This New Year’s blog is a sequel to the last post on the same theme, “Our Hope in Christ.” As followers of Jesus, those of us who bear His divine name as “Christians,” we are supposed to be people of hope, people who have been “…born anew to a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:1).
Nothing is impossible for the God who created all things out of nothing (“ex nihilo” – see Genesis 1) by the power of His Word (“God said…” are the recurring words at each stage of creation, according to the Genesis account). Nothing is impossible for the God who brings life out of death! Therefore, as followers of Jesus Christ, “We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). The New Testament has a lot to say about hope, especially the letters written by the Apostle Paul, who was writing to believers in Christ’s Church during its infancy when the first disciples of Christ were experiencing intense persecution, including his own suffering and imprisonment. When Paul speaks of faith, he also often speaks of hope in the same breath, for the two are inseparably bound together. Because we are also people of hope, we are able to rejoice regardless of our circumstances, even in times of trouble and tribulation and when our faith is being tested.
Paul was in prison when he wrote his Letter to the Philippians, in which he says “Because of my chains, most of my brothers and sisters in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly…knowing that I am here for my defense of the gospel. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and HOPE that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:12-21). Time and time again in this one letter Paul gives his brothers and sisters in Philippi this kind of encouragement: “I hope in the Lord Jesus,” “I rejoice in what was suffered for you,” “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…Let the word of God dwell in you richly,” “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful,” “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” “You whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…you should stand firm in the Lord, my friends… rejoice greatly in the Lord…because I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.“
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul speaks more confidently and hopefully when he says “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Now if we are God’s children, then we are also heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us…We wait eagerly (i.e. hopeful waiting) for our adoption as sons and daughter of God” (or for our full inheritance, when our salvation is complete or perfected – Romans 8:16-23 and 1 Peter 1:3-13). “For in this hope we were saved (not “by” this hope, for we know we are saved “by grace alone, through faith alone” but “in this hope we were saved’). But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has (or what he can already see)? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24-25). Some critics and skeptics call this “pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye.” Remember though that the Apostle Peter calls this our “living hope,” the hope in which we live here-and-now despite what is going on around us in this broken world.
The events of 2018 alone were a sufficient reminder of this irrefutable fact. More and more people are feeling helpless and hopeless in these rapidly changing times when our national policies are changing drastically, our long-standing traditions are being either disregarded or even discarded, and all this has only served to reinforce a national and international mood of cynicism and pessimism. Well, what can we do as believers? Is there any hope of change for the better? Is there any real basis for hope in a world like ours? Well, that depends on our own attitudes and actions. I think most of us have always believed as Colin Powell said “Whatever is wrong today we will fix it, and we will be better tomorrow. We need to always be optimistic about what we are doing, and always believe in what we are doing. That’s how any organization runs successfully.” That’s how Colin Powell, a retired U.S. Army General, who also served as our nation’s Secretary of State, always taught his soldiers to think, and how he always trained his staff to think. However, we are living in a time when it is difficult to be optimistic. Difficult, but certainly not impossible with Jesus living in our hearts and the Holy Spirit controlling our minds and thought life.
There are far too many doomsayers predicting things that are going to get worse. Of course, that is not really a prediction – that is an attitude! Things may actually look worse tomorrow and we may have even bigger problems. Nevertheless, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must always seek to be optimistic and hopeful, helping others to understand that as long as there is life there is hope, and as long as there is hope there is life. There is no real basis for an attitude of true optimism in such perilous times as these without overwhelming confidence in the sovereignty of Almighty God, “our help in ages past and our hope for years to come” (one of the hymns of faith we sing as Christians). Why do we sing such hymns of faith in our worship services? It is because we are people of hope who know God will eventually make all things right (the Bible calls this “justice”). The forces of righteousness will ultimately prevail against all “evil powers and principalities,” all those empires and rulers who “love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19-21; see also Ephesians 6:10-18). Christ’s victory over evil, as the “Lord of the nations,” the promise of a “new creation,” a “new heaven and a new earth” is forever valid and trustworthy (i.e. worthy of our trust – Revelation 1:4-8, 21:1), for it is the ultimate purpose of God in history (i.e. in salvation history, “in Christ,” for all time and for all people) “…to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10).
Cynics may say we are just “hoping against hope,” for Christians have been hoping for the return of Jesus Christ for more than two thousand years. We forget that God is not a prisoner of time, as we are in this world where time is measured by the calendar. Biblically speaking, there is “chronos” time, the kind of time man can measure (i.e. “tick-tock” time), and “kairos” time, the kind of time that man cannot measure. It is time according to God’s sovereign will, time known only to God, who is the Creator of the time by which we live in this world. From the vantage point of eternity, the “eternal NOW” where there is no past, present, or future, it has only been two days since Jesus Christ came the first time (for as the Bible tells us, “A thousand years is as one day with God”). During the period of time between the first coming of Christ into the world and His second coming, when he returns to sit on “the throne of judgment” (i.e. for the judgment of all “the nations” – Matthew 25:31-46), “…the whole creation has been groaning in travail” (i.e. labor pains or birth pangs). In my previous blog I emphasized what God’s primary purpose is in history, which has remained consistent since the Garden of Eden: “giving birth” to a new species of men and women who have been “born anew” and “filled with the Spirit” – people around the world, people of all nations, all races, all cultures, who will have become “children of God” (John 1:11-13, 3:3-18). For they are the ones who will be world changers, light in the darkness, aliens in this world because they are “citizens of the kingdom of God,” agents of change looking forward to the “new creation” while working diligently for it, and waiting for it hopefully, confidently, and patiently.
The Apostle Paul had no illusions about the kind of world he was describing in his Letter to the Romans (Chapter 8), for he knew full well the power of the forces of evil that were then arrayed against Christ and His Church. But he also knew their power would not prevail against the followers of Jesus (Matthew 16:18-19 and Ephesians 6:10-18). This is a moral world, and evil is sowing the seeds of its own destruction (Galatians 6:7-10). The spiritual law of “sowing and reaping” is just as dependable and as inexorable as the physical laws that govern the whole of creation. So Paul’s world was (and forever is) one conquered by hope, rather than one ruled by anxiety, fear, despair, and hopelessness. So hear once again Paul’s declaration: “In hope we were saved.” Saved from what? Saved from despair, saved from fear, saved from the downward and backward pulls of life, saved from skepticism and pessimism, saved from a sense of helplessness in the face of issues that seem so overwhelming. Not saved from trouble, for Jesus said “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” Not saved from suffering and pain, but God has the power to transform suffering into grace. Saved from pessimism and cynicism. Not saved from disappointment, but saved for a life of faith and faithfulness to Jesus Christ, in whom there is no disappointment.
Finally, let it be understood that our hope in Christ is not fragile, but a hope that is solid and that has a sure foundation. A hope that is steadfast, that is the fulfillment of everything the human heart longs for, a purpose worth living for and dying for if necessary, a purpose that is worthy of us as persons made in the image of God, with Christ-like possibilities. There are two powerful forces at work in our world, and in our lives, and those two forces are the emotions that have been the focus of the two New Year’s blogs I have posted: HOPE and HOPELESSNESS. One is positive and one is negative. One is constructing and the other is destructive. One is healthy and the other is one of life’s deadliest diseases. It is our hope in Christ that sets us free from the latter, and enables us to be “made whole,” to live JOY-FULL and FULL-FILLED lives in this world, looking forward to the completion of our salvation in the life to come in the kingdom of God, when there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more separation, no more tears, and no more fears, for all these things will have passed away (Revelation 21). Therefore, let us rejoice, and again I say, rejoice!