Lord’s people. The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel came about because ofAssyria.
The Lord spoke through the prophet Nahum and said that Assyriawas going to be punished. Eventually Babylonconquered them. That’s what God promised. Ninevehfell in 612 BC. It wasn’t until 1923 when archeologists dug up a tablet that detailed the history of what happened in Nineveh. Through Nahum God promised that Nahum would fall after a long siege. The tablet that was found said it lasted three years. Nahum wrote that the city would come to an end while there was wild plundering going on. The tablet stated the plundering was “in quantity beyond counting.” Nahum wrote that the city would fall when the city was “drunken as drunkards.” History says that there was a royal party going on when it was attacked in the middle of the night. Three times Nahum says that the city ofNineveh would be swept away by a flood. History corroborates that. Nahum predicted thatNineveh would have an utter end. The city was never rebuilt.
Someone might say, but Pastor, you are talking about prophecy, not promises. Is there a difference? So when he says he promises his presence, his protection, his help, his leadership, his good purposes to occur and forgiveness among many other very specific promises, claim them. They are yours.
He gives us some extra special promises too. Let’s get back to the promise of the land. Abraham asked, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” It is time for our stomachs to get a little queasy. “So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.”
What was going on here? Believe it or not a contract was being signed. According to scholars in the ancient cultures before paper and writing, when two people wanted to guarantee an important agreement, they enacted a blood covenant. One or more sacrificial animals were killed and the carcasses were cut in half. They were placed facing each other with a corridor in between. The two parties making the contract solemnly walked together between the animals. That served the same as fixing the signature.
The symbolism seems to be this. Both parties are equals and walk together. Each had something to contribute. Secondly, if someone violated the contract, the gory mess was a reminder that the guilty party would forfeit his life if he broke it.
Apply that with Abraham. Abraham had asked God for a sign that the land he had been led to was going to go to him and his family. So what happened? “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” God often appeared as fire and a bright light. Remember how he would appear at the burning bush and in the wilderness with the Children of Israel.
Notice Abraham didn’t accompany Abraham. This was a promise God, and God alone, was going to keep. In fact, God even told Abraham how far the land would extend. “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.” The land is going to be yours Abraham. Your people will have it. This is the contract.
Luther noted that God often makes promises and seals them with a sign or something tangible or visible. He told Noah and the world that he would never send a flood again to destroy the earth. His sign was a rainbow. Don’t be concerned about the pot of gold, but the rainbow. The world will end. He has given us signs.
As New Testament people we have the guarantee of forgiveness through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Our sins are forgiven. We hear it preached on Sunday and proclaimed in the absolution at the beginning of our service. But he also gives us that guarantee with something tangible and visible. We have the waters of baptism. We have the body and blood of Jesus given with the bread and wine. We hear the water trickle down; we taste the bread and wine. With them we hear the words of promise, “Baptism saves you not by the washing of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. We hear the promise, “Whoever has been baptized into Christ has clothed themselves with Christ.” We hear the promise, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he can not enter into the kingdom of God.”
We hear the words “Take and eat,” not just bread and wine but the precious body and blood of Jesus “for the forgiveness of your sins.” We call them sacraments; they are the means of grace. They are the extra special blessings by which God allows us to see, to taste to touch to hear, to even feel. These are God’s special gift to his church that brings us eternal blessings.