1. Hope from the Old Testament (Romans 15:1-13)Related Media
My inspiration for choosing “hope” as the topic for this series came largely from a good family friend, Brenda Smith, and her son (also a good family friend), Jeff. Jeff expressed his concern to Brenda that all too many older Christians seem to be speaking more of their fears than of their faith. They listen to conservative news outlets and conclude that our world is “going to hell in a hand basket.” The result is that they instill fear in the hearts of their children, rather than inspiring faith. In an excellent article she has written, Brenda shares Jeff’s words of concern:
I hear so many people in my parents’ generations say the reason they talk about their fears and worries about our country is out of concern and love for their children’s and their grandchildren’s generation. It is a strange way to show us love. As a dad, I would never go into my son’s room, tell him how scary and dark it is, and then say, “good-night.” Knowing the darkness will not go away, I want to focus him on why he doesn’t need to be afraid. I show him his nightlight and remind him it will always be on. I check under the bed and in the closet and reassure him there are no monsters. But most importantly, I tell him mommy and daddy are right down the hall. And, if he ever needs anything, we will be there. I want to equip him for the darkness.2
I would agree with Brenda that Jeff has it right. That is why she wrote her excellent article on hope, and it is also why I have chosen “hope” as the topic for this short series of messages.
I chose the title “Hope and Change, God’s Way” purposefully. Not only does it indicate that “hope” is the topic, but it also calls attention to the fact that this theme struck a very sympathetic cord in the hearts of many Americans as “Hope and Change” was the campaign slogan for the 2008 presidential election.
This slogan resonated with many Americans because they lacked assurance of hope for the future. A number of events have occurred recently which make people fearful of the future. In the recent past, we have seen natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, a tsunami in Indonesia, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and forest fires followed up by mudslides on the West Coast of our country. Then there are the man-made dangers looming in the future. There are threats of rogue governments in Asia and the Middle East, of nuclear proliferation, and of terrorist plots here and abroad. Young and old have lost faith in politicians, and some have lost hope in the political system altogether. People desperately want to find something or someone in which they can put their hope.
No political party or any presidential candidate can promise the kind of “hope and change” that the Bible offers to any who will trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Most of us recognize that hope is often found in conjunction with faith and hope. “Faith, Hope, and Love” are mentioned together a number of times in the Bible.3 We have all heard some wonderful messages on faith and on love, but I would venture to say that we have heard too little about hope. (I do not remember ever hearing a message focusing primarily on hope.) This is why I have chosen to take a number of lessons to explore the hope of the Christian, rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.
Hope in the Bible: A Few Observations
Depending on the translation you are using, the root word “hope” is found somewhere between 142 times (KJV) to 182 times (NIV)4 in the Bible, divided almost equally between the Old and New Testaments. Notice the distribution of “hope” in the Bible:5
Hope in the Old Testament
Hope in the New Testament
We should note that “hope” can be found either as a noun (“I have hope.”) or as a verb (“I hope to see you soon.”). I find it interesting that “hope” is not found in the Old Testament until we come to the Book of Ruth (where Naomi reveals that she has no hope). “Hope” is found 14 times in Job, and one can see why after reflecting on Job’s suffering in this book. Psalms and Proverbs speak often of hope, as do the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel). The term “hope” is found only twice in the Gospels (in the NASB); it appears once in Matthew (12:41) and once in John (5:45). We will wait to discuss “hope” in the Gospels until our next lesson.
We should learn from “hope” that a concordance search is a good beginning for a study of this subject, but it is not necessarily sufficient. We should realize that just because “hope” is not found until Ruth 1:12, we are not to conclude that there is no “hope” to be found before that. For example, Paul speaks of Abraham’s “hope” in Romans 4:
16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed – the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do. 18 Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be” (Romans 4:16-19).6
My point is simply this: the concept of hope may very well be present even though the specific word is not found. Sometimes we will find a pertinent text by searching on a synonym. But at other times, we will simply have to know the Bible well enough to turn to those texts which deal with this topic in more general terms. Sometimes (as with Romans 4:18 above), the New Testament will give us the necessary clue, just as Hebrews 11 gives us unexpected examples of faith in the Old Testament. Just be aware of the fact that a concordance search is a good start, but it is not the end-all for studying biblical concepts.
A Working Definition of Hope
We are primarily interested in a particular facet of the term “hope,” but we should be aware that there are other ways that the term is used, even in the Bible. One of the most frequent “other uses” of hope is the expression of a desire, but not one that is assured. Often, we find this expressed as “… hope to… .” It is used in reference to both unbelievers and believers:
8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some miraculous sign (Luke 23:8).
