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Is the glass half full or half empty? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? It might seem that it’s getting harder and harder to be an optimist. Every day we hear about horrible crimes. It seems like people are constantly arguing and fighting with each other. The very fabric of society seems like it’s being torn apart. What hope is there for the future?
If we focus on the things that we see and hear on the news the answer would probably be, “there isn’t much hope.” But, as Christians who know what God has done in the past and what he promises to do in the future, we know that there is always reason to have hope.
If we think we have it bad with little hope for improvement in the future, consider what it was like for Jeremiah and the people living in Jerusalem with him. They were stuck between two great rival powers, Babylon and Egypt. Their leaders had sided with Egypt, but Egypt was defeated by Babylon. As a result, Judah became subject to Babylon. When they tried to rebel, the Babylonians came and enforced their dominance, carrying off kings and princes, including Daniel, to Babylon. Now Judah was trying to rebel again. This was the last straw for Babylon. They came and laid siege to the city intending to destroy it. God’s message through Jeremiah didn’t seem to give much hope at first. Through Jeremiah, God said that he was going to allow the Babylonians to destroy the city, and even his temple, and take the survivors captive.
Things looked pretty bleak. But in the midst of what looked hopeless God gives a message of hope. ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.’ In the midst of destruction, death and captivity, there was hope because God confirmed his promise, a good promise, a promise that there would be descendants of Abraham and David who would survive and who would inhabit Jerusalem, at least until the coming of the promised savior. This destruction, death and captivity would come to an end. “The days are coming, good days are coming,” says the Lord.
You can imagine that, considering the circumstances, there would be a lot of people who just shook their heads and refused to believe the word of God through Jeremiah. But we have the blessing of being able to review history. We know that God did allow Jerusalem and the temple to be destroyed, and the survivors to be taken as captives to Babylon. But we also know that God’s good promise was also fulfilled. After seventy years of captivity, just as God had promised through Jeremiah, any Jews who wanted to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple had the decree and financial support of king Cyrus. When you are able to look back and see how God kept all of his promises in the past, you have reason to hope. It gives you confidence that he will continue to keep his promises.
If you have been through a difficult time in your life; if things didn’t go as planned; if you are facing a sickness or a disability; if people that you were counting on didn’t keep their promises; if you suffered financial or personal loss; it’s difficult to have hope. Well-meaning friends who don’t seem to have any troubles in their lives try to remind you that God is working in everything for your good. But when your life is a mess, it’s hard to believe those words and to have hope. Maybe it’s not until you realize that this life on earth isn’t all there is and that the things of this world can’t make you happy that you are ready to have what is true hope.
When the people of Judah had no earthly thing left, it was all destroyed, and they were being taken as captives to a foreign land, God reminded them where true hope comes from. He tells them, In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. True hope comes from God’s promise of a savior.
By God’s grace, we know the fulfillment of this promise. We are preparing to celebrate it. Jesus, according to his human nature, was a sprout from David’s line. The gospels provide his genealogy for us. But unlike David, or any other earthly ruler, Jesus was a righteous branch. He always did what is just and right. Conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit, he was born without sin. Tempted in every way, just as we are, he lived his whole life without ever sinning, not even once. He is the spotless lamb of God in whom the Father is well-pleased. And the most important thing about that is, he is the Lord our Righteous Savior. He is considered by God to be our righteousness. His sinless life is accepted by God in place of our sinful lives. If you need proof, Paul says, he was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. His resurrection is proof positive that God has accepted him as our righteousness, as the one who paid for all our sins in full.
Knowing that God kept his promise to those living in Judah at the time of Jeremiah; that he did bring them back to Jerusalem, and that he continued to keep his good promise because Jesus was born as a descendant of David, who lived and died and rose again, gives true hope. It makes us think like Abraham, who when God promised things that seemed impossible, considered the source. This is not some mere human making promises. This is not someone with limited power, or resources who is making promises. This is God Almighty. There is nothing he can’t do. There is no one who can keep him from doing what he has promised. And since he is holy, he cannot lie. When he promises, it’s as good as done.
Because God’s promises are trustworthy, we have the sure and certain hope of heaven. When we face sickness, disease, disability; when our bodies are wearing out and there is no earthly cure; we still have hope. With Paul we say, for me, to live is Christ, to die is gain. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. And with Peter who says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…
Because God’s promises are trustworthy, we also have hope as we live each day in this troubled world. God has promised to be with us always to the end of the age. He has promised never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. Even though you don’t want to hear it when things seem to be falling apart all around you, God promises he is using everything for your good. Remember Joseph. I’m sure there were times when he felt hopeless as he lay beaten and bloody in a pit, wondering if his brothers were going to come back and finish him off; and when he was sold as a slave; and when Potiphar’s wife lied about him; and when Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot about him and he continued to be held in jail under a false accusation. But years later, when his brothers thought he might take revenge on them, he was able to say, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. And Peter reminds us of Noah and his family, and Lot, and says, the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. That’s what he has always done and what he promises he will always do. He promises to walk with you through every good time and bad, through every triumph and tribulation; and, when the time is right, to take you to be with him forever.
Is this world a mess? You bet. Do we contribute to the mess? Yes, because of our sins. Is there any reason to have hope? Plenty. When you remember what God has done, when you see what he is doing in your life, when you hear his promises for the future and remember that not one of his promises has ever failed; when you remember he sent Jesus, the branch of David to be your righteous Savior, then you will have hope for today, tomorrow and forever.