If you follow the news, the words "Hope" and "Change" have probably lost their luster for you. They have been over-used and misused a lot lately. Two words that can suggest so many good things have come to represent much of the worst of politics, and have robbed many of the first and left them hungering for the second. If we take them out of the hands of the pundits and politicians and spin-doctors, and put them back where they belong, in the court of religion and of the faith, they can mean some wonderful things again!
Hope is commonly a pretty weak thing. We hope the weather changes, for example. It might, and then again, it might not. Our hope doesn't change anything, it merely expresses our desires. It is a sort of wishful thinking.
When the Scriptures speak of hope, however, it is a powerful thing which lays hold of something genuine. The Christian hope is actually a reality which is not fully experienced right now. If it were fully experienced, it would not be a hope, but a present thing we could see and enjoy fully right now. But it is a future certainty, owned and possessed by the believer right now, but not experienced until the date chosen by God.
Let me give you an example. Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ has won eternal life for all, and that those who take Him at His word and trust in Him for it already possess it. "The free gift of God is eternal life". Note that it does not say "will be". It says that it is. The Bible tells us that we who believe are "born again". It speaks about our death in connection with Jesus Christ and His death. It tells us that this death came about through our baptism. "We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death," Romans 6:4. Since we have died, death no longer has any claim on us. In fact, we are connected by that same baptism to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and are told that we shall rise with Him.
I have presided at a number of Baptisms, and never have I seen the death that the Bible speaks of, that is to say, I have never witnessed what this world calls "death" occur as the result of the Baptism. I take the Word of God to say that what I cannot observe outwardly has happened inwardly - in the spirit. So, a real death has occurred, but I was not equipped to observe that, I could just see the actions that were the cause of the death and the being "born again" of water and the Spirit. The result is a person who has begun to live forever, but whose body is still facing death due to sin's destructive and lethal effects. Outwardly, I, or someone else, will one day observe the death of that body. It will seem more real and permanent than the death which I participated in (by Baptizing), which I did not actually see, but it will prove, according to Scripture and the Christian faith, to be less real and far less permanent.
One day that body will rise again, to join the rest of the person who was born to eternal life on that baptismal day. But between this day and that, we live in hope. We know by the faith and the Word of God (which is to repeat myself, since my faith knows by the Word of God) that what we cannot see or truly comprehend has happened in Baptism, and that the person thus born again will rise out of the grave to everlasting life - as long as that person has not subsequently rejected the gifts of God in unbelief. So long as that person believes, there is no way around that glorious resurrection.
Jesus proved that by rising from the dead. His resurrection not only shows us what ours will be like, His resurrection is ours. Oh, not in the sense that we rose from the dead two thousand years ago, but in that His resurrection is the first in the whole thing. We look at the time span and marvel at how long it is. God has already explained to us in His Word that He doesn't see time the same way. One day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day, according to Peter in 2 Peter 3:8. That one significant resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection in which we all shall rise. But we have never witnessed a single dead guy get back up with our own eyes. We have the testimony of the Apostles and the other disciples of Jesus, and the unwilling and unwitting testimony of the Romans and the Jewish authorities that Jesus rose, so it belongs in the realm of those things which are for sure, but are not open to our sensory confirmation at this time. Thus, it is called "hope".
And Jesus rose to never die again. The death He died, He died to sins once, for all. The life He now lives, He lives to God. Paul even says that since Jesus has died and risen again from the dead, death is no longer master over Him. That means that death cannot claim Him. He is never going to die again.
But, wait! We already spoke of how we died and rose again with Jesus in our baptism. So, if Jesus is no longer under the threat of death ever again, we, who have risen in Baptism to that new life with Him, cannot die again either! That is, in part, why our bodies must rise from the grave. We are not dead. Our bodies may spend their time in the tomb, but they must come forth eventually, and God has appointed that day as the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Again, this all unseen by us, as of yet, but it is coming. Therefore this reality which is ours, but unseen yet, is called "hope".
To be fair, I must also mention the promise of God that all who have ever lived will rise from their graves, believers and unbelievers alike. That is what is so tragic for the unbeliever. He who does not believe, and therefore is not baptized, is spiritually dead even while he or she lives in this world. Those who have been baptized and later rejected the gift of life and salvation through Jesus Christ are also dead, for they have discarded the new life which Christ has given to them and refused God's salvation. They can be saved by being converted once again, but until they are, they, too, are dead. Whether they are outwardly good or evil, whether we like them a lot or they are real stinkers, they are dead. Even family whom we cherish, if they are not believers in the one true faith are dead. Jesus likened it to whitewashed tombs - they look good on the outside, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and corruption. Just as our new and eternal life through Christ demands that our bodies rise to life, the deadness of their spirits demand that once their bodies have risen, they die eternally in hellish torment, along with the spirit. That and the judgment of God.
