who care for one another and bring God’s love into a broken world”
Maurits Stevens, March 11, 2018
Series on Hebrews
Today I pick up my series on Hebrews and continue where I left it last time, when I spoke about growing in spiritual maturity. For today the focus is in particular on ‘The certainty of God’s promise’. It is a perfect match – a divine one – with where we are as Church.
And with that I mean the season where we are in; it is a season of things ‘yet to come’. A new future, a new pastor. We began this process for succession almost 6 months ago and have set the first steps in finding a successor. Now we’ve entered a time of waiting. Waiting on God, his move, provision etc.
How do we go about this? How do you react in a season of waiting? Maybe you’re waiting on something to happen in your life. A change in your job. A new house. A change in your relationship. How do you do that - waiting? That’s what today’s message is all about.
Reading: Hebrews 6:13-20
Our passage continues on what is said in 5:11-6:12. It’s where I spoke on in my previous two messages on spiritual growth. In these verses, the author urges to go on to spiritual maturity and to not become lazy. Instead, we should ‘imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised’ [6:12]. Here is the link with our passage. One of the greatest examples to imitate is the father of all believers, Abraham who inherited [partly] what was promised. What was God’s promise?
The waiting of Abraham began with a promise of God. And the promise of God to which the our text refers to, is the promise of a son; the promise of descendants. It goes back to Abrahams story as told in Genesis 15:
‘…the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless…?’ ‘…4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.’
This promise is part of a larger promise, the one the Lord gave him in Genesis 12:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” [Gen. 12:1-3]
The promise of God and the faith of Abraham are truly amazing, but for Abraham it would mean stepping into a future that humanly speaking was one of uncertainty. Because God called him to leave his country, including family, to move to the land God would show him. Not nothing what this land would be!
And when God promised Abraham a son he was 75 years old and still childless! It was simply impossible for him to have a child at this age!
But this was God’s promise to Abraham and with that promise of a son the season of waiting had begun. And let’s just focus a bit on ‘waiting’. Because there seems to be a tension between God’s promises and the fulfilment. We e.g. live with the promise of the coming of Christ [Hebr. 9:28] but it has not yet been fulfilled. We too find ourselves in a season of waiting. So may it be that God has promised you some personal stuff. But His words have not yet become reality. You’re waiting.
It took 25 years after Sarai gave birth and Abraham became the father of Isaac. At the age of 99. 25 years of waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. And every new day, was a delay and would it make it even more impossible than it already was!!!
Waiting in the biblical context of faith is never a passive waiting. Rather it is an active waiting. It is a waiting that anticipates what God is doing, what the time is telling. Abraham believed the Lord, says Genesis 15. And in Hebrews it says ‘after waiting patiently’. The Greek word translated as patiently speaks in particular about a persistent faith. Abraham waited, persisting in faith. So, patience and a persistent faith are key when you find yourself in a season of waiting.
Now, that all sounds great, but the reality can be quite different.
I find waiting quite difficult. I want quick results, a quick fix. I often lack patience or faith. Seasons in which God seems to be a bit off-radar, when His voice seems to be quite and still, when I lack to recognize His presence are often very confusing for me. It can be tiring to miss to see God’s presence. Uncertainty, unbelief, impatience – these are often the ways that I respond in seasons of waiting.
It is difficult, and even though Abraham is praised for his patience and persistent faith – he too had his flaws in his season of waiting. At a certain point Sarai and Abraham decided to help God a bit. Genesis 16 tells that Sarai said to Abraham: “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” [Gen. 16:2]. And so it happened and Hagar, Sarai’s slave, gave Abraham a son, called Ishmael. But this wasn’t the son God had promised. This wasn’t part of “God’s plan”. Fortunately, Abraham and Sarai are restored by God’s grace and Ishmael came to know God’s grace as well. God had a special future for him. You know, God is good, you must belief that, and you may always return to grace when you have messed up. Because ‘grace’, that’s who God is [Ps. 103]!
But the plan of Sarai and Abraham to help God a bit is exactly the challenge and the trick in seasons of waiting. You should always let God be God, in particular in seasons of waiting. God does not need your help, he does not need my help. He is fully responsible for fulfilling his own promises. But the trick is that when it takes too long in my own opinion, I easily begin to fulfil God’s promises by myself. In the end to find out that the outcome wasn’t God’s plan. Rather it was my own solution.
