Since I’ve chosen to call this blog “Hope unbroken,” it wouldn’t hurt to begin by giving some reason for the hope that I presently have, a hope that has not–at least not yet–been broken. So this entry will be a bit longer than usual….
What gives me hope? That Jesus of Nazareth, the most influential person in human history, was persuaded that Israel’s God, whom he called his Father, is faithful.
That is, Jesus was persuaded that Israel’s God was and is the real God and, therefore, that He would have His way with His world–why?–because He was willing and able to prove it. How? By making and keeping promises. (“How else?” one might fruitfully consider.) It’s one of the defining characteristics of the God of ancient Israel (over and against the gods of other religions): he is a covenantal (i.e., a promise-making) God.
A person can make boasts all day and never feel the heat. But a person who makes promises? That’s a different story. When we make promises, we put ourselves on the line. We open ourselves up for “external verification.” With promises there’s no wiggle room. That’s why people often refuse to make them. In short, our very name is at stake. (And, if you’ve ever read the Jewish Scriptures, you will know that the God of ancient Israel cares about his name–a lot.)
But what promises did Israel’s God make to Jesus of Nazareth? Well, although Jesus was a peasant carpenter (if that is how the Greek tekton is to be translated), he also had royal blood in his veins. As Matthew and Luke especially make clear, Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.” And Joseph, we are told, “belonged to the house and line of David.”
So what? Well, Israel’s God had made very specific, concrete promises to David. But they weren’t made only to David. They were made to David and his descendants. These promises are found in 2 Samuel 7, and David himself refers to them in various psalms (e.g., Psalms 2, 110). Indeed, he does not only refer to them; he celebrates them and repeatedly revels in God’s faithfulness to his promises (as found, e.g., in Psalm 40; aside: If you’re interested in a sermon on Psalm 40 that talks about this, go here).
In a nutshell, what were these promises really about? Basically God said to David and his descendants, “If you are faithful to me, I will cause you to reign forever, enabling you to bring justice and righteousness to the world and giving you victory over all who oppose peace and life.” (Psalm 89 provides a beautiful expression of this). In short, the king’s faithfulness to God, even in the midst of fiercest opposition and humiliation, would lead to nothing less than the king’s vindication and eventual world dominion. Wow, not too shabby.
With this in mind, Jesus’ repeated statements to his disciples concerning his fate in Jerusalem make good sense:
“Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)
King David had repeatedly celebrated that, when he had been faithful to Israel’s God, the latter always, always returned the favor. But David himself publically admitted that he had not always been faithful. Hence, God’s promise of an eternal reign passed from David to his descendants, whose faithfulness was rarely better than David’s.
Of course, the reason the New Testament exists is because of its authors’ unified conviction that Jesus was that long anticipated son of David who was utterly faithful and who therefore is now reigning, triumphant over evil and ever expanding his reign in the world. Their conviction of this rested upon one thing: the testimony of numerous, diverse sources that Israel’s God had raised Jesus from the dead, just as he himself had predicted.
And why did Jesus predict this? Because he was persuaded that Israel’s God would be faithful to his promises, proving that he is the real (or “living”) God. And that is why I have hope. It is why my hope is at present still unbroken. Because of this, at the very center of who I am–i.e., in my heart–I set apart Jesus Christ as Lord: not only does he deserve to reign over the world (he alone was faithful); he actually is even now extending his reign over the world. Because of this hope, I seek to be faithful in a world where both the evil within me and the evil around me, though decisively defeated by Jesus, at times can still get the best of me and the best of us all.