Millions of people have purchased tickets for tonight’s Powerball game, hoping to win the $500 million jackpot. To say that this hope is of a fleeting nature would probably be insulting to other fleeting hopes for the odds of winning are 1 in 175,000,000. In comparison, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), the odds of being hit by lightning in a given year are 1 in 700,000 and the odds of being hit once in an average lifespan are 1 in 3000. Knowing that millions of people are purchasing tickets to be the one to defy these incredible odds and win that jackpot tells me that people are very much interested in and are chasing something that might bring hope.
What is hope, though? Sometimes, I think this is a word that, though spoken often, may not be accurately known by many people. And, I also think that Christians have so often connected the word hope to the message of good news that its true meaning has been lost in some picture of something that affects a person in the far-off future of eternity. As I have been preparing for my Advent sermon series which begins this coming Sunday, the Spirit has been directing my thoughts to the connection of hope, the good news of Jesus coming and evangelism.
At its core, hope is the desire for something better such as a better life reality for one’s self or one’s children. It could be a desire for a better society. It could be a desire for the needs of those in need to be met. Boiled down, it means wanting a better tomorrow than today. It speaks to real situations, not theoretical ones or ones that will only be seen in some “sweet by and by” reality.
When Jesus came, he came offering hope. This hope wasn’t just for some future time period, but for the present. In Luke 4, Jesus finds himself in a synagogue and he reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah. When he had finished reading, he told those in the room that the words he had read had been fulfilled in their hearing because Jesus had fulfilled them. Here is what he said about himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” These words contain the essence of the gospel, which means good news. When, then, should news be considered “good?” When that news is favorable towards me and improves the situation in which I currently find myself, that is good news. News that is not good would do the opposite. For example, a good fight is one you win; a bad fight is one in which you get your brains beat in and lose. The good news that Jesus was proclaiming not only brought hope but had that hope realized in people’s current life reality. I have been discovering that, at least from my Christian upbringing, this hope is far too often “spiritualized” and doesn’t have really anything to do with today and this reality. If the hope of the good news is only for a future time and not also today, it’s no wonder this message of “good news” is falling many times on deaf ears.
And this brings me to the topic of evangelism. There is a direct connection between the mission of Jesus, as found in Luke 4, and what we as Jesus-followers are to be doing. Jesus told his disciples in John 14:12 that “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.” Luke 4 is the essence of what Jesus came to do – his mission. We, as his followers, are to continue his mission and go even further than he did during his 3+ years of physical ministry on earth. What that means is that the hope proclaimed must become more of a life reality for people with each passing generation. Unfortunately, I believe that in the eyes of many people in this world, this hope, for all intents and purposes, has only resulted in exchanging one taskmaster for another. Christianity, for many, is seen to only be another way in which to control people, telling them what they must and must not do and then judging them about how well they are doing. This reality is shameful and really does an injustice to God and the true good news of Jesus.
What this means for evangelism is this: I must be seeking ways to inject real hope into the current life reality of people and show these people the foundational connection between that real hope and the good news of Jesus. As a citizen of the kingdom of God, I must be demonstrating the benefits of that citizenship. As a citizen, I have the right to expect certain realities in my life, expectations that a non-citizen does not have the right to expect. Even though it has often been used as a cliché or pat answer, the truth of Romans 8:28 is still true: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose.” What should be the normal experience for a citizen of the kingdom of God is “falling into good situations,” situations in which he/she finds him/herself uniquely positioned to bring glory to God and build his kingdom through demonstrating the real hope in which we live every day. I believe this is what the Spirit does for each and every citizen every day.
The implications of this view of evangelism are many, but I believe they boil down to one thing – relationships. We must be deepening the existing relationships we have with people who are currently not citizens of the kingdom of God while seeking to create new ones with those people God causes to intersect our path. It means that I must take the time to get to know a person, his/her reality and how the true and real hope I possess as a citizen can be best communicated. It means inside that relationship I must be who I truly am; I must be myself and not put on a front.
So, for those of us who are citizens of the kingdom of God through a relationship with Jesus, with whom have we been demonstrating and sharing this real hope? Have we been doing it in existing relationships? Are we seeking to create new relationships? Frankly, the aspect of demonstrating and sharing real and true hope is what excites me about relationships, both established and new. It is why I call following the leading of the Holy Spirit in this way one exciting ride.