By Bob Hiller –
Football is back! Hallelujah! The dog days of summer are over! Joy has returned! Saturdays have purpose again! My Sunday post-church ritual is lined up. Though I am sure to see less of my Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos as I am now living in San Diego Charger territory, they will certainly be getting plenty of time in the national spotlight. In fact, you will be reading this blog the morning after Thursday’s season opener between the Carolina Panthers and the champs. Have I mentioned Denver beat up on Carolina in the Super Bowl? Anyhow, I hope that this blog finds you celebrating another Bronco victory.
Actually, as you can imagine, I hope for a lot this year with the Broncos. I hope they repeat as champions. I hope their division isn’t as strong as people are predicting. Or if it is, I hope they still take it. I hope their quarterback situation works out. I hope their defense makes the league’s best quarterbacks look like high schoolers. I hope Tom Brady spends his suspension having Von Miller flashbacks (Okay, that hope is mean but real). I hope for a lot. But I have no certainty about any of it.
Entering the football season means entering into a world of unknowns. Though Vegas has some pretty reliable odds on how things will turn out, not even they can predict what is going to happen. They can’t foresee injuries, upsets, miraculous plays, and so on. However, a lack of future knowledge doesn’t stop ESPN or Sports Illustrated from offering up predictions to aid you in your gambling habit. For non-gamblers like myself (that is not a pietistic statement as much as an admission of cowardice), these pre-season predictions merely serve to either raise my ire (when against my teams) or calm my nerves (when for my teams). But ultimately, they are all worthless. I mean, they rank the twenty-five best college teams in the nation before those teams have even had a single play. In sixty-five years of ranking teams, only ten preseason #1s have actually gone on to finish on top. No matter how good the data, you cannot predict the future. They build up or dash hopes without any real, concrete proof of what is going to happen. So really, everyone enters the season full of hope and uncertainty. Who knows what will happen?
Taking no small turn here, this got me thinking about the nature of hope. We Christians spend a lot of time speaking of hope. I worry that it is a word that has lost much of its Biblical weight. Hope tends to be thought of in terms of uncertainty. We think of hope as something we really want to have happen, but have no certainty if it actually will. We cross our fingers and roll the dice, hoping for the best. But hope is always coupled with worry that things won’t work out, the dice won’t roll our way, or the Broncos will finish below .500.
But when it comes to the New Testament, hope is of an entirely different nature. In fact, it is almost spoken of in the opposite terms. I say “almost” because both uncertain hope, as we see with the upcoming football season, and the New Testament hope look towards the future. But they do so in entirely different ways. See, in the Bible, hope is not placed in some hazy, future uncertainty, but rather, in Jesus Christ. In Him, the future is certain.
Hope for the Christian is found in what Christ accomplished on Easter Sunday in rising from the dead. If Jesus isn’t raised, says St. Paul in I Corinthians 15, our hopes are dashed and we are above all people to be most pitied because we are still in our sins. But Jesus is not dead. He is risen, indeed! He has conquered death and enacted the promise of God to restore creation and make all things right. He began the work then and will bring it to completion when He comes again. And He will. There is no question about that.
What worries many Christians, I think, is that, though they believe this to be true, they’re hoping it is good news for them in the preseason football sense of hoping. Many worry that they won’t be found faithful on that day, that they won’t be found good enough, and that God will look on them as the goats who did nothing to help anyone. They hope they are going to make it, but they just don’t know if they’ve repented enough, overcome enough, and stopped sinning enough to get into God’s good graces. Theirs is a faith of uncertain hope and creeping fear.
If that is you, hear this: you have nothing to fear, for the Lord Jesus is your hope, and this “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5) You need not fear if you’ve done enough to be saved. You haven’t. But Jesus has for you. You know it is for you because your hope was secured in your Baptism when you were already crucified and raised with Jesus. You were already judged in Christ and declared righteous. The final verdict is promised and pronounced ahead of time. Those things you fear are going to keep you out—your struggle with sin, your battle with temptations, and your devil-inspired shame. These are the very things you can freely fight against because, no matter how hard they rage, they’ve already lost you. For you are Christ’s and He has conquered these foes. He will give you the spoils of victory in the end. No doubt about it. It is certain. You can hope with all confidence. But fear not, for even when your hope is shaken, He’s still done it for you. The promised hope remains.
I hope with uncertainty that Broncos do well this year. With all the smack I talk, if they do poorly, I’ll be put to shame. But I hope with full confidence that Christ has a place for me at His table. He promised it to me when He Baptized me, and I hope with certainty that it’s true. That’s a hope does not put to shame.