God Is Love. Jesus Is Hope.

1 John 4 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It’s come over the last year or so, and it was huge timing.

I had been struggling with a long time for believing God’s love for me was true. It was that chapter which gave me several assurances of God’s love:

  • “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.” (v. 9-10)
  • “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (v. 16)
  • “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (v. 18-19)

That last set of verses was especially pertinent to me. I had a lot of fear of God, fear of people, fear of the unknown. Knowing that God loves me and works all things together for my good (Romans 8:28) has been such a relief when I’m overwhelmed by my sin, when I wonder about the future. God loves me, all will work out in the end. That kills a good bit of that fear.

But recently I’ve been feeling hopeless. I know I am not hopeless, I know there is true hope. But it’s recently been hard for me to believe it.

One passage that really hit me over the head with a truth yesterday was John 16:33-17:3. It’s incredibly powerful:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Some context: Jesus had just finished telling the disciples that “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and believed that I came from God” (16:28). So the disciples were told that God loves them.

In this passage, Jesus gives the disciples, and us, three reasons to have hope, and they all come from Jesus Himself.

Jesus brings us hope of peace here and now.

Jesus says He tells them these things “that in me you may have peace.” Peace can be a feeling. It can be an emotional response to something. But more than anything, peace is a state of being that is not necessarily swayed by emotion.

Jesus says all these things so that they can have peace. There’s a peace that comes from God that is objective. It’s established through the love of God shown through Christ. Jesus earned that peace for us on the Christ. It’s the peace between God and man that could only be won by Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 describes it as “reconciliation”:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

The peace we have earned is a reconciliation to God that we lost at the fall, that we lost when sin entered the world. Jesus has made the way for us to be reconciled to God and achieve a great peace.

There’s also a sense where there is emotional or mental peace. That truth, that we’ve achieved an objective peace with God, can at times bring us an attitude of peace. We don’t have to worry about our eternal resting place. We don’t have to worry about our salvation. It was earned through Christ.

Because of Him, we can hope.

Jesus brings us hope of overcoming the world.

Jesus tells the disciples that, in the world, they will face difficulties and tribulation. Each and every one of us faces tribulations, difficulties, on a nearly-daily basis, if not a daily basis.

Jesus has overcome all of that. He faced everything the world had to throw at Him and came out on the other side victorious. Granted, He was God and could do that.

But through Christ, we have hope of doing the same thing. We have hope that we can make it to the end because Jesus paved the way for us. He showed us how to live. He gave us the opportunity for grace and mercy through His death on the cross.

One practical example: He can help us defeat sinful temptation in our life when it attacks. Hebrews 4:14-16 explains it perfectly:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus faced every temptation we did. And He beat it! Because of this (that’s what the “let us then” means), we can come near to Christ when tempted, and we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We pray. We read what Jesus said in His Word. We observe His behavior in the Word. After all, He is “the Word” (John 1:1).

Because of Him, we can hope.

Jesus brings us hope of life after death with Him.

In His high priestly prayer after speaking with the disciples, Jesus prays and says that God the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (17:2).

What God the Father gave God the Son was the ability to grant eternal life to those He calls His own. I’m not going to dive into the Trinitarian aspect of this because honestly I have no idea how that works and I don’t think we fully will until we get to heaven. And then it still might remain a mystery.

But what remains is that, through Christ, we are given the gift of life eternal with God. And this life eternal is beautiful. Revelation 22:1-5 captures just a sliver of it:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Sometimes I get chills thinking about what this might look like. Again, this is just part of what that eternal life will look like. And we have hope that this is our end because of Jesus. If He hadn’t died on the cross, we would have no hope of this. If He didn’t save us, we would have no hope of this.

This is a thing to rejoice over! This is something we get to be pumped about! Our eternal destiny is secured because of the cross of Christ. In a world where our futures can often be everything and anything but secure, our eternal future is completely set in stone, untouchable by anything on or off earth.

Because of Him, we can hope.

And hope is a beautiful thing in a hopeless world.

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The Cure to One of the Most Common Human Emotions

I’m no sociologist or psychologist (although I wouldn’t mind being one), but I’m going to take a stab at something that would make you think I aspire to be both.

I think one of the most common human emotions is hopelessness.

I did some research this morning to see if my hypothesis could be backed up by research, and alas, I didn’t find anything to support my guess. But hear me out.

  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that, “in 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.”
  • The World Health Organization reports “globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.”
  • I stopped counting, but there are at least 20 songs on iTunes called “Hopeless.”

If you are hopeless, you are literally without hope. You’re likely to exhibit negative thoughts and feelings about life, your current situation, friendships, relationships, work, career, but particularly things you may have once expressed a lot of excitement about.

