37. Recap Expectations 4

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 37.  Recap Expectations  4

So we draw near to the end and therefore we need to recap where we have been and what we have seen since the previous Recap.

Source of Realism: This last group has been focusing on Jesus and what he has achieved for us and we started by declaring that it is only when we come to the Son of God that we find truly realistic expectations of the future. Only in Jesus do we see a clarity of purpose and direction and clear knowledge of where it was all leading.  Jesus came to die in our place for our sins and it was clear that he knew exactly what was to happen as he shared it a number of times with his disciples. Everything about my future, we said, hinges on this. Our futures are assured; all my expectations of the future are ‘in Christ’ and they are good expectations, they are what we call Christian hope.

The Peace Bringer: We also saw Jesus coming as the servant of God, fulfilling all the Old Testament prophetic words about him, and becoming the source of hope for all who would yearn for justice and peace who “put their hope in him”.  We noted the claim of an historian, that the history of the world is the history of wars, or of human upheavals, and it is that sad truth, a realistic truth, which leads us to yearn for peace and harmony in the world. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be the one to bring it and he comes to bring peace within us, peace between us and God, and peace between each other, here and now. This is the hope, the sure expectancy, that you and I read about in Matthew and Isaiah, that Jesus has come to bring us, a hope of justice and fairness and of love and peace.

The Resurrection: We went on to see that Jesus is always to be the one we follow, the one we copy, and this is as much true about expectations as it is about anything else.  It was the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, using David’s words from Psa 16:8-11 who declared “my body also will live in hope,” in the context of resurrection. Jesus clearly knew that he would be resurrected, and the picture of resurrection conveys important truths in two ways, the first in respect of the life we now live and, second, the fact of our bodily resurrection. These, we saw, are both the hope (expectation) that we have today.

Facing the Impossible: Perhaps expanding on the resurrection realities, we picked up in Paul’s teaching the fact that not only did, Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” but it was: “Against all hope”, and we recognized that sometimes we are confronted by ‘impossibilities’ and we cry out to God. That’s how it was when we came to be saved, and that’s how it so often is in our Christian lives. But “Abraham in hope believed.” His belief was in something happening in the future, in God doing what He had said He would do, and when we came to Christ that is what we do, we trust God that He is going to change me, change my life, change my future. We believe against hope, but in hope we believe, and that is how we get saved.

Present and Future Hopes: But then we went on to recognise that because hope is a future thing, even in accordance with the ‘groaning world’ that yearns for something better as the children of God are revealed, so we too yearn for a better future, for more of what God has got for us. We’ve already received part of the package but there is more to come and that is a real, valid and essential expectation we should all hold on to. That is about life after death where we are promised new spiritual bodies, but it is also about us growing and maturing and entering more and more into all that God has for us this side of death.

Growth through Hope: But then we saw something strange, that having a genuine future hope generates faith and love for life today.  Our thinking is changed – tomorrow WILL be different and so tomorrow CAN be different. Now we do have an eternal future; there is a life after this, but we also, of course, have the years to live out and we have a part to play in that; it is not automatic.

Confident Expectations: Then we went right back to basics. All our hopes, as we’ve said before are based on Jesus, on his life, death and resurrection. It is those things that give us confidence to believe the things the Gospel promises us – justification, adoption, and power – freedom FROM guilt and shame TO love and goodness, living in the love of the Father, knowing the power of His Holy Spirit’s presence. All these things have become confident expectations for every day.

It’s all God: Again, to continue and finish with the basics, we observed that the Gospel is God-originated and God-directed so that we can come back into a living relationship with Him, and we said that the way we live out that relationship today is all about faith, because it is about how we respond to His word in the way we live now. However, the fact that we are constantly looking forward to tomorrow means we are living in hope, with the expectations His word generates in our hearts and minds. We concluded that ‘hope’ is thus a very real factor in our lives. It encourages us in today and energizes and motivates us towards tomorrow. The origins of our hope lie in the fact that we have been justified, adopted and empowered (and all that by the work of Jesus) and the content of our hope for tomorrow is that our understanding and experience of these three things will deepen and enlarge and will continue to carry us through the years until we pass off this present existence and are carried into eternity where it will just get better and better. That, I believe, will be a good place to conclude these studies.

