We all need hope, and that is what the Easter message gives us:
In around 55AD the Apostle Paul wrote the following: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).
However he went on in verse 20 to say this: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And he concludes this very crucial chapter of Scripture with these words (verses 54-58):
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The hope of the resurrection – the glorious good news of what we celebrate each Easter – is what keeps us all going. Hope is the anchor of the soul as we read in Hebrews 6:19. Or as Paul put it in Romans 5:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Plenty can be said about the power of hope. Many of you know the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (1905-1997). He was a noted Jewish psychiatrist and his book has been translated into many different languages, with millions of copies sold. In it he spoke of how hope makes all the difference – even in a concentration camp. Let me offer just one quote that discusses his experiences:
[B]etween Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 the camp’s sick ward experienced a death rate “beyond all previous experience,” not due to a food shortage or worse living conditions, but because, “the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas.” When this hope was unmet, prisoners found no reason to continue holding on, nothing to look forward to. When a mind lets go, so does its body. https://mjhnyc.org/blog/hope-a-paradox/
We can endure a lot when we have hope, but when hope goes, often so too does the will to live. The Christian hope is unlike any other. No other religion offers us a Saviour who died for our sins but rose again, offering us hope for the future. This Christian hope really does make all the difference in the world.
As Fleming Rutledge put it in her important tome, The Crucifixion (Eerdmans, 2015): “Christianity is unique. The world’s religions have certain traits in common, but until the gospel of Jesus Christ burst upon the Mediterranean world, no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.”
And again: “The cross, incomparably vindicated by the Resurrection, is the novum, the new factor in human experience, the definitive and world-changing act of God, that makes the New Testament proclamation unique in all the world.”
A few months ago when my wife and I were seeing her oncologist (one of so many ongoing visits to hospital), he said that he was amazed at how well she was holding up, despite everything the cancer and the treatments were doing to her. She immediately replied, “It’s not me, it’s my faith.”
That of course is not some faith in faith, or faith in self, but faith in the one who died and rose again. It is her rock-solid relationship with Jesus Christ that has been getting her through all this. And if, as the prognosis informs us, she does leave this life much earlier than expected, that too is something she – and I – can face.
Indeed, it is such good news – a bargain really. We get to trade in this sin-soaked and sorrow-stained life for a new one where all the ugliness, the darkness, the grief, the hurt, the suffering and the disappointment are no more. Talk about a glorious hope.
As the risen Christ informs us in the last book of the New Testament (not once, but twice):
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:16-17)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)
Talk about something to look forward to. Hope is what gets us through the most difficult of circumstances. And it gives us perspective in the here and now. It gives us the desire and passion to even seek to work for better conditions here on earth.
I have quoted Peter Hitchens before on this matter. He was on a “Q&A” show at the Opera House during the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” in November of 2013. Near the end of it this question was asked of the panellists:
Questioner from the audience: “What dangerous idea has the greatest potential to change this world for the better?”
Peter Hitchens: “The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.”
The compere: “Why dangerous?”
Mr Hitchens: “Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.”
Amen Peter. What a powerful word about a powerful hope because of a powerful Saviour. And bear in mind that Peter is the brother of the late arch-atheist Christopher Hitchens. I have written about the death of the latter here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/12/16/christopher-hitchens-rip/
BTW, back in 2016 Larry Alex Taunton wrote the book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (Thomas Nelson). In it he discusses the journey of Hitchens, and whether he had a reconsideration about Christianity late in life.
Peter too was once an atheist and a Marxist. But an encounter with the risen Christ resulted in a massive change. I have written up his story here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/14/a-review-of-the-rage-against-god-by-peter-hitchens/
Hope makes all the difference in the world. And our hope is in God through Christ who rose from the dead, and promises to take us who have faith in him to be with him forever. Happy Easter.