Romans 15:4, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” That’s rather surprising for many, for the Old Testament records and foretells an awful lot of death and destruction. And yet upon reflection, it does make some sense—Doesn’t that describe the environment in which hope grows?
In Romans 15:8-11 Paul starts quoting Scriptures about Gentiles and Hope for all the Gentiles—hope, for “the Root of Jesse (who is also the Seed) will come… in him will the Gentiles—the unbelievers—hope (Isaiah 11:1,10).”
Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope.” Apparently, that’s the point of Romans, all Scripture, all creation, and our journey through space and time—that you would “abound in hope.”
Fifteen years ago, I was defrocked for hoping that “every knee would bow and every tongue give praise,” for God will have “mercy on all.” I was told that I could hope it so long as I communicated that this hope was impossible. I still find that rather shocking, and yet I must admit that hope can be terrifying, and almost impossible to talk about.
Hope is like two pictures of my Grandpa’s corn field experienced all at once. In January, in Nebraska, that field looked like death. But in August the very same field was a literal banquet of life. I think the corn tasted all that much sweeter in August for we had visited the farm nine months before around Christmas.
Hope is like that; hope is the knowledge of Good and evil. God hopes, for God “subjected creation to futility in hope,” writes Paul (Romans 8:20). God hopes, and God knows evil; God suffers evil. Evil is evil, but the knowledge of evil isn’t evil, and once you’ve gained knowledge of evil it must be forever filled and transformed by the Good. Evil is like an empty void, and the Good is that which fills it and thereby destroys it leaving knowledge and a hope that “abides.” Hope is eternity grown in the soil of space and time.
Hope is knowledge of evil and the Good and the way from one to the other; Hope is the Way.
“In this hope we are saved” wrote Paul in Romans 8:24. To hope in yourself and your judgment isn’t hope, but “wantonness.” Hope is surrendered desire, but it’s still desire; it’s a desire so big and so beautiful that you know that you, yourself, cannot fulfill it.
And that’s what makes hope so terrifying; it can feel like death and in a way it is. Maximum hope is minimum control and Paul is talking about Maximum Hope—hope that all would hope all things. And Paul has already stated “Hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:5).”
In Romans 15:21, Paul quotes Isaiah one more time, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand (suniemi)” The Greek verb, “suniemi,” describes that moment when all the facts come together and you comprehend the meaning, or it (he) comprehends you.
If you look to the Tree in the middle of the Garden and only see a bunch of facts, you’ve gained knowledge of evil. But if you look to the tree and see the Life, all the facts come together in a person who knows you and so you understand him—him who is the Good and your Husband.
Right before Isaiah prophesies that those who haven’t seen will understand, he writes “How beautiful are the feet of him… who publishes salvation.” In Hebrew “salvation” is pronounced “yashuah,” and in Hebrew/Aramaic, Jesus is pronounced “Yeshuah.” It means “Yahweh (God) is Salvation.” Yeshua is the Root of Jesse, Root of David, the Promised Seed, and the Word by whom all things are created.
Paul believes that we are “God’s Field (1 Cor. 3:9).”
And Paul makes it his aim to preach the Gospel, where Jesus has not been named (Romans 15:20).
We do preach the Word; but we also don’t preach the Word. Why don’t we preach the Word?
- Maybe we don’t hope in the Word. And what is the Word? “God is Salvation; Jesus.” People say that if you hope that Jesus will save all, you won’t preach the Word. But grandpa never said, “I didn’t plant the seed for I put too much hope in the seed.” If he didn’t plant the seed, the land would lie fallow that year, but the seed would still be the seed. The Seed is eternal and it’s the seed that transforms the dirt, not the dirt that transforms the Seed.
- Maybe we don’t understand it. But grandpa never came in from the field saying, “I can’t plant the seed because I don’t understand it and can’t explain it; I’m inadequate.” No one can explain a seed; but plant a seed and you’ll begin to understand the Seed. A little child can plant a seed.
- Maybe we don’t want to get messy. Grandpa never said, “I couldn’t plant the seed because there was just too much damn dirt and manure, and it was like . . . all broken up.” How ignorant to think, “There’s no hope for those people—they’re too dirty, too full of Crap, too broken; They’re like a fertile field, so there’s no point in planting the Seed.”
- Maybe we think, “I can’t make it work!” That’s the temptation of religion, but if you think you can make it work, you no longer testify to Jesus, but Me-sus, and actually crucify the Word… that’s painful and yet the Word cannot be stopped; it rises from the ground; it’s a seed.
- Maybe we don’t realize that planting a seed is a sacrifice; it’s not seizing control but surrendering control of the very thing we desire—the Good and the Life. “Unless a kernel… falls into the earth and it dies, it remains alone.” If you only hope for yourself, you hope yourself into outer darkness.
- Maybe we don’t know that the Word is a seed. So, we blame the dirt and keep the seed in a jar called our church, our tribe, our people—not those people: “the gentiles.” But “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love does not fail.” “God is Love.”
- Maybe we don’t plant the seed for we don’t believe that God has made himself the Seed.
When I was a kid, the greatest honor would be offered to me when Dad would invite me to plant the seed. I knew that the seed was good, and dad was inviting me to share in his joy.
So, when people expose some dirt to you, name him where he hasn’t been named; plant the Seed.
Say “Jesus.” And when they say, “What does that mean?” Say, “God is Salvation.” And when they say, “Not for me,” plant some Scripture. The book of Romans has given you plenty. And the Bible is full of astounding hope. Of course, the Bible also testifies to death and destruction, but only because the Seed is the Resurrection and the Life. You don’t have to explain it, defend it, or make it work; just plant it—plant hope, and you’ll be planting him. “Love hopes all things.”
The Power is in the Seed. So put your hope in the Seed and sacrifice your kingdom of dirt.