Recap: So let’s recap these thing:

  • Jesus is the source of all our expectations.
  • A real part of those expectations is that he is the bringer of peace to our lives.
  • Even as he was resurrected so we view our present lives as resurrected by his power and eventually that will mean new resurrected spiritual bodies after we ‘die’.
  • The fact of that resurrection power being ours today, challenges the ‘impossibilities’ that we face in life and they are no longer.
  • The realities of this hope mean, not only hope for after we die, but new hope for the lives we live today, a yearning for something better this side of death as well as after it.
  • The genuine hope of eternity adds a new dimension to our thinking about today and it makes sense of it and adds purpose to it so that faith and love are generated in our relationship with the Lord.
  • Because of Jesus, and especially his resurrection, that confidence is in respect of our justification, our adoption and our empowering, life every day.
  • All of the work of Jesus is God-originated and aimed at bringing us back to God. How we experience that in the years ahead and the eternity to follow is what our hope is all about.
  • We live out today by faith, but it is our hope for tomorrow that establishes and confirms and reassures that faith.

So there it is. We conclude our series with high expectations of tomorrow, both the tomorrow that comprises each and every day we have on this planet as we experience the fruits of our justification, adoption and empowering in this life, and then the wonder of the eternal existence that follows. All this is  available because of what Jesus has achieved for us on the Cross, so let us finish with giving him thanks and praise and worship for all that. Amen!

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36. All about God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 36. All about God

1 Pet 1:20,21   He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Time to draw a close: Because the word hope come up so many times in the New Testament, we could keep on and on  with this subject, meditating on the individual verses, but instead we will draw this series to a close with the two verses above that really sum it all up for us We have considered this subject of expectation through individuals in the Old Testament and then as it pertains to Jesus. As we have just said, these two verses sum up or summarise the origins, at least, of our hope, and they are in Jesus.

The Gospel Encapsulated: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a recent fiction of the last two thousand years, but has its origins, we are told over half a dozen times in the New Testament, right back before the creation of the world. It was then that the Godhead, with the recognition that giving mankind free will would mean that we brought Sin into the world, decided that the Son of God would step into history at a given point of time to act as one who would carry our sins and thus our guilt in his death on a cross. This Peter says, “was revealed in these last times.”  Through what happened to Jesus, we are focused on God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection our attention has been grabbed and we focus it back on God.

It’s all about God: We realise that it had to be a work of God, as Peter himself preached, Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:22-24) Four is said to be the number of divine government and four times there he spoke about God’s involvement in all that had happened. Twice it was God providing the miracles Jesus did, once it was all about God’s set plan and purpose and once, it was God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Faith & Hope: The whole of the events involving and surrounding the coming of Jesus were about God bringing about the possibility of you and me being able to have a genuine relationship with almighty God, and that immediately puts before us the thoughts about our future, our future here on the earth and our future after death. How we live out today is all about faith, because it is about how we respond to His word in the way we live now, but the fact that we are constantly looking forward to tomorrow means we are living in hope, with the expectations His word generates in our hearts and minds.

Did you see that? From our vantage point, how we respond now is about faith, but how we view tomorrow is about hope. Faith is doing now; hope is about expectations for tomorrow. When we arrive at ‘tomorrow’, whenever that is, we will be living out that day in faith, but as we continue to regard the future, we do it with hope, this confident expectation of what God will do or how He will respond in respect of us.

A Question: But, someone might ask, if hope is constantly about the future, does it really matter? If, when we get to ‘tomorrow’ we are acting in faith, isn’t that the key thing? Well, in one sense, yes, but as we’ve seen in past studies, the fact that we have this hope acts almost as a stabilizing foundation for our lives today. Without it, life and the ongoing years is really an exercise with a big question mark over it. The fact that we can say tomorrow the Lord will be with us to bless us and after death we will continue to be with Him, means that we can live today with purpose – not only to capture the blessings of today, but to ensure we keep going to capture the blessings of eternity that God has promised us.

