Hope is one of the most important things to the human heart. Hope gives us courage to live. We face the difficulties of life in the hope that we will overcome them. We endure the drudgery of life in the hope of something more exciting.
Hope is the expectation or anticipation that what is desired will come. No doubt you have some hopes for today, for next week, even for the years ahead. But a disappointing fact of life is that sometimes these hopes are never fulfilled. Earthly hopes are at best uncertain.
Hope is central to the Christian faith. When the Bible speaks of hope, it is not referring to something that might happen; it is promising something that will happen. Here is a fundamental difference between earthly hopes and Christian hope. Christian hope is not merely an uncertain feeling that we will get what we want. Rather, Christian hope is based on the unalterable promises of a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Christian hope is the firm conviction that what God has promised He will indeed do.
Maybe life for you has been a series of successes and your hopes are being fulfilled. Have you ever stopped to ponder the ultimate hopelessness of life? Or maybe all your dreams have been shattered and you are disappointed and hopeless. Do you know that there is a hope no one and nothing can steal?
1. The Hopelessness of Life
King Solomon was one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel. The book of Ecclesiastes tells of Solomon’s search for real meaning in life. He sought for something that would truly satisfy in this world “under the sun.” The phrase “under the sun” refers to life on earth with little regard for the existence of an eternal world beyond the sun. One by one, Solomon exhausted every source of earthly hope.
a. Life is brief (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11)
First, Solomon came to the conclusion that life is much too short to truly satisfy. The natural world is an endless cycle of perpetual change yet everlasting sameness. The sun rises and the sun sets, only to repeat it all again. The wind blows, only to circle about and blow again. The rivers flow to the sea, only to evaporate and fall as rain into the rivers again. And human life is the same. One generation is born, only to die and be forgotten and be replaced by another.
In such a life under the sun, of what real value are all our labors? A man may meticulously care for a farm, but it is only to have his name in the registry of deeds replaced by another. A man may build a successful business but eventually someone else will run it. If there is no God and no life after death as the atheist claims, then life is merely a journey from nothing to nothing; we come with nothing and we leave with nothing, many times not even with a lasting memorial of our labors. Life is much too short to satisfy.
The feeling of nostalgia captures the fleeting nature of life. Nostalgia is the remembrance of a happy time in our life and a longing to return to that time. But that happy memory is mingled with pain because we realize we can never return to that happy time. It is gone forever. All earthly happiness has an end. The human heart longs for something more enduring—something eternal.
Certainly it is not wrong to hope for earthly things. Many times earthly hopes are the gift of God. But all earthly hopes are uncertain and have an end. Death is a barrier beyond which no earthly hope reaches. Our hopes for earthly success are a fleeting hiccup in the span of human history.
b. Pleasure and riches do not satisfy (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
Solomon found that all the happiness we may hope for in this brief life does not ultimately satisfy. Solomon gave himself to the pursuit of pleasure. His pursuit was not the wanton, self-destructive greed of a fool. He sought to wisely satiate his passions. He gave himself to wine and laughter. He built luxurious houses surrounded by gardens and orchards. He accumulated great wealth. He sought pleasure in splendor, dignity, and the beauty of art and nature.
Yet all these hopes fulfilled left him hopeless. After Solomon had gotten all these things he said, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). We, too, may dream and plan and hope. But when our hopes are finally fulfilled we find that we are not really satisfied. Still our life is empty and meaningless and we are left hoping for something better.
Many times when life is not going well we think, “If only I had that, I would be happy,” or, “If only this were different, life would be good.” But if such a hope is fulfilled we find that we still are not completely happy and we still have troubles.
c. Wise living is pointless (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17, 9:1-18)
Solomon gave himself to wisdom and wise living. Indeed Scripture describes him as the wisest man alive (1 Kings 4:31). We might reason, “Yes, life is brief, hopes may be disappointed, pleasures may not really make us happy, but surely the best a man can do is live a noble and wise life and be satisfied that he has lived well.” Solomon did this, but he found no hope in it.
Wise living is indeed much better than foolish living. But many times the same disasters come upon the wise man as upon the fool. There are wicked men who prosper and there are righteous men who perish. Solomon observed, “All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; . . . as is the good, so is the sinner” (Ecclesiastes 9:2). That is, it appears that health and sickness, prosperity and calamity, fame and humiliation befall men without regard for their moral character. Indeed, many times the unscrupulous man gains more applause than the honest man. In the years to come the wise man is no more remembered by posterity than the foolish man. And all the discipline and sacrifice required to live wisely is pointless, for both the fool and the wise man have the same end—death (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
In Psalm 73, Asaph describes how he lost all hope in this world when he saw the prosperity of the wicked who increased in riches and power. He said of them, “They have more than heart could wish” (Psalm 73:7). Asaph lost hope because always doing what was right had only earned him suffering and affliction. But then he went into the house of the Lord and pondered God and eternity. Then his hopes were turned away from this world and anchored in eternity.
Solomon found no real hope in this world because life is brief, pleasure does not really satisfy, and wise living is no guarantee of prosperity in this life.
2. Hope Beyond the Grave
Though the book of Ecclesiastes primarily considers life “under the sun,” ultimately the author’s hopes soar to the regions beyond the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:21; 11:9; 12:7). He recognized that because after death all men shall stand before God, there is good reason to obey God’s commandments and hope in life beyond the grave (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
In Romans 8:20-25 the Apostle Paul contrasts the vanity and despair of this world with the hope which God promises. The perfect world that God created has become a world filled with endless cycles of death and decay because of sin. Paul poetically describes the world as gripped with the relentless pain of childbirth. The natural world groans as it is wrecked by earthquakes, shredded by hurricanes, and parched by draught; as the wild beasts of the forest crush their prey; as mankind murders and steals and terrorizes. Even Christians groan under the sorrows and sufferings of life.
