By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Robeson was a famous American Negro singer back in the 30's and 40's. It was announced in London that his great singer would broadcast a concert from Russia where he was then living. The people of London filled the large concert hall to standing room only waiting to hear this broadcast. It was to begin right at noon, but as that moment came and announcer came on the stage, and people could tell by his face that he had bad news. "My friends," he said, "I have a very disappointing announcement to make to you. You have gathered here to listen to the beautiful music of Mr. Paul Robeson. But at the last moment word has come that the Russian authorities have decided not to permit him to make this broadcast."
A murmur of disappointment echoed across the hall from these expectant listeners. They were shocked by this announcement. But then the stage door opened and Paul Robeson himself walked in. The announcer was just as puzzled as the people. But then the crowd burst forth with delighted applause. Robeson explained in these words: "The Russian authorities refused to allow me to broadcast, and, rather than disappoint this audience, I hired a plane at my own expense and flew to London. I just landed at Croyden Field, got a taxi, and here I am. I never break a promise or disappoint an audience if it is humanly possible to keep and engagement."
In the world of entertainment where the theme is, "The show must go on," I am sure there are numerous stories of sacrifice and super-human efforts to see that promises are kept. Whatever the motive, many have said with Robert Frost:
The woods are lonely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Samuel Johnson commended Duke William III back in 1777 by saying of him, "If, for instance, he had promised you and acorn and none had grown that year in his woods, he would not have contented himself with that excuse; he would have sent to Denmark for it." We know politicians are notorious for breaking promises, but it is good to face the reality of the other side, and see that it is also true that many have been famous for keeping promises. Emperor Charles V promised Martin Luther safe conduct to his trial at Worms. His enemies tried to persuade the emperor that a promise to a heretic does not need to be kept. He refused to buy this and said, "Whatever promise has been made must be fulfilled."
The point of all this is that it can be established that even on a human level men can be faithful to their promises. How much more will God be faithful to His promises? An elderly Christian was in distress as he lay dying. He said to his pastor, "I have relied on God's promises all my life, but now in the hour of death I can't remember a single one to comfort me." The pastor knowing that Satan was trying to rob him of his faith said to him, "Do you think God will forget any of His promises just because you do?" A smile came over his face and he said joyfully, "No, no He won't!" He fell asleep in Jesus with peaceful assurance that God would keep all His promises.
One of Satan's most powerful weapons is to get Christians to doubt God's promises. One of the most dramatic true stories I have ever read of spiritual warfare over the promises of God is that of Roger Simons. He was hitching a ride home after he got out of the service. A big black Cadillac finally stopped and he hopped in. The driver was Mr. Hanover, a business man from Chicago. They talked about many things, and Roger felt the Holy Spirit urging him to witness. He resisted because this man was obviously rich, sophisticated, and worldly, and could care less what Roger thought about life and religion. But as they came closer to where he would be dropped off he felt the impulse to witness so strongly that he could not remain silent. He began to share his faith and what Christ had done for him, and to his surprise Mr. Hanover pulled off to the side of the road, and he prayed to receive Christ as his Savior.
Roger was soon let out by his home, and Mr. Hanover gave him his card and told him to come and see him if he ever came to Chicago. Roger had a lot of joy in being home and seeing his family, but no joy was greater than that of being used to lead another into the kingdom of God. Roger married and got into his own business. It was 5 years later when he had an occasion to go to Chicago. When he packed he found the card that Mr. Hanover had given him, and he decided that he would look him up.
When he got to the Hanover Enterprises Building he asked the receptionists if he could see Mr. Hanover. She said she would call Mrs. Hanover. He thought that was strange for he did not know her. Her first question to him was, "Did you know my husband?" Roger said, "Yes. I met him when he picked me up 5 years ago." She asked, "What day was that?" He thought for a while and remembered it was the day of his discharge. "May 7th," he replied. Mrs. Hanover was nervous and asked, "Did you talk of anything special?" Roger said, "Yes we did. I talked with him about his soul." Her lips began to tremble and she asked, "What was his response?" He said, "He pulled to the side of the road and gave his life to Christ."
