5th Sunday in Lent, April 6, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:2-3; Luke 2:16-20; Luke 23:44-24:12
So, What’s the Story? “Let’s Talk about Promise”
“Source of persistent hope, when the world totters because of injustice and wickedness fills the land, we trust that Your justice will prevail. So we will rejoice in You and find our peace in Jesus our Savior. Amen .”
“I cross my heart and hope to die!”Seriously? What does “I cross my heart” even mean? And do you seriously “hope to die”?
I remember thinking those exact thoughts when I was a kid, in 2nd grade, when my friend Mike Slota wanted to borrow my bike and promised to return it in an hour.
We make promises all the time – and we break promises most of the time – because we aren’t always in control of life’s schedules and situations. I have promised to be someplace, or to help someone, or to give something – and because I over-slept, over-scheduled, or simply over-stretched my capabilities have not followed through. Or my car wouldn’t start, or my computer crashed, or a flight was delayed, and a promise was broken. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about.
Michael Lawrence, in his book about biblical theology, writes, “We habitually build our lives around promises. From mortgages to wedding vows, from Netflix to NATO, in large ways, our whole world is built around the idea that promises are made to be kept. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pricked America’s conscience when he said, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.’ And General MacArthur imbued hope in thousands when he promised, ‘I shall return!’”
Promises help us to make sense of an unknown future. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back” gave us hope for a sequel; Jennifer’s “until death us do part” helps me plan next week; your pledge to give to the ministries of your church allows your elders to order next month’s outreach projects.
The fact that our lives depend so heavily on promises, both individually and collectively, mean our lives are spent waiting, hoping, and believing. Again, Michael Lawrence says, “In between a promise and its fulfillment is a delay, and that delay requires us to live by faith.”
Because promises are broken so regularly, so frequently, we become timid and anxious waiters and hopers and believers. Your friends have broken promises; your parents have broken promises; your children have broken promises; your bosses have broken promises; your spouse has broken promises; your pastor has broken promises. Not because we mean to, but just because life happens all over us.
So I have a theory why we even make promises anymore. I think the reason we still live in the muddle of promises made is because we were made in the image of God – and God makes promises! We live in a universe created by a God who makes promises!
In these weeks leading up to Easter we are taking the time to look at the whole Bible and see how, from Genesis through Revelation, it is knit together as a singular story covering thousands of years written by dozens of authors in different languages across hundreds of miles.
On the day of Jesus’ resurrection, He walked with two of His disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus and explained to them, from Moses and the Prophets, how He was the ultimate fulfillment of everything Scripture talks about. So this week, we are looking at the biblical theme of Promise, and seeing how it follows from Moses to the Messiah to you and me.
One thing we can clearly see is that the Bible is nothing more than a story of a single promise. When we understand this story we will be in a position to heal from the wounds of broken promises, and help others recover from their broken promise pains and injuries, too.
So, what’s the biblical story of God’s promise? It begins in the most unlikely of places: In Genesis 3, immediately after Adam and Eve choose to sin by going against God’s declared expectations, God gives what we usually call a curse – expelled from the Garden of Eden and relegated to labor and work; but in the middle of that curse God blesses them with a promise.
Genesis 3:14-15 …. —-
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, [lied about God’s character & convinced Adam and Eve to sin]
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust
all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspringand hers;
he will crushyour head, and you will strike his heel.”
The first 11 chapters of Genesis offer wide sweeping stories of history with very few details – stories of betrayal and love, stories of heart-ache and forgiveness, and stories of decisive rebellion against God and of God making and keeping His promise – He holds Cain responsible for murder and protects him from ambush; God holds humanity accountable for evil and He rescues humanity through Noah and his family and makes a promise with the “bow in the sky”; God scatters people all over the earth and He promises to bring us all together again through the bloodline of Abraham.
