Introduction: hope in a dark place.
Immaculee Ilibagiza is a woman who survived the Rwandan holocaust in 1994 when the Hutu majority turned and slaughtered the Tutsi minority. Over a 100-day period an estimated 70% of the Tutsi people were killed which amounted to 20% of Rwanda’s population. The killings occurred between April and July 1994 with an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people being butchered. During this time Immaculee’s family was murdered and she was hunted by machete waving neighbours.
The Hutu pastor of a local church hid Immaculee and five other women in a small ensuite toilet and shower room in his home. The room was four feet by three feet and with a shower at one end and was too small to have a sink in it. The room was tiled and there was a small widow about six feet from the ground – the sort that only a cat could get through. A wardrobe was placed in front of the door and they were only allowed to flush the toilet when they heard the neighbour flushing theirs. If they had not done this then Hutu neighbours would have been alerted to the fact that people were in the house next door. Along with the five other women Immaculee was to remain in that toilet without leaving the room for ninety days and would lose half her body weight. On a few occasions the pastor’s house was searched by Hutu men whom she had heard butchering Tutsis outside the house and this is what she writes about one of those times:
“I heard the killers call my name. They were on the other side of the wall, and less than an inch of plaster and wood separated us…..There were many killers. I could see them in my mind: my former friends and neighbours, who had always greeted me with love and kindness, moving through the house carrying spears and machetes and calling my name. “I have killed 399 cockroaches,” said one of the killers. “Immaculee will make 400. It’s a good number to kill”
Immaculee Ilibagiza in, ‘Left to Tell,’ page xix.
During the days and weeks that Immaculee spent in the small toilet area, not knowing whether she would live and die, she spent many hours in prayer. OF that time she writes:
“I realised that my battle to survive this war would have to be fought inside of me. Everything strong and good in me – my faith, hope, and courage – was vulnerable to the dark energy. If I lost my faith, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive. I could rely only on God to help me fight.” (ibid 100).
One day after hearing screaming and crying as people were killed in the street outside she prayed and said she heard a voice saying, “Forgive them” and took a crucial step towards forgiving the killers. She then felt all the anger draining away from her. She had opened her heart to God and he had touched it.
Over ninety days after first entering the small on-suite toilet and shower room Immaculee was able to leave as the trouble died down. Yet just before the end of this time she had an intense dream and saw Jesus standing in front of her and heard the words, “When you leave this room, you will find that almost everyone you know and love is dead and gone. I have come to tell you not to fear. You will not be alone – I will be with you. I will be your family. Be at peace and trust in me, for I will always be at your side. Don’t mourn too long for your family, Immaculee. They are with me now, and they have joy” (Ibid 141).
As Rwanda started to come back to some sense of normality Immaculee found one of the woman who used to work in her father’s house and the woman told her of the death of her brother Damascene which she had witnessed. Damascene was caught by a crowd and beaten to his knees with machete handles, yet got to his feet and smiled at the killers. He did not beg for mercy but challenged them and said, “Go ahead, what you are waiting for? Today is my day to go to God. I can feel Him all around us. He is watching, waiting to take me home. Go head – finish your work…I pity you for killing people like its’ some child’s game. Murder is no game: If you offend God, you will pay for your fun…But I am praying for you…I pray that you see the evil you’re doing and ask for God’s forgiveness before it is too late” (Ibid 195). These were his last words.
Immaculee also came into contact with a politician who had been a friend of her father’s and who was now in charge of arresting and detaining killers. Immaculee went to the prison that he presided over and the leader of a group that had killed her mother and brother was brought out. His name was Felicien and he was, or had been, a successful Hutu businessman whose children she’d played with in primary school. He was also the man who had hunted for Immaculee, the man who had looted her father’s plantation and the one who had killed her mother and her brother. This is what Immaculee wrote about that encounter in the prison.
“His dirty clothing hung from his emaciated frame in tatters. Hs skin was sallow, bruised and broken; and his eyes were filmed and crusted. His once handsome face was hidden beneath a filthy, matted beard; and his bare feet were covered in open, running sores. I wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like a cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.” She then reached out her hand and quietly said what she had come to say, “I forgive you.” Writing about this later she said, “My heart eased immediately, and I saw the tension released” Yet the politician was furious at what she had done (Ibid 262-3).
There are many times during our lives when we can feel isolated and on our own, yet we are never in a minority: we are part of a kingdom that spans eternity and we serve the One true God whom we know as “our Father” (Mat 6:9). Whilst there are many who would seek to stand in the place of God and proclaim their greatness, they all have this written over their lives “and this too will pass away,” with millions of graves testifying to the transient nature of man without God. Unlike them and by virtue of the grace, mercy and loving kindness of God, we will live forever. We will stand in eternity with God and the God who will bring us into eternity stands with us now through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21-22), therefore we have hope.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Through Christ we are redeemed, having been purchased out of the slave-pits of self and darkness. We are now kingdom people and called to look away from ourselves to God as we grow in grace as His sons and daughters. God is the true light that reveals (Isaiah 45:7; 60:1-2; John 8:12; Eph 5:8), the power that releases (Ex 9:16; Job 9:4; Eph 3:6;6:10; Rev 5:12), the love that encourages and uplifts (Ex 34:6, Deut 7:12ff; Psalm 18:11; 1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 John 4:8-9), the strength that overcomes ( 1 Chro 16:11-12; Ps 28:7, 84:7; 1 Cor 1 :25, Phil 4:13, 1 Tim 1:12) and everything that is good and right and just is found in Him. In Him alone we find our hope and security.
