The apostle John writes in his first epistle, saying, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (John 5:4-5; ESV)
Before His crucifixion, Jesus made a similar point. Forseeing the despair that would come upon his followers immediately after His death, Jesus told them plainly, “In this world you will have tribulation,” but He then added, “But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)
John, likewise, reminded his readers that when they faced what the world threw at them, that they should not lose heart, remembering that He who was in them was greater than He who was in the world, and that through Christ they had already overcome the world. (1 John 4:4 )
Despair is easy to fall into. The world is full of wickedness. One need only turn on the television or read a newspaper to see that there are bad things happening across the globe. The love of many grows cold and violence and other evil things fill the streets. Riots, murder, starvation, disease, persecution, anger, hatred, greed, and the like are constant bombardments. Add to this, the spiritual condition of men, with so many rejecting the love and mercy of God for themselves and truly it would be easy to embrace hopelessness.
And many do.
But hopelessness and despair should be the purview of the ungodly, who are without God in the world, and therefore have no cause for eternal hope. (cf. Ephesians 2:12) The man, woman or child who trusts in God should never be without hope.
Jesus came so that men might have hope. Not just the fanciful hope of a dreamer who wishes someday that things will be better, but the solidly grounded hope which knows for an absolute fact that though things are hard now, though tribulations are to be expected, though evil may surrounded us, the future is bright and glorious and everything will indeed work to good for those who love God and are called according to His holy purpose. (cf. Romans 8:28)
The hope that Christ provides is the hope of an empty tomb and it was sufficient to overcome the pain of a cross. Jesus knew the cross would be agony. Yet He went to the cross willingly. He knew the nails would pierce and tear at His flesh, but yet He approached the cross as a lamb to the slaughter, without opening His mouth to complain. For though there was tribulation, Jesus was secure in the certainty of His triumph. Thus the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus endured the cross, scorning the shame and pain He was to endure, because He fully anticipated the joy God had set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Faith in God gave Christ hope and that hope led Him through the dark times to the glory of the resurrection. When He left the tomb behind Him, never more to die, He had gained the victory. He had overcome the worst the world could throw at Him and had been glorified by God.
Christians can share in that victory. In Christ, a man can face the worst the world has to offer and no that no matter what comes, be it pain, suffering, solitude or even death – nothing can separate him from the love of God, and the mercies of Christ, so that in all these things the child of God is more than a conqueror. (cf. Romans 8:31-39)
But the victory of Christ is not going to be shared by everyone. Look again at the words of the apostle, as he instructs us, “this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” We must believe that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and in that faith we must be true to Christ and to His commandments. Some time after, in the final book of the New Testament, the same apostle had a vision of Christ triumphant, and he observed that Christ was not alone. With Christ were those who were called, and chosen and faithful. (cf. Revelation 17:14)
It is in faithfulness to Christ that we have reason for hope and optimism. If we don’t have that hope alive within us, we would do well to examine our faith and our obedience to Christ. But if we remain true to his word, we should heed Christ, and be of good cheer, no matter what the world does, for Christ overcame the world, and in Christ, so can we.
The church of Christ invites you to learn how you might have greater cause for hope and optimism in your life. Won’t you come worship and study with us as 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis?
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.