“A Promise Kept”
July 12, 2015
By John Partridge
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
After General Douglas MacArthur escaped from the Philippines in March of 1942, he famously proclaimed “I came out of Bataan and I shall return!” More recently, the Terminator robot, played by Arnold Swarzenegger, announces in several movies in the franchise, “I’ll be back.” A great many people have promised an even greater number of things, but most often those promises aren’t worth much. All we have to do to remember how fragile a promise is, is to remember the promises of our political candidates, or the treaties that our nation made, and broke, with the American Indian tribes. Chief Joseph once said, “It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.” Actress Mae West may have summed it up best when she said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”
A promise only has value if the one who promises is willing and able to keep it.
And that is the pivotal thought behind all of today’s scriptures. We begin in 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, where we find both David and God keeping promises that were made to one another and to God’s people.
6:1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
God had given the Ark of the Covenant to the people of Israel but it had been lost for many years to the Philistines. No matter where it had been kept in the Philistine nation it caused problems, sickness and death and so they eventually allowed it to return to Israel’s control. Even then, it had been kept in the home of an ordinary Israelite because Saul had little interest in it. But David was different. As David began to make Jerusalem into his capitol city, he wanted to bring honor to God and to Israel, by bringing the ark home. Instead of ignoring the ark, David held it in high honor and brought the ark back with fanfare, praise, joy, dancing and celebration. Michal, David’s wife and also the daughter of Saul, despised David and although scripture doesn’t tell us why, perhaps it is because David’s dancing and celebrating didn’t look proper for a king, or perhaps it was because God was keeping his promises through David instead of through her father Saul.
In Mark 6:14-29, King Herod makes a promise that he would like to get out of, but, because he made the promise in public, he honors his promise in the most gruesome way.
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying] “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Herod was known to be an unpleasant, unpredictable, and outright dangerous man, but he had both the power and the willingness to keep his promise and he did.
In Ephesians 1:3-14, the Apostle Paul describes for us one of the most important and most powerful promises in all of scripture.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Paul explains that the followers of Jesus Christ were known by God before the creation of the world. We are redeemed by Jesus Christ, rescued from the destruction at the end of the world, and rescued from sin and death because of the grace and mercy of God. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we trust that he is both willing and able to do what he has said that he will do.
We trust that God will keep his promises.
But in Paul’s description he makes two incredibly important points. First, he says that God has “adopted us to sonship,” which sounds nice, but is an even bigger deal than it appears. The Greek word that we translate as “adoption to sonship” is a Greek legal term with a specific meaning. In Roman culture, it refers to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir. That means that God’s invitation to us, and acceptance of us, is not just an invitation to be his servants, nor is it just to stay at his house, nor is it to be honored guests. It is nothing less than to become, legally, sons and daughters of the King of the Universe, the creator of everything, and legally equivalent to Jesus Christ himself.
That, my friends, is a really big deal.
The second important point is that when you believed, that very moment when you put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ, God marked you with a seal, a deposit, that marks you as his, and guarantees your inheritance until the time comes for your full redemption. At the moment that we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence in us so that he can use his power to work on us and through us, but also as a deposit that symbolizes the promise of our ultimate redemption.
For those of you old enough to remember, soft drinks used to come in glass bottles that legally, belonged to Coca-Cola or Pepsi, or whoever had originally manufactured them. On each bottle was a guarantee that if you returned them to the store, the owner would redeem them, he would pay you for them and retake possession of them. Likewise, for many years, our American currency was backed by gold and silver and each bill of paper currency had a seal on it which said, “This certifies that there have been deposited in the treasury of the United States, five silver dollars, payable to the bearer on demand.” If you had a five dollar silver certificate, you could, at any time, take it to the bank and redeem it for real actual silver. Likewise, gold certificates could be redeemed for gold. The seal on the bill was a symbol of the bill’s true value.
And that is Paul’s message. We were sentenced to death but the penalty has already been paid. We had a price on our heads, but that price has been paid in the blood of Jesus Christ. We belong to him and we have been marked with a seal that indicates that we belong to God’s family. We carry with us, every day, God’s mark upon our lives, that we belong to him and that, when the time comes, we will be redeemed and returned to him.
That too, is a really big deal.
A promise is only as good as the integrity of the one who makes the promise.
A promise only has value if the one who promises is willing and able to keep it.
General MacArthur kept his promise.
The Terminator and King Herod kept their promises.
“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” – Mae West
Our message today reminds us that God is able.
God always keeps his promises. Our future is guaranteed because we have put our trust in Jesus Christ.
Our challenge is to be not only the kind of people who trust God, but the kind of people who keep their promises to God, the kind of people who keep their promises to one another, and the kind of people who keep their promises to others.
…is to be the kind of people who are worthy of trust.