The third of a series of six w e e k l y w o r d s expounding the biblical grounds and goals of our hope.
A.III The grounds of our hope – THE REASSURANCE OF THE SPIRIT
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
1 Peter 3:15 NIV
Jerusalem’s alleyways thronged with Jews from Rome, from north Africa, from modern-day Turkey and from right across to the Persian Gulf. They had converged on the city for the annual celebration of the feast of Pentecost. As the early morning stream of human traffic began pouring into the narrow streets, a commotion in one quarter of town rippled rumours into other neighbourhoods. Quickly a crowd of several thousand clustered outside a building where a Galilean delegation apparently were quartered. Something unusual was going on. These simple uneducated men were praising God in languages they could never have learned, tongues native to the city’s visitors. “Must be drunk,” said some. Others however realised something very unusual was afoot.
A burly fisherman stepped forward as spokesman: “Fellow Jews, citizens of Jerusalem, let me explain! These men are not drunk. No, it’s only nine in the morning!”
Unaccustomed as he was to public speaking, Simon Peter was boldly stepping out into what would become his apostolic ministry: “What you see here is what the prophet Joel promised would happen. God would pour his Spirit out on all people, young and old, men and women. This promise is now being fulfilled!”
Peter went on to link this strange phenomenon of speaking in unlearned tongues with recent events in the city. Jesus of Nazareth, after doing miracles, wonders and signs, had been crucified with the consent of many of those presently gathered. But God had raised him from the dead, just as David had written in the sixteenth psalm.
“We are all witnesses of this fact!” declared this down-to-earth Galilean. And now the risen Jesus had caused the commotion the crowd could now see and hear.
“God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!” concluded Peter.
The evidence was convincing enough for three thousand of the listeners. The Scriptures quoted did indeed explain what had taken place right there in Jerusalem over the past weeks. Some could recall the strange happenings around the time of Jesus’ death – when the sky had darkened ominously. What had that all meant? And now this supernatural intervention of tongues! Yes, it all began to make sense. And Peter was speaking with unusual authority for a fisherman in the religious capital of the Jewish world. Surely he was right: this was the fulfilment of Joel’s promise! God was being true to his word through Joel.
Just as hope had surprised the two disciples on the Emmaus road days earlier, now hope took root in several thousand Jewish hearts as they pondered the evidence and discussed it among themselves. Had not Ezekiel also written about the gift of a new Spirit? This had not been how they had imagined the Messiah would come, but this Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit had transformed their understanding.
But surely this was just the beginning? Joel’s promise involved all flesh, all peoples. Here in Jerusalem there were only Jews and converts, along with some Cretes and Arabs. Much more was yet to come! The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost itself promised the larger fulfilment of God’s purposes for Israel and for the peoples of the world.
The fulfilment of the promise was itself the promise of the fulfilment!
Decades later, Paul writes about the third member of the Godhead as the guarantee, the deposit, the firstfruits of what we hope for. To the Corinthians Paul says that God has put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Obviously, argues Paul in Romans chapter 8, what we hope for is something we do not yet have, otherwise we would not still be hoping for it. But having received the firstfruits of the Spirit, we wait patiently for the fulfilment of our hope – when our future glory will be revealed. Paul encourages the Ephesians that they have been marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.
When we receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit today, we receive the promise of the ultimate fulfilment of his purposes. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is God’s guarantee to us personally that he will fulfil our hope!
Clearly, then, the grounds of our hope are:
* the person, the purposes, the promises and the power of God the Father;
* the coming of God the Son in time and space, his life, death and resurrection;
* the guarantee of God the Holy Spirit.
Now if the revelation of the Triune God provides the grounds of our hope, what then are the goals of our hope? What actually do we hope for? What is it that we look forward to?
We’ll look at that next week.