To Summarise: In this sense, ‘hope’ is a very real factor in our lives. It encourages us in today and energizes and motivates us towards tomorrow. Remember, the origins of our hope lie in the fact that we have been, as we said in the previous meditation, justified, adopted and empowered (and all that by the work of Jesus) and the content of our hope for tomorrow is that our understanding and experience of these three things will deepen and enlarge and will continue to carry us through the years until we pass off this present existence and are carried into eternity where it will just get better and better.

I think I will draw it to a close here. We will have a final recap tomorrow, but in the meantime, I hope that these studies will have put some content to your understanding and added some strength to the foundations of your faith. Amen.

35. Confident Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 35. Confident Expectations

1 Cor 15:14,17-19   if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith …… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

A People of Hope? As I have working through this series on ‘expectations’ I have come to realise (or just see more clearly) that hope, or confident expectation, is everywhere, especially in the New Testament and so, we are called to be a people of hope, a people of confident expectation. Thus, when I suspect that a large majority of Christian do not live with this expectation, I conclude that it must be because they do not read their Bible or take in what is there.

Back to Basics: Very often with such studies we start out with some complexity but then find ourselves going backwards it seems and becoming more and more simple, and so, as we must be drawing nearer to the end of this series, let’s see if we can be absolutely basic.

The Resurrection: If we have this hope, this confidence, we have emphasised again and again that it is to do with the future, but why can we have this confidence? On what is it built? Well, very obviously, it is built upon Jesus, upon what we read of him in the Gospels, but even more it is built upon his resurrection. If Jesus had just come with good teaching and did a variety of miracles and healed a lot of people, we could say he was just a good man, but he stands out in history as having died by crucifixion and then within three days as having risen from the dead. There is also the small matter of his ascension! The fact that this happened to Jesus, not only marks him out in history, but it also indicates God’s approval of him, as well as setting down a foundation of believe in a power that is there available for our lives also, a power we have already observed that will take us through death and into an eternal life with God.

Our Salvation Package: So, when the ‘salvation package’ is laid out before us, we find it includes us being justified (because Jesus has taken our guilt and shame), us being adopted (because Jesus has taken away any barrier between us and the Father) and us being receivers of his own Holy Spirit (because Jesus has redeemed our lives from the enemy and his way of living). All of these things, I have just shown, we have because of what Jesus has done. Thus, our confidence for these things is in Jesus, and our confidence in Jesus is because of what we see of him in the Gospels, and especially his death and resurrection. Because we are sure of these thing, we can be confident about tomorrow and especially the ‘tomorrow’ that includes our death and what comes after it.

The Ingredients of Tomorrow: Thus, seeking to be as simple and obvious as possible, if we can backtrack over these things, as I look into the day ahead of me and the many days, weeks, months or years I may have left to me, I can look forward to such times that will be free from guilt or shame because I have been justified. Even more, I can look forward to such times being those when I am aware of being a son of God, a child of God, part of God’s family, part of His household (Eph 2:19), and thus a receiver of all of the love and goodness that flows in that relationship with the Father. And underpinning all this, is the glorious and wonderful presence of His Holy Spirit who indwells me and equips me and empowers me to do the work of Jesus.

All of these things, I have with complete confidence and it is a confidence that they will be there, just the same, every day of my life that remains. There will not be a day when I have to feel guilt and shame, there will not be a day when I do not know the love and provision of the Father, and there will not be a day when I will be devoid of the Holy Spirit and His power and enabling. THAT is the confidence, THAT is the hope we have for this day, and tomorrow and every day after that.

Holding Firm: In case this sounds too good or too easy, let me balance it with the following that comes earlier in that same chapter as our starting verses: By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:2) Now there is a faith element to all this. Why is it that so many are not living in this threefold expectation I have just laid out? It is because of lack of faith to believe God’s word, the Gospel that Paul said he had preached.

Please, if you need to, if you recognise that you do not live with this daily threefold recognition (and we could add more things to those three), then go back and reread the paragraphs above until you take them in and absorb them and are able to say, “Yes, that is the basis upon which I live each day!”

