COMFORT AND HOPE
BY: CHARLES SLAGLE AND JOHN GAVAZZONI
When you read the Scriptures do they bring you comfort and hope? If they do not, then perhaps you have yet to understand which passages provide the foundation from which we can understand all else that the Bible has to say. Surely there must be a kind of “core message” that we can discover in the Bible, which causes all of its contents to have coherence. Wouldn’t you think? Otherwise we cannot find comfort and hope in the Scriptures.
Are there key passages that cause the rest of the Bible’s contents to make sense? Key thoughts that cause us to understand it in such a way as to bring us comfort and hope? I believe there are! For many, many years I could receive very little comfort and hope from the Bible. And that is because I would read phrases from Jesus’ own mouth, for example, such as –
“Let not your heart be troubled…” And – “Consider the lilies…these do not labor…” And – “Why do you worry about tomorrow?” And – “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end…”
But then… (and always on my worst days! Isn’t that how it always happens?) I would read His words: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom, but those who DO the will of the Father… I will profess to ‘many’ (professing believers), ‘Depart from Me… I never knew you!'” And again, there are these not so comforting words: “He that endures to the end shall be saved.”
Sheesh! I could devote pages to these kinds of seemingly contradictory hope-pulverizers that crop up in the Bible. But I think you are getting the picture. Is our Lord a double-talker? Does He assure us out of one side of His mouth that His faithfulness exceeds our own, and then, out of the other, tell us that unless WE are faithful, that He will abandon us? If that is the case, how CAN we trust Him? How can we receive comfort and hope from the Scriptures?
It is with these thoughts in mind that I share the following few passages from the Bible which form the foundation of our receiving comfort and hope from its contents:
Psalm 82: 8 “Arise O God, judge the earth, for You shall inherit all nations!” (Oops! Is it possible that God’s judgments actually are redemptive and lead to His inheriting all the nations?)
Romans 11:33 “…how unsearchable are His JUDGMENTS, His ways past finding out…”
Romans 11:36 “For of Him and though Him and TO Him are ALL things…”
Hebrews 1:2 “(God) in these last days (has) spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed Heir of all things…”
Genesis 22:17,18 (To Abraham, God promises) “in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…”
Genesis 12:4 “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Hebrews 6: 13-17 “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by none greater, He swore it by Himself saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply you.’ And so after he had patiently endured, he (Abraham) obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath of confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the unchangeableness of His counsel (His will) confirmed it by an oath. That is, by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have STRONG CONSOLATION, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as AN ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL – sure and steadfast – and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the Forerunner, even Jesus, has entered for us…
Now let’s look yet again at this promise to Abraham and see how this covenant with him and with ALL humanity appears when it is set in motion –
Psalm 22:27, 28 declares – “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE NATIONS shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations.”
And again in Isaiah 45:22-45 we read: “…There is no God beside Me, a just God and a Savior, there is none beside Me. Look to Me and BE SAVED all you ends of the earth! For I Am God, and there is no other. I HAVE SWORN–by Myself. The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness (covenant faithfulness!) and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, (and) every tongue shall take an oath (of allegiance!). He shall say “Surely in the Lord I HAVE righteousness and strength. To Him all men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed (enraged) against Him. In the Lord all the descendants of Israel shall be justified.”
And now let’s look at what Paul has to say in Romans 15: 4-13 concerning the basis from which we receive comfort and hope from the Scriptures. You may read all the words of this passage for yourself to catch all that it contains. But for now, I will quote only what directly applies to the subject at hand:
“…Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope… Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a Servant to the Circumcision (Jewish people) for the truth of God, to CONFIRM the promises made to the fathers (for this covenant was given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – “Israel”) and (given so) that THE gentiles might (therefore) glorify God for His mercy. As it is written:
‘For this reason I will glorify You among the gentiles (pagans!)’ (Ps.18:49)
‘Rejoice O gentiles with his people! (Duet. 32:43)
And again – ‘Praise the Lord ALL you gentiles! Laud Him ALL you peoples!‘ (Psalm 117:1)
And again Isaiah says – ‘There will be a Root of Jesse, and (it is) He who shall rise up to reign over THE gentiles. In Him THE gentiles shall hope.’