So, that which we possess but do not enjoy the full experience of is called hope. Along with that hope comes change. I have written about much of the change in what I wrote about hope. There is the forgiveness of sins. That is one big change. We have no sensation of forgiveness, although many people feel very much about forgiveness. Along with the hope of salvation, and part-and-parcel of it is the good news that our sins have been atoned for, and forgiven. When sins are forgiven, God changes in our eyes. He doesn't actually change, but our perception of Him does because the offense that stood between God and us, and which causes man to fear God with such naked terror, and even hate Him, is removed. God declares us forgiven and the matter of our sin closed.
The result is that once again, God is on our side. He is our loving heavenly Father, not the stern and angry Judge. We can come to Him and seek His help and blessings and have a good reason to expect them - He has already promised them to us for the sake of His Son. When danger and trouble comes around, we have a God we can lean on and depend upon and find comfort and help in. That is, to borrow a phrase, change we can believe in.
Hope teaches us about the love of God for us. It is grounded in the story of His greatest expression of love. It is fashionable, today, among even Christian teachers (so-called), to talk about Jesus as a metaphor or a myth. They say He is an illustration of a point but not a true historical reality, an object lesson, so to speak, to teach something about the love of God. The revelation of Jesus Christ surely teaches us about God's love, but He is no fiction, and His story is not make-believe. It is hard history. When I refer to it as a story, I mean the entire account and all the details. They are true and they really did occur. The Scriptures give us all the details we know, and they tell us what to make of it, as well.
The love of God is this; God sent His Son to take on human flesh and blood and human nature so that He was in every way and in every sense one of us. He was born of a woman, rather than simply appear, as if by magic. He was born obligated to keep the Law of God, just as we all are. The difference is, He succeeded where we failed. He was perfectly holy on Good Friday. The announcement on the Mount of Transfiguration, "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased", was the divine seal of approval and declaration that Jesus was fit and ready to do what He came to do, die when He deserved to live. He died when He should have, and could have, lived forever in order to pay the penalty of the Law demanded for our sins. The Father declared the penalty for sin - The soul that sins shall die - and the Son paid the debt owed.
Jesus could make that payment for all of us because, although He was in every way one of us, He was also true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. His death was more precious than the deaths of all mankind put together. When God raised Him from the dead, He declared that the penalty for sin was paid, sin completely atoned for, and all mankind redeemed. God took our obedience out of the equation of our salvation. He declared that He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. Now faith takes the place of legal righteousness and is the obedience which God is looking for. The requirements of righteousness and legal perfection have been met for us by Jesus. That is how much God loves us!
So, essentially, eternal life is poured out upon everyone. He died for all. The only people who will not enjoy the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are those who reject it in unbelief. And their children, who share in their unbelief. God set that principle forth already in Exodus 20, I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. When mom and dad have the good news of the gift of life and salvation proclaimed to them, and they turn away from it and reject it in unbelief, and takes steps to assure that they do not have to hear that good word of life, they condemn their children as well to the same fate as they have chosen for themselves. The offspring are locked up in unbelief by the imposed ignorance of their parents. That means that even if they personally have never heard, their unbelief is rejection, a family tradition of rejection, if you will, that condemns them to eternal misery.
But should they hear and turn in faith, faith created by the Word of God they heard, and find the hope of what has already been won and poured out, they, too, will possess the hope and the change will come upon them, too! And what a change! It is life from death, comfort from sorrow, family from strangers, and peace in the midst of whatever life can throw at you - and life is quite a pitcher.
One of the names of that hope and change is Easter. It is known in the person of Jesus Christ, but the day of the change that brought us our hope is known among us as Easter. For some, Easter is a day of bunnies and candy. For some, it is a day of special clothing and hats. I remember several of the new hats I had as a young boy on Easter. For many people it is a day of special feasting and of family gathering. These traditions each arose out of the hope and change of Easter, and were once quite meaningful for those who practiced them. The meaning has faded for many and simple nostalgia has become the reason for those practices. As long as we practice them remembering the realities of Easter, we are doing just fine.
Hope and change are what Easter is about. It is the hope of those things which are ours, and yet not possessed as fully and consciously as they one day shall be. It is the change from once not a people to now the people of God. It is the kind of hope and change people keep searching for in this world, but in vain. There is only one place, one source for this hope and change, the cross of Jesus Christ, the empty tomb of Easter, and the precious and absolutely certain promises of God, made to us for Christ's sake. This is hope and change you can count on!
Yours in the Lord,
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