In Acts 26, as Paul is presenting his defense in the presence of Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, and the high-ranking officers of the city of Caesarea, he cites his “hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors” as the reason he is standing on trial:
And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve God night and day. Concerning this hope the Jews are accusing me, Your Majesty! Why do you people think it is unbelievable that God raises the dead? (NETAc 26:6-8)
Before leaders and authorities in whose hands Paul’s life, from a human perspective, hung in the balance, this man, who as an authorized representative of the crucified Messiah bore on his body “the marks of Christ” (Gal. 6:17), boldly declared that the one true God had made an unshakable promise to his ancestors, a promise for which he would rather die or remain in prison than deny. After all, at stake in this promise was the very overturning of death itself!
When we read the Scriptures, we quickly realize that the promise of God to which Paul was referring is tied to a grand narrative, a story, that spans from Genesis to Revelation. The story begins at Creation, when God makes the heavens and the earth in all their vast array. Tragically, human beings quickly rebel against God, which results in God’s Curse falling upon His good creation. Yet God doesn’t abandon His creation; through Covenants made with real people in real time and real space, he promises to save and restore it. In the first century, the story continues to unfold with full dramatic effect when God, in faithfulness to His promises, sends His Messiah the first time to die on the Cross as an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. But the Messiah doesn’t stay in the grave. On the third day He rises from the dead as a first-firsts of the resurrection. Then comes the Commission: “Repentance and the forgiveness of sins” are to be proclaimed “to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47). In the final chapters of the story, the narrative reaches its climax: A time of great Crisis comes to the earth at the end of the age, especially to the nation of Israel. At the end of this time of testing, however, the saints exchange their sufferings for a Crown when the Messiah returns in power and glory to raise the dead and set up His Kingdom! Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end!
In the mind of Paul and so many other saints throughout history, the promises that God made in context to His story were so reliable and trustworthy, and their fulfillment so certain, that they gladly embraced their status in this age as “the scum of the earth [and] the refuse of the world” (2 Cor. 1:20), knowing that one day their “momentary, light suffering” would be eclipsed by “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (NET2 Cor. 4:17). Their lives were anchored in the promises of God; God’s story had become their own. At the end of the age, the love and loyalty of God’s people will be tested at unprecedented levels. When those days come, will we find that the same is true of our own lives? If our lives are to be anchored in God’s story and promises then, we must allow God to anchor our lives in His story and promises now. This is the cry of our hearts at this year’s conference. We invite you to join us, and we look forward to fellowshipping with those of you who can attend.