I wrote this sermon a few years ago. It might have some significance for our current times.
A PROMISE KEPT PART ONE
NOW AND THEN
ISAIAH 9: 2–7 AUGUST 16, 2015
I. Yes, the bulletin is correct there will be three sermons this morning. So settle in. I promise to have you out by noon. No, we will finish at the regular time. They all revolve around the theme of a promise kept. The first one is called NOW AND THEN.
II. An eccentric rich man is on his death bed. He calls his minister his doctor and his lawyer to him. He gives them each $25,000 dollars and makes them promise to put it into his coffin when he dies. After his funeral, the preacher says to the other two, “I have a confession to make. I only put in $10,000 and kept $15,000.” The doctor said, “That’s all right, I only put in $5,000 and kept $20,000.” The lawyer said, “I surprised at you two. I will have you know I kept my promise and put in a check for the whole amount.”
III. What does it mean to make a promise? Can you count on something if it has been promised to you? Well that depends on how much you trust the one making the promise. And then there is the matter of timing of the promise. The Bible is full of promises. Some of them are kept and others are not. But God never makes a promise that God does not keep. It may seem like it’s not kept in a timely manner. But it is kept. We can trust God to ALWAYS keep a promise.
IV. The passage in Isaiah is one we are familiar with around Advent and Christmas. A child is born, a son in given and he will be called wonderful counselor everlasting father, and prince of peace. And we have come to believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of that God promise. But scholars tell us that it was a birth announcement about a crown prince who would end the Assyrian threat to Israel; probably Hezekiah. This passage is a joyful announcement of a promise end to bad times. It must have been like the celebration at the end of WWII. And the promise was fulfilled in a limited way. But in Jewish prophesy, once fulfilled does not end the promise. It is fulfilled in ever greater ways. So it is about 8th century Israel. AND it is about the baby in Bethlehem. AND it’s about us.
V. The promise is about the Assyrian threat and the Babylonian exile and the Greek oppression and the Roman occupation. Each time God promises redemption and liberation from that which enslaves God’s people. God keeps the promise now and God keeps the promise then.
VI. And when it comes to Jesus, God provides an end to the oppression of sin and separation from God and provides meaning to this life as well as the promise of a life to come. So the promise made and kept so many years ago is still in effect for us in the here and now. When a parent makes a promise to a child, the child automatically believes that the promise will be kept because the child trusts the parent. As long as the parent keeps every promise, the child will always believe. God keeps keeping the promise of salvation in our lives when we believe like a child who knows that God has always kept that promise in the past and will always keep that promise. . The incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas is still being kept as we celebrate the presence of God every day. So, Merry Christmas!
A PROMISE KEPT PART TWO
HARD TIMES DON’T LAST
JEREMIAH 31: 10–14 AUGUST 16, 2015
I. Everybody has hard times. It is a given in every life. You remember your grandparents tell you how hard they had it growing up. I had to walk ten miles to school uphill both ways. We were so poor we couldn’t afford electricity so we had to watch TV by candlelight.
II. God never promised that we would not have hard times. What God promises is that hard times will not last. The Bible is full of people who have had hard times. But they didn’t last. Noah saw an end to the rain. Abraham had a son. The exile in Babylon came to a close. The long wait for a messiah ended. Maybe you have to live awhile to know that experientially. You have to have lived through what Charles Spurgeon called the dark night of the soul and seen the sunrise on a new day. I sat up all night wondering what had happened to the sun and then it dawned on me. I was visiting a woman who had buried her son a few months earlier. As we talked I told some lame joke and she laughed. Then she paused and said, “You know I haven’t laughed since the funeral. There were times when I thought I would never laugh again.”
III. God makes a covenant with Israel. It’s a promise that God keeps even when we break our promises. Jeremiah had warned them about the exile to come. But they ignored him. Now he is talking to the people who are in the hardest of times. It’s called exile. They are suffering and they are not sure that home is even there anymore. They are starting to doubt that these hard times will ever end. And the same Jeremiah reminds them that God has promised to bring them home. There will be singing and dancing and merry-making and prosperity and comfort and fat preachers. Careful now.
IV. And God kept his promise. God acts to end the exile. They did return to Zion. Only to be abused by other world powers from the Greeks to the Romans to the Turks to the Nazis. But in 1948 the nation of Israel was born again. And even greater than that was the fact that the spiritual Israel, being God’s people whoever your parents were, came into being and now includes an end to exile for you and me.
V. So what do we do when those inevitable hard times come upon us? We remember the promise. God will never abandon you. If it seems slow wait and continue to believe that God is good to his word. This is true for churches as well as for individuals. So the church has times of prosperity and full pews. Then it has hard times. And then God restores the faithful and fills them with good things. The church lives the present in anticipation of God’s future. Let it dawn on us that God will keep the promise of renewal.
A PROMISE KEPT PART THREE
WE WIN! REVELATION 21:1–7 AUGUST 16, 2015
I. My children know that I am a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So for Christmas they gave me a set of DVDs of all six Super Bowl victories. I watched the latest one first. The Steelers were behind with 2 minutes left and staged a dramatic comeback to win. As I watched, I remembered how nerve wracking it was to watch that live. But now I knew how it was going to end and so it was just enjoyable all the way through.
II. When you know how it ends you can tolerate the parts that are tough to take. Well Revelation is God’s sneak peek at the end. Here is how it ends for the ones who put their trust in God: WE WIN! After all of the history of hard times and all of the violent trials and tribulations of the Revelation to John, in the end, the bad guy is destroyed and the fortunes of God’s people are restored and life is made perfect.
III. Now that does not mean that the hard times won’t be hard. They will. It just means that in an ultimate sense, good times are made permanent. John’s description is so beautiful that we remind one another of that vision especially at the hard times that come when we bury someone we love. God lives next door. There will be no more death and no more weeping and no more pain and no more mourning and no more chaos And the angel says to John, “Write this for these words are trustworthy and true. Everything will be new. Everything will be perfect. The spring of the water of life will quench the deep thirst of our souls. Beautiful!
IV. When this life ends, God’s promise is kept in an ultimate and never-ending way. That’s what gave the martyrs courage. The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever. And that is what gives believers access to that same courage to face hard times knowing that in the end, we win.
V. But there is another side to kept promises: ours. We have all made promises to other people and to God and maybe to ourselves. Sometimes we keep those promises and sometimes we don’t. One writer said that promises are like babies; fun to make but hard to deliver. And we know that even when we don’t keep our promises, God never breaks his promise to forgive us and love us.
VI. But let us never take that grace for granted. Well, if God is just going to forgive me, I might as well just keep breaking my promises. “God, forbid!”, says Paul. That is what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace and it is a sure way to self-destruction. Instead let us take courage from the trust that we have in a God who is always faithful. Then let us strive to be promise keepers too. Then we will inherit this new heaven and new earth where God makes everything perfect. It’s true! I promise!