2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

index

Sermon Ideas For 2 Samuel 7:1-16 Part 1

Promise and Fulfillment

Can God be trusted to keep a promise? An opinion survey would likely show an overwhelming majority of Christians voting "yes." Such statistics are hardly conclusive: Respondents to polls are apt to say what they think their opinion should be rather than what it actually is. Truth be told, it is not unusual for Christians to experience moments of doubt. Prayers seem to go unanswered, bad things happen to good people, hopes are dashed—all too often. What then is the church to say about God's promises and their fulfillment?

God's promise of steadfast, saving love is a particularly prominent feature in church teachings, e.g., the doctrines of Scripture, Christ, Salvation, and Hope. Here, as in Christian life overall, instances of anxiety as well as confidence regarding the fulfillment of God's promises are recorded. To affirm confidence in the trustworthiness of this promise despite all doubts, fears, and even apparent non-confirmations has led Christians to take into account that the fulfillment of God's promises comes in a time and manner of God's own choosing.

A case in point is the passage in Samuel in which God, through the prophet Nathan, promises David that his house will endure forever. Viewed in historical context, it clearly reflects the conviction that the Davidian dynasty is to rule the people of God by divine right and under divine protection. This conviction was controversial from the start. Events to follow—dynastic turmoil, foreign conquest, exile, the challenges and misfortunes of post-exilic life—prompted various responses. While some despaired of the promise, others hoped against hope for its fulfillment, if not right away then perhaps at a future date, or if not literally then perhaps in an extended sense.

Christian interpretations of the promise to the house of David developed first within and thereafter alongside those of Jewish tradition. New Testament references to the Davidic descent of Jesus, to the title "Son of David," and to the mocking placard "King of the Jews" placed on the cross by the Romans are well-known examples of the on-going influence of this theme. Other effects, less obvious yet more pervasive, include the use of governmental and indeed pointedly monarchical images in Christian views of the fulfillment of all God's promises. It is said, e.g., that God is sovereign, that the coming of Jesus Christ, scion of the David, inaugurates the reign, rule, or "kingdom" of God, that with his second coming the kingdom will come in its full glory, and that the people of God—in the church, Jew and Gentile together—are a people, a nation, a "race," or a citizenry of a government ordained by God.

By means such as these Christians reaffirmed their continuity with the faith in the promises of God to which "prophets of old" gave witness. Yet it was not a continuity without change, for church teaching was that in Jesus Christ the promises of God were not only reconfirmed but already being fulfilled. These views of "royalist" prophecy brought with them renewed confidence and hope in God's promise of steadfast and saving love.

Variations on royalist themes passed over from the New Testament era to the history of the church and its theology. The title "Son of David" took its place in the doctrine of the person of Christ, as did "prophet, priest, and king" in the doctrine of the work of Christ. Depictions of a final (royal) judgment and the "new Jerusalem" are part and parcel of Eschatology, the doctrine of hoped-for "last things." Augustine set a pattern for placing both the Christian life here and now and the Christian hope for the future in the context of divine providence by speaking of "the city of God."

In linking the Davidic promise with God's saving love in Jesus Christ, the church has often acknowledged the limitedness of royal imagery. Jesus sought no political control for himself, his relatives, or others; the "kingdom of God" is unlike all-too-worldly realms, neither based on territorial or ethnic or national "manifest destiny" nor upheld by power politics or tyrannical fear. In these respects, and others, God's promise of steadfast, saving love finds fulfillment in a time and manner of God's own choosing. Yet the limitations of royalist imagery have not always been observed. Exclusivistic and even imperialistic extensions of the theme are commonplace. The former has included claims that due to Jesus Christ, God's promises to the Jews are now obsolete, abrogated, or transferred to Christianity. The latter finds illustration not only in the history of Christian hostility toward the Jews but in world history from the time of Constantine on, as both Christian churches and Christian states laid claim to sovereignty over lands, peoples, and resources—in God's name.

Although cautionary alerts about "royalist ideology" in Christian doctrine are not new, they appear in contemporary theology with increasing frequency. Some suggest that perhaps such imagery can be used in ways free of unwelcome exclusivistic and imperialistic overtones. Fearing this is impossible, others urge that Christians draw instead upon other biblically-based terms altogether in order to express their confidence and hope in the fulfillment of God's promises. Considering the love of God in Jesus Christ, such proposals are not to be taken lightly.

By the same token, care is in order, lest one theological point common to Judaism and Christianity be overlooked. Although confidence and hope in God's promise of steadfast, saving love are "spiritual" matters, they are of decisive consequence for this-worldly realities. Coming to fulfillment in a time and manner of God's own choosing, the promise points to the "rule," by divine right and under divine protection, of peace and justice and blessing. Its fulfillment in Jesus Christ is salvation not only for individual souls but for social and indeed political relations among the world's peoples. The Advent reading of God's promise to David witnesses to the enlarged scope of God's steadfast and saving love.

James O. Duke