The Unacceptable Alternative: And to go back to the beginning, we can say these things with a certainty, with this sure and confident expectation – this hope – because of Jesus and because Jesus died AND rose again. I do like the way Paul puts it, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … your faith is futile …… we are to be pitied more than all men.” We either believe it and live it, or we pack our bags and go and join the miserable atheists, materialists and humanist. Trying to settle somewhere in between (“well you ask too much of me”) means we incur the strong words of Jesus: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! …. you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold” (Rev 3:15,16) We don’t want to be that; we don’t need to be that. All we need do is go back over and over those three sets of truths above – justified, adopted, empowered – and get them well and truly settled in our lives, and then live them!

These things we should be able to be completely confident about, and when we are we can live every day with this confident expectation, and the wonderful thing is that when we do, it opens a door for God to move in and through us and who knows what the outcome will be? All I can say is that a) it will be change and b) it will be good! As you finish, dare to pray: “Lord, thank you in anticipation for this day and this week ahead, that I can live it in the knowledge of your love, live it as your child and live it with your power. Thank you, Lord. Amen!”

34. Growth through Hope

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 34. Growth through Hope

Col 1: 5,6   the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

How Hope Works: Hope is a strong and sure expectation for tomorrow and when we have hope it affects how we live today. There is nothing special about this, it is not big and clever thinking but just ordinary, ‘this is how life works’ stuff. For instance, a gardener in Spring plans how the garden will develop through the rest of the year and cleans beds, lays out new ones, sows seeds, gets new plants in – all to achieve an end result. He or she has in their mind’s eye, a picture of what the garden can look like later in the year.

Or take a businessman running his company. Yes, he looks at how the company is running now but he makes plans how to grow his business and he takes steps now to create growth tomorrow. He sees in his mind’s eye what he could be achieving in a couple of years’ time and he works for that to happen.. Or there is a couple with a growing family living in a small house. They look at their finances and agree that they can afford to move to a bigger house. They don’t just sit back and do nothing. No, they start scouring the windows of estate agents, they start assessing different areas, they check out possible schools for their children, they start actually looking at specific houses. They are active because they see in their mind’s eye living in a bigger house.

Effect of Hope: Now Paul says that the hope that we have for an eternal future with God, generates faith and love for life today. The Gospel we have heard, he says, tells us that there is a better tomorrow promised us and as we have taken hold of that hope, it helps us as we live today. That hope stirs faith in us to live out today with that end in mind. That hope of God’s goodness poured out in eternity for us, in abundance, stirs love in us. But not just us; it does it wherever the gospel is preached around the world. The truth has set us free and the fulfilment of it in eternity anchors us and stirs us in the present today as we receive God’s grace for both now and then. That is what he says in our verses above.

Today and Tomorrow: If we let that truth settle in us, it can have profound effects for both now and the future. As we have considered previously, this hope is not only for that eternal experience, it is also for the days ahead of us in this life. Again, as we saw previously, when I came to Christ, that hope may have been in a very simple form – simply that tomorrow will be different, a better different: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) My past has died and there is a new tomorrow because I AM a new person, and I DO have the Holy Spirit within me, changing me and empowering me to enjoy today and tomorrow. My eternal destiny is there ahead, something to look forward to and while it is still future (and I am still here on this earth) future and present merge as far as expectations are concerned for it is the same Holy Spirit who will carry me into eternity who is in me now. So, very subtly (and I suspect many of us don’t ever realise this) our thinking is changed – tomorrow WILL be different and so tomorrow CAN be different.

Possibilities: Think about this. The word of God, the Gospel, told us that the end fruit, if you like, of our salvation is a wonderful eternity with God. So, yes, tomorrow – our eternal tomorrow – WILL be different. Now we do have an eternal future; there is a life after this. But part of the package, again if we may put it like that, is that the time between now and then, CAN be different. Now there is a sense whereby it WILL be different because He is in us, but there is also that truth that we are partners with God and we do have a say in how our lives are worked out.

