Episode 1. A Promise from God
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You know, God is full of promises; amazing promises, but so often it’s hard to see how those promises fit into the realities of our lives here and now. Promises, Promises, Promises Well, I am really excited because we’re starting a new series this week called, “It’s Time to Take the Promised Land”. What […]
You know, God is full of promises; amazing promises, but so often it’s hard to see how those promises fit into the realities of our lives here and now.
Promises, Promises, Promises
Well, I am really excited because we’re starting a new series this week called, “It’s Time to Take the Promised Land”. What sort of a series title is that? “It’s Time to Take the Promised Land”.
Well, here’s my hunch. We live in a world that promises so much: A world of brands and products and experiences and travel and luxury – a world that promises so much. Marketers talk about the brand promise.
For example, here’s my favourite. On TV, the advertisements for margarine or breakfast cereal or low-fat milk. Right? Have you ever noticed them?
Here’s what they look like. Here’s the setting. It’s a kind of trendy, today kind of kitchen and the sun’s always streaming in through the windows. It’s never raining; it’s always sunny. Mum’s smiling as she prepares breakfast. She’s slim and happy and well-adjusted, and this well-adjusted teenager bounds in smiling and spreads margarine on their bread or pours the milk on their cereal or whatever, and then … Then this cool-looking forty-something dad strolls in, and he is good-looking, and then he grabs a piece of toast and kisses his wife before he reads the newspaper.
This is the sort of family and breakfast that most people would like to have, but the reality … Well, the reality’s a bit different to that ad. I mean, the reality is that there are millions of people watching that ad who don’t know where their next meal’s coming from. The reality is that a lot of the people watching that ad, their families and marriages are falling apart. The reality is, even if they aren’t, they’re bringing up teenagers and that’s tough and there’s dysfunction. The reality is, most people’s families and kitchens and lives look nothing like those glossy images on the ad.
Images selling margarine or cereal or milk, making a brand promise that if you buy this product … well … this is what your life will look like. You look at that in the cold, hard light of day, and it’s absolutely nuts. Right? I mean, it’s crazy to try to link a margarine to a well-adjusted family.
New car ads are the same. They’re always out on the open road; there’s only ever that one car on the road, and the brand promise is if you buy me, you’ll have the freedom to roam. Isn’t it funny how the car ads never have someone stuck in peak-hour traffic, ever?
See, there are so many things in this world that hold out a promise that they can’t deliver. On the one hand, we want to live out those images of success the marketers kind of dangle under our noses. On the other, we so often … well … we never do. We never quite get there. It never quite works the way that the advert says it will, and that’s the psychology of marketing.
You create an image that creates desire, and the person sees the gap between the image and their reality, and so they spend money to buy that thing to buy the brand promise, and they discover it doesn’t work, and so the marketers dish up the next image, and round and round and round we go, on this treadmill of broken promises. It makes our consumer economies go round, and here you and I are with this treadmill of broken promises, brands that never really deliver their brand promise, and God comes along with a promise.
God makes lots of promises. “I’ll be your God, and you will be My people, and I’ll walk among you. I’ll bless you and keep you and comfort you and guide you” … Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life in all of its abundance.”
It’s almost like God’s painting this picture of a promised land – a land that’s almost too good to be true – a land … a life … well, to you and me, it seems a bit like the kitchen and that family in the margarine ad. In the reality of our lives, the promises of God can be hard to swallow, especially when we’re still on that treadmill of broken promises, going round and round and round …
In this day and age, God’s promises are harder to accept than ever. Now … now we’re getting close to the heart of this new series, “It’s Time to Take the Promised Land”, because God is a God of promise, and brand Jesus is the one brand that actually delivers. God’s plan is to lead you and me into His promised land – a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of blessing, but (here’s the but) He involves us in that process and we have a part to play.
The first step that we’re going to talk about today in this whole thing of walking into God’s promised land is accepting His promise in the first place; letting Him write that promise on our hearts, and believing it with all that we are; believing it with every fibre of our beings, with our very lives. You see, we can’t have the promised land (we can’t go there, we can’t settle) unless first we believe it in our hearts. God is a God that calls us to faith, and faith means believing before we see it.
Now we’re going to talk about that very thing today because if we’re going to talk about accepting the promises of God, you can’t go there without talking about it: Faith. It’s when we place our faith in Him. When we place our faith in His promises, then … then He calls us on to cross over into that land, and to take the land.
Now that’s a shock and a surprise to me. We’re going to be looking at that a bit over the coming weeks. It’s really important that we understand the journey. God’s promised land isn’t like pizza delivery. You know, He doesn’t ring the doorbell and deliver the promised land; God actually calls us out of the front door, to take a step of faith, and it can be a tough journey with battles all along the way.
