Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
There is no doubt that we live in a chaotic cultural climate. It seems like every day we are made aware of another political controversy, another sex scandal, another tragic shooting, another corrupted leader, etc. All of these events (and more) tend to lead people to a place of skepticism, isolation, and despair. Skepticism because it seems like there is no one we can really trust to do what they say they are going to do – this is becoming equally problematic in the Church. Isolation because when things are a mess (culturally or personally), it is easier to put up walls around ourselves in order to block out brokenness and keep people away. Despair because we realize that no matter how skeptical or isolated we are, we simply can’t ignore the problems in our cultural or personal situations. People are looking for answers, but let us begin by asking the right question.
In moments like these, the most important question is a basic one: Who is Jesus? At first glance, this question may seem to be unrelated, but when Jesus arrived on the scene in the first century, it was a time of political, social, and religious intensity and upheaval – not very different from our societal situation. When people witnessed Jesus doing his miracles and giving his teachings, people were torn over who he was and what he was trying to accomplish. Some wanted him to be a social reformer. Others wanted him to be a prophet. Some wanted him to be a political leader. Others wanted him dead. The cultural moment was polarized, and people were trying to pull Jesus into their own personal agendas (sometimes I think we do the same). His identity was source of complication for many.
In Mark 8, there is a collection of stories where Jesus miraculously feeds five-thousand people, argues with the religious leaders, and heals a blind man (Talk about a social ministry!) But immediately after doing these things, he asks Peter the most important question: “…Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:29).” Peter responds with the right answer: “You are the Messiah.” People couldn’t figure out what to make of Jesus, but Peter offers clarity.
Why is this the most important question you can ask? Because if Jesus is who he says he is, then hope is real, salvation is possible, and the world is being renewed – even if it is hard to see. If Jesus is not who he says he is, then we can just go ahead and get rid of our Bibles and get back to skepticism, isolation, and despair because it wouldn’t matter. But I believe the Scriptures are true about Jesus – He is God and he gives hope.
I want to focus on hope for a moment. Hope is not blind optimism about the future. Rather, it is faith rooted in the past event of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection; the present ministry of the Holy Spirit; and the future promise that God will set things right. Because of what Jesus accomplished in the past, we can trust that he is guiding us in the present and moving us into the future with hope. Optimism is not bad – I am all for it, but sometimes optimism is misinformed and unrealistic. For example, when a loved one dies, temporary optimism is of little use because the loved ones’ condition is situationally irreversible. Optimism can often fade when our circumstances don’t change. Hope, on the other hand, is anchor for the soul that allows us to be both broken by reality and encouraged because of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished (Hebrews 6:19). Hope endures even when our situation doesn’t change. Hope is about past, present, and future confidence in Christ. In Christ, both situationally irreversible and painful moments can be redeemed used for good – that is a promise from God (Romans 8:28). Going back to the basic question of who Jesus is will help reorient our hope in the proper direction.
When will things get better? I have no clue. Jesus uses the illustration of the weeds and wheat growing together until the right time comes to rid of the weeds to help us understand that things in this world will get better and worse as time progresses towards his return (Matthew 13:24-30). We live in a broken world, and in a broken world…things break. Leaders we love will let us down. Politics will be nasty. Life will be tough. Trusting in Jesus keeps us from finding our identity in anything or anyone else because if our faith is not in Christ, then it is somewhere else – and anywhere else would be an imperfect and broken place that is unable to provide the nourishment that are souls need. Scripture teaches us that God alone is able to sustain us (Psalm 54:4).
So – when we look out at the world’s problems and look inward at our own, we don’t have to yield to the temptation to remain skeptical, live in isolation, and sit in despair. If Jesus is who he says he is, we can rest assured that he is not surprised by anything and that he will give us wisdom to navigate life if we ask him (James 1:5). Discovering or rediscovering who Jesus is grows our patience, endurance, and prayer life. He enables us to rejoice in hope.
In the midst of the chaos, Christ-followers should embody the calming character of Christ with conviction – being gracious, speaking truth, and loving others well.
Take heart, friends (John 16:33).
Verses for Reflection
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…(Hebrews 2:14 ESV)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrew 11:1).
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).