On April 5th, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo for his political activities against the German Nazi regime. He had been speaking out against the Nazis, but eventually his words caught up with him. He saw that the church of Jesus Christ was being persecuted and that his country was heading toward the abyss, and he decided to do something about it.
Two years later, he found himself facing the death sentence. On the day when the sentence was to be carried out, a Sunday, he led a service in the prison which housed men of various nationalities. One prisoner, an English army officer who was also facing the death sentence but was later set free, wrote these words describing the last day of Bonhoeffer’s life:
Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive… He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near..
On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us.
He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners–the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside and said: “This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.
“This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” What was it that so possessed this man, that at the very moment of his death, he could say that? What was the hope that he possessed, and why was he able to cling to it? Why could not even the sentence of death take it away? Because he had a living hope.
1 Peter 1:3-5 says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
These words were written to a church suffering because of their faith in Jesus – to a people who were on the verge of giving up because the suffering/persecutions they were facing were too great. And here, in the opening lines of his letter to them, Peter wishes to give them some encouragement. He wishes to give them a gentle reminder that no matter what they might be facing in their life today if they have received the gift of salvation they are unbelievably fortunate – they have “a living hope.” And because of this “living hope” they could have joy no matter their circumstances and so can we!
2 ways our hope can bring us joy:
1. It comes from a relationship with Jesus.
There is something about loving Jesus that fills our heart with a joy that can be found in no other way. It makes sense though when you understand that loving Him, being in relationship with Him is what we were made for. Knowing Jesus and loving Him is like finding the heart’s true home. We experience this usually for the first time at the moment we put our trust in Him and receive His gift of salvation. But we experience it again each time we meet with Him in heartfelt worship and thanksgiving.
2. It comes from being redeemed.
There is something about knowing that the most important things are taken care of. Are you like me? Do you like to get those tasks that worry you taken care of first so that you can do your other chores in relative peace? There’s that sigh of relief when the most difficult part of a project or of your day or week is done.
We have inexpressible joy because we know that the most important thing – the eternal thing is taken care of it’s the joy of being redeemed, of having the burden of your sin lifted by the fact that the blood of Jesus has paid it all, of knowing your account is settled. It’s even better than the feeling you may get when the bills are paid.
Do you have a living hope that comes through a relationship with Jesus? How have you experienced the joy of your living hope?
***** This post is part of the Blog Carnival on “hope” that is happening over at Bridget Chumbley’s blog.