The ever-present One.
Through reading the scriptures we see that this world is not all that there is and we can find meaning and purpose for our lives. We were created to be known and loved and although this world is rebellious, fragmented and torn, God has always been about His work of redemption. Therefore history is really His story – the story of how He continually reaches out in extraordinary and beautiful ways to help us find our way home.
For example, in Genesis 16:7 the angel of the Lord finds a struggling runaway slave called Hagar near a spring in the desert and reaches out to help her and in Genesis 32:1-2 we read of an angelic encampment called ‘Mahanaim’ (meaning ‘Double-camp’) as God continues to help Jacob see just who God is. Earlier, in Genesis 19 angels deal with a decadent Sodom and Gomorrah, whilst in Joshua 5:13-15 the commander of the Lord’s army appears in a way that reminds Joshua of just who it is that is in charge of all things.
In Numbers 22:31 a man called Balaam, (employed by a Moabite king to curse Israel) has his eyes opened to see the angel of the Lord standing before him with a drawn sword. Then in Judges 6:11-12 we find the angel of the Lord speaking to Gideon, a small man amongst a struggling people. The angel tells Gideon that the Lord is with him and then prophetically calls him a ‘mighty warrior.’ Later the angel of the Lord appears to Manoah from the clan of Danites (Judges 13:2) and tells him that his barren wife will conceive and have a child; and so we could go on. In 1 Chronicles 21:16-18 David sees the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, sees an angel (Luke 1:11), as does Mary (Luke 1:28), Joseph (Mat 1:20; 2:19) and the ‘drawn-the-short-straw’ shepherds looking after the temple flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth. In Matthew 4:11 angels attend to the ‘all-powerful’ One clothed in flesh and on planet earth as a servant-king and also, in Luke 22:42, we find an angel from heaven strengthening him in Gethsemane before he walks to a death that he never needed to own. In Acts 5:19 we read of a redeemed and Spirit-empowered Peter being set free from prison, and later heaven opens and a soon-to-leave servant sees Jesus standing ready to greet him. Later, as scripture and time roll on a reformed-reborn ex-murderer speaks of a man who was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4).
“My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” Isaiah 51:5-6.
In the above verse the Hebrew word ‘yachal’ is translated as the word ‘hope’ and can also be translated as trust. One of the places in scripture where we see this hope and trust is in the life of Abraham.
Abraham was called to leave his home in the city of Ur in the Chaldees. Ur was a powerful city with a pagan priesthood of over four hundred in a place dominated by a Ziggurat, this being a pyramid-like structure with staircases supposedly leading up to heaven. Man would ascend to meet with the gods yet the One true God of the Bible cannot be found this way. The God of the Bible approaches man and an example of this is found in Genesis 15:1-6 where we find Him telling Abraham that He would be Abraham’s shield and strength and great reward. Abraham is struggling because he is childless and then God tells him to look at the sky outside and informed him that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars. After this we read that, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6).
The word ‘believed’ speaks of leaning upon what the Lord had said, of trusting his weight on another person, so to speak. In your mind’s eye picture someone leaning on another person and being led along a path to safety and you get the idea about faith; it is trust and hope in the work and presence of another. This is what faith is all about.
In the Hebraic mindset, the word faithful in relation to God speaks of ‘firmness’ since it is the Lord who speaks with certainty, enabling all people to see things as they really are and live in freedom of mind and heart. Like Abraham and so many others we can have hope in the One who is present, trusting in His nature and character no matter what is going on. This is the hope that King David had and spoke of when he wrote...
“I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness (firmness) known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness (firmness) in heaven itself.”
Abraham placed his hope, and trust, in the nature and character of God and was therefore open to God. Because Abraham believed in God it was credited to him as righteousness with the word ‘credited’ meaning, to weave, or to plait, to strengthen and infuse. Through God’s intervention in Abraham’s life he was able to walk the right path, this being what righteousness is all about.
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever righter until the full light of day.”
God wants to be known and reaches out to us in every way possible, and so we have hope; we are not left on our own. We are rooted in the firm foundation of God’s nature and character evidenced in His words and actions across history.
As believers we don’t hope that God loves us or hope that He notices us. Deep within our hearts we know (understand and experience) the truth - that we are noticed and loved. In many respects God is the furthest person from us, yet He is still fully aware of the number of hairs on our head (Mat 10:30) and sees every glass of water we give in His name (Matthew 10:42). God is aware of our weakness and our frailty yet does not write us off. In all that we go through God seeks to encourage us (John 16:33 “I have overcome the world”) and seeks to support us in every way. This support is seen, as already mentioned, in the words of Isaiah who writes that salvation is on the way and that people are to look to Him and wait in hope for his arm (Isaiah 51:5-6). In these verses the image is of holding onto God’s arm for support – the arm of a father that is stretched out towards wayward people.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the word ‘arm’ is often used to speak of God’s strength, therefore Isaiah is talking about resting in the provision and strength of another. God is the One who redeemed His people from the curse and oppression and illegitimate rule of Egypt (Exodus 6:6-7). He is also the One who rescues us from the illegitimate rule of our own autonomy and the emotional turmoil and sense of hopelessness that often accompanies it. Ultimately this comes about through an incredibly powerful person who willingly comes as a servant (Phil 2:6-8) with the offer of life and friendship to those who are, by their fallen nature, deserving of nothing but judgement.
