Monday, February 4, 2013

Oaths and Anchors

I love the Old Testament. Besides laying out some otherwise stupefying stories, it shows us convincingly that (1) Jesus wasn't an afterthought, and (2) God keeps his promises. Because the former is deserving of its own fair exposition, I will leave that for another time and concentrate on the latter. But don't think they aren't related.

God's promises give us a glimpse into his character as a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. But the keeping part of the covenant sometimes takes a while to see—over several chapters or books. As the story unfolds, however, we see that God keeps all of his promises. The middle part of the story reminds us that the fruition of the promise doesn't happen right now; it happens later. Sometimes much later. That sort of thing is not easy to hear in our instant-gratification culture, but that's our issue, not God's.

So back to the Old Testament promises. From the beginning, we see God make certain promises to Abraham. He will be a blessing to all nations. His descendants will outnumber the stars. Having no way to see this promise come to pass in his lifetime, Abraham had to rely on faith for the promise. And it was by Abraham's faith that he obtained the promise. Interesting. We will come back to that. In the meantime, the writer of Hebrews offered similar encouragement to new believers banking on promises that God hadn't delivered on just yet:
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest after the order of Melchizidek (Heb. 6:13-20).
What he is saying is that God made an oath to Abraham, which Abraham received by faith. And then the promise came to pass. Similarly, God made an oath to us—a blood oath through the death of Christ on the cross. And just as Abraham received the benefits of his promise by faith, so we also will receive the benefits of this new promise by faith in Christ. Faith seals the benefits of our hope.

Back to faith. I find it fascinating that Abraham, "having patiently waited, obtained the promise." He waited on God in faith, and the promises of God were his—even though the fullness of the promise had not come to pass. God deals with us in the same way. The promises of God in Christ are obtained at the moment of faith. We do not have to wait until judgment day and hope that God will come through on his promise. How do we know this? Read the stories. See what God is like. And know that faith seals your future hope.

Ok, so we know that faith seals our hope at some indefinite point in the future. But what good does that do us here? Look closely. It serves as an anchor of the soul. This anchor sinks below the waves and waters and lands with a doctrinal thud into the seabed of truth. You aren't going to be tossed around by the wind and waves; your hope is staying put. So in the here-and-now, your mind and soul can be put at ease by the promises of God. Throw off your anxiety and your cowardice. Stay firmly anchored in the truth when everything else is drifting with the tide of the day. The stories of faith give us encouragement to hold fast to the hope of the promise. So do not be discouraged: know that the promises are yours, if you have faith.

The Bible is full of stories of God's promises and their fulfillment. The "saints of old" have much to teach us about God's covenant-keeping character. Keith Getty and Stuart Townend put it well:
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear the call, and hunger for the day,
When with Christ we stand in glory.
Let God's promises be an encouragement to you. Let the Bible tell you stories of the triumph of God's grace on the cross. And let that spur you on to continue with the mission, knowing that the outcome is secure.

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