We’re going to be looking through the book of Joshua over the coming few weeks in the Old Testament, because the book of Joshua is about the time that Israel crossed over into the promised land. They’d been in slavery in Egypt and then on the exodus for forty years, and the book of Joshua begins right on the threshold of the promised land, and they have an upfront decision to make. Do I really want God’s promised land, really? And if I do, am I going to let Him write His promise on my heart, and carry it round with me through thick and thin – the bright sunny days, and the cold wet days?
Well, today’s programme is all about letting Him write His promise on our hearts, His plan for us to dwell in His promised land. As we’re going round and round and round on that treadmill of broken promises, where many people have this empty unfulfilled life, we have a decision today to make. We can decide that it’s time to step off that treadmill and to take the promised land.
One Man’s Promise
So where does this term, “The promised land” come from? Well, it all begins when God promises some land to Abraham. Now God first engages with His people, Israel ultimately, through Abraham – the father of Israel. Abraham was living very comfortably indeed. He was quite wealthy, in a place called Ur, which is near Babylon or around modern-day Bagdad, and God calls him out of that place. If you have a Bible, grab it, and open it up at Genesis chapter 12. God calls him out of this place. This is what happens:
Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your family and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.
Incredible promise for Abram and Sarai, who were old. I mean, they were well into their seventies; they were childless, and there is a two-part blessing here, two-part promise: Land and children, but there in the comfort and the wealth, they believe God, so they step out. They up and leave all of that. They take their possessions and servants and animals, and they hit the road and head westward to a land called Canaan.
Now, what happened when they got there? Well, we read about that in Genesis 12:6-8:
When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time, the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So Abram built an altar to the LORD who had appeared to him.
Now just think about God’s promise to this old man. Firstly, your descendants. The guy is seventy years old, and he and his wife have not been able to have children, but God promises him descendants. Not only descendants, but God says, “I will make you a great nation”. Really? And, “I will give this land to your descendants”.
Imagine Abram. “But God, I’m in my seventies. I don’t have any children. This land is occupied by the Canaanites”. It was a pretty impossible promise, but right here, right in the middle of all this impossibility, the promised land is born.
God promised it to Abram, yet Abram believed this promise with his life. How do we know that? Because he actually left his comfortable existence in Ur, and followed down the dusty trail of God’s promise, over hill and dale, and he gets to this land of God’s impossible promise – a land filled with Canaanites, who weren’t about to say, “Well, yeah, sure, Abram. Take our land! We don’t mind”, and the childless Abram … what does he do? He builds an altar to God. He honours God.
He bows down and says, “Well, God, you know, even though this doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense, I’m going to believe You”, and God knows what’s going on in Abram’s heart. He takes him up a hill and makes the promise again. You can read it. Flick over to Genesis 13:14:
The LORD said to Abram after Lot had separated from him, ‘Raise up your eyes now, and look from the place where you are: North and south and east and west, for all the land that you see I will give you, and to your offspring forever.
I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up! Walk the length and the breadth of this land, for I will give it to you.’ So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which were at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.
I love how God lays out the land before Abram. Can you see that picture? They’re on-top of the hill and God is speaking to Abram, who’s thinking about this impossible promise, and little by little God is breathing this promised land into the man’s heart. “Go and walk through it, as far as your eyes can see, and let Me make an outrageous promise,” says God, “So many descendants you will have that they will be more than the grains of dust on the earth”, and Abram built another altar and honoured God.
See what’s going on here? God is taking him through a process, a huge leap. He’s an old man with no kids, and God is promising him a promised land full of his own descendants, and God’s leading Abram gently into a place where he can believe. Like you and me, this guy’s a man and he’s human. He’s struggling with it in his heart. We can read about it in Genesis chapter 15. Abram goes to God and says, ‘Look, I still don’t have a son. I mean, this other man will have to be my heir. How’s this promise ever going to happen?’ Look at what God says and does (Genesis 15:4). God says:
‘No, that man won’t be your heir. No one but your very own son shall be your heir.’ God took Abram outside and said, ‘Look towards the heavens and count the stars if you’re able.’ Then God said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’, and Abram believed the LORD and the LORD reckoned it unto him as righteousness.”
What a beautiful picture! Abram is aching! He wants to believe in God’s promises. He wants to believe in the land and descendants and mighty nations, but it’s so hard. He just can’t see how God could possibly deliver on this promise, so God takes him out to the stars – the Milky Weigh; this unbelievable sight, without the city lights and the smog. There are so many stars there, and finally the word of God, the promise of God, God’s promised land drops into Abram’s heart.
