The Gospel of Hope

1 Timothy 1:15-17; Romans 8:28-39; Luke 18:35-43; Luke 21:8-19

Glory to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the early 60s AD, the apostle John Mark recorded the preaching of the apostle Peter regarding the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He begins his account by using a word the Roman world was familiar with: He says: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

Now today in our culture many of us think of the word Gospel as a message that Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven when you die, if you get right with God. But the first people to read Saint Mark’s Gospel didn’t know that was what we would think of this word.

Gospel, from old English god spel, or good news, is a literal translation of the biblical Greek word evangelion.

To first-century Romans, a gospel, an evangelion, was only indirectly related to gods. An evangelion was the proclamation that a new king had begun to reign. This king’s reign was the end of war, there would be new laws coming, and all the people who surrendered and pledged allegiance to him would be saved from destruction

The best-known gospel record comes from what is now the country of Turkey, and was posted on an inscribed plaque about nine years before Christ. Copies of this announcement have been found in a number of cities bearing this identical text, which calls itself: The beginning of the gospel.

Here’s how it begins:

Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set [all things] in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance excelled even our anticipations, surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done; and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him…

It goes on in that vein for a while. The gospel of Augustus announces that he is a savior for the whole world, who has conquered all the enemies and done such great things that no one will ever be greater. And as he is now to rule over this province, there will be a new calendar, starting from his own birthday. And since he had been adopted as a son by the divine Julius Caesar, Augustus was named divi filius, son of a god.

That’s the cultural world into which Saint Mark launched his subversive account of the life and works of Christ, calling it “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The apostles of Christ preached throughout the world that a new Kingdom was at hand, established by a King who was the only-begotten Son of the living God.

He has destroyed death by means of death, carried away all our guilt and buried it in Hades, united the human race to God who is our Life for eternity, and now “every knee will bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Let’s put a finger in that page and come back to it in a minute.

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Saint Paul writes that three virtues endure: faith, hope, and love. As disciples of Christ we practice faithfulness in imitation of all the heroes of the faith, whose image line these walls. We struggle all our lives to put into action the love of God, which after all is a verb and not a feeling.

And, you know, I talk to a lot of people who are concerned that they do not have a sense of great faith, or love or forgiveness for others. When that comes up, I tend to ask: Do you love your enemy, your boss, your next-door neighbor? Wait, don’t get distracted examining your feelings. I didn’t ask about what you feel. I’m asking what you do.

Do you act for their benefit? Do you pray for them, by name and with commitment? Do you try to find out what they need, and try to make that possible for them? Do you listen when they speak and honor them as the work of God’s hands? If so, the thing you are doing is love. (Affection and sex are nice too but they’re not the “love” in “love thy neighbor.”)

Do you feel like you don’t love God? Well, join the club: Most of us have at best an unreliable, variable feeling about God. Our feelings are like a boat at sea, and they rarely sit calm and happy in sun and stillness. But the Lord has never commanded us to feel in love with him, or with anyone else. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him” (1 John 2:3,5).

Is the love of God not perfected in you, as revealed by how you obey him? Then it’s time to talk about the third virtue: Hope.

Hope is taking inventory of the things we expect, and choosing to act accordingly.

We tend to mix up hope with wishful thinking. I hope I win the lottery! I hope I get there before the store closes. I hope when that baby grows up she’ll get her looks from her mom…

That’s different from the hope of a worker on a graveyard shift. Every night about 3 in the morning, it feels like the night will never end. The second half of this shift runs so slowly, and your mind is so foggy and distracted that it’s hard to pray or even think. But you know the sun will come up. By the time you finish your graveyard shift, you know daylight will be here. This kind of hope is a confident expectation. It doesn’t make your suffering any different but it puts an expiration date on it. We can put up with a lot when we know it is temporary.

The biblical virtue called hope is the choice to invest in a future.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he went and sold everything he had in order to buy that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful jewels, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:44-46)

We don’t just say we believe some day we’ll go to heaven; as disciples of Christ, the anchor of our life today lies in the Kingdom come, and our confident expectation of standing before Christ is where our peace, stability, and sobriety come from.

So at Vespers, we sing from Psalm 129, “From the morning watch, let Israel hope in the Lord.”

