This year has been one, for many, a culmination of 361 days of hopelessness, despair, anxiety, or dismal vantage points. Much of these feelings can be attributed to real and credible hardship. If you weren't aware, we are all in the middle of a global pandemic; a pandemic we thought may have been over in a few weeks, a summer, or at the ringing of the new year. As if a pandemic wasn't enough, there has been unrest in an array of circles, relationships, and spheres. To utter the idea that 2020 was a year of hope would, in many groups, lead to at least some raised eyebrows and at most a visceral contempt. To assert 2020 could and is filled with hope may seem absurd to many. To me, by God's grace, the grave, and at times weight of sadness around me has not left a space where hope couldn't exist. Rather, I've observed and experienced on a much deeper level, a hope that is both eternal and not swayed with the to's a fro's of the fallen world around us.
We often hear the word hope mentioned during times of difficulty. Whether it be during sickness, pain, hardship, or anything in between, you may hear others tell you to, “just have hope.” I used to be someone that flippantly handed out this catchy phrase to others as if to stick a bandaid on a wound needing stitches. Although, at the time, I wasn’t sure what they were to have hope in, just saying that statement at least felt like the kind and comforting thing to do. Our feelings can be temporarily mended by the idea of “just having hope”. Our feelings tell us to have hope that things will get better or work out, but I, like probably many of you, have probably realized this year more than others how nothing seems to be guaranteed. So I ask all of us, what are we to hope in when we suggest to others that having hope is something we can behold during hardships? Even more, where does true hope come from? If we try to place our hope in other people or circumstances resulting in what we deem most desirable (as if to assert we have total control), aren’t we most often shown that that hope is fleeting?
The idea of hope exists for a reason, and when it is in its true form, it is not to give us a false sense of security when things actually end up getting harder. I would imagine that we all, in a variety of ways, have experienced disappointments both in 2020 and the years prior. We may have desired to have hope in said situation or relationship either being reliable, consistent, or working out for the best, but sometimes in the end that hope revealed itself to be on sinking sand. As we experience and witness the people and circumstances around us to be, what seems as frail or unreliable, then true hope must come from something that cannot be changed, moved, broken, or shakeable; something outside of both other people and the circumstances of this world. The object of our hope has to come from something that cannot and does not fail; something that has all the wisdom, power, glory, and goodness that the things and people of this world don’t possess. In order for hope to be hope at all, it has to come from a source outside of this difficult world that we all live in. It also has to come from outside of our own sinful and broken selves. The word hope does have an ultimate and eternal source, and by God’s grace, I’ve come to know it in a whole new way in 2020.
This hope that I have eluded to thus far, is found in Jesus Christ. I've come to both rest in and behold the hope of Christ in a year that seemed to attribute only hopelessness. By God's mercy and steadfast love, He has awakened both a sense of contentment and joy that extends beyond the flailing world around me. To be clear, my natural inclination lends more often to a state of anxiousness, worry, and fear. For this reason, I can only attribute my ability to have hope that goes beyond what seems possible, to the kindness of God seen through my sanctification. It wasn't as if I was unaware that eternal hope existed in Christ alone before 2020, but so often it seems as though God uses what should break us to mold us more into the character and likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. It has been both through my community and studying His Word that I have not only known in theory but lived out of in truth that my hope exists not in the pandemic ending, a certain President getting elected, or me obtaining a new job after being laid off. My hope comes in the fact that through Christ's perfect life as both fully human and fully God, His death and suffering the penalty that we not He deserved, and His resurrection and ascension into Heaven, I have both forgiveness of sins and a relationship with a perfect and Holy God that will last for eternity. So, this is the hope I cling to not as if to offer some bandaid over a wound that needs stitches but as the perfect healing for my once dead and broken self. As the Lord has grown in me a desire to defend and speak to the Gospel, I have spent much time in 1 Peter 3. During my time in this text, it struck me what Peter was calling Christians first and foremost to make a defense of. Hint - it wasn't our circumstances, government, or worldly rights.
In 1 Peter 3:15, we read, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason the hope that is in you;” Peter goes on to tell them more about how they should defend the hope that is in them, but I want us to focus on what exactly Peter is telling these Christians to defend. He says, “defend the hope that is in them.” He didn’t teach them about hope, but rather he was speaking to them from a place of knowing that true hope was one they were already beholding. He didn’t have to explain to them the object of their hope but rather how to live out of it.
Peter knew that because they were now born again believers in Jesus, they had true hope inside of them, that they knew where it came from, and that because they had received salvation and forgiveness of sins through Jesus, their hope was secure, steadfast, and unshakeable. The hope they had was not because their circumstances were promised to get better. It was also not because they were by themselves unshakeable but instead, it was because the object of their hope was; that object being Jesus Himself.
These Christians were facing immense suffering and hatred for their faith. Many of them, including Peter, died horrendous deaths as a result of being devoted believers to Jesus Christ. In the face of such misery and hardship, Peter didn’t tell them to run and hide but rather to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that was residing on the inside of them. As Peter instructed these Christians to be prepared to defend the hope that was in them, he wasn’t instructing them to blindly come up with varying definitions for why they had hope in the face of opposition. Rather, he was interchangeably using the noun of hope with the object and source of hope: Jesus. So, if Peter was pointing them, in the face of tremendous potential suffering to the person of Jesus Christ, how then was that providing them hope? It wasn't providing them hope like our "just have hope" statement often attempts to do. Rather, Peter was reminding them of who their hope was in and why. For it wasn't a work of their own doing to behold this hope. It was, like their salvation and relationship with God, given through God's grace and steadfast love. So, why does this same hope these recipients of Peter's letter apply to us today?
