“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).
Christianity stands on three great pillars, faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13). It seems that of these three pillars, hope may be the weakest today. Actually, I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon on hope. I have heard a few hopeful sermons, and certainly some hopeless ones, but never a sermon on hope.
I believe hope was one real secret of New Testament Christianity. Unfortunately, this does not seem true today. The opposite of hope is hopelessness or despair, and these things permeate our world and sometimes even the church. A good portion of our philosophy and theology since Renaissance times is laced with hopelessness. I am thinking particularly of such philosophers as Nietzsche and Sartre. They concluded basically that existence is pointless and absurd and that there is no hope for the world. This hopelessness has spilled over into our literature, films, music and art. We see numerous movies with absolutely no meaning and much of our modern art expresses this meaningless and absurdity of life. Our youth listen to this hopeless music, watch these hopeless films and are so overwhelmed that they often rush into drugs or suicide.
Our modern and postmodern philosophers, writers, musicians and filmmakers tell us that there is no hope in the world. In one very real sense they are absolutely correct. The world can offer us no hope. Hope comes only from God. Long ago the Psalmist expressed this: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God….” (Psa. 42:5).
Hope should set off real Christianity from the world. In Ephesians 2:12-13, we read: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
Paul later expresses this as a great mystery. He says: “… God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27). Someone once expressed this in a little jingle: “Life without Christ is a hopeless end, but life with Christ is an endless hope.” What great hope we have in the gospel! Let us not be moved away from that hope (Col. 1:23), but let us examine it carefully and try to understand some of its specifics.
THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE
Paul spoke of the “… hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…. (Tit. 1:2). Only in Christianity is there such a promise of glorious life beyond the grave. The hope of eternal life is very important, and even if we Christians have hope only in this life we are of all people most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19).
The early Christians were so filled with hope in Jesus and in life eternal that they could willingly offer themselves as martyrs for the Lord. They knew there was another and far better life awaiting them.
Perhaps we should pause a moment and think of what this eternal life will be like.
It is a life that goes on, and on, and on. It is not just a matter of longevity but a wonderful quality of life as well. In this eternal life there will be no more death, pain, sorrow, or tears. There will be no more concern for food, clothing or lodging. There will be no more false prophecy or false people. The wheat and tares will no longer have to grow together. In this new life we will have an eternity to probe the richness of Jesus. We will serve him forever as we fully know and do his perfect will. We will be always close to God, completely fulfilled, gloriously happy and content.
The Bible expresses it in this way: “…you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psa. 16:11).
THE HOPE OF A BODILY RESURRECTION
The worldly philosophers, beginning at least with the Greeks saw the body as sinful and unredeemable. This was precisely why the Greek philosophers scorned Paul as he spoke of the resurrection at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:32). Today most philosophies and religions are bereft of any hope of a bodily resurrection.
Even in the Old Testament there is a very dim hope of a resurrected body. David must have glimpsed it in Psalm 23:6, as he said: “…I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Job certainly glimpsed the resurrection when he said: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
However, it was only the resurrection of Jesus that brought a sure hope beyond the grave.
In 2 Timothy 1:10 we read of “…the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” In Jesus and only in Jesus is there a hope of certain life beyond the grave.
Contrary to most philosophies and religions of this age, the believer in Christ will have a resurrected body. These bodies will be restored in unbelievable splendor. The last enemy, death, will be finally destroyed. This fact seems to have brought great excitement to those earliest Christians and it should do the same for us today. Thank God, because of the resurrection of Jesus we do not have to sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).
THE HOPE OF HIS APPEARING (BLESSED HOPE)
The Bible says in Titus 2:13 that we Christians “…wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” For sure, the appearing or coming again of Jesus is the glorious and blessed hope of Christianity.
Unfortunately, it appears that we postmodern Christians are losing some of this hope. We might wonder if we even believe the same things about this hope that New Testament Christians believed. Let us look into this.
They believed that Jesus would come with all his saints (1 Thess. 3:13). They believed that God would bring with him all those who sleep in Jesus (Thess. 4:14), and that we which remain will be caught up to meet him as he comes (1 Thess. 4:17). They knew that Jesus at his coming would be revealed with his mighty angels and would take vengeance upon the ungodly with flaming fire (2 Thess. 1:7-8). They knew that he would come to be glorified in his saints and admired by them (2 Thess. 1:10).
In light this, the early Christians prayed that they would be preserved blameless unto the coming (1 Thess. 5:23). They knew that God would complete the good work he had begun in them for that day (Phil. 1:6). Early Christians knew that they would also appear with him in glory (Col. 3:4), and that they would receive a crown of glory at his appearing (1 Pet. 5:4). They knew they would be like him at his revelation (1 Jn. 3:2).
They believed they should purify themselves because of their hope (1 Jn. 3:3). They looked at trials and tribulations as something that would bring praise and glory at his appearing (1 Pet. 1:7). Their desire was to have confidence in him so that they would not be ashamed at coming (1 Jn. 2:28). They encouraged themselves to watch and be sober regarding his coming (1 Thess. 5:6).
It seems that the glorious hope of the early Christians was to greet the Lord in victory at his appearing. Unfortunately, the hope of many present-day Christians is that they will somehow be rescued from defeat.
THE HOPE OF A GLORIFIED CHURCH
Christians have a final hope, the hope of a glorified church. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19 Paul said of some of the earliest Christians: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” In Ephesians 5:27, Paul assures us that the Lord will purify his church “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (NKJV).”
Yes, the church of God will finally be pure, holy and glorified in his presence. We need to have our eyes opened to this reality. In Ephesians 1:18 the apostle prayed for the early Christians thusly: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints….” We need to see each other in such a light, for each Christian has a glorious and unlimited potential in the body of Christ. Perhaps the Psalmist was seeing this when he wrote these words of thanksgiving: “…You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psa. 61:5). What a glorious heritage!
When John at last sees the church descend from heaven in the Book of Revelation, he sees her as a bride gloriously arrayed in righteousness. It seems that all heaven and earth then stand in awe of her beauty. May we rejoice in this, in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2). Until then, may others be moved to ask us about the great hope that lies within us
(1 Pet. 3:15).
This article is a condensed and updated version of a sermon presented at Christ Church, Jerusalem, in 1996.