Grace: Fulfillment May Take Time

— Henry Neufeld

Brothers, speaking of human terms, though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been confirmed, no one makes it void, or adds to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He doesn’t say, “To seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “To your seed,” which is Christ. Now I say this. A covenant confirmed beforehand by God in Christ, the law, which came four hundred thirty years after, does not annul, so as to make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by promise.         Galatians 3:15-18 (WEB)


I’m not interested so much in the details of interpreting this text but in the story behind it.  Probably 1800 years before the time of Jesus, God made some promises to Abraham, telling him that all the nations would be blessed through him.  As Paul points out in this verse, this promise didn’t see its fulfillment until 1800 years later when Jesus came, bringing the blessing of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation to the entire world.

For a small child, a wait of seconds can be a long time.  They ask for something, and when it doesn’t instantly appear they start to cry.  As we grow older, we get more patient.  I can wait for hours for my food!  For other things we wait much longer, but still we think that months or years is a terribly long time, even though it’s clearly in our lifetime.

But 1800 years?  That’s a long time.  And what if it doesn’t look like anything is happening?  What if it seems like something completely different is taking place?

After Abraham comes Isaac, and for years his wife Rebecca is barren.  When they finally do have children, one of them wants to kill the other.  Jacob has to flee the land of promise.  When he finally is back and has children they are driven by a famine to Egypt where they serve as slaves.

If you lived under slavery in Egypt, you might easily ask God, “When is the promise coming?  We seem to be heading in the wrong direction!”

So God brings his people out of Egypt and gives them a long and complicated law.  It takes serious effort for many of us to see what God was doing with Israel by giving them that law.  Now there is lots of deep meaning in it, but it takes some effort to understand it, and we know from history that many Israelites didn’t really get it.

If you were living in Israel in the time of the judges, while the people forgot God for generations at a time, you might have asked God, “What is going on?  Where is the promise?  Have you failed?

So we come to the ups and the downs of the kings.  David does great things, Solomon builds the temple, but even during his reign Israel starts to deteriorate.  For every king faithful to God there are several who are not.  Hezekiah reforms the nation, and then Manasseh takes it into greater sin that it had ever experienced before.

If you lived during the days of Manasseh, you might have asked God, “Don’t these revivals ever last?  What are you doing?  Where’s your promise?  How long do we have to wait?”

Then would come Josiah, and his reformation, less than a hundred years later.  “Great!  Now we’re getting there,” you might tell yourself.  But soon Josiah dies, Judah falls into even worse sin, Jerusalem is taken and the people go into exile.

If you’re an Israelite sitting in Babylon during the exile, you’d probably ask God what he was up to.  Has the promise failed?  Are we ever going to get there?

Then the people return from Babylon.  Now they’re ready to keep the law, but they’ve lost their sense of mission.  They’re happy just to live in Judea and keep themselves apart from the world.  This situation lasted for around 400 years.

If you lived during that time, you might ask God whether there was any way that his people could be ready for the savior to come.  What about the promise?  Will it ever be fulfilled?

Many of us are at one of these points.  We’ve lived through ups and downs in our ministries and in our churches.  We’ve seen revivals, and then we’ve seen them fade.  We’ve expected the soon coming of Jesus and then we’ve been disappointed.  We know that God has said that the gospel will be preached in all the world and then the end will come, but we just don’t see it happening.

Count on it!  Just as the promise to Abraham has been through detours, and even now is awaiting its final fulfillment through the lordship of Jesus Christ, so all of God’s promises will accomplish what God has sent them to do. Count on it!

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