TITLE: The God Who Keeps His Promises
SERIES: Matthew’s Portrait of Jesus As The Fulfillment of God’s Promises (Sermon # 1, An Introduction to the Series)
TEXT: 2 Cor 1:20
DATE PREACHED: January 25, 2009
COPYRIGHT © JOE LA RUE, 2009
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
A. Promises are funny things. They’re easy to make and often easier to break, but generally hard to keep. Robert Frost poetically captured that truth in his poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. He talks about how sometimes we wish we could be free, for just a little bit at least, of all life’s obligations that we are required to meet. That type freedom is represented in Frost’s poem by a traveler who stops on his journey beside a quiet wood one wintery evening. For just a moment, he is able to enjoy the quiet and solitude as he watches the snowflakes fall and gently blanket the woods with snow. Frost’s traveler wishes he could stay and continue to enjoy the stillness. But, as the poem says,
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
And sometimes, keeping our word truly feels like having to go miles and miles before we can sleep, doesn’t it? Sometimes keeping promises really is hard. Maybe that’s part of the reason why so many people break them.
Of course, there are other reasons. It was Machiavelli who wrote, “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” Perhaps they gave their promise to get something they wanted; but, now that they have it, they no longer feel the need to honor the promise. Or, perhaps when they gave their promise they really intended to honor it, but now that their situation has changed, they realize that keeping their promise will be detrimental to them, but breaking it will be advantageous to them. So, what do they do? They break their promise.
Regardless of the reason why people break promises, it is undeniable that promises frequently get broken. We’ve all had it happen to us, and we’ve all done it a time or two—or more—ourselves. We know firsthand that sometimes its hard to keep promises, and sometimes people don’t keep promises. That’s why when someone does keeps his promise—especially one that really costs him something—we tend to sit up and take notice.
1. ILL: In his book, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington tells of meeting an ex-slave from Virginia who exemplified the kind of sacrifice that is sometimes involve din keeping promises. This man had entered into a contract with his master whereby he would be allowed to purchase freedom for himself by paying so much for so many years to his master. And, while he was earning the money to pay for himself, his master released him from service on his plantation, so that he would be able to labor wherever and for whomever he could earn the most money.
Well, the slave went north to Ohio because the wages were better there. But each year, he would return to his master’s plantation, to present that year’s payment to his master. After a few years, the Nation was embroiled in the Civil War and President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery and brought freedom to all the slaves, including this man. But, he still owed his master three hundred dollars.
Now, think about this for a minute. This former slave was free. He didn’t have to pay his former master the final three hundred dollars to purchase his freedom—he had already been made free by the Emancipation Proclamation. But he had made a promise. And he was a man of his word. And so he walked from Ohio back to Virginia and presented his former master with the full amount he had promised him, down to the last dollar.
2. We hear stories like that, about someone who would go to great lengths and incur great hardship to keep his promise—a promise that he didn’t even have to keep—and we kind of go, “Wow!” because such a commitment to promise-keeping is a rare thing in our world today. In fact, most people—at least some of the time—fail to keep their promises when it would cost them a lot less than this former slave’s promise cost him. It seems that broken promises are simply very often a part of the fabric of our lives.
B. I think that’s why the twentieth verse of chapter one of the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians catches our eye when we read it. In that verse, Paul makes a remarkable statement. He says, “All of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’” (2 Cor 1:20, New Living Translation). All of God’s promises! Not some of them, not many of them, not most of them, but all of them have been fulfilled in Christ!
1. You see, God is not like us. He doesn’t promise and then change his mind. In fact, the Bible says that, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Num 23:19, NLT).
2. People may break their promises, but God never breaks His promises. When He says He will do something, He does it. And so Paul can write in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “All of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’”
C. We are beginning today a new series of teaching in which we are going to examine together some of those promises of God that have been fulfilled in Christ. For the next several weeks, we will focus our attention on Matthew’s Gospel and his account of how Jesus fulfills God’s promises. Matthew had a certain fascination with this subject. Eleven different times in his gospel he describes an event from the life of Jesus as being the fulfillment of what God had promised in the Old Testament scriptures. Eleven different times Matthew shares the event, and then says, “This took place to fulfill” what God had said long ago through the prophets.