Let’s jump down to that story in Genesis 12. God chooses Abram, an elderly, childless man, to be a great nation, and He calls them to be a blessing, an expression of God’s love, to the whole world. Listen to Genesis 12:2-3 …. —-
2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
- The promise of God’s love is duly kept in this story. God completely fulfills this promise. He keeps His promise with Isaac, then with Jacob, then with Jacob’s descendents who are called the Israelites.
- And God gives that nation a covenant and calls them to be a blessing, an expression of God’s love to the whole world. The class that I’m taking on Monday nights uses the phrase, “We are blessed to be a blessing.” Think how wrong it would be to receive the greatest blessing ever, and to not share it with others, with everyone!
- Like Adam, the nation of Israel rebels against God by turning to other gods, idols that their own hands have made; and God responds by judging Israel, but throughout the judgment God continues to keep His promise with His people.
- Joseph gets sold into slavery to the Egyptians – and God keeps His promise.
- Moses hears God’s voice – and God keeps His promise.
- The people aren’t allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their rebellion – but God brings them Joshua and keeps His promise.
- During the time of the Judges, when “there was no king in Israel” and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” – God kept His promise.
- The people demanded a king – they crowned Saul – but God gave them David and kept His promise.
- With prophet after prophet, God kept reminding the people of His promise.
Now, let’s jump the 2,000 years from Moses through the prophets to the Messiah. Scholars tell us that Moses lived about 2,000 years BC, and tradition says that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, so for the sake of simplicity, let’s jump the 2,000 years from Moses to Jesus, where we find yet another “story-telling of God’s Promise” in Luke 2:16-20 …. —-
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Somebody has counted the Old Testament prophecies concerning the future coming Messiah – the usual number that these “counting-specialists” come up with is something like 365 – and do you know how many of those Old Testament “Messianic” prophecies were fulfilled in this “baby, who was lying in the manger”? Can you say, “All of them!”
This is where God’s promise to Adam and Eve, and to Abram, and to Moses, and to David, and to you and me, reaches its full-blown power and presence. God finally keeps His promise by giving us Jesus!
Let’s just look at one more passage. Your Sermon Notes page has a typo – that last passage should say Luke 23:44-Luke 24:12. Hear the Word of God …. —-
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” [48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.]
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
24 1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
[9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.] 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Promise made by God – Promise kept by God.
You see, I serve risen Savior, He’s in the world today; I know that He is living whatever men may say; I see His hand of mercy; I hear His voice of cheer, And just the time I need Him, He’s always near. … You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.
Let me add a quick end-note here. The fact that God is a trustworthy, dependable God does not mean that I foolishly think that life will now suddenly become easy.
I have a friend – a brother in Christ – who is behind bars, I believe, because of a breakdown in the justice system. I have friends who are wonderful parents, whose daughter has just been taken from them and given to another, again because of a breakdown in the justice system. Yesterday I buried a good friend and colleague who was a devoted follower of Jesus – and he was only 54 years old, riddled with cancer and the effects of cancer treatments that ravaged his heart and lungs.
So why do I put my faith in this Jesus? Why have I decided to follow Him with as much of myself as I can put in His care? Why do I believe He is the answer to the ultimate questions of life?
It is because when I read the Bible I discover the themes of Creation and the Fall, Sacrifice and Love, and Promise – from Moses and the Prophets, through the whole Old Testament, and through the New Testament – as a singular story of God and His love for us. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.
If you are already a Christian – know that you are included in God’s promise! God has chosen you … because God loves you!
If you are not yet a Christian believer, but you think you might want to be – know that you, too, can be included in God’s promise. God wishes that no one would be outside His fulfilled promise – all you need do is accept Him, and then know that God has chosen you … because God loves you!
Jesus not only said it, He actually did it – He “crossed His heart – and He died” for you. Amen.
Lawrence, Michael; Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church; Crossway; Wheaton, IL; 2010; Pp. 165-176.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 368.
Wheeler, Mark; The Ledger newsletter; Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church; 03/2014.