A Lamp Lit

A Lamp Lit

Tertullian was an early Christian apologist who lived in ancient Carthage, what is now Tunisia. Mary and I spent a few weeks in Tunisia a while back taking in the history and beauty of this important center of early Christianity. Tertullian lived from about A.D. 155 to A.D 240, but his influence continues to reverberate among believers some 2000 years later.

Tertullian left us, I think, the very best description of what hope is that we’ll ever find outside of the Bible itself. He said, simply, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Whenever I’m asked to minister at a funeral or memorial service, I always talk about Lazarus. In that great story, the Lord of life encountered the power of death and rendered it impotent, an astonishing resuscitation that forecasted His own soon-coming resurrection.

I always read from 