Sunday School Lessons

Solid Promises

While most legitimate sweepstakes in the United States are well-regulated, from time to time we still lean about one that is rigged.  Maybe the sponsors try to make the game fair for all participants, but someone on the inside sneaks out the winning numbers, or players find a way to game the system.  (I actually find the world of hacks and scams pretty fascinating, although it would be nice if their perpetrators used their creative skills for the good of society, instead.)

Continuing in the book of Hebrews, we find that Jesus did not “steal” the role of high priest.  Yes, Jesus obeyed God, and chose to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world, but it seems that He was not the one who took on the role for Himself.  Rather, it was given to Him by God the Father.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.”

Hebrews 5:5 NIV
https://hebrews.bible/hebrews-5-5

According to the footnote in the NIV, this passage is quoted from Psalm 2 (specifically, Psalm 2:7).  I wonder how the initial people who received the prophecies of the Old Testament understood them?  God sometimes mirrored fulfillments of prophecies in multiple timeframes, making good on His promises both in the era of when they were given, and then later in history (often through Jesus).  Still, when Isaiah prophesied about a virgin (or young woman) giving birth to a son (Isaiah 7:13-17), did the hearers have any idea how this would be fulfilled in Jesus, even if they also saw a similar sign in their day?

With this “dual perspective” (considering this Psalm’s meaning both to the Israelites from ancient times, and to those – including us – who live in the age of the church), I would ask you to pause here and read Psalm 2 (it’s just 12 verses, but copyright requests from the translators limit me from copying it here in its entirety).

Do you think that the people who first heard (or even sang) this Psalm had any idea how God’s promises would be fulfilled?  Perhaps they witnessed short-term blessings in their country (with a king like David or Solomon), and were sufficiently impressed.  God had made these promises, though, with a much bigger picture in mind.  It would be one thing for the nation of Israel to have victory over her enemies, with God intervening to bless the people of Israel.  It was far more significant, though, when Jesus came and achieved victory over both sin and death (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

God had made a promise, and even if some interpreters saw short-term implications, when God called Jesus His Son (see passages like Matthew 3:16-17 and Matthew 17:5, for instance), this was – as I see it – a greater fulfillment of that promise.  Israelites in the time when the Psalms were written may have legitimately rejoiced about an initial blessing, but God had prepared something even more spectacular.

Let’s go over to Hebrews 6:

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
Hebrews 6:13‭-‬15 NIV

https://bible.com/bible/111/heb.6.13-15.NIV

I feel like this point is a little more clear in the original context.  This appears to be a reference to Genesis 22, after Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, but God provided an animal for the sacrifice instead.  For more details, read Genesis 22:15-18.

There are two key things in verse 15 that I’d like to call your attention to: 1) God kept His promise to Abraham, and 2) Abraham needed to wait patiently.  Just as Jesus wasn’t rewarded right away, Abraham also had to wait until the time was right.  However, God’s promises are certain.

Have you ever known someone whose word was a little suspect, and who resorted to swearing (by whatever they could think of at the moment) whenever they wanted you to believe them?  It seems that Pharisees of Jesus’ day were even using minor word tricks, in order to swear by things and then say that their promises weren’t binding (see Matthew 23:16-22).  People swear by different sorts of things these days, and it’s usually unnecessary, as Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:33-37).

As Hebrews 6:16-18 continues, though, when God made an oath, there was nothing greater than Himself to swear by.  Perhaps God’s people should accept what He says on faith, but God had a reason for including an oath, as described in verse 17 (making “the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear”).  And, the result was that, as verse 18 says, “we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged”.

So, if you’re placing your trust on winning the lottery, or striking it rich in the stock market, remember that there will always be others trying to beat you.  Only the promises of God are sure enough to trust our very souls with.  These promises are backed by God Himself, and only Jesus’ free gift of salvation is big enough to bless everyone who accepts it.

Be encouraged today.  Bring your prayers to God, and trust Him for the result.  You might not see all of it today, but be assured: it is coming (and, it might already be here, but we just don’t yet see it).


From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 10, 2021

References:

  • The Lookout, October 10, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press Commentary, Hebrews, by Jim Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse.  College Press Publishing Company, © 1997.

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