Explore: Hope of new freedom

• The Explore the Bible lesson for July 6 focuses on Ezekiel 34:2-6, 11-16, 22-24.

The second year of high school, I played football on the junior varsity team. It was a miserable season. We lost every game. We took a three-month beating, losing games with scores like 60-0. It was humiliating.

During the pregame pep talk before the last game, our coach told us if we won that last game, we could “redeem” the whole season. Apparently, none of us believed him. We lost that game, too. We all knew that, no matter how we played that night, the season was lost.

We lost the last game because, before that, we’d lost all hope of being remembered as winners. When hope is lost, everything else is lost, too. Hope will keep a person fighting to win and pushing through all obstacles, no matter how dire the situation may appear. Hope is the soul’s fuel to keep going when all odds are against you.

Lack of hope

A lack of hope will make a person quit even before the game is over. That’s why, when distilled to its very minimum, all immorality is evidence of a lack of ultimate hope. Moral heroism is an expression of limitless hope.

In this week’s text, we listen in as God has a one-way conversation with the prophet. The theme of that conversation was God’s commitment to restore Israel by restoring Israel’s hope.

It must have seemed like a hopeless situation for God’s people. They’d lost Jerusalem. They’d lost their freedom and their homeland. A whole generation of people knew nothing but the horrors of enslavement in a foreign land.

Through the prophet, God was giving the people of Israel hope. Their hope was the promise of God that he would transform their captivity into a new freedom the likes of which they’d never known. Nestled in the promise for their delivery also was the promise of God to send his son and thereby give the promise of hope to all mankind for all time.

Eventually, we learn having faith in God doesn’t protect us from all harm or danger or calamity. What faith does offer is the capacity to keep trusting God for the ways in which he eventually will redeem everything, even the worst things, into instruments of his transforming grace.

A powerful promise

This is the promise given again centuries later through the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:18-30. That text does not promise all things that happen to us are good or even the will of God. It does promise that, in all things, God will work to transform even the worst things that happen into instruments of his redemptive purpose and power.

All that promise is then followed by one of the most powerful questions found in Scripture. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) It’s a rhetorical question with the answer more than implied. Nothing will stand in the way of God fulfilling his promise to restore, redeem and save those who trust him.

As if the apostle cannot contain himself, he reaffirms this promise of hope in the verses that follow in Romans 8:37-39: “In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This hope is the central theme of the gospel itself. Perhaps no other passage of Scripture more clearly makes that point than 1 Peter 1:3-9. Peter celebrates how God, in his “great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” That promise is the very heart of our hope in Christ.

Hope in Christ

It was the same promise given to the people of Israel centuries before. Even though they couldn’t yet see the promised Christ, they could experience the hope Christ would make available to all people.

This is the true meaning of evangelism. Evangelism is simply and profoundly sharing with others the hope that is ours in Christ and Christ alone. We are commanded to be a part of helping others discover the hope without which life is simply not possible.

Even the lost season of football still reaches through all these decades to remind me, as long as I have hope, I can keep getting back up, no matter how many times I get knocked down. Through faith in Christ, there is no such thing as a totally hopeless situation. Even in death, we will not be separated from the hope that is ours because of the promise of God to give us eternal life, eternal hope.

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