Hope and Broken Creation

We live in a broken world. This is not at all hard to see. As I write, our nation is being dramatically impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the accompanying panic. This week I have heard from dear friends and family members of great loss and dramatic medical problems. And a look at the news shows us ugly crimes and great human sinfulness. Yes, the world is broken.

God’s word has never once pretended that our world and our human nature is not fallen. Nor has the Bible ever pretended that this condition is not painful. The creation and humanity both long for a day when what is wrong will be put right.

Romans 8:18-25 – 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

When Paul wrote here to the church in Rome, he pointed out the fact that all around us is imperfect. Creation groans. The natural order around us shows the signs of the curse of God that came upon the world because of the rebellion of mankind. When Adam sinned, he broke the universe. Do not misunderstand me. Adam did not override the plan of God or somehow make it so that God is not in control of the universe now. But Adam brought all the natural hardships we now face into existence because of his refusal to follow the Lord. And, before you blame Adam, also remember that he is our perfect representative, and you and I sinned in Adam as our representative.

Paul also says that our very bodies groan along with creation. Death is part of the human experience. Disease is part of the human experience. Confusion as to how our bodies are to function is now part of the human experience. Sinful desires are now a part of the human experience. And all this is directly traceable to the fall of man in the garden.

If God left creation like this, we would be helpless and hopeless. And, if God left things without hope, he would be treating us all as we deserve. But, thanks be to God, he has chosen to give us hope. Creation groans, longing for restoration. Humanity cries out, looking toward a future when God will fix what is broken. And all this is based, not on wishful thinking, but on the promise of God to grant us resurrection bodies, a new heavens, and a new earth.

Hope, in biblical understanding, is not a wish that may or may not come true. Hope is a certainty which we cannot see yet. We have hope in the resurrection. Jesus is alive. He promises that all who die under his grace will rise to eternal life. This is a sure thing. Nothing can ever stop it. But it is a thing we await with hope, because we cannot physically see it right now. And we also hope in the renewal of creation in just the same way.

Hope in Eternal Perspective

Christians, sometimes watching the world around us is frustrating. WE see wrong things happening. Often, we see so many wrong things that we feel powerless to make them stop. While we know God is sovereign and most certainly will ultimately accomplish his will, it is hard to have confidence that we will see good done in our day.

In Psalm 39, we see a man’s frustration as he sees the wickedness of others around him.

Psalm 39:1-3

1 I said, “I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
3 My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

the frustration of the psalmist as he observes the wicked is clear. There are people around him, nasty folks, and he is not able to speak out against them and make a difference. It is painful. It is frustrating. It is quite similar to many of our own experiences in our world.

What then will the psalmist pray? This is important. If the psalmist faces frustrations like we face, we should look to see how he prays that God will help him deal with his situation. Take a look at the prayer.

Psalm 39:4-5

4 “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah

Is that what you expected? You might have expected him to go off on the wicked. You might have expected him to demand that God do justice right now. But the psalmist has a different prayer entirely. He prays that God give him a proper wisdom as to the brevity of human life.

This is a call to wisdom. When we see our world looking too big to handle, when we see the wicked looking too strong to vanquish, it is good for us to grasp that our lives last for but a moment with eternity to follow. WE live for a century if we are strong and healthy. But what is that span in the course of history? A century is a drop in a bucket when compared to something like a millennium. And what is a century in the light of ten thousand years? What is a century in light of a million years? What is a century in light of eternity?

Our God lives. Our God reigns. Our God is eternal. Our God has a kingdom that he will build, that he has won and will win, a kingdom that lasts forever. God’s kingdom will have no end. So the wickedness we see in the here and now, it is significant for sure. But it is a moment. It is a passing breeze. It is a blink of an eye.

AS I said, what we experience matters. A society rebelling against the order of creation and which murders its young is truly a significant evil. But it will not last. Throughout history, we have seen empires that looked unbeatable. They have all crumbled to only be remembered in dusty history books. The great centers of power in many an ancient dynasty are now parts of sight-seeing tours that people go on from cruise ships before they return to hit the buffet, the pool, and the evening’s karaoke contest.

