April 7, 2002

A LIVING HOPE

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3

Enron gave high hopes to many people. Enron’s glittering Houston headquarters carried a sign “World’s Greatest Company.” Enron kept growing, and stocks kept shooting higher. Employees and investors felt wealthy. They expected a bright future. But their high hopes were dashed. Enron turned out not to be the world’s greatest company; it turned out to be the world’s greatest corporate catastrophe. As Enron’s debts and deceptions came to light, Enron stock plunged from $94 a share to 26 cents a share. People who had bet their financial future on Enron lost everything. At one time Enron gave people high hopes for prosperity, but their hopes died.

Hope isn’t worth much if it’s placed in people who can’t be trusted and in things that aren’t what they seem. That’s true not just of investing but of many other things as well. People will sometimes let you down, and optimistic plans will sometimes end in disappointment. Have you ever had high hopes only to have them dashed? It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? When that happens, you’re tempted to be gloomy, cynical, and despairing. But the lesson of smashed hopes isn’t to give up all hope. It’s to stop hoping in things that can perish or go bankrupt and instead to put your hope in something that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

The greatest source of hope in the world is Jesus Christ, and the greatest book of hope is the Bible. Biblical hope focused on Jesus is a living hope, a dynamic hope, a vibrant, vital hope. This hope has staying power. It doesn’t rise and fall with the economy. It doesn’t depend on stock analysts or accounting firms. It doesn’t depend on what mood you happen to be in. It’s a hope that shines even when you’re going through trouble and grief. It’s a sure hope–not desperate, wishful thinking. It’s a hope that looks ahead with confidence and eager anticipation.

This hope runs all through the Bible–just about every page of the Bible inspires hope–but there’s one part in particular that radiates hope like no other I can think of. It’s at the beginning of a letter the apostle Peter wrote to people who were going through tough times. God inspired Peter to write these words of encouragement and hope:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Wow! What a statement! If these words don’t stir you and fill you with joy, then you must be brain-dead!

New Birth

Actually, brain-dead is pretty much how the Bible summarizes your situation if you’re without God–you’re brain-dead; your mind doesn’t work in relation to God. You can’t obey God’s orders any more than a dead soldier can obey a general’s orders. You can’t see the light of Jesus anymore than a corpse can see the sun. You’re a hopeless case–you literally have no hope. As the Bible puts it, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins… you were separate from Christ … without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:2,12).

This doesn’t mean that if you’re without God, you never get your hopes up. It just means that what you call hope is really no hope at all. It’s just a desire you have, or a wish that things will turn out the way you want. That kind of hope disappears the moment things go wrong. If you put your hope in your own abilities, or in some vague notion that the world is getting better and better, your hope is as dead as you are.

But here’s what is so amazing: You might be without hope, you might be dead in sin, you might not obey a single command of God the way you should, you might not care about Jesus, you might not appreciate much of anything in the Bible, but that still doesn’t mean God has written you off. He could write you off if he wanted, but the Lord is a God of great mercy. And in his great mercy, he can give you new birth. Even if you’re a spiritual stillborn, dead to God and without hope, you can be born again and find yourself alive to God and filled with a living hope.

You may not understand how or why, but one day you find that God seems to be getting through to you. You may have been a spiritual deadbeat, but then for some reason, your deadness disappears and you’re alive with a desire to know God better, to obey him more, to discover his Word in the Bible. Jesus becomes not just a name but a living reality to you. You’re filled with a living hope, you sense the life of Christ filling your life, and you look forward with great joy and eagerness to spending eternity with Christ. How can you be so dead to God but end up being so alive to him?  Peter calls it “new birth.” Jesus calls it being “born again” or “born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

This isn’t something you do for yourself. It’s the work of God from beginning to end. Notice what Peter says. He doesn’t tell his fellow believers, “Congratulations, folks. Way to go! You did it!” He says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He doesn’t say, “In recognition of hard work and good behavior.” He says, “In God’s great mercy.” He doesn’t say, “We’ve really turned things around.” He says God “has given us new birth.” He doesn’t talk about a more positive outlook based on attitude adjustment. He talks about “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He doesn’t speak of eternal life as something you earn. He says it’s an inheritance which God provides and keeps in heaven for you. He doesn’t say you’ve got to use all your power to shield yourself from sin and Satan. He says that through faith you “are shielded by God’s power.”