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no-one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope."
From what has been seen so far we realise that the biblical ‘ingredients in the word ‘hope’ include trust, shelter and strength and of taking refuge and rest in the work of another. This resting is not a passive activity but a cessation of one’s own activities in order to turn and focus on the Lord and receive from Him.
We are never alone and the truth of this statement is clearly emblazoned across history by men and woman who have faced the most horrific atrocities yet can still testify to the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Cor 3:16; Romans 8:37-9). One man who found great hope and strength when he turned to the Lord is Sokreaksa Himm.
As a young boy Sokreaksa Himm was left for dead by the Khymer Communists, after seeing them butcher his whole family. For many years Sokreaksa carried the traumatic images in his mind, along with the bitterness and hatred that had built up in him. Yet, through Christ, he was eventually able to come to a place where he could deal with the emotional turmoil. Of that time he writes,
“As I gave up my desire for revenge and pulled out the root of hatred, anger and bitterness from my heart, I was journeying towards forgiveness and the healing of my soul and the wiping away of its tears…Forgiveness has been a special gift from God in my life. It’s a spiritual power, breaking the time which bound the images of the killers in my soul. It cleaned away the bitterness from my heart…since I have forgiven those who killed my family, my life has changed. The fire of hatred has gone from my heart and soul, though the bitterness has not been forgotten. By forgiving completely, I can move ahead, relying on God’s healing power. Forgiveness has released me from the emotional torment that burned within me for years and now my heart is lighter and my spirit has peace.”
Sokreaksa Himm in, ‘The Tears of My Soul’ pages 126-7.
Like all people, we often struggle and fall as we stray like lost sheep, yet there is always hope because God is gracious and compassionate and willingly reach out His hand and touch our lives (Mat 8:3). In all that we go through there is hope because the God who spoke to a runaway slave called Hagar and encouraged her by naming her son Ishmael (God hears) is also Immanuel, God with us in the here and now. The One who walked in the blazing furnace (Daniel 3:21-27) is with us and has said that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut 31:6, John 14:18, Heb 13:5) and so there is hope.
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
In God alone we find the One who brings us back to our true self (Ps 23:3; 19:7) and in His grace, blessing, strength and love we have the power to overcome all things. Life will not always be easy, but it will always be possible because he is with us. One South African theologian who experienced the strength and presence of God in a country wracked by apartheid writes…
“It is not in ourselves that our strength lies, but it is in the conviction that with God all are possible. It is the conviction that the struggle for justice, human dignity and worth and the wholeness of the earth is not ours alone. We may lose the battle, but the conviction that with God all things are possible will survive, rise above defeat, and make us brave beyond our weakness, strong beyond our fears.”
Allan Boesak in, ‘Dare We Speak of Hope’ page 131.
Finding our true self.
Hope involves dying to the self that we became by way of the world, recognising that this was never meant to be our true identity in the first place, no matter how much we strived for it. We are not to trust in money, position, standing or personal achievements because they are transient and passing. We do not have to strive to be noticed or seek to build things around our lives to stave of the feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. We can have hope.
Hope also recognises that although we are small and weak we are never insignificant to God and are called to know Him as our heavenly Father. He is the One who encourages us to walk in His strength and power and in scripture, against all the odds we see ordinary everyday people doing far more than is humanly possible as they reap the supernatural blessing of His harvest in and through their lives (Mark 4:20). One example of this strength and blessing whilst undergoing great difficulty is seen in the life of Daniel. As a young man Daniel became a refugee and political prisoner in the mega-power centre of the day: Babylon.
We cannot imagine what must have been going through Daniel’s mind as he approached Babylon and saw the three-hundred-foot high walls that were to imprison him. Yet Daniel was not alone, for the One who “has established his throne in heaven and whose kingdom extends over everything” (Ps 103:19) was with him and as scripture states, “For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers.” (Psalm 103:11)
Daniel was an uprooted displaced young man who was marched into a pagan city that dominated the horizon. Yet, in seeing Daniel’s openness to the Lord, we realise that Daniel knew that his greatest danger would not be his imprisonment or what went on around him. Instead it would always be what was within him, for all things come out of the heart (Matthew 15:19). In order to triumph over suffering and hardship and have hope we need to focus on God and not become too preoccupied with what is around us – no matter how loudly it shouts. If Daniel had been caught up with the size and opulence of Babylon, he would have been drawn away from where God says life is lived first and foremost - in the heart and mind (Mt 5:28, 6:21, 13:15). A heart that is open to the Lord is more important than our own plans, agendas and “how to get out of difficulty” strategies.
