the wellspring of hope
John Bunyan (1628 – 1688) spent 12 years in a prison in Bedford, England for refusing to stop preaching the gospel of Christ. During this time, he had a wife and four young children at home, including a blind daughter. One of the roots of his resolve was, according to his words, “to live upon God who is invisible.” Grasping and holding on to the unseen God is the essence of faith (Heb 11:1) and the fountain of hope. Romans 8:24,25 say that hope that is seen is not hope, but “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
The foundation of hope is an understanding of and communion with the unseen God, in all His grandeur. He is our hope. To be without God is to have no hope (Eph 2:12). Paul labored hard in his ministry because, he says, “we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Tim 4:10). The source of hope is the abiding Holy Spirit and the means He uses to enflame our hearts with hope is the Scriptures. It is the eternal Word of God which reveals the eternal Creator to us and in this knowledge our lives are rooted in hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,
that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
It is not overstating the case to say that the Christian life, properly understood, is a life filled with hope. For some people, ‘hope’ is nothing more than a wish for what might happen. For Christians, ‘hope’ is a confidence in what will happen, based on the Word of God. Perhaps the following illustration can serve to portray the difference.
Two students are studying for a final exam in history. The first student is asked, “Will you pass the exam?” His answer is, “Well, I hope to pass it.” Now this student has not cracked his book the entire semester. His class notes are spotty, with elaborate doodles lining the margins. He skipped many of the lectures. He couldn’t tell you the difference between the Code of Hammurabi and the Declaration of Independence. And now, in the final examination, he will be called on to divulge information he has never heard of, much less memorized. His ‘hope’ is nothing more than wishful thinking. To use our contemporary vernacular … he doesn’t have a prayer. It would be accurate to say, in fact, that prayer is all he has. Truly, his hope is empty.
The other student in this story, on the other hand, is prepared for the test. She has read the textbook, carefully taking her own notes as she read each section. She has not missed a single class lecture. She has taken extensive notes on the professor’s lessons and has reviewed them regularly. We would say she knows the material ‘cold’. The professor can ask anything about the Civil War or the French Revolution and she is ready to give an answer. We come to her and ask the same question we asked the first student. “Will you pass the exam?” She replies, “I hope to pass it.”
The question to both students was the same … and their answers were the same. That is to say, the words of the answers were the same. But there is a profound difference between the ‘hope’ of the first student and the ‘hope’ of the second. For the first student, hope is nothing more than a wish for what might happen. It has no foundation … it is empty. In contrast, the hope of the second student is an overwhelming confidence in what will happen. Because of her diligence, her hope is filled with promise.
The hope of Christianity is not simply a wish for what might happen. It is the confidence of what will happen, based on who God is and what He has said. It is no wonder that Romans 5:2 says that “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” and Romans 12:12 says that Christians are to be about “rejoicing in hope.” Is there any more abiding spring of joy than to have a soul that is captivated by an indomitable, unshakable hope that is rooted in the living God and in what He has said. There is in such hope a strength for every trouble of life. Surely this is what Bunyan meant when he wrote from his prison cell about “living upon God who is invisible.”
Rejoicing in hope with you,
blessed display of God’s love and Wrath
In the cross of Christ I glory, tow’ring o’re the wrecks of time; All the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.
One of the most enduring symbols of the Christian faith is the cross. We see it displayed in most Christian churches and people even wear it as a piece of jewelry around their neck (though certainly without thinking of the shame and horror the cross had in the first century, being a symbol of painful execution). And we have many songs about the cross … “The Old Rugged Cross” … “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” … “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” … “Near the Cross” … “Hallelujah for the Cross.”
It is understandable that the cross would have a place in the minds of many people, even people who are not Christians, because what happened on the cross of Jesus Christ (together with the resurrection) is the central event of the whole of human history. Like no other display by the eternal God, the cross is a demonstration of two of His infinite attributes … His love and His wrath (though other attributes are on display as well).
When we think of the cross, we usually think of God’s love. And well we should because the Scriptures associate the death of Christ with the love of God.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Jn 3:16
But God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us. Rom 5:8
In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His
Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 Jn 4:10
The cross of Jesus Christ is a magnificent exhibition of the love of God for rebellious people, who, left to themselves, always choose something else over God as the greatest prize of their souls (cf. Isa 53:6; Rom 1:21; 3:11). No one ever loved us, nor ever will love us, like the eternal God. One evidence of the magnitude of His love is the value of His gift. He did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all (Rom 8:32). What we have here is a Father, giving His only Son to be executed in the place of His enemies … an infinite Father, Himself putting to death His eternal Son. The ultimate answer to the question, “Who killed Jesus?” is God the Father. According to a remarkable verse in Isaiah 53 “The LORD [God the Father] was pleased to crush Him [God the Son], putting Him to grief” (Isa 53:10 – NAS). This action on the part of God the Father rose, according to John 3:16, from His love for us. It is a truly awesome event.