Still he makes plenty of mistakes along the way. You can read about it in the next few chapters of Genesis, but the promised land is written on Abram’s heart. Ultimately he has a son, Isaac.
That’s the only part of the promise he ever sees, and Isaac has a son called Jacob and Jacob has twelve sons, who are the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. They ended up in slavery in Egypt and grew into a mighty nation and then Moses led them out through the Red Sea. And they experienced the desert, the exodus for forty years, and all of a sudden one day, this mighty nation of Israel was standing on the banks of the Jordan, ready to cross over into the promised land, but that took centuries to happen.
We’re going to look at that next week, but there on that night, under the stars alone with God, the promised land was written on Abram’s heart, and he believed.
God’s Promise to Us
I’m always so touched by the story of how God reaches out to Abraham. Sure; it’s a story about Abraham, but Abraham’s not Mr Perfecto Super-Christian. He’s human; he’s frail; he has struggles like you and me, and he struggles to believe in this outrageous promise from God. Then gently, and tenderly, the LORD leads him to believe in the promised land – this mighty nation. If you and I put ourselves in Abraham’s shoes just for a minute, this old man, wouldn’t we struggle too?
Next week we’re going to be starting in the book of Joshua and looking what it means to cross over into the promised land, and the battles involved in taking that promised land, and why God does it that way. I mean, this promised land was supposed to be flowing with milk and honey. Wouldn’t you think you’d just arrive? Wouldn’t it be like a summer resort with a swimming-pool and a bellhop to carry your bags up to your suite?
Well, that’s the next few weeks, but over the next few minutes, it’s time for you and me to consider this promised land and whether we’ll believe. Faith is the key to the promise. Faith is the gift from God, and the reason you and I are together today (no doubt) is that God wants to unlock the promise in your heart, as He breathes faith into you through His Word.
As Israel went from Egypt through the Red Sea, and then forty years in the desert, how many Israelites that crossed through the Red Sea at the beginning of the exodus crossed through the Jordan into the promised land forty years later? Do you know? How many? Out of hundreds of thousands and probably millions, how many? Just two: Joshua and Caleb, and Psalm 106 tells us exactly why:
They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea. So God said He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach before Him to keep His wrath from destroying them. Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe His promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Law, so He swore to them with uplifted hand that He would make them fall in the desert.
That’s why today’s message is so important. You and I, like Abraham, we look at the circumstances of our lives and we look around, and it’s hard to believe sometimes in God’s promises. Maybe we even have a grumble about God and His promises … That’s going to keep us out of His promised land. People sometimes say, “Well, Berni, you talk about this promised land. It’s obvious what it meant to the Israelites back then, but what does it mean to you and me here and now?”
Well, we need to go from the Old Testament to the New Testament. There’s a transition from the physical land to the spiritual one – something that people struggled with when Jesus talked about the kingdom of God. They thought Jesus had come to kick the Roman occupiers out of the promised land, the physical land, but He was talking about something entirely different. There are so many passages we could go through in the New Testament, but a couple that really explain the promised land that God has given to us through Jesus His Son … Let’s have a look at them. Luke 17:20. Flick over to there:
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God doesn’t come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is”, because the kingdom of God is within you.’
The promised land isn’t something out there. It’s not a new house or a new car or all that stuff. The promised land is the kingdom of God; it’s God living and dwelling and ruling in our hearts. Again, Jesus explained it this way in Matthew 13:44:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
The promised land is the treasure of God Himself in our hearts, our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come. John 14:23. Jesus said:
If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to make our home with him.
There are plenty of people who believe in Jesus for their eternal life. Jesus died for my sin; therefore I’m forgiven; therefore I have eternal life. Then what they do is, they kind of put it in their filing cabinet and file it under insurance policy, and live a miserable life. Jesus promised a lot of things – a rich, abundant life, as well as trials and persecutions. He didn’t promise us it would be easy to follow Him; what He did promise is that our relationship with Him would fill us to overflowing with abundant joy and peace. That’s where the promised land is today – in our hearts; in our relationship with Jesus Christ; in that abundance of life that comes through that relationship.
Let me take you back to that starry night: Abram, and the LORD led him tenderly to the point where God wrote His promises on Abram’s heart – a promise that Abram believed against all odds; a promise that God delivered against all odds. You and I are each under our own patch of starry heaven today, and the LORD is whispering of His promised land in our hearts – a land purchased by Jesus on the cross, a land of blessing that goes on forever. The Spirit of God will write that on our hearts if we let Him. He will give us the faith to believe if we’ll ask Him. Is today that day when we open our hearts to God’s promised land?