Most people hope for a better life. Many people turn to Jesus because of hope for a better life, but what is the Christian hope for a better life? Sometimes I think even believers lose sight of it.
I was at church yesterday for a meeting I was leading, and I talked to someone who was there for another reason. We talked about the service there the day before for a 25-year old young man who lost his life in a car accident. It was hard.
I made the comment that we are all going to die. I didn’t say it just like that. I recognized with her that it’s hard for someone so young to die suddenly. It isn’t the natural order of things. We miss our loved ones terribly. The ache and the pain is real. A “life cut too short”, as we say, is a tragedy.
But, we should never lose sight of the bigger picture.
We are all going to die.
Sometimes … maybe most of the time … we don’t live like that reality is a fact.
I am not talking about the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die” kind of attitude. Yet, the people we know who live like that are living with the reality of death, perhaps, more than we might do. Without God, everything is meaningless under the sun!
That reality should point the Christian to Jesus, who rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and who gives us a better hope. That hope, however, is not just that we will live a better life, but that we will be resurrected to a better life!
Yes, we will live a better life here with Jesus, but this life is not the end game. That’s what I am getting at today. Jesus does not guaranty that we will live a more prosperous life now, a pain-free life, or even a happier life on this earth (under the sun). To the contrary, he said, “In this world you will have trouble!”
Ecclesiastes tells us in no uncertain terms that everything under the sun is meaningless; if this is all there is, this life is vanity; we die like animals and turn back to dust; it doesn’t matter how good we are, how much we accumulate, or how many people like us, know us or honor us. We go down to the grave and live no more, the king and the pauper alike.
This line of thinking prompts me to question: Why do we put so much effort and energy into hope for this life?
The message at church when I began writing this piece was from Hebrews 11. If this topic resonates with you, take some time to read Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11 is the “faith chapter”. The mark of true faith is maybe not what we expect or what we have heard from popular preachers. True faith isn’t about moving mountains. It isn’t about positive thinking. It isn’t about living a prosperous life.
Hebrews 11 is very clear on the mark of true faith. The “great cloud of witnesses” referenced in Hebrews 12 are the list of people identified in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 tells us that all of these people exhibited a similar faith – a similar trust in God – and they had the same hope.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
They were not placing their hope in a better life on this earth. They didn’t receive the reward of their hope in this life. They considered themselves “foreigners and strangers on earth”!
Because of their faith, their relationship and trust in God, they sensed God had something better for them: they longed “for a better country—a heavenly one”. (Hebrews 11:16) The writer of Hebrews says this, which was the key verse of the message that inspires my writing today:
“They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.”
Hebrews 11:35 (NLT)
The Christian hope is not ultimately for this life. It is a hope placed in trust in God who reveals Himself to us now and gives us a taste of what is to come. If we keep our focus on the Author and Perfecter of out faith, our hope grows and does not diminish with time. It grows and does not diminish when death is all around us and darkness is closing in because we know we are made for another country.
CS Lewis described the Christian hope when he said:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Martin Luther King , Jr. described the Christian hope when he said:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
“And I don’t mind.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
These words were spoken the night before he was assassinated.
Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that our faith enables us to cease striving for ourselves and what we can accumulate, accomplish and attain in this life. We are freed to do God’s will, trusting ourselves to the God who made us and calls us to a better place. Thus, Dr. King was able to say:
“[God has] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
King, of course, was talking about racial equality in this country, here and now, in this life, but he was also looking out past this life. He was looking out past his own life. On the mountain top he saw into eternity, the realm of God, our hope for this life and our hope for resurrection to a better life.
MLK was walking in the same faith as Abraham who believed and trusted God, though he was old and childless, that his descendants would fill the earth like the stars in the sky and the sand on seashores – that through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The blessings God promised would not take fruit for many generations after Abraham.
When God promised the Israelites a “hope and a future” through Jeremiah, the prophet, the promise came at the beginning of their 70-year exile in Babylon. The people who heard those words spoken would not see that hope and promise in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, God instructed them to be a blessing to those around them:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The Christian hope isn’t just for you. It isn’t just for your lifetime on this earth. It also isn’t just for future generations on this earth. It is all of that, but it’s much more. We do God’s will to strive for the blessing of others and the community in which we live on this earth, but we do it not for ourselves, and we do it not just for future generations; we do it because God desires for us to know Him and be like Him.
We do it because we are aliens and strangers in this world. We have a hope and future that is not of this world. We do it because we have been to the mountaintop, and we have tasted the goodness and seen the glory of the Lord.
But, we only have a taste now. Paul says that no eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love Him! (1 Cor. 2:9)
We see only a reflection now; we know only in part now; then we shall see face to face, and we shall know fully, even as we are fully known! (1 Cor. 13:12) John caught a glimpse of our hope and future when he said:
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”’
THIS is the Christian hope!
Not just a good life on earth. Not just a taste of the kingdom of God in this life. Not just a better life for future generations. Not just hope for a view from the mountaintop or just a “taste” of a better life. All of that, but much more than that! A heavenly City, a new Jerusalem where God lives among us, a better Country, a heavenly one, where we live in harmony with God and His creation!
I didn’t set out to write this piece with the book by Janet Wills from which I used her drawing of the New Jerusalem in mind, but I could not find an illustration that captured the idea better than hers! I have known Janet, and her husband Scott, for over 50 years. They have served as key mentors in my life and examples of faithfulness, godliness, joy, faith, and trust in God. Once you know the backstory to this drawing and her book, it will take on a whole new level of appreciation. Below is a video they made to summarize the book. You can order the book here.