Peter says that God is the one who deserves the praise. God is the one who acts in mercy. God is the one who gives new birth. God is the one who raised Jesus. God is the one who provides the eternal inheritance. God is the one who shields us by his power. It is God, all God, from start to finish. That’s why it’s a living hope and not a dead one–because it depends on the living God, and not on a bunch of brain-dead sinners. The Bible says, “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).

A living hope depends on the Lord Jesus Christ. His death on the cross cancels our sin and pays the penalty we deserve. His resurrection overpowers death and provides a life that death cannot possible snuff out. So if you want to know why I have a living hope, I can tell you in just two words: Jesus lives! Living hope is resurrection hope. I know I’m going to face hard times, I know I’m going to face death some day, but I also know that Jesus lives, and his life is at work in me. God has given me “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

A Secure Future

There are all sorts of other hopes, of course. You hope for good grades in school, you hope your team will win, you hope someone will fall in love with you, you hope for a good job, you hope for a happy family, you hope your car won’t break down, you hope your company won’t lay you off, you hope your investments prosper. There’s nothing wrong with having such hopes, but let’s face it: you have no guarantee that any of these things will come true. And even if they do come true, they don’t last forever.

Resurrection hope is different. It’s not a wish. It’s a certainty. It’s not projecting our desires onto an uncertain future. It’s anticipation of what we know is coming. It’s not just based on our longing, but on God’s guarantee.

And resurrection hope is focused on something that will last forever. God guarantees “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” Many of the things we hope for simply perish after a while. Cars wear out, houses get run down, a job is lost. And of course it all perishes when we perish in death. But our eternal inheritance will never perish.

Many of the things we hope for tend to spoil. You get the job you wanted, only to run into problems that spoil your ability to enjoy it.  You marry the person you love, only to find that the relationship spoils after a while, and you’re not happy.  But our eternal inheritance will never spoil.

Many of the things we hope for tend to fade. When you get what you were hoping for, whether it’s a new toy or a new car, you’re all excited at first, but then, after awhile, the joy and excitement start to fade and you feel bored and unhappy again.  But the joy of our eternal inheritance will never fade.

God promises his people eternal pleasures, unending joys that go beyond anything we can even imagine. We’ll enjoy perfect friendship with our Savior, and perfect friendship with others who have been made perfect together with us. Heaven is a place of perfect relationships and perfect enjoyment. It’s an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade. Every other hope is a dying hope, but heaven is a living hope.

I’ve pointed out how so many of our hopes either fail to come true, or else, even if they do come true, disappoint us because they don’t last. This is supremely true at the most basic level of all: life itself. From time to time you think to yourself, “I hope I don’t get sick.” And maybe you stay healthy for a while. But then you do get sick, and you think, “I hope it’s not anything serious.” However, the doctor tells you it is serious, so you think, “I hope it’s not fatal.” But the treatments don’t work; it is going to be fatal. Now what do you hope for? At some point, all your hopes to go on living will collapse. Then what? As the Bible says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:18).

But because Jesus is alive and because he promises eternal life to all who believe in him, you can have a living hope.  If you’re a child of God, you won’t really die. You’ll fall asleep and wake up in glory. The Bible says,  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who fall asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). That’s resurrection hope, the kind of hope that nothing can destroy.

Problems in Perspective

Time for a reality check. Does this hope have anything to do with present reality?  It’s nice to talk about a living hope, but let’s face it: it looks to a future that seems far off, and it’s based on a person you can’t see. It’s nice to talk about heaven, but we’re not there yet; we face sin and trouble and heartache.  It’s nice to say this hope is based entirely on Jesus Christ, but have you ever seen Jesus?  Well, Peter, inspired by God, addresses those very questions. That’s what is so amazing about God’s Word. It lifts us into a whole new world, and at the same time it addresses our situation in this old world here and now.

Peter speaks about our glorious inheritance in heaven, and then he says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” Peter knows how hard it can be, living on this side of heaven. But, he says, with resurrection hope, we can rejoice even in the middle of hardship.

For one thing, we can rejoice that our troubles are short-lived and insignificant compared to the glory that lies ahead. Peter says we suffer only “for a little while.” Our troubles are temporary; our blessings are permanent. The apostle Paul suffered a great deal in his life, but he called his troubles “light and momentary” compared to the glory to come.