The best thing that Daniel could do as he entered the city of Babylon and the very best thing that any of us can do, when faced with difficulty, is to reflect on the goodness, grace, mercy and love of God.
“Reflection is more than a mere turning inward upon ourselves, and it does not necessarily mean the denial or exclusion of exterior things. Sometimes we are more recollected, quieter, simple and pure, when we see through exterior things and see God in them than when we turn away from them to shut them out of our minds. Recollection does not deny sensible things, it sets them in order. Either they are significant to it, and it sees their significance, or else they have no special meaning, and their meaninglessness remains innocent and neutral. For recollection brings the soul into contact with God and his invisible presence is a light which at once gives peace to the eye that sees by it, and makes it see all things in peace”
Thomas Merton in “No Man is an Island” p 230
Daniel was caught up in the affairs of a nation undergoing judgement and power of paganism; yet he was not bound up in mind and heart because he sought to put God first in his life; in short his hope was in the Lord. If we walk with the Lord, we can triumph over our greatest problem (self) and know His power and presence in whatever way God sees fit. There is always hope.
In Babylon, Daniel could have tried to start a low-key protest movement or just kept his head down. He could have been wowed by the size and opulence of Babylon and allowed his situation to draw him away from God. Yet he did not; instead Daniel sought to serve God in any way possible. In a worldly way, it may seem a very small thing to do no more than seek to adhere to the dietary laws of Israel and not eat meat with blood in it, but in the ways of the Kingdom, this revealed an open heart. All too often we get caught up with plans and agendas when what God desires above all else is that we seek Him.
God often moves in unexpected ways and in Daniel chapter one, we read that God caused a pagan official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel (Dan 1:9) this meaning that the official, blinded by the powers of the day, had his eyes opened to seeing the truth. Despite his fear, he was able to grant Daniel his request. In seeking God first, Daniel was blessed with great wisdom and understanding; so how would we define wisdom?
”In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” Daniel 1:20
We can have great hope because the One who was with Daniel is with us now by the Spirit. As we have already noted, God is the One who knows the stars by name (Psalm 147:4) and is aware of every hair on our head (Matt 10:30); He sees a glass of water given in His name (Mk 9:41) and the widow’s two small coins (Luke 21:2-3). God is the one who controls historical eras (Isaiah 40:6; 1 Pet 1:24) and brings in, or allows rulers to stand and fall. In all of this we see the outworking of amazing grace (Eph 1:4, 2:8) and the patience of One who has the right to ‘call time’ on our world at any point. Although God is other-world and all-powerful, He is also the One who was wounded for our transgressions as is clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection.
We have hope because no matter how small and insignificant we may feel, God has promised that He will never leave us. This can be seen in how ordinary everyday people are able to do extraordinary things that are well beyond their natural abilities as the following story of Ruby, a young African-American girl living at the time of segregation in the U.S.A demonstrates.
As a young seven-year-old African-American girl, Ruby was taken to a mixed race school - the first of its kind in the USA. On the day the school opened, mobs who opposed this new type of school lined its pathways and were held back by police and soldiers as they hurled insults at parents and children. Inside the school, psychologists waited to talk to any child that might be frightened or traumatised by the angry crowd. Think of how the children must have felt.
On one occasion, in those first few traumatic days, Ruby, who walked to school with her mother, was seen to stop and briefly mouth something under her breath before moving on into school. In school one of the teachers asked Ruby what the matter was and what she had been saying. Ruby replied that nothing was the matter but that she had been asking God to forgive the people who were shouting because they didn’t know what they were doing. Ruby had her heavenly Father looking after her and the Great Shepherd walking with her by His Spirit. In Ruby we see a young girl who is being blessed, despite all that went on around her and in reading her story we find hope in the face of adversity.
Another story that speaks of hope in the face of adversity is that of Dr Stanley Jones who was a psychiatrist and missionary in India up until his departure to heaven in January 1973. One day, at the age of eighty-seven, Dr Jones woke to find he’d had a stroke. This is what he then wrote about that traumatic time in his life: “I was a completely helpless person with my left arm and leg useless, the right side of my face numb and sagging, sight and speech badly impaired.”Dr Jones went on to say that he had always expected to slowly descend into his nineties and one day wake up in the presence of the Lord; he had not expected to wake up old and crippled and he struggled. Yet the peace and security of the Lord was with him immediately as he recognised that God could use him just as powerfully as an eight-seven year old man as he could a younger man. His illness, weakness and inability was no problem to God. Later in his book ‘The Divine Yes’ he writes:
“By prayer, I am still communicating with the same Person. I belong to the same unshakable Kingdom and the same unchanging Person. Nothing has really changed except my means of communication with the outside world”
Dr. S. Jones in, ‘The Divine Yes’ p29, 31.
We can have hope: A small church doing great things.
