Church of the Living God

Hope (Advent)

 

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Hope: To trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future. A strong or confident expectation.[1] It’s the thing you have confidence for or take refuge in. [2]

Hope is not thinking, “The Lions could make the playoffs this year!” That’s just wishful thinking. Hope is not thinking that if you close your eyes the monster under the bed will go away. That’s just escapism. We often use ‘hope’ in this sense: “I hope I don’t have cancer,” but exrpessing the desire to avoid our fears is not hope. Hope, in Scripture, means “a strong and confident expectation that is properly placed.”

This past week, I was listening to Tim Keller give a presentation at a university in Hong Kong on the subject of hope.[3] Before he made his case for the hope that Jesus offers, he noted all the ways in which we place our hope in things that will never fulfill our desires. Jeremiah warned about those who say, “Peace, peace when there is not peace.” There are also those who say, “Hope, hope when there is no hope.” I would say there are four main categories of things where we can misplace our hope:

  • Organizations (politics/government)
  • Ideas (solving racism or sexism; establishing democracy)  
  • Things (wealth/material goods/comfort)
  • People (love, relationships, family, sex)

There are ways in which these things can give us a form of hope: they might make the next day or the next year better; they can solve particular issues for a time. They are not bad things at all when they are used well. But they should never be a foundation for our hope. [4]

During Christmas, we talk about a Messiah, a King and Savior, who came to fix the root cause of what’s wrong with the world. What will a world look like in which Jesus is the Messiah, the King, the Savior of the world? If our understanding of the Messiah is biblically accurate, we will experience true biblical hope. If we misunderstand the Messiah, we will experience a lot of frustration and anger because we have false expectations about what a Messiah will do. So let’s do history.

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Every king of Israel was known as “anointed one,” (the prophet or high priest anointed him); the Hebrew term was “messiah.”  When the line of kings in both Israel and Judah ended with the exile to Babylon, the title “anointed one” gradually began to mean a future king who would save Israel. The Jews believed that

“the covenant will be renewed: the Temple will be rebuilt, the Land cleansed, the Torah kept perfectly by a new covenant people with renewed hearts.” (N.T. Wright)

 A lot of hope was placed in this “age to come,” or the messianic age. The ‘salvation’ would be a rescue from the national enemies, the restoration of the national symbols, and a state of peace. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah, a King. And they waited…. and waited… through captivity and bondage and despair.  There were three main Messianic movements around the time Jesus was born (it’s more complicated than my overview will allow this morning. These are broad, very general categories).  

First, the Warrior/Politician Messiah.  For those who wanted to fight, the Messiah would free them from Roman oppression; there would be a physical rule on earth where other kingdoms would bow to them.  It would usher in the Messianic age or rule. These were the Zealots. Just to give you an idea of how serious they were, about 100 years after Jesus died a man named Simon Bar Kochba amassed an army of  200,000 men. When he went to war he would pray: ”Master of the Universe, do not help us and do not help our enemies. ” He was crushed by the Romans and tens of thousands were slain. Some Orthodox Jews still consider him the closest to a real Messiah the Jews have seen.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people spread coats (a sign of a king – see 2 Kings 9:13) and waved palm branches.  Here’s why. Solomon dedicated the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles using palm branches; when Judas Maccabeas, one of the founders of the Zealots, briefly freed Jerusalem from Roman rule and purified the Temple in 165 BC., the Jews celebrated with palm branches – a symbol which continued to be used by the Zealots. The Jews likely greeted Jesus with palm branches because they thought He would be the new Judas Maccabeus, fighting for the Temple and God’s people. (Jesus apparently had a Zealot among his followers – Simon, on whom the Bible is largely silent).

Second, the Torah or Temple Messiah. Under this Messiah, the temple and the Law would finally be exalted over all the earth. The Sadducees were pretty elitist about the priestly class, though they had no problem with working with Greek culture to achieve their goal. The Essenes moved into the desert to get away from everybody else – including the Sadducess. This wasn’t so much a revolt as a movement toward holiness and piety. If they could just have the space to recreate the theocracy of old and follow the Law freely, fully and publicly, the world would notice and change. That’s how the Kingdom of God on earth would arrive.

Third, the People’s Messiah. This messiah would do those other things, but he would he would bring in world peace.  He would bring freedom from economic inequality and class oppression. They were most inclined of all the Jewish groups to long for a day when everybody would get along. The Pharisees were all over the map in some ways, but they were most closely aligned with each other on this idea.[5]

It’s interesting to look at the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in light of this Messianic tension (Matthew 5). I’m not saying this was the primary point of Jesus’ teaching here, but it’s interesting to see how his ‘sermon’ challenged these messianic notions. If I may paraphrase them into this context:

You expected a Messiah to let you lord over people; the kingdom of heaven contains “the poor in spirit,” the humble, the gracious.

