HOPE

If you were a stranger in the crowd walking a dusty road into the first century city of Jerusalem on Passover, on what came to be known as Good Friday, you would come upon the most hopeless looking scene imaginable. On a barren, reeking, rocky knoll beside the road, you would have seen three crosses with naked men, writhing piteously, nailed to them. The blood covered, mutilated-beyond-recognition man on the middle cross was clearly breathing his last. Without hesitation you would have thought the man’s case was hopeless, as did the multitude of witnesses gathered round.

The truth of the matter is that hopeless looking person on the cross was The Messiah, the hope of the world, and you would be witnessing the most important victory in the history of humankind. How so?

Your lifetime on Earth is but a cosmic millisecond, but your soul is eternal, so where it spends the rest of eternity should be of utmost importance to you. There are only two possibilities– heaven or hell. You can achieve the latter by living your own definition of the best life now with no regard for the God who created you or for what comes later. You can gain the former if you can meet heaven’s standards for perfection. The catch there is that perfection– keeping the Ten Commandments perfectly as expounded in The Sermon on the Mount–is not possible in the human realm, even though God expects you to spend your life striving for it. In the Providence of God they serve to point out your sin and the hopelessness of your situation and your desperate need for a savior. Adam and Eve were the culprits in their colossal rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden. An infinitely Holy God condemned them and their progeny, all of mankind, for that egregious treason. That is what infinite wrath looks like, an indication of just how much God hates sin. Every newborn human who draws a breath since then is born in bondage to sin. So where is our hope for eternal heaven?

Our hope lies directly with that hopeless looking scene on Golgotha, when the sinless Son of God, in a staggering manifestation of his infinite love, took on himself the punishment due us for our sins and died a horrible death. Three days later he rose miraculously from the grave, victorious over death. God in his providence planned this atoning sacrifice before the world began. Peter told the assembled crowd on Pentecost, “…Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…” (Acts 2:23). On that cross God’s infinite wrath towards sin was assuaged by God’s infinite love for his chosen in voluntarily dying in their stead, a perfect sacrifice on their behalf that met heaven’s requirement for perfection. In what might be called the ultimate human irony, God saves sinners from God. All that is left for us to do is to believe this Gospel story and eternal salvation is ours. In John 3:16 Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Belief is the operative word. The gospel message really is that simple, but there is yet another catch. A born sinner cannot and will not believe in God because his will is in bondage to that sin (Romans 3:10-12). His will is not free to choose God–there is no such thing as free will as a solution for depravity. He cannot even see the things of God unless, and only unless God works in him a spiritual rebirth and gives him a new spirit and eyes to see truth. And our Sovereign God takes care of that, too. Just a few sentences before Jesus spoke the words of John 3:16 to Nicodemus, he told him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3). Spiritual rebirth, like his initial birth, is not something man is capable of doing for himself, but God can. He promised through the prophet, Ezekiel (36:26–27), “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you… ” He told the Philippians (2:13) through the apostle Paul, “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” and that is to turn from your unbelieving sinful ways–repent–and believe in God and what he’s done for you. In other words, you will repent and believe the Gospel story because God the Holy Spirit in your spiritual rebirth inclined your will to that end–he gave you the want to choose him. The Son’s life for yours on the cross is a gift. Your spiritual rebirth is a gift. The indwelling Holy Spirit that instills repentance and faith in him is the supreme gift. Amazing grace! Are you among that number?

Salvation is all of God. His sovereign hand guides every detail of our sanctifying walk through this life. That is our certain hope, not the pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by hope of the secular vernacular. Scripture makes plain that a believer’s hope is certain. The author of Hebrews calls hope “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (6:18-19). “Christ Jesus [is] our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). God himself is called the “God of hope” who  fills us with “all joy and peace in believing…” (Romans 15:13).

So do not despair over the scene of gloom in America today, pilgrim. Remember Golgotha. There is security amid the chaos for the children of God. No matter how hopeless your personal situation may seem, no matter how hopelessly broken our God-mocking, sin-ravaged society appears, no matter how hopeless a federal government drowning in debt appears, no matter how hopeless our very freedom may appear, our God is still “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Normal may not be coming back, but Jesus is, and he will gather his remnant that he has preserved throughout the ages. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…” (Edw. Mote). He is our great hope, and that is a statement, not a wish, so “…be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). Lay your head on that soft pillow tonight and rest in the peace that passes all understanding.

  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

See you in church.

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