June 16, 2013

Hope looks forward, not over its shoulder

And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, (Judas) departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5).

Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison…. still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, (Saul) went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1–2)

The two great preachers of the Gospel were destined to be Peter the denier of Christ and Paul the persecutor of Christ. Why didn’t Judas the betrayer of Christ make up a third?

All three of them had strong I-wants, which is a sinful focus that excludes faith. Everyone has been there, myself included, yet the faith of Jesus is greater than all our sin. Judas never took his sin to Jesus. He dealt with it himself in the only way he thought would work.

Yet the biggest difference between Judas and the other two is more about his inability to face the future. All three failed. All three had to look God in the eye and move on, but Judas could not. His failure consumed him because hope had eluded him.

Hope knows something is real even though you cannot see it. I wrote a class paper about hope using the smell of cinnamon buns as a descriptor. Every day I parked my car in the lot far from the college kitchen, yet as soon as I opened the door, I could smell them. Each breath brought greater anticipation. My mouth still waters at the memory. Hope is a delicious smell!

Even without experiencing the things hoped for, hope keeps the heart from total despair. Hope reflects God’s mercy, echoes His love. Hope gives me energy, strength to go on. Without it, sorrow for sin would cripple me. The hours move relentlessly and my energy is not what it used to be. Brooding over my past errors is a waste of time and effort, doing nothing for me or for the kingdom of God.

I have been tempted, have yielded and sinned. It is right to do what Peter did, weeping tears of repentance before God, but even more right to return to Christ and be sent to strengthen His lambs. Hope moves me to active love and devoted service. Hope safeguards me against remorse and its suicidal nudges.
Hope produces zeal. It puts the past beyond recall, behind me. Hope sees magnificent opportunities, makes me energetic, even courageous. Jesus’ voice whispers things like, “Let the dead bury their own dead”—dead opportunities, dead regrets, dead failures, yes, even dead sins—and “follow me” (see Matthew 8:22).

Judas had no hope. He looked at himself and what he had done instead of at Jesus, instead of waiting to see what Jesus would do. This sinful and hopeless man took matters into his own hands and never saw the astonishing good that God brought out of the evil that he had done. He forgot (if he ever knew) the grand redemptive program of God that began before the foundation of the world. Instead, Judas zeroed in on “poor me” and put himself outside of God’s plan and into the hands of Satan. Without faith and hope, he never knew what God could do or what he could have been.

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