Promises… Promises

Life is full of promises! We promise to pay an employee for agreed upon work. The employee agrees to do the work and, therefore, promises faithfulness to his employer. Couples make promises to each other in the covenant of marriage. And so one could go on and on telling of how promises are manifest in our lives.

Promises are usually made with a view to doing some good for another. Thus, God’s first promise to our parents, after their fall into sin, was the promise of future redemption. We refer to it as the proto-evangelium, or first gospel. However, sinful man has sometimes perverted the meaning of promise and used it in an evil sense. So, for example, the Sanhedrin “promised to give [Judas] money” to betray Jesus (Mark 14:11). And Judas, in return, promised to “hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (Luke 22:6). In addition to misusing the meaning of promise, people often use promise with good intent but then fail to fulfill the good promised. When I was a young boy I spent a night at my aunt’s house. As she tucked me in bed that night she made a promise to me: “Tomorrow I will give you an orange.” The next morning I eagerly awaited receiving an orange, but none was ever given me. Likely my dear aunt forgot about the promise because of poor memory. Even though her oversight was unintentional, it still left me with a heavy heart and without the promised orange.

God is a God of promises. “According to one person’s count there are 3573 promises in the Bible. The word promise itself occurs over 50 times in the King James Version of the Bible” (Bible lnformation. com, s.v. “promises”). Jesus also made many promises to his disciples which, therefore, includes all believers. These promises give great comfort to believers even to this very day, and especially in times of losing loved ones in death. How we rejoice to hear—at the funeral service—the words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25), And again at the burial, we are reminded that while we commit the believer’s body to the ground, we look for “the general resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself” (Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America, p. 57).

The believer’s hope of life now and forever is based on the finished work of Christ. Because Jesus completed the work that the Father sent him to do, he was able to promise the Holy Spirit to his disciples before he left them. Since the Holy Spirit has now come, the promises of God are made personal to every believer. As Jesus himself made clear: “He [the Holy Spirit] will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:14). Thus, every believer now lives in the hope of being with the Lord at death. And we certainly live in the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives as we bear witness to our Savior’s life, death, resurrection, and final return. Believers live and die in the hope of the resurrection of their bodies at the last day. What a blessed future is ours!

Nonetheless, we must also be reminded that God’s promises are intended to be embraced in faith. If one turns a deaf ear to God’s promises, then sad consequences follow. When Israel failed to be faithful to God’s covenant and worshiped other gods, they suffered greatly. God told them: “You have disobeyed me . . . Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (Judg. 2:2–3).

Let God’s condemnation of Israel’s unfaithfulness be a solemn warning to us today. Often we have occasion to rejoice when young people make public profession of faith in a congregation. They answer the questions put to them with a firm voice of solemn commitment. Yet sadly, some do not live out their commitment. A few may find their joy in the sinful activities of the worldly friends with whom they sometimes hang out. Others may fail to attend church services with any degree of regularity and often drift away from the church altogether. It would seem obvious that it is possible to break covenant with God by disobeying him, as really as Israel did in the time of the judges.

Let us be encouraged by the fact that God is always faithful to his word of promise. And his promise also includes the assurance that he will forgive us when we repent of sin and seek him again. God will always accept us back into his fold. The prodigal son learned by personal experience this amazing truth. Scripture relates the scene as the prodigal returns home: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). What a welcome home! That is also the heart-warming experience of everyone who returns in true penitence and faith to God.

The first promise of Scripture is about our salvation. And the last promise of Jesus is about the final completion of our salvation: “Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). With the great church of all believers, we respond: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

Dr. Harry G. Arnold is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church and lives in Portage, MI. He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.