For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 6:13-20 ESV)
Sometime between the middle of May and the end of June every year hundreds of thousands of high school and college students will come to the end of a process and graduate. At least, that’s what their parents dearly hope they will do. There is something rather deterministic about how most of us think about life: You are weaned at 6. Grade school ends at 12. High School must be done at 18. You graduate college by the end of your 22nd year so you can begin your career at 24. It is “normal” to be married (or living with…) by 30. Children are born by 36. I won’t go any further. It gets scary after that.
Is it healthy to think life that way? If Abraham had been a member of any of our larger Evangelical churches today, the pastors would have long-since written him off by the time God “began to work with him.” The fact is that God was working with him throughout his life. It was just hard to see most of the way. He was 75 when God first spoke to him and told him to leave Haran. He was in his late 80s when he had his first child, and that was a child of an adulterous affair suggested by his wife. He was 100 when he “received the promise” with the birth of Isaac. He lost his wife when he as 127, and he himself died at 175. You could say Abraham was a late bloomer.
Even if we use some silly formula and assume the length of his life was exaggerated (something I don’t subscribe to), assigning Abraham a modern life span of 80 years, he’s still a late bloomer. He would have first responded to God at 34, had his affair with Hagar at 39, had Isaac at 45, and died at 80 without ever really doing much else of consequence. Along the way he pulled a couple of other bone-headed plays that would have got him summarily ejected from most of our contemporary churches.
God’s promises don’t work on our timetable. The Apostle Paul was in his mid-30s when God seriously changed his life direction. He spent 14 years after that doing nothing more than “getting to know Jesus” in his life, and didn’t begin his ministry in earnest until he was probably 47. His fruitful years were between then and his martyrdom around age 65. Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms at 80. As far as we know, that’s the only really important thing that man ever did. But the common thread between them all is that God promised each of them something. And his promises are unalterable because he alone is able to swear by himself.
He has promised you something too. God says that Jesus will be your high priest forever. Honestly, his promises to you in Jesus are so vast that a library full of books couldn’t hold them.
The whole time I’ve been writing this morning an old hymn has been rattling around in my head. Wherever you are, whether you think you have a good voice or not, as you meditate on this passage from Hebrews, go find a quiet place and sing through the complete original text of How Firm a Foundation at the top of your lungs as an affirmation that you believe God for his promise to you in Jesus.
You will notice there’s no timeline even vaguely suggested, and the poet, a man known to us only as John Keith (or possibly Kirkham or Keene) doesn’t sugar-coat the experience of a life lived under the protection of God’s love and promises:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.