When I was 9 years old growing up in Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit) I was going to Catholic school. In those days, boys and girls my age went through a Catholic ritual called Confirmation. Confirmation was one of what the Catholics called the 7 sacraments. Sacrament (from the tin word, "sac-rare" which meant to consecrate). The 7 sacraments were Catholic rituals through which God blessed man with grace, according to Catholic thinking. As I said, there were 7:
- Baptism — As a baby
- Penance — Going to confession
- Holy Communion — Lord's supper
- Confirmation — Receive the Holy Spirit
- Marriage — Catholic Marriage
- Holy Orders — Becoming a priest
- Extreme Junction — Last rites
In Catholic thinking, grace was like a spiritual vitamin pill (made you stronger spiritually). When you received any of the sacraments, you received a dose of grace. Now as a young Catholic boy I had been baptized, went to confession, received communion and, at 9, was ready to be confirmed.
The ceremony, performed by the local bishop was the time where young people "confirmed" that they believed and accepted the faith given them by their parents and the church. Usually the bishop would place his hand on your face or head and it was taught that at this moment you received the Holy Spirit. (Baptized as a baby to remove stain of original sin based on faith of parents, confirmed at 9 as an expression of my faith to receive the Holy Spirit.)
Now one of the features of the ceremony were the promises that each child made to God; never to use alcohol, nicotine or be involved in impure sexual practices. This was at age nine! Of course, by the time I was 19, I had broken all of these promises. By the time I was 29, I had broken every promise I had ever made to every one about everything! It would have been helpful for me when I was nine if I had been taught what the New Testament says about vows and promises in Matthew 5:33-37:
33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
My life was proof that we shouldn't make promises to God foolishly because we don't have the power to guarantee that we can keep them. What I should have been taught were the promises that God makes to us and the sureness of these promises because He has the power to keep the promises He makes.
You can't turn back the hands of time, but you can make up for lost time and so in our study today, we'll look at the promises that God has made to you and me. Promises that will never be broken because God has made them.
The Promises of God
In the Bible, there are many promises that God makes to different people at different times, but there are those particular vows that God makes that affect everyone, no matter who they were or where they lived:
Promise #1 — A Promise to Sustain The Earth
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. 22 "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night shall not cease."
- Genesis 8:20-22
This promise was spoken after the most cataclysmic natural catastrophe in the history of mankind, the flood, an event that destroyed every living creature except eight people. We know that there are alarming environmental trends happening today and we should be concerned so we can be better stewards of the creation. But nothing happening today can compare with what happened to the earth then:
- Every living creature killed
- Eco systems shattered
- Societies destroyed
- Without Noah it would have been the end of life
God brought this disaster onto sinful man, yet afterwards, He promised that as long as the earth remained there would be a renewal of the seasons and enough to provide for man's existence here. God promised that He would renew the earth even from this devastation.
We find out in II Peter 3:7-10, that the earth will one day be destroyed but it won't be by flood or by man, it will be by intense heat and at the command of God.
7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
- II Peter 3:7-10
In the meantime, we are living here based on God's promise and this should be a source of comfort and encouragement to us when every day we are bombarded with news reports and movies telling us that the planet will be inhabitable in 50 years. God's promise indicates that our earth will continue despite environmental damage. For example,
- Several countries continue to report record breaking crops, greatest harvests of certain foods in recorded history.
- We are continually finding new ways to recycle our waste into useful products and fuel.
A good example of this is the recent trend to create building blocks out of recycled garbage.
In the past, we used to build cities on top old garbage dumps. Engineers tell us that in the future, we will be building cities out of the garbage in those dumps.
Through advancing technology and discoveries guided by God's providential care, the earth will be a viable place to live until Jesus returns. Good stewardship requires that we be concerned and involved in preserving our environment, but faith prohibits us from being afraid or worried. God promised an earth that could sustain life and He has and will keep that promise.
