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Monday, December 4, 2017

Real Hope

Introduction
            It's never easy to wait, but waiting implies you have hope.  Over the Thanksgiving break, I found I was waiting with hopeful anticipation for my son to make it home from college in Huntsville.  I was looking forward to seeing and spending time with him.  It was a similar feeling we had with each of our children as we waited for them to be born.  The pregnancies were a long wait--nine months--but they were full of an expectant hope.  We knew they would result in great joy when the waiting is over.
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Advent is also a reminder that we are waiting for Christ's second coming and that we are to prepare so we will be ready when he comes.  As we wait, as we prepare, let's consider if our waiting includes real hope.
          
 Luke 2:25-35 25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” 


Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
            As I read that passage about Simeon meeting the baby Jesus, a song comes to mind that we often sing--not at Christmas--but at patriotic times.  It goes, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”  The song is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it speaks of the second coming of the Lord, but it also echoes Simeon's sentiments as he held baby Jesus in the Temple.
            Simeon was a man of hope.  When he looked around, he saw a broken world.  However, Simeon believed God would not leave the world a broken mess.  Simeon hoped for a Savior and the Holy Spirit ensured Simeon he would not die until the Messiah came. Simeon believed.  His hopeful words to Mary and Joseph reveal the kind of Savior Messiah Jesus is.
            Simeon said the Savior Messiah was "...prepared for all people" and "a light to reveal God to all nations."  Simeon was a Jew, a child of Abraham, God's chosen people.  However, Simeon testified that the Messiah was not just for the Jews; He came to give light to all people from every nation and race.
            Simeon said the Messiah Savior was "the glory of Israel".  Many religious people today like to say the Israelites are "God's chosen people."  But what were they chose for?  Was it simply to enjoy God's special treatment at the expense of others?  Were they chosen to get a pass to do whatever they like?  No.  Israel was chosen to be a light that reveals God to all nations.  Jesus is the glory of Israel because he is the fulfillment of their purpose.  Jesus is THE LIGHT that reveals God perfectly to all nations.
            Jesus was born and lived a perfect life to show us the way.  Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins.  Jesus rose from the grave to conquer the power of sin and death.  Jesus ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God to rule in glory.  However, the story doesn't end there.  We believe Jesus will come again. 
            As the Disciples watched Jesus ascend to Heaven in the first chapter of Acts, a man robed in white appeared before them and proclaimed they would see Jesus return in the clouds just as they had seen him ascend.  Christians profess our faith in this second coming even in the 21st century as we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say: "...He will come again to judge the living and the dead."
           The second coming of Christ will occur in two senses.  First, Jesus will come in a communal sense.  As he ascended in the clouds, so he will descend again for the whole world to see.  This will be his final second coming and it will be for the whole world all at once.  We don't know when Jesus will come again in this way.  We wait with expectant hope for Jesus to come and finally fix all that is broken in our world, but we don't know if it will happen in our lifetime.  We have been already been waiting some 2,000 years and it has not happened yet.  It could be another 2,000 years before he comes; however, it could also be within the next few moments.  "No one knows," as Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, "the day or hour these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."
            However, we can also think of Jesus coming in another sense, in a personal sense.  Jesus also comes for each of us personally.  His personal coming happens many times and each of us can be sure he will come for us individually in our lifetime--for no one lives forever.  Every person is going to have to face Jesus at some point.  Again, we don't know if this will be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but you can be sure you will not escape it any more than you can escape physical death.  Jesus is coming.  Is your heart full of hope as you wait or are you filled with dread at the thought?  Your answer depends greatly on how you prepare.

Real Hope Brings Peace
            Real hope in Jesus Christ brings peace.  Simeon's greatest hope was to see the Christ child before he died.  His hope was fulfilled and he was able to die in peace.  What a blessing!  Oh that we could all find a peace like Simeon’s because we place our hope in Christ.  Christ came to bring the Good News that all who trust and follow him as Lord and Savior shall not die, but have eternal life.  Jesus didn't come to condemn us, but to save us.  Everyone who has faith in him shall be saved, but those who reject Jesus have already judged themselves to be unworthy of God's grace.
            How awful it would be to achieve your life's ambition only to find it was empty and worthless and unfulfilling.  Perhaps that is the definition of hell.  There are many in our world who place their hope in all the wrong things:  money, careers, power, or people.  They strive, sacrificing their time, their families, their health, their lives, working their fingers to the bone all in the hope that their idols--their little gods--will bring them real satisfaction and fulfillment.  Some work their whole life chasing these false hopes.  Others release their dreams only to find them empty and so start to chase something else in hope that it will do the trick.  Nothing will bring real peace except a relationship with Christ.  He is the only real hope we have. 
            My hope as a minister of Jesus Christ is that everyone will realize their misdirected hope before it is too late, before they waste even one more ounce of time and effort on them.  My hope is that we will all come to Jesus and lay down your dead hopes before him.  Place your hope in Jesus and you will find peace.  Even when you come to the end of your life, you will be able to say with Simeon, "Now I can die in peace."

Real Hope Can Be Painful
            Our hope in Christ does not exclude trouble and suffering.  We still live in a broken world and Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Sometimes we face resistance and trouble because we trust in Christ; the world opposes Christ and those who follow him.  Sometimes we have pain simply because life in a broken world can be hard.
            Simeon’s words to Mary are very telling.  He said at the end of verse 35:  “And a sword will pierce your very soul.”  Mary, as the mother of the Messiah Savior, was not spared suffering.  She faced perhaps the worst suffering a mother can ever face.  Even though her son was perfect in every way and did nothing but love and help people, she watched him despised, rejected, denied, betrayed, arrested, disrespected, tortured, and ultimately murdered on a cross.  No parent should ever have to witness the death of their child, let alone in such a cruel and unfair manner.  Yet Mary's greatest pain turned out to be her greatest glory--the salvation of the whole world.  Death was defeated!  Eternal life opened to all!  Jesus rose in glory!
            Sometimes real hope also includes the promise of real pain, but our hope is God will redeem all our pain and not an ounce of it will be wasted.  Our hope is that our most painful wounds will—like Mary’s—turn out to be the source of our greatest victories in the end.  So we join with the Apostle Paul's hopeful proclamation of faith, "Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later." (Romans 8:18)

Real Hope is Always With Us
            Our hope in Christ insures that any pain and suffering we experience in this life is infused with a sense of expectant hope.  It is like the pain of child birth.  It is said that giving birth is the most painful experience the human body can endure.  I was with my wife at the birth of each of our children and I can testify that what I saw looked intensely painful indeed!  However, the pain of giving birth is also infused with hope.  You know it will end in great joy as you meet your child for the first time face to face.  So the greatest pain of life culminates in its greatest joy.  So it is with the greatest sufferings we face in this life.  Have faith that our great suffering will culminate in the great joy of seeing Christ face to face.
             Also, have faith you do not go through any of it alone.  For Jesus said, "It is good that I go to be with the Father in Heaven.  For if I go, the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) will come and live inside you."  So the Holy Spirit of God lives inside every person who truly trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  You do not walk through this life alone.  When you are facing your toughest battles, understand that Jesus is right their with you--living inside you--giving you strength to press on with real hope.