First Mennonite Church
December 3, 2017
Back to Basics: A God Who Promises and Fulfills His Promises
1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
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.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
Even if you did not grow up attending Sunday school you are likely to be familiar with the story of Abraham’s call. In Genesis 12, God appeared in a very personal way to Abraham. There are some details in that story that are often overlooked. The story begins in chapter 11 of Genesis. There we are told that Abram had two brothers and whose father was Terah. After one of Abram’s brother died, Terah took Abram, Sarai, Abram’s wife, and his orphaned grandson, Lot, on a journey to Canaan. About half way into their journey the travelers stopped at Haran. There, Terah died. Abram, Sarai, and Lot were left in the middle of now where, per se. Abram was left in a foreign country and without the one who started him into that 1000-mile journey to Canaan. The only person Abram had alive was his brother in Ur of Chaldea. The only other place he knew was his homeland and he knew how to get there. Abram was left half-way into his journey. (A little more than halfway–600 miles)
There is something toxic about projects left at half way. Projects left half-finished do not only require a little humility to pick them up again, but a lot of determination to finish them. Often the one who leaves something halfway done, with the passing of time, also loses passion, focus or even the need for the project he or she was working on. So there was Abram, at midway point. He wasn’t “here nor there” as we say. Logically, Abram could have had more reasons to go back to his homeland after the death of his father.
It was at that crucial time in Abram’s life that God’s calling came to him. God’s call to Abram required him to cut ties from everything he loved and he knew. Abram must have become familiar with Haran. He could have also fallen in love with the place and perhaps he was trying to determine whether he should stay there or go back to his homeland and family. But God was clear in his calling, just as he was about the promises. God made several promises to Abram. God promised to make Abram into a great nation, to be Abram’s protector, to bless him, make his name great so he would be a blessing to all people. This last part of the promise highlights the nature of God. He is always interested in blessing the entire human family. But these are not the only promises God made. God reiterated these promises to Isaac (Genesis 26). And there God added, “I will be with you . . . I will give you this land” (26:3). God continued to reiterate these promises to Jacob. In Genesis chapter 28 God said to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go” (v. 14). God also made promises to Moses and to David.
Why would God make promises? What is the nature of God’s promises? How does fulfillment of God’s promises verified? First, the nature of God’s promises reveals his intent of engaging people in a relationship. In the language of the Bible this is called “covenant.” God’s desire to establish covenantal relationships led him to make promises. The nature of God’s promises reveals God’s taking the initiative of being personal in his dealing with people. But there is a caveat. And that is very important for us to understand how God’s promises work.
The way human relationship works can help us understand how God’s promises work. Remember the last time you met someone for the first time. You did not know the person prior to that encounter. Yet, from the moment you came face to face and started your interaction you got a sense whether or not that encounter would lead to a lasting friendship. There was something between you and the person that made you want or not want to continue what was an opportunity of friendship. You might have said, “let us keep in touch.” Or, “can we exchange our contact information?” And if in the days that followed your emails were not replied, or the phone messages you left were never returned, you conclude that the possibility of an ongoing friendship is over. But if after the encounter emails, phone calls, and visits kept flowing back and forth, you know that what once was an encounter had become a lasting friendship. That is exactly what happens before a couple gets married. An encounter first takes place; then, trust and faith begin to grow out of the mutual commitment of the couple has to keep the relationship going. Marriage is the formalization of the covenant but the actual covenant continues as the couple continue to trust each other and is open to one another.
In the case of God’s promises to the Israelite patriarchs and others in the Bible, God came to them personally. Each time God made a promise he did it personally. None of his promises was mediated, say by angels or other agents. God appeared to these men. And God offered to do something for them. To Abram, was to bless him and give him a numerous posterity. To Isaac, God promised the land and reiterated the prior promises. To Jacob God promised protection and to be with him always. But in order for the promises to be fulfilled, Abram had to leave his homeland, father’s house, and to go to a place he had never stepped foot before. Isaac had to stay in the land despite the famine that was choking its inhabitants (see chapter 26:3). You see, Isaac was afraid he might die of hunger and was considering going down to Egypt, but the Lord God said to Isaac, “Stay in the land and I will give it to you and your numerous descendants.” Jacob was afraid to stay with Laban and afraid to meet his brother Esau. But God had ordered Jacob to go back to his father’s house—that is back to see his brother (Genesis 31:3). Thus, God’s promise was that he would be with Jacob wherever he would go. And Jacob obeyed even when he was trembling before he met his brother Esau.