But in the midst of all this suffering there is hope. God promises a time when the whole world will be made anew. God “will come and save you . . . in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert . . . No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there . . . they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:4-10).
Those who follow Jesus Christ have the hope that they will be part of that future world. Jesus promised, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. Christ’s rising from the dead is the Christian’s assurance that he also will be raised from the dead when Christ returns to earth again (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; Romans 6:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). This is the foundation of the Christian’s hope.
If we do not have this hope, we cannot have any true hope. Every hope we might have for this life is pointless without the hope of eternal life in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” This means that should we hope in Christ but have no hope of the resurrection, all our hopes are pointless! To what purpose do we spend Sunday morning warming a church pew if the dead rise not? Why go to the trouble of being honest if there is no judgment after death? Why deny ourselves of some sensual pleasure if there is no life beyond the grave? But Christ has risen from the dead! His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection if we believe in Him. We have hope beyond the grave.
Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people, learned to hope in eternal life after death. God promised to make Abraham a great nation, to give him the land of Canaan, and to make his descendents as numerous as the dust of the earth (Genesis 12:2; 13:14-16). These promises were all that a person could hope for and more: power, riches, and an enduring legacy. Abraham may well have hoped to see these promises fulfilled in his lifetime. But God had something different in mind.
Abraham lived to see only a few of his descendants and at his death he owned one small parcel of ground—a burial plot (Genesis 23:20). At some point in his life, Abraham realized that God’s promises would not be fulfilled in this life, but in eternity. Abraham and his heirs “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). At some point in his life, Abraham came to fully hope in the life to come.
God desires that we, like Abraham, learn to hope for the things of Heaven more than for the things of earth. Like Abraham, we will leave this life with only one small parcel of ground with our name on it—a burial plot! All earthly hopes will end there.
3. Hope in This Life Also
There is no lasting hope to be found in the things of this world. But when we have the hope of eternal life in Christ, we find that there is hope for living in this world. There is a purpose for living. That purpose is to live for Christ.
The Apostle Paul was gripped with the hope that someday he would depart and be with Christ. But his hope was not a hope for Heaven only. His love for Christ gave him hope for this life also. He said that it was his earnest expectation and hope that Christ would be magnified in his body, “whether it be by life, or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Paul believed that someday he would depart and be with Christ. Because of that hope, he spent his life serving others and sharing with them the hope he had found in Christ. Paul summed up this dual hope when he said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Other Scriptures speak of this dual hope of the believer. After Asaph’s bout with despair in Psalm 73, he confidently affirmed, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24). That is, he believed that God was with him, guiding his steps through life, and that someday all his hopes would be fulfilled in the presence of God. David expressed his hope in God for both this life and the life to come when he said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (Psalm 23:6).
4. Rejoicing in Hope (Romans 12:12)
What does it mean to rejoice in the hope which God gives to those who trust Him? To rejoice means to be filled with an inner joy and confidence. This joy will be manifest in a cheerful outlook on life. But it means more than that. Rejoicing in hope is something we do even in the midst of sorrow.
Rejoicing in hope is resting in quiet confidence that God is in control. Life may seem out of control and full of confusion. We may not understand why God allows certain things. But the Christian’s hope is the confidence that God is working all things together for an ultimate good (Romans 8:28), and that someday the light of eternity will dispel the confusion of today.
Rejoicing in hope means we face life with the steadfast expectation that God will act to fulfill His promises. Sometimes it may seem that God has forgotten us. It may seem that this world is full of anxiety, fear, and death. But the Christian’s hope is that someday God will decisively act to redeem both His people and this troubled world.
Rejoicing in hope means we are willing to give up our hopes and dreams for this life in order to obtain something better (Hebrews 11:24-27). Doing this may be the most challenging for Christians who live in a land of prosperity. Do we really believe that the glories of Heaven far excel the pleasures of earth? Are we willing to part with the treasures we have hoarded in order to lay up treasure we cannot see in a Heaven we cannot see? Are we willing to sacrifice earthly ambitions in order to obtain a reward we do not see? Are we willing to risk ridicule in this life in order to please a God we do not now see?
It is easy to base our hopes more on the things of earth than on the hope of life beyond the grave. For many of us the hopes of life are real; we are enjoying life and hoping for better things to come. It is easy to forget about Heaven. It seems far away. Besides, we do not need Heaven now—life is good. We have much to look forward to in life, especially if we are young and life stretches out before us. But what if all our earthly hopes were shattered? What if we come to the end of life and find that life was not all we wanted?
What hope do you have? Are your hopes centered on the things of this life—on the next thing you will buy or on your growing bank account? Is your purpose for living the hope of earthly pleasure or success—hope of your next vacation or social outing or business venture? To put our hope in the stuff of a world “where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19), is to put our hope in something that may disappear tomorrow. To put our hope in Christ is to put our hope in Someone who is eternal. When life is good, it is easy to look to the things of life to make us happy. We need God to redirect our focus.
Does your life seem hopeless? Does your future look dark and dreary? Maybe you are locked up behind literal bars with little or no hope of ever being released. Or, maybe you are locked behind bars of abuse, oppression, or of continually being put down. Jesus offers hope, both in this world and in the next. The god of this world wants you to be blinded to the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). You can find hope by placing your trust in Him.
Maybe life is good and your hopes are being fulfilled. Friend, do you realize that someday all those hopes will end? When you come to the end of life and realize that someone else will inherit all your labors, will you have hope? When you have indulged in your last earthly pleasure, when you have grasped life’s last fleeting moment of happiness, when time for you has come to an end, will you have hope?
There are many things in life that we might hope will make us happy, but Christ offers us real hope. Christ came to bring us hope for living, and yes, even hope when we die.