Explosive sobs gripped Mrs Hanover and she let loose with a flood of tears. Roger was puzzled. Finally she got a grip on her emotions and explained that she had prayed for her husband for years, and she felt God had promised her he would be saved. Roger asked, "Where is he now?" She went on to tell him that he was dead, and that he died in an accident shortly after he let him out of the car. She said, "I thought God had not kept his promise, and I have been living for 5 years feeling that he let me down." God had been faithful to his promise, but she did not have the faith to believe. This has always been man's major problem. They will not believe God's promises. Adam and Eve were assured of the best possible life if they obeyed God, but they did not believe and that was the beginning of the problems of mankind.
God promised Israel the land flowing with milk and honey, but they did not believe and had to march in the desert for 40 years until all the doubter were dead. All through the Bible men are seen missing God's best because they do not believe his promises. The biggest and most central promise of all is the one Paul deals with in this introduction to the book of Romans. This one is also often missed, but Paul is called to take this promise to the Gentiles so that they might get in on it, and not miss out on the greatest promise ever given. It is the Gospel. It is the Gospel he promised through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures.
The Gospel is not something new. God's good news is as old as God's heart of love for man. He was promising man all through the Old Testament that He was sending a Savior into the world. No matter how awful life was in the Old Testament, the saints then had a foundation for optimism because God gave them a promise of good news. And when you can anticipate good news, you can handle almost anything. One of the first things Paul establishes is the continuity of the Old and the New Testaments. God never expected anyone to ever be saved by the law. It was faith in his promise that was always the basis for salvation. Salvation by faith has always been God's plan.
You cannot have faith without a promise. Faith has to have some ground to stand on, and that ground is the promise of God. Standing on the promises of God is the theme song of the saints of all time. God promised Adam and Eve that a seed would come from them that would crush Satan's head. God promised Abraham that a seed from him would be a blessing to the whole world. God promised David that his seed would rule in righteousness, and all the prophets pointed to the coming seed who would save the people of Israel, and the Gentiles as well. The entire Old Testament hope was based on the Gospel of God's promise. It is this promise that makes the Old and New Testaments one book. They are different in many ways, but the thread that sews them together as one is the promise of God.
The New is in the Old concealed.
The Old is in the New revealed.
The New is in the Old contained.
The Old is in the New explained.
After Jesus rose from the dead the first teaching he did was with the two on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:27 says, "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." Jesus said that he was the focus of the Old Testament promises, and that now he had fulfilled them. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews in John 5:39, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me." Jesus claims that the focus of the entire Old Testament was on him, and that he was the Promised One of God's Old Testament Gospel. Paul preached this to Jews and Gentiles alike in Acts 13:23 where he said, "God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised."
People often ask how people were saved in the Old Testament, and the answer is that they were saved the same as people in the New Testament. All people are saved by faith in the promise of God, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The great faith chapter of Hebrews 11 ends with these words in vv. 39-40, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." All the Old Testament saints were saved by faith in the promise of God that he would send a Savior, and all New Testament saints are saved by faith that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.
Two little girls were playing together and one said, "Lets count our pennies." The one counted and said I have five. The other put down the same number and said I have ten. The first girl protested and said, "You have the same number that I do." "I know," said the girl, "but my daddy promised he would give me five more when he came home from work, and so I have ten." She was counting what was promised to her, for she had faith to believe that she already possessed what was promised. This is how people were saved in the Old Testament. They had faith to believe the promise of God, and so they possessed the salvation he promised, even before it became an historical reality.
Now why does Paul make an issue about the Gospel of God being promised beforehand in the Old Testament, and why does he stress throughout the letter the continuity between the Old and New Testaments? The reason is clear as you go through the letter. Paul was writing in a context where racism and prejudice was even greater than they are today. Why would Paul in v. 16 say "I am not ashamed of the Gospel?" I was because many saw the Gospel as a Jewish religion, and they despised the Jews. And the Jews saw it as a perversion of Judaism and designed for the Gentile dogs. Paul's whole stress in this letter is that God does not have different strokes for different folks, but that all people are the same. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and all have only one way to be saved, and that is by faith in the promise of God.
