1 Sam. 2:1-10, Heb. 11:32-12:2, Jn. 14:1-17
Fall is a busy time of new beginnings: new school years, new seasons of life, new living situations. Add to this the regular (but significant) transitions of new marriages, welcoming new children into your home, sending children off to college, or various goodbyes, and then of course there are broader cultural and political transitions afoot we can point to. It can be tempting to fear the future, and often in order to cope with fears, we attempt to distract ourselves or grow apathetic. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is an invitation to know the One who holds the future, to trust His sure promises and obey Him, and walk with Him by faith into the future.
The Song of Hannah
Perhaps the most striking thing about Hannah’s song is when she sings it. I think I’ve always subconsciously thought of it as primarily a response to her miraculous conception, to her prayers being answered, and the birth of Samuel. And of course all of those things are in the background and certainly part of the meaning of the song. But notice that she doesn’t sing her song at the point of conception or at the point of Samuel’s birth. Rather, she sings her song at the point of leaving her son at the Tabernacle with Eli (1 Sam. 1:21-28). That context adds even more weight to her words. A barren woman has given birth to a son, and now that same miracle son is being given to the Lord. Humanly speaking, it can seem like a sad end to what might have been a happy story. But that’s not what Hannah thinks or believes. She sings a song of triumph, a song of victory at the point of leaving her young son to be raised by Eli’s family in the tabernacle. She says that her heart exults in the Lord; she says this is a moment of glory and victory for her (1 Sam. 2:1-2). She says this story proves that God is holy and a rock and there are no other gods like Him (1 Sam. 2:3-4). She says that she’s convinced by all of this that God is on the move. The powerful wicked are being broken down, and the feeble righteous are being raised to seats of honor (1 Sam. 2:4-8). This is all because the “pillars of the earth” are the Lord’s, and on them He has set the world (1 Sam. 2:8). This means that He watches over every details: from the steps of His faithful ones to the wicked plotting (1 Sam. 2:9-10). He judges the ends of the earth through the strength of His Anointed King (1 Sam. 2:10). It’s particularly striking that Hannah sings of God’s anointed king in the days of the judges, when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Jdg. 21:25). But Hannah sees God’s answer to her prayer as proof that God is near and at work, and so she smiles at the future (Prov. 31:25).
Cloud of Witnesses
Hebrews 11 famously lists many of the men and women who lived obediently by faith. When confronted with the apparent threats and dead ends of the world, they chose to believe the promises of God for the future. There is much here, but for now simply notice that the way of faith sometimes leads down a path of miraculous victory and escape (Heb. 11:32-35), and sometimes it leads down a path of suffering, wandering and death (Heb. 11:35-38). And this means we have to hold two things together: First, we need a faith that is big enough for victory through triumph and that is big enough for victory through suffering. We can get this wrong by assuming that faith always means bracing for suffering, and we can get this wrong by assuming that faith always means glorious success. We can also get this wrong by doubting the blessings that God bestows or by resenting the glory of the cross. But all of these get it wrong by putting too much weight on the immediate circumstances. Whether winning a particular battle or losing a particular battle, we triumph through faith: through believing that God has something better ahead us (Heb. 11:39-40). This is what it means to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Whether we win or lose the particular battles we face, whether we are raised to positions of authority or whether we are driven into exile, we aim to be faithful to Jesus, laying aside all sin, and running the race that is set for us. And this is the second thing: remembering that there are no accidental races. For those in Christ, there are no administrative hiccups, no mistaken registrations (Rom. 8:28). The pillars of the earth belong to the Lord, and He sets the world upon them. He guards the feet of the righteous. The thing that makes our running particularly hard is not the race, but the sin that clings to us and weighs us down. Our job is to lay aside the sin and look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith Who is just ahead of us and will never forsake us (Heb. 12:2).
Conclusion: Jesus Just Ahead
Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (Jn. 14:1). He was speaking at that moment of the immediate future awaiting Him and the disciples, but the source of His assurance remains the same for us. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come again to take us to be where He is (Jn. 14:2-3). And He assures us that we know the way (Jn. 14:4), but if we are uncertain, He assures us that He is the way, the truth, and the life of the Father (Jn. 14:5-7).
There is a way to read and hear what Jesus says and think that He is merely talking about taking us to heaven when we die. But this is to dramatically misunderstand the mission of Jesus. Heaven, where believers go when they die, is a wonderful but temporary lodging (2 Cor. 5:1-10). But Jesus died and rose again in order to renew this world, to make all things new. When John sees the vision of the New Jerusalem, it is a city coming down out of heaven to earth (Rev. 21:2). Paul says that Jesus must reign in heaven “until He has put all things in subjection under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26).
Putting all of this together, Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us, and that place is here. The new heavens and new earth will be far more than this world, but they will not be any less. We believe in the resurrection of the body; we will stand with Job on the earth and see our Redeemer God in new flesh (Job 19:25-26). Jesus sent His first apostles into the world with His full authority, and He still sends His people into the world with the same certainty of His presence. Believe in Him, and if you love Him, obey His commands. This is what the Spirit is for. He knits us together with the Father and Son and all the saints. Let not your hearts be troubled. Jesus is just ahead of us.