The two disciples began the seven-mile walk home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Despairing recent events, they didn’t notice the man joining their party until he began talking. Had they known him? They certainly had, though they were unaware at the moment. In an ironic twist, the topic of their home going discussion was now one of their carpool. The one whom they had hoped was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21) was alive again. Their hope was not put to shame (Romans 5:5). But they couldn’t see that yet. Oh, how hope is often veiled by own our doubts!
It’s a common fear, this putting to shame of one’s hope. It is a fire easily extinguished by the wet blanket of the world’s disappointments. By definition, hope is something future-oriented, out beyond, something promised though not yet possessed. Anything out in the future is, of course, uncertain, and that uncertainty plays with our mind. The things we hope for (and hope in) can let us down. We’ve been there a thousand times, haven’t we? The hoped-for Christmas present never comes. The hoped-for spouse never asks you out. The hoped-for promotion never materializes. To grow up in this world is to grow up learning to deal with disappointment.
Hope, it seems, is a fickle thing. Perhaps it’s something better left alone. That’s why so many today seem to have none. Why bother? So cynicism reigns. Things might be okay later on, but don’t get your hopes up. Everything ultimately disappoints. Even death, that release into the great land beyond is now thought by so many as a great nothingness—a removal of sorts from all that matters, never subjecting one to pain again, nor, for that matter, to any other emotion. Culturally, our hope amounts to nothing. The great hope of the enlightenment, that we were progressing upwardly, soon to be far better versions of ourselves, is no longer enough. We aren’t progressing—the twentieth century proved that well enough—but now we’re barely even trying. We dull our fears with entertainment and erase our eternal hopes with something more instantly gratifying: another hit of sugar, another purchase from Amazon, another trip to the beach, anything short-lived because who has time for things to come one day? So credit card bills carry a never decreasing balance because someone has to foot the bill of our hopelessness.
The Emmaus road disciples would find a home in twenty-first-century America. Obviously, Jesus is dead, yet the world still spins. Death is imminent but better left unconsidered. Going home is the only option left. At least there’s comfort there as we wait out the rest of our days.
But as they walked, their new partner rebuked their lack of faith and spoke wonderful things to them from the Bible. He proved something, though they weren’t sure at the time what the point was. All they knew was that their hearts began to light up with something pushing them onward, a burning inside that restored the hope they thought they’d lost (Luke 24:32). They went home despairing a dead Jesus but on the way, they met a living savior.
Hope is born out of such things. It’s when our head is lowest and our hearts are dimmest that Jesus does his best work, even if that work has been there from the foundation of the world. It’s us that needs to see it, and it’s to us that Jesus comes, rebuking if he must, but still lovingly bearing with us as if we’re the only ones in the world. To him, we are. You, Christian, are his mission—the very reason he lived, died, and rose again. In his glory, he has all the time in the world for you. All the patience too, it seems. He aims to make his people not only able to bear with the world he left them in but to make them hopeful in the living.
That day, Jesus taught his disciples (and therefore us) to look beyond this world. Christians do not set their hope on the uncertainty of worldly riches be they life or treasure. Christians set their hopes, rather, on God who richly provides (1 Timothy 6:17). Christian hope is solid and firm, like the Rock it stands upon. More than vague optimism, Christian hope is the firm conviction of things not yet seen that are coming sure as the morning sun—like a risen Savior revealing the glory of what’s really before us.
The Bible is riddled with hope. Open it, and like a spring tightly wound, it jumps. Even the darkest moments glimmer with something better coming quickly from heaven. It seems that for the saints of Hebrews 11, every day was like Christmas Eve. By faith, they followed the Lord where he led. As a child waking too early in the morning, not all their steps were sure, but they knew something great was coming.
Every Christmas we celebrate the coming of King Jesus. But the hope of the world did not end 2,000 years ago on the cross. The hope of Christmas was not only that Jesus came into the world back then but that he’s coming again very soon. It is that great hope to which the New Testament points. Yes, Jesus accomplished our salvation on the cross. That’s the “already” of the gospel. But the “not yet” is out ahead. So Christians serve the living God today because, as Paul tells Timothy, “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior” (1 Timothy 4:10).
As the prophets of old grounded the hopes of Israel in the certainty of God’s promises, so Jesus grounds the hopes of Christians in the certainty of the same. Jesus grounds our hope in the certainty of God himself. Jesus, our hope, has more than the shifting winds of circumstance and chance. Jesus, our hope, has the firmness of the promises of God. What God has said surely will come to pass (Joshua 21:45, Isaiah 14:24, Ezekiel 12:25). Christian hope is a certainty, even if he in which we place our hope cannot be seen. As the apostle Paul said, we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
When the world gets dark, as it did that day on the road to Emmaus, we say things like “it’s hard to keep hope alive.” But we don’t have to keep this hope alive. Our hope isn’t a vague self-willed determination. It’s a person. And Jesus is alive. If he is our hope, it matters not how you feel about your hope. Jesus died and rose again so that even when our hope fades, his resurrection glory burns all the brighter.
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Placing our hope in the promises of God apart from the person of God ensures disappointment. Misplaced hope is a terrible thing to live with. But placed in the crucified hands of Jesus, hope holds us up because Jesus holds us up. The one we hoped would be the redeemer of Israel is the redeemer of Israel. Hope proves himself. Hope becomes a solid foundation rather than a wobbly anticipation.
J.I. Packer helps us understand the biblical meaning of hope in his Concise Theology.
Living between the two comings of Christ, Christians are to look backward and forward: back to the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb, whereby salvation was won for them; forward to their meeting with Christ beyond this world, their personal resurrection, and the joy of being with their Savior in glory forever. New Testament devotion is consistently oriented to this hope; Christ is “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1) and we serve “the God of hope” (Rom. 15:13). Faith itself is defined as “being sure of what we hope for” (Heb. 11:1), and Christian commitment is defined as having “fled to take hold of … this hope as an anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:18-19). When Jesus directed his disciples to lay up treasure in heaven, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21), he was saying in effect, as Peter was later to say, “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:13).
Hope, for the Christian, is as firm as can be, and even our suffering can’t take it away. As Packer goes on to say, “Though the Christian life is regularly marked more by suffering than by triumph (1 Corinthians 4:8-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Acts 14:22), our hope is sure and our mood should be one of unquenchable confidence: we are on the victory side.”
We are on the victory side not because we are overcomers but because Jesus, our hope, is the Overcomer. Christian hope, therefore, is resting in the victory of Jesus. It is knowing that he cares for his people and will bring them home—or, more precisely, he will bring his home to them, making new what we destroyed.
That evening after the long journey home, Jesus sat with his disciples and did what he’d done so many times before. He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Luke 24:30). And when they ate, as Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to their sin, these disciples’ eyes were opened to their Savior. They saw before them Hope himself. And they ran back to Jerusalem to share the good news with their brothers and sisters in hope.