By Roland W. Keith
For what do you hope in life? Many people around the world have no hope. They merely exist from day-to-day until they die. They live in poverty and hunger throughout their lives with little vision of a future past tomorrow, and no concern for what lies beyond the grave. While some resist the oppression of abusive or inept governments, drug lords, and persistent lack of opportunity and seek to rise above these and other restraints to their well-being many simply live in a state of hopelessness. And so, it was in the first century when Jesus came to earth. As today there was great wealth and poverty in the world. However, there was an undercurrent of hope during that period that we do not see today. Even in our western civilization which has led the world in improving the lot of mankind politically, socially and spiritually since the time of the Roman Empire (in its stricter European form) there is today an unfathomable pessimism and resistance against the freedoms and values that have led to unprecedented growth and prosperity for billions of people over the last 150 years in particular. Yet, two millennia ago men were seeking for that freedom and spiritual truth so disdained today.
God providentially set the stage for the arrival of His Messiah. Understanding that, there are many reasons why the first century AD was the right time (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10). The political climate, travel conditions, Common language, multicultural cities of trade, a growing desire, especially in Palestine, to throw off all forms of oppression, and a hunger for spiritual understanding. Even among the oppressed there was a growing optimism that freedom could be obtained, and that there was something more out there for man. There was hope. Moreover, for a growing number that hope centered around God, spiritual redemption and unity, and eternity, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians concerning Christ: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (1:7-12).
When the mystery of God’s will was revealed in Christ Jesus hope for mankind soared! God guaranteed His promise to man with an unbreakable oath (Hebrews 6:17-19). To make good on that oath and to remove all doubt as to its validity He sent His only Son to establish the final covenant of that promise and to set in motion the final work for its completion. Moreover, Jesus was able to validate His own deity and claim to be the long-awaited Messiah through the miracles and wonders that marked His ministry, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit through His apostles and other disciples, as the approved work of God (John 3:16; 21:24-25; 2:23; Matthew 12:28; Acts 3:16; 4:29-31; 9:11-12; 15:12, 18-19). Not only did Jesus prove Who He was, He ransomed His life to pay the debt of sin for all who are willing to accept Him as Savior; so when we put our faith in Him we are putting our faith and hope in God, the originator of the promise Christ fulfilled (I Peter 1:13-21). Moreover, when Jesus laid down His life for us, He further validated His claims by promising to rise from the dead, and then doing it (Matthew 17:9; 28:5-7; I Corinthians 15:3-8)!
Jesus’ resurrection is the centerpiece of our hope for eternal life as Christians, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:12-14, 18-19). The promise of eternal life is empty without the resurrection, however, we have that hope because Christ ensured He was seen by many to verify that He had come forth from the grave according to His word. Without the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and other disciples concerning Jesus’ life and resurrection, confirmed by the miracles they performed, the movement known as “the way” would have never survived the first century.
In Jesus God fulfilled His promise to Abraham that all men would be blessed through his seed (Romans 15:11-13; Ephesians 2:12-16); the great commission being a result of that promise (Matthew 28:18-20). All people everywhere can share in the blessings of God and should count it an honor if they suffer as the Lord did while awaiting their place in heaven (Romans 12:12; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; I Peter 3:14, 17; 4:19). Paul rejoiced that he could suffer for the Lord in revealing the mysteries of God’s word which leads to the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27). It is in the revelation of that mystery that we are set free in life to seek God through His Son and receive eternal life (Galatians 5:1-6; John 14:6; 1 John 2:25). It is also in that mystery that we find that all men, Jew and Gentile, are to come together as one in Christ, as Paul revealed to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6).
There is one hope for mankind and only one avenue of grace to follow (I Peter 1:13). After he had met Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul spent the rest of his life bound up in that grace and he counted it as the supreme form of freedom (Romans 8:21; II Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1; I Peter 2:16). He stood before the Sanhedrin, kings and emperors and common folks alike in defense of the hope and freedom offered by Christ (Acts 23:6; 26:6), with one desire for all, as he proclaimed to King Agrippa, “And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29). A man bound in chains telling a king he wanted to set him free. Clearly, the apostle’s hope of true freedom was not for himself alone, but something he wanted for all men (Titus 1:1-3; Romans 9:1-3).
The apostle Paul understood that this grace he wished for all men was a kindness offered by a loving God subject to their willingness to obey Him, as he explained to Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). For his part Paul longed for the day he would escape the bounds of this earth for heaven (II Corinthians 5:1-2). We too should look forward to that day, patiently doing His work until that time (II Timothy 1:8-9; 2:15; I Peter 3:15; II Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 5:15-16).
As a final thought— we often hope for better days, for the perfect vacation, a promotion or raise, for a good report of health, for a better world, for many things. And that’s alright. But, is there anything that compares with the hope of meeting our Lord and Savior face-to-face and seeing a smile on His face as He welcomes us to our new home?
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). If our hope is in Him, and we are His obedient disciples He has a place for us. In the book of Revelation John described it this way: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away"… And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (21:1-4, 22-27).
Regardless of my plight in this life it is my hope that my name is in the book of life, and it is my further hope that your name is written there, too.