19 But when her owners saw their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities (Acts 16:19).
24 … For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while (Romans 15:24).
There is also false hope, such as the misplaced hope of the Jews who were persecuting Jesus because he had healed a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath:
“Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope” (John 5:45).
There is also the hope which some falsely place in money:
Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17).
But we wish to focus our attention on the hope which is uniquely Christian, the hope which looks forward to spending eternity in heaven with God, which is rooted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Let us consider some of the dimensions or facets of this hope.
Biblical hope is exclusively Christian. Only those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ can possess biblical hope.7 Non-Christians do not possess the hope of which we are speaking.
12 … you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).
Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Biblical hope is closely related to faith. At times, hope seems to be used interchangeably with faith.
Be brave, take heart, all who put your hope in Yahweh (Psalm 31:24, NJB).
But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying?
You are my only hope! (Psalm 39:7)
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope (Psalm 130:5, NIV).
In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).
4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them. For this is what pleases God. 5 But the widow who is truly in need, and completely on her own, has set her hope on God and continues in her pleas and prayers night and day (1 Timothy 5:4-5).
Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21).
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be” (Romans 4:18).
Because Christian hope is a matter of faith, our hope is characterized by confidence rather than wishful thinking.
Patiently wait for God alone, my soul!
For he is the one who gives me confidence (Psalm 62:5).
For you give me confidence, O Lord;
O Lord, I have trusted in you since I was young (Psalm 71:5).
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:19).
Christian hope looks for its fulfillment in the future, and thus hope requires us to wait.
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:24-25).
For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness (Galatians 5:5).
Christian hope looks forward to great change for the better. “Hope and Change” is a great political slogan, but it is only Christian hope that anticipates the radical change God will bring to pass that will last for all eternity.
20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:20-24).
But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).
39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us (Hebrews 11:39-40).8
Christian hope is characterized by a strong desire. Here is an aspect of hope that we dare not overlook. Hope looks ahead to change which is for the better, and thus Christian hope desires that which is anticipated by faith. It is implicit in Christian hope. That is why Paul’s desire was to be with the Lord, rather than to remain on here in this world.9 Consider Proverbs 13:12:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is like a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12, NASB95).
Here, we see the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, where the author repeats the concept of the first line by using a synonym for it in the second line. Hope in the first line is amplified by the term “longing” (or “desire” in the NASB95) in the second. Hope desires that for which it confidently waits.
Christian hope is characterized by perseverance and endurance.
1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope (Romans 5:1-4).
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance (Romans 8:24-25).
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4).
With these elements of hope in mind, let’s attempt to arrive at a working definition of biblical hope.
Hope is the confident expectation of the future changes that God has promised, but that are not yet seen, which the Christian strongly desires and for which he eagerly awaits.
The Old Testament and Hope
1 But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope. 5 Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.” 10 And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:1-13).
I am particularly interested in Paul’s words as we find them in verse 4 of Romans 15:
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4).
Here Paul tells us that the Old Testament has great value for the New Testament Christian because its instruction instills within us a hope that inspires endurance. My intention here is not to attempt a thorough exposition of this chapter, but rather to focus on the words of verse 4 and see how Paul demonstrates the truth of these words by his use of the Old Testament in this text.
I believe these 13 verses in Romans 15 are really the conclusion to the main argument of the Book of Romans. The major issue facing Christians in New Testament times was the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the church. I believe that while Paul deals with this issue in almost every one of his epistles, he makes it his major focus in Romans. Here is his most comprehensive effort to explain the relationship of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church. Let me briefly walk through the main sections of Romans to demonstrate how this works.
In Romans 1:16 to 3:20, Paul shows that both Gentiles and Jews – all mankind – are condemned sinners, unworthy of salvation, because they all fail to live up to the standard of righteousness God has established. The Gentiles may not have the Law of Moses, but they do have the revelation of God in nature.10 God judges men by what they do with what they know about Him. Gentiles rejected the revelation of God in nature and chose to worship the creation, rather than the Creator. Thus, they are condemned for not responding rightly to the revelation they received by worshipping God.