As church, we may face the same challenge in the process of finding a successor. From the week of prayer and fasting, several impressions are shared that we need to trust God in this process and wait upon His move. To expect and be prepared for what God has in store for us. If that is true, and if this is indeed from the Lord and we do need to wait…how long do we have to wait? And how do we do that, how do we set steps without filling in by ourselves what God has in mind for us?
The certainty of God’s promises
The good news and the great encouragement is that we may have confidence in the certainty of God’s promise! That’s what today is all about! The certainty of God’s promise!
The amazing act of God in this story, I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, is that besides his promise to Abraham, God did something else. [who?...]
God gave Abraham a promise and an oath; ‘he swore by himself’. God gave a promise and he confirmed this promise with an oath. It was absolutely unnecessary for God to make an oath, His word is and would or should be enough. But by doing so, God made it very clear to Abraham: I will keep my word! I will do what I have said and promised!
Now, the timing of all this is important. It was after God had tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. The only son he got and finally received, he now was asked to sacrifice. Amazing, isn’t it? I will not go deeply in this story, but after God called Abraham to stop the procedure, He said:
“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” [Gen. 22:16-18]
By giving an oath God gave His promise to Abraham an unconditional character. It means that God surely does what he says – no doubt about it. If there were any doubts, it has been taken away by the oath. But it also means that [y]our waiting is not a hopeless waiting. But [y]our waiting is one of hopeful expectation; it is a hopeful expectation in the fulfilment of God’s promises!
Vs. 18 says: ‘God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged’. You see? Hopeful expectation as we wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled!
Now, the promise Abraham had a personal element and a universal element. The personal element was that he would be blessed personally; wealth, blessing and children. These were all fulfilled in Abraham’s life. The more universal element of the promise was a ‘messianic element’. With that I mean, that the core of God’s promise is a blessing to all people of all nations on earth – this part of the promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, not in Abraham’s earthly life. And that makes us, as part of the nations, the heirs of the promise! The encouragement that God will do what He says is for us, it is for you!
Yet, as Abraham could be certain of the fulfilment of God’s promises in his life, so may the world at large, including all the nations be certain that Jesus will bring salvation to those who are waiting for him [9:28] when he will appear a second time.
Likewise, so may you be certain that God will fulfil His plan and love in your life. You may be certain and confident that God is with you, that He has made you and knows you [Ps. 139], that you are his child. His promises to you are of unconditional character!!! And so may we, as church community be certain that God will fulfil his will with us!
The anchor for the soul
I will close of with hope as the anchor for the soul. Vs. 19 ‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’.
What is this hope? Abraham rested his hope in the promise and oath of God. The hope is the promise of God. Yes. We have more than that to rest our hope upon: Jesus Christ. Ultimately, Jesus is the promise and the oath.
Hebrews 7:20-22 says: ‘…but he [Jesus] became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’” Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.’
Our hope is fixed on Jesus Christ and in His glory which we will receive when Christ comes.
Jesus is the anchor for the soul who keeps you steadfast and at your place when it storms and the waves are crushing over you. He is the anchor for the soul that keeps you firm and secure in times of waiting, with all of its challenges and dangers. Jesus Christ is the anchor for the soul, also when the season becomes quite in your life. When nothing exciting happens, the storms is gone and the water is lapping quietly, the sun is shining. He is the anchor for the soul that says: this is a season of rest in which you can enjoy and relax, waiting for the wind to pick up again.
As to summarize and encourage; you can be truly confident of the certainty of God’s promises. How impossible or humanly speaking absurd they may be. But remember: as soon as God has spoken [which He did] and as soon as when God speaks to you more personally, the season of waiting begins. As with Abraham. As with the universal Church who awaits Christ’s coming. In such a time of waiting, do not panic. Do not stress out. Do not try to help God. Bring your confusion, unbelief, impatience before God. Give room to yourself to rest in grace when you’ve become tired.
Try to be patient, wait actively, anticipating God’s presence and movements. Persevere and persist in your faith. And above all: fixe your eyes upon Jesus from whom all our hope comes.