In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Hope. That’s a word we use a lot. I hope the Bears get a real quarterback so they can be better next year than they are this year. I hope that things with the coronavirus slow down, so we can have something resembling a usual Christmas. I hope that the vaccine for the coronavirus works to bring about normalcy in our society. We hope a lot of things. But what do we mean when we say that?
I looked it up in Merriam-Webster, and basically there were two things that essentially were described there. The first is what I just mentioned. That was that it is an expectation. Or as it worded it more eloquently: “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” All of those examples fit that, don’t they? These are desires that we cherish, and we do so with anticipation. There’s this expectation that we’re creating and we’re anticipating that outcome. Bears fans cherish the thought of a time that has a functional offense to go with the defense that could keep them in any game. Society as a whole rightly desires normalcy to return, and cherishes the thought of that return. That’s the first then, expectation.
The second it called archaic, but that is to equate it to trust. Of course, those sort of go hand in hand, don’t they? Isn’t there a sense in which the things that we hope for are grounded in a hope that flows from a trust? Bears fans trust there will be satisfaction in the victory of the Bears, and likewise we all trust that there will be a comfort that we will enjoy when things return back to normal.
This week we had a demonstration of hope in the Gospel reading. As Jesus processed into Jerusalem on the donkey, there was the connection to the prophecy from Zechariah. “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” The people to whom that was written, the people of Israel, had heard those words from Zechariah, and they had hope. The hoped for the day when this King would come. They had the expectation, the anticipation for that coming, and they were looking for it. Then they saw it with Jesus, and they rejoiced. They lay down their cloaks and welcomed Him. They cheered around Him, they waved their palm branches around Him. Their hope was being fulfilled.
Sadly, as we look at the whole of Holy Week, we see that their hope was mistaken. Now to be clear, they weren’t wrong for their trust in Jesus at this point. Right, you have that connection between trust and hope, and their trust at that moment was in the right place. They trusted that Jesus was the fulfillment of those words, this King of theirs who was coming to them humble and mounted on a donkey. But their hope was misplaced because of the expectation that was in error. Their expectation, their anticipation was for an earthly Kingdom. This humble King wasn’t bringing that. He was bringing a Kingdom not of this world, but of the world to come. And so, this misplaced expectation sadly corrupted their trust, and many fell from faith.
What can we take from this, then, as we speak about hope tonight? What can we take from this as we are this season, the one we often call the season of hope? To start, as we think in particular about the example I just used from the crowds with Jesus, we can focus our expectations, and in view of that, also our trust. Where are our expectations? Where is our trust?
To home that in a bit, think about how that worked. The expectations for the Jews rallying around Jesus were that He would be an earthly king. I make this point a lot, but we do the same thing, don’t we? Sure, we might have no misconceptions about Jesus’ role when He came as the One who came to die for sins and not to create a free kingdom for Israel, a kingdom where they would not have the issues with Rome reigning over them, and they could live as they wanted to. But where are our expectations astray? In other words, what do we really expect? Do we really center our expectations on what Jesus says and promises, or on what we think fits?
For example, the Scriptures are clear that this world is broken. It’s clear that our sinfulness has caused damage to the whole creation, and I don’t mean to say that strictly in the sense of something like climate change. It goes far beyond that. It goes to the realization that sin brings the curse of God altogether, and along with that curse, there is death, there is suffering, there are things like coronaviruses and divisions. Do we really expect that this world will be free from them? Do we really expect that there will be no evidence in this world of what we say in the catechism when we speak of the fifth petition? Do we really expect that there will not be evidence that we truly sin much and daily and therefore deserve nothing but punishment? The reality is that we don’t. The reality is that often when things don’t go how we want them to, or how we’d like, we get mad. And often then turn our trust from God.
Or in a different sense, we often expect that we should have, and even deserve good things in this life. And so, we turn our trust from God then as well. We begin to trust in our comforts, we trust in the ease of our life, we trust in the securities of this life. Let’s be frank with ourselves. That’s what’s made the whole experience under the coronavirus so challenging. We have formed a hope that says that this life will attain to a certain level of comfort and security. Whether we are those who are upset with mitigations or those who are abiding the mitigations to a T and beyond. Whether we are those who are just ready for life to return to normal, because we’re exhausted by the challenges it brings or because we are afraid of the outcome of things. It doesn’t matter. We all, every single one of us, in one way or another is demonstrating that our hope is in things in this life.