The early church was made of up all sorts of people from incredibly diverse backgrounds: soldiers, synagogue rulers, prostitutes, wealthy businessmen, occultists, tax collectors and even members of the emperors own household. The church had no special buildings and, in a worldly way would not be seen as particularly strong. Yet people were saved, missionaries were sent out, occultists were delivered, lonely and marginalised men and women found help and the social structures of the day were challenged. The church had no armies or slick advertising schemes and held no political power whatsoever, but was soon seen as a threat to the lifestyle of Rome and incurred the wrath of emperors – and yet it continued to grow. Ordinary everyday people found themselves to be extraordinarily loved and accepted and were able to walk in the power of the Spirit – even through death – because God had poured His love into their hearts by the Spirit whom he gave. As history reveals the Church did great things (all without earthly power) and in this we find great hope and the challenge to continually look to the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 12:2).
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:16-18
No matter what happens to us we can stand in His strength and no matter how much the world or our circumstances shout out at us we can know the peace of His presence if we really want to (John 14:27). He gives peace which is reconciliation with our heavenly father and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore this peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of a person – the Creator of the heavens and earth, the One who was smashed to a cross; the One who put things in perspective for Job when He said…
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" Job 38:4-7.
Ultimately it was not Job’s friends that made a positive difference for Job, or any member of his family. In fact his friends and family contributed to his suffering in some ways. Instead it was when God stepped in and refocused Job’s attention that Job came back to his right mind as was also the case when Elijah gave up and asked to die (1 Kings 19:4). God fed him twice (v 5-8 underlying his desire to give) and then encouraged Elijah to meet with him and then continue with His calling. In both of these incidents, as is the case with countless others, we find great hope and blessing. Whenever God calls us to do something He also gives us the ability, or resources to do it.
We have hope because God has come and is coming for us.
“The birth of a new king marks a new beginning in heaven and on earth of a very different kind. …The birth of the new king, the one Rome did not anticipate and Herod could not stop, begins another history, which carries in it the end of all old royal histories. Characteristically, the birth of this new king marks a jubilee from old debts, an amnesty form old crimes, and a beginning again in a movement of freedom (so Luke 4:18-19).”
Prof Walter Brueggemann in, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ pages 102-103.
We have hope in the Lord because when we look in scripture we see that He is willing to come after us, even if we’ve made terrible mistakes. For example, He is the One who went after Adam and Eve after they had fallen (Gen 3:8-9) and he is the One who made garments of skin for them; who clothed them (Gen 3:21). I find great hope in this because I know that the word for garment speaks of a garment of authority. In recognising this I see His grace and mercy and know that, insofar as He touches my life, I can walk in strength and power; therefore I have hope.
We can also have hope in the Lord because when we feel that life is overwhelming and we find ourselves in that ‘didn’t aim to end up here place,’ we can still know that He is present even in the desert of own making or places we have been pushed into by others.
We have hope because God hears the misery of oppressed people and seeks to lift them out of darkness and bring them home, as was the case in working through a failed hero called Moses to reach His people.
"I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.”
God is the One who said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5:1) and then systematically removed everything that Pharaoh relied on as He set His people free.
God is the One of whom Hannah, a misunderstood woman who had prayed for a child for years before birthing Samuel, said…
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour. “For the foundations of the earth are the Lord's; upon them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. "It is not by strength that one prevails…” 1 Sam 2:7-9.
This is the God who says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24), the One who speaks through a burning bush the One who stoops so low and does not scorn the rags of our humanity.
We have hope because even when we have made mistakes God is still willing to come after us and is still willing to uplift us and is still willing to encourage us as was the case with Peter when Jesus came to the disciples at the Lake of Galilee (Luke 21:15-18). And the One who does this is Immanuel, the One who came amongst us saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).
We have hope in the Lord because when we feel weak and useless God’s words remind us that He never asked us to live in our strength but in His. This explains how it is that the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” (Jud 6:12). That’s also why God says, “Not by might or power but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6). That’s also why Gideon was told his army was too big when he raised one against the Midianites. The Midianites and their allies numbered 135000 whilst Gideon’s army numbered 32000 – but it was too big for God and he reduced it to 300. Why? Because “Man does not live by bread alone” (Deut 8:3; Mat 4:4) and due to our ability to march off in our own strength God wanted Gideon and us to recognise that victory is totally from Him. We have hope in the Lord because His mercy and grace is far greater than our ability to fall and fail. Like David, who certainly did not get it right all of the time, we can say, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” (Psalm 116:16).
We have hope in the Lord because even when we don’t really want to listen to what He says and wrestle with our conscience, He is still there and challenges us to think as is seen in His words through the prophet Isaiah to a wayward Israel: "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18). We have hope, even when things have gone horribly wrong because He is the One who reminds us through John, that if we sin there is One who speaks in our defence, Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 John 2:2).
We have hope in a living Saviour, in a God who wants to be known as Father and in the Holy Spirit spoken of by Paul as being poured into our hearts – this is why hope does not disappoint us: because it is rooted in the unchanging One.
When I know that I have got it wrong and that the uncomfortableness I am feeling is my own fault I still find God reaching out to me and so I find hope again – not just in His reaching out to me, but also in the many stories that He tells me which remind me that He is gracious and merciful (Heb 4:16) and does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10).
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him…… “My son, the father said, you are always with me. And everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:32
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:13-14.