The psalmist prays that, in the face of a hard world, God will remind him of how brief life really is. The psalmist is asking God to help him have a greater, eternal, beyond-this-lifetime perspective. And we would be wise to learn the same thing.

Christians, never use a look toward eternity to keep you from seeking to see justice and kindness done in the here and now. Battle evil in your society. But do not let the evil discourage you. All the greatest powers in our world which oppose the Lord will fall. Our Lord will reign forever. Let this give you hope as you serve the Lord.

Faithful unto Death

Toward the end of the first century, Christians in the city of Smyrna were facing a very difficult persecution. It likely had to do with the imperial cult. People were commanded to show their devotion to the Roman empire by performing an act of religious devotion toward the emperor. And failing to do so could cost believers social status at minimum. Eventually, refusing to worship the emperor would cost certain Christians their lives.

Revelation 2:8–11 – 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Notice a few things in the text above. AS Jesus speaks to this church, a church full of people facing death, he first identifies himself as the one who died and yet lives. Jesus wants to be sure that the Christians who face persecution do not think they are alone. The Lord Jesus has been there and done that. HE has suffered. He has died. And he has conquered death. That should give hope to believers, as we realize that our hope is in the one who already beat the grave.

Second, notice that Christ knows what is coming. Jesus can tell the people that the persecution is coming. HE can tell the people where the persecution will come from. And he can tell them how long that persecution will last. Even if ten days is a figurative term for a short period of time, Jesus is clear that this season will come, and it will go. Do not think your troubles catch Jesus off guard. Nor should you think that, just because Jesus loves you, he will always keep you from pain. God uses our hardships to our good and his glory.

Then notice how faithful Jesus calls the Christians to be. They are to be faithful unto death. Jesus knows that the coming persecution in Smyrna will cost Christians their lives. People will die under this one. And Jesus calls on his followers to be ready.

It is good for us to recognize that our service to the Lord can cost us more than discomfort. It can cost us our lives. And when we grasp that we could in fact die for our faith, it should have the effect of strengthening us. I’m not suggesting that we develop a morbid fascination with martyrdom, or we develop an attitude of pessimism that assumes defeat at every turn. But, I am suggesting that the Lord wants us to be prepared to face death on his behalf. And when we have accepted that we could die for our faith, we will be strengthened by God to face whatever is thrown our way.

Then, at the end of this section, Jesus says that the one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Christian, understand that it is not the first death that we are to aim to avoid, but the second. In Revelation, we learn that the first death is common to humanity; it is physical death. There is a day to come when all who die will be physically resurrected. There is a first resurrection, the resurrection of those under the grace of God. They will rise to life and blessing forever. They will never face death again. There is also a second resurrection, a physical resurrection of all who have never gotten under God’s grace and have died as his enemies. Those will face the second death, a spiritual death, which is to be cast into hell forever.

Jesus is telling this church that their hope is in the resurrection. There hope is in the life that Christ offers. There hope is to be found in Christ, under his grace, and to live eternally with Jesus in perfect joy. Their hope is to avoid the second death because they have entrusted their very souls to Jesus. And folks who have the resurrection and life in front of them will be willing to face physical death in the here and now, because they know that there is not a second death to hurt them.

The book of Revelation speaks much about the hardships that Christians can face in this life. Whether it be something at the end of the age, or whether it be first century folks facing persecution, the message is the same. Christ is victorious. Christ has conquered death. Christ will give eternal victory to those under his care. So we can stand strong. Even if the world tries to take our livelihood or even our lives themselves, the word cannot take from us what matters. The word and the devil cannot take from us the eternal life to be found in Jesus who conquered death and who will raise us up to live with him eternally.

Who Can Stand?

It is funny what happens to us when we let our minds become too focused on the present. We look at a world where so much is wrong, and it can be easy to want to hide. Politics is ugly. Social standards are not godly. Many churches seem to be focused on all sorts of things other than the word of God and his worship.

It is, I believe, for seasons like this that God gave us a book like Revelation. This glorious book is so much less about giving us a firm timeline for the future and so much more about showing us the victorious Savior. Revelation shows us that, in a hard world that hates its Creator, the Lord Jesus is gloriously victorious.

