Holding On To Hope
Dr. Jim Denison
We cannot live without hope. That’s not just a sentiment, but a proven fact.
The American Psychological Association has found that people who have positive views on aging live 7.6 years longer than those who have negative views.
Depression is fast becoming the second-leading cause of death in America.
Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and insightful psychologist, observed in his classic Man’s Search for Meaning:
The prisoner who had lost faith in the future–his future–was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment…Usually it began with the prisoner refusing one morning to get dressed and wash or to go out on the parade grounds. No entreaties, no blows, no threats had any effect. He just lay there, hardly moving. If this crisis was brought about by an illness, he refused to be taken to the sick-bay or to do anything to help himself. He simply gave up.
Have you given up on true joy in your marriage or with your parents or kids? Have you given up on a significant and joyful career and are settling for as much money as you can make? Have you given up on a friend or colleague or family member? Do you have hope that things will ever be better in your life than they are now? If you need some hope, you’ve come to the right season of the year.
I know it doesn’t seem that way. We are entering the busiest time of the year, with hassles and hurries, toys and trees, presents and preparations, decorations and dinners and all Christmas has become. How can this be a season of true hope?
“Advent” comes from Latin words meaning “to arrive.” On Christmas Day, hope arrived. Hope for the world and hope for your heart. How can this hope be real for your soul today? There’s only one way. Let’s discover it together.
The Messiah we wanted
The Jews of Isaiah 61 were an enslaved people, and had been for centuries. They had exchanged the Egyptians for the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians. Still to come would be the Greeks and then the Romans. Now they were exiled slaves in the pagan nation of Babylon, hundreds of miles from home with no future and no hope. Or so it seemed.
But through all the centuries of their occupations and tribulations, the nation had found hope in a single word: “Messiah.” The Hebrew word means “anointed one,” the person who would be chosen and empowered by God to rescue his suffering people.
Some thought the Messiah would be a great prophet or preacher. Some expected a great and wonderful priest, or a miracle worker.
But most expected a military conqueror, a warrior who would destroy their enemies and lead their nation into global dominance. He would be a ruler like David, one who would reestablish the throne of the nation and lead the people forever.
God had promised his greatest king: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).
Isaiah had earlier prophesied: Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:7).
One of the most popular non-biblical books in ancient Judaism was 1 Enoch. It offered this promise to the people of God:
The word of his mouth shall destroy all the sinners and all the ungodly, who shall perish at his presence…All the kings, the princes, the exalted, and those who rule over all the earth, shall fall down on their faces before him, and shall worship him. They shall fix their hopes on this Son of man, shall pray to him, and petition him for mercy…Then the sword of the Lord of spirits shall be drunk with their [enemies’] blood; but the saints and elect shall be safe in that day (1 Enoch 61:3-4, 12-13, 15).
Isn’t it tempting to seek such military, political, materialistic hope? To wait for God to defeat the insurgency in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the terrorists around the world? To wait in expectancy for him to heal your wife’s cancer or get your son through rehab or make your job succeed? To make God a means to our end, expecting him to do what we want and need because we come to church and pray and give and serve?
No wonder the Jews were disappointed in the Messiah they got. They wanted a king on a throne for Christmas–they got a baby in a feed trough. They wanted a ruler to overthrow their enemies–they got a rabbi who taught them to love their enemies. They wanted a military conqueror to rule the world–they got a crucified carpenter who died for the world.
They got nothing they wanted, but everything they needed. So did we.
The Messiah we received
Isaiah predicted a military Messiah, One who would be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). These predictions will be fulfilled completely on the day Jesus returns to our planet, on the day when he comes as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, on the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
In the meanwhile, Isaiah gave us a second Messianic theme: the Suffering Servant. The Messiah who would suffer for his people as he served their God.
Isaiah 42:1-4 declared: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”