What was true of these believers before they were, by God's grace, followers of Christ was also true of us apart from Christ. Our original state standing before the perfect, holy, just, merciful, graceful God without Jesus's death and resurrection is as a sinner that is dead walking in evil trespasses against Him (Ephesians 2:1). What Paul wrote in this letter to those in Ephesus applies to the readers in Peter's letter as well. What then are we to do with this? Even more, how do we have hope if that is true? Paul continues in Ephesians 2, teaching those in Ephesus as to how it is that they are no longer dead in their trespasses and sins.
Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:4-9 that, "But God rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness in us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."
Paul starts by declaring characteristics of God after he just described adjectives for those who are not a new creation in Christ. We see a big difference in the dead children of wrath characteristics that Paul used to describe the former way of life for the people in Ephesus (which is true of nonbelievers today also). On the contrary, He talks about God as being rich in mercy and having great love. That rich mercy and the great love of God is happening when?
Paul teaches that it was existing even as these now believers were dead in their trespasses. It was existing even as they were sinning against Him. So, the question then is, if God's love and mercy were given to these now believers in Christ even before they believed in Him and were consequently dead in their trespasses, was their salvation and eternal hope because of their ability to earn it?
Clearly, if God's love and mercy were existing towards them when they were sinning against Him and spiritually dead in those sins, we can conclude that this type of love cannot be earned through any works of our own. For just as true hope cannot be placed in the fleeting existence of ourselves, others, and circumstances in this world, or our ability to earn salvation is impossible too. If our forgiveness of sins doesn’t come from anything we can do right, our hope isn’t either; for both of these are something we behold because of the giver of them.
Moving on, Paul teaches how their once spiritually dead selves now have that new life we talked about before. He says that God made them alive with Christ. How? By grace they have been saved and raised up in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. So, God showed His love and mercy before these believers were even aware of how sinful they are in order to save them by God’s grace, and in order to give them new life and eternal hope through Jesus’s death and resurrection. It is important to note the total lack of any mention of action by these people. The only role they played in any of this was that they were dead in their sins and trespasses apart from Christ, and now because of God's grace in Christ, they have been made alive. This is important, because as we focus on eternal hope, we see that it is also what Jesus did through His death and resurrection and not what we or others can do to mitigate negative outcomes in our lives.
The next verse shows us a glimpse as to why God did this. Did God show them great and abundant mercy and grace because they were deserving and had special privileges in His eyes? Absolutely not. In fact, Paul teaches, it was to show in future times (which includes now) the immeasurable (beyond any human measure or comprehension) mercy and grace that God shows those He saves in and through Christ Jesus.
As if Paul hadn't already driven the truth home that these once dead people brought nothing to their own salvation in Jesus Christ, he then decides to repeat a certain phrase. He goes on to tell them yet again that it is by God's grace that they have faith in Jesus. Why is it only by God's grace? So that we cannot boast as is in our natural human tendencies to do so. Such boasting would be a conduct of the former way of life Paul was talking about. A former way of life that those Peter was writing to would have known as well. Instead, though, Paul teaches that this grace is a gift from God. It was not out of anything they did, but simply a gift. It is a gift that allows us to see our sin rightly and to repent, or turn away from, the former way of life that resulted in spiritual death. It is a gift that accompanies both forgiveness of sins and eternal hope in Jesus.
It was not their faith that came first before God's grace, but as Romans 5:8 teaches, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." As part of this grace, through Jesus, we have new life and eternal hope. Quite literally, we as believers, joined with followers of Christ both past and present, have been transferred out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13) This transferring from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ, means that we are no longer seen as children of wrath in the eyes of God. Rather, because God made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). So how does this transferral into the light and love of God give us eternal hope?
It gives us eternal hope because it points us to not everything around us on this earth working out in our favor (as is often the case), but an eternal and unchanging security in what Jesus did for those that place their faith in Him. For apart from God’s grace, rich mercy, and steadfast love in Christ Jesus, we are truly hopeless. Even as we look around us in the world today or in our own personal lives, it can seem like things are utterly falling apart. It can even, at times, feel hopeless. But that is not the state that we have to exist in just because the rest of the world asserts so. For we, as believers in Jesus Christ, are not hopeless. We are covered in His righteousness, awaiting for the place that He is preparing for us (John 14:3); a place where tears, pain, and suffering no longer exist (Revelation 21:4). This hope isn't one we have while simulatenously grittig our teeth in anxiousness, but rather it is accompanied with the joy, glory, love, and comfort of the Prince of Peace.
Back in 1 Peter 1, we see Peter starting his letter yet again reminding these Christians of this eternal hope that they have in Jesus. In verses 3-9, we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
I pray for those that are believers in Jesus, you will cling to this eternal hope knowing that you have forgiveness of sins, new life on earth, and eternal life with Him one day secured and fully paid for. For those that don’t know Jesus and have not placed their faith in Him, please message me! Let us Praise God, though, for this undeserved favor He shows those that are saved by His grace allowing for us to see our sinful nature rightly which leads us to to repent and turn away from the sins and trespasses that brought death; for that alone is how we inherit and live out of the true hope in Jesus Christ.