In Acts 26 Paul was given permission to speak to Herod Agrippa in his own defense: “And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers” (Acts 26:6). Some of our Christmas songs feature the idea of hope- “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”[ O Holy Night]; “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” [O Little Town of Bethelehem]; are two examples. Of course children live in hope around Christmas time…fueled by advertisements on television children hope for a Christmas filled with new toys, fun gifts, and a promise of something new.
But adults live in hope as well around Christmas time. We hope for a safe and stress-free family time. We hope that the weather holds so we can run all the errands that need to be run, so that we can finish all the tasks that need to be done before the holdiay’s are behind us. When pressed some adults will ‘hope’ for things such as peace, family harmony, and a healthy new year.
But Paul is not on trial for merely hoping for new things or a better life or even a more comfortable life. The hope for which Paul is on trial for his life is a hope expressed in a promise- that God would use His people to make Himself known. This hope expressed in a promise made Paul’s life more difficult, not easier (see 2 Cor 11-12). This hope expressed in a promise created divisions and it did not bring peace (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34-39).
Nearly two thousand years later people all across the world are still imprisoned and put on trial for this hope expressed in a promise. Though most of us reading this post have never experienced any serious opposition because of this hope expressed in a promise, the reality is that God’s promise provokes hostility and anger in many places around the world.
So, what exactly is this ‘hope expressed in a promise’ that Paul and countless others have been willing to stand trial for? What is the content of this hope? First, it is the hope that is contained in the coming of Christ. The hope of His coming is that God is still involved in His world. The hope of Christ’s coming is that redpemption is possible, that sin will not have the last word.
The promise is the assurance that what God has begun He will complete. The redemption the creation longs for (Rom 8:19-25) will be finished. What God began in the Garden and has made possible through the Second Adam (i.e. Jesus Christ) will come to God’s intended fruition.
The hope of the promise is the fuel of Christmas—God in the flesh means God made real in a way we can access and a promise that He is coming again.