But the cross is not only a demonstration of God’s love. It is also an amazing display of His wrath. When Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, ”My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” the cup He was referring to was the cup of the wrath of the Father. The Old Testament makes a connection between the imagery of drinking a cup and the angry judgment of God against sin. The Jews drank from the cup of God’s anger (Isa 51:17). In Ezekiel 23, God’s warning to Judah is that the same divine judgment that came to Israel would come to her. “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘You shall drink your sister’s cup that is deep and large; you shall be laughed at and held in derision, for it contains much; you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow. A cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria'” (Ezek 23:32,33). And the wicked of the earth must drink of the bitter cup of God’s wrath. “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Psa 75:8). Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s anger … the cup we deserved to drink.
In the cross of Christ, God the Father showers us with His love by pouring out His wrath on His own Son. In the singular act of the crucifixion of the eternal Son, the justice of the Father is satisfied so that sinners who are in Christ can be accepted into His holy presence. At once, the mercy of God is shown to be majestic and the wrath of God is shown to be awesome.
When these truths grip our soul, we are filled with joy and wonder and hope. We begin to sing with confidence . . .
When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin. Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free; For God, the Just, is satisfied To look on Him and pardon me, To look on Him and pardon me.
Humbled and delighted by Christ’s cross,
a call to the church today
There are seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. They represent all churches of all time. These seven churches were chosen because there were characteristics true of them which are true, at one level or another, of all churches, i.e. the struggle of purity in living, the importance of purity of doctrine, the trials of persecution, the seduction of the secular forces of humanism and idolatry. To be sure, there are certain of these seven churches which better represent individual churches or even time periods in church history than others. Laodicea is one of the churches which parallels, to an alarming degree, the church in America in the 21st century.
If ever there was a church in the Biblical setting which mirrors our time, it was the church in Laodicea. In earthly terms, they had it all in Laodicea. It was a wealthy city. There was a thriving clothing industry there. Woolen cloth and carpets were made from the shiny, black wool from the sheep of the area. The city was a strong fortress, planted on the line of a great Roman road which ran from the west coast of Asia Minor to the inland parts. The road passed right through Laodicea. It was a banking center with a flourishing money changing trade. There was a Roman military outpost there, and a famous medical school which was known for the development of ointment for the ears and powder for the eyes. Laodicea was so wealthy that during the time of Nero’s reign, in the 7th decade of the first century, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake, the city was rebuilt entirely out of the pockets of the citizens rather than from any subsidies of the Roman state.
There was a Christian community there too, but something was very wrong in the church. The mood of this letter is a somber one. It is only one of two letters to the seven churches without a commendation whatsoever (the other being the letter written to the church at Sardis – cf. Rev 3:1-6). There is only rebuke and warning here. The church in Laodicea was comfortable and self-deceived. The church was flourishing materially, but crumbling spiritually.
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:15-17).
In their satisfied complacency the Laodiceans were self-deceived. They thought they were something that they were not … and they failed to recognize what, indeed, they were. The Lord says to them that they don’t realize the condition they are in. In this verse He says, “You think you are rich, but you are poor. You think that with that powder you put on your eyes you can see, but you are blind. You think you are comfortable with all the luxuries your money can buy, but you are miserable and wretched. You think with the woolen fabrics you wrap around yourself that you are well dressed, but you are naked.”
They were looking at themselves in material terms and were quite satisfied. But the Lord, who sees the condition of the heart, was looking at them in spiritual terms and His searching pronouncement was that they didn’t recognize the wretchedness of their lives. In terms of goods, they were wealthy, but in terms of that which is eternal, they were paupers.
Jesus calls to the church in Laodicea (and to our church) saying, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev 3:18).
Christ is saying, “Do business with Me. Have your commerce with Me. I will make you richer than you ever imagined. I will give you joy, love, patience, peace, faith. What bank is there that can secure those things for you? What stock options will give you comfort when you are fearful? What 401K plan will give you hope when you are on your deathbed? Come to Me in your humble nakedness and I will clothe you with righteousness. Come to Me in the darkness of your blindness and I will anoint your eyes so you can see life as you have never seen it before. You will be able to discern spiritual truths that you never knew.”
We are so passionate about our possessions and our purchases and our paychecks. Let us be even more passionate about the matchless grace of God and the spiritual food of the Bible and the salvation secured for us in Jesus Christ. Beloved, do not set your life’s priorities thinking only of the springtime of youth when the strength of your body is unabated, nor thinking only of the middle of your bustling career, when ambition grips your soul. If you want to set your priorities properly, go out to a windswept cemetery and realize that the grave is your earthly end. And then, looking back over your short life, decide what things to set your affections on … the things that are eternal … the things of heaven. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches … including Bethel Baptist Church.
Praying for increasing spiritual desire,