Hope is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. Without hope, all that we do and live for is pointless. Our hope is looking forward to eternal life in heaven. Our eyes should not be fixed on the here and now. Even in the best of circumstances the here and now stinks. Our life on earth brings with it financial hardships, physical pain, emotional turmoil, strife among family and friends, and even persecution for our beliefs. If our hope were only in the world around us, we would have problems.
Paul writes about the resurrection of Christ and our hope regarding it in 1 Corinthians 15. In verse 19 he writes, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
Our hope is tied directly to the life and death of Jesus Christ and our expectation of resurrection because Jesus Himself was raised from the dead. This is why Christmas is so important to our hope. Without Jesus in the world, there isn’t much hope for it.
In the Old Testament, hope does not appear much as a theological concept. The word was used more in the manner that we would say “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” The prophet Jeremiah, ironically known as the weeping prophet, gives us the best discussion of hope as it relates to man and God.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
The hope in the Old Testament is a very general and vague hope centered on the goodness of God. This isn’t a bad thing, just an immature understanding of hope. In the Old Testament this was fine however because Jesus had not come yet and they did not have the revelation of the New Testament that we do today.
The hope of the Old Testament is still valid today and we can lay claim to this hope. We should remember that these verses are much like proverbs however. Proverbs are good rules to live by but they are not guarantees. When Proverbs says to “train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it” this is generally true. However there are numerous children who are raised properly and are brought to church who stray from the faith. But it is good to train a child correctly as they are more likely to turn out well than if they are not raised properly.
Hope is like this. Lamentations says “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him.” This is true without a doubt. It doesn’t mean that those who hope in the Lord will never have bad things happen them. It doesn’t mean that if a Christian has bad things happen to them that they didn’t hope enough or did not seek the Lord enough.
Hope means that God has a plan for us and that plan is a good plan. Jeremiah describes those plans as “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We can have hope because God has good plans for us. There has never been a child born that God has looked upon and decided “I’m going to make life for that child miserable. Their parents are rotten, they were a mistake, I’m going to just let this child slip through the cracks.”
We live in a lousy and sinful world however. Millions of children grow up without hope and without any clue that God has good plans for them because there is so much sin in the world. There are millions of people who can’t understand God as our Heavenly Father because they have a father who was abusive, mean, drunk, or not even present.
When bad things happen it is because of sin in the world, not because God has failed or has planned it that way. A person can either give up hope at that point or cling even tighter to that hope because they know that God has good plans for them.
In the New Testament, hope is much more specific. The hope of the Christian is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul uses the word hope about 60 times in his writings as it is obviously important to him.
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
As Paul stood before the Sanhedrin, he knew that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead while the Sadducees did not. As he mentioned the resurrection of the dead, he knew that it would cause turmoil amongst them. The Pharisees would want to hear more about Paul’s belief in the resurrection of the dead while the Sadducees would hear nothing of it. This was the source of Paul’s hope and he desired to tell as many as he could about it.
One of the best explanations of the Christmas season is found in a very unexpected passage. On the surface it has nothing to do with Christmas but it discusses hope, peace, and love – all of which we will look at this advent season.
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
So suffering brings about hope. How does this happen? We can probably see how suffering produces perseverance. As we endure suffering, we learn to persevere through whatever trouble we have. When the next hardship comes along, we will remember that God saw us through the previous one and we will face the next suffering better.
Perseverance produces character because we are better able to relate with others and are more willing to give them a break or to help them out. I don’t know how many of you have worked in retail before, but I believe that you’re much more likely to give the cashier a break when you see other grumpy people complaining when you’ve been on the other side and you were the cashier getting complained to by customers.
Finally this character translates into hope as we realize that God is the source of our strength in difficult times. Character causes us to place our hope in God as we have seen how God has got us through previous difficulties. We then have more hope that He will get us through future difficulties.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Not only have we been waiting for our hope to be fulfilled but so has all of creation. From the time that Adam and Eve sinned, the world was put under a curse. Thorns sprung up from the ground. The balance of nature was ruined. Man has ruined the earth but not through global warming or the destruction of the rain forests. The earth is in its present state as a result of sin. Even the world itself is awaiting the day when it will be returned to balance.
So we too await our final hope. As Paul writes, if we already possessed what we are waiting for, we would not hope for it. Our salvation is secure but not complete. What we have this day is not all that we will have as Christians. We await a day that we will be given a new, resurrected body. We have hope in a day that we will spend eternity in the presence of God.
This hope is a secure hope. It is not a “cross your fingers” kind of hope. As Paul writes, we “wait for it patiently” because we are assured that it will happen. We can and should have assurance in our salvation and of the hope of eternal life.
This is what separates mature believers from immature ones. You’ll recall that I said hope in the Old Testament was vague and general. It was centered on the goodness of God. That’s what many people are basing their salvation on today. Ask people if they believe they are going to heaven and most will say yes or they hope. Then ask why they believe they are going to heaven and many will respond that they’ve lived a good life or that they go to church. Their hope is in a good God who sees them as a good person and who will allow them into heaven.
We can have assurance of heaven however. God has shown us the way through Jesus. We should know for certain that we are going to heaven because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We have hope in our resurrection because Jesus rose from the dead first. I don’t want to hear anyone from this say that they hope they’re going to heaven. I want everyone to be able to say without a doubt that they are going and they know so because they have placed their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
The coming of Jesus into the world is the source of our hope. Without Jesus our hope is vague. Because Jesus has come into the world, we know exactly what our future holds for us. It is a future of eternal glory with Jesus in heaven.