For 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. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles 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 (Romans 15:8-13).
This Thanksgiving is different, if you haven’t noticed. America is different, from even a year ago. America is, in many ways, in a crisis. Like much of the world, we have been impacted by COVID-19. There is what some might call a standoff in the Presidential election. The nation is bitterly divided—shattered, one might even say—along political, racial, social, and religious lines (to name a few).
So too is the church. Never in her history has the church been so splintered and fractured. And the sad thing is she is fractured in the same ways as America is. This is a sure sign that the world has greatly affected the church. The church needs healing. The church needs unity. The church needs Hope. That’s what this season, starting after Thanksgiving is all about.
The season starting Sunday is often called Advent. Its focus is the coming of Christ. When God the Father sent His Son into the world, He was sending Hope. Jesus is not only God-incarnate but also Hope-Incarnate.
What is This Thing Called Hope?
What does it mean to hope? The Greek word for hope in the New Testament is elpizō. Its primary meaning is a confident expectation. It’s not mere wishful thinking. In the Bible the main sense of the word is the firm conviction that because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we can have confidence as we face the future. Not confidence that an event will turn out as we may wish or “hope” it does, but rather a confidence in the goodness and purpose of the One who holds the future in His hand.
In Whom Do We Hope?
Today, we are seeing the removal of hope. The things that people place their hope and trust in are falling. One by one.
The Stock Market
The list could go on and on. Mankind has always had a habit of placing hope in anything other than God. There’s a song by the group Styx that accurately captures this idea. Here are some of the lines. See if they resonate with you:
Every night I say a prayer
In the hopes that there’s a Heaven
And everyday I’m more confused
As the saints turn into sinners
All the heroes and legends
I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside
So afraid that I’ve lost my faith
. . . .
And as I slowly drift to sleep
For a moment dreams are sacred
I close my eyes and know there’s peace
In a world so filled with hatred
That I wake up each morning and turn on the news
To find we’ve so far to go
And I keep on hoping for a sign
So afraid I just won’t know — “Show Me the Way,” Styx (1990).
These lyrics sound a lot like they could describe many of us today, don’t they? They reveal a fundamental flaw, however, in the human character. Anytime we place hope or trust in someone or something other than God, we risk being let down. It’s a fact of life.
Jesus: The Hope of Jews and Gentiles
Notice what Paul says about Jesus here: He became a servant (or minister) to the circumcised (the Jews) to show God’s truthfulness (faithfulness), and to confirm the promises given beforehand (v. 8). Then Paul says in effect “He did all this so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for His mercy” (vv. 9-12a). Now we have both Jews and Gentiles praising God for His faithfulness and mercy.
In Scripture, God is referred to as “the hope of Israel” (see Jer. 14:8; 17:13; Acts 28:20) Here, Paul refers to Jesus as the hope of the Gentiles (v. 12b, “in him will the Gentiles hope”). So, Jesus is the only hope for Jews and Gentiles.
That’s everyone. That’s right. The Bible speaks of only two categories when it comes to people: the Jewish nation and everyone else. And Jesus is the hope–the only hope of both categories. You and I fall into one of those categories. Thus, He is our only hope.
The Test of Hope
Our hope, like our faith, will be tested (the words are so interconnected, that hope is often used in the same sense as “faith” or trust). How do we know if our hope is in God, and not the things or people of this world? The answer is similar to the old analogy of the jar of honey and jar of vinegar that get knocked over. What was inside comes out.
In the same way, it’s the trials of life that will reveal where I hope lies. We will get knocked over. We will get hurt, rejected, and see hardship.
When that relationship ends….
When we don’t get the promotion we wanted….
When we don’t get the house we wanted….
When “our” candidate doesn’t win….
When the test reveals dreadful news….
When the pastor lets us down….
Where is our hope? Notice these statements begin with “when,” and not “if.” It bears repeating: We will get knocked down by life. We will have hardship. Jesus promised that in this life we would have tribulation. But He was quick to point out, “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How do we know where our hope lies?
The one whose hope is in the world–things and/or people–will be crushed. He or she will be angry and hurt. Perhaps angry at himself, most certainly angry at others, and often even angry at God. The focus will be on righting the wrong, so that some sort of peace can be restored to the soul. Little or no thought is given to the purposes of God. Or if His purposes are considered, it’s automatically assumed that they must have been thwarted (which reveals an even bigger problem).
The one whose hope is firmly fixed on Christ, however, will still have the same hardships–and in many cases, even more hardships. (That’s what most people don’t realize about following Christ.) He or she will still be hurt, perhaps even shaken a little. Those things are normal and natural. Even Job cursed the day of his birth. Yet, the one whose eyes and heart is fixed on Christ will quickly return to Him. With doubt, fear, questions–but a deeper hope that the Lord is good and in control. Such a one realizes that the ways and thoughts of man could never compare to the Lord’s ways and thoughts. And he willingly embraces the trial and hardship as one of God’s tools for growth.
This is the difference. This is how we know where our hope lies. And this is the only real way to know. It’s easy to say, “My hope is in the Lord” when times are good. But the hardships of life reveal our true heart.
Hope in the God of Hope
Paul closes this section with a blessing on the believers–and by extension that includes us. He first references the “God of Hope.” This means at least two things: 1) God is the source and embodiment of hope; and 2) God is the giver of hope. He prays that the believers would be filled by God with “all joy and peace in believing.”
Why joy and peace and not hope? Because one must have peace and joy in life before that confident expectation arises. The peace that Paul speaks of is the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that exists regardless of circumstances. Joy likewise comes from a place of seeing the goodness of God in the midst of the darkest of seasons.
Hope is the result of these, and Paul says it comes “by the power of the Spirit.” The only way to have true hope–the hope in Christ–is to have the Spirit of Christ (the Spirit of Hope). The one with this hope has experienced the peace and joy in the midst of hardships, and has found God to be faithful and trustworthy. And knowing that God is sovereign and good, the one with this hope can rest confidently in the Lord’s plan and look to the future with confidence.
As we prepare for the season of Hope, looking forward to the coming of Christ in Advent, let’s pray that the Father would turn our eyes to Him, away from the idols of clay we have built up. Let’s ask Him to fill us with His peace and joy, so that we too may experience the hope that lies in Christ.