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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






23 May 2005

A Sure and Certain Hope


Q: How can the Bible (and many pastors and other Christians) talk about “hope” as a certainty? Doesn’t hoping imply reasonable doubt?

A: Scripture uses “hope” differently than we do in ordinary conversation. The picnicker hopes that it will not rain; the farmer hopes it will. The young man hopes the young woman will accept his invitation for a date. The student hopes his lack of preparation won’t doom his test results. Ultimately, all of these boil down to wishful thinking or to desires contrary to the facts.

When we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, we learn of a different hope. The close of our funeral service says, “We now commit the body ... earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life....” While dead body and yawning grave argue that death is the end, Scripture instead says that the saints live on in Christ and will be raised on the Last Day. The rite of committal emphasizes our “sure and certain hope.” Christians are not wishful thinkers or starry-eyed dreamers. We know with absolute certainty that even as Christ is raised from the dead, so we also inherit this new life in Him.

Paul tells us forgiven Christians, “Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)” Our God-created faith points to the love-relationship we now enjoy and its fulfillment in God’s glorious presence forevermore. Applying Christ’s resurrection to the believers in 1 Corinthians 15:19, Paul said, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” For those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection, doubt isn’t reasonable. Instead, it is the fearful, irrational cry of despair brought about by sin and death.

What is reasonable? Paul continues: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (vv. 20-21)” In other words, if Christ is raised, we are raised. If Christ lives, we live. If Christ dwells forever in the presence of His Father, so do we. Hope doesn’t ignore the evidence of death and grave: It sees beyond them.

Living in farm country, I like to use the example of the farmer. Every year, he prepares the soil, plants the seeds, and hopes for growth and a bountiful harvest. But the farmer isn’t deluded by some pie-in-the-sky story. He knows that if rain and sunshine follow the planting, seeds will sprout, plants shoot up, and crops mature. His hope is actually expectant waiting. Anticipating His impending death, Christ used the seed picture (John 12:24): “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He knew the certainty of His own resurrection and the abundant fruit which would follow — the resurrection to eternal life of all who believe in Him. Disbelieving His preparatory words here and elsewhere, the disciples doubted when confronted with the fact of the resurrection. But as Christ proved Himself to them, they went out and proclaimed the truth to the world.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is God’s iron-clad guarantee that all things are made new in Christ and that those who die in Him rise to life everlasting. Faith disallows wishing, banishes speculation. The evidence is overwhelming: “Because I live, you also will live,” Jesus says in John 14:19. The facts are as obvious as the nail- and spear-punctured Savior greeting the disciples in the locked room (see John 20:19-29). As Christ invited Thomas to put his hand in the holes, so He invites you to put your trust in Him.

Let the world “hope” in speculation, in doubt, in confusion. You remain with a “sure and certain hope” based upon the sure and certain resurrection of your Savior. We won’t see our departed family and friends if only things work out; we will see them when our expectant waiting is complete. When Christ returns, when the dead are raised, when we are granted our resurrection bodies, when we are brought to the Father’s house: Then sure hope gives way to absolute, perfect, and unending life in the presence of Almighty God. There is absolutely nothing more certain: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your entire belief system is based on a closed loop paradox, as follows:

10: I will survive my own death.
20: How do you know?
30: Because Scripture says so.
40: How do you know Scripture is correct?
50: Because God says so.
60: How do you know God says so?
Go to 30.

11 February, 2011 18:41  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

Actually, it's because Christ rose from the dead and made the guarantee based upon His own resurrection.

23 April, 2011 22:23  

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