Promises Kept

My oldest son is a big fan of the animated movie Cars that came out a few years ago, and he has a bunch of the little toy cars that match up with the characters in the movie. And for whatever reason, he loves to use mom and dad’s bed as a racetrack. And almost every morning when I’m getting ready for work, he asks me: “Daddy, will you race with me a few times around the bed?”

Every dad loves to hear that his little boy really wants to play with him. But in these situations, I’m usually trying to balance getting ready for work on the one hand while trying to help some with the other two kids getting up and around on the other. So I’m not usually swimming in time to race Lightning McQueen around my bed several times—all while making the appropriate sound effects, of course.

So how do I deal with this? Often, I say something like, “Sure buddy. In a minute.” And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But notice: what I’m really doing there is making a promise—a promise to play with him when I have a second. It’s not huge, but it’s a promise nonetheless.

But you can guess the problem. Every once in a while, I become preoccupied with the things I need to do to get out the door. And with my attention on those things, I end up not fulfilling my promise to him.

Is my son emotionally devastated when this happens? No. But he can be disappointed. And if you think about it, his experience with me failing to play with him is like a little microcosm of what we all experience all the time: people letting us down by not keeping their promises.

In fact, it happens often enough that you don’t exactly need to be a pessimist to expect people to fail in keeping their promises. Athletes guarantee wins, roommates say they’ll clean up dishes, businesses promise delivery dates, spouses make wedding vows, parents tell their kids they’ll always be there. And all to often, what happens?

Against that background, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of God’s track record with the promises he makes. There are a lot of places we could go to do this, but let’s start with Abraham. If you’re familiar with Abraham’s life, you know that God actually makes a handful of really important promises to him. For example, in Genesis chapter 12, God tells Abraham that he will give him many descendants, making him into a great nation. But there’s a significant hurdle: Sarah is barren. Consequently many years pass with no children. Yet God appears again to promise Abraham and Sarah that they (at a combined age of 189!) will have a son.

Genesis 21 tells us what happened:

Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. (Gen. 21:1-2)

As I mentioned, this isn’t the only significant promise God makes to Abraham. In Genesis 15. God promises that Abraham’s descendants (who will become the nation of Israel) will possess the land of Canaan. But again, there’s a problem. As the generations pass, the children of Israel become slaves in Egypt, far away from their promised home.

Most of us know the story, so we’ll pass over the incredible details involved in how God rescues his people and ultimately brings them into the Promised Land: jaw-dropping plagues, parting of the Red Sea, food from heaven and water from rocks, city walls crumbling, etc. Suffice it to say, God again kept his promise. In fact, Joshua, the man who led Israel when they eventually took possession of the land, would even say this:

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Josh. 23:14)

And then there’s this passage. I’ll include parts of it and as I do, see if it bears a familiar ring to you.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

When we read these words, I suspect most of us figure out pretty quick that it’s talking about Jesus. After all, Jesus was despised and rejected by men. He was led like a sheep to slaughter and he went silently, without complaint. He was pierced for our transgressions—he was nailed to a Roman cross. And like this passage says, he was even assigned a grave both with the wicked (he was crucified between two thieves) and with a rich man (he was laid in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea).

But here’s the interesting thing. That passage wasn’t written after Jesus was crucified. It was written by the prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before that event. You can find it in Isaiah chapter 53. You see, through Isaiah, God was making a promise. He was promising a Savior for his people, someone who would bear the punishment their sin demanded.

And God, of course, kept that promise. He kept it even though he had to send his own son to die a horrible death for people who didn’t deserve it.

By now you get the point. God simply doesn’t make empty promises—however improbable they may seem to us. It may require him to do things that we can scarcely imagine: parting a sea or raising a dead man to life. It may be something that he fulfills only after centuries of waiting. And it may be something that costs him horribly. But God always—always—keeps his promises.

Why is this important for you and me? I’ll mention three things quickly.

The first is simple but crucial. Reminding ourselves of the many promises God has made and the great lengths he’s gone to keep them should give us great confidence. It should give us confidence in the promises he’s made to us, some of which he will fulfill in the future.

So when God makes a promise…

…that he truly forgives our sins when we trust in Christ,
…or that, for those of us who love him, he’s literally working everything in our lives for our good,
…or that he’s near to us when we’re brokenhearted,
…or that even though we die, he will one day raise us up in new life,
…or that we’ll eventually be with him in a new heavens and earth where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” because he’s set everything right

…we can know for certain that he will keep them.

Secondly, if our God is so faithful in keeping his promises, shouldn’t we strive to do the same? Shouldn’t we reflect his character in this way and be people of integrity, whether it’s a promise to play cars with a child or to be faithful to your spouse?

That, if you think about it, is a tall order, and so it leads me to my final point: we need to remember two more promises that God gives us. First, he promises us gracious power to help us live as we should and reflect his character more and more. Secondly, when we fall short in this area—and we will—he promises to remain faithful even when we aren’t. He promises to forgive us and to continue loving us.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psa. 136:1).

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