At this point, you can almost hear the “amen’s” being shouted out triumphantly by the self-righteous, but unbelieving, Jews. But when the same standard (God judges men by what they do with what they know) is applied to Jews, they fail the test as well. They know far more about God than the Gentiles. They consider themselves to be experts in the law. But they fail to live in accordance with what they know. They don’t do what they say they believe. Their guilt is even greater than that of the Gentiles because they have been given greater revelation than the Gentiles, and yet they have rejected it.11 And so we see that Jews and Gentiles alike are sinners under divine condemnation, whose best efforts are inadequate to meet God’s standard of righteousness.12
If Jews and Gentiles are equal in their inability to please God, they are also equal in salvation. Since salvation is not a matter of man’s performance, but of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection on the sinner’s behalf, then Jews and Gentiles are equalized by the work of Christ:
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle? Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! 30 Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (Romans 3:21-30).
If men have always been saved by faith, how do we explain the salvation of Old Testament saints like Abraham? That is the question Paul raises at the beginning of chapter 4. His answer is amazing. He turns the reader to Genesis 15:6, where it is said that God reckoned Abraham righteous on the basis of his faith. Abraham’s experience was not unique because David testified to his salvation on the same basis.13 Paul then presses the matter even further, pointing out the timing of the statement in Genesis 15:6. The law would not be given until many years later, so Abraham was not saved by keeping the law. Beyond this, Abraham was not circumcised until Genesis 17. And so one would be technically correct to say that at the time of his salvation by faith, Abraham was really a Gentile.
Paul will go on to say that Abraham’s faith was a “resurrection faith,” for Abraham believed God’s promise that he and Sarah would have a son, even in their old age, even when they were “as good as dead” so far as child-bearing was concerned. The writer to the Hebrews will go on to show how this same resurrection faith enabled Abraham to be willing to sacrifice Isaac, since he believed that if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead.14 To be a “true Jew” was to be a child of Abraham by exercising the same kind of faith; it was not a matter of one’s DNA.15
Bypassing the powerful arguments of Romans chapter 5 for a moment, let us consider the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in regard to sanctification. There were Jewish believers who wanted to impose the Law of Moses upon Gentile converts for the sake of sanctification.16 This raised questions regarding the role of the Law in sanctification:
5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:19—6:11).
God’s grace always outruns sin, but this must not be used as an excuse to sin. Our identification with Christ at the time of our salvation caused us to die to sin and to be raised to new life in Christ. Those who have died to sin dare not continue to live in sin. So, sanctification is a necessity. We dare not delude ourselves by thinking that faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life justifies continuing to live as we once did. Romans 6 sets forth the necessity of sanctification.
Romans 7 sets forth the impossibility of sanctification – in the power of the flesh. Just as the Law of Moses sets an impossible standard for salvation (Romans 1-3), so it also sets forth an impossible standard for sanctification. It is not that the Law’s requirements are evil; rather the Law is holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12). The problem is that, while the requirements of the Law are good, we are not able to live up to them in the power of the flesh. Our flesh is weak, and sin continues to overpower us so that we fail to live according to the Law’s requirements. Thus, Paul’s agony is not over the demands of the Law, but over the weakness of the flesh:
22 For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. 23 But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22-24)
Just as man is incapable of living up to the standards of the Law and must give up his efforts at achieving his salvation by works, so the Christian is incapable of living up to the Law because of the weakness of his flesh. And so the Christian must once again turn to the cross of Calvary and the work of God for sanctification:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit… . 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. 11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:1-4, 10-11).
It is not our human striving to keep the Law which sanctifies us; we are sanctified through the finished work of the Lord Jesus, and by walking in the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit raised the dead body of Jesus to life; even so, the Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian to give life to our dead bodies (dead so far as producing holiness is concerned), so that we can fulfill the demands of the Law.17
So, it is not imposing the Old Testament Law upon Gentile converts that sanctifies them. Neither Jews nor Gentiles can live up to the Law’s standards by human effort.18 Both Jewish and Gentile believers can have success in living up to the Law’s standards by faith in Christ and in His provision for godly living. Jews and Gentiles are thus condemned, saved, and sanctified in the same way. Gentile Christians are not second-class saints, and Jewish believers are not first-class saints. All are equally dependent upon God’s gracious provision for right standing before Him.
When we come to chapters 9 through 11, this is no parenthesis (as is sometimes claimed). Paul is still dealing with the matter of Jew-Gentile relationships. In broad brush terms, we will attempt to summarize the argument of these three chapters. In chapter 9, Paul addresses the fact that in spite of their Jewish heritage, most Jews continue to reject Jesus as the Christ, while many more Gentiles are coming to Him by faith. In chapter 9, he explains that true “Jewishness” is not a matter of one’s DNA. All descendants of Abraham are not true Jews; only those who are the “children of promise,” those whom God chose. Many descendants of Abraham are not children of faith because God did not choose them. God did preserve Israel’s hopes by preserving a remnant, through whom God will fulfill His promises to Israel.
