A gathering of the nations
Even in the land where the oval shaped ball is king, come 12 June many eyes will be watching the progress of the round shaped ball as the nations gather in Brazil. The Jules Remy trophy, the football World Cup, is up for grabs again. For three weeks the focus of the nations of the world is going to be on Brazil and the hope of the 32 competing nations is going to rest upon 11 men and a round shaped ball.
What hopes will be held at the start of the tournament amongst the nations? How many will be disappointed as their hopes lie in tatters before the end of it? (The writer acknowledges that hope for success of his homeland is less than slight!) How quickly even will the realised hope of the eventual winners (probably the host nation) fade after the tournament becomes a memory?
Everyone needs hope. It is an essential component of human existence which we cannot live without and our need for hope is a common hallmark of our shared humanity. Our lives are a plotted course from one marker of hope to another and how often we readjust our hope in order to find a reason to live. What a painful double-edged sword it can be! A grieving mother once wrote of the hope she had for her lost son. ‘Hope,’ she said, ‘was my best friend and my worst enemy.’
In comparison how utterly different and unique is Christian hope. First, along with faith and love, it is a cardinal spiritual grace. It is something that the Christian has been given. It is a gift received because of the finished work of the unique person of human history, Jesus Christ, built upon the unbreakable promises of God and brought to believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This hope is unshakeable in its belief that it will yet share an inheritance in the world to come. This hope is the measure of true Christianity, which is through and through other-worldly. It is this ‘hoped’ for aspect that is so often the focus of the New Testament. We are called in this hope (Eph. 1:18), saved in this hope (Rom. 8:24). It is the hope of the gospel which is laid up in heaven (Col. 1:5,23) which is a ‘sure and certain hope’ built upon the revelation God has given and the promises of his everlasting covenant that has been brought to us through his Son, Jesus. This hope is an anchor for our souls which is secured in heaven where Jesus now is (Heb. 6:19).
The hope to inherit the world to come is not a faint possibility or probability. It is not wishful thinking, nor is it the caricature C.S. Lewis describes as, ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. Much less is it a presumptuous optimism that arises from our religious consciousness and lacks any substantive evidence. Rather it rests on the evidence of God’s great purpose for the world in the redemption of the cosmos through his Son.
The Jesus born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, who died on a cross under Pontius Pilate and three days later rose again, declared himself to be the Son of God with power (Rom. 1:4). He ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the heart of all who trust in him. This causes them to ‘overflow in hope’ in his promised return to restore this broken world and usher in the kingdom of God (Rom. 15:13). Meanwhile these Christians are looking for that ‘blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).
Those who possess this hope see the present world, even at its best, for what it is – a world under condemnation, dying, doomed to failure. Those who hope see through the shallow belief that the world is only getting better and will soon solve all its own problems – admiring the aspiration but not buying into such things as the ‘lasting legacy’ of the 2012 London Olympics.
This hope is as foundational to the message we bring to the nations as are repentance and faith. For like Siamese twins faith is intrinsically tied to hope and hope cannot exist without faith, for faith is the ‘substance of things hoped for’ (Heb. 11:1). Calvin writes on the mutual relation of faith and hope:
Wherever this living faith exists it must have the hope of eternal life as its inseparable companion … hope is nothing more than the expectation of those things which faith previously believes to have been truly promised of God … for hope is the food and strength of faith and cannot have any other object than faith does.
A number of articles in this edition of the magazine remind us that the faith and hope offered in the gospel continue to capture the attention of the nations. From Wales to Ethiopia the God of hope is dispensing abroad joy, peace and hope to those who believe in his Son, Jesus (Rom. 15:12-13).
When all the razzmatazz of the World Cup is over and the nations have dispersed and it is a long forgotten memory, Christian hope will continue to look for him who will yet usher in the greatest gathering of the nations – that great number of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues standing before God who will forever sing ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:10).
Rejoicing in hope we wait for the King:
His coming is sure, his conquest we sing.
His hour of returning draws daily more near;
with hearts hushed and burning we see him appear.
And so we endure the wounds of the way,
rejoicing in hope of Christ’s crowning day.
John Woolley is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Gabalfa.