Pain can crush hope. Injustice and inhuman oppression squeeze the life out of us, so we yearn for release.
Buddhists hope for nirvana, the end of all suffering and desire, exit from the cycle of reincarnation and suffering. Hindus hope for moksha, escape from the cycle of suffering and reincarnation.
Christians expect a different ending. God entered that suffering, faced the oppressive powers, died at their hands, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. When he rose on the third day, the present powers lost their hold. Even death could not hold him. He has been exalted over all powers, the sovereign ruler who will release the earth from injustice and every form of oppression.
The Christian hope is not escapism. It’s the restoration of earth under heaven’s rule. Unlike our oppressors who gain power through force, Jesus waits for the citizens of earth to acknowledge him. That strategy takes time, but it will succeed: every knee will bow, and every tongue will give him allegiance.
About one-third of the people on earth acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but there are still wars and oppression as people fight each other for power to rule over bits of God’s world. How do we embody the Christian hope of a world restored under God’s kingship, even in the face of the present suffering?
Paul’s letter to Rome addresses that question. These aren’t rules for personal piety; they’re guidance on how we embody the hope of Christ’s kingship:
Romans 12:11-13 (original translation)
11 When it comes to eagerness, hold nothing back; passionately serve our Lord. 12 Rejoice when it’s painful; keep going, in the hope of where it’s going. Keep persisting with your requests to God. 13 Partner with God’s holy people in their needs, and hound those you don’t know with hospitality.
Jesus’ vision of earth restored as the kingdom of God is what motivates us to serve him as king. The good news (that Jesus is now king) forms us into good-news people (v.11).
This is the hope that keeps us joyful, even when life is filled with pain (compare Acts 16:25). This hope inspires us to keep presenting our requests to our heavenly sovereign, especially when things on earth are not running as he intends (v.12).
Paul has two suggestions for how we focus our passionate energy for representing Jesus’ kingship (v.13):
- For people who acknowledge Jesus as Lord, we are the hands and feet of Jesus meeting their needs.
- For people who do not yet acknowledge Jesus as Lord, we invite them into our homes so they can experience the caring and acceptance our king has for them.
In other words, we are the good-news we proclaim. The world isn’t yet fully released from oppression, but those of us who acknowledge Jesus are privileged to embody that vibrant hope now — the clear and present expression of the kingdom of God, the living embodiment of the restoration of heaven’s reign in the suffering world.
When it comes to eagerness, hold nothing back. Live passionately in the service of earth’s true king, the hope of the world.
What others are saying
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 29–30:
If our mission is to share good news, we need to be good news people. If we preach a gospel of transformation, we need to show some evidence of what transformation looks like.
Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 31:
Theology is the task for disciples of Jesus to begin excavating the manifold truth of the gospel and to start reflecting the spiritual realities that the gospel endeavors to cultivate in their own lives.
Zechariah 8:13 (The Message):
You’ve gotten a reputation as a bad-news people, you people of Judah and Israel, but I’m coming to save you. From now on, you’re the good-news people. Don’t be afraid. Keep a firm grip on what I’m doing.
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[next: Living in the cross-hairs (Rom. 12:14-21)]
One thought on “Living hope”
If we do a study of the word ‘hope’ in the NT, the majority of times it is used, it is used in connection with the resurrection, either explicitly or implicitly. When we lose site of the end of this part of the story, that is the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection and the establishment in full of his kingdom, then there is nothing for which to hope.
It’s interesting looking at the headstones in our graveyards. Up until the late 1950s most grave markings said something about ‘she/he waits for the hope of the resurrection’. From the 1950s onwards more and more headstones had no mention of any hope.
It would seem that as western society has lost its hope in the future kingdom it has also lost hope in any other type of future.
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