“I want you to know by this letter that we here are constantly praying for you, and whenever we do we thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because you believe in Christ Jesus and because you are showing true Christian love towards other Christians. We know that you are showing these qualities because you have grasped the hope reserved for you in Heaven—that hope which first became yours when the truth was brought to you. It is, of course, part of the Gospel itself … Wherever that Gospel goes, it produces Christian character, and develops it, as it had done in your own case from the time you first heard and realised the amazing fact of God’s grace…
We are asking God that you may see things, as it were, from his point of view by being given spiritual insight and understanding. We also pray that your outward lives, which men see, may bring credit to your master’s name, and that you may bring joy to his heart by bearing genuine Christian fruit, and that your knowledge of God may grow yet deeper. Col 1: 3-6, 9-10 jbp (emphasis mine)
Paul’s prayer so many years ago sprang from a deep connection to people who had embraced the hope of the gospel. It is intriguing that a message of future glory rather than present rescue was an inducement to live selflessly rather than carelessly. Their secular reality was at least as depressing as ours, persecution for loyalty to Jesus was almost certain, yet they clung to the ‘hope laid up for them in heaven’. Surprisingly this made them more rather than less impactful on their culture. Their hearts were not set on political liberation from earthly corruption, but rather on bringing heaven and its values into their circumstances despite the scorn of their society. Seeing things from the perspective of their eternal destiny dignified their earthly interactions. God’s point of view reshaped their hearts to point them upward and outward, freeing them from selfishness and sin. What the world saw was a startling change in allegiance and priority. Discarded babies were rescued from the streets, women were treated with respect rather than as property, slaves had equality and often preeminence over their masters in their local gatherings, they addressed Jesus rather than Caesar as lord, cared for the abandoned sick, and rejected the prescribed worship of the empire’s gods. Oh that these convictions would again saturate God’s people!
In another letter Paul reminds believers that by “looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen”, “in this hope we are saved”. What hope? The hope of resurrection! “For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we of all people are most to be pitied.” The life laid before us was heralded and illustrated by the One we are called to imitate. His very birth, the most consequential event in the history of humanity outside of the resurrection, occasioned the fanfare of the heavens, the very place He is preparing for us. This invasion has been celebrated with song and festivity for two thousand years by much of the humanity He came to redeem. He became the hope of the Gentiles, the Jews already anticipating the arrival of a liberating King. Jesus disappointed their idea that it was mere political liberation, and is rejected by many Jews on that basis even now. But there is a day coming when not only the Jews but creation itself will be freed from the ‘corruption that is in the world by lust’. Liberated from sin itself – now there is a hope!!
Paul also prays “that … the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realise how great is the hope to which he is calling you—the magnificence and splendour of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe …” Armed with both a legal oath and a personal promise from the God Who IS truth, “we who have fled to take hold of this hope may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”. “Jesus our hope” has set us on a better footing than ever, “… for the law made nothing perfect, and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God”. It is fitting that this connection to Jesus produces visible results, for who could attach themselves to the ‘Eternal become human’ and not be altered? “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” Such a destiny fosters wondrous gratitude: ”Thank .. the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy we have been born again into a life full of hope, through Christ’s rising again from the dead! You can now hope for a perfect inheritance beyond the reach of change and decay, “reserved” in Heaven for you. And in the meantime you are guarded by the power of God operating through your faith, till you enter fully into the salvation which is all ready to be revealed at the last day.” Yup – our hope is not just set on some powerless little baby in a manger, but on a risen God-Man Who conquered death in resurrection and offers us that same experience. Conquering death? Now that’s what I call hope!
Hope is embedded in every one of us (hope springs eternal – Alexander Pope), yet many of our hopes have evaporated like a mirage in the desert as we get close. Our hearts are hesitant to be disappointed again, especially on such a profound issue. Our culture sees such hope as a fairy tale, and sometimes it is tempting to succumb. We need reinforcement to bolster our audacious belief – which is more fantastic than science fiction, after all. Thankfully there are reasons to trust that lie outside the realm of a mere mystical experience. The writings of the One we follow are designed to enlighten like a flashlight on the trail, to lean on like a walking stick, to lead like a map. Reading them nurtures the faith we need to finish well. Let us ‘give earnest heed’ with a humble heart and open ears, “For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time.”
Skeptics scoff, doubters dither, seekers speculate. Ourselves, once “without God and without hope” are now brought near and “through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope”. The call is to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful”. We are billboards to our generation that “God has chosen to make known among (us) the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So “…prepare your minds for action. Be sober-minded. Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Yes, hope’s silver thread that is woven intricately into the tapestry of redemption. Let us embrace it and share it!