This brings us to chapter 10. If some descendants of Abraham are not true Jews because God did not choose them, they are likewise not true Jews because they did not choose to trust in Jesus as their Messiah. They were zealous for the Law, but they sought to be righteous in their own strength, by their own righteous deeds. The Gentiles whom God chose for salvation did not strive to be saved by their own efforts, but trusted in the finished work of Jesus.
So, in chapter 11 Paul asks the very logical question, “Is God finished with the Jews?” Have the Jews permanently and irreversibly lost their opportunity to enter into those blessings which God promised to Abraham and to his descendants? Paul’s answer is an emphatic “No!” Israel’s fall was for a divine purpose – it opened the door for Gentile evangelism. Gentile evangelism serves God’s purpose of provoking the Jews to jealousy. Gentile believers should not become smug with pride, for this is what got the Jews into trouble. It wasn’t their piety or superiority that merited them God’s blessings; it was God’s grace. Gentiles who become smug are in danger of the same fate as their Jewish predecessors. But when God’s purposes for the Gentiles have been fulfilled, He will turn once again to the Jewish people, to draw many to faith, so that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).19
Passing by Romans 12 and 13 for now, we come to chapter 14, where the question of Jew-Gentile relationships is once again in view. The issue in chapter 14 has to do with one’s convictions, convictions having to do with observing certain days, and eating or drinking certain foods. These are issues that would naturally arise between Jewish and Gentile believers. Should one bring ham sandwiches to the common meal shared together when the saints met for worship?20 Should a person offer wine to a fellow believer who is convicted that drinking wine would be wrong? Paul’s answer is that these matters should not be the subject of debate or the basis for judging one another. Instead, those who are strong should see it as their responsibility to minister to those who are weak, and they should do this (in part, at least) by surrendering their liberty to enjoy those things which others believe to be wrong:
1 But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up (Romans 15:1-2).
Paul then turns to the Lord Jesus as our supreme example. Our Lord did not choose to please Himself (which He had every right to do); instead, He set aside self-interest in order to offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Notice that the verse Paul selects to quote in verse 3 is a citation from the Old Testament Book of Psalms (69:9).
For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Romans 15:3).
Several things stick out as I look at this verse. First, it is a citation of a psalm written by David (Psalm 69:9), a psalm which speaks of the insults he endured for identifying with God. Second, the insults David endured were really insults directed against Christ, Israel’s ultimate King. As we know, while Psalm 69 describes David’s mistreatment and abuse by men (some who are even close relatives), this is but a foreshadowing of the abuses the Messiah will endure for identifying with sinful men.
Third, it is this citation from Psalm 69:9 that Paul uses as the basis for his words in verse 4, where he informs his readers that the Old Testament provides New Testament readers with instruction that produces hope, and thus perseverance, in the midst of persecution and adversity.
So how does David’s experience of enduring abuse from his “brethren” serve as an encouragement to us? How does this give us hope? And how does it produce the unity which Paul mentions in verse 5, a unity which is somehow related to what he has just said?
5 Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).
Try this on for size. As I read those psalms where David speaks of the abuse he endured from others, most of the time I come away with the impression that his enemies are not his Gentile adversaries, but rather his Jewish adversaries, those close to him. One such adversary would be Saul (and those who supported him – people like Nabal21). But notice that while some opposed David, there was also a “band of brothers” who followed him, and became some of his most trusted and beloved companions (Jonathan, to mention but one). Incidentally, at least a couple of his most devoted followers were Gentiles (take Uriah, the Hittite, for example). The opposition and attacks of David’s adversaries brought with it the loyal devotion of his faithful companions.
Those Jewish believers who rejected the gospel – or those who opposed the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles,22 or who demanded that Gentile believers embrace Old Testament Judaism23 – could easily become the adversaries of those who embraced Gentile believers. In other words, those who chose to identify with Gentile converts and embraced them as joint heirs of the gospel, would experience persecution from their fellow Jews. Paul tells us that this is why some pressured Gentiles to be circumcised:
12 Those who want to make a good showing in external matters are trying to force you to be circumcised. They do so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh (Galatians 6:12-13).
