“What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a ‘hope’ that is no longer a surprise, no longer able to transform lives and communities in the present, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth.”
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 25
One of the common methods Christians will use in evangelism is to ask the question: “Where will you go when you die?” This is supposed to get people to consider their eternal destiny and put fear into their hearts, and thus provide them motivation to “give their lives” to Jesus.
The problem I have with this method is that it focuses on the wrong thing. Rather than focusing on God, His love, and what He is doing in the world, the focus is on us and our desire to live forever. It might have the power to get a person to say a prayer or to make an emotional commitment, but I believe that it lacks the ability to truly give people the hope they need in life.
We have made the Christian hope all about going to heaven when we die. This Easter Sunday the message many preachers will give is: Jesus rose from the dead so now you can go to heaven when you die.
That common Easter message is what many people believe the Christian hope is all about. Yet, it is just a variant of the hope every religion gives. We can talk about how the Christian hope is about what Jesus has done rather than what we have to do, but that misses the point. The majority of religions make the promise of an afterlife, and therefore if the message of Easter is just about the promise of having life after death, then it is not distinct from the other religions of the world. I believe the Christian hope needs to be something far superior.
The Christian hope is described as a “living hope.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5; ESV)
This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Peter declares that we have a living hope. This living hope comes from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. That means our hope is founded on the reality of an historical event, and it grows out of the implications of that event.
You see, the resurrection of Jesus is not evidence that we can have life after death. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of God’s new creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17; ESV)
Notice that Paul did not write: The old will pass away and the new will come. What he wrote was the old has passed away and the new has come. When we are part of Christ’s body we are brought into God’s new creation. A creation where sin, evil, and death are being defeated and love, goodness, and life are replacing them.
This is the hope we are to declare on Easter and this is a hope that is alive. It is alive because as we experience transformation, as we serve and love people, and as we work for justice we begin to experience God’s Kingdom breaking into this world. Through that experience our faith is strengthened and our hope grows.
The message of Easter is: Because of the resurrection of Jesus God’s Kingdom is advancing throughout this world. We can either join the advance of the Kingdom or we can remain on the sidelines, but only one choice will give us a living hope. Only a living hope has the power to sustain us through the trials, tribulations, and tragedies of life.
“Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 30