November 19, 2016
For what do you hope?
I assume you hope for something. Most, if not all of us, do.
Some hope they will enjoy themselves. Some want to succeed. Others want to have a long life. Christians understand such concerns. In fact, they readily accept that there was a time when they had similar hopes!Now they have a new hope: a better hope (Hebrews vii.19), a blessed hope (Titus ii.13), a living hope (1 Peter i.3). Because it is also a sure hope (Hebrews vi.11) it encourages Christians to be both bold (2 Corinthians iii.12) and confident. It helps them to remain steadfast even in times of testing and trial (Colossians i.23; 1 Thessalonians i.3). Why? Because hope is an anchor (Hebrews vi.18-19) and a helmet (1 Thessalonians v.8) for the soul.
God wants you to have hope. He wants you to know that he comforts and supports all who turn to him. He wants you to know that he keeps his promises, which are sure and certain. He wants you to know that he loves his people with an everlasting love. He wants you to know that those who wait for him shall renew their strength. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint (Isaiah xl.31).
There are two words that help us understand what hope involves. The words are expect and wait.
The hope God’s people have is not wishful thinking. Many of our hopes are little more than that. For example, you can plan a holiday, a trek, or a family party months ahead. When you do so you have no firm idea of what the weather will be like. But you hope it will be fine. Such hope is little more than a longing or wish. It is not based on certainty. It cannot be. No one knows exactly what the weather will be days, weeks or months ahead.
Christian hope is not based on mere wishes. It is rooted in the personhood of God, the power of God, the promises of God and the purposes of God. A knowledge of them teaches us to expect and wait.
What is God’s purpose? In eternity, before the creation of the world and universe, he purposed to have from amongst mankind a people for his own possession. The Bible provides a clear answer to the question of our origin. We are not the product of random chance. Rather God created mankind in his image. We were fashioned by him and for him.
Similarities between mankind and beasts exist but the reality is we are different. We are not the same as other living beings. They are, generally speaking, confined to specific environments and have limited capacities. Animals do not cogitate, choose and create as men and women do. Though created by God, they do not have the same relationship with God that we enjoy. They have not got his written word as we have. They do not enjoy, as we do, the benefit of knowing that the eternal Word of God became a man, Jesus Christ. And they do not understand, as we do, that Christ became a man to save his people from their sins (Matthew i.21).
God planned in eternity that in Christ he would have a people who are precious to him. That is, sadly, not something that any of us deserve. Because of our selfish wilfulness, our defiance of him, and our rejection of his law we deserve to be cast far from his presence. Notwithstanding that fact, those who see that only Jesus Christ can reconcile us to God enjoy the privilege of being numbered among his people. To know that he will never leave nor forsake them, fills them with hope. They shall be forever with the Lord.
What does God promise? Along with the promise of forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ there is the promise of the gift of his Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God shall be with us and in us. He is given, never to be withdrawn. Such themes are rich and could be much more fully developed. However we want to especially focus on the promise of resurrection on the last day.
Body and spirit belong together. You and I are enfleshed souls. We are not just bodies. Nor are we just spiritual beings. We have a soul and a body. Tragically, because of sin, we shall die. All of us are to expect that a day will come when body and soul will be separated. We shall cease to breathe. Our bodies will die. They shall be committed to the grave. However they shall not lie in the grave for ever. From the dust of the ground our bodies shall be raised on the day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. That is what God promises.
Again, we say, this is not mere wishful thinking. God has given us firm evidence that this will happen. Our hope of resurrection, you see, is based upon the fact of Christ’s resurrection. He is the firstfruit. He rose from the dead. Those who are united to him through faith will also rise.
The body of Christ that was laid in the tomb is the body that appeared to Mary, Peter, and the other disciples after the resurrection. It was recognisable as the same. When our bodies are raised there will be a similar continuity between what we are now and what we will be then. However they will not be exactly the same. We get a glimpse of that when we consider that after the resurrection Christ could (and did) appear in bodily form in locked rooms. In other words, our resurrection bodies will be like but not exactly the same as our present bodies. They will be glorified bodies freed from all imperfections and perfectly fit for life with God for ever in the new heavens and new earth.
We will be raised by the power of God. Our hope of resurrection is rooted in the fact that God will transform us on the last day. We have no power to give life to the dead. God does. We have no power to transform ourselves into the likeness of Jesus Christ. God does. We have no power to change the present order of the universe into a new heaven and earth. God does. God has promised that he shall do these things. It is by the infinite power of his Word and Spirit that he will speak the new heavens and earth into existence. The resurrection of Christ is the guarantee that such will happen. The Christian hope is not founded on a mere wish. It is grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Our hope of resurrection is guaranteed by God himself. Having spoken of his purpose, promises and power, we need also to say a few words about his Being. God is holy. That means that he is pure and perfect. There is no blemish in him. Because that is so we can be assured that his promises are sure and certain. What he says he will do. His word is true.
The devil is not like God. He is a liar. He destroys rather than gives life. Tragically Adam and Eve failed to spot his schemes. Instead of being true to God and his Word, they chose to believe the lies of the deceiver. Countless people still do. In so doing they act foolishly rather than wisely.
The wise are those who listen to and consider the claims of Christ. He tells us that he is the resurrection and the life; that he gives life to all who believe on him. Furthermore he promises resurrection on the last day.
The One who gives the promise is the One who has also done all that is necessary to reconcile a sinner to God. Christ died and rose so that all who have faith in him may die to self and be raised with him. His resurrection is the ground of our resurrection. It is the solid foundation upon which our great hope is built.
EPC 6 November 2016