“Confident expectation of things not yet seen” is one way to define hope. This is the spiritual hope we have as those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. This hope rests on the historical, real world resurrection of Jesus from the dead for, if God did not raise him from the dead, then we follow a fantasy. As I have posted elsewhere, I don’t live in the fantasy world; I try very hard to live in the real world. Fiction is for escape and entertainment; truth is the anchor for genuine hope.
How can anyone believe that Jesus died and then lived again? It defies what we know scientifically. Dead is dead, except that the God who made heaven and earth and the laws of science has the power to supersede them. If one believes in God, and I do, and one accepts that He has the power to overrule the laws He made, and I do, then the question becomes, “How can we know whether He did it?”
Paul answers this important question in I Corinthians 15:3-8: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” This is a written eyewitness account in circulation when over 500 witnesses were available to ask and challenge.
Consider who is named specifically. Peter promised never to leave Jesus and then left him; he and the other disciples had gone into hiding, most likely fearing for their own lives after Jesus execution. Are these the kind of men to believe something as unlikely as bodily resurrection or even make it up and then, on the basis of such an impossibility, to become courageous advocates of their fantasy? Would such men die for what they made up or believed without certain confirmation? Do have done so would have been almost as miraculous a thing as the resurrection itself!
Paul, then called Saul, was a persecutor of Christians. He was a Jewish “hardliner” defending his faith against a cult of Jews who followed an executed criminal. Acts 9:1-31 records the story of the voice of a living Jesus speaking to him on the road to Damascus, striking him blind, and sending him to a disciple named Ananias, who in turn gave him a message from God and restored his sight. After being baptized, he becomes the greatest Christian missionary and teacher of the early Church, the very thing he had been trying to eliminate.
Although it defies science and stands outside our experience, only a literal, bodily resurrection explains how a band of discouraged followers of a dead leader became the evangelists of a new and extraordinary message that turned the world upside down. Along with the physical reality, God provided something new, His own presence to encourage and teach. In John 14: 16, 17, and 16:13, we read “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you… (W)hen he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
The external evidence and the internal presence of God give believers confidence to believe what others consider unbelievable. Unlike what we often hear, faith is not believing what is unbelievable or irrational. Instead, as Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” As we face age, infirmity, disease, tragedy, and death in those we love and, in time, in ourselves, we have abundant reason to look forward to life, physical, resurrected life, life of a new and glorious kind, like Jesus had after his resurrection.
This hope is not merely “apple pie in the great by and by,” as some have said. Life in Christ has an immediate as well as an ultimate sense. One part is “already” while the other is “not yet.” The Christian’s life is both present and physical and future and both physical and spiritual. Jesus resurrection is proof of this latter reality. Jesus also intends that we enjoy the blessings of life, now, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (his sheep or followers) may have life, and have it to the full” (or “more abundantly” which I prefer), as recorded in John 10:10. This is empowerment for the present as well as anticipation of an amazing future.
John 3:16 is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible: “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..” Our church choir sang these words set to music by John Stainer. The promise is eternal life, not merely future, but immediate. Resurrection is merely transition from abundant life, here and now, to glorious life forever.
Christians must be wary of allowing the world’s cynicism and despair to creep into their lives. We do not escape the hardships of this world; the world hated and hates Jesus and likewise hates those who bear his name: ““If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). However, we are not better for adopting the world’s attitudes or allow them to infect us. We have a sure and certain hope, as Jesus promises in John 11:25: “”I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Atheist, humanist scientists and philosophers, reflected in art and media, seek to offer an alternative. They wish to create endless physical existence without redemption or transformation. When their wishes are in jeopardy, they become desperate, angry, and hostile. Life with God is empty, and they would extend the emptiness indefinitely, a truly frightening proposition. Furthermore, as science seeks to find a way to delay and eliminate death, culture descends into meaningless hedonism. The combination is unending depravity, but the reality is typically despair. We must recognize the difference and avoid being drawn into that.
Real hope and genuine life is so much better. Indeed, there is no comparison. The lie is seductive, but the truth is more glorious than the most beautiful sunset, the highest mountain, the loveliest flower, or the sweetest child. We must somehow find a way not to be lured into and trapped by the deceptive attractions of the lie (I have some thoughts on how that I will be posting soon). Life wears us down, politics drains our optimism, the media transmit negativity at us 24/7, and current events undermine our confidence, unless we use the truth God has given to offset their influence. We work with unbelievers, live among them, and hear their opinions all around us; we need the encouragement of believers who share the hope of the resurrection in the love of Jesus Christ.
The truth isn’t “out there;” it is in God in us and His word recorded for our edification and hope. Don’t let anything or anyone rob you of the sure and certain hope and of life abundant, now and forever. Don’t let cynicism and despair creep into your thinking and speaking, but let your thoughts and words be shaped by what God has promised and what Jesus has already done. He is risen! He is alive! Our future is secure in Him!