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The Unrecognized Promise to David

Sermon passage: (Acts 13:23-37) Spoken on: June 16, 2013
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Acts

Tags: Acts, 使徒行传

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Sermon on Acts 13:23-37

I recently heard a fascinating story about a shopkeeper. This shopkeeper needs a large sum of money on the first Monday of every month, perhaps for his rent, his inventory cost and everything else. But he was really worried one particular Monday because sales had been really slow the previous month. That day was the monthly payment Monday, and it was getting late, but he was still short of $74,000. Just as he was panicking and desperately thinking of solutions, a man walked into the shop. “Hi, do you recognize me?” the man asked. “I’m sorry, but I really do not recognize you,” the shopkeeper replied. The man then said, “Well, I entered your shop five years ago. But that day, I’m embarrassed to say, I was unable to buy anything because I could not afford it. You however did not despise me, and instead encouraged me by saying, ‘Not to worry, there will come a day when you can afford anything you want in this shop.’ At that moment, I made a promise. One day, I will come back to you when my fortunes have changed. One day, I shall return. Today is the day. Sell me the most expensive item in your shop, I want to keep my promise and buy it from you.” The shopkeeper was shocked. “Sir, I really don’t recognize you, nor remember our promise. So, you don’t really need to do this. But if that is your wish, this is the item and it cost $37,000.” Not only did the man buy it, he also brought along a friend who bought the same item. That day, the shopkeeper sold two of his most expensive item, earning $74,000, and it was just enough to resolve his liquidity crisis. True story. Who would have thought that a man and a promise that was unrecognized, would become the salvation at his most desperate moment? Who would have thought?

Like this story, today’s passage is also about an unrecognized promise. More than 1000 years ago, like a good love story, David wanted to do something for God, to build a house, a temple for God. He asked Nathan the prophet. Nathan said, well it’s a good idea, I don’t see why not. But that night, God said no. David would not be building a house for God. Instead, God would build a house for David. Let’s revisit this promise in 2 Samuel 7:11, “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” This is the promise, a promise about a kingship that will last forever. And now, Paul declares, that promise is fulfilled in Jesus. In verse 23: “From (David)’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” Again, he repeats himself in verse 32: “32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” Paul was talking about the promise found in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus are the fulfilment of this very promise. In our message to you last week, we told you that the gospel is about Jesus being the promised king. Today, our aim is to carefully analyse this claim.

But first a disclaimer, why do I call this promise unrecognized? This passage in 2 Samuel was a familiar passage to most Jews. It was why they held the Temple in high regard. It was why they longed for the return of a Davidic king. It was true that the Jews were anticipating a Messiah. It was why John the Baptist had to tell them, “I am not the one you are looking for.” Yes, they were looking for someone, someone in relation to the promise in 2 Samuel 7. But though they were looking, they could not recognize anything because they were not looking for the right things. They were blinded by their misconceptions of what the saviour should be like, and what the salvation should be. They were looking for a king with the military strength to overthrow the Romans. They were looking for a kingdom with a dynasty that would last for generations. And so, they did not fully recognise the promise. And so Paul tells us, that “27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus.” It wasn’t that they did not know who Jesus was. But that they did not recognize that he was the Saviour. They did not see any fulfilment of the promise in him, for they did not truly recognize the promise itself in the first place.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not be hasty in judging the oversight of these first-century Jews. Luke 23: 34 Jesus said (on the cross), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The skepticism of their minds had been entrenched by centuries of false prophets; the insensitivity of their hearts hardened by decades of fake Messiahs. There were many false alarms before Jesus, and there will be many that come after. Even in Acts 13 itself, we have a Bar-Jesus who was a false prophet. How many Bar-Jesuses must they sift through, to recognize the true Jesus himself? And so even though they had John the Baptist as the herald, and “the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath”, they failed to recognize the promise, they failed to see its fulfilment. Sometimes I wonder, in the midst of pastors who fall, and church leaders who stumble, will we not become increasingly cynical about the promises of God? And if God sends his salvation to us, can we recognize it? Can we still trust and believe? On one hand, it is a good thing that we now practice greater discernment about the interpretation of God’s word. But on the other hand, I wish to offer a reminder today, a reminder that will serve as a doorstop, so that our guarded hearts will remain open towards the fulfilment of God’s words, whenever and whatever they might be. Let’s be reminded that recognizing Jesus was never easy in the first place, he was a rebel who broke the Sabbath, and a blasphemer who disturbed the temple. We too might have condemned Jesus, unless we were led to see and recognize the promise for ourselves.

So let’s look at the promise again. I believe the key phrase is in verses 13 and 14. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. On first impression, this seems to be about King Solomon, the one who would build the temple, and the one who came directly after David. But the temple and the dynasty ended with the fall of Judah. What happened to the promise of “forever”? Verse 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. The love was withdrawn and the house of David collapsed at the exile. I ask again: What happened to the promise of “forever”? Paul was indirectly hammering on this point. Therefore, this promise is to be recognized differently. It would be fulfilled in a radically different way.

