The apostle Paul pointed to three ultimate attributes of those who follow Christ Jesus — faith, hope and love. To paraphrase Paul, these three qualities will always distinguish those who follow Jesus. It would have been true when Paul said it in the first century, and it is still true in 2013.
During the season of Lent we have certainly considered the call to faith, as well as the demonstration of love seen in Jesus and desired in our own living. However, as Lent crescendos to its climax on Easter Sunday morning, let us turn our thoughts to the attribute and experience of hope.
Though it is now more than 20 years ago, I recall being my son’s number one high school basketball fan. I fondly remember going to almost every game and cheering wildly for his team and for him. I was, and still am, a very proud father. However, in those days, my son’s team did not win every game. Closely fought games were not too difficult to bear. Some were won and others lost, but the boys could accept either.
I recall one game in particular when by the end of the first quarter we all knew our team would lose. In fact, we all knew the team would lose by a large score. I remember that even more than cheering, I was praying that the team would not be demoralized and that they would make it to the end of the game with a measure of self esteem. Part of my memory is that the coach did not handle the game as well as the players. The boys played hard for the entire game, but the coach sat down in frustration and in defeat withdrew from leadership. He, so to speak, threw in the towel. I spoke to the coach in private following the game and I remember saying something to him to the effect that we learn as much about life in a moment of overwhelming defeat as we do in victory.
The death of Jesus was not a near win. His rejection by the religious leadership of Israel and His crucifixion by the massive world power of the Roman military was not a small or narrow defeat. His death was a major defeat. His death appeared to make His life a total failure. His followers fled. His family was consumed with grief. His inner circle hid behind locked doors, fearing they could be the next victims of a Roman and Sanhedrin purge. Jesus did not lose by a single point at the end of a close game. Jesus was crucified for the earthly purpose of putting an end to all His foolish and contrary preaching. If Jesus were crucified, so thought the Sanhedrin, that would be the end of His message, His influence and His followers.
This ultimate message of all events leading up to Easter is simple and clear: Although the suffering, the crucifixion and the death of Jesus were intended to bring a close to the story, it was not—and is not—the end. As 1 Corinthians 15:20 reports, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” The joyous surprise of Easter is an empty tomb and a risen, triumphant Jesus. This report, when taken by faith, fills us with a strong and lively hope. So vibrant is this resurrection hope that our lives are strengthened in the face of every apparent defeat.
The application is direct. My failures, no matter how great, are not the end of my story. Any losses, no matter how painful, are not the final outcome of my life. When those I love die, when a doctor reports “you have cancer,” when employment ends, when disappointments come and I feel defeated, Easter is God’s reminder that none of these experiences are final. Easter dawns with a joyous surprise, and we can simply believe, be thankful and remain hope–filled.
Our challenge now is the same as the first century preacher’s words for those who looked to the risen Jesus for hope, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
By Colonel William Harfoot