Hope On the Road
Think you’re alone in your hopelessness? Think again.
Earlier, I told some of my story and how I’ve noticed “lopsided” hope in churches. The gist of it is this: it is possible to have strong hope in God and in what God is ultimately doing but at the same time lose hope in this world. To invoke Revelation 21, you can have hope in the ”new heaven” while losing hope God is making all things new for a ”new earth.”
Lopsided hope misses the point of what God is doing in Jesus.
It’s incomplete and a real problem, and it’s a problem that many of us suffer from. And it is a problem that plagues many, many churches that have seen decades of decline— a fact I have research to back up, not that it isn’t readily apparent.
Before we go any further, though, I want to both ground the concept Biblically and inject some compassion into the conversation. This problem is hardly new, in fact, the risen Christ himself appeared to it before ascending to heaven.
The Walk to Emmaus
What I really want to do is to print out the entire story of the walk to Emmaus to make sure you actually read it. :) But it’s long and if you’re reading this blog you’re likely familiar with it already. So, I’ll provide a handy link but re-tell the story myself through the lease of practical and ultimate hope.
The story starts in the shadow of the cross and of the unexplained empty tomb. Three days earlier the disciples had their hearts ripped out as the Romans executed their “Savior” after their own people joined in shouting “crucify him.” The Romans wanted to make a point about rabble-rousers and it seemed to have worked— very well, in fact. Then, the same morning as this story, the women had come back with strange stories of the body being gone and a couple of the other disciples had verified the fact. But what was this about having seen him? Delusion? Strange.
These two disciples take off walking on the road to Emmaus. You know from long drives that it gives you time to think— lots of time to think. I’m guessing they were in a daze. Then a stranger comes up and starts walking with them. (Luke tells us it’s actually Jesus, the risen Christ, but the disciples are kept from realizing it.)
Jesus then plays dumb and asks them what’s going on. They tell him the story and you can almost feel the excitement in their words. And then comes the phrase that hits me on an emotional level:
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Ugh! Doesn’t that break your heart? In that phrase there is evidence of much hope: they aren’t doubting that Israel would be redeemed, that’s clearly a given for them. They aren’t giving up on the big picture of what God is doing.
But that sense of hope is WAY overshadowed by what feels like a great depression as they tell the story excitedly before hanging their heads and saying in a much lower voice that they thought Jesus was the one. But I guess not. It’s all over.
Practical and Ultimate Hope On the Road
Do you see how their hope is lopsided? They very clearly haven’t lost hope in God’s future, so their ultimate hope is strong. To me, the scant nature of it is almost further evidence: their ultimate hope is just assumed. Of course, God will make good on all the promises, no one doubts that and it doesn’t need any explanation!
But their LACK of hope in the present is equally as assumed. Despite the resurrection literally in progress in their midst, their hope in the present has been dashed and they’ve simply given up.
Their hope is anything but practical. I wonder what would have happened when they learned the full story of the mysteriously empty tomb, but to them, in this moment, it just seems like it’s over. Their hope is lopsided.
And lopsided hope misses the point of what God is doing in Jesus.
The Rest of Their Story
Of course, the two disciples’ walk to Emmaus isn’t over yet, and the stranger who’s joined them is actually Jesus— in disguise as we might say today. As they walk he fills them in on prophecy and what not and they begin to realize why Jesus died, why the tomb was empty and why it matters today.
The story of the Walk to Emmaus ends as Jesus starts to go on his way, they invite him to stay, and then in the breaking of the bread, they realize it was him all along. After he vanishes from their sight they famously say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
They suddenly realize that even when they were at their most dejected, even when their practical hope was at zero, Jesus was with them.
The Rest of OUR Story
SO, when we talk about people and churches who have strong ultimate hope but who have lost their practical hope, their hope in the present, know that they’re in good company.
As we go along on this blog I’m going to share the evidence I’ve researched as to why so many of our churches today have lost their practical hope. I’m going to explain how it happened and offer ways to make our hope complete. I’m also going to talk about how I see the same phenomenon happening in the world around us at large, including from politics and the pandemic.
But every step of the way I hope you have hope, because the “good company” we’re in isn’t just two of the original disciples walking along the road. No, I believe firmly that when our hope in the present falters, our walking companion is Jesus himself.