REAL HOPE FOR EVERYONE
Dear Christian friends,
A man went to a little league game one day. He asked the boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, “18 to nothing.” The man replied, “I bet you are discouraged.” The boy responded and said, “No! Why should I be? We haven’t even gotten to bat yet!” That’s optimism! That’s hope. People full of hope are fun to be around.
The word “hope” is a difficult word to define. In fact, we use it in different ways. “Hope” is a name for a person. We also use the word in almost opposite ways. If a student says, “I hope I pass the test,” the student seems to be very unsure. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. There is a good amount of uncertainty. When the Bible uses the word “hope,” there is no uncertainty about it at all. An example - “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” Jesus is not a “maybe or maybe not Savior.” There is nothing uncertain about him. He is our hope.
I saw a definition of the biblical use of hope. I liked what the person said. “Hope is supreme confidence which arises from trust in Christ, that in no circumstances will the Christian be ashamed of that which he trusts; a confidence which tribulations only strengthens.” Christianity is a religion of hope. Hope for the Christian is not just a trendy catch phrase. It is grounded in certainty.
In Advent the theme is that our hope is coming. We await his coming. Whether people know it or not, Jesus provides “Real Hope for Everyone.” 1) He is the hope revealed in the Scripture; 2) A hope given to us by the Holy Spirit; 3) A hope for all people.
Jesus is the Hope who is revealed in the Scripture. Jesus came. He went from place to place and taught and preached. Jesus chose twelve to be close to him. There were some who were very different from each other. Some were fishermen. He had a tax collector. There was a political zealot. One was a thief. They came from Judea and Galilee. When Jesus completed his mission, He entrusted the twelve to carry on telling that Jesus brings hope to the world. The Lord gave marching orders. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What does the church look like today? The church looks kind of chaotic. The church contains people from every language, tribe and nation. We don’t speak the same language. We don’t wear the same clothes. We don’t have the same skin color. But there is a huge common need. We need forgiveness. We are all sinners. Our Savior who fills that need. All else fades into the background.
We also have the need to know more. The hope that Jesus brings can’t fade. We need to be strengthened. God gave us this book. It has been translated into all kinds of languages but it is about Jesus. It is about hope. Paul writes and says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Remember that when Paul wrote this letter, only the Old Testament existed. But it was there to instruct and to teach. It taught and explained why things are the way they are; why humanity needed hope; how the perfect became imperfect. The Scriptures explained how sin came and the dire straits sin put the world in. The Scriptures teach why we die and why we need hope.
The Scriptures also teach us to endure. They teach us not to give up, not to despair. The Lord didn’t give up on us. He promised a solution. He was the solution. He gives us hope. Hope is not in humanity to change and make things better. The Hope is in Jesus who was promised to be the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is the one who would stand in for us. The one who “was pierced for our transgressions, who was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He forgives sin. He gives hope.
It is remarkable how the Bible identifies Christian hope with the person and work of Jesus. Paul says earlier in this letter, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” We won’t face an angry and just God. We have peace. We are at peace. We have hope.
Hope spills out all over when we read the word. Here are phrases, “the hope of the gospel,” “the hope of the promise,” “the hope of our calling,” “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven,” “our hope of glory,” “hope of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “that blessed hope,” “the hope of eternal life,” “the full assurance of hope,” “the hope we have as an anchor,” ‘a living hope.” I repeat when the Bible uses the word hope, it is not a pious wish. It is sure confidence of peace in the present and in the future because of Jesus. Time spent in the Scripture is time very well spent. The Scripture reveals hope.
The Bible is an amazing book. It has survived throughout time in spite of the fact that public book burnings have taken place in many a town square. The Bible served as kindling for those fires. It survives through all kinds of criticism. Even today critics have dedicated their lives to destroy the credibility of the Bible. Yet the Bible survives and guides many a life.
The circulation of the Bible is also incredible. No other book permeates the world like the Bible. Some countries forbid entry. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. It is always the best seller.
It has an influence on people like no other. About what other book will people say, “I was going down the wrong road; I was an addict, an alcoholic, I was a menace to society until I read the Bible?” I have never heard that about Gone with the Wind or John Grisham! In my years of ministry, I have come across a number of people who have said they had opinions about the Bible that were not good, but realized that they needed to read it. So they read it so they could speak more clearly and persuasively against it, but when they read it, their minds were changed.
Do you know why? The pages of Scripture are not just a bunch of pages with a bunch of words in it; they are God’s words. God the Holy Spirit gives power to those words. God calls it the power of God unto salvation to them that believe.
The Holy Spirit works in our hearts as we read the Scripture. The Spirit calls us from darkness to light. He makes people spiritually alive. That word is accompanied by God the Holy Spirit.
Martin Luther once wrote, “We must constantly handle, preach, bear and inculcate the Word until the Holy Spirit comes. There is no other way to achieve the desired end. To sit in a corner, to gape heavenward, and wait to see Him come is sheer folly. The Word is the only bridge and path by which the Holy Spirit comes to us.” The Holy Spirit working through the word connects us to Jesus who is our hope.
God intends his hope to be for everyone. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” For such a long time the Hebrew nation lived separately from all others. The plan to save humankind was there. The prophets made it known, but it needed to be fulfilled. When Christ came and died and rose again God wanted the world to know he is the Savior of all. He tells us he has forgiven each of us, now receive and accept each other. Jesus Christ is the hop of all nations.
Yet the Lord wanted everyone to know that the Christ was always that - for Jew and Gentile alike. Paul writes, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed.” God first made the promise to the Hebrew nation. They got to see the Savior like no other. The Savior walked and talked and taught among them. They heard him preach. They saw his miracles. They witnessed the prophecies fulfilled. There was no doubt that God wanted to give them hope.
But the Savior came for Gentiles too, everyone who is not a Jew. While religion so often keeps people apart, the Savior was sent to bring people together. He was sent to deal with humanity’s common problem and fill the need that every person has – the need for the forgiveness of sins.
The apostle quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures to prove that was God’s intent. “And, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” (Psalm 18: 49) Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” (II Samuel 22: 50) “And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” (Psalm 117:1) “And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Isaiah 11:10)
Today was the Founders Day parade for Johns Creek. I wish we had more people on our “float” to sing. But as we went down the street I could see what a melting pot our community is. People from the Far East, the Middle East, from south of the border. As we sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Oh, Come All Ye Faithful and O Come, O Come Emanuel, a lot of people sang with us. But I saw a couple of hijabs, but we got to sin to them too. I thank God for the opportunity we had to see all the people who are from the different parts of the world that live here.
When we look into the world we see so much disunity. Diplomats are always attempting to bring unity to a world that seems untamable. People sit across conference tables and spend hours and hours discussing things and hashing out this and that and don’t seem to get anywhere. Whenever the Olympics are held, people say that sports unites the world. I have been to concerts where the featured artist takes time to speak and says nothing unites people like music. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Where we need to go is to the manger and to the cross. That’s where everyone’s problem is addressed, not for the short term, but forever. That’s where we find hope, not for the short term but for eternity. That’s where real hope is found…for everyone.