Future impacts Present: Perhaps we are unsure about this future dimension, about its reality in respect of how it affects our present because, perhaps, many of us rarely think about it? But I wonder if that is actually true? Imagine the Gospel was: “believe on Jesus and your present life will be good and when you die, that will be the end of everything. You can be assured that you will not have to face God after death, it will just be the end.” Now if that was what you were told, I’m not sure it would have the same impact. A good life now is a worthy goal but for it to come to an end when we die? What is the point of such a life?

Deep down, it is this reality that in fact there is more than this three score and twenty (as it tends to be today in the West) years, that reassures us. That IS there, whether we think about it regularly (when you get older) or not. The reassurance is actually a very real one, maybe at almost subconscious level, but it is there – I have a destiny and it is more than simply living out today. Today is important, and I can have real hopes for today – that He is there for me and providing for me etc. – but that importance is strangely anchored in that hope of eternity; this is what subtly puts meaning to everything – there is more than just this life this side of death.

Assurance: Now there may be some of us who are not so secure in that eternal hope. Well, should that be you, think of that most famous of verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) There it is in its simplicity. You believe in Jesus, you believe he is the Son of God who died for you? You believe that because the Bible says it is so, and you believe the Bible? Done! You have eternal life and that means a changed, empowered life now and an eternal destiny, a wonderful life with God for ever.

Transformation Possibilities: There is such an inter-connecting with all these things. What we believe about tomorrow affects our today. What we think about who we are and what God thinks about us, affects our today. If you are unsure of your future or unsure of God’s love for you, it will blight your present. I have been watching in recent months, the Lord blessing one little lady in our congregation who has been through a really tough time with an abusive, violent husband. It all ended in a bitter divorce and she was shattered. Her self-esteem was zero, and then the Lord very gently started rebuilding it. She got prayed for, she went out for prayer and every time the Lord reaffirmed her. Whereas she saw she had no future but a lonely, bitter, scarred and wounded one, that has been changing as she has started to realise afresh that she is a beautiful daughter of God – with a good new future! And she has been changing. There is still some way to go but she is changing. Now she is someone who prays for and over others; she is getting words from God for others, she is ministering to others. Amazing and beautiful!

We are what we are because of what Jesus has done for us, what he is doing for us and what he will do for us in eternity. All those thing impact on my life today. I don’t know what today will hold, but I know Jesus is there in it with me and will continue to be until that time when I move into the eternal dimension after death and, for now, that eternal reassurance encourages me in today and helps release faith and love, just as Paul said. Isn’t it great!

33. The Need for Vision

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 33. The Need for Vision

Rom 8: 24b,25   Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently

An Expecting World: Sometimes the Bible says the very obvious but it is the very obvious things we need to take hold of, things that we may ignore just because they are so obvious. In Romans 8, the apostle Paul has been speaking about the state of the world: We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.” (Rom 8:22-24a) There is a sequence of truth here that needs noting. He says we know that “the whole creation has been groaning… right up to the present time.” He portrays the world as being in a state of expectation, “as in the pains of childbirth” which suggests that the world as it was, is not the world that will be; there is something being formed that is yet to be revealed.

A Frustrated World: To make sense of that we have to go back into the prior verses: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (v.19) That’s interesting; his starting place is the sense that the world waits for Christians to be revealed. Why is that so important?  “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” (v.20) Because of the Fall, God laid certain limitations on ‘life’ – see Gen 3 – relationships would be strained, childbirth hard yet desirable (v.16), working the earth will be hard (v.17,18), man excluded from the tree of life (v.22,23) and from the presence of God.

Nevertheless Hope: And so it had existed, ever since. And yet, there was this feeling ever since, that there is something more. Relationships with the Lord did spring up – Abram, Isaac & Jacob, a people were formed to relate to God (Israel), and yet even that didn’t work well as Israel failed again and again. Nevertheless, as God spoke through His prophets there was this hope of something better, one who would come who would change things, who would bring peace and harmony with Him.