So isn’t the inference of Paul’s citation from Psalm 69:9 that just as David experienced the reproaches of his brethren, he saw this as experiencing the reproach of men toward Christ, and thereby he entered into the sufferings of Christ in a deeper, more personal way.24 In addition to this, the opposition of some prompted him to enter into a deeper fellowship with those who were his closest and most intimate friends. If this was true for David, then does this not encourage us as well? Yes, we will experience opposition, and we will bear the reproaches of others. Hopefully, much of this will be the expression of their opposition to our Lord.25 Should this opposition not cause us to appreciate our true brethren more fully and to desire to share our lives with them? Is this not what happened in the early church when the apostles were persecuted for their faith in Jesus?
When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them (Acts 4:23).
David’s endurance in the face of opposition thus gives us hope and inspires us to persevere. But Paul is not done with the Old Testament or with showing his readers the value of the Old Testament Scriptures for New Testament Christians. He now goes on to cite a number of Old Testament texts which speak of the salvation of Gentiles and of the blending of Jewish and Gentile voices in praise to God. God’s purpose was to save both Jews and Gentiles, so that with one voice they might praise Him:
7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.” 10 And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:7-12).
These Old Testament citations make all kinds of sense when we read them in the light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:
11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh – who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands – 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).
In Christ, God has reconciled lost sinners to Himself, but He has also reconciled lost sinners to each other! What Old Testament saint would ever have imagined standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Gentile believers as a part of one new creation, the church? The texts that Paul has cited in Romans 15 all speak of this, but no one really grasped this until the coming of Christ.
In the following chapter of Ephesians, Paul explains how he and his fellow apostles were given the privilege of revealing this previously unrecognized truth to men (and to celestial beings as well!):
4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret [mystery]26 of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:4-10).
A “mystery” (as Paul uses this term) is not something that has never been mentioned before and thus comes as a complete surprise. A “mystery” is something that has been mentioned earlier – in the Old Testament – but which was never fully grasped at the time. The coming of Jesus as the Messiah changed all of this. Thus, these Old Testament texts which spoke of the conversion of the Gentiles and the harmonious praise of Jews and Gentiles suddenly make sense (once explained by Paul). So, too, the relationship of Christ to His church now enables the Christian to view marriage in a new light (see Ephesians 5:22-33).
This is an important key to our understanding of how the Old Testament Scriptures can be so beneficial to New Testament Christians. New Testament Christians can study the Old Testament and see things that were not seen by the Old Testament saints. Because Christ has come, the Old Testament is not just ancient history; it is the revelation of the Lord Jesus. Psalm 69 is not just a poetic description of David’s abuse at the hand of his adversaries; it is also a description of the abuse Jesus endured at the hand of His adversaries. When New Testament Christians read Psalm 69 (for example), they see Christ, and as they read of His perseverance, they are encouraged to persevere. Finding Christ in the Old Testament gives New Testament Christians the hope they need to persevere.
So, to retrace Paul’s argument in Romans 15:1-13, we begin with the principle that the strong should sacrificially minister to the weak, not intent on pleasing themselves, but seeking rather to please the weak for their good (verses 1-2). This is what our Lord Jesus did, and we can see this from the citation of David’s words in Psalm 69:9. By seeing our Lord’s example, we gain instruction which leads to hope and to endurance.
Now that Christ has come (and Paul has revealed these Old Testament mysteries), we are able to grasp that these Old Testament citations in this text were prophecies concerning the church. We can now see that God fulfilled these prophecies through Christ when He brought the church into existence. We should realize that God’s purpose was to create “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) so that Jews and Gentiles might praise Him harmoniously – with one voice. This should inspire the kind of unity which Paul calls for in this text.
Thus Paul can conclude his argument (and the argument of the book) with these words in verse 13:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
Knowing what we now know enables us to read the Old Testament differently and to see that God did not purpose for Jews and Gentiles to be at odds with one another, but through Christ, we are to be one in spirit, joyfully at peace and praising God. The Old Testament is not the exclusive possession of the Jews, nor does it make Jews superior to the Gentiles. It shows Jews and Gentiles alike to be sinners, deserving of God’s eternal wrath and incapable of earning His favor. It shows that all who are true children of Abraham are such by virtue of faith in Jesus. It shows that sanctification is not attained by law-works, but by faith in Jesus and by walking in the Spirit. It shows that God purposed to unite Jews and Gentiles through faith in Jesus, so that all who trust in Him can harmoniously praise God forever.