God is the One whose word remains forever, whose love is everlasting and whose mercy is far greater than my ability to succeed or fail, which I so often seem to do so easily. He is the consistent One and always giving One who is incredibly holy and awesomely loving and He is the One who is present with us right now by His Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). He is the One who brings wholeness to shattered lives and who gives a freedom that is greater than any freedom we could ever experience by way of the world and self-achievement. His promises never fail and every experience in our lives, whether good or bad, are opportunities to know Him better.
“His voice calls us, His death redeems us, His word emboldens us, His life inspires us, His Spirit empowers us, His resurrection revives us, His wounded hands heal us, His grace remakes us, His peace surrounds us, His presence overcomes us, His love sustains us. So His name be praised, today, now and forever.”
A. Boesak in, ‘The Fire Within’ page 51.
We have hope because God is not like us and does not judge us, write us off or throw us away without a second glance. For example, prostitutes are often seen as little more than the target of a moral crusade against sin – people to be kept at a distance or swept away - yet Jesus went and ate with them and allowed one to wash his feet with her tears.
Alcoholics and drug addicts and prisoners and thieves are all often seen as little more than an embarrassment or people to be avoided and possibly imprisoned as quickly as possible. Yet what does Jesus do – He goes after the sinner and fallen-ones and seeks to pick them up and restore them to their true position as sons and daughters of the living God, and so there is hope. There is hope because God is not a God who shouts advice from a mountain-top; instead He comes and walks amongst us and crosses all social and cultural boundaries. For example, He reaches out to the Samaritan woman who went to get water in the middle of the day so as to avoid the embarrassment of meeting others (John 4:7). He is the Holy One clothed in flesh who showed great compassion, grace and mercy to a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-12), and the One who healed a Centurion’s servant (Mat 8:5-13) and had dinner at Matthew’s house, eating with those others saw as no more than “tax collectors and sinners” (Mat 9:9-10) but whom He saw as those made in the image of God and in need of a Saviour. He is the One who does not want anyone to be taken advantage of (Exodus 22:22), seeks to bring all to their true home with Him (Psalm 68:5-6; John 14:2) and who sees everyone as important and of great value (Mat 13:45-46). When we look at Jesus we see the strength and power of God exercised in compassion and love and therefore we must seek to live the same way. God has called us to freedom and life in Him, yet in order to know this life we need to give up our identity that has been shaped by our past and recognise our true identity in Him and live accordingly.
In Jesus we see that power is not given to judge, crush, oppress or separate ourselves from others. Instead power is given to help others see God as He really is and understand what it really means to be human in the fullest sense of what it means to be human – in a deep abiding relationship with a heavenly Father.
Because of Jesus we have hope for the future and know that our ultimate future is a gift from Him and not achieved by our own merits. This is seen, for example, in the picture of a new Jerusalem descending from heaven in the book of Revelation (Rev 21:10).
Because of Jesus we have hope right now, because although Jesus has ascended into heaven and we await His return, we are not alone. He is with us through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16) and therefore we are never alone and are in Him more than conquerors (Rom 8:37-39). Yet we are not to be like worldly conquerors for we are called to His work of healing and restoration and there is no higher calling than kneeling before Him with a servant-heart and then standing in His strength and power. We may be small, but we stand in His power. We may struggle, but He helps us in our unbelief.
Hope in Jesus.
Jesus came into a world where nothing was in place as it should be and He came as a servant-king in the rags of our humanity. Yet as we look at his life we see that He had complete stability and emotional security through being rooted and established in the work of His Father. Whether standing before crowds or being arrested, beaten, and ridiculed, he remained in complete control of His emotions and took victory at every turn of the page.
One of the emotions most often seen Jesus was compassion whether for the crowds that followed Him who were harassed and helpless (Mat 9:36-37) or for two blind beggars that some of his misguided followers were trying to silence (Mat 20:34). Yet Jesus also experienced godly anger and was deeply distressed on occasion, as was the case when challenging a stubborn crowd after which He healed a man (Mark 3:5-6). Worldly anger does little more than drain us, yet godly anger neither drains nor consumes us; instead it consumes the evil around us. Jesus was always deeply moved at the suffering of others (e.g. at Lazarus’ tomb: John 11:33-35) and is spoken of as a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). He also knew what it was to feel distress, because as a man He was not immune to suffering and pain (e.g. the lead up to His crucifixion ((Mark 14:33-34)), and He experienced great joy (Luke 10:21, Heb 12:2). Despite all that Jesus went through we see that every turn of the page of His earthly ministry He continually showed great love for those around Him, whether a marginalised Samaritan woman at a well in the heat of the day or a Centurion soldier or Synagogue ruler. Jesus cared for all people – and that includes a thief on the cross next to Him who had initially joined the crowds in seeking to ridicule Him.
Whilst there are both natural powers and supernatural powers none of them have a legitimate claim on our life since the only One who has that claim is the Lord God Almighty. He is the One who came in the frailty of the flesh to show us how a son or daughter can and should live in total openness to the Father. In Christ we see the One who gives us victory over self and makes a public spectacle of all that would seek to rule and oppose as He triumphs over them (Col 2:15) even whilst undergoing a mock trial and execution. Even as the events leading up to the death of the Incarnate Son were played out, God still continued to speak in such a way that all men could come to Him, even a thief on a cross (Luke 23:43).