You expected a Messiah who would pat you on the back for your knowledge of the Torah; but I am looking for people who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

You expected the Messiah to remove everything from your life that causes you hardship; I’m telling you that “those who mourn” are part of my Kingdom.

You expected a Messiah to judge without mercy; but blessed are the merciful.

You expected a Messiah to bring war; the kingdom of heaven is full of peacemakers.

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We, too, run the danger of missing the Messiah because Jesus isn’t what we want or expect him to be.

We can be deceived into longing for a Warrior Messiah that will rule the world.

  • we will begin to believe that political power and societal clout will bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. When that happens, we blindly follow politicians and celebrity Christians – anyone with power, really, as if their power alone is a sign of God’s blessing.
  • We might be tempted to think that military might or even some kind of civil war is an inevitable and maybe even desirable event to change our world or our culture for Christ.
  • in its worst form, we will long for a God of Judgment who gives the world what we think is coming to it, and we are somewhat eager to watch as all the sinners get theirs.

We can be deceived as we look for a Temple messiah, a savior made of Bible knowledge, obedience to rules, pious living and secret or private revelation.

  • we will locate the Temple Messiah within the walls of a withdrawn, internally focused, know all the right phrases, build an impressive theological resume, look just right, volunteer for the right things, find the better experiences and deeper revelation Christian community that shelters us while the world falls apart.
  • we will overflow with Biblical knowledge that never makes its way to those far from Christ; we will follow the next 7 Steps to Spiritual Awesomeness and assume that makes us holy; we will build ourselves but not others.
  • we will think the Messiah comes for us holy people, and we lose sight of the fact that the Messiah has come for those near and far from Christ (Ephesians 2:13-17) so they too can be part of us, the church, the family of God.

We can be deceived as we wait for a People’s Messiah, the social justice warrior, bringing God’s Kingdom to earth in the form of equality, fairness, justice, and an environmental and global consciousness.

  • We provide clean water – to people who are sold into human slavery.
  • We buy fair trade products – from people whose local government takes their profit.
  • We raise the standard of living – and people are no more happy, loving or generous than they were before.
  • We change our Facebook profile with a logo Facebook so helpfully provides so you can help promote what Facebook wants us to promote, and we radically change our lifestyle to support all things socially conscious – and yet the world does not get saved.

God care about all the ways in which the world is broken, and we should too. I’m not suggesting that you don’t get involved in social issues, that you don’t seek to live holy lives, or that you don’t get involved in politics or entertainment or social media. By all means, be involved.  There are good and just ways to offset the impact of sinfulness in a fallen world and point toward the ultimate salvation found in Christ.

They just address symptoms, not the root cause. The core problems don’t go away. We do not steward the world as we should; we don’t share our wealth like we should; we don’t pass laws like we should; we don’t treat other people as we should, we can’t follow God’s law like we should…. in and of ourselves, we can never be okay, and we can never make the world okay. This is why any hope based in us or in something on earth will fail us.

There is only one solution for this: the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, “who takes away the sin of the world!" ( John 1:29; Matthew 1:21). Until God fixes the sin inside of us, nothing will successfully or fully fix the impact of sin around us. There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12) and which will stop the groaning of a sin-plagued world (Romans 8:22).  That is our hope.

The Hope of the World is not revealed through our power, our status, our righteousness, or even our deeds. The Messiah’s hope is revealed through His ability to redeem sinners; and to one day create a New Heaven and Earth, the ultimate restoration of all things.

Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, Jesus died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were spiritually dead because of our sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display— Jesus, the Anointed One, died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life?  In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed. (Romans 5:1-11)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://bible.org/article/hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2] https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/hope/

 

 

 

 

 

 

[3] “Dr Timothy Keller @HKU – Hope Beyond the Walls of the World.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SD5LYJ3us0U

 

 

 

 

 

 

[4] Hope deferred makes the heart sick( Proverbs 13:12); , sometimes hope achieved makes the heart disillusioned, because we get what we want and find out it’s still lacking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[5] Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness were loosely connected to these three Messianic hopes (Matthew 4:1-11): to rule the world (Warrior Messiah); to restore the glory of the temple (Torah/Temple messiah); to turn stones into bread (People’s Messiah)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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