But, Paul goes on, when God ‘subjected it’ to frustration it was in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (v.20,21) i.e. that there would come a time when the world could be changed by the presence of those who could be called “children of God” which brings us back to our starting place – this world was groaning in expectation of some change which, says Paul, is the revelation and bringing about of a new people, brought into relationship with God through the work of Christ.

Yet not yet: But when we come to our starting verses again (v.24b,25) Paul says we still have this ‘hope’, this expectation of a future ‘something’ and thus implies it has not yet come to full fruition, implying a future fulfillment which he speaks about in v.23: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Note, ‘first-fruits’; we’ve already received part of the package. Back in v.11 he said, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” 

Already there has been a measure of this for we have received the Holy Spirit who now indwells us and in ways that are not always clear, His presence in us, can even affect us physically. But back in v.23 he also spoke about how we “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” Now we have already been adopted into God’s family the moment we were justified and saved, but the clear implication is that there is yet more to come, more behind this meaning of being ‘adopted’ and that has yet to come.

More? Right, hold on to your seat, for this where it is going to get mind-blowing and challenging. In Paul’s writing here in chapter 8 there is this clear declaration that we have a hope of something yet more to come. In our lives before us, they will be two phases: first, the rest of our life on this earth before we die, and then, second, a future dimension in eternity, certainly involving heaven, but also involving a new heaven and a new earth (see Rev 21). So, hold on to those two phases. Yes, we have that post-death phase that we are clear about because Scripture talks about it so much, but how about the pre-death phase? How do we view that?

Living Today? Do we, perhaps, live with the sense that we have ‘arrived’, that we have everything right now that Christ has for us, or is there something more? Well, I believe we do indeed have the potential for everything that Christ has for us but that we may not have entered into it all or appropriated it all yet. The New Testament hints at the idea that we are to grow up or mature, both concepts which convey the idea of change and development. If you are a Christian of say thirty years standing, hopefully you will have considerably more knowledge and understanding than you had when you first came to Christ. Hopefully you have also experienced much of him, have known the filling and gifting and leading of the Spirit and have experienced him teaching you many things.

Example: Let me give the example of the life of prayer, if we may speak about it as such. Many young Christians just pour out wishes, desires, even complaints to God, often with little understanding and certainly with little thought about whether God wants those things for them – and then they feel bad or doubt when those things don’t happen. As they mature, hopefully they learn that prayer is actually about listening to God and speaking out the things God wants for us, to bring us in harmony with His will. Instead of demanding our answers we, as we mature, ask Him what He wants for us and then as He conveys it, we may pray it with authority and see it coming about. If we have learned that, we have learned that there is more to life, more to praying, more to our relationship with the Lord, and as we enter more fully into those things we become more open and available to Him and find Him leading us into things we have perhaps never previously considered.

Hope for Today: This is the hope Paul is now speaking about in these verses, not only in receiving something wonderful AFTER we die, but having a life of openness to the Lord whereby He is able to teach us and train us and lead us into paths we perhaps had never dreamt of. Take, as another example, the apostles. When Peter first encountered Jesus (Jn 1:41,42) at the Jordon, Jesus changed his name. Later when Jesus went up to Galilee and called him (see Lk 5:1-10) he completely changed Peter’s perception of who he was, and called him to become a fisher of men (Mk 1:16-18). Until then Peter had been ‘just a fisherman’ and happy with that. Now he is changing. Watch him on the day of Pentecost and you see a leader. Traveling around the country (Acts 9:32 on) we see him ministering, just like Jesus; it is almost uncanny. When we first saw him at the Jordon he would never have guessed that’s what he would end up doing. This side of death we have a path that is rolling out before us as the Lord leads us, into ever greater things. Do you and I live with this ‘hope’, this expectation? May it be so.

32. Hope is about Believing

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 32. Hope is about Believing

Rom 4:18   Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Belief for the Future: As Paul quotes from Gen 15:5, we usually take that quote as the precursor to belief being the basis of righteousness because v.6 in Gen 15 continues, Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” but Paul’s verse emphasizes to us that which we may otherwise take as obvious, that the belief that saves, is the belief in the future. For Abraham it was that his currently barren wife would yet have a son who would pave the way for a family tree that would eventually become a nation, Israel.