D. Trans: So for the next two months, we are going to examine some of these promises that Jesus fulfilled, and see exactly how it is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the good things God has promised us. Before we get to the first of Matthew’s “this took place to fulfill” statements, though, it’s important that we lay some groundwork to help us understand what we will discuss in future weeks. Specifically, it’s important that we understand the basic story of the Bible, the book which contains God’s promises. And I will sum it up in one phrase for you: The basic story of the Bible is that God has kept all His promises, and has met all our needs.
I. THE BASIC STORY OF THE BIBLE: GOD HAS KEPT ALL HIS PROMISES, AND HAS MET ALL OUR NEEDS.
A. As you may already know, the Bible is divided into two parts. The first is called “The Old Testament,” and the second is called “The New Testament.” The New Testament was written after Jesus had died and risen from the grave. It tells the story of His life, and also tells about the beginning of the Church. It paints Jesus as the long-awaited Savior of the world, who God had promised for years and years that He would someday send. That much, most of you already know. What we need to understand, though, is why God would promise to send a Savior in the first place. And that takes us to a brief consideration of the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament.
B. The Old Testament was written before Jesus was born—in fact, it was finished some 400 years or so before Jesus was born. It tells the story of God’s creation of our world, interaction with ancient mankind, and choosing of the Jewish people to make into a great nation for the purpose of bringing a Savior into the world through them.
1. You see, when God created our world and the first people, He made everything good. He wanted people to be able to live with Him forever.
a. So, He created Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect world. There was no sickness there. There was no hate there. There were no problems there or disharmony there. And, there was no death there. Adam and Eve were created to live forever.
b. And, even better, God was there, with them. The Bible says that God used to visit this world that He had made, and He would go walking with them. Everything was literally perfect.
c. But in the midst of all that perfection, Adam and Eve wanted the one thing that God had told them the could not have. God had placed a tree in the middle of the paradise Adam and Eve lived in, and God had told them to stay away from that tree. And you know what happened. The devil tempted Eve, and she began to look at that tree. Its fruit looked so good! And so she ate some, and she took some to Adam, and he ate, too.
d. They disobeyed God, and when they did, the world changed. We call this “the Fall,” because they “fell” from God’s perfection to what we have today. The world has become corrupted. Whereas once there was no disharmony or problems or hate, now such things are everywhere. And disease entered our world, and decay, and death.
2. Even worse, God was, in a sense, pushed out. You see, God can’t be in the presence of sin. We sometimes say that there’s nothing that God cannot do, but that’s not really true. God cannot violate His nature, which means that there are several things that God cannot do. For instance, because God is always true, that means that He cannot lie. Similarly, because God is perfectly holy, He cannot be in the presence of sin. He simply cannot do it. It would be impossible for Him. The Bible says that God is a holy God, and that the only ones who can come into His presence are those who are holy, too. In Psalm 15, the Bible asks God, “Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?” (Psalm 15:1, NLT). And then it answers: “Those who lead blameless lives.” (Psalm 15:2, NLT).
a. That left Adam and Eve with a big problem. You see, they weren’t blameless anymore. They had sinned by disobeying God. And that meant that they could no longer be in God’s presence. Follow that through to its logical conclusion. It means that when they died, they should have to go to hell, away from the presence of God.
b. And it’s not just Adam and Eve who were in that boat. Everybody was, too. Their children, and their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, and on and on, down to us today. None of us are blameless. All of us have sinned. As the Bible says in Romans 3:10, “No one is righteous—not even one.” (Rom 3:10, NLT).
3. So, no one is completely holy, and that means that no one can come into God’s presence. But here’s the most amazing thing: God refused to let us go and give us what we deserve. So, He began making promises that someday, He would send a Savior into the world who would save us and make it to where we could once again live with Him, forever.
