We hear a lot about hope — from politicians, from books, from multimedia. But what is offered in each of these messages doesn’t seem to last. We may get fired up and encouraged by what we hear in such messages; indeed, we may find ourselves refreshed and hopeful for a season. But what is offered is not a fixed, experienced hope and it soon fades away.
The entire world is yearning for a steadfast hope. Hope is not a feeling. How many times has your expectation for something good failed you? How many times has your human hope been crushed? The inner cry of multitudes around the globe right now is, “Somebody, somewhere, please give me some hope, something that will last.”
Many wonderful books have been written by people who maintained hope through their awful tragedies and hardships. Their testimonies encourage us, giving our faith a great lift. But, again, our hope fades whenever a severe trial arises in our own lives. The sufferings we endure dash whatever steadfast hope we thought we had.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Sorrow [not] as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The book of Hebrews tells us we have a “hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Hebrews 6:18-19). In short, the path to hope begins with being fully assured that we are right with God. We’re talking about the assurance that we have peace with God: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Likewise, Paul prays, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). According to Paul, when it comes to the subject of hope, the work of the Holy Spirit must be involved.
In a famous old hymn of the church, Edward Mote wrote, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Indeed, this is peace: to believe God’s promise that by faith in Christ’s shed blood, he considers me righteous. And his righteousness is conferred on me not by any good I have done — it is all by faith.
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Paul had just asked the question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (8:35).
Clearly Paul recognized Satan’s mission in these last days: to hinder God’s people from walking in his great love. All to often, multitudes in the church today are blind to this deceptive work of the enemy and live completely unaware that he has successfully blocked them from knowing and enjoying God’s love for them.
We are never to fear our adversary, of course. But if we are not alert to Satan’s subtle attacks on our faith, we will continue to live defeated lives. Paul knew how important it is to expose the devil’s wiles and only as we identify these attacks on our faith can we say with Paul, “Nothing can separate me from God’s love, which is in Christ Jesus.”
In every age, God has stationed intercessors on the very front lines to do battle against Satan’s principalities and powers. Today these spiritual soldiers — “prayer warriors” — can be found in every nation. Jude exhorted, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20-21). The message to those in spiritual battle is clear: “Build yourself up in faith. Keep yourself in God’s love.”
It is impossible to build up our faith through human strength or ability. Without the Holy Spirit, we simply aren’t able to keep ourselves in the knowledge and assurance of God’s love for us. We need God’s Spirit to empower us in all things.
When everything seems to conspire against God’s promises being fulfilled, the Holy Spirit rises up in us with true words of comfort: “Hold on! Trust him! God is at work in every hour of your situation so don’t waver. Instead, rise up and fight the good fight of faith.”
As Christ’s witnesses, we are called to a seemingly impossible task. We are asking the world to lay down the things that are most dear to them: their sins. In their eyes, the Christian walk — a life of purity and holiness — looks like a form of slavery. Our idea of heaven seems to them more like hell. When they hear us talk about the gospel, it is an offence to their lifestyle. Christ’s gospel calls them to repent of the sins they love, to repent of rejecting the God who died for them on a cross. It calls for a life of holiness, when for years they’ve tried to silence their conscience, to kill any notion there might be a coming day of reckoning.
Christ’s gospel also tells them their own personal goodness cannot merit eternal life. It asks the self-made man to die to himself and his selfish ambitions, and to give his life for others. It declares that his own sense of integrity is nothing in God’s sight. Such a gospel is a threat to his pearl of great price: his personal achievements, the things he has worked long and hard to obtain. If you tell him his righteousness does not merit salvation, he will despise you. During his final time with the disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus warned, “Some of you will be rejected, some will be imprisoned, and some will be killed. All of you will be persecuted” (see John 16:2).
At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love another” (John 13:34). Note this was not an option, it was a commandment. And it is where every evangelistic effort must begin. According to Jesus, only this particular love — a love for fellow believers — will gain the attention of a lost generation. It is the same kind of self-denying, sacrificial love that Jesus shows to each of us. Such love for our kin in Christ cannot be accomplished in word alone, but must be in deed.
The world needs illustrated sermons — powerful personal examples — of God’s love. In John 17:21, Jesus made this prayer: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Dear saint, obey his new commandment and remember his Word: “By this all men will know you are mine” (see John 13:35). Love others as Jesus loves them and watch as God works through that love.
The promises of the Lord are always “yes and amen.” His promises never change — and that includes his promise about saving the lost. When God commanded us to go into all the world to win souls, he didn’t include an exemption clause: “Preach the gospel of my Son Jesus Christ to all nations — except in hard times.” And he didn’t say, “Believe for the salvation of many — except when there is a great shaking in the world.”
Thank God, he has never said the world is too wicked, too hardhearted, too given over to lust to be reached by his Good News. At no time in history did the Lord ever limit his tender mercies — and he never will. Right now, America and the rest of the world could still be spared judgment if there is true repentance. Of course, such repentance would require a great humbling and a mass return to the Lord. But our God has never rescinded his amazing offer of mercy.
Jesus declared that he came to seek and to save the lost. He who had power to subdue the winds and waves, who could send fire down from heaven to destroy the wicked, who embodied righteousness — this same Jesus came as a humble servant. He set captives free just as he claimed he would and he faithfully broke every form of bondage he encountered.
The gospels speak of Christ as kind, patient, longsuffering, forgiving, full of tenderness and mercy, willing that no one should perish. He was called a shepherd, a teacher, a brother, a light in darkness, a physician, an advocate, a reconciler. He went about doing only good and no one ever had cause to hate him. So why the deep, vicious hatred toward Christ?
Jesus was hated by the world because he came as a light to deliver the world from darkness. “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
Jesus declared of himself, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (8:12). Walk in his light and life today!
Hard times are coming, and the next generation of young people need to know that the only thing they need to fear is living in fear — cowering and retreating from the glorious gospel that Jesus has equipped you to share with others.
The truth is, persecution will continue to grow worse because the gospel keeps frustrating those who walk in darkness. God continually subverts their anti-Christ efforts, and that just makes them angrier. Thus John writes, “Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy” (Revelation 22:11).
John is prescribing our response to the world as it grows filthier and angrier toward us. His words echo those of Jesus: “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:10).
Let your heart be ruled by the love of Jesus Christ. All our power rests in his love; indeed, the power of our witness is in preaching his Word with mercy, and in remaining holy amidst a corrupt generation.
Think of the horrific genocide that took place in Israel when Jesus was born. “A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning” (Matthew 2:18). When Christ became a man he could have said, “Herod will pay for what he did. He killed all my Jewish brothers, so now I’ll bring him down.”
Of course, our Lord didn’t do that. Instead, he proclaimed good news, healed the sick and kept about his Father’s business. He even kept his focus when Herod sought to kill him (see Luke 13:31-33). He was saying, “I will keep on doing exactly as I’m doing and I won’t be distracted by persecution no matter how bad it gets. My Word will triumph over all and I will fulfill my purpose to set every captive free.”
May Jesus’ purpose fill our hearts fully as the world careens on its dark path. May we keep to his purpose, which is our hopeful calling. Hallelujah!