How to Find Hope in the Old Testament
Based upon what we have just seen, let me make some suggestions as to how we can find hope in the Old Testament.
1. We must read the Old Testament in the light of the New. We must read the Old Testament in light of the mysteries that have been revealed to us in the New Testament.
2. We should always look for Jesus in the Old Testament. I can well remember Dr. Bruce Waltke saying this to those of us who were his students in seminary: “When I read the Old Testament, I ask God to let me see Jesus.” That’s good advice.
3. Look for God’s ultimate purposes for His people, both Jews and Gentiles alike. Realize that women like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were not just “exceptions to the rule,” but were prototypes of what was yet to be (as we find it described in Romans).
4. When reading the Old Testament, seek to learn more about the “God of hope” (15:13). Learn of His wisdom and power in the accounts of creation and of the exodus. Learn of God’s mercy and grace (as we find in Exodus 32-34, especially 34:6-7). Learn of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. Look at God’s activities in the past (creation and the exodus being two prominent events in history) as prototypes of what God is yet to do.
The writer to the Hebrews sums up the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old by pointing out that every Old Testament saint was saved by faith, and that their faith gave them hope – not a hope for present blessings so much as a heavenly hope for eternal blessings (Hebrews 11:13-16). Paul’s words in Romans 15 should convince us that the Old Testament Scriptures are a source of great hope for the New Testament saint because we can now read these texts in the light of the coming and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The mysteries of the Old Testament (which Old Testament saints did not grasp) are now ours to ponder, for our encouragement and hope.
Our hope is not to be found in men, in politics, or in this present age; it is only to be found in the “God of hope.” Let us look for Him and learn of Him as we read the Old Testament. Let us keep our eyes fixed on heaven, and on the hope which awaits us there, knowing that it is a secure hope, one that is certain for every saint:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Are you a guilty sinner, burdened down with the weight of your sin, and with the fear of eternal punishment? There is hope for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Are you fearful of what lies beyond the grave as you witness the death of another? There is hope for you, beyond the grave, because our Savior rose from the dead after making payment for your sins. Is your marriage a disaster and seemingly without hope? The same God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who can transform your marriage, modeled after the relationship of Christ and His church. Are you depressed and in despair? Be encouraged, because the Lord Jesus came to take away the despair and to fill our hearts with the joy of His salvation. There is hope!
The hope which we have as believers in Jesus Christ is the only true hope. It is the hope which unbelievers lack, but desperately need. Let us keep our sure and certain hope before us, and may our hope cause unbelievers to ask us how we can be so hopeful in such a hopeless world (1 Peter 3:15). As the Scriptures teach, let us keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and let us fix our hope on the grace that is to be brought to us when He is revealed (1 Peter 1:13).
1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the series Hope and Change, God’s Way, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 28, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Brenda A. Smith, “Help Us Hope,” An unpublished paper (but hopefully not for long), c. 2009.
3 See Romans 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 1:12-18; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:1-5; 4:10-11; 1 Peter 1:3-9, 13, 20-23.
4 The NET Bible = 149x; NASB95 = 152x; NKJV = 153x; ESV = 169x; CSB = 179.
6 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
7 See 1 Peter 1:3-5 above.
8 See also 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 50-58; 2 Corinthians 4:16—5:10.
9 Philippians 1:23.
10 See Romans 1:16-32; also see Psalm 19 where natural revelation is combined with the revelation of the Law.
11 See 2:17-24; see Luke 12:45-48.
12 See 3:9-20.
13 See 4:4-8.
14 See Hebrews 11:17-19.
15 See Romans 4:9-17; also see Romans 9:6-8ff.
16 See Acts 15:5.
17 I am not speaking of perfectionism here, but of the power that God has given to us to live the Christian life. Our failure to live up to God’s standards is not due to His failure to provide the means to do so, but rather is due to our failure to appropriate these means.
18 See Acts 15:10.
19 I do not understand “all Israel” to mean that every Jew who has ever lived will be saved. I believe that “all Israel” refers to all true Israelites, true children of Abraham (sons of Abraham by faith), will be saved. In other words, all those God meant to include within His chosen (Jews and Gentiles alike) will be saved. See Romans 4:10-13; Galatians 6:16.
20 See Acts 2:42-46; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
21 See 1 Samuel 25:9-11.
22 See 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
23 Galatians 6:12.
24 See Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24-27.
25 See 1 Peter 4:12-16.
26 I prefer the term “mystery” throughout this text, as my exposition will hopefully demonstrate.