This morning we need some Christmas comfort for a year of affliction.
Out text is Psalm 119:50
This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
We have three questions to consider from this verse: What does David mean by God’s promise? How does that promise give him life? Is there any application for us today?
First, what does David mean by God’s promise?
In a general sense, because of God’s character, because of his total integrity and perfect consistency – every word that comes from his mouth can be considered a promise.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
God is not like us. He is not subject to moods like we are.
You and I may RSVP on a high energy Saturday morning for the office Christmas party on Friday evening, only to arrive at Friday evening and find that we are not in the mood for social activity. We would rather get take out and have a quiet night at home watching It’s A Wonderful Life or Die Hard 3.
So we send a quick message letting everyone know that we aren’t able to make it to the party.
God is not like that. He does not shift with his moods, he doesn’t lie to preserve his comfort.
He is “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
Neither his words nor his actions are determined by his moods.
God is not subject to moods nor is he limited by unforeseen circumstances.
Maybe we RSVP to the Christmas party with every intention of staying true to our word, but on the way home from work Friday afternoon the driver next to me looking at Grogu memes on his iPhone drifts into my lane and sideswipes me, sending me crashing into the light post on the side of the road.
Maybe I’m a man of my word and I want to honor that word and go to the party I RSVP’d for, but instead I must spend the evening talking to police officers, insurance claims reps and my mechanic.
Sometimes you and I are unable to do what we said we would do because of unforeseen circumstances.
God is not like us.
He stands above space and time, in that moment on Saturday morning while we are clicking RSVP to the party, God who sees us also sees the guy across town in his apartment geeking out over the revelation of baby Yoda’s name in the new Mandalorian episode.
He sees every link in the chain of events leading up to the unfortunate convergence of our two lives on that road. He sees the unforeseeable series of consequences of that meeting including the monarch butterfly whose flight path was slightly altered by the collision, resulting in a typhoon in Indonesia and a global stock crisis.
God knows the end from the beginning, he sees and he controls the unfathomable complexity of interconnected events which make up our days.
While he was knitting you together in your mother’s womb, he knew that even though you told her you would be at her house for Thanksgiving this year, you would not be able to because you been exposed to coronavirus.
God is not subject to shifting moods, He does not bend or distort the truth, He is not limited by unforeseen circumstances.
He says and he does. He speaks and he fulfills. Every word is as good as a promise.
So we find in the Scriptures that God’s Words are referred to as promises.
But there’s a more precise sense of the word promise that David is probably referring to.
At a certain point in time, God who knows all of his creation, chose to relate in a unique way with one of his creatures.
Let’s turn to Genesis chapter 12:1-3.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
God called Abraham and began a relationship with him, based on a promise. That promise was repeated and expanded several times in Abraham’s life.
In Genesis 15, God formalized the promise with a fascinating ceremony. He called Abraham to gather a heifer, goat, ram, dove, and a pigeon. Abraham cut the heifer, goat and ram in two and arranged the halves opposite each other.
This may sound unusual to us, but it was a custom of the times. An important agreement was formalized and sealed with this kind of procedure. The two parties in the contract would slaughter an animal, then walk together through the two halves of the animal while saying something like, “may this be done to me if I fail my end of the contract.”
The custom was familiar, but the way this was carried would have seemed highly unusual to a contemporary of Abraham.
When the sacrifices were arranged, Abraham did not walk through them, but instead fell into a deep sleep. When he woke, he saw a flaming object moving through the air, passing between the sacrificial offerings.
This unilateral act on God’s part has massive ramifications.
God made a promise to Abraham that was not dependent on Abraham’s behavior. The basis of that promise had nothing to do with Abraham’s faithfulness, it was based solely on God’s faithfulness.
Years ago I officiated a wedding between two friends. The groom came from a wealthy family with a large estate. His mother put enormous pressure on him to require his fiancée to sign a prenuptial agreement. Prenuptials are relatively common in the wealthy circles, but my friend refused to do it. He considered it to be an offense against his fiancée and, more importantly, to the gospel.
By refusing to require his fiancée to sign a prenuptial contract, he was taking on a risk. He was acknowledging the fact that his future wife might or might not remain faithful. Regardless of her behavior, he was prepared to keep his word. He was ready to make a promise on the sole basis of his word.
That’s what we see in Genesis 15. God was going to keep his promise to Abraham, regardless of Abraham’s faithfulness.
That promise was passed on from Abraham, to his son Isaac, then to Jacob and on down the line to David.
David was well acquainted with the history of the promise of God to Abraham and his offspring.
For my name’s sake.
So God’s promise in a general sense refers to any word which God speaks, and specifically to the unilateral covenant promise David had inherited from Abraham.
In what sense, does that promise give David life?
On a psychological or existential level, God’s promise brought David life by providing comfort and hope. When David was hiding in the desert caves from Saul, who had vowed to take his life, he often felt as if he couldn’t make it another day like that. Then he remembered God’s promise. In the promise of God, memorized and stored up in his heart, David found a source of security and hope in a time of affliction.
We saw this last week in Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom. While they were in the barracks at Ravensbruck, surrounded by darkness, they remembered God’s promise. They remembered Romans 8 and found hope in the promise of a love that can never be taken from them. They found courage in the promise that God had made them more than conquerors. God’s promise gave them new life.
But David isn’t just referring to his feelings in Psalm 119.
David knew that his wellbeing was secure because God’s name was at stake.
When God promised blessings and a legacy to Abraham, his honor became forever linked to Abraham’s line. Because God keeps his promise, because God’s name was at stake, David knew God wouldn’t forsake him.
This is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Sometimes David was filled with faith. Sometimes he wasn’t. Sometimes David was faithful to obey God. Sometimes he wasn’t.
The incredible nature of God’s promise, meant that it didn’t matter what David did. He knew that God watch over him, on the good days and the bad days. Even when David was unfaithful, God remained faithful.
So what does this mean for us today?
First, we see in God’s perfect faithfulness a model for our own behavior. Our father is perfectly honest, so we should be to.
We should be examples to our children of the trustworthy faithfulness of God. Our children should see in us that, as far as it depends on us, we will keep our word to them.
When our culture makes it acceptable to tell white lies and treat our commitments lightly, we should rise above to a higher standard. Our yes should be yes, and our no should be no.
The second application for us in Psalm 119:50 is the power of memorizing the promises of God. In the Scriptures you and I have a resource of unconquerable hope and unshakeable peace. We have access to words of life. But are we using them?
What if we made this Advent season a season of memorizing the Word? Or if we looked ahead to 2021 and make it a year of Bible memory?
Finally, if you have not trusted in Jesus and made God’s promises your own, there is nothing more important than to do that today.
Because God keeps his promises, we can be certain that a time of judgment is coming to this world. Judgment is coming for those who have distorted the truth and been unfaithful to God.
Are you ready for that day? Are you ready to have your motives and your words laid bare in the light of God’s justice? Are you ready to face Him?
The good news we celebrate at Christmas is that God has not left us to our own resources.
The descendants of Abraham were unfaithful to the God who promised them life. They turned from his ways, but because God keeps his promises, he never abandoned them. He sent his Son to come to our world and stand in our place for judgment. He came to take the guilt of my unfaithfulness on his shoulders. He came do receive the just wrath of God in my place. And in exchange he offers his perfect righteousness. Through his death and His resurrection, Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and a share in the promise of God to all who will receive Him.
Will you do that today?
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown