How do you feel when someone makes you a promise and then breaks it? Depending on the importance of the promise or the person, it might be anything from mild disappointment to a deep sense of betrayal. Or maybe you know what it’s like to be the one who broke a promise.
The time when a person’s word was his bond seems long gone. Trust is fleeting. The disappointment of being let down, as well as the guilt of letting others down, can make us cynical and suspicious. Low expectations may seem to shield us from disappointment over broken promises – whether it’s disappointment in our leaders, our friends, our parents, our spouses, our children… or even ourselves. But that kind of self-protection is a sad substitute for addressing the problem of broken promises.
Keeping even the simplest of promises, say meeting someone for coffee, requires more than one simple act. You have to remember not to make other plans for that time, you have to stay on schedule to prevent missing the appointment, you have to know where to go and how to get there, and you have to secure the means to pay for the coffee. And that’s just for one small promise. The greater the promise, the more complex and costly the steps to keeping that promise.
Maybe that’s why President Lincoln said,
We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot."*
After all, a promise is only as good as the one making it and, as Jesus told the rich young ruler, no one is truly good but God.
But since God truly is good, we should never allow distrust born of human failings to diminish the power and the blessing of trusting in God’s promises. God will never break His promises to us. Never. He alone has the ability to keep any and every promise He ever makes. When we learn to trust God’s promises, we experience the power and blessing of strengthened faith and renewed hope – both of which are indispensable to the joyous life God intends for us as His children.
This month affords special opportunities to celebrate the most amazing evidence of God’s promise-keeping power, demonstrated in the birth of the Messiah Jesus. Never has there been a greater or more complex promise kept than the one we sing about and celebrate in praise and gratitude for the Word becoming flesh. And what could be more powerful for building faith and hope into our hearts than understanding and embracing this promise kept?
The origins of the promise date back to the beginning of time. It was God’s response to the first and most far-reaching human tragedy, the sin and rebellion that broke the relationship between God and His creation. The promise came on the heels of the curse caused by sin; it was a guarantee of God’s intention to right the wrong. God had a plan to heal the horrible breach that not only separated humanity from Him, but also alienated human beings from one another.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15).
Often referred to as the "proto-evangelion" (first announcement of the good news), God promised to destroy the evil one who had deceived Adam and Eve. He would do so through the "seed of the woman" – an unusual phrase (normally "seed" referred to the man’s role in procreation, not the woman’s) that hinted at an unusual birth. What level of complexity would be required to keep this promise? Who would this "seed" be and from where would he come?
God narrowed the nationality of this promised One through another promise to a man named Abraham who, along with his wife Sarah, had no children and humanly speaking was too old to have them. Nevertheless, God covenanted with this couple to become part of His amazing promise.
Was God risking failure by hanging His promise on the thread of an infertile couple? No, but rather He proved His power and great love through the supernatural birth of Isaac. The promise passed to Isaac’s son Jacob and from Jacob to the twelve tribes of Israel. His promise to them was made with a binding oath, a contract that was as unbreakable as the One who made it:
By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice" (Genesis 22:16-18).
And so the children of Israel became the vessel God chose to keep His promise, to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth, ultimately through the Messiah. That precious promise, and many more promises necessary to keep it, were articulated over and over through Israel’s prophets. The seed was coming. The promise would be kept. God would restore the remnant of Israel to be a light to all the nations. And the Messiah of Israel would bring salvation "to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6b).
Salvation! That was the promise and that was the very name the angel instructed Joseph to give to the baby born to Mary 2,000 years ago:
And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Yeshua (Jesus), for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
The devout Simeon recognized the promise kept when he held the baby in his arms and worshiped, saying:
Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32, emphasis added).
Oh that Jewish people might see as Simeon did that this Jesus is none other than the promise God made and kept for Israel’s salvation and the salvation of the world. So many have missed the glory that Simeon held in his arms that day. In fact, many Jewish people have given up on the promise altogether.
Please pray for Jews for Jesus as we redouble our efforts to hold up this Promised One to the light. May the reflected rays of His glory shine His revelation for our Jewish people and for all people, reconciling us first to God, and also to one another. And for those of us who already believe and follow Jesus? As we look anew at God’s glorious promise kept in the Christ child, may our faith be strengthened, may our hope in all of His promises to us become the very ground of our joy, this Christmas and until we see Him face-to-face.
* Speech delivered before the first Republican State Convention of Illinois May 29, 1856.
If you liked this perspective on Christmas, check out David’s article, “Oh Little Town of Controversy"
Also, you might have seen the beautiful, “Christmas Story in Prophecy,” a laminated fold-out pamphlet offered in a flyer with last month’s print newsletter. You can also order it directly from our store. We will give you free shipping on that “Christmas Story in Prophecy,” (while supplies last) if you order online by December 31 using coupon code "NL13". (Order by December 14th to receive it in time for Christmas.)