As a teenager, Elie Wiesel was sent to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during the Second World War. Having survived the horrors of his captivity, Wiesel later recounted his harrowing experiences in his book, Night. This is how he described his first night in the camp: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed...Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Wiesel’s powerful words convey a profound sense of despair. But what is most poignant is not Wiesel’s sorrow; it is his loss of hope. His words remind us of Naomi in the Book of Ruth. Having mourned the loss of her husband and two sons, Naomi returns destitute to the land of Judah. With no prospect of a future, she laments: “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter).”
The loss of hope can be devastating. Life would be unbearable if we did not have something better ahead of us. We all need hope in order to truly live. Hope sustains and strengthens us by directing our gaze forward, away from the circumstances of the present or past. Hope helps to fuel faith. It can fortify our hearts with the assurance that there remains light at the end of the tunnel, even in the darkest of times.
What ultimately matters is whether the object of our hope is trustworthy. Can what we hope in, bear the weight of expectations that we place upon it?
I regularly conduct pre-marital counseling for couples in my church to help prepare them for marriage. Engagement is an exciting time, as the couple anticipates the arrival of their big day. They have plenty of expectations of each other. While it is good for the couple to make much of their marriage, I have to encourage them not to place all their hopes on each other. Otherwise they will end up frustrated and disappointed, because neither of them is able to perfectly live up to each other’s expectations and fulfill each other’s hopes. The true hope for their marriage is not ultimately found in either of them.
What do we depend on for our assurance, joy and peace? How will our hopes weather the storms of life? We are often too easily content with lesser hopes. Pride can lead us to hope in ourselves and our accomplishments. The world tempts us to put our trust in what our culture values: things such as career success, health, wealth, or financial security. But Scripture calls us to turn away from counterfeit hopes and to cling to the one true hope that will never let us down. God calls us to put aside our broken cisterns that can hold no water, and to return to Him, the fountain of living water.
We often do not realise where our hopes lie until trouble comes our way. Adversity has a way of exposing our hearts and revealing what we actually depend on for happiness and security. Trials test the reliability of our hopes. They topple the props we may be leaning on, so that we see our need for God and run to Him.
In the Old Testament, God weans His people off their false hopes through their exile to Babylon. False prophets were giving the people false assurance, saying “peace, peace” when there was no peace. The exile put an end to that. But against the dark backdrop of Judah’s Babylonian captivity, we see God’s steadfastness in sharper relief. When all false hopes are stripped away, we are left with the One who will never forsake His people. While lamenting the dire condition of God’s people, the prophet Jeremiah says: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lam 3:22-24)
Jeremiah’s hope is not wishful thinking. Refined by the fires of trial, it is founded upon God Himself—His character, His word and His covenant. Regardless of Judah’s present rebellion and exile from the land, the prophet can still be confident that the Lord will fulfill His plans for peace for His people, to give them a future and a hope (Jer 29:11).
Can dry bones live again? Such a hope seems humanly impossible. But it is not beyond the all-powerful, ever-faithful God, who is able even to raise the dead. He says through Ezekiel the prophet: “And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” (Ezek 37:13-14a)
In the hope-filled Old Testament, God makes promises of greater things to come. We are encouraged to look forward to the day when the faithful God will graciously keep his promise to save. He will forgive sins and remember them no more. He will reconcile estranged sinners to Himself, to be His beloved children and treasured possession. Indeed, God will raise the dead to new life.
This is the reason why we celebrate Easter. Hope has become reality through the faithfulness of a gracious and merciful God. True to His word, God has kept His promises by sending His one and only Son for us and for our salvation. Jesus Christ has come to “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79).
Jesus is our hope. We are born again to a living hope through His resurrection from the dead (1 Pet 1:3). Jesus has defeated sin. In Him, there is no condemnation because He has fully atoned for our transgressions and iniquity through the cross. God has exalted His obedient Son, appointing Him as King forever through His resurrection. The sting of death is no more, because Jesus has died and risen! United to Christ by faith, we shall also be resurrected with Him in glory. We can look forward to the consummation of our hope when our Lord returns.
Jesus’ resurrection not only secures our future, it also transforms our present. Hope becomes a reality now, as we live in the life of our risen Lord. We have the hope of holiness. We have passed from death to life. As it says in Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Our status has changed from sinner to saint. Sin no longer rules over us. Once we were dead in sin, but now we have been made alive together with Christ. We are His new creation, made anew for good works. Set free from the shackles of sin and our efforts to justify ourselves, we have the freedom to worship and serve Jesus with wholehearted devotion.
Hope has become reality through the faithfulness of a gracious and merciful God. True to His word, God has kept His promises by sending His one and only Son for us and for our salvation. Jesus Christ has come to “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79)
Thanks to the power of Christ’s resurrection working in us, we can walk in newness of life and seek the things that are above. We have the spiritual resources to display Christ-like love, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. We can forgive others, as God has forgiven us.
We have the hope of community. The church is a gathered people, comprising all who have a share in Jesus’ resurrection. The new life that we have received from Christ unites us to one another in bonds of brotherly affection. Through our one Lord, we have access in one Spirit to our Heavenly Father. We are no longer orphans and strangers. We belong to God as His people. Together as His children, we cry. “Abba! Father!” By loving and serving one another, we reflect the glory of Christ and display the transforming power of His resurrection. The church’s fellowship gives tangible expression to the new life that Christ has breathed into us by His word and Spirit.
We have hope amid suffering. We can even rejoice in our trials, knowing that they produce endurance, character and hope. And we know that our hope will not be disappointed, because God has wonderfully loved us in His Son. Therefore He will not, indeed cannot, fail to complete our salvation. In the hands of our loving and sovereign Father, our light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. As we share in Christ’s sufferings, we shall also share in His resurrection.
Because of Christ’s resurrection, our faith is not futile. Our hope is not in this life only, for we can look forward to the regeneration of all things in the new heavens and new earth. Therefore, we can be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” knowing that in the Lord our labour is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
Jesus has been raised from the dead! The night is passing away, for the sun of righteousness has risen with healing in its wings. Death will be swallowed up by life. Bitterness will give way to joy. The new creation has already begun. Hope is becoming reality.
While Eugene Low was an undergrad, Jesus found him and gave him new life. Eugene now pastors Grace Baptist Church. He is married to Claire and they have two boys, Zachary and Iain.