But we had hoped that he was the one… Luke 24:21
Once upon a time, two men had placed all their hopes in a young leader. They just knew he was going to be the answer to all the questions they had asked all their lives. Not just the answer to their questions, but the answer to all the questions of their community. They had a story that they were part of a people, a special people, Israel, and they had a destiny. They had a calling. Their life wasn’t just about themselves.
They were going to be the glorious representatives of God and good and hope on earth, but their story had gone all wrong. There was no glory in Israel, just suffering. Way back at the very beginning they were in exile in Egypt in slavery, and then it was just one oppressor after another: Syria, and Babylon, and Persia, and Greece, and Rome. It was a story in search of an ending.
In the musical Les Misérables, the character Fantine found herself in a story that was heartbreaking. Through a combination of poor choices on her part and the sinful choices of others in her world, she finds herself on the backstreets of a French town doing unspeakable things to survive. In one of the most moving moments I’ve ever experienced either in the stage production or in film, Fantine sings a lament of her life:
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
…there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So much different than this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now that life has killed
The dream I dreamed
Jesus came along, and he was a prophet, powerful in word and deed. He said things nobody else ever said. He did things nobody else ever did, and they thought maybe he’d set the story right. He’d lead kind of a revolution on this world of goodness in the human heart, and overthrow oppression and the enemy, and make their people prosperous and great so all the world would know that Israel’s God rules the world, is King of the world. They had all these hopes, and things seemed to be going so well, and then he ends up on a cross.
The story went all wrong. But what they didn’t know yet was that it was a story searching for an ending. Rumors had swirled about sightings of their dead hope-bearer, but they were just idle tales and fake news, they thought.
Then this stranger came alongside them on their walk home, listened to them, asked them questions about their story, and told a better ending to the story they were living. With broken bread in his hands, they suddenly recognized that their hope had not died. It was sitting right in front of them. It was across the table from them. They saw the nails in his hands, they saw crumbs in his beard, and they saw the dance of delight in his eyes. Then he was gone.
Hearts swollen with hope, they scrambled to grab a cloak and ran back the seven miles to Jerusalem to be with their friends. They could not help themselves. They have to tell the story.
From which story are you living your life? Everyone has a story.
Our culture screams at us to live out the “Success Story”—get enough money, power, health, prestige, status you can. The problem with that is if you live with that long enough, eventually you will die, and they will bury your attractive, successful, wealthy corpse in the ground. What do you do then? What about all the suffering in this sorry world? It has to be something more than a success story.
Another story that is popular for many is the “Good old Days” story for our culture. The good old days, the good old days. This narrative of our culture wants to roll back the years and have it the way it was way back when. But I have a question about those good old days. How far back do we have to go to find the good old days?
The decade of the ’70s? Double-digit inflation and interest rates? Watergate? Iran taking over the US Embassy?
The decade of the ’60s? Were those the good old days? Vietnam…student protests…assassinations.
What about the ’50s? Were those days good for black people? Where they were being forced to attend separate schools? Drink at different water fountains?
Wanna go back to the ’40s? Were they good years? With the World War? The birth of the atomic bomb?
What about the ’30s? What about the Great Depression?
What about the ’20s when Ku Klux Klan was reborn to terrorize people of color, Catholics, and non-Nordic Europeans?
Wanna go back to the 1800’s where women couldn’t vote and the only good Indian was a dead Indian?
What some of us long for when we say the good old days…is that we long for a time when the rule of God will be everywhere. We long for shalom. We long for a time when no one is lost, and nothing is broken.
But those days are not behind us, they are in front of us. They are in little spheres of influence as kingdom-bringers walk this world and bring light to dark places.
The story we long for is the story of shalom, where up there comes down here. We long for the new heavens and the new earth. What is exciting is that because of the resurrection we get to be the remnant that brings shalom to our culture. How? By legislating morality; by putting prayer back in school; by electing the candidate that checks off all our boxes? No. By loving your neighbor as yourself.
You are not here by accident. You are made and loved by a God who cares about you more than you can imagine. Your story gets all messed up because we live in a sin-infected world bent on turning away from God, and we get it all wrong, and we can’t fix it ourselves.
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
So, one day this stranger came and lived and walked among us, and he said things nobody has ever said, and he did things nobody has ever done. He went to a cross, and it looked for all the world like a death like any other death, like that was the end of his story, but it turns out that when he was dying on that cross, he was dying for you and me. And because he was Jesus, he just couldn’t stay dead. On the third day, he was raised again.
The best news I can tell you is that because a dead man got out of a grave, your story is not over. And you and the risen Jesus can write the most glorious ending to your story.
You both can write a hope-story together.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
So, get up my friend. There are miles and miles to go before we sleep.