Promise #2 — A Promise to Supply Our Needs
24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
- Matthew 6:24-34
In this passage, Jesus is explaining God's promise to individuals about meeting their personal needs. We all need things and God knows this. He has created us in such a way that we are not self-sufficient. Even sinless Adam had to eat, needed a companion, required meaningful work. He was a dependent being.
What Jesus says here is that:
- God knows that we have needs.
- God even knows what your needs (not just wants) are.
- God will provide everything that we need if we make doing His will our #1 priority.
Such an easy concept, so hard to do. What usually happens is that we make the fulfillment of our needs/wants our #1 priority and then try to do God's will as much as possible without interfering with those activities directly related to fulfilling our needs/wants. In other words, we neglect our spiritual lives in order to invest more time and effort into getting our needs met.
When we do this, what we don't realize is that we may or may not succeed in getting what we want, but we risk losing out on the kingdom, the thing we need most of all.
On the other hand, when we don't compromise the kingdom, when we put the Lord's will first despite the inconvenience to our (careers/agenda/finances/families) God will find a way to supply our needs somehow, and we will continue to grow in the Kingdom. God promises that the earth will continue until the end of time, and that if we make the doing of His will our #1 priority, He will provide everything we need to live on this earth.
He will do this either by multiplying the results of our efforts or supplying us from sources we had never considered. I.E.: Story of offering money not withheld and food coming from coupons when at Kickingbird Apartments in Oklahoma City.
Promise #3 — A Promise Never To Leave Us Alone
Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
- Matthew 28:20
Now Jesus originally made this statement to His Apostles, but the promise is for all of His disciples for all time. The word for "age" in this passage is "eon" which meant not just to the end of their lifetime, but to the end of time itself.
In this violent, temporary, transient world, it is a great comfort to know that someone will always be there for us to listen, to comfort, to strengthen, to guide. Of course, this was not a new idea. God's servants have always known the sweet experience of fellowship with the Lord. David speaks of this in Psalms 139:
1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall[a] on me,"
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother's womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[b]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.
Now this wonderful promise of His constant presence in our lives gives us three very important things:
- Motivation — Motivation to pray and pray constantly because He is always there to bear
- Courage — Courage to confess and abandon our sins no matter how bad because His sacrifice is always available to us, to cleanse us, heal us and restore us to fellowship again with God.
- Comfort — Comfort in the darkest moments because when there is no one else to turn to, when all hope seems gone, Jesus continues to be there ministering to our needs.
Those who belong to Christ are never alone; even in death if everyone we know and love are gone, Jesus will be there to see us through, that a promise!
In this world of broken promises, isn't it comforting to know that someone can make and keep all of His promises? The earth is still here, we are witnesses for all of our lives that seasons have followed each other and harvests have continued. And, have we not all eaten today? Are we not clothed? Despite all of the difficulties, is any one of us destitute? Has God not provided for our needs? And hasn't the Lord been there for you personally? Have you not found Him when you searched for Him in prayer? Which one of us can say, "I called upon the Lord and He did not answer? I needed forgiveness and reassurance and He refused to give it to me." God has surely kept His promises and will continue to do so concerning the earth, our needs and the promise to never leave us alone. We have His word on this. When we all head for home, let's make sure we take these promises with us.
If someone asks you today, "What did you get out of the Bible lesson?" answer them, "Today I received the promises of God." Lay them carefully in the safest places in your heart and review them constantly. Let them be your secret treasure that gives you confidence to start each new day with joy and thanksgiving and patience to overcome every trial. And when you count your wealth and are ready to distribute it to your children and your children's children, don't forget to pass on to them the marvelous promises that God has given to you today in this place.
One promise continually offered every time the gospel is preached is the promise of forgiveness. If you suffer from the guilt of sin and the fear of death and condemnation, God promises to forgive all of your sins and give you a peace of mind that nothing can destroy.
I invite you to believe this promise and come forward to claim it now in repentance and baptism or restorative prayer. Which ever you need, come now.