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When we look up the word “promise” in the dictionary, it says, “A promise is something that you say you will definitely do.” An easy example is “appointment.” One of the keys for a successful career is keeping appointments. Thankfully, living in Japan makes us so punctual. One of the reasons for that is because Japanese trains are “almost” always on time. In Japan, the average delay of trains is less than one minute. Here in Japan, we have a strong habit of being punctual. We are concerned about not being late, most have naturally acquired this habit. We don’t trust those who don’t keep appointments habitually..
I will get anxious if someone doesn’t show up at the appointed hour. I will get irritated if he or she doesn’t show up even after 10 minutes. In fact, I can’t wait more than 20 minutes. How about you? Anyway, we make promises. We confirm them. We keep them. We cancel them. We break them. And it is hard to keep all our promises. It’s impossible. That’s why it’s better to make fewer promises and keep them all.
My wife and I got married in Chicago back in 2002. I made a promise to her before marriage. I promised her that I would help her to study in a graduate school. She wanted to learn Christian education. I promised to support her financially. But I didn’t keep my word. And 20 years have passed since we got married. I feel bad for her. I really want to keep it. I’m hoping and praying that the promise that I made to my wife will be fulfilled in the near future by the grace of God.
Our Heavenly Father makes promises to us. The Bible is full of God’s promises. God made 7,487 promises to humankind in the Bible. And God keeps His promises no matter what the cost. God is true to His word. Our God is the Promise-Keeper.
In today’s passage, God makes three promises to Abraham. Do you remember what they are? The first promise is… To give Abram a land. The promise to give him the land of Canaan. The area is almost equal to the States of New York and Vermont. The second promise is… The promise to give Abram children. God promised to make Abram a great nation, Israel through his offspring. The third promise is… God promised that all nations on earth would be blessed through Abram. This amazing promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Messiah that came from Abram’s lineage.
Today, I want to talk about the second promise to make Abram a great nation. I’ll try to focus on Abram’s offspring. God promises to make a nation from Abram. Abraham will have children and grandchildren and further descendants, enough to become a great nation.
Brothers and sisters, do you know when God promised Abram children? When Abram was about 75 years old, God promised him offspring. His wife, Sarah was 10 years younger than Abram. So, when Sarai was 65 years old, God promised that Sarai would have a baby. Can you believe that? Sarai and Abram were too old for childbearing. We all know that there is nothing too hard for God. We know that nothing is impossible with God. But… Well… They are too old…
This promise was first made to Abram when he lived in Mesopotamia. It must have been difficult for Abram to believe it. It might have gone in one ear and out the other. At first, Abram paid no attention to God’s promise for having a baby. He might have forgotten about it immediately. But in Genesis chapter 12, God repeated the promise to Abram while he was living in Haran. In fact, Abram didn’t start as a giant of faith. He grew in faith and obedience little by little, inch by inch.
In Genesis chapter 15, God confirms the promise with Abram. 10 years have passed since God promised Abram that Sarah would have a child. But nothing happened. Abram became 85 years old. Sarai became 75 years old. We can guess that Abram shared God’s promise with Sarai 10 years ago. When Sarai first heard about God’s promise to give her a son, she might have hoped for a baby. Perhaps, she waited excitedly for one year. She still could look forward to having a baby for two more years. But even if five years passed, nothing happened. Perhaps, Sarai began to doubt. She was disappointed. And yet she might have decided to wait a few more years. Almost ten years passed. But still nothing happened. She ended up falling into despair. She almost gave up on having a baby. Sarai had no hope for the future.
But amazingly, in ten years, God appeared again in a vision and said to Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
I’m sure that Abram appreciated this promise from God. But at the same time, in a sense, it sounded empty to Abram. In reply, Abram might have said to God, “What good is it that you are my shield and reward? The only thing I’ve wanted in my life is a son. But where is the son you promised me? I want the son you promised to give me!”
And God said to Abram, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” God confirmed the promise with an illustration. Abram looked up. He could see very many stars in the sky. There were so many stars that nobody could count them. God told Abram that nobody would count his descendants because they would be so many.
Abram was almost losing hope for a son. At that moment, Abram encountered God in a vision. Abram felt confident that God would keep His word because of such a spectacular experience. But I am not sure whether or not Sarai felt the same way. She might have said to Abram, “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. See what happens. I hope that this won’t turn out to be an empty promise.”
And then, in Genesis chapter 17, God reaffirmed the promise with Abram. God reminded Abram of His promise to give him a son when he was 99 years old. God appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” God reminded Abram He had not forgotten the covenant(the promise). It had been almost 25 years since the promise was first made.
In Genesis chapter 17 verse 17, we can see Abraham laugh at God in disbelief in response to God’s “ridiculous” promise. In Genesis chapter 18 verse 12, Sarah also laughed at the fulfillment of God’s promise. They both laughed. They had waited for 25 years. They had waited long enough for God’s promise. They would say, “Enough is enough!” We can understand their response. Brothers and sisters, have you ever laughed in response to something God promised to you? Or have you ever wanted to laugh, but hid your true feelings from God? Have you? I have..
When I was 24 years old, God appeared to me and said, “You’ll be a great man of faith. I’ll use you greatly.” And when I was 29 years old, God said to me, “No longer will you be called George. You will be Joshua. You will follow the example of Dwight Lyman Moody, an American evangelist and publisher. I’ll send you to America.” When I was 39 years old, God said to me, “I’ll send you to Japan. You’ll plant a church in Japan. The church will be kind of a multiethnic, multiracial, and multicultural church.”
Now, I’m a middle-aged man, living in Japan. I’m just a mere missionary. I’m not a great man of faith. I’m leading a small multi-ethnic group called “Rejoice.” We have only 10 people, Americans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Austularians, and Koreans… It’s just a very small gathering. It’s not a so-called church. It has been almost 30 years since I first heard of God’s promise. Many times, I grumbled. I doubted. I was tired of waiting. I was disappointed. I even laughed at God in disbelief because nothing had happened. And yet I still trust in God, the Promise-Keeper. I’m still waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to me.
Anyhow, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham when he was 100 years old. God kept His promise. We know that It took a long, long, time(25 years) for the promise to come to pass, but God was faithful to His promise. God’s promises never fail.
Brothers and sisters, God still promises to make us a great man of faith or a great woman of faith. But God can’t make a great man of faith or a great woman of faith overnight. It takes years of God’s work in us, years of almost mundane, ordinary, and even boring Christian life. Usually, we have a few spectacular and amazing encounters with God in our lifetime. Probably, once or twice? At most, three times? And the truth is that God keeps promises. Our God is the Promise Keeper. I pray that you would hold on to God’s promise until it comes true. Don’t give up! Never ever give up! Let us pray.
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