For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. [Romans 8:18-25]
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The Greek word for “hope”? ἐλπίς (elpis)
A friend and colleague called me a while back to discuss “hope”. He had encountered a very young man, a 20-something, who, in great anguish disclosed that he felt utterly without hope… that he had lost all hope in life. My friend dealt with this young man and his father, and then phoned me in his own anguish to deal with the question… “How? How can one so young, be living in such a vacuum of hope?”
I’ve worked long and hard with people who have come to lack hope, both through suicide work and a variety of destructive lifestyles… and pointed out how very common this view has become. It is amazing.
- The singular characteristic recognized in suicide “lists” of signs and symptoms, as pretty much universal, is that the person has lost all hope. “Hopelessness” is usually top of the list.
- The principal predictor of survival in a disaster or critical situation, is the hope held out by the survivor. Both tales of survivors, and journals of those who survived for a period after the disaster, show that longevity is strongly connected to the degree of hope held by the person.
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“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 15:13]
A couple years ago, a friend prompted me to a serious study of the implications of this verse. That led to a number of realizations. Among them:
- God Himself, cannot “hope”, because to be omniscient means that all is “seen”. Love can persist, yes. God loves. Yes. But God cannot know either “faith” or “hope”, as He “sees all”. (cf 1 Cor 13:13]
- Hope may be thought of as “forward-looking faith”. Faith looks primarily to the present, hope looks primarily towards the future.
- Hope requires trust. If one can no longer trust, one can no longer hope.
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Only one more puzzle piece here, and then I can lay this before you complete…
Over the past few days, I’ve been drawn to consider the season of “Advent”. I’ve been challenged by a question asked of me by the Lord, as this passage buzzed through my mind and spirit…
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. [Galatians 4:3-5]
The Question: “What made this… this moment of Christ’s Incarnation… the ‘fullness of time’?”
In other word, “Why now?”
Israel was in an horrible state… defeated, occupied, garrisoned by Rome. Northern and Southern kingdoms in shambles. Hardly recovered from the Babylonian captivity. No longer a military force of note against Assyria and other nations of the region. Samaria constituting nearly a “nation within a nation” in their midst. Intrigues everywhere. A half-mad Herod mixing human blood in sacrifices, corruption of the Temple bleeding the devout dry, tax collectors and publicans making the most of Roman law to line their pockets.
And THIS… was the “fullness of time” into which Divine Wisdom and Love had chosen, from before the beginning, to let the Son of God take on the additional name, Son of Man.
I could not fathom it…
But slowly, a niggling thought seemed to inch its way to the surface of my mind. Perhaps this was, itself, the key to the answer. Perhaps it was the very pathetic hopelessness of Israel at the time…
I mean, what seemed ALWAYS to call God forth in the greatness of His power and majesty throughout the Old Testament? The sincere cries for rescue of His children in bondage.
From the flood, through Egyptian Exodus, conquest of the Promised Land, the wars of David and establisment of the Kings, and eventual relief from the Babylonian Captivity… from the Burning Bush, through Shekinah, and Pillar of Fire/Cloud by Day… God seems to manifest and come forth the most clearly, when His children are in the greatest need of rescue.
So, why should it be different for the Incarnation?
And yet, when Jesus comes, we see an utterly new dimension of rescue occurring. He stated His “agenda” clearly in one of His first moments of public revelation and ministry:
And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:17-21]
The “poor”, “captives”, “blind”, “oppressed”…. these were the focus of Jesus’ mission. This was the purpose of His anointing and the agenda of the Spirit of the Lord. Well, if THIS is the mission, then indeed one could say the fullness of time had come. Israel certainly had these in abundance.
But rather than restoration of Israels military, political, economic greatness among the nations… as so many people of the time anticipated, Jesus arrived as Messiah to work in an entirely other dimension. His concern was to reveal the Father in spirit and in truth.
So, how does this “fullness of time” thing relate to THAT? To the relationship between man and God in prayer and spirit?
Israel had “perfected” religion. Scribes, pharisees, priests, teachers of the law… had so studied what requirements it took, as to custom, tradition, behavior, food, and clothing… that it may be said that the Temple represented the absolute pinnacle of religious attainment. Every move, every sound, every crumb and thread, were legislated and covered by scholarly authority as to how it would be pleasing or displeasing to God.
The Law now permeated every institution of Israel’s life… business, family, education, relationships, worship, care of the old and care of the young… EVERYTHING had been infused with “what the Law requires” for man to be right with God. Every moment of the day, was clearly scripted, as to what would bring about the blessing and good favor of God.
Whatever else could be said of that moment in economic and political history…
“Religion… the Worship of the Law… had attained absolute Perfection by the efforts of man.”
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THIS… I realized…. could be thought of as the hallmark of the “fullness of time”.
It was now time for God become flesh to come and dwell among us… because man’s pride had now attained the ultimate hubris. Religion had now given us management of the means to become righteous before God. Religion… was perfect now.
And, of course, man had quite utterly missed the point. The Law, Religion, can never perfect. Law, in fact, highlights imperfection. The Law is the indicator of hopelessness.
Jesus Alone, Christ, the grace-filled Son of Man/Son of God… came not to bring peace but a sword. He fulfilled utterly the Law. He satisfied the demands of righteousness, and totally defeated Religion. Religion murdered Jesus, but in rising… He defeated it completely. “Religion”, the caring about whether one must worship God in the Temple or on the mountain… cannot stand in the face of the God of spirit and truth.
In the presence of Jesus, such foolishness withers as chaff in the face of a blazing furnace.
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Bottom Line: The fullness of time came when religion believed that the Law could provide righteousness and satisfy God. Jesus came because such a view is not the liberty and freedom that the Father intends for His children, but simply another form of bondage and enslavement to 600+ rules and regulations that would determine one’s immortal fate.
When man’s bondage reached its pinnacle… enslaved not only to other men, but to regulations of men laid down in the Name of God… NOW, Jesus could come, reveal in His person the fullness of God Himself, and redeem all of Creation.
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What is Advent? I’m thinking that Advent is the moment, the season, wherein we realize we are bound up and enthralled to enslavement of any sort… even to religion. When we cry out to God, in our own despair of powerlessness, it seems that it is simply God’s way… to appear, to manifest, and to reveal Himself in great power and majesty…
His is an ongoing mission of rescue of His beloved children… the poor, the blind, the captive.
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Thank You that You have come, Lord Jesus!
What is the key to hope? The permanent, life-changing key? To trust to the love and mission of Jesus. To know, beyond all evidence, doubt, and facts that seem to deny it… that God’s very anointing and mission, is to rescue any and all who are trapped and enslaved! Do you, or anyone you know, feel stuck and hopeless? Trust to the mission of Jesus… for He is worthy of our trust!
Grace to thee — The Little Monk