How often we try to talk ourselves into having hope based on ourselves…
“Surely God must see my earnestness. I’m an improvement on my former self and definitely not as bad as I could be. And there are all those times that I did nice things instead of what I might otherwise have done. God knows that I aspire to do great things in His name. I’ve learned my lesson. After all the hard things I’ve suffered, I’ve earned some relief.”
If we think about what we think about, we all will find ourselves from time to time thinking things like this. Even genuine children of God through faith in Christ will find themselves, on occasion, stunned by their own thoughts of self-reliance. We should not find it unusual that God would regularly remind His people of the vanity of such thoughts. All who truly know God and know some portion of their own sinfulness also know such thoughts are vain. So, where can a sinner find a foundation for hope? Is there anything other than a shot-in-the-dark, hope-so kind of hope?
In the text from this past Sunday (Zechariah 9:9-12), there is a key statement about the foundation of hope. Pastor Mike highlighted it for a few moments in the sermon. Let’s dwell on it for a few more:
“As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” (v 11)
Zechariah’s recording of God’s Word to His people came a few years before the return of the first group of Hebrew captives from Babylon. As you may recall, God had told them that they would be in exile for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). It’s quite likely that most of those who were originally taken away had died by this point and most of the Hebrews alive to hear the prophecy of this book had been born in exile. They would have heard of a homeland they had never seen. They would have lived their lives under a regime that was intent upon divorcing them from their Hebrew heritage and making them Babylonian or Persian. Many of the people would have heard of God’s promise to restore them to their homeland. Perhaps some would have doubted the promise based on what their eyes could see from captivity. Perhaps others thought of the people as having “done their time in purgatory” and that they were owed a return from exile. These would be quite typical man-centered responses with which we can identify.
But God made it clear in His message of hope that there was no man-centered reason for His redeeming of His people. The reason He gave is both humbling and reassuring: “because of the blood of my covenant with you.” It is humbling because it is not based on any vainly imagined greatness or goodness of man. It is reassuring because it is in spite of the people’s inability in themselves to satisfy God’s righteous requirement. In fact, it has nothing to do with mankind except that God has promised redemption of a people in a covenant and sealed it with blood. The prisoners would be returned from captivity in Babylon based on the promise of God and on His promise alone.
As Pastor Mike pointed out on Sunday, this covenant by which the Hebrew people could be assured of the hope of redemption from Babylonian exile includes the promise of a greater covenant by which sinners may be assured of redemption from eternal exile in the waterless pit of damnation. This greater covenant also brings with it not merely a return to a “happy place” on earth, but a glorious hope of God’s glorious favor and presence for eternity. And the blood of that covenant? It’s not the blood of bulls and goats of the Jewish sacrificial system. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God-made-flesh. God has sworn His covenant of redemption of sinners by His eternal Self. What humbling, joyous hope!
There’s a story told by Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, about one of her aunts receiving the news that she had only a few days to live. This aunt had been a social activist who had based her hope of God’s approval on her properness and goodness. A weekly medical test had come back with bad news, and it was up to the family to break the news to her. Corrie recorded that her father encouraged the family that, “Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!” The family came into the aunt’s room and interrupted her work. Corrie records what happened during the encounter:
As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test.
“My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!”
“All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured.
“Your writings…,” Mama added.
“The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie.
“Your talks…,” I began.
But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?”
And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”
God has given us His Son. By the eternal covenant in His blood, we have hope of eternal rescue from the pit of eternal destruction. Let us be sure of this and have hope in Him alone!