It is hard for me to believe that this will be the third Easter blog I have written since being diagnosed with ALS. The doctors gave me one year to live, but God had other plans.
To say the last couple of years have been a spiritual and emotional roller-coaster would be an understatement. Through it all, I have clung to his promise, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
This certainly is not the journey I would have chosen. You do not want to be the closing illustration in your pastor’s Easter sermon two years in a row (year one and year two). But God is faithful, and he has used the love and prayers of his people to sustain me and my wife day by day.
The Impact of Hope
Recently, someone asked me how this ordeal has impacted my faith. After thinking about it for a moment, I replied that it has neither positively nor negatively impacted my faith. My faith in Christianity was strong before my diagnosis and still remains strong.
Yet, as I have studied passages regarding the resurrection over the last couple of weeks in preparation for Easter, I have realized an important part of my spiritual life has been greatly impacted: my hope. This should not surprise me since the Apostle Paul tells the Romans, “But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
What is Hope?
Unfortunately, today’s culture defines hope very differently than Scripture. Webster’s dictionary defines hope as: “to want something to happen or be true.” The Bible tells us that there is a certainty to Biblical hope because it is based on the promises of God. Pastor John Piper writes:
Ordinarily, when we express hope, we are expressing uncertainty. But this is not the distinctive biblical meaning of hope…biblical hope is not just a desire for something good in the future, but rather, biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Notice, hope is something that should not waver, because it is rooted in the faithfulness of God. There should be moral certainty in it because the will and purpose of God are like iron, not chalk.
The author of the book of Hebrews exhorts us to, “Hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology states “Hope is simply faith directed toward the future, and no sharp distinction between faith and hope is attainable.”
Our Hope in the Resurrection
I believe that God is working out his master plan to restore the whole of creation, in all things, working for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). At the epicenter of his plan is the event we will celebrate on Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, this event is not something we have to hope for because it is a historical fact. “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16).
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
The resurrection is the most significant event in history. Without it, nothing else matters (1 Cor. 15:14). Paul describes the resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Firstfruits is an agricultural metaphor that points to the first harvest. Richard Gaffin in his book By Faith, Not By Sight, explains:
Paul is saying here, the resurrection of Christ and of believers cannot be separated. Why? Because, to extend the metaphor as Paul surely intends, Christ’s resurrection is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection “harvest” that includes the resurrection of believers. This thought is reinforced in verse 23: “Each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
In other words, we who are in Christ will follow in his footsteps. When Christ died at the cross, his spirit left his body and went to heaven to be with the Old Testament saints. This is why he could say to the thief on the cross who believed, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
After three days God resurrected Jesus’ body and his spirit returned to it. For the next forty days Jesus appeared to many (1 Cor. 15:3-8). After which, in the presence of the disciples, he ascended to heaven to await his second coming (Acts 1:6-12).
Anticipation of the Next Resurrection
Based on this historical fact and the promises of God, it is the believers’ great hope that when we die our spirit will also go to heaven to be with Jesus. There we will wait for the end of this age and Jesus’ second coming, when God will raise up our physical resurrection bodies to be united with our spirits (1 Cor. 15:51-52). There we will live in a physical new heaven and new earth with Jesus forever.
This hope gives us great joy as we anticipate the future but also offers us a compelling purpose to live for today. This is the passage that I have been studying for Holy Week:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, 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 (Rom. 8:31-39).
What can separate me from Christ? Not even ALS. My hope now lets me agree with the psalmist, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).