Our Advent and Christmas theme this year is the City of God. Last week we looked at faith and the city of God. This week we’re looking at hope and the city of God. While faith sees and obeys, hope is a fierce comfort, a fortress of rest in the future of God. “Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope” (Ps. 16:9). “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Ps. 31:24). “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Ps. 42:5). “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word” (Ps. 119:114). “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Ps. 146:5). The NT writers tie hope particularly to the resurrection (e.g. Acts 2:24-32, 23:6, 24:15, 26:6-8, 28:20, Rom. 8:20-25). Hope is expectation, anticipation, desire and longing for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Summary of the Texts: Isaiah imagines a future city with a marketplace with plenty of water for the thirsty and wine and milk for those without money (55:1). Other markets may have food for sale, but it will not satisfy (55:2). Isaiah says that if Israel listens to God, she will eat what is good (55:2). If she listens carefully, she will live (55:3). This city will be protected by God in a similar way to the way David protected Israel during His reign (55:3-4), but instead of conquering the threatening nations, they will run to the glory of Israel (55:5). If Israel seeks the Lord (55:6), turns from wickedness (55:7), and trusts God’s mysterious ways (55:8-9), listening to His word, they will be a city full of bread (55:10-11).
When Luke describes John in the wilderness, he is contrasted with all the other authorities of his day. There are presidents and supreme court justices and ceo’s of fortune 500 companies, but the word of God comes to John in the wilderness (Lk. 3:1-2). Just as Isaiah imagined a city with a marketplace that provided for the thirsty and the poor, John is the voice of the Lord in the desert foretelling a great leveling (3:4-6). John himself pictures that leveling, in so far as the word of God came to him instead of all the other credentialed, established authorities. The flesh hopes in flesh (“we have Abraham as our father”), but John knows that God is not stuck with religious, church-going people. Once upon a time, God struck down an entire generation of Israelites in the wilderness and their children crossed that very Jordan River to inherit the Promised Land (Josh. 4). A pile of stones was erected to remind Israel that God had done this great thing, and John reminds the presumptuous of God’s power by pointing to the stones at the Jordan (3:7-8). John says God is looking for life, and life is evidenced by the fruit of sacrifice and generosity and honesty (3:9-14), a particular kind of marketplace. John says that the King is coming, and He wields the Holy Spirit and fire for a great harvest (3:15-17).
When Paul writes the Philippians, he writes from a prison cell, but notice the royalty and nobility with which he writes. Though he is a prisoner, he is only a slave of King Jesus. He writes to the bishops and deacons and holy ones in King Jesus, and he gives greetings from God the Emperor and the crowned prince, Lord Jesus, the King (Phil. 1:1-2). Paul begins with thanksgiving particularly for their “fellowship in the gospel” and describes it as a good work that King Jesus has begun in them (Phil. 1:3-6). Paul notes that he is in chains precisely for the sake of the Kingdom, and his chains confirm that the city of God is a real threat to other nations and kingdoms (Phil. 1:7). Paul longs for the Philippians in the love of King Jesus, and in the mean time prays that their love would grow, until the Kingdom of Jesus is established in glory (Phil. 1:8-11). Paul sees his situation and the church in Philippi through the eyes of hope. He sees the Church as the Kingdom of God on the advance, toppling all rivals.
The lessons give us clear instructions: Listen to the Word of God, produce fruit, and abound in love. We are not legalists. Salvation is all of grace from first to last, but God is not averse to commanding obedience. And the difference is always how we receive the word of God. If the word of God comes to us like rain on a planted field then the command comes to us as grace. When people are thirsty, God’s instructions come as living water. When we see Jesus as our great David, providing and protecting His people through His death and resurrection, we fall at His feet and worship, and surrender everything before him. But there is a certain kind of presumption that says, I already paid my tithe, I already went to Bible study, I went to church, I made a meal. God, my hands are already full with four little kids. But faith sees a city coming and obeys in the present, and hope longs for the coming city and eagerly leans into the work that God has already begun.