Sure Hope

Today is Anzac Day 2022 – 25th April is always a significant day for Australians as we remember those who have served our country – a remembrance that has been held ever since the devastating landing at Gallipoli in 2015. It is a day which has often drawn me to reflect upon the theme of hope. Here is part of one such reflection which I have shared with our church. It’s title is: ‘Without Hope Man is Nothing’.

We visited Port Arthur on our recent holiday in Tasmania. There were the remains of the old gaol, we walked through the solitary rooms, looked at the old cottages, heard descriptions of what happened back in those earliest days of the penal colony in Tasmania. One part of the exhibit had a written display which sought to convey what life was like back then for the convicts. It was entitled: ‘Journey into the unknown’.

Most convicts transported to Australia never saw their families again. Many hoped, however, that one day they would return to their loved ones. As symbols of that hope, they left mementoes behind. Others tattooed their skin with promises of reunion. By the time they arrived in Australia, about a quarter of all convicts were tattooed. Some of these ‘fancy marks’ were acquired before arrest. Many other prisoners were tattooed in the hulks, or during the long voyage to Australia. Like love tokens, most tattoos were sentimental reminders of family and friends. To quote Jacob Templar’s tattoo – ‘Tho’ lost to sight to memory dear.’ The display listed some of the tattoes and their meaning:

Illustration                                                                    Interpretation

Convicts name or initial and anchor.                              I have hope

Man carrying an anchor                                                  I carry my hopes with me

Picture of a man beside an upside down anchor          I have lost all hope

Woman holding scales and an anchor                            I have hope in justice

Convicts initials, anchor and crucifix                              I have hope in salvation

Henry Abraham’s tattoo needed no explanation. He was inscribed on his right arm with the line ‘Without Hope man is nothing.’

‘Without Hope man is nothing.’             The phrase was enlarged at the bottom of the display.

Hope is so vital for us as human beings. With it we can endure anything, without it we find ourselves lifeless. The first convicts came to Tasmania in 1812 though Port Arthur was not established until 1830. About one hundred years later the newly formed nation ‘Australia’ having become a Federation in 1901 had its own national tattoo printed on to its national identity: Gallipoli.

It was a baptism of fire for the newly formed nation.  Was it a hope-less venture? What did they hope for? These questions are often debated by historians who reflect upon what occurred back then.

But, of course, for all of us there is the real question: what is hope? What is the sure hope for every man and every age?

The image of ‘an anchor’ was a common tattoo for those early convicts. Why the anchor? The key is in Hebrews 6:18-20:

We who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

The anchor-hope image comes straight from the bible – here in Hebrews 6. (One might also compare the shipwreck account in Acts 27 which also has anchors lost and the theme of no hope).

Hebrews 6 spells out that our hope centres upon Jesus and that which he has accomplished.

But, of course, if you read Luke 24:13-35 it is plain that there was a time when the early followers of Jesus had themselves lost all hope. They had placed their hope in Jesus, but as this couple walked that road to Emmaus it was a road without hope. They were the walking dead. They had no anchor of the soul.

So they declared to the stranger walking with them: ‘We had hoped that he [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel…’ (Luke 24:21.)

What had happened to their hope? It had been put to death. Or rather, He had been put to death.

Do you recall the story – the couple walking along the road to Emmaus? Emmaus that village about 7 mile (10 km) from Jerusalem. While they are walking Jesus himself pulls up alongside them and they are almost oblivious to his presence. They are talking away as this bloke walks beside them. Luke tells us: ‘But their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (v 16). They are dead…the dead don’t see. They are blind to the reality of life beside them.

Eventually he asks them what they are speaking about.

And they stop their walking – they stood still, and they looked sad.

Finally, one of them named Cleopas replies: ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ (v 18).

The irony is so painful, isn’t it? Here he is asking Jesus whether he knows what happened to Jesus.

Jesus responds: ‘What things?’ That is, spell it out.

Then listen to what they say:

‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.’

What an extraordinary moment that must have been for Jesus – to hear them speaking about his own suffering and passion in this doleful manner while he himself is standing there radiantly alive before them.

And then they state those 3 words ‘we had hoped…’

It is the expression of total and utter disappointment. Of maximum loss, of the end of life. Complete despair (the word despair itself is derived from the French verb for ‘hope’ and so ‘without hope’).

Jesus had been the bearer of all their hopes and now he had been crucified. He was dead and gone. They had pinned all their nations hopes on him. The hope of Israel – that nation descended from Abraham who had dined with Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem), eating bread and wine after Abraham’s great victory in battle – and Melchizedek had blessed him saying:

‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ (Genesis 14:19).

Jesus had carried their hopes that Israel would triumph – that a great redemption like the liberation of old Israel from Egypt under Pharaoh would take place. They had hoped that Israel would be liberated once for all from pagan domination, freed to serve God in peace and holiness.

That’s why this crucifixion was so shattering for them, so devastating. It wasn’t only that Jesus was dead and gone. It was sharper than that. Jesus had been the bearer of their hope, of the hope of their nation. He was the one to redeem Israel; he was the one to return in triumphant victory even as Abraham had done way back in that mighty victory described in Genesis 13-14.

Jesus should have been defeating the pagans…not dying at their hands.

And so they had lost hope. They were without hope. They had no anchor for their souls.

But even as they stand still, having lost all hope, they go on to verbalise their hope and to state it explicitly but without any belief. Listen to their words:

‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.’

Him they did not see.

Could any more ludicrous words have ever been spoken? There is such irony in this final phrase.

Him they did not see. 

They say those words without any hope. They are blind. They are confused. They are despairing because they have lost Jesus. They are talking about people going to the tomb but ‘him they did not see’. And even as they speak these words which for them are words of disappointment, words without life, without hope…even as they utter them ‘him they did not see’ – they themselves are fulfilling that word though Jesus is standing there before them in the flesh, alive and listening.

‘Him they did not see’ – are you living life like that? Blind to the most profound of realities – the presence of the living God before you yet so consumed by the disappointments and tragedies of this world that you fail to see where true hope lies?

The message of the gospel is a message of hope – for Christ Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive. And so, in Him, our hope is sure – always. Ask him for eyes that see this truth – and that you might have that assurance – that sure and steadfast anchor of your soul.

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