This is the second reflection in the “Missio Advent” series. Read the rest here.
On November 4, 2008, the people of the United States of America elected their first African-American president, which many interpreted as a hopeful sign. Barack Obama’s campaign was built on a tide of hope, and he cast a hopeful vision of a post-partisan, post-racial, post-political government and societal harmony.
That was six years ago.
Today ideological polarization continues to divide the country. While the President’s political foes galvanized determined opposition from the moment he took office, deriding the political agenda of “hope and change,” in the years since, even some of the President’s allies have admitted that hope and change have eluded this administration. Never has the American political system been more polarized and gridlocked, it seems, than now.
In American society at large, some problems seem more intractable than ever. The unveiling of the Affordable Care Act last year was plagued with computer glitches, and the first wave of full implementation actually increased insurance costs for those already having insurance; administration assurances turned out to be not quite true. The economy, supposedly in recovery, still lists discouraging numbers of unemployed and underemployed.
As though to cap off the prevailing sense of hopelessness, the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, erupted into a volcano of rioting and outrage at the announcement that a grand jury had deemed evidence insufficient for indictment of a white police officer who had shot and killed an unarmed African-American teen. The scenes from Ferguson last week conjured eerily the memory of scenes from Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, fifty years ago. Have we really come no further than this?
Optimism undermined by stark and harsh realities. Harmony destroyed by hostilities. Is it just hopeless?
A little over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in a small town in Judea. His birth was announced by angels, with this proclamation: “I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people. . . . Today, in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, Christ the Lord. . . . Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will” (Luke 2:10 – 14).
The peace and joy announced then was not accomplished instantaneously. In fact, looking at the life, public career, and the gruesome death of this Savior who grew up and was killed by his political enemies, one could wonder if the promises announced at his birth were just hollow. He taught peace. He taught love. He railed against injustice. But, in the end, the opponents, the injustice, the forces of power, wealth, evil won. Didn’t they?
There was actually one other element that Jesus brought, and he did so with credibility beyond what any politician or social engineer could ever credibly bring: He rose from the dead. The nails, the spear, the spitting, the mocking did not have the final word. He got up from the grave and exited the tomb. And thus brought hope.
Everything in the New Testament, from Acts to Revelation, is trying to grapple with and explain just how the teachings of Jesus fit with His death and resurrection. The epistles and other writings seek to ferret out how hope and change, joy and comfort, victory and peace, was actually accomplished by the mission of Jesus through His life, death, and resurrection.
“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:1-6)
“We know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:22-26)
“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb 10:19-25)
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)
Part of the hope that Jesus Christ offers, that Jesus Christ brought, is a hope that does not dispute or deny the current circumstances of hopelessness, discouragement, and death. What the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus conveys is that the solution to the problems we confront in this life is not a political solution or some social program. It is only a divine work that can overcome the magnitude of such challenges and obstacles we confront in this sin-sick world.
Two thousand years ago, a baby was born accompanied with the announcement from angels that He would save His people from their sins, that He would bring joy, peace, and good will. Today, we live in a world teeming with meanness, hampered by hostility, plagued with plagues, rampant with rioting, ill with injustice. Where is the joy? Where is the peace?
Because that baby grew up, because that baby represented not just an announcement from God, but the entry of very God into the situation and circumstance of sin; because that person of God not only provided a solution in theory but participated in that solution; because that Savior not only died – killed unjustly by cruel hands of injustice – but overcame that death, and with that overcoming commissioned the launch of a mission of overturning the tables of injustice, reversing the tides of cruelty and selfishness until He comes back (not to begin the job, but to finish the job) – because of all this, we have hope.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Seminary. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and co-author (with Dr. Paul Pettit of the Howard Hendricks Leadership Center in Dallas, TX) of the just-released book, Blessed are the Balanced: Following Jesus into the Academy (Kregel, 2014). He has also written several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda; they have three sons, and a daughter-in-law, all of whom reside in Souderton, PA. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.
Photo: Colin Brough; anon.