Last night in church my pastor taught on Colossians chapter 1, verses 1-6. As he was reading the passage, one thing in particular stood out to me. I guess I sometimes tend to try to figure out cause and effect when I'm reading the Bible, and in that few sentences I see the following causes and effects: first, the Gospel was bearing fruit and growing across the world. The people of Colossae heard the message, and they understood it, and it began to grow and bear fruit in them as well. One of the first fruits of this was the "hope of Heaven" in their hearts; once the hope of Heaven had taken hold inside of them, they began to have faith (confidence) in Christ Jesus, and also love for each other. Faith, hope, and love... just like in 1 Corinthians 13:13! It reminds me of the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:2-9, Luke 8:5-8) where Jesus compared the Word of God to a seed which could grow and produce fruit under the right conditions. Obviously those conditions existed in Colossae, because the fruit was certainly happening!
Easter is almost here again; last Easter I posted a video from a VeggieTales Easter video in which an angel character explains that "the hope of Easter" is something the world cannot do without. When hope is absent, the world becomes a nasty place. When I first saw that VeggieTales, I thought it was odd to emphasize "hope" as being what the story of Jesus' death and resurrection are all about, but tonight as I thought about those first six verses in Colossians, I realized that the talking vegetables were right... hope is central to the story of Christ! (We're not talking about "hope" in the sense that you "hope" something will happen but it may not; we're talking about "hope" in the sense that you are in a ship at midnight on the ocean in a raging storm, and you are about to drown and die, and you see the lights of a rescue ship, and suddenly you have hope.)
After church I was talking to a friend who is in the middle of a very rough time in his life. He has been having painful health problems, and he is having a difficult time financially as well. He sounded like he was having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I reminded him of a story in 2 Kings 6:24-7:20 in which the salvation of God comes suddenly and unexpectedly. The capitol city of Israel, Samaria, was under siege, and food was running so low that people were resorting to incredibly desperate measures just to stay alive. Some men with a deadly, contagious skin disease who were just outside the city had an idea. They knew their options were to starve where they were, to go into the city and probably starve there, or to go into the enemy camp and see if the enemy would give them some food, so they decided to go to the enemy camp and take their chances. But God had miraculously scared the entire enemy army away, and the diseased men had everything they wanted! When they went back to the city and told the people, suddenly the entire situation went from famine to feasting as they plundered the camp of their enemy. God had turned things around in less than a day, with no effort at all on the part of the Israelites. That's the kind of God that we serve!
My friend knew that story already, but as I reminded him of it, I could see that hope was beginning to dawn in him. There are no health problems or financial problems in Heaven, and he is a citizen of Heaven! The Gospel message that gives us hope is that even when it seems like the sun is going down on your situation and things are getting bleak, God will send the salvation you need. Ultimately, the hope of Heaven means that we will spend eternity in the presence of God, but in the shorter term, in this present life, no matter how bad things may look to you, God is very able to make the situation turn out in your favor!