Text: Psalm 98:1-6, Rev. 21:1-7.
Introit and Epistle for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, RCL Year C
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Have you ever needed to be reminded of God’s promises? When we suffer the loss of a loved one, when we’re knocking on death’s dark door, when we’re going through financial difficulties, or whatever else may plague us in this life, there are certain seasons when, before anything else, we need to be reminded of God’s wonderful and precious promises for us. But there is something more important than our remembrance of God’s promises. Consider for a moment, what does it mean to us when The Lord makes a promise?
An elderly Christian was in much distress as he lay dying. “Oh, Pastor,” he said, “for years I have relied upon the promises of God, but now in the hour of death I can’t remember a single one to comfort me.” Knowing that Satan would love nothing more than to rob him of his comfort, the pastor said, “My brother, do you think that God will forget any of His promises?” A smile came over the face of the dying believer as he exclaimed joyfully. “No, no! He won’t! Praise the Lord, now I can fall asleep in Jesus and trust Him to remember them all.” A short time later he was ushered by the angels into the God’s perpetual light. There is something more important than simply remembering God’s promises. In our Introit today there are three things which are more important than simply remembering God’s promises, and they are the source of exuberant and joyous praise.
I. God has remembered his promises (v. 3)
The first thing which is more important than simply remembering God’s promises is that God has remembered his promises! Now, when our Psalm says that God “remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness” it means that he has remembered the promises which he gave to the patriarchs, kings, and prophets of old. God remembered. That doesn’t mean “remember” in the way that we might remember something. If I remember my promise to you, it might be because I failed to keep it. “Oh yeah! I remember that I promised to do that for you.” Not so with God. When it says that God remembered his own promises it means that he has fulfilled them. He made good on his word and the promises have been kept.
This reminds us of our failure to keep our promises. This doesn’t even surprise us anymore. It surprises us when politicians actually keep their promises because we expect them to make promises they never intended on keeping. Like politicians we also make promises we never intend to keep. Even when we are well intentioned, we simply cannot always keep our promises. We lack the ability, the time, and the motivation to always keep our word to others. Unfaithfulness has become common place among us. Many marriages are destroyed because one spouse did not take their promise to remain faithful to the other seriously. An ever increasing number people are swimming in debt, and some even go bankrupt, because of their failure to live up to their own promises. The world is filled with unkept promises. The result is we are filled with cynicism, selfishness, and mistrust. We assume that there is hardly anybody out there who will keep their word.
Our track record of unkept promises contrasts sharply with God’s track record. God had promised the patriarchs that their children would inherit the promised land. God lived up to his promise by dramatically bringing Israel out of Egypt through Moses, and into the promised land through Joshua. God promised that the Israelites suffering exile in Babylon would return to Israel and rebuild Jerusalem and its temple, and God made good on his promise. Jesus promised that he would rise again on the third day, and he did! God has a long track record of remembering — of acting on and keeping his promises. God never defaults. God has delivered on every promise he has ever made. If God Almighty has promised something, it is as good as done. We have his word. It is important to remember God’s promises. But it does not benefit us if God has not kept his promises. What’s more important than remembering God’s promises is the fact that God has remembered and kept his promises.
II. God has revealed his righteousness (v. 2)
The second thing more important than simply remembering God’s promises is that God has revealed his righteousness. We tend to think that righteousness is simply doing what is good, right and just. That’s certainly part of it but righteousness actually refers to much more. Righteousness in the biblical sense refers to fulfilling your social obligations. Think about your callings in life. Are you a parent, child, employee, spouse? Our various callings in life put obligations upon us which we are expected by others to keep. And try as we might, we are not always able to live up to those obligations. We are not always perfect parents, children, employees, or spouses. We often fail to live up to our obligations. And because everyone fails to live up their their obligations, we’ve come to tolerate and overlook a certain level of failure. But, when someone really neglects their social obligations, we have a tendency to treat them harshly. Think of a mother who has neglected her duties as a mother, or a husband who has neglected his obligations as a husband. We disdain and loathe a neglectful mother or an dead-beat father, or a cheating spouse.
But God has revealed his righteousness and faithfulness. Even though we have failed to keep our obligations, God does not treat us with disdain and loathing. Instead, he remains committed to us and seeks to restore us. “Yes you did the wrong thing, but I am not going to allow it to break our relationship. I am still committed to you because of the promise I made to you.” We see this time and again in how God dealt with Israel. Israel fell into idolatry and wickedness, and yet God remained committed to them. Despite their constant sin and rebellion God still acted on their behalf, and fulfilled his promises for them. God has demonstrated in the sight of the entire world what kind of God he is – a god who lives up to his end of the bargain, even when we do not. St. Paul wrote “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:13). It is important to remember God’s promises. But it does not benefit us if God is not righteous. What’s more important than remembering God’s promises is the kind of God who has made those promises to us — a righteous God.
III. God has worked salvation (v. 1 and Rev 21)
The third thing which is more important than simply remembering God’s promises is that God has worked salvation. God has saved us! All of God’s promises are centered around his action to save us. Like Israel of old, we are constantly oppressed by enemies — ours are sin, death, and the devil — and we need someone to save us. The same powerful God who sent the Ten Plagues to rescue the Israelites from slavery came down from heaven and became an infant, born of a Virgin, to rescue us. The same God who defeated the entire army of the Assyrians with a single angel has defeated sin, death, and the devil by the blood of the cross. The same living God who brought Judah back from exile in Babylon has brought new life through the resurrection of his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are still in the celebration of Easter. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is more amazing than saving Noah and family and creation from the flood. It’s more fantastic than honoring the promise that Sarah and Abraham would have a child in their old age and become the parents of many nations. It’s more awesome than rescuing God’s the Irsaelites from the hand of the Pharoah in Egypt with the Ten Plagues. It’s far more dramatic than saving Daniel from the Lion’s Den; or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. It’s more powerful than the vision of the reanimation of the Valley of Dry Bones and greater even than the return from Exile in Babylon. Jesus resurrection is the greatest of all God’s victories — the fulfillment of all his promises. Jesus, rising from death defeats death, once and for all, not just for him, but for all who believe! Even though we are not righteous, he is. Even though we don’t keep our promises, he always keeps his. And through his perfect life, bloody death, and glorious resurrection we have been forgiven. That same incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord has saved us and delivered that forgiveness to us here and now through water, bread, wine, and his Word.
It is important to remember God’s promises. But it does not benefit us if God has not saved us. What’s more importantt han remembering God’s promises is that God has acted in history to save his people of old, and that he continues to act to save his people today. God has saved us, and our Revelation reading has yet more precious promises for us. A New Heavens. A New Earth. God himself dwelling with us. No more tears or crying. No more death or pain. We will be his children. He will be our God. All promised to us freely, without payment, for Christ has paid it all. That’s the resurrection which awaits the baptized faithful. God promises us these things whether we remember them or not. “These words are trustworthy and true” because God has worked salvation; he has revealed his righteousness, he has remembered his promises. God remembers his steadfast love and faithfulness, not just to the House of Israel, but to us – who are loved and claimed with an everlasting love through Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.