Will God keep his promises? Is God someone I can depend and rely on? Our Easter Big Question was particularly with those in mind who feel that God has let them down. If we believe that God has promised us that we will marry a certain person, that we will be healed or that we will get the exam grades we need and then that doesn’t happen we may be tempted to doubt God. In fact, it may well devastate your faith.
This is made worse when some pastors teach that if you do certain things such as pay your tithe, get up early to pray etc then God will give you the particular thing you desire.
In Luke 24, we meet two disciples who are returning to Emmaus after Jesus’ crucifixion. They are picking over the events of the weekend. That’s a natural human tendency isn’t it? We replay the events and wonder if things could have turned out differently. I wonder what they would have done differently. Maybe they would have tried to stand and fight Jesus’ captors? I suspect if I were there, my reaction would be “I should never have got caught up with this in the first place. I got taken in by the miracles but it was just a con. I’ve wasted three years of my life for a lie.”
When a stranger ( who later they realise is the resurrected Jesus) joins them on the road, they tell him about their leader:
“We had hoped that he was the Messiah, who had come to rescue Israel.” (Luke 24:21). They thought that Jesus was going to defeat the Romans, remove the corrupt Jewish leaders and reward those who had faithfully followed him with positions of power. Now they were devastated, their hopes crushed, their expectations defeated. Jesus was dead.
Then the risen Jesus “took them through Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).
“Moses and all the prophets” is a way of saying “The Old Testament.” By Moses, Jesus means the Torah or Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy). The Prophets referred to both the books we think of as prophecy like Isaiah and Jeremiah but also history books like Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel.
Jesus would have taken them back to the beginning in Genesis 3 where God said there would be war between the woman’s seed and the serpent, that it would bruise his heel and he would crush its head. This was the promise that God would defeat evil and deal with the problem of sin. He would have reminded them how the Israelite had to kill a lamb and cover the door posts with its blood so that the angel of death would pass over their homes on the night before God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Death was followed be deliverance. He would have taken them to Isaiah 53. There they would have heard about the servant who suffers, who is “pierced for our transgressions” This servant was cut off mid life without descendents and yet would then somehow experience long life and descendents. Isaiah 53 was promising a substitute, a saviour who would die in our place but then be raised to life.
The promise that runs through the Old Testament is of God’s Messiah taking our place, bearing our punishment, dying our death. The story of the Old Testament is of death and resurrection, of God the deliverer.
Why does Jesus take these two followers through this long Bible study? Well, I think one important reason is in what they had told him. Their hopes had been crushed because they expected things to happen that God had not promised and in doing so they lost sight of God’s real promise of salvation from sin of forgiveness send of resurrection to eternal life.
We too can put our trust that in the wrong things and promises never made. Sometimes this happens because we have dreams or intuitions, or because others say things to us that we misinterpret and treat as promises from God, We trust in these things instead of God’s clearly revealed word in Scripture. We can also take Bible verses out of context and turn them into personal promises missing the big picture story line of God’s greater promise to all his people of forgiveness and eternal life.
God does not promise us that we will be magically taken out of suffering and that we will escape the mess of life in a fallen world. We will still face injustice, ill health, economic troubles etc and indeed we may well have to go through intentional and fierce persecution but what God does promise is that he will take us safely through these things and even through death. He will use our trials to grow us and for his glory. He will bring us safely into his new creation where there will be no more tears or suffering.
This means that when we face challenges, trouble and injustice in the week ahead, we can trust God. We can trust him to be with us. We can trust him to take us through these things. We can trust him because he kept his promise to bring salvation through the death and the resurrection of Jesus.