Do you know what the central promise in all the Bible is? I’ll give you a few hints. It is not “I will love you,” though God does that for sure. Neither is it “I will forgive you,” though we know that Scripture is ultimately a record of God’s work redeeming sinful humanity by His mercy and grace, through His Son Jesus. It is not even the promise of life after death, though I am certainly glad that we have that blessed assurance as well.
The most frequent promise in the Bible, made by God to His people, is: “I will be with you.”
Before Adam and Eve ever sinned or needed forgiveness, they were promised God’s presence. He would walk with them in the cool of the day. The promise came to Enoch, who “walked with God.” It was made to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David and Amos and Mary and Paul and too many others to list.
It is the reason for courage: “Do not be afraid…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” It kept them going in darkness: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me.”
God gave Israel the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant and the temple and a pillar of cloud and another one of fire, like so many Post-It notes that said, “Don’t forget. I am with you.”
When God Himself came to earth, His redemptive name was Immanuel–God with us. And before Jesus ascended to the Father, His promise to His disciples, then and now, was, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And as a promise for our future, at the end of time, when sin is a distant and defeated memory, Scripture tells us that it will be sung, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
What does all that mean to you and me in 2017? God’s promised presence, with us, is as certain as anything in our lives this week. No matter where we go, or what we do, or what we may face, God is with us. There is no reason to fear or fret, because we don’t have to face this world alone.
But like Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord, sometimes we miss Him. “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it,” he said (Genesis 28:16). Or like those disciples who walked with Jesus on the Emmaus Road an didn’t recognize Him in their midst, we might ask, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road…? (Luke 24:32) How easy it is, in the busyness of our business, to miss the Lord altogether.
My prayer for each of us is that we will take God at His promise, and experience the presence of the Lord this week, so that He impacts our lives. As the song we sing says, “Let us be more aware of Your presence.”
What a privilege it is to shepherd such a great church, and I look forward to seeing each of you on Sunday.