4. The rest of the part of the Bible that we call “The Old Testament” explains how God arranged things so that a Savior could come for us. And all along the way, over and over, God kept making His promises. Someday, a Savior will come. Someday, perfection will be restored. Someday, people and God will once again enjoy close fellowship. Someday.
5. So, we can fairly say that the message of the Old Testament can be summed up in the phrase, “A Savior is coming.” From beginning to end of the Old Testament, that is the refrain: A Savior is coming, and when He comes, He will make everything right again. That’s the Old Testament.
C. So, what Matthew’s Gospel in the New Testament does is tell about something that Jesus did or said, and then explain that those actions or words of Jesus fulfilled this or that promise which was written in the Old Testament. And by doing that, Matthew shows us that Jesus really is the Savior, the one that God had promised to send. And, if Jesus is the Savior, that means that we can be made right again with God, and we don’t have to go to hell, but we can live forever the way God intended. Everything really will be made right again. God has kept His promises to us.
D. Trans: There’s one final word that I need to say, though, before we leave today. I’ve told you already that the story of the Bible can be summed up in the sentence, “God has kept all His promises, and has met all our needs.” Let me share a quick word or two about the type of promises that God has kept.
II. THE PROMISES THAT GOD HAS KEPT WERE COSTLY, AND REQUIRED GREAT SACRIFICE.
A. You see, the promises that God kept were not easy-to-keep promises. Nor were they promises that came cheap to God. No, these were promises like that made by the former slave in Booker T. Washington’s book. They were very expensive, and required great sacrifice.
B. Just like that man went on a long journey to get back to his master’s plantation to fulfill his promise, so Jesus had to come on a long journey to keep God’s promise to us. Jesus came all the way from heaven to earth. I cannot tell you how far away heaven is in spatial terms, but I can tell you that it’s farther away than you can imagine in holiness and purity terms. Everything in heaven is amazing and wonderful and perfect. And Jesus left all of that, and came to our diseased, decaying, despair filled, dying earth, in order to keep God’s promise. The journey was long, my friends—far longer than the former slave’s journey.
C. And there was sacrifice, too. The man in Washington’s story paid three hundred dollars that he didn’t have to, in order to keep his promise. Now, back in the 1860s, that was a lot of money, worth much more than it is today. It was quite valuable, and this ex-slave made a tremendous sacrifice in order to keep his promise. Jesus’s sacrifice, though, was more costly. Keeping God’s promise didn’t cost Jesus money. It cost Him His life.
D. The journey was long, and the cost was great. But Jesus kept the promise anyway. He came to earth so that all of God’s promises could be fulfilled in Him, and so that you and I could receive all the good things that God has promised us.
A. And so we come now in this service to a time of decision. Perhaps as I have shared with you from God’s word you have come to realize today that you are a sinner, just like I am and everyone else is. Perhaps you have realized that you are not blameless, and so you are not able to come into God’s presence. And perhaps you want to. Perhaps you want to be close to God and you want to get to go to heaven when this life is over. Perhaps you don’t want to have to fear going to hell. Perhaps you want to know for sure that all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus with a resounding “Yes!,” for you!
B. If that’s your situation this morning, I have good news for you. The Bible says that all the promises of God are available to those who accept Jesus as their Savior. Because Jesus kept God’s promise to us by dying on the cross to pay the penalty our sins deserve, we can be forgiven and brought back into fellowship with God. In fact, the Bible says that when we (1) trust Jesus to make us right with God, (2) repent of our sins, and (3) are baptized in water as Jesus commanded for the forgiveness of our sins, then (4) God wipes our sins away and (5) His presence comes into our lives and (6) He promises to fulfill all His of His promises in the Bible to us, including giving us heaven.
C. It can be yours today, friends. Jesus has already done all the work. All you have to do is respond. So, if you have never trusted Jesus, or if you have never been baptized, please come forward—right down here to me—as we sing the song in just a minute. I’ll meet with you very quietly and privately and we’ll figure out what your need is. Then, I will help you take whatever step you need to take so that you can know that your sins are forgiven, and that all of God’s promises are a “resounding ‘Yes!’” for you, in Jesus. Please come forward now as we sing.