During the Christmas season, the words “hope,” “joy,” or “peace” are everywhere from billboards along the street to radio advertisements. The world, through commercialism and secularism, has reduced “joy” to receiving a desired gift and “peace” to a memorable gathering with loved ones during this season. “Hope” is perceived as the new beginning of a new year, complete with the resolutions to become a better version of ourselves.
Despite this, it bears emphasizing that these holy states of being—hope, joy, and peace—are truly desired by all people, even by those considered the most secular of humankind. Perhaps even those who stand against God are the ones who seek them the most because any semblance of hope, joy, or peace found by them in this world is fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying. They have never tasted true hope, joy, or peace that only comes from God. Christians know this well; they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit whose very fruits are joy, peace, and patience in the hope given to us in Christ (Galatians 5:22; Romans 8:24-25).
Where Do We Turn In Crisis?
Despite this reality, why do Christians seem to forget this during moments of crisis and turn to what the world tries to offer? Be it escaping into substances, engaging in social experiences and recreation, or the adoption of a principle like “self-love” to care for oneself—every footing this world provides for the purpose of comfort proves unsure, unfulfilling, and impermanent.
Christians are told that the reality of hope, joy, and peace amidst trial is possible but so few experience this in its fullest measure; such a reality is lucrative but often feels totally ludicrous (2 Corinthians 6:10; James 1:1-4). Could it be that Christians failing to manifest these fruits of the Spirit amidst their trials are forgetting the very foundation of their hope, joy, and peace? This foundation is the infallible and powerful Word of God. The temptation of every human, witnessed in the story of creation and the history of the church, past and present, is to desire the blessings of hope, joy, and peace yet place our trust in worldly powers and solutions to attain them. Is it not telling that Adam and Eve saw fruit that was pleasing to the eyes and then disbelieved the word of God and plunged all humanity into sin (Genesis 3)? The common error is that we walk by sight and not by faith; we prefer immediate and visible solutions over patiently trusting the sovereign workings and the infallible Word of an invisible God.
Lessons from Isaiah 7: King Ahaz’s Misplaced Hope
We read about one instance of this in Isaiah 7-9, when King Ahaz despaired over a pending invasion by the Syro-Ephraimite army. He and the nation of Judah “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). Yet God was gracious and spoke to them through Isaiah saying, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of [Syria and Ephraim] … it shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass” (Isaiah 7:4).
Ahaz continued to despair despite this word given to him, and God invited him to ask for a miraculous sign to confirm this prophecy. However, Ahaz’s unbelief led him to decline God’s invitation for a sign to confirm His word. When Ahaz declined, God instead gave him the sign of the virgin birth of Emmanuel, meaning “God With Us” (Isaiah 7:14). Alas, how good and gentle our God is, that even when we reject His word, He still pursues us to confirm it!
God’s answer to the Judahite king’s plight was Jesus. God was reminding Ahaz that He would be faithful to the covenant He made to bring a Messiah to save them (Isaiah 9). And if God would not go back on His word about sending a saviour to undo the curse of sin, how would He not also preserve Judah from this coming invasion? Tragically, Ahaz refuses to trust in this word, the Word of God — Jesus who is called Emmanuel — and remains in despair, choosing the Assyrian army for his defence (John 1:1; 2 Kings 16:7). This leads to years of suffering under the tyrannical Assyrian empire and subsequent life in exile under many other foreign powers. This didn’t need to happen, if only Judah trusted in the Word of God. And the same is true for us. We cannot experience “blessed hope,” “fullness of joy,” and “peace that transcends understanding” apart from resting our souls on the Word of God (Jeremiah 17:7, John 15:11, Philippians 4:7).
God’s Infallible Word: The Source of Hope, Joy, and Peace
The story of Ahaz and the prophecy given by Isaiah regarding the virgin birth of Emmanuel is what our 2021 Advent sermon series, “Emmanuel: God With Us” is titled after. In this series, we are examining how the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies by the birth of Jesus prove the infallibility and sufficiency of the Word of God. It is easy to take a laissez-faire attitude and glance over phrases in the gospels like “this happened to fulfill what the prophet said…” But remember how the Israelites waited for the Messiah — how it was promised from creation and hoped on for generations as they moved in and out of captivity and suffering. The faithful remnant of Israelites held onto these prophecies and eagerly looked forward to their fulfillment.
No wonder then, that the angel’s news of the birth of the Messiah was “good news of great joy” to their ears and that Simeon, upon seeing Jesus, declared, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:9-11; 29-32). Likewise, Jesus’ birth signifies hope for the nations for “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). Thus the wisemen, who were pagan Gentiles, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” when they saw the star confirming the fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:10). God’s word to all of them was fulfilled in their presence and the result was inexplicable hope, joy, and peace.
May we then cast ourselves deep into His Word, relishing in it and infusing it into our lives! For it is through the Word of God that He reveals Himself to us. And the more we know and experience Him and His unfailing love, the more we can trust His word. God never fails and so His word never fails — we can trust this (Psalm 33:4, Isaiah 40:8, Luke 1:37). For by His word, we overcome all our trials and enter into His hope, joy, and peace.
...It was God’s word to Joseph (through his dreams) that gave him the hope and peace to hold on in integrity despite his sufferings to finally be exalted to a place of authority and save thousands of people (Genesis 37-47).
...It was by God’s word that David was convicted of his sin leading him to repent and be restored to the “joy of [his] salvation” while hoping in the mercy of God (Psalm 51).
...It was the compelling truth of God’s word that Peter and the apostles were emboldened to preach the gospel against hostile religious leadership and be subsequently imprisoned only then to rejoice and count themselves worthy of suffering for Jesus (Acts 5:41).
...It was by God’s word that Jesus overcame temptation in the wilderness and became a High Priest who would be tempted as we are but without sin and able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Matthew 4; Hebrews 4:14-16).
...It was to God’s word — the prophecies in Scripture regarding his crucifixion — that Jesus submitted to and by God’s word that He endured the cross, looking to the joy before Him while despising its shame (Matthew 26:53-56; Hebrews 12:2).
It is by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of our holding fast to God’s word in faith that we will overcome Satan the Accuser and rejoice with all of the host of heaven (Revelation 12:11-12). Do you see now, that there is no hope, joy, and peace apart from the Word of God?
During this season of Advent, may we remember that God’s word has never failed and will never fail. In the first advent, Jesus fulfilled all of God’s prophecies about the Messiah and demonstrated to us that God is always faithful to His promises and His character. In the second advent, we ought to look to the promises of God to be fulfilled by the return of the King, not the least of which are His glorification, our vindication, our resurrection, and our enjoyment of being with God face to face. God’s certain promise of His second advent is the steadfast anchor for our hope, joy, and peace, no matter what trial we are enduring. When He comes, finally, all our light and momentary afflictions will fade away, our hope will become reality and the glory of God will envelop us in joy and peace forevermore.