By Roland W. Keith
Most of us are familiar with the story of the rich young man who sought Jesus’ counsel concerning eternal life: “And as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). If this was the only verse you knew from the story what would it tell you? To me it says that the young man was earnest in his desire, and he began by asking the right question. It also seems that his heart was in the right place. Jesus responds first by reminding him to keep the commandments, to which the young man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:19-20). Matthew’s account records, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (19:20). Some commentators have accused the man of being dishonest in his reply, yet Jesus did not challenge his claim. I believe the man was being honest. And again, he was asking the right questions. He had been doing everything he knew to do yet was concerned that he was somehow still lacking.
The Lord’s response to the young man? “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). Jesus did not question the veracity of the man’s claims; in fact, His own response supports the man’s assertion. He was doing the right things, but there was still something standing in the way. His heart was not entirely in the right place after all. And that was what Jesus addressed. The youth was too attached to his worldly possessions. Mark tells us he went away sorrowful when the Lord told him to let go of his wealth (10:22). I do not know if his response would have been the same if he were twenty years older. Some people have a great desire for the material aspects of life when they are young, but that desire becomes less important as they mature (II Timothy 2:22; Ecclesiastes 12:1). However, many people find it hard to let go once they have it. Wealth gives them a false sense of security, power and superiority. The pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and tax collector is a good example. While the Sadducees made up the upper class, the Pharisees belonged to the small group we would recognize today as the middle to upper middle class. Far better educated and well off than 70% or more of the population they are often portrayed in the Bible as having a misplaced feeling of superiority. On the other hand, the tax collector would have been financially well-to-do as well but despised by Jewish society of the day. In Jesus’ story, despite his wealth, unlike the pharisee, the taxman realized he needed God’s mercy.
Remember what Jesus taught His disciples after the rich young man walked away? It’s hard to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it’s even harder for a rich person (Mark 10:23-25). However, its not impossible (Mark 10:26-27). As we grow in the wisdom of the Bible, we learn that money isn’t the only hindrance to our salvation. There is power, fame, ego (pride), etc. For those struggling with any of these stumbling blocks we can give the same advice Jesus did: let it go and follow the Lord. However, for the young man in the story, though he was disheartened and sad, he was not willing to give up his riches, not even to inherit a far greater treasure: eternal life. Why couldn’t he let go? Why are some people able to do what others cannot, or will not?
Moses had all of Egypt at his feet, in comparison, but as Paul wrote, “Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). In some ways the problem seems to be a lack of vision or inability to assess what constitutes true value in life. For some no matter how great the reward on the horizon they are unwilling to let go of what they have in hand. Comparing the pursuit of earthly gain to godliness Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10).
What mankind considers of great value and worthy of pursuit Solomon discovered to be otherwise. Assessing his own accomplishments and vast fortune he wrote, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). If we spend our life in pursuit of only worldly gain we are truly grasping for the wind. Eventually, everything slips away from us. As Paul noted we can’t take it with us, and as Solomon reasoned we do not even know what the next generation will do with what we have left behind (Ecclesiastes 2:17-21). Will they build upon it, squander it, appreciate it or mock it? It is not his worldly accomplishments and fortune that marks the man, rather it is his spiritual strength, as Paul noted: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (I Corinthians 1:25-29).
At the end of our lives we will not have to give an account of our land holdings or bank account or social status, but we will have to give an account of ourselves, whether we lived and died for the Lord or lived for the world (Romans 14:8-11). The things we have and the things we do are by the grace of God and should be acknowledged as such and should be guided by our desire to do what is right in the sight of God (James 4:13-17). When we live according to God’s will— that is when we put God first in our lives— we will be able to let go if it is called for. The world may not understand why we turn and walk away, they may deride us for it or even persecute us (I Peter 4:3-5, 12-13) but that should not dissuade us. They will have to give an account of themselves the same as we will. And when that day comes it will be better to stand with God in eternity than with the world whose every accomplishment will fade into non-existence leading those who reveled in them at the gates of hell.
Those of us who heed the Lord’s call turn from the world with a longing to honor God with our lives and a hope to share “in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1:11-14). When the young man walked away from the Lord he was walking away from the light toward eternal darkness. Each of us will have to make the same choice. To follow the world or turn to God. To turn from the darkness to the light, from the futility of the world’s understanding to the wisdom of God. What we leave behind in the world has no lasting value, what we gain is beyond estimation. Jesus said we must be willing to leave all for Him (Luke 14:25-26; Mark 10:28-31) and even to suffer in the process; to give up the world for the love of Him and the hope of salvation. If we trust in His word and diligently seek Him, He will provide the way for us to enter His kingdom ((II Peter 1:10-11; I Peter 1:3).
Jesus said that all who would find God must do so through Him (John 14:6). In addition, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). What would you give in exchange for your eternal soul? Would you give up the world and its finite treasures to ensure your own eternal well-being? The young man in the parable was not willing to do that. His priorities were misguided, and his attachments were in the wrong place.
As we ponder our life decisions in the context of our eternal welfare we should consider Paul’s words: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11).
God wants all men to be saved (John 3:16; Romans 1:16; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 5:9), nonetheless His justice must be served. For those who refuse His invitation there is condemnation due to their sins; for those who come to Him in repentance there is salvation and a place for them in His kingdom: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.