I know what it’s like to feel that way. Yes, me, a Christian, knows what it’s like to feel that way. In fact, I wrote a post yesterday in the depths of my hopelessness. By writing the post, I hoped to reveal that it’s possible for a Christian to experience this while still being a believer. Being a Christian doesn’t restrict you from feeling hopeless.

However, being a Christian gives you access to the greatest hope in the world. The cure for one of the most common human emotions is thinking on the thing that can give anyone hope. That thing is Jesus.

We crave hope. And hope is one of the best things in the world. It’s one of the things that Paul says “abides” in 1 Corinthians 13:13, along with faith and love.

But hope is not the greatest. Love is the greatest. For a minute I was thinking through why this was true. Why is love greater than hope? Why is love greater than faith? After all, isn’t it our faith in Jesus that is part of our salvation? What about our hope in Jesus?

I realized something huge: we have hope because of love. We have faith because of love. We have love because of love.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We have hope because of love.  God loved us and gave us Jesus, therefore those who believe in Him will have life everlasting. God’s love, shown through Christ, gives us hope of a life eternal with Him, of grace and mercy towards us in our sinful states, of an eternity separated from sin and worry and fear and pain.

We have faith because of love. God loved the world and gave us Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. We have faith in God because of the love He showed us in Jesus. We trust Him. We believe Him. We have faith that He will follow up on His promises.

We have love because of love. God loved the world. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). As a response to God’s love of us, we love not only Him but others, and even ourselves. We see what love looks like, and we seek to respond in kind.

Everything revolves around the God’s love for us. His forgiveness of our sin, His faithfulness to us, His setting us apart for special attention and care, His building a place for us when we go to heaven. All of it. Because of His love for us, we can have hope.

We often run into hopelessness this side of heaven. We face divorce, cancer, depression, kids not behaving how we want them to, a job we can’t stand, a church that lets us down. We feel as if we are without hope on this earth.

There is a sense to where we are without hope on this earth. We won’t find the fulfillment of our desires completely on the earth. We will consistently be disappointed.

But we can have hope in Jesus, hope in the Lord of all creation, because of His great love for us. We can hope that His Word, His truth, and His Spirit working in us will get us through the difficulties we face. We can hope in a future where pain and sorrow are non-existent, not even words in our vocabulary, a future in heaven with Jesus as our friend and comfort. Eternally.

There are days when I struggle to believe these things. There are days I do OK believing them. But the beautiful truth of this is that no emotion of mine or action of mine changes the truth of these facts. They’re not based on me, they’re based on Jesus and His faithfulness.

That’s a hope I can buy into. Particularly when my circumstances and my emotions feel so dire. It’s not always easy to buy into it, but it’s worth pursuing. You’re not always going to have the good feelings. But you can have the good thoughts, and the peace, comfort and joy that come with thinking those things.

It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. I promise.

Hope Fulfilled: The Meaning of Christmas

I remember the hope I felt each Christmas morning when I was younger. I would wake up and sit at the top of the stairs in my house, waiting for my parents to tell me and my siblings that we could come down and see what gifts they had gotten us. The anticipation killed me. Was it a hockey jersey? Was it a bike? Was it that video game I wanted? Even last year, my junior year of college, I was a little more excited than I perhaps should have been on Christmas morning.

The anticipation of receiving a gift brings about happiness, excitement and hope for great things to come. Christmas is one of the times that we experience that the greatest.

For the Christian, however, the anticipation and joy is in a gift far more expensive, yet far more available, than anything our parents can get us.

Christmas is hope fulfilled. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were waiting for the fulfillment of the old covenant and the institution of a new one. Jeremiah 31:31-34 fills us in (emphasis added):

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The hope is sin forgiven, God known, adoption. Before Christ’s descent, there was no full forgiveness of sins, there was no truly knowing God. The only one who had any idea of “knowing God” was the high priest, who once a year went into the high places and made sacrifices before the presence of God.

Christ replaced that high priest and became a better one, as Hebrews 7:26-28 makes clear:

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Because of this, we have a hope (that was once set up) FULFILLED. We no longer have to wait for salvation like we waited on Christmas morning for those gifts from our parents. It’s here for us. And Christ opened it up to not just the Jews, but also to the Gentiles, as Paul said the gospel is good news for both the Jew and the Greek. Hebrews 9:11-15 says (emphasis added again):

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

This is the meaning of Christmas: Christ fulfilling the hope begun so long ago. This hope leads to so many things that would take days to write about, but most importantly, it leads to the hope of salvation, forgiveness of sins, absolution of guilt before God. That is the most important need of mankind, and Christ offers it freely. The payment was His death, but we get it for free, simply turning our lives to Him. No works, no magic words, no special circumstances. Just a heartfelt confession of our sin and our need of grace and Jesus, and a dependence on Him.

Christmas is so drenched in the gospel that we should not be able to contain how much we celebrate it.