Have you ever read a newspaper story about a prison inmate who was facing execution? Or perhaps you’ve seen a movie that depicts a convict on death row. It’s a very intense situation, and the condemned man tends to be solemn, quiet, and reflective.
Perhaps he is sad and remorseful over what he has done. Or he may be angry, protesting that he doesn’t deserve to die. Most likely, he is terrified. His last meal is a grim occasion, filled with either regret and recrimination, or numb resignation to his fate.
One thing you will probably not hear a condemned man say is that it was a good thing for him to be killed. Neither would he be likely to tell his friends that he was about to conquer the world—this “world” that was getting ready to conquer and kill him. Neither would he predict that his loved ones would know absolute joy and peace after he was gone. Even if he tried to put on a brave face, you would still see signs of fear lurking just beneath the surface.
A Man for Others. This is what makes the Last Supper so moving. Jesus knew he was about to be arrested, tortured, and crucified. He knew that Judas had betrayed him to the authorities, that Peter would deny knowing him, and that all the rest would desert him.
And yet despite all this, Jesus didn’t spend his final meal focusing on the frightful, lonesome path that was laid before him. Instead, he focused on his friends, weak and sinful though they would prove to be. He dedicated his remaining few hours to caring for this group of men and women who would soon be devastated by his death.
How did he do it? By speaking words of hope to them. People lose hope when they believe that they have no future. Jesus knew that his death would leave the disciples thinking that they had wasted the past three years of their lives. He knew, too, that their dreams for the kingdom of God would be dashed. How could there be a kingdom if the supposed king didn’t even stand up for himself and his followers? How could there be a future that they could put their hope in after this?
To answer these questions, Jesus sought to give his disciples a vision of what life would be like for them after Good Friday. He tried to point them beyond the immediate crisis, so that they could see that they still had a future full of hope. Perhaps if we looked more closely at Jesus’ words of promise, we too could see the hope that is ours as well.
The Hope of Heaven. The first, and most obvious, promise that Jesus made was the promise of heaven. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he told them. “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2). He promised that he would come back and take them to be with him forever. In a sense, everything Jesus said and did revolved around heaven. Every miracle he performed pointed to the way we will be transformed in heaven. Every sermon he preached told us how to live so that we could bring heaven to earth. And every parable he told painted a picture of the life God wants to pour out on us—a life that will find its complete fulfillment when Jesus comes back to take us all into his kingdom.
This promise—to prepare a place in heaven—is something Jesus makes to every single person who is baptized into his name. Included in this is the promise to make us ready to be welcomed into heaven. That means a promise to wash us clean of our sin, to teach us how to live in holiness, and to give us all the gifts and grace we need to get ourselves ready as well.
The hope of heaven tells us that even if nothing seems to be going right here on earth, we can still find a place of eternal rest, peace, and comfort at the end of our lives. It tells us that those who persevere in their faith will finally come to a place where there is no more suffering, where there are no more tears, and where there is no more pain or separation. It tells us about a future that is worth living for, a future that more than makes up for all the hardship of the present. And it is a future that each one of us can know as we embrace Jesus and his gospel message.
The Hope of the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine how the disciples would have felt if Jesus had promised them heaven, but failed to help them on their journey there? How would you feel if someone told you that a nine-course meal awaited you at a fine restaurant, but didn’t give you directions to the place, or help you find a way to get there? Wouldn’t that seem awfully mean-spirited?
That’s not the kind of false hope that Jesus gave his disciples—and it’s certainly not the way he treats us! His promises are not reserved for some faraway future, and the way that we can receive these promises is not shrouded in riddles and blind faith. In fact, Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to them to help them on their journey. This Spirit would help them discern right from wrong and would teach and remind them about everything he had said while he was with them.
But the Spirit would act not only as a teacher and guide. He would also act as a revealer. He would open their hearts to the love that God had for them —a love powerful enough to overcome any fear, anxiety, doubt, or guilt. He would declare to them “the things that are coming” (John 16:13), giving them a vision for their lives that would inspire them and sustain them.
Jesus told his disciples that it would be better if he went away (John 16:7). He knew that his death would be traumatic for them—and he even told them so. But he also promised that their sorrow would turn to joy once they were filled with the Spirit (16:20). Then, they would find all they needed to continue living the life they had begun to experience with him. The freedom from sin, the intimacy with God, the sense of mission, the joy of having been chosen to build God’s kingdom—all this would continue and deepen after Jesus rose. But first he had to die.
This promise of the indwelling Spirit can become our source of comfort and hope as well. He is always with us, ready to fill us with the knowledge of how much God loves us. He lives in our hearts, longing to make the truths of our faith personal and life changing. He knows that his revelation in our hearts has the power to move us forward in fulfilling his plan—a plan that sets us on a path to ever-increasing glory.
His Victory Is Our Hope. Brothers and sisters, we can always have hope. No matter what our situation, we are citizens of heaven! No matter how dark things may seem, we have the Holy Spirit—God himself—dwelling in our hearts! We are destined for glory, and we have access to all the wisdom of God for every step along the way. In baptism, we were crucified with Christ and raised to new life. The empty tomb now belongs to us just as much as it belongs to Jesus.
It is one thing to face times of trial or suffering and bear them patiently and humbly. We may even seek to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ as an act of intercession or repentance. But to do so without a sense of our dignity and our heritage is to miss the mark. To embrace hardship with nothing more than a sense of grim resignation and stoical acceptance is to have forgotten who we are in Christ, and where we are headed.
This doesn’t mean that our lives will be an unending parade of happiness and peace. Jesus tells us the same thing he told his disciples at the Last Supper: “In the world you will have trouble.” But he also tells us: “Take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). His victory is our victory—and that victory is the source of our hope.