At Jesus’ arrest, we see the last miracle of healing before Calvary - the healing of an enemy (Luke 22:47-51). God also speaks into the life of Pilate’s wife through a dream, revealing to her that Jesus was innocent (Matthew 27:19). In the cock crowing three times, we have Peter being reminded that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, yet had not turned away from Peter. Then, in the darkness that came about from the sixth to the ninth hour, the priest could not perform their religious duty (Luke 23:44) and probably asked themselves why. The truth was that there was no need for the sacrifices because the One to whom the sacrificial lamb pointed was giving his life right then and there outside the city wall.
At Jesus’ death the Temple veil was torn in two (Mark 15:38) with the entrance into the holy of holies now being through the true Judge of the world who opens the door to heaven through Jesus. We also read that tombs broke open and the bodies of holy people were raised to life and testified to many about Jesus (Matt 27:52-54). Even during the mock-up trial, ridicule, torture and death of Christ, God was still willing to reach out through all manner of activities to point us to Him. Superpowers come and superpowers go and the hanging gardens of Babylon are nothing but a dustbowl, but the One who agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane still rules over all, and so we have great hope.
Through all that we see in God’s dealings with man we find great hope. We are known, loved, encouraged and totally accepted through the work of Jesus. No matter how small we might feel, or how high the mountains may look, or how loudly the world shouts at us, we can remain firm and established in mind, will and emotions because He is with us. No matter how much falls apart around us, or how difficult it may become at times, we can have confidence in approaching God (Heb 4:16), knowing that He will never turn away from us. And in Him and Him alone we have our true future laid out for us (1 John 5:13), a future that is not achieved by human effort or resources but is gifted to us by the One who has always loved us most. Yet in many respects the eternal life that is ours has already begun (John 6:47) because God is with us (2 Tim 1:14; 1 John 4:12).
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
One day we will see Jesus face to face and all the negative qualities of this world and what affected us will totally be removed. This is pictured in Revelation in a variety of different ways that would be understood by those it was written too. For example believers are depicted as those who are given a new name (Rev 2:17) written on a white stone.
In the Ancient Near East, a court of law would sometimes use a white and black stone when it came to judgement. For example, if you were guilty you would be shown the black stone whilst if you were innocent you would receive the white one. Paul (as Saul) may well have cast his vote with a stone (Acts 26:10) when it was agreed that Christians should be put in prison.
White stones were also written on and sometimes used to make official decrees. In a sense they could be the ancient version of a modern-day pass. Perhaps this is why Jesus used this picture to encourage struggling Christians.
Through His work alone the ‘guilty’ verdict that stood over their lives had been removed, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18) and have heaven as an open door before them and a ‘new name.’
Knowing a name is not just about having a basic knowledge of someone such as knowing what they did for a living. Knowing a name speaks of experiencing the presence and character of the person named. For example, in the Walt Disney film of Snow White, the dwarf Dopey is called ‘Dopey’ because that is exactly what he is.
In Revelation 2:17 we read of having a new name which speaks of having the fullness of our true nature and character restored to us as sons and daughters of the living God. He alone knows what we should really be like and He will bring us to what he knows to be our true self in Him – free from the damage and failure of self and the afflictions of the world and so we have great hope. We have been raised up in Christ’s victory and the “I will never leave them nor forsake them” One is with us right now by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We have hope: our security is in the work of another.
“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
In the first verse of Romans chapter five Paul writes, “We have been justified through faith.” The only reason that we can have faith in God is because He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in a way whereby we can understand who He is, yet what is justification all about – what does it mean for us?
Being justified means that we have been pronounced: “Not guilty,” by the One we have offended most - the One whose law of love we have broken again and again. We are not guilty because someone else has paid the price for our wrong-doing. Someone else took our beating, bore our bruises and underwent our judgement: Jesus Christ; and so we have hope. The One true Judge (who will one day judge all things; James 4:12), has, in Christ, come down from His judgement seat, taken off His robes of authority and walked amongst men. He then paid the price for their wrongdoing through the shedding of His blood (Matt 26:28; Eph 1:7). And yet the story continues to ‘grow,‘ because the Judge then takes us into His family and places His Spirit within our hearts (Rom 8:15) so that we can know the presence and power of the One who does not overwhelm us but helps us to appropriate what is now ours through Christ (2 Cor 1:20). Because of this we have great encouragement and hope and in all ways can experience the intimacy, power, and love of a true relationship with our heavenly Father. And it is because of this amazing picture that we have hope: not in our resources or what we have done, nor our achievements or background but in God alone.
“Hope challenges earthly powers and principalities, and she places earthly powers under the critique of heaven… Her birthplace is not the palaces of the privileged, nor the high-steeple, stained-glass-windowed sanctuaries of power and customised religiosity. Rather her birthplace is under the bush in the wilderness where Ishmael lay dying; under the broom tree, where Elijah wishes for death; in the flames of yet another bush, from which Yahweh speaks hope and life and liberation to Moses and his people with words of inextinguishable fire. …when Hope speaks, she speaks not with the arrogance of certitude but with the eloquence of faith.”
