2 Corinthians 1:20
Yes and Amen in Christ
We’ve all been there. Someone agreed to meet us at a place at a specific time. We arrive first at the appointed time, and we wait. And wait. And wait. Turns out they’re a no-show. Although they said they’d be there (perhaps even promising their presence), they were not faithful to their word. It doesn’t feel good to be stood up like that. You begin to even question their word and their trustworthiness. Perhaps you’ve been that someone. We all fail to keep our word. We promise one thing, and do its opposite, or fail to keep the promise. Even though for none of us can it be said that our promises are always “yes and amen,” Paul assures us that there is one in whom all of God’s promises are “yes and amen”: in Christ. Paul says this in his effort of defending his own word to the Corinthians. John Calvin aptly summarizes Paul’s application of the general truth to his own circumstance. Paul in effect says, “If the promises of God are sure and well-founded, my preaching also must of necessity be sure, inasmuch as it contains nothing but Christ, in whom they are all established” (Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Cor. 1:20). Since we addressed Paul’s defense last time, I’d like to focus on Paul’s more general statement than his specific application. Let’s ask three questions: (1) What promises of God are yes and amen in Christ? (2) How are God’s promises “yes and amen” in Christ? (3) Why are God’s promises “yes and amen” in Christ?
All. Paul is clear: every, single promise from God is confirmed and established in Christ. Paul has in mind all the promises of the Old Testament, and all those promises from the coming of Christ which God has given to His people in Christ. If you’ve read the Bible, there’s a lot of promise-making from God. He promises from beginning to end. We can look at any point in redemptive history and identify promises of God. Examine the covenants in Scripture, and you will see the manifold promises of God. Here are some highlights:
- Genesis 2:17: God promises his image-bearers eternal life upon obedience.
- Genesis 3:15: God promises Eve’s offspring freedom from sin and the serpent, and victory in the seed of the woman.
- Genesis 8:21: God promises Noah never to curse the earth again, but to sustain it while the earth remains.
- Genesis 12, 15, 17: God promises Abraham, the father of faith, that His people will cover the face of the earth.
- Exodus 6, 19: God promises Moses that His people will be delivered from oppression and slavery, and they will be set free to live rightly before His face.
- Psalm 89: God promises David the crushing of the enemy, the everlasting throne, and an established offspring forever.
- Jeremiah 31: God promises a full knowledge of Him with all the spiritual blessings of redemption realized for God’s people (cf. Eph. 1).
Those are the covenants. All but the first one (i.e., the Covenant of Works/Life), Paul refers to as the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12). When God covenants with His people, He makes essential promises. Look also at all the sacrifices, feasts, and holy days in the Old Testament. In the sacrifices, God promises satisfaction for their sins through the substitutionary atonement of an animal. He promises His goodness, provision, presence, and rule over their lives. In the feasts, God promises communion with His people, a sharing of life with His children. In the holy days, God promises sacred times of worship, communion, and rest. Finally, look at the prophets in the Old Testament. In the prophets, God promises His Word: the infallible, perfect, authoritative, and pure revelatory self-disclosure of God Himself. Much more can be said (and has been said!) about the many great and precious promises of our God, but above is a mere appetizer of His faithfulness throughout the Old Testament. In essence, God promises knowledge, life, salvation, communion, and rest, that they might worship Him truly.
What about the New Testament? Where’s Christ in all this? Jesus himself tells us that the whole Old Testament was about him. In Luke 24:27, Jesus speaks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interprets for the disciples all the things that the Scriptures had to say about him. Don’t we see all the promises above fulfilled by Christ? In Christ is life eternal (John 14:6). Christ is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Christ fulfills the Old Testament sacrifices, being the once-for-all-time atonement (Heb. 9-10). With Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Christ fulfills the promise of entrance into God’s presence, and sustained communion with God (1 Cor. 10:1-5, 16-17). Christ fulfills the promise of the full revelation of God’s Word (John 1:1). Christ fulfills the promise of rest (Matt. 11:28). To know Christ is to know the Father (John 14:7). In Christ all the promises of God are Yes and Amen!
But why Christ? Why not anyone else? Can’t all the promises of God be “yes and amen” in Paul? As much as some Corinthians would like to accuse Paul of that attitude, no. It’s at this point that we are reminded of the truth of Solus Christus: Christ alone. John Calvin says that the reason all these promises of God are “yes and amen” in Christ “is obvious. Every promise which God makes is evidence of his good will” (Institutes 3.2.32). How can God make good on all these promises? Is there anything in man that would ingratiate us to God and compel him to evidence his good will towards us? Nope. Does God depend on man to do his part to fulfill the covenants? If so, we’re of all men most to be pitied, because God would then be waiting forever for dead men to enliven themselves to His word and grace. But thanks be to God that the answer lies not in man but in the God-man, the only mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus is God’s answer to all the promises He has made to His people. Calvin reminds us that it is in Christ alone that the Father is propitious towards us. Trust in anything or anyone else must be answered with No and Nay. But if we are joined to Christ, then all the promises of God are always and forever “yes and amen” for us. Amen?