Does that mean it’s wrong for us to want things to go back to normal? Does that mean it’s wrong for us to pray that God would bring this to an end? By no means. But it’s something that has to be understood as God drawing us toward two things. First, it’s God drawing us to repentance, because our sin always brings about such things, and because we keep sinning, we need to keep repenting. The other is that it is God’s way of drawing our hope to Him and to the life to come.
As things are bad here, where do we want to be all the more? Hopefully, you’re like me and it’s making you pray for the return of Jesus. I don’t say that because I’m such a great example, I say that because that should always be the hope for the Christian. Our hope should always be directed to the Lord who promises to bring with Him the eternal Kingdom where all these things are gone. Think about how that works. When we suffer here, we can’t wait, all the more, to be with our Lord who loves us and cares for us. We look forward, all the more, to being with this Lord who has cared for us so much that He lay down His life for us, in the promise that by His resurrection we will live forever in His eternal Kingdom.
To bring this back to trust, also think about how when the things of this world fail us, not only do we look forward to life with our Lord more, but we realize how our trust all the more has to be in Him. When you realize your bank account can only go so far, when you realize the joy of your loved ones can only last so long, when you grasp that the comforts and pleasures of this life are fleeting, where do you realize that you have to turn? You have to turn to Jesus, right? Your hope has to be in Him.
Next week I’m going to talk more about Romans Five as we talk about peace, but I know there is a
passage in there I’ve mentioned numerous times because it’s so fitting. It begins in verse 3, saying, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Hope does not put us to shame. More clearly hope in Christ does not put us to shame. It might look ridiculous now. People might ask you, “how can you trust in this God who allows all that we’re seeing? All the suffering, all the death, all the sorrow?” But that hope will not be put to shame. You see this because you see the One who died and rose again.
You see, that’s where you can see this God’s trustworthiness. You can see it because of the promises in Jesus. First of all, you see in the ways that Jesus fulfilled those promises to the patriarchs. Like Paul said in the reading, “I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” In other words, what Paul is saying is that God promised the Patriarchs, promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of them, that this Christ would come. He promised that this Christ would come, and all nations would be blessed through Him. He promised that this Christ would come, and He told how it would happen in ways like being born in Bethlehem, like the virgin being with child, like this King riding on the donkey in His humility. All of that was promised beforehand and all of it came true.
Second, you can see it in the death and resurrection. As you see this love of Christ for you on the cross, you see how much this God has loved you. Then when you see the resurrection, you see that this wasn’t just a great example, it wasn’t just something that says, “Hey this is how loving I am and how loving you should be.” No, in the resurrection you see that this love means that your sin is really forgiven. You see that this God loves you so much to forgive all the ways that you trust in the things of this world, to forgive all the ways you hope for the things of this world rather than looking forward to the things when you can see Him face to face. He loves you so much that He not only forgives you but even still gives you good things now when you deserve nothing but punishment. He also loves you enough to discipline you as a good father does, correcting you by bringing hardship to you at times that you would turn to Him.
And He does all of this, Christian, through His Word that He has recorded in the Scriptures. As again, Paul said, “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.” I said in my devotion for this passage yesterday that I can’t help but think about how John says all of the things in His Gospel are written that we might believe. Do you remember that? He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
That belief is our hope. We hope that we will have life in His Name. That’s not just a desire to cherish in anticipation, that more than that. It’s a trust. It’s the heart of this season. It’s reality represented as we go forth looking to celebrate our Lord’s birth. As He came once, we trust He will come again. And we know that He is trustworthy such that when He does come, He will bring His Kingdom with Him. That kingdom will be the fulfillment of our every hope. Anything good we could want to have, could anticipate we would have, we will have, because He is good and He loves us. And our Hope in Him will not put us to shame. Amen.