To demonstrate the fulfillment of the promise, Paul threaded together 3 different separate verses of the Scriptures. The first comes from the royal Psalm 2: 6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” 7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. In this psalm, it describes the anointing of a king, one who would be the son of God. Then Paul mentioned another promise to David, this time from a prayer and thanksgiving Psalm 16: 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. In these two Psalms, you have 2 promises to David. On one side, you have the inauguration of a king, and on the other, the salvation of a king. This king will not die. He will be at the right hand of God. While the first promise was fulfilled when David replaced Saul as the King of Israel, Paul highlighted that the second promise remains incomplete because David did see decay. In our passage today, verse 36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. So, what now? It may have seemed like these promises to David ended when David died.

Paul resolved this with the introduction of a third promise found in Isaiah 55. ““Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! 3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” This promise is an open invitation to all, and hence it seems like the promises to David are now open and transferable. They can be fulfilled in another person. There can be another that will reignite this everlasting covenant between David and God. There will be another that will receive “the holy and sure blessings promised to David.” And in the narration of the story of Jesus, Paul declared that this person is Jesus. Why is Jesus the one?

Paul did this with the clever use of the Greek word “Egeiren”. The word literally means “to awaken”. Starting from Acts 13: 23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. The words “brought to” is “Egeiren” which means “to awaken”. Paul was saying that that God has awakened the royal line of David in giving them Jesus, who is a descendent of David. The seed that was dead is now alive! Then Paul used the same word in verses 30 and 37, 30 But God raised him from the dead, and 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. Just as how the broken line of David was awakened, Jesus was also awakened from the dead in his resurrection. So this is how it all comes together, and this is how Jesus is the one who truly fulfilled the promises to David. In Luke 3: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At the baptism of Jesus, he was confirmed as the royal son of God as promised in Psalm 2. The seed of David was awakened. And then at the resurrection of Jesus, when he was raised and awakened from the dead, he was vindicated of his royal identity because he fulfilled the promise of Psalm 16 by seeing no decay. The life of the eternal throne was awakened. When we first analyzed the promise of 2 Samuel 7, the promise of an everlasting kingship was seemingly impossible. But now, Paul has confirmed its fulfillment for us, Jesus who has conquered death and reigns at the right hand of God has fulfilled it. It is only when we recognize the true meaning of the promise, then we can recognize its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Today’s message is about a promise that is fulfilled by God. As I reflect on this promise-fulfillment saga, a story that spans over a thousand years, I wonder what was it like for Paul’s audience to hear it for the first time. I think it is inevitable for some to be sorely disappointed. The promise wasn’t fulfilled according to their desires. The salvation of Jesus doesn’t really appeal to the Jewish national pride or the yearning for national independence. Let’s be realistic about the nature of our salvation. We often think that our faith is rejected because others haven’t heard or fully comprehend our message. That may be true at times. But it is also perhaps the case that they have heard us, but they don’t want it. The message contradicts their desires. I think we have to accept that as part of human free will. The last thing we want to do is to twist the truth to fulfill human desires.

On the other hand, I think that this message of salvation speaks to those whose desire lies in a restored relationship with God. The greatest pain of the fall of Judah is not the physical suffering, but the broken state of the covenant between God and his chosen people. The return of the law under Ezra, and the rebuilding of the Temple under Nehemiah may have given them hope. But they are nothing in comparison with the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus wasn’t just anointed as king; he is also resurrected to rule for all eternity. And this kingship is more than just a symbolism of power. It represents the covenantal relationship of God. God kept his promise to his chosen people. It represents love.

But what about us Gentiles? In verse 16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! Again it is stated in verse 26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. Today’s message is also for the earnest seekers of God. You believe there is a God. You want to worship. You fear him. But you may feel that you lack the knowledge of his will. If there is a God, how can I truly know him? If there is a God, what is the way to go? If that is your desire, then this gospel is for you. In our faith, we don’t have idols to represent God. We don’t use signs and wonders to prove to you that there is God. In our faith, our gospel is that God is a promise-keeper. Jesus is the promised one. If you are a God worshipper and a God fearer, you want to know God and his will. Then this is the good news. Jesus is the good news for you.

In the movie, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, there was a scene where the humans were getting ready for a siege battle with the orcs. Then came my favourite scene of the movie.[1] An army of elfs marched into the castle. The leader of the elves Haldir: I bring word from Lord Elrond of Rivendell. An Alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago we fought and died together. We come to honor that allegiance.
Aragorn: Mae govannen, Haldir. You are most welcome.
Haldir: We are proud to fight alongside Men once more.
This is my favourite scene because I believe there is something honourable and touching about keeping promises. The elves and the humans were not communicating for a long time. The elves live long lives in seclusion and they did not have to care. But in the face of danger, they have chosen to honor the alliance and come to fight together. That day, the relationship is restored and they come together as one.

In the end, whether you are a Jew or Gentile, we believe a common truth about relationships. It is not the physical things we own that determine our love. Neither the Temple nor the promised land is good enough to bind the covenant. It is also not a calculation of the gains and toils, of the benefits and the spoils. A relationship can break and all the good times will count for nothing. But we believe a common truth. That when we come eventually to keep a promise, no matter what happens to just keep the promise, that relationship remains alive. Brothers and sisters, this is the relationship you have with God. In Jesus you know, your God is a promise-keeper.