Belief in the Past: For us, there is both a past and present dimension to this believing and both are essential. The past dimension, if I may put it like that, is that we are required to believe that in the past Jesus has died for our sins on the Cross, but more than that, his work on the Cross has achieved everything that is necessary for us for our future lives.

Hopeless? But before we look at all that provision for our future, let’s just take on board those opening words of Paul’s verse above: “Against all hope”. That was the reality of Abraham’s situation as it had been back in Mesopotamia; his wife was barren and there was nothing he could do about that. Year followed year and hope of a child gradually diminished until the onset of the menopause when all hope of a child died. That was how it had been, and then God spoke, and God called him from that land we sometimes refer to as the ‘Cradle of Civilization’, to go to the land of Canaan where God would bless him in such a way that he would become the father of a nation.  He went and then it was in a subsequent ‘conversation’ that God said those words and Abraham believed and was declared righteous.

And Us? Isn’t that how it is with us?  We come to a point in life when we either feel utterly frustrated with our lives or we feel utter failures; we long for something better but, as with Paul in Romans 7, we can’t meet our own expectations and cry out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me?” (Rom 7:24) Well, it may not have been exactly in those terms but one way or another we find ourselves under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (although we didn’t realise it was Him at the time) feeling utterly helpless and hopeless and needing to be saved. We had lost all hope of me being able to save me. In desperation, “against all hope”, we cried out to Him when we heard the Gospel, “I believe. Please forgive me. Please save me.” At that point we were relying on what we had been told about the past, on what God had done, two thousand years ago, in Christ.

Again, Looking Forward: But then there is a future dimension which, I suspect we rarely think about in this context. Paul said, “Abraham in hope believed.” His belief was in something happening in the future, in God doing what He had said He would do – make him the father of many. Now for us it will be the same but different and maybe the difference is that initially for most of us (I know it was for me) it is more simple. All we know is that we are unhappy with our present and past and when we come to God through Christ we are coming with the hope that He is going to change me, change my life, change my future. Prior to coming to Him, my expectations of the future were that I would just carry on the same: unchanging, unfulfilled, frustrated, feeling bad, struggling and striving and getting nowhere. But when I turn to Him, I turn with this very basic belief that now it will be different.

Conversion: Maybe somebody quoted to me, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) I was told I was a new creation – and I felt it! Somehow, I felt different! Somehow, everything had changed. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was now indwelt by the Spirit. Now I was justified by the work of Christ on the Cross. Now I was adopted into God’s family. Now I was a child of God. Now I had eternal life. All these things were true, even though I didn’t appreciate them at the moment of conversion; I just knew it had all changed.

My Believing: I don’t think I really thought about it – I don’t know how many of us do – but the truth was that, with Abraham, now in hope I believed. I believed that it would all be different and as the days, months and years passed I came to realise more and more the reality of that change and my beliefs became stronger and clearer. Initially I had just believed God when He said this is what I needed to do, and I trusted that whatever followed would be right and good. Like Abraham, I suspect, I didn’t have a clue how it could all happen, but if God said it, that was sufficient – I believed Him, I believed that the future would be changed. My expectations were unclear, but they would get clearer as the days passed. At that moment, they were simply, “It will be all right, because this is what God wants of me,” but in saying that I was looking forward and I had this confident assurance, this confident expectation that we call hope.

Words without Conviction: The belief we are talking about, the expectations we have, have to come with a practical commitment. Let me explain that. Once, many years ago, I had a five-hour conversation with someone about the Gospel. In that time, we covered all the bases and at the end of it they said (and I do not exaggerate), “I hear everything you have said. I understand it all, I understand all you have said about sin, all you have said about Jesus dying for me and all the rest, but the truth is that I like this life of sin and I’m going to stick with it,” and with that they got up and left.

They heard the words, but the conviction was not there, so they did not believe it applied to them and God would give them a better life, and they certainly didn’t believe they would suffer if they continued living as they were. This ‘believing’, this ‘hope for the future’ has to be something applied to me, as a reality. Why some people hear and truly believe, while other people hear and simply accept the facts but without them being able to be applied to them, so they are convicted, is a mystery. We believe against hope, but in hope we believe, and that is how we get saved. The more we understand this the more the wonder of it can fill us, and perhaps that is why we are doing this series. May our understanding grow and may the wonder of it increase to produce more and more worship. Amen.

