Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Hope of All Mankind?

Being without my primary source of income over the last month has been an interesting experience, to say the least. I have noticed a low-grade pessimism creeping into my attitude, and with that, an increase in irritability. Multiple studies have demonstrated joblessness has an affect on one’s ability to posses a hopeful outlook.

It makes sense. Without a job, we can’t make money. Without money, we can’t afford the things that give us a sense of security. When our sense of security has been threatened for a significant period of time, feelings of despair often creep in. And though I cannot speak for others who are going through similar circumstances, I think this season has revealed that too much of my hope and sense of security lies in things of this world.

Hope is not only critical to us individually, it is also a vital component to a society’s ability to thrive. Politicians are well aware of this need, so they masterfully manipulate the populace to continually place their faith and hope in the god of the State.

Consider these quotes from America’s previous two presidents.

People outside of this country are expressing disappointment because they got high expectations for America. And they want America to lead. They want America to lead through our values, and through our ideals and through our example. But they have high expectations of us because, I think, that this country is still the last best hope on earth.President Barack Obama on The Late Show with David Letterman, April 9, 2007

September the 11th, 2001 will always be a fixed point in the life of America. … We resolved a year ago to honor every last person lost. … We owe them and their children, and our own, the most enduring monument we can build, a world of liberty and security, made possible by the way America leads and by the way Americans lead our lives. The attack on our nation was also an attack on the ideals that make us a nation. … This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it. May God bless America.President George W. Bush on Ellis Island, September 11, 2002

The last best hope on earth? The hope of all mankind? Wow. Those are some strong words, especially coming from purported Christ followers.

Did President Bush’s last few sentences stand out to you? Did you recognize them? That’s right. He quoted John 1:5, but instead of saying that the Light that lights our way is Jesus Christ, he said it is the ideal of America. Isn’t that the very definition of blasphemous idolatry?

And yet, many Christian Americans read and heard those words without batting an eyelash. Some respond with whole-hearted approval. Why? Because our hope is where our citizenship is.

The New Testament has quite a bit to say about hope and citizenship, but one of the most striking examples is found in Philippians 3.

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. – Philippians 3:18-21

It’s interesting to note that Paul says the real enemies of the cross are not unbelievers. The actual enemies of the cross are professing Christians whose functional god, whose true security, whose real hope is this world.

True followers of Jesus, Paul writes, identify as citizens of heaven. Accordingly, citizens of heaven find their hope and security in heavenly realities, which should therefore cause Christians to live in a manner that is in stark contrast to citizens of earthly governments.

These truths were powerfully articulated in an early Christian document entitled, A Letter to Diognetus, which was written in the second century and details the attitudes and actions of followers of Jesus throughout the known world at the time.

Christians … live in their own countries, but only as guests and aliens. … Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country to them. … They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but through their life they surpass these laws. They love all people and are persecuted by all. Nobody knows them, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and just through this, they are brought to life. They are poor as beggars, and yet they make many rich. They lack everything, and yet they have everything in abundance. They are dishonored, and yet have their glory in this very dishonor. They are insulted, and just in this they are vindicated. They are abused, and yet they bless. They are assaulted, and yet it is they who show respect. Doing good, they are sentenced like evildoers. When punished with death, they rejoice in the certainty of being awakened to life. … In a word: what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. – Letter to Diognetus 125-200CE, Volume 1, p. 47-48 [CD-ROM]

The attitudes and actions of the early Christians don’t make sense from a worldly point of view. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t make sense if one views the things of this world as his or her source of security and hope. Yet, the early Christians lived with a tremendous sense of security because their hope was in heavenly, eternal realities. They also saw countless lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as the kingdom of God grew like a mustard seed in their midst.

People need this heavenly hope demonstrated to them by the Church like the body needs the soul. Without the soul, the body is a lifeless corpse. Therefore, if the Church’s hope is in the things of the world, we’re all in a lot of trouble. But if the Church has its hope fixed completely on the gracious realities brought to us through Jesus Christ, then His light will shine brightly through us and the darkness will not overcome it.

Jesus Christ is the true and eternal hope of all mankind. So whether your trial is currently one of joblessness or abundance, how do you respond inwardly and outwardly when you feel your temporal, earthly securities being threatened? How can you demonstrate the hope of heavenly citizenship to others in the situation you find yourself today? 

Though the politicians would have you to believe otherwise, the world and all its desires are passing away; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. Put your hope in Jesus. 

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