Focused On Hope
"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey. This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.
FOCUSED ON HOPE
"And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love."
~1 Cor. 13:13
Last week we talked a bit about faith, so this week I want to talk about hope. As we start, though, keep in mind that these aren't three different, isolated topics–they intersect with and overlap each other. It's profoundly interesting to me that both faith and hope look forward, but each one is anchored in the present; that is, every one of us either has faith or hope in the here and now, or we don't. And yet faith and hope each have value precisely because they aren't narrowly focused only on the present. I know, that's all pretty deep, so let's approach it all from a little simpler place.
Every one of us has a story. No matter who you are, no matter how humble your beginnings, no matter how smooth or dysfunctional your life has been so far, you have a story. And for better or worse, that story has–in part–made you the person you are today. We all know this, but very few of us think consciously very much about those shaping influences–and in fact, it would be unhealthy to do it all the time.
You know, even Jesus Himself had (has!) a story. We find it summed up in the genealogy Matthew gives us in the first chapter of his gospel. Think of all the incredible people listed there: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to be sure, but also Ruth, Rahab, David, Solomon, and the list goes on, one famous biblical name after another. And yet … there are a lot of folks in that list who are only mentioned this one time in the whole Bible! We don't know a single thing about them aside from the fact that they were in Jesus' direct line of descent. And you know what? Take any one of these men or women out and Jesus could not have been born!
But there's another side to Jesus' story. Not only does He have a human family line, He has a spiritual one as well. Shortly after the genealogy we just looked at, Matthew tells this story: "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'" (Mt. 3:16-17). Whoa! Apparently, Jesus not only has a human genealogy, He has a divine one on top of it!
And not only does John backs this up even more clearly in his own gospel:
"But to all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-18, NRSV, emphasis mine).
One beautiful truth in this passage is that by faith we, like Jesus, have a double-genealogy–at one and the same time, we have both a human and a divine existence. This can get a little weird in practice because we have a hard time thinking of living in both realities simultaneously. But this is where the really cool part comes in! We don't need to live in both simultaneously! Our problem is that because we appear to be the same person living the same life we did before we knew Jesus, we think that's the reality, but it's not. The reality of our identity as children of God eclipses, it totally surpasses, the reality of our identity as flesh and bone men and women.
The reality of our identity as children of God eclipses, it totally surpasses, the reality of our identity as flesh and bone men and women.
As the Apostle Paul writes, "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we no longer know him in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! All this is from God…" (2 Cor. 5:16-18a).
We are a new creation, and yet…. The body I walk around in is the same body, isn't it? The memories I carry within me are the same memories, aren't they? Of course, and yet in the deepest, truest part of our souls and spirits we are in fact new creations when we receive Jesus into our hearts by faith. And this is no credit to ourselves or to our good sense or to our great wisdom, but it is God's gracious gift to us. Thanks be to God that He gave us this grace not only to see the chasm of our great need, but to take hold of life in His Spirit!
So what next? What does all this have to do with hope? I said back at the beginning that hope is oriented toward the future, but all we've talked about so far is understanding who we are in Christ here in the present.
This past Sunday we sang a beautiful, nearly 200-year old hymn called "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less." We could do an awesome message on the entire hymn, but I'm already running long, so let's focus on just a few key lines:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness….
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand: all other ground is sinking sand….
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
I want you to see the beginning (what our hope is founded upon) the center (Christ Himself is our sure and steadfast hope), and the end (our hope is an anchor holding us secure amidst all the storms of life).
The virtue of hope is this: Living in the present with the conviction that, no matter what my current circumstances say, all will turn out well for me in the end. I can trust–hope–that my future well-being is as firm and secure as a great anchor, that I shall not be moved, no matter what my present may say, because my hope is built, not on my own effort to grunt things out, and not on my own good intentions and righteousness ("Doggone it, I deserve a happy ending"), but on Jesus' blood and righteousness. His life, His work, His blood, His sacrifice alone are the foundation, the Rock, of my hope of a glorious future.
So you see, just like Christ Himself, we have both a human and a divine heritage. And while our present human heritage or perspective says things look pretty bleak, our future divine heritage or perspective says that no darkness, no assault, no burden can prevail against us.
This present life of ours will one day give way, and our divine hope will become our present reality. But because we don't see that future clearly now, this present life seems more real. One day, the tables will turn and this life will be seen for the shadow that it truly is.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about what this transition will be like:
"There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another…. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the physical and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. As one of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as one of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the one of dust, we will also bear the image of the one of heaven." (1 Cor. 15:42-49).
So one last thought (I promise!). The one idea I want you to take away when you're done reading this is that true hope is founded solely on Jesus and cannot fail you. As the writer of Hebrews says, "We who have taken refuge [in God are] strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…" (Heb. 6:18b-19a).
...true hope is founded solely on Jesus and cannot fail you.
Today, my prayer for each and every one of you is that, by faith, you may seize, take hold, of the hope set before you! By faith you are, right now, a child of God and your hope is secure in the Rock whose name is Jesus Christ.
Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.