Consider how this scene of prophecy might change how we think about our circumstances.

Revelation 6:12-17 – 12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

With the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6, we see a scene of stunning power. Jesus is changing the world. Without getting into what the signs in the heavens may tell us, just look at the very end. When this day comes, the mightiest in the world will tremble. When the Savior returns, the greatest will not stand arrogantly or defiantly against the Lord. Instead, these will cry out to the mountains. They would prefer to be crushed than to be seen by the Lord who is coming.

Right now, in our world, there is a great deal of bluster. Many people mock the things of God. Many rebel purposefully against the standards of the Lord. And it appears that there are no consequences. But the Book of Revelation reminds us that a day will come when the Lord returns. A day will come when the Savior is seen by all. A day will come when the biggest and brashest of braggarts will realize that they no longer have a place to stand. A day will come when all will realize that Jesus is God in the flesh, that Jesus is Lord, and that Jesus will judge. A day will come when those who oppose Jesus would rather be under an avalanche than under his holy gaze.

I’m not here taking delight in the death of the wicked. But I am taking delight in the fact that, no matter how backward the world looks today, Jesus will set it right. And this gives me confidence today. If I know that Christ is coming, if I know that his judgment is inevitable, if I know that his grace is mine through faith, then I can live with that hope. I need not let this world discourage me. Jesus has promised to return. Jesus has promised victory. And I am counted in Christ with a secure hope.

A Most Important Mindset

When you read the New Testament, there are certain truths that are vitally important. God wants you to grasp the identity of Jesus as God the Son. God wants you to grasp that your salvation must come by his grace alone through faith alone in Christ. God wants you to grasp that a person who is saved obeys the commands of God, loves other believers, worships and fellowships in the church, shares the gospel, and lives for God’s glory in the family. And, of course there are many more top issues.

If we watch throughout the New Testament, we also see an issue of mental perspective that is vital for Christian living. This issue is all over the place in the New Testament, and when we miss it, our lives are significantly more miserable. Wen we get it right, we do far better.

Check out the mindset Jesus wants the people of the church in Smyrna to have.

Revelation 2:8-11 – 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

This note from the Savior to a church in Asia Minor at the end of the 1st century begins with a hint at the mindset I’m pointing toward. Jesus identifies himself as the one who lives after death. That is a key, the resurrection and eternal life of Jesus. Then Jesus makes it plain that the church in Smyrna is headed for some significant persecution. In fact, this church is headed for the kind of persecution that will cost some believers their lives. At the end of verse 10, the Savior says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

In verses 8, 10, and 11, Jesus points to eternal life after death. Jesus is the risen Savior who lives forever (v. 8). Those who are faithful unto death will have the crown of life (v. 10). The one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death (v. 11), an eternal death.

What then is the mindset that is so important? Jesus is calling the people to have an eternal perspective. He is calling for the people to see that their lives are not bound up in the 70 or 80 years that people live on earth. Jesus wants his followers to have their hope firmly set on life after death. Jesus wants us to see that the crown of life and participation in his resurrection, a genuine and physical resurrection, is more important than the sufferings that we might face today. Even should our hardships cost us our lives, they are overcome by the glorious truth that Jesus died and yet lives, and so shall all who are in Christ live eternally.

Christians, check your mindset. Are you focused on eternity? Is your hope in the life after this one? Are you longing for the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the saints? Or is your focus on this life, its’ comforts and heartaches? May we have the mindset that would stand strong in the face of good or evil in this life, because we know that our hope is in eternal life with Christ.

Yet I Will

Scripture speaks in a beautiful way to those who are hurting. A student of the Bible does not have to read far to recognize that there are men, faithful people of God who have gone through hardships that are difficult to fathom. And if the people of God were believers in the prosperity gospel, their faith would have crumbled.

Repeatedly in the psalms, we see David cry out to the Lord. He asks questions like, “How long O Lord,” and then lists calamity after calamity. AT the end of those psalms, however, we quite often hear David say something like, “Yet I will trust in the Lord.” David tells us how hard things are, how hopeless his situation looks, and yet he cries out to God in faith knowing that, in the end, God will do all things rightly.

