In the spring of 2005, a young man named Clark, a close friend of Bill Hybels’ son, died in a car crash. At the funeral, as the coffin was lowered into the grave, all that could be heard were the sobs of a family whose hearts had just been ripped out. Clark’s dad, crying on Bill’s shoulder, whispered, ‘Bill, it can’t end like this. Please! It just can’t end like this!’
Bill asked if he could say one more prayer. God put into his mind hope-filled words. He explained that because of Jesus’ resurrection and Clark’s faith in Christ, he was already in the presence of God. Clark and his family and friends would one day be reunited for eternity.
Reflecting on this moment, Bill Hybels comments, ‘Our world is wondering, will darkness and evil prevail?… Will poverty just increase?… Will violence and war persist?… Will marriages keep breaking up? Will depression continue robbing people of joy? Does it have to end like this?… In Christ… it most certainly doesn’t have to end like this…
‘We steward the only message on planet earth that can give people what their hearts need most, which is hope. Hope that sins can be forgiven. Hope that prayers can be answered. Hope that doors of opportunity, that seemed locked, can be opened. Hope that broken relationships can be reconciled. Hope that diseased bodies can be healed. Hope that damaged trust can be restored. Hope that dead churches can be resurrected… Of all people, we must claim that hope and live in it and radiate it to others. And we must proclaim that message of hope to everyone God gives us the opportunity to influence.’
1. Put your hope in the right placePsalm 146:1–10
Many today put their hope in the wrong place. They trust in wealth, or a successful career, or a long-term relationship, or in their image or status. There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of these things – but none of them are a firm enough foundation upon which to build your life.
It really matters where you put your hope: ‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing’ (vv.3–4).
The psalmist proclaims the right place to put your hope: ‘Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God’ (v.5). If you put your hope in the Lord, this hope is ‘an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’ (Hebrews 6:19).
The psalmist has this firm hope in the Lord. He praises God continuously (Psalm 146:1–2). He recognises that he is ‘the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them’ and that he ‘remains faithful forever’ (v.6).
The God of hope gives new hope to those who seem to have little hope, and he calls you and me to do the same.
The psalmist lists some of those to whom God especially gives hope: the oppressed (v.7a), hungry (v.7b), prisoners (v.7c), blind (v.8a), marginalised (v.9a) and bereaved (v.9b).
Lord, thank you that I can put my hope in you. Thank you that this is a sure and steadfast anchor for my soul. Help me to give hope to those who need it most.
2. Look forward with hopeRevelation 14:14–15:8
Hope is powerful. It is not just a feeling or an emotion. It is not dependent on circumstances. Real hope is a constant positive attitude that, no matter what the circumstances, things will change for the better.
‘Hope has a thick skin and will endure many a blow,’ wrote John Bunyan (1628–1688). ‘It will endure all things if it be of the right kind, for the joy that is set before it... it is hope that makes the soul exercise patience and long-suffering under the cross, until the time comes to enjoy the crown.’
When we look around at the world we see so much injustice. Bad things happen to good people. Evil often seems to thrive. There may be injustice now, but one day there will be justice for all. God will put everything right.
As Bishop Lesslie Newbigin put it, ‘The horizon for the Christian is, “he shall come again” and “we look for the coming of the Lord”. It can be tomorrow, or any time, but that is the horizon. That horizon for me is fundamental, and that is what makes it possible to be hopeful and therefore to find life meaningful.’
In this passage, John gets a glimpse of what the final ‘putting things right’ will look like. Jesus will be the judge. ‘I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand’ (14:14).
Jesus said that in this life the wheat and the weeds grow up together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). And that ‘the harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels’ (v.39). He speaks of the weeds being pulled up and destroyed and how ‘the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (v.43).
There is a radical judgment where every vestige of evil is destroyed ‘in the great winepress of God’s wrath’ (Revelation 14:19).
As you read this, remember that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for you on the cross, and so you are saved from these judgments. In this passage we see what it looks like when God’s judgment is completed (15:1). John sees ‘what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire’ (v.2) – an image which combines burning purity and serenity. Peace and righteousness go together.
God’s judgment purifies the world, destroying evil and corruption, and rescuing his people from those who persecute and oppose them (‘the beast and his image’ v.2).
Just as after the Exodus a great cry of praise went up from the people of God who had crossed the Red Sea, so now a great cry of praise goes up to God:
‘Great and marvellous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages…
All nations will come and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed’ (vv.3–4).
Thank you, Lord, that one day you will put everything right. Thank you that I have such a great future hope, made possible through the cross of Jesus.
3. Never give up hopeEzra 10:1–44
Do you ever feel that you have gone too far, done something too often, or failed too badly for God to forgive you? This passage is an encouragement that however much you have messed up, ‘there is still hope’ for you: ‘But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel’ (v.2), says Shecaniah to Ezra.
Ezra was ‘praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God’ (v.1a). He was joined by ‘a large crowd of Israelites – men, women and children… They too wept bitterly’ (v.1b).
Ezra fasted and mourned over the unfaithfulness of the people of God. In total, there were 113 people guilty of this unfaithfulness. Eighty-six were ‘laity’ and twenty-seven were ‘clergy’ (Levites). A call to full-time ordained Christian ministry does not make us immune from temptation.
The particular issue highlighted in this passage was that of Israelites marrying non-believers. By this time there was probably an official ceremony by which non-Jews could convert (see 6:21), and it seems that these people were the ones who had refused to do so.
Ezra was concerned that they would draw their spouses (many of whom were part of Israel’s leadership) away from God. The Bible encourages you to think hard about whom you marry, and to avoid marrying someone who will draw you away from God (see 2 Corinthians 6:14 and commentary for 3 September).
Nevertheless, divorcing their wives (Ezra 10:19) can seem in a way to make the unfaithfulness worse, and this is a difficult passage for us to read. It is interesting that it was not unanimous (v.15). Once the unfaithfulness had occurred, the solution was bound to be less than ideal. When the same issue was addressed by the church in the New Testament, those married to non-believers were given very different instructions – they were told to remain married, and be an example and blessing to their spouses (see 1 Corinthians 7; 1 Peter 3).
Lord Jesus, help us to take our own sin and the sin of the community seriously – to pray, confess, weep, throw ourselves down before you in repentance and resolve to be radical and ruthless about avoiding unfaithfulness in the future. Thank you that there is still hope for the people of God. Thank you that our hope is in the Lord, ‘who remains faithful forever’ (Psalm 146:6).
‘The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.’
This verse is a reminder that with all the Christmas celebrations, there are many who are going through hard times. How does God lift these people up? He may want to use us.
Edythe Draper, Draper's Quotations for the Christian World, (Tyndale House Pub, 1992) p.5912.
Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent, (Zondervan, 2007) pp.147–148.
Lesslie Newbigin in interview with Andrew G. Walker, 1988, transcript in: Andrew G Walker, Note from a Wayward Son: a miscellany, (Cascade Books, 2015) p.268
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