Jesus, Hope of the Nations
Last week I shared about the importance of not being passive in our exercise of faith.
I did mention to you that faith requires a target: it requires hope. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is substance of things “hoped for.” Faith needs to connect with our hope in order to bring what we are hoping for into the present where we live.
This is a basic dynamic of intercessory prayer and also of the kind of prayer we call supplication, where we are praying about something for our own lives. If all we have is hope, then what we are hoping for remains in the future.
But without hope, we have nothing positive toward which to exercise our faith. So this week I want to talk about hope, especially in “desert times.”
You know, the ancient rabbis said that the land of Israel was itself like a text from God. The geography of Israel is like a parable for human life.
And it so happens that over 70% of modern Israel is classified as desert areas. If we include all the land that God originally gave Abraham in the book of Genesis, then probably 90% of Israel is desert.
What that tells me is that 90+% of human existence is like walking through a desert. Or to put it another way, the human race was thrown out of the paradise of Eden, and until we get to the paradise of Heaven, our life resembles a desert in this fallen world.
Desert places are dry, dangerous and inhospitable. Deserts lack sufficient water to support much vegetation, and consequently most of the animals in the desert areas are hunters who feed on other animals.
There is one major exception in Israel. In parts of the desert areas of Israel Bedouin nomads still wander the wilderness, keeping sheep.
Keeping sheep? In the desert? What do the sheep eat?
The wise Bedouin shepherd knows the answer. Because certain moisture carried by prevailing westerly winds off the Mediterranean is deposited at night as dew on the western slopes of certain mountains and hills in the desert, a small crop of grass is sustained.
This grass does not form the kind of “green pastures” we think of here in the Midwest where I live—kind of like the fairway of golf course. No, these desert grasses form small tufts on the western hillsides when conditions are right.
And so the sheep are dependent on their shepherd to get them to the right side of the mountain where these small tufts of grass pop up, so that they may graze and be sustained.
How is this like our life with God? Well, Yeshua (Jesus) said in the gospel of John that He is the Good Shepherd. He said that His sheep knew His voice and followed Him. And He said that He laid down His own life for His sheep.
That last point is very important, because you see it qualifies Him to be our Good Shepherd. What makes Yeshua a good shepherd, even a great one, is not simply that He is God and is therefore in a position to know where the “tufts of grass” are for His sheep to graze upon.
What makes Him a good shepherd is that He lived the life of a sheep in the same desert we walk through! Do you remember a song from years back entitled “My Shepherd Became a Lamb”? Well, He really did.
He left the paradise of Heaven to live in this desert place called Earth for 33 years. During that time He faced every kind of trial and temptation that we do. Yet He was without sin.
You know, if you stop to think about it, every trial we go through is a temptation not to believe God—to say, “It doesn’t work for me,” and then maybe even walk away from God. You and I know people who have done this, don’t we?
Yeshua certainly had the same trials human families face all over the earth. We can surmise that Joseph died sometime after Yeshua was 12 and before He reached 30. What did that do to the family when the main breadwinner was gone?
Joseph was a kind and godly man. How much Yeshua must have missed him!
If you saw the movie, The Passion of the Christ, then you know what a difficult time and place Yeshua lived in—so much brutality certainly, but also how hard daily life was. How dirty and dusty the streets were, with their little bits of gravel. What relative poverty most of the people lived in.
And then there was the matter of Yeshua being the Passover Lamb. In Exodus God told Israel to take a year-old male lamb without defect into their household for three days. One of the purposes of having that lamb in the household for three days was to ensure that it WAS without defect!
Likewise, Yeshua was in public ministry in Israel for three years, during which time Father was saying to Heaven and earth and every other place in the spirit realm, “He is without defect!”
And then there was the last day of His life on earth, where the trial became so very intense.
Yet in all this Yeshua did not sin. In every way He showed us the way to live in this desert of human existence.
And He is still doing that today as our Good Shepherd. He said He would never leave us or forsake us. As it says in Psalm 23 He is still taking us to those green pastures, even when they look only like tufts of grass to us.
Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness, even when we complain to You!
Near the end of His earthly life, Yeshua was giving His final instructions to His disciples, His talmidim. He said, “In this world you will have TROUBLES.” I put a heavy emphasis on that word here because the Greek grammar emphasizes it heavily also.
“But,” Yeshua continued, “take heart: I [also heavily emphasized] have overcome the world.”
And in the sentence just before this He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have PEACE.” (John 16:33 NASB). That word, “peace” when He spoke it was probably the rich Hebrew word “shalom.”
“Shalom” means more than peace as we think of it. In addition to absence of conflict or tranquillity, it also means well-being and blessing of all kinds. To speak shalom on someone is to shower him or her with blessings.
So what was Yeshua saying to His disciples and to us? He was saying that if we abide in Him, He will take us through the desert places and give us what we need to go on with Him to the end of our journey.
And how do we know He will do that? Because He lives!
I’m going to end this today with the words of a song that we sang in church this past Sunday in celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. This song was written by Brian Doerksen. It is entitled, “Jesus, Hope of the Nations.”
Jesus, hope of the nations
Lord, we believe!
Amen, Lord! Our Sar Shalom! Our living hope, the one who has gone before us to make the way for us to come into the Holiest of all!
Is your hope fading? Is it damaged or destroyed by fear, by the weariness of walking through this desert? Look to Yeshua, the author and finisher of our faith, who is also the restorer of our hope.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®,