“Go and report to John what you see and hear . . . that the poor have good news proclaimed to them!”
What makes the poor poor? Surprisingly, it often has little to do with health, wealth, or station in life. There are many who have humble incomes, or who are sick in their bodies, or who live in obscurity, but who would never dream of calling themselves poor. In fact, despite their hard circumstances, they would tell you they feel quite rich.
That’s because real poverty–the kind Jesus has in mind–is spiritual. In particular, it is the poverty of hopelessness. No matter how much money we may have, or how many businesses or houses or lands or cars we may own, if we walk through this world without hope, we are paupers.
But to fully appreciate the good news that Jesus was speaking of, we need first to pause a moment and consider the bad.
Unless we enjoyed the special blessings of coming up in a Christian home, we enter this world and walk through it with no real hope. Yes, in many ways it’s a beautiful world, lavish with pleasures to receive and enjoy. And yes, for a season such goodness can stimulate worthy temporal hopes, whether of a good education, a happy family, a meaningful job, a solid income, etc. Indeed, from time to time we cannot help but see the hand of a kind and loving Creator at work in such a world, bestowing both opportunity and blessing upon it.
Yet sooner or later we begin to realize that something is dreadfully wrong; that ours is also a mysteriously and maddeningly mixed world. For woven deep into the fabric of daily life are thick, dark strands of ignorance, confusion, fear, guilt, evil, injustice, suffering, and—hovering over them all—the all-consuming specter of death itself.
Just here is where we encounter our native spiritual poverty. For as we confront these enemies, we find we have no answers to the great questions they bring to our minds: Where did this world come from? Why are we even here? Is there any remedy for all this evil and suffering? What’s going to happen when I die? And in the end, what will become of the universe, life, and man?
Moreover, it’s not just these unanswerable questions that make us feel poor; it’s also our constant contact with the palpable realities of evil, suffering, and death themselves, together with our inability to defeat or even escape them in any permanent way. As these menacing opponents press in around us, we find we have not a penny’s worth of wisdom or power to push them back once and for all.
Here, then, is why the Gospel is such astonishingly good news: It equips us to confront and fight our enemies with confidence and joy, and to win!
How exactly does this work? It works because in the Gospel God gives us “exceedingly wonderful” truths, exceedingly wonderful promises, and through them both, exceedingly wonderful hopes!
For consider: In the Gospel God reveals the origin of evil, suffering, and death, taking us back to the sin and fall of man, and to a curse that He himself wisely placed upon the whole creation, with the result that all things are now subject to decay and futility. But then He gives us a countervailing hope by taking us to Christ, and by showing us that on the cross He freely suffered the penalty for our sin, so that we, by simple faith, might enjoy forgiveness and eternal spiritual life in Him.
But that is only the beginning, for now the good news gets better and better as we encounter more and more of the hope it gives. Thus, through the study of Scripture we learn that God will never leave us or forsake us; that in every circumstance He is working all things for our good; that in this process He is gradually conforming us to the image of His Son; that at the moment of death our spirits, now perfected, will ascend into heaven, where we will see and rejoice in Him; that at the end of the age Christ will return to join our spirits with glorious new resurrection bodies; and that in those bodies we will forever worship and live with the Triune God in a fabulously beautiful new World to Come. In that day, He who bore the curse of death for us will lift the curse from all things, once and for all.
The Bible refers to these as LIVING hopes. In part, that means the more we ponder them, the more they grow; and the more they grow, the more they crowd out fear, sorrow, and pain, rendering the momentary light afflictions of this present life unworthy to be compared with the glories that will soon be revealed to us.
In short, whatever our physical circumstances may be, we become spiritually rich as our inner treasure chest is increasingly filled with the pure gold of Gospel hope!
These truths, these promises, and these hopes are the good news Jesus proclaimed to the poor. And despite the vast material wealth of our modern world, the poor are still very much with us today. Let us remember that fact, no matter how rich or happy people may look; and let us remember to proclaim the good news to such folks at every opportunity. Let us tell them, “Yes, in the world we will meet the painful mysteries of evil, suffering, and death; but in Christ Jesus we will meet the exceedingly wonderful HOPE that gives us final victory over them all!”