A. Boesak in, ‘Dare we speak of Hope?’ Pages 71-72
As Paul writes in Romans 5:2 we can rejoice in the hope of God’s glory; but what is God’s glory?
Glory speaks of all that God has done in space and time which points to Him; it speaks of the way that God does things, speaking of ‘divine signposts’, of varying shapes and sizes, planted in the soil of this world to direct out attention to Him. For example, Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19), this being seen in its beauty and detail. God’s glory is also seen in His incredible acts of love, grace and mercy to all of us and in all things God reveals Himself to be the master of all, whether speaking through a spewed up prophet in a pagan city (Jonah 2:10, 3:4) or to a young girl snatched into slavery whose testimony to the presence of God brings about the haling of a pagan army commander (2 Kings 5). Other incidents include the glory of the Lord filling the Temple (1 Kings 8:11), chariots of fire and horses of fire separating Elijah from Elisha at the time of Elijah’s departure in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).
When God moves nothing ever remains the same and God is always about His business of bringing redemption to a fallen world. His glory is the work of the otherwise invisible Holy One in space and time so that we can see and know Him. Isaiah has a vision and sees the head of the covenant seated on a throne, high and exalted (Isaiah 61:3), and decades later the King of Glory is seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3ff) whilst Ezekiel stands by the river Kebar in the land of captivity (Babylonian Empire).
At the birth of Jesus we see the glory of God shining around the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-10) as the heavenly armies proclaimed His arrival: the arrival of One who chose to dwell among us (John 1:14). Later, on what became known as the Mount of Transfiguration, we read that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning (Luke 9:29-31) and Moses and Elijah also appeared with Him in glorious splendour revealing something of our future destiny in Him.
God is the ‘glorious Father; (Eph 1:17) and glory (His salvation-creating activity) begins and ends with Him. The richness of His glory (Rom 9:23; Eph 1:18; Col 1:27) speaks of the strength, power and presence of the One who crosses the line, so to speak, to be with us.
In Jesus we see the One who crossed the line to stand in front of us with the offer of life in all its fullness. In this we see that God found us: He came close so that we could see and reach out to Him. Through the work of Christ all people – even slaves, tax collectors and hardened soldiers were able to could possess a living experience of the One True God, who lives with us by the Spirit. God is always willing to come for us and always encourages us to turn to Him…
“He saw that there was no-one, he was appalled that there was no-one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”
One day Jesus will return in all His glory (Mt 25:31, 2 Thess 1:7, Rev 1:14). His glory – His visible presence - reveals His work of redemption and his salvation-creating activity of which our response has to be repentance and faith and an understanding that the first thing God calls us to do is to receive blessing from Him. God is like a shepherd who protects and nurtures the sheep and like a king who surrounds and protects his people: “But you are a shield around me, O Lord you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3).
As an ostracized, ignored and often ridiculed man the prophet Jeremiah speaks of hope in writing, “Our hope is in you” (Jer 14:22) as a challenge for all to turn their eyes to the Lord.
In light of all of this we see that a clear ingredient in the word ‘hope’ is the idea of waiting on God, not in an inactive way as if one was waiting for Him to turn up, but knowing that He is present despite what may be going on and seeking to listen to Him rather than allowing emotions or circumstances to dictate to us. As Isaiah writes, “Those who hope (wait) on the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31) with the picture here being of slowing down and focusing on the Lord who then takes our weakness and replaces it with His strength, not because of anything good in ourselves, but because of His incredible grace, mercy and loving-kindness.
We have hope because we are never in the minority.
There are many times during our lives when we can feel isolated and on our own, yet we are never in a minority: we are part of a kingdom that spans eternity and we serve the One true God whom we know as “our Father” (Mat 6:9). Whilst there are many who would seek to stand in the place of God and proclaim their greatness they all have this written over their lives “and this too will pass away,” with millions of graves testifying to the transient nature of man without God. Unlike them and by virtue of the grace, mercy and loving kindness of God, we will live forever. We will stand in eternity with God and with those who first received the letters to the seven churches as well as the one ordained to write them. We live, as it were, in two worlds, yet only one is going to remain.
All disharmony and division will one day come to an end with Isaiah capturing this truth in the following words, which speak of the work of the ‘I will wipe every tear from their eye’ One.
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.”
“The new city comes from heaven down to earth (Rev 21:10). This signifies a totally alien basis for the hope of a utopian city. There is no workable project for humans either to carry out the necessary judgement or to establish the new heavens and new earth. They are perceived to come from God.”
Editors: J. and P. Levison in, ‘Return to Babel’ page 202. Article by Jorge Pixley.
In Christ we find the One who puts us right with God and helps us make sense of the world we live in and the emotional roller-coaster that so many go through on a week to week basis. Through Christ we can break free from autonomy and the signposts put up by half-blinded guides that lead to nowhere. In Christ we find hope in learning that we were never made to live on our own and resting in the strength of another. So let us seek the face of the One who loves us most as we walk these earthly realms and reach out and encourage others, seeking to birth living hope into their lives as the work of Jesus reaches through us by the Holy Spirit to redeem and restore that which ultimately belongs to Him alone.
Written and produced by Pastor Jem 2018.