31. Copying Jesus

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 31. Copying Jesus

Acts 2:25-27    I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  

Following Jesus: Jesus is always to be the one we follow, the one we copy, and this is as much true about expectations as it is about anything else.  I have always been slightly worried about the “What would Jesus do?” campaign of a number of years ago because it has the potential for legalism and of ignoring the Holy Spirit’s inner leading, but nevertheless Jesus is indeed to be the one we follow and seek to imitate.

Resurrection Hope: It was the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, under the anointing of the Spirit, who took the words of David from Psa 16:8-11 and declared them prophecy that spoke out the heart of Jesus in respect of the resurrection. Now when it comes to expectations these words are worthy of our consideration, so let’s check the quote first of all.

Verse 9 of Psa 16 says, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,” but Peter changed it to “my body also will live in hope,” Perhaps David when he first wrote it did not dare to take that final step about a resurrected body and yet he clearly hinted at something akin to that as he continued, “because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay,” and if that wasn’t enough he concluded, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psa 16:11) There is definitely a thought there about living in God’s eternal presence after we die. Peter, and we must remember, under the anointing of the Spirit, extends this in respect of Jesus to suggest that he knew the reality, he (Jesus) had known he would be resurrected.

Jesus Sureness: Now this, of course, is quite true because we have read, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) which was reiterated by Jesus in Mt 17:22,23 and Mt 20:17-19 as well as more oblique references in Mt 17:9 and Mt 12:39,40 and Mt 26:31,32 which also became obvious public knowledge (see Mt 27:62-64).

Two Applications: Now that was Jesus and we just said that we are to walk in his footsteps and when it comes to his resurrection there are two ways this applies to us: first in respect of the life we now live and, second, the fact of our bodily resurrection. These are both the hope (expectation) that we have today. Let’s consider them both.

First of all, our lives today. The apostle Paul taught, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Rom 6:4,5) Christ’s resurrection is to be symbolic of our lives today.  But this isn’t merely symbolic, it is about the power within our lives today which will take us on after physical death, which takes us on to the second application, life after death.

A little later he wrote, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:9-11)

Now this take a little explaining. When he says, “your body is dead because of sin,”  he means, as the Message version puts it, “you yourself experience all the limitations of sin” and the Living Bible helpfully adds, “your body will die because of sin” i.e. the fact is that, humanly speaking, each one of us will physically die one day because of the ‘sin thing’ since the Garden of Eden, but, nevertheless, because the Holy Spirit indwells us and enlivens our spirit, there is yet a further existence for us after our physical death whereby we will receive new resurrection bodies.

Before we came to the Lord, the Bible speaks about us having been ‘dead to Christ’ or ‘dead to God’ but when we receive the Holy Spirit and are born again, our spirit is brought alive, resurrected if you like, and alive to God. As the apostle Paul said in that earlier argument, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) So it is a very real and very practical application for our lives today – Him in us, gives us a new resurrected life, and who knows where He will lead us tomorrow.

But it is also life after death: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:20-22) So there it is, but it is not simple and obvious. When, is a question asked. Paul continued, “each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (v.23)  i.e. when Christ returns. How, is the next question. Paul replies, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.42-44)

What is ‘a spiritual body’?  Clearly a body that is imperishable and does not rot as a physical body does. Did Christ’s own body after he was raised from the dead give us a clue, a body that did not seem to be limited by time and space, that appeared to be able to pass through physical matter?  Again Paul wrote, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (v.49) A ‘body’ is clearly part of the package for our eternity and perhaps we will just have to wait until after death to experience the reality of it. In the meantime, we have this expectation: there is a life beyond death, a life that involves a body. In the meantime, there is a ‘life’ that exists now which includes spirit, His Spirit linked to my spirit and that may be the clue to our eternal future as well. Amen.