Reflections on the 2002 theme for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Copyright (c) 2001, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Used by Permission
Theodore W. “Ted” Schroeder
“Making Christ Known” has been the ongoing theme of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for several years. It expresses in just a few words the overall mission and purpose of this church. Certainly, the proclamation, sharing, telling, communicating of the Good News about Jesus Christ is the very heart of what we as a church are called to do. Under the overarching theme have been annual themes that have focused on aspects of the call to make Christ known.
Theme for 2002
In 2002, the focus of that making known of Christ is expressed in the words “Promise for a New Day.”
Though the phrase does not appear in the Bible, the words pick up several important elements of God’s relationship with people and help us remember the hope that God’s saving acts among God’s people brings.
Promise is a powerful word in the Holy Scripture. In fact, God might indeed be called a “promising God.” Much of the revelation about God in Scripture tells of God’s promises, God’s intention to keep God’s promises, and God’s fulfillment of those promises.
The biblical record sees a promise as something fundamental to God’s action toward and on behalf of people (Psalm 126:2). In the Old Testament, a promise is never casual, always relational, always future or forward looking (1 Corinthians 1:20), and always of benefit to the receiver of the promise (Psalm 18:30). In addition, because the promises of God are dependable (2 Samuel 22:3: Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:20; 1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 10:23), they form the basis of hope (Jeremiah 29:10‑11).
Scripture reveals God promising many things:
- Blessing (Deuteronomy 15:6)
- Care and protection (2 Samuel 22:31)
- Presence and peace (1 Kings 8:6)
- The land as an inheritance (1 Chronicles 16:14)
- Salvation (Psalm 119:4)
- Redemption and life (Psalm 119:154)
- Return from exile (Jeremiah 29:10)
- A future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11)
And many more.
Many of God’s promises were given to or through individuals:
- Noah received God’s promise to the world that there would not be another great flood (Genesis 5:21).
- Abraham heard a promise that his descendants would be great (Genesis 17:6‑7) and that he would have a son, even in old age (Genesis18:14).
- Jacob was told he would receive God’s protection (Genesis 28:13‑15).
- Solomon asked for and received wisdom (1 Kings 3:1‑9).
- David was promised greatness (2 Samuel 7:21‑29).
- Isaiah was promised forgiveness (Isaiah 6:7).
- God’s presence and deliverance came to Moses as he prepared to lead the people out of Egypt (Exodus 23:12) and to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:8) as he was called to be a prophet.
Many of the biblical promises were more like agreements. They were formal promises called covenants. Though some covenants were between people (e.g., the covenant between David and Jonathan [1 Samuel 18:3], the marriage covenant [Genesis 2:24]) a covenant usually had these characteristics:
- It was offered by God to a person or a people (Genesis 17:2; Exodus 6:4).
- It was for the benefit of those who received the covenant. It guaranteed their future by binding God to blessing and protection through the promise (Luke 1:54).
- It anticipated a response of obedience and faithfulness on the part of those who received the promise (1 Kings 8:6).
- It often was sealed with a sacrifice (Deuteronomy 26:1‑4).
God offered the divine covenant, the covenant that established the very identity of the people of Israel, to Abraham and to his descendants: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2‑3).
The covenant at Sinai formalized the agreement and bound the people of Israel into a special relationship to God (Exodus 20‑24; Deuteronomy 4:13). Reminding God’s people of that covenant became a principal message of the prophets, who constantly called upon a wayward people to “remember the covenant” that God had made with them (Isaiah 24:5; Hosea 6:7).
The promise that God would “remember” the covenant became an important foundation for the hope of God’s people, especially as they looked forward to release from the exile (Jeremiah 29:10‑14) and of the coming Messiah (Jeremiah 33:14‑15).
The New Testament sees the principal promise in the Old Testament as the promise of a Messiah—a Savior who would fulfill all of God’s promises and bring all of the blessings that God had promised in the first covenant. The Messiah would be the one who would be able to keep the covenant and guarantee the promised salvation for God’s people (Psalm 2:2; 45:2; 110; 119:41; Isaiah 40; Jeremiah 23:5; Micah 5:2; and many others).
For this reason, Jesus calls his promise of the “kingdom”—of salvation, of God’s blessings (a promise sealed by his own death and resurrection)—a “new covenant” (Matthew 26:28; 2 Corinthians 3:6).
This new covenant has some of the characteristics of the old (i.e., it is relational, dependable, given by God, for the benefit of those who receive), but it is no longer a covenant that depends upon the obedience of those who receive the covenant. The obedience already has been completed (Hebrews 8:8; Jeremiah 31:31‑35). The covenant already has been established forever by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:10). The blessings are secured (Acts 2:39).
We who receive that covenant live in the grace and forgiveness it brings. We are made into a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We live in the promise and hope that Jesus offers (Ephesians 2:12‑20). Because we are now the ones who are loved and redeemed (John 3:16), we are those who live a new life in Christ (Colossians 4:17‑32).
A principal feature of that new life is our ability to look to the future in hope (Romans 5:1‑5).
Of a New Day
One way to express that hope based on promise is that it looks forward to a new day.” Though the words do not occur together in the Bible, “newness” is an important feature of what Jesus has won for us in his death and resurrection. The Old Testament promises look forward to the newness that the Messiah will bring. Jeremiah looks for the day of the “new covenant” that will feature the law of God written in the hearts of God’s people as they receive the gift of forgiveness (Jeremiah 31:31‑43). Ezekiel sees the Messiah bringing unity and a “new spirit” (Ezekiel 11:19‑20).
In line with those Old Testament expectations, Jesus promises us many things. In fact, he promises that God will supply us with whatever we need (Matthew 7:7‑10). But, principally he promises his eternal presence with us and an eternal purpose for our lives (Matthews 28:18‑20).
Because of Jesus’ promise we look forward to the coming of the Spirit (the Advocate or Comforter) who will “teach us all things” (John 14:26). We depend upon the promise of the gift of eternal life (John 3:16) and we anticipate the coming of a “new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:12).
We enjoy a forward–looking anticipation that God will keep God’s promises to us (2 Peter 1:3‑4) because we know that all of God’s promises in Christ are a “yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Interestingly, the “day of the Lord” often is described in scripture as a day of judgment, a day to be feared (Malachi 4:1 and 5; Zephaniah 1:14; Romans 2:5; Revelation 6:17). But Jesus transformed God’s day. Now the day of the Lord is a day of hope (1 Peter 1:3‑7). We look forward to a completion of the newness that we can see only dimly now (1 Corinthians 13:12).
We look forward to the fulfillment of the promise to make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5), a time when there will be a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).
Standing confident in that promise, we look toward the future in hope. In spite of the gloom that the world often spreads over the future, in spite of the fear that surrounds us, in spite of the words of doom that fill the media, we face the future with faces lifted up, with hearts open, with hands at the ready to do the work we are called to do.
We face the future eager to get on with the task to “make Christ known,” because in him we have received that sure promise that offers hope for a new day—this day and every day into God’s future.
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children (Revelation 21:5‑7).
O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.