King David in the Psalms is no stranger to dark and hopeless times. He knows the empty feeling that everyone has turned away, everything is ruined, and it’s all your fault. There’s a false accuser in each of us, and it never quite shuts up, and no good advice will change that despondency to brightness in a hurry. So, in the depths of despair, King David speaks to himself, and makes a choice:

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

He doesn’t say “I will praise God and then I will feel better.” He just says, “this is who I am. I’m a person who has put his trust in God for life, and I’m going to keep doing it.”

Saint Paul writes that tribulation produces patience; and patience produces experience; and experience produces hope (Romans 5:3-5). There are no quick fixes; our life in Christ is a long obedience in the same direction.

So, is the love of God not perfected in you, as revealed by how you obey him? Then, from late after midnight in the morning watch, let Israel hope in the Lord.

Marcus Aurelius had it right: “Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live properly” (Meditations 7.56).

In place of the verb “hope,” some English Bibles use the word “wait.” That’s not a passive word. You know a good waiter at a restaurant has his eye on you, to be there when you want something. Waiting is what servants do. And so David sings, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart” (Psalm 27:14).

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Maker of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor grows weary. His understanding is unsearchable and he gives power to the weak; and to those who have no might he increases strength. Even the young grow weary and stumble. But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint; they shall mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:28-31).

They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.

God has confirmed his word with a covenant, so that “we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may take heart. This hope is the anchor for our soul” (Hebrews 6:18-20), anchored in the Holy of Holies where Christ has gone to secure a place for us.

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And so the Lord sends out his apostles to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.

He gives unconditional promises. Like “In the world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33) and “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).

Always the Good News has an eye on the end of the story: “He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom shall have no end. I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

That’s where today’s Epistle reading comes in. If you’ve heard “all things work together for good” thrown around as a band-aid for people who are suffering, then “God works all things for good” may have lost its power to catch your attention. But Saint Paul begins,

We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

Now if you’ve been a particular kind of Protestant, you may have learned these verses as building blocks to construct a specific belief system about predestination. But classic Christianity has never put a lot of energy into that distraction.

Does God know everyone? Did the Lord know you were going to be born? Or were you a surprise to him? No, the Lord foreknew you before your mother’s womb. And “whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Without any concern for speculations about who is “elect” or not, I can say with authority that you have a destiny. Your name was on the Lord’s lips when he planned for humankind to be in Christ on the cross, in the grave, breaking out of Hades, and seated at the right hand of the Father, and coming again with glory. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2)  You have been buried with him in baptism and raised with him into new life. In Christ you have a purpose and a destiny. Will you fulfill your destiny? Who can stop you?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not, along with Him, also freely give us all things? Who will bring an accusation against you whom God has chosen? God is the one who names you righteous; who is the one who condemns? Christ, who died and rose, who is right now at the right hand of God, is the one who intercedes for us (Romans 8:31-34).

This is why I say that the Good News of the Kingdom is about hope, the choice to invest everything in the One who is for us. The anchor and foundation cornerstone of our faith is built on the One who has risen from the dead, has entered into the Holy of Holies in the heavenly places, and has sat down at the right hand of God the father to reign in the Kingdom of Heaven: and he is on our side.

The Lord who knew you from before the foundation of the earth “foreordained [you] to be conformed to the image of his Son, that Jesus Christ might be the firstborn among many brethren” (8:29).

In preparation for the feast of Christ’s resurrection, we sing to all the principalities and powers of darkness in this world:

God is with us. Understand, and submit yourselves: For God is with us.

And at that proclamation, all the spiritual parasites and predators that trouble us look up in alarm, as we announce with authority,

If any take counsel together, them shall the Lord destroy: For God is with us.

But to the Lord our God we will ascribe holiness, and him shall we fear: For God is with us.

And if I put my trust in him, he shall be my sanctification: For God is with us.

I will set my hope on him, and through him shall I be saved: For God is with us.

I am not here today to correct anyone or to rebuke sinners or to teach you anything new. I just want today’s scripture reading to enter into your mind and heart and make your feet stand firm on a rock – on the hope, the confident expectation of the goodness and mercy of God. Who has called you, and has said you are no longer strangers, but made you sons and daughters of the Most High and fellow citizens with the saints in the kingdom of God.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.