Calling On And Looking To Jesus
Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
For practitioners of Japan’s True Pure Land Buddhism, one desires to enter the pure land upon death. In so doing, he could bypass our corrupt world and enter the western paradise where he could quickly achieve nirvana. Conversely, True Pure Land Buddhism has a hellish alternative in which souls are tortured by oni (i.e., demons) until they are purged of their sins and can enter the Pure Land. No one desires torture. So, the Japanese would recite the nembutsu: “I call on the Amida Buddha.” In medieval Japan, practitioners of True Pure Land Buddhism would lay on their deathbeds holding on to a string as an added measure. That string led to a painting of Amida and his cohorts. As they looked longingly towards the picture, they hoped that their escaped soul would travel the line and enter the western paradise.
It may be that upon reading the previous paragraph, you thought of the apostle Paul in ancient Athens. He told the men of Athens that he perceived them as superstitious, literally δεισιδαιμονεστέρους—“very fearful of gods” (Acts 17.22). As Japan is often called the home of eight million gods, with the Buddhas incorporated into the mix, it is easy to label the Japanese as superstitious. Yet, I note something different when I hear about this True Pure Land Buddhism. It would almost seem that True Pure Land Buddhism rubbed elbows with Christianity somewhere. It is conceivable since Pure Land Buddhism arose in India during the second century A.D. before making its way to east Asia. However, note two intriguing features of True Pure Land Buddhism reminding one of Christianity. 1) Calling on Amida’s name and 2) Looking to Amida for hope.
Joel prophesied that those calling up the name of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2.32). Peter and Paul quote this verse from Joel’s prophecy regarding salvation within the New Covenant (Acts 2.21; Romans 10.13). So, there is most assuredly power in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter says there is “no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12, all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated). But calling on Jesus’ name is not like reciting a nembutsu. Paul shows us that we call upon the name of Jesus when our faith moves us to action. After seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul has been fasting and praying for several days. The prophet Ananias finds Paul in his misery and says, “ Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16 NASB1995). See then how Paul called on Jesus’ name. Paul submitted himself to baptism for the washing away of his sins. In so doing, Paul called on the name of Jesus.
Do we not also look to Jesus to give hope? Well, we do not stare at an artist’s rendering of the Christ upon our deathbed. But we do look to Him in life as our hope. After citing many examples of those from whom we could find a worthy model of faithfulness, the Hebrews’ writer adds: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12.2-3). The KJV says we look to Jesus. Either way, our eyes are drawn to and become fixated upon Him. This hope we have in Jesus is an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6.19).
It remains a challenge to preach the Gospel in those parts of the world where Buddhism has taken root. I’ve heard missionaries remark of the antagonism against Christianity within the Buddhist world. Yet, it seems strange that within at least one branch of Buddhism, there is a central figure who is something of a Messiah. Considering that so much of Buddhism asks you to find salvation from within yourself, there are at least some within that belief system who recognize the nature of the human condition is such that we must rely on the grace of someone greater. Therefore, even in hostile environments, may we endeavor to preach that the One willing and able to save is the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us tell the world to call upon and look to Jesus.
THE POWER OF HOPE
Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
Have you been struggling with some feelings of hopelessness lately? Whenever we have a hard time seeing the end in sight or we face uncertainty or are exposed to fears and anxieties, it can undermine our determination to have hope. Yet, over a hundred times in Scripture, God points us to the hope His children have through Him and His promises. We have such a resource because of the rock-solid expectation He provides. Whatever may happen to us this week, this month, or this year, the Christian can look forward with confidence at the fulfillment of what God through Christ promises us. And Scripture says it so many ways:
–Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
–Hope helps us persevere with eagerness (Romans 8:24-25)
–Hope causes rejoicing (Romans 12:12)
–Hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)
–Hope is an abiding quality, alongside such elite qualities as faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
–Hope enables deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10)
–There is one, unconquerable hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4)
–Hope is tied to earnest expectation and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20)
–Hope is connected to steadfastness (Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
–Hope offsets grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
–Hope tunes our hearts to look for Jesus’ appearing (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:13)
–Hope encourages the pursuit of our eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7)
–Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19)
–Hope helps us draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19)
–Hope is tied to endurance (Hebrews 10:23)
–Hope is instrumental to faith (Hebrews 11:1)
–Hope prepares for eternity (Colossians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:3,13)
–Hope helps give a defense (1 Peter 3:15)
–Hope purifies (1 John 3:3)
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
“The hope of the righteous is gladness…” (Proverbs 10:28).
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
“Christ Jesus…is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
You will face nothing today or ever that is too destructive, terrifying, or powerful to offset this hope! That doesn’t mean be rash, reckless, or rebellious. It does mean be faith-filled, optimistic, and courageous! Are your faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21)?
Characteristics of Hope
An epistle centering around the superiority of Christi as our all-sufficient One would certainly be expected to contain a message of hope. While some had apparently given up Jesus as their hope (6:4-6), the writer of Hebrews had a higher estimation of those to whom he writes. for one thing, they had a legacy of good works and brotherly love and benevolence (6:10). His desire was that they would continue to stay strong. In expressing this, the writer suggests hope as an integral tool to keep them hanging onto their faith in Christ. In these final ten verses of Hebrews six, he mentions three qualities of hope that would help them–and will help us–hang onto our hope in Christ no matter what.
This hope is durable (11). Look at the language he uses. This hope was tied to an assurance that would endure “until the end.” It was a hope that would lead them to “inherit the promises” (12), just as Abraham’s hope in God led him to his inheritance (13-17). God desires to show us, as heirs of the promise through Christ, His unchanging purpose (17), so He guarantees that promise through an oath build upon the foundation of Himself. Hope which is guaranteed by the very nature and character of God is hope that will outlast anything! Nations rise and fall. Presidents serve only one or two terms. Supreme court justices, at most, can serve only a lifetime. Our hope transcends time.
This hope is tangible (18). These Christians needed to count on a refuge in difficult times (see 12:4), and we desire the same thing in our lives! Knowing that God is so trustworthy, we are encouraged to “take hold of hope” that is found only in Christ. To say that we can take hold of hope and that it is set before us means that it has substance. In a world where nothing seems certain, evidence from scripture, nature, order and design of the universe, and so much more allows us, by faith, to grab this hope. He had already told them to hold onto that hope in Christ earlier in the letter (3:6) and to encourage this response he points them to scripture (cf. 3:7-11; Psa. 95:7-11). Scripture helps us see the solid hope we have in Jesus.
This hope is stable (19). It is an anchor. Anchors keep a vessel from drifting, an appropriate illustration since the Christians were tempted to drift from Christ (2:1). By maintaining their hope, they could anticipate three blessings: (1) sureness, (2) steadfastness, and (3) the service of the sacrificial Savior (19-20). All three of these descriptions of this Almighty anchor underline the security found in keeping ourselves anchored in Christ. Those who keep Jesus as their hope are able to weather the most horrific storms of life!
As Christians, we may find ourselves ready to abandon Jesus as our hope. So many things attempt to pull us from Him. Let us draw encouragement from this inspired writer, as surely these first Christians did, and rejoice in these changeless characteristics of hope!