Now we see that God fulfills his promises when those to whom he made these promises acted in obedience to the promise. God established a covenant with the patriarchs because they opened themselves to the invitation to enter in a relationship with him. The acted upon the promise. They trusted that God would indeed do as he had said.
The promises of God did not happen independently of human participation. Yet, even when fulfillment requires human participation, it is God who assumes the greater responsibility. And God never fails!
Some of promises of God do not have expiration dates. I believe the promise God made to Abraham in giving him a great posterity is not for us, although somehow we are part of that blessing. The promise that Abraham would become a blessing to all the families of the earth is what Paul speaks about in Galatians. Paul concludes his argument in chapter 3, with these words: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. We are children of Abraham through Christ. We are part of Abraham’s countless descendants.
If some of God’s promises do not have expiration dates, how does he make them known us? Most usually, God makes known his promises to us through the Scriptures. But that requires us to know what the Bible says. In one of our Sunday school lessons not long ago, someone said that some Christians confuse a popular sayings with scriptures. And so some Christians believe that “God helps those who help themselves” is a quote from the Bible. Somehow, that saying is not only un-scriptural but it also contradicts scripture, because God helps those who cannot help themselves. We were dead in our trespasses but God gave us life. But how are God’s promises fulfilled in our lives? How does the God who promises faithful to us today? If a non-believer asks you, “can you tell me one clear example on how God has fulfilled a promise to you? What would you say? Which promise has God fulfilled for you most recently?
God’s promises will often come at a time when we are struggling or deliberating in our heart or family about something. That was the case of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as we saw today. As we pray, ponder, or discuss an issue we are struggling with, the revelation of God’s promise will come to us in a forceful and convincing manner. Faith in God’s promises gives us the assurance that if we would act according to the new light we received, God would lead us out of the situation or provide for our need, or bring about a better outcome.
In my life, I have seen numerous times God’s promises come true. And every time this has happened was at a time of need, either for guidance or for something. There have been times when God’s promise have been fulfilled at the very last minute, according to our timing. Yet we know that it happened at God’s own timing. God promises that if I knock at the door, it will be open for me, that if I ask, it will be given to me, that if I cast my burdens on him, he will take care for me. Often times I have explained to my children the importance of God in our lives. I say to them, “God does not need us. It is we who need God in our lives. And the church people is the community where the ancient words of the Bible arise and become alive. The people in church become the beating heart of God, the smiling face of God, his hands that embrace us. The church is where God’s love and presence become real to us.” I say to them, “Being a Christian and going to church are not burdensome duties, but privileges to find rest and peace in God. There is a great difference between those who know God and those who do not know him. Those who know God have the greatest advantage of telling God in prayer what is heavy in their hearts. They also have the support and guidance of others.”
Sometimes God reminds us of his promises through the words of a hymn. Sometimes it comes through the word of encouragement of a friend. Sometimes God’s promises come to us when we are praying or meditating. But just as it was in the Biblical times, when God makes us a promise we will feel and know that it is coming to us from him in a personal manner. The word of his promise is powerful enough to convince us and to lead us to act in faith. Sometimes faith in God’s promise requires us to remain quiet. Be still and know that I am God, as Psalm 46, verse 10 commands. At other times it requires us to act and to step out in faith.
I want to conclude by asking you, what are you going through right now? Are you struggling with some decision making? If so, let me assure you that God has a promise for you. I might be able to quote to you one of the many promises there are in the Bible, but that might not be the promise of God for you. God’s promise will come to you in a very personal way. When you pray or meditate or discuss or try to discern your situation before God, you will hear a voice speaking to your spirit in a personal way. That word will be strong enough to convince you that God will act on his promise. Commit yourself to act according to God’s instruction. It could be that you might simply have to wait patiently before the Lord. Or, it could be that you will have to step out in faith.
God made promises in the past. He continues to make promises in the present. There is however one condition to be a recipient of God’s promises. You need to need them. If you believe you do not have any needs, then the truth is there is no promise from God for you. The good news is, however, we are always needy before God. And the greater news is: God still makes promises and he fulfills them. Paul says that in Christ every one of God’s promises is a “Yes” (2Corinthians 1:20). Amen!