One of the major purposes of this letter is to make it clear as crystal that all men are in the same boat, and that all are equally lost and all have an equal chance to be saved by faith. There is no special plan for the Jews, or some modified plan for the Gentiles. There is only one Gospel, and there is only one way for all men to get in on this good news, and that is by faith in the promise of God fulfilled in Christ. We enter the Kingdom by faith, we live by faith, we walk by faith, we work by faith, and we worship by faith. Faith in the promises of God is the foundation of all in God's plan.
When we cease to live by faith we become poor, negative Christians, and we lose the joy of our salvation. D. L. Moody said, "...if you would spend a month feeding on the precious promises of God you wouldn't be going about complaining how poor you are. You would lift up your head and proclaim the riches of his Grace, because you couldn't help doing it."
The Old Testament not only reveals the perpetual failure of man, but the perpetual faithfulness of God. He never forgot his promises, and he remained faithful to his people no matter how rebellious and disobedient they were. We need to keep in mind that there were also negative promises, and if they disobeyed they would be severely punished. These were also kept faithfully, and they suffered much judgment. A young boy was asked, "Did your father promise you something if you cut the grass?" He responded, "No, but he promised me something if I didn't." We will focus on the judgment later in Romans, but now we are focused on the positive promise of the Gospel.
Gen. 8:22 says, "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." God promised to be faithful just as surely as they could count on the seasons. Alice Mortenson wrote,
Like Seasons faithful in their change,
God's promises stand out
To cheer the earth-bound traveler on
That none may make him doubt.
Like A Rainbow in the eastern sky
When wind and cloud are still,
They span God's Word with beauty
And our whole horizon fill.
Like Stars upon a lonely night,
When hope seems almost dead,
They shine upon the Christian's path
And point to heaven ahead!
This theme of God's faithfulness to his promises is a major theme of Romans, for Paul is stressing how the Gospel of God was promised beforehand in the prophets. He is calling our attention to the fact that the New Testament has its roots in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is a crucial document that establishes that everything has been tried, and the conclusion is conclusive that man cannot save himself. He cannot even do it with God's help and God given tools like the law. Man just cannot do it.
If we did not have the Old Testament we could always wonder what if we had an all wise, powerful, and rich ruler? What if such a person could solve all the problems of man. Surely with such a leader we could save ourselves and establish a utopia. The fact is that Solomon was just such a man, and he did bring about a golden age to Israel. It was as good as it gets. But the bottom line is that it did not work. Solomon fell into idolatry and the whole kingdom was soon crumbling and again under the judgment of God. The best that man could produce, even with God's blessing, could not save man. His house of self-salvation came tumbling down like a house of cards in a storm.
If there is a lot about the Old Testament that you do not like, do not feel bad, for God did not like it either. His judgment was almost seasonal so frequent was it needed. All that man did failed, and even all the God did failed in the Old Testament. Nothing was able to save man from himself. The law, the sacrificial system, the ministry of priests and prophets, it was all to no avail in saving man. The only hope of the Old Testament was the promise of God to send a Savior into the world, and man's faith in God to keep this promise. God had to let man get all of his theories about saving himself out of his system before he sent his Son. Man in his stubborn pride thinks he can do it on his own, and so God had to give him every chance to do it his way to see how futile it was.
If God had not given his promise of a Savior there would have been only despair in the Old Testament. The only Gospel they had was the promise of God, and that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. Paul stood up in the synagogue at Antioch and said to the Jews in Acts 13:32-33, "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus." Paul goes further in I Cor. 1:20 and says, "No matter how many promises God has made, they are yes in Christ." In other words, every promise of God ever made is fulfilled in his Son the Lord Jesus.
In Jesus the age of promise became the age of fulfillment. But let us never forget that the promise was potent enough to save all who believed it. This is still relevant today because to live by faith still means to stand on the promises of God. J. Richie Smith said, "The Bible opens with the promise of the first coming of Christ and ends with the promise of his second coming, and all the way between is strewn with promises as sky is studded with stars." All of God's people of all time live on the same principle, and that is by having faith in the promises of God.