A living hope puts our present problems in perspective. Without hope, you can’t see anything but what you’re going through at the moment. But with a living hope, you see beyond even the worst troubles to a glory that far outweighs them all. From the standpoint of heaven, our worst troubles on earth won’t look any more serious or permanent than a bad weekend.

And there’s something else that helps us rejoice in our troubles. They have a purpose. God uses the troubles of Christians not to destroy us but to strengthen us. Peter says, “These [trials] have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” If you have a living hope, trials don’t destroy your faith. They purify and authenticate and strengthen your faith.

I’ve heard that when Christians in Korea faced persecution, they’d often say: “We are like nails; the harder you hit us, the deeper you drive us.” The Bible says much the same thing. Romans 5 says, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:2-5).

That’s what trials do to children of God. Suffering drives us to hang on to God for dear life and persevere. After a while, perseverance gets hammered in so deep that it becomes a matter of proven character. And when character is proven and ingrained, it becomes more obvious than ever that we’re citizens of heaven, and our hope becomes all the more confident. At that point, hope isn’t just an attitude that comes and goes. It’s a deep and permanent part of who we are.

I know that in my own life, the most devastating experience I ever had was also the time when the hope of heaven seemed most certain and solid–the time my wife and I held our five-month-old daughter in our arms and watched her die. I know other people who say much the same thing. They gathered with family around a dying loved one, and found that the experience was hideous and beautiful at the same time. Never did death seem so horrible, and never did God seem so good or heaven so near.

A living hope doesn’t keep trials out of your life, but it  transforms the impact those trials have on you. Without hope in Christ, distress and death produce only despair. But with a living hope, troubles only make your hope stronger. To repeat the words of those hope-filled Koreans, “We are like nails; the harder you hit us, the deeper you drive us.” Trouble can’t destroy a living hope.  It just drives it so deeply into your character that nothing can pull it out, and the final result will be “praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Trusting the Unseen Savior

In the meantime, though, what about the fact that we haven’t yet seen Jesus in all his glory? Isn’t that a problem? Not according to the Bible. We can even rejoice about that.

You may wish you could see Jesus and get rid of doubt once and for all. But the moment Jesus comes in glory for all to see, it will be too late for anyone to be saved any more. Right now, while we don’t see him, it’s possible to doubt, but it’s also possible to repent. When he comes again, it won’t be possible to doubt or repent. Our destiny will be sealed in that face-to-face encounter. So we can rejoice that Jesus remains hidden and works quietly through his Holy Spirit to give people new birth. We Christians long for his appearing, but we also rejoice at his patience in dealing with sinners who still need to be saved.

Another reason to rejoice in the unseen Christ is that Jesus declares a special blessing on us. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Right now our eyes can’t see what the risen Jesus looks like, but our spirits can sense the loving touch of his Holy Spirit, filling us with love and with a firm belief in him. As Peter puts it, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

This is the living hope that thrills every true child of God. Do you have a living hope? Do you trust the unseen Savior? Are you receiving salvation? I’m not just asking whether you believe something about Jesus or about life after death. I’m asking, Do you have a living hope? There’s a story about a preacher who was asked by a friend what he expected after death. He replied, “Well, if it comes to that, I suppose I shall enter into eternal bliss, but I really wish you wouldn’t bring up such a depressing subject.”

Well if eternal bliss is just an empty phrase for you, as it apparently was for that preacher, then it’s a depressing subject. But if you’re born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the love of God is poured out into your heart through the Holy Spirit, then you have a living hope that will never disappoint you, a hope that fills you with inexpressible and glorious joy, a hope that gives you stability through all of life’s storms. The Bible says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

Listen to these promises in the Bible, straight from the mouth of God himself. “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” (Jeremiah 29:11). “May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

PRAYER

Father, we praise you for your love and mercy and power. We praise you for raising Jesus from the dead and giving us a sure hope. We praise you for sending your Spirit to give new birth into this hope by giving us a taste of the divine love that will be our joy for all eternity.

Lord, raise us out of the deadness of our sins and false hopes, into the life and hope of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. Shield us by your power, strengthen us through trials, and increase our faith, hope, and love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.