WE see a similar prayer at the end of the book of Habakkuk. For some of you, these beautiful lines are familiar. To others, these need to be lines you memorize. The prophet has cried out to God. He knows that God is going to judge a wicked nation of Judah by bringing in another wicked nation, Babylon. Habakkuk is aware of calamity after calamity with still more to come. But Habakkuk expresses, at the end of his book, genuine hope in the Lord. Just take a peek at his closing proclamation.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk, in classic Hebrew poetry, comes up with six lines that express the potential misery that the nation faces. They may have no wine, no crops, no livestock, no real reason for hope that they can see. All has fallen down around Habakkuk, and God has let him know that it will continue that way for a while.

But look at the turn of faith. Habakkuk says, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD.” No matter the circumstances, Habakkuk makes a decision of faith. Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord. HE will find hope and joy in the true character of God. Habakkuk acknowledges that the Lord is his strength. And no matter how painful is his life, no matter how bare the cupboard, Habakkuk will choose, in the face of pain, to rejoice in the Lord.

Christians, we may face pain like Habakkuk. WE may face worse. The nation may turn on us. Our friends or our families may betray us. Famous church leaders will fall short. Denominations will split. Once reliable church members will depart. We will hurt. If you think you will live without pain, you have not believed the words of the Savior who promised us that this world would be a hard one to live in.

What do you do when you hurt? Learn from Habakkuk. Make rejoicing in the Lord and hoping in his goodness your choice. You can weep and still declare God to be good. You can cry out in sorrow and find a sustaining joy in the true, revealed character of the God who made you. You can face a life of seeming emptiness and ruin knowing full well that the Savior who promises you forgiveness has also promised you that he will return, he will judge, he will do justice, he will bind up the broken-hearted, he will make all things new. Our hope is not in the ease of this life. Our hope is in eternity. While Jesus can, and often will, make this life happy for his followers, he promises us something better. Jesus promises us to sustain us through the hardships of this life and to grant us everlasting life in his presence forever.

So, when your life hurts, Christian, what should you say? Perhaps try, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

God Restores

Real people who live real lives have experienced real pain. There are pains that we face that feel to us as though we can never be whole again. The loss of a loved one, the experience of abuse, the humiliation of a failure, all these can leave a person feeling irreparably broken and hopeless.

In the days of the prophet Joel, the people of Judah may well have felt broken beyond repair. The southern kingdom had sinned against the Lord and experienced his judgment. They faced crop failure, locust plague, and enemy armies. Their land was desolate. Their hope seemed dashed.

But God called the nation to return to him. He invited confession and repentance. And God promised restoration. This is beautiful; don’t miss it.

Joel 2:25-27

25 I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

God promised to restore the years that the locusts had eaten. Sense the beauty there. The people were damaged. They were damaged from their own sin against the Lord. They were damaged by the cruel actions of others who hurt them. But God says that he will restore.

Can he? Of course God can. The Lord can heal a land. The Lord can grow crops where crops had failed. The Lord can bring a harvest that goes beyond the loss of the years. And the Lord can help the people worship him again.

The Lord also promises the people a future. Notice that twice in verses 26-27, God says that they will not experience this shame any longer. God not only can fix the land, he can bear away the shame from the people.

This is lovely in the context of Old Testament Judah. It is infinitely more lovely in the work of Jesus Christ. We, like Judah, have sinned against God. We, like Judah, have been sinned against by evil people and a hostile world. We have been hurt. We have experienced shame. We have lost days, months, even years.

But God can restore. He can take from us our guilt and shame. This is part of what Jesus came to do. Jesus bore the shame of the cross in order to cover our shame in his perfection. Jesus took the wrath of God for sin so that we could have our sins covered by his righteousness. Jesus rose from the grave to show us that there is life after shame, life after guilt, life after death in his perfect grace.

Perhaps you have hurt. Perhaps you have guilt and shame. Perhaps you have done wrong. Perhaps you have wronged others. Run to Jesus. He is your only hope. He covers the guilt of those who come to him. He bears away the shame of those who come to him. He understands your pain more than you could ever imagine. He can heal. He can bring new growth. Jesus can restore the years the locusts have eaten.