“But you promised!” cries the eight-year old. “You promised to take me to the game. You said nothing would get in the way this time...” What kind of promises have your parents or your friends broken, Michael and Shannon? Some of those promises mattered more than others. A promised trip to the mall that never materialized, for example, was really no big deal compared to that promised trip to Disneyland that fell through. When someone makes a promise we expect them to keep it. If they don’t, we’ll remind them: “But you promised!” Today you two are making several promises. You are promising to obey God and not walk the ways of this world. You are promising to be faithful in coming to church, promising to use your talents for God’s glory, and promising to die rather than ever deny Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you break any of these promises, God’s people need to remind you with a cry of chastisement: “But you promised, Michael and Shannon!”
On the other hand we’ve also gathered today to remember the many promises God has made to you. He’s promised forgiveness and eternal life. He’s promised to give you daily bread. He’s promised that everything in this life will work out for your eternal good. What happens when it seems as if God isn’t keeping his promises? Our text urges you to turn to God with this cry of consolation: “But you promised, Lord!” God doesn’t need to be reminded of the promises he’s made. Nevertheless he loves it when we hold him to his Word for it demonstrates trust. With those thoughts in mind let’s turn to our text, Psalm 89.
Psalm 89 celebrates how God elevated David from being a lowly shepherd boy to being the best king Israel ever knew. Even though he became the most powerful man in Israel, David wasn’t allowed to do anything he wanted. He still had to answer to God for his actions. In fact when anyone became king in Israel he was to copy for himself the laws given to Moses (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). We don’t know whether this meant the entire text of the first five books of the Old Testament or just the laws Moses recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. Even if it was just the book of Deuteronomy, David and every king after him would have had quite a bit of copying to do. Deuteronomy is seventy pages long in my Hebrew Bible! Not only was the king to copy these pages for himself he was to read and study them daily so that he would live and govern according to God’s laws, not his own inclinations.
Although you haven’t had to hand copy the Bible, you’ve done your fair share of studying and memorizing God’s Word as part of your two-year long confirmation instruction. You’re to be commended for that. But now by being confirmed you are promising, as did the Israelite kings of old, to follow God’s laws. Psalm 89 uses several Hebrews words to describe that law. One of those words is translated as “statutes” (Psalm 89:30). It comes from the word “to inscribe.” God’s laws, Michael and Shannon, are not the latest top ten list in Men’s Health magazine on how to live a healthy and prosperous life. That list changes every year. The laws you have studied are the never changing will of a holy and just God. They might as well be inscribed, or carved in rock because they don’t change even though the world’s attitude towards them might. For example you learned that God’s will for marriage is that it be a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman. Society may want to redefine marriage but as a Bible believing Christian you will not.
Psalm 89 not only speaks about the importance of knowing God’s statutes but “walking” in them (Psalm 89:30). In other words don’t just tell me you know what God’s will is for marriage, show me. Show me in the way that you treat the opposite sex: not as objects of desire but people God created for you to serve with respect. Show me by the living arrangements you make with your fiancé before marriage – by not sharing a bed or even an apartment with her until you’re married.
So what happens should you break the promise you are making today to live according to God’s unchanging law? Listen to what God said to David and his descendants: “If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, 31 if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, 32 I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging” (Psalm 89:31, 32). Make no mistake, God will not stand idly by as you show contempt for his decrees by living according to your standards and not his. When God says that he will “punish…with the rod,” however, we shouldn’t think that he’s going to beat the living daylight out of us for our sins. The “rod” referenced was used by shepherds to corral sheep, not butcher them. God’s intent when he allows hardship in our life due to our own sins is to guide us back to the fold - to his Word and to his people so that we can fight off Satan who only wants to destroy our faith and drag us down to hell with him.
Of course when God is chastising us Satan will try to convince us that God doesn’t really care about us. He will try to get us think that God is in fact punishing us for our sins. I know our text said that God will “punish” but we need to read that passage together with Romans 8:1 which says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul assures us that God has already punished Jesus for all our sins. So when Satan would have you believe, Michael and Shannon, that God could never forgive you for your sins, look to the cross. The cross marks the spot where Jesus became God’s punching bag. Since God has already taken out his anger on Jesus for your sins he’s not going to come after you for them. Our God is no bully who had fun punishing Jesus and now seeks to collect a second time from you and me (adapted from “For Living Saints” bulletin insert on “But Deliver Us from Evil,” NPH, 2006).
But now what are you to think should you remain faithful to your promises of coming to church, of obeying God’s laws, and using your talents for him but a year from now are diagnosed with a brain tumor? That’s what has recently happened to a friend of ours from Wisconsin. If these things occur to church-going people, what’s the point of being a serious Christian? While God has never promised that your life as a Christian will be easy he has promised to be with you every step of the way – even if your suffering is caused by your own sinfulness. God put it this way in our text: “31 if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, 32 I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; 33 but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. 34 I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered” (Psalm 89:31-34).
I love how God says: “[I will not] alter what my lips have uttered” (Psalm 89:34). God is not like someone who changes the rules mid-game for his benefit. Ever do that to your siblings, Michael and Shannon? I’ll bet it didn’t go over very well. I’ll bet your siblings cried: “But that’s not fair!” Indeed it isn’t fair. But God isn’t like that. When he makes a promise he doesn’t say later: “Oh, I was only kidding,” or “You shouldn’t have taken me so literally.” This is why when you’re in the midst of a rough patch in your life and are wondering where God’s love is you can cry out: “But you promised, Lord!” That’s not a cry of desperation; it’s a cry of consolation. God has promised to work everything out for your eternal good and he will. Our text brings that out in an unusual way in the closing verses. The psalmist writes: “O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? 50 Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, 51 the taunts with which your enemies have mocked, O LORD, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one. 52 Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen” (Psalm 89:49-52).
When I read through this psalm the first couple of times I thought a verse or two was missing at the end. One minute the psalmist is pleading to God to remember his great promises of love and to have mercy because he’s suffering ridicule and scorn and then in the next moment he’s praising God! Well I do something similar when my car starts to rattle and whine. I take it to a trusted mechanic and describe what’s happening. When I’m done “complaining” about my car I simply leave it with the mechanic. I don’t presume to tell this car expert how to fix my car. I might as well as try fixing it myself then but that would be a disaster. No, I trust this the mechanic will take care of the problem. In fact my problem has now become his problem. Isn’t that what the psalmist is doing in the closing verses of Psalm 89? After unloading his concerns to the Lord, he walks away refreshed – not because his problems have suddenly disappeared but because he trusts that an expert is on the job. The best thing about this expert is that he guarantees all his fix-it jobs, as the empty tomb of Jesus makes clear.
Yes, you may be making some promises today, Shannon and Michael but we’re really here to celebrate God’s promises to you. Already when you were baptized God promised to make you his child. So should you have a heart attack right now and keel over die God will keep his promise to welcome you into heaven. How can you not want to follow a God like that and promise to spend your entire life saying with the psalmist: “52 Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen” (Psalm 89:52)? May God continue to send his Holy Spirit to work in you the will to do just that. Amen.