In Romans 15:4 Paul writes, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
That’s quite a statement, because in one sentence it summarizes the entire purpose of the Old Testament. It’s to give us – who are living in this world now – hope.
But how can that be? How can a book full of “old stuff” meant for Israel provide us with hope today? We’re living in a vastly different world, with so many things going wrong in it, most of them totally unresolvable too. Hope, therefore, has to be a pipe dream, a fantasy and deception promoted by political spin doctors, clever advertisers, and propaganda artists in big business, purely to make money and keep themselves in power.
And we know it too, don’t we? We know the reality of life in our world, that it’s geared to making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and that greed and the lust for money and power are wrecking the planet, destroying our physical and mental health, and turning us into depressed zombies or angry, negative cynical, destructive protesters. So how on earth can anyone have hope with that lot going on?
It’s understandable that hope is being replaced with despair, but here’s Paul saying in verse 13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
As far as God and Paul are concerned, hope is still a viable possibility, and in fact it’s meant to happen, and was even predicted to happen in the Old Testament. Paul quotes one example in verse 12 from a statement made 2700 years ago in Isaiah 11:10, that a “root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations,” the result being, “the Gentiles will hope in him.”
But the Gentiles will hope in him for what, exactly? It’s in “the promises made to the patriarchs,” Romans 15:8, “so that,” verse 9, “the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy.” It means there’d be a time coming when people (us Gentiles now) would realize that what God promised to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be brought to life and into reality by this “root of Jesse,” meaning, of course, Jesus Christ, who’d be made “the ruler over the nations” after his resurrection.
In other words, Jesus is ruling the world right now – and is doing so purely because of God’s amazing mercy (verse 9), in not giving up on us despite what we’ve done to him, to the planet, and to each other.
And some “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” verse 13, see that, get it, and revel in hope because of it. Why? Well, for two reasons: first of all, that no matter what happens on this planet it still fits in with God’s plan to “bless all peoples on earth” – exactly as God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3. And secondly, “so that (we) Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” verse 16.
What an amazing statement, that we Gentiles have been set apart by the Spirit of God to be an “offering” to the world. In what way? In the hope that we have, because we “trust in him,” verse 13. We trust in the promises God made to the patriarchs, “so that we overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” verse 13.
It’s what we’ve been set aside as Gentiles for, just as Isaiah predicted. Hope, therefore, in a world that has no reason whatsoever for hope, is what we carry with us, no matter what is happening in the world, or to us personally. And that’s what makes us “so acceptable to God,” verse 16, because hope is what this world needs more than anything right now. It’s what the desperate and powerless need to see and hear. It’s what the gospel is all about, and has been ever since God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring.
And Paul understood that. That’s why “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel,” verse 20, so that “Those who were not told about Christ will see, and those who have not heard will understand,” verse 21, quoting another 2700 year old verse in Isaiah 52:15.
It is God’s intent, then, to fill us supernaturally with hope, and to make it our ambition to see others filled with hope too, “so that all nations might believe and obey him,” Romans 16:26.