Now note how the Bible says “the” gentiles and not merely “some.” Also note how Paul completes his reflections upon how this covenant with all humanity brings hope. And these are with his words:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with – all joy and peace – in believing that you may ABOUND IN HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Now? Now that what has occurred? Now that you understand that we have a Covenant keeping God who is committed to drawing ALL people to Himself through Christ and His cross! (John 12:32) And He is reconciling ALL people to Himself through His cross! (Col.1:15-20) And uniting ALL people under Christ’s loving rulership when the eras have reached their fulfillment! (Eph. 1:9-11)
FOR–ONLY THUS – CAN THE PROMISE BE FULFILLED THAT “ALL” THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH WILL BE BLESSED IN CHRIST, THE “SEED” OF ABRAHAM.
So here we are, dear reader. I have emphasized and obviously highlighted some words and phrases so that you can’t miss them, but we have arrived at the basis from which the Scriptures bring us comfort and hope.
That basis – that Biblical foundation – is the covenant that God has made, not only with Abraham, but with the entire human race. It is this hope that is the “central core” of Scripture that provides an anchor for our soul, which is “sure and steadfast.” It is the assurance that the Lord who is both our Judge and our Savior will inherit all people from all nations. This is glad tidings of great joy which shall be for all people! (Luke 2:13)
What does this mean for you personally? It means that no matter how wretchedly you may fail, God is committed to restore you and bless you in Jesus Christ. He is absolutely committed. This promise assures hope for the very worst of sinners! THAT is what it means. This covenant brings hope to us chronic screw-ups and ragamuffins! It frees us to thirst for righteousness – for its own sake. It frees us from being trapped in a goofy, religious life style of striving and straining and pretending to love God when the real motive behind our frenzied attempts at virtue is – fear of His abandonment.
THAT is the diabolical root of the unbiblical dogma of a never-ending hell. Fear of God’s abandonment produces the rotten fruit of “seeming” righteousness, the outward appearance of righteousness. However, once we become convinced of God’s covenant faithfulness, we no longer have to try to LOOK good. We are set free from such futility because our Good Father promises that HE will be our Righteousness. We are free to fail – and therefore – free to succeed. And that is because we know that – whatever happens – we are deeply cherished and loved. So, I’m praying that you’re beginning to understand how this promise liberates us from despair, and from all of the evils that come with it.
How do patterns of addictive and compulsive behavior begin to engulf our lives? These invade us when we have tried and tried, and we just do not care anymore – because we are too exhausted to care. We have reached a state in which we feel that we have been “good for nothing!” In other words, we have TRIED to be good, and repeatedly failed – and the religious fear-motivation is what has fueled our disasters. Or perhaps the fear of another human being’s rejection has driven us and imprisoned us in failure. So at last, we’re ready for ANY pain killer, whether it be booze, promiscuity or drugs – you name it – just so that we can FEEL good, even if momentarily. (Hehe. Yes, it does look as if I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it? How discerning of you to notice!)
But we do not have to be victims of religious bondage, and as a consequence, victims of despair. And that is… because… this covenant is NOT based on what we do for God. It is based on what He is committed to do for us!
And Paul tells us in Galatians 3:17 that the law (which are commandments telling us what we must “do” and “not do” and the negative harvest there from that results from our disobedience) CANNOT cancel this covenant. For God put Abraham to sleep when He swore it by Himself. He wasn’t even required to express “belief!” at the time God swore it. He couldn’t add his own oath to this promise to all humanity because God knew that only HIS power could fulfill it. (See Gen. 15:12)
That is why Paul could say in Romans 3: 3-4 while speaking of this covenant, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Let God be true but every man a liar!”
So this is why the Scriptures CAN bring us comfort and hope. God’s sworn promise assures us of His faithfulness to us, even when we prove unreliable. This covenant is the very reason that God’s Suffering Servant, Jesus, came into the world. He came to confirm, not to destroy this solemn promise, or to restrict it to a few believers who might remain faithful during their earthly lifetime.
If He had done that, this covenant would mock God and mock us. It would be a silly lie–a cruel and grandiose sounding overstatement. It would be deceptive, inflated advertising. Is our Heavenly Father’s character like that of the proverbial used car salesman? Is this the character of Jesus? Obviously not. No such two-faced “Lord” would endure the pain that the REAL Lord experienced to demonstrate His deep love for us.
This covenant was not given ONLY to believers who demonstrate valid faith in this lifetime, (as is expressed by deeds of obedience, for don’t forget that faith without works is dead! Jas. 2:20) No, this covenant is made with all humankind. No curses attached to it for any human wrong doing can cancel it. For as Paul has told us already, the law cannot annul this promise. Therefore it includes blessing being eventually assured to the worst of sinners, even Judas (and Peter, too!) who betrayed and denied the Lord.
Any understanding of the Bible that fractures or shrinks down this covenant so that it reads – “In your Seed (Christ) shall only a few members of earth’s families (ever!) find the narrow way and be blessed” cannot bring hope. (Not unless you are confident in your “self” that in the end you will prove to be one of these, and you care little for your friends and loved ones.)
The height, depth, width and length of God’s love is unfathomable! He is COMMITTED to us, and is committed to bringing the worst of us around. Now this brings tremendous comfort and hope, doesn’t it?
Absolutely! For this promise to Abraham of universal blessing has to do with Jesus turning “every one of you from your sins!” (Acts 3:25-26) Therefore even if we are “utterly destroyed” (Acts 3:23) due to our stubbornness or foolishness, God will not let us be so utterly destroyed that He cannot bring us back around. And that is because Paul tells us that Jesus came to CONFIRM this covenant. Furthermore He also came to fulfill the prophets, and not to destroy them. (Matt. 5:17-18) In fact, our Lord came to fulfill both the law and the prophets, and this covenant is found in Genesis – written by Moses! (The foremost of God’s prophets, and the one to whom He first spelled out the law.)
And the other prophets assure us that the Lord does not remain angry forever or cast people off forever, and that He is always devising ways to restore His banished ones to Him. (Isaiah 17:16, Lam. 3:31-33, 2 Sam. 14:14) Moreover, Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that He always remains the same Faithful Deliverer for all ages in which a Faithful Deliverer is needed. Let’s not forget that the name Jesus actually means “Deliverer.”
Now let us consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. Rather than my quoting it verbatim (for you can read it in the Bible for yourself) I will remind you of the heart of its contents. Here in Ephesians 3:14 Paul begins by saying that he prays this prayer, kneeling before the Father from whom “every family” in heaven and earth is named. And what is that prayer? In short, the apostle’s heart-cry to the Father is that we believers will know the height, depth, width and length of His love AND live rooted in the faith of Jesus Christ who dwells in our hearts. You can read all of it on you own to pick up its full contents. But in nutshell form, Paul’s prayer is that we may be swallowed up in the infinity of God’s love.
Isn’t it interesting that Paul begins his prayer by mentioning that “EVERY FAMILY” in heaven and earth (the spiritual and natural realms, see Col. 1:15-20 for further confirmation) is named after our Good Father? Paul grounded His hope in God’s infinite love UPON the covenant He has made with the human race. And you must do the same thing! Begin praying that prayer WITH Paul and you will begin to experience the power of that Infinite Love he is talking about.
God HAS to be infinitely more loving and faithful than we humans are! Right? Otherwise you have no BIBLICAL basis for hoping in Him. You may “feel” hopeful due to some experience you may have had, or because of some sensation you may now feel, but your “feelings” won’t always prove to be enough to support you. You need a SURE WORD OF PROMISE from God Himself in order to have hope that is – solid and unshakable–hope that will anchor your soul in the storms of life. After all, you DO NOT KNOW what ‘you’ may do or not do, or in what condition you may die. Am I right? I have the sneaky “feeling” that I am…
Closing out… Let’s see the Abrahamic covenant set in motion yet again as “every family” of earth’s nations are blessed in Christ. Remember! Paul begins speaking of this by reminding us of the SERVANT – mentality of Jesus Christ that we believers also should seek to exhibit. Then He tells us that BECAUSE of Jesus’ servant-heartedness that God has highly exalted Him. Now let’s read what Paul says –
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a SERVANT, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, He HUMBLED Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. THEREFORE (because of His servant mentality and humble obedience, don’t forget!) God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name so that ‘in’ the name of Jesus (the Greek says “in” not “at”) every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth – and those under the earth – and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The original language says that every tongue will “acclaim” or “give thanks” for His Lordship. Our Faithful Deliverer came to serve, not to BE served, therefore His patient Servant heartedness will eventually woo all creation to acclaim and adore Him. And don’t forget that all will swear allegiance to Him and declare that in Him they HAVE righteousness and strength. (NKJV) After all, this is a depiction of the fulfillment of the covenant that God SWORE BY HIMSELF (re-stated in Isaiah 45 and in Acts 3) to turn every one of us from our sins.
Yet again we see this covenant in motion of its fulfillment where all creation is SINGING an anthem of worship to Jesus in Revelation 5:13. Wow… check it out for yourself in the New International Version! “Every creature” is singing praises to Him! Did you notice?
So dear reader, THIS is the basis upon which you can receive comfort and hope from the Scriptures. This covenant with Abraham to bless every person ever born… This covenant with all humanity which our Lord Jesus Christ will surely confirm… THIS COVENANT made to the patriarchs repeatedly… This promise upon which Paul bases His prayer to the Father that we might know the fullness of His infinite love…
THIS covenant is what causes the Bible to make sense, and it is what the good news of Jesus Christ is all about.
While completing this article I thought it a good idea to bounce it off John Gavazzoni, who not only knows the heart of God, but is a most able Bible scholar as well. I will leave you with some of the wonderful thoughts that came to him as we were discussing this subject. I know they will build your faith! I have posted his web site at the bottom of his postscript so that you can visit there and find many riches. And now more comfort and hope from John…
As far as any substantial critique Charles, I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole. The reasoning is Spirit given and clearly laid out. One little thought that has always meant so much to me regarding the promise based Abrahamic Covenant. It’s such a simple thing, but when the Spirit dropped it into my heart it completed a picture for me. Just this: There is absolutely no mention of a sin problem as God gives His great promises to Abe, promises, as you so well explain, that are particular, but not exclusive to him, rather to and through him to all nations.
There is nothing to support the sin-centered theology of today’s evangelicalism. God does not say, “Abe, I’d like to bless you once we can get your sin problem settled, so I’ll give you some conditional promises that will work for you if…”(ad infinitum, ad nauseam). The text of the story is pregnantly absent of any suggestion of a problem God has with Abe.
Though some have interpreted God’s command to leave his country and kinsman as conditional, it is not conditional language. It is that Word that is self-fulfilling, It doesn’t return to Him void. It does not command Abe hoping for human obedience of its own initiative. The very power and impetus of the living Word puts Abe on his way.
Most preachers I have heard, trying to inject a conditional element into the story, like to make something also out of God’s statement to Abe that since he did not withhold his son from Him He would now add more blessings to the previous ones. They totally miss the point that it is Father God who has so faithfully worked in the heart of this man that the Son-giving nature of the Father has been conveyed to Abraham. God is the active Agent from beginning to end in this story catching up a man into heaven’s redemptive stream.
It’s your article dear brother and those thoughts are not at all necessary to make it complete, but if they add a little highlight, they’re free for the using. Love the style God has given you to make the profound simple.
Charlie again: Nope. I’m not letting John get off the hook so easily. It is his article too! John’s comments actually pull it all together. And I know that you will be VERY blessed by his web site, dear readers. So savor and enjoy!
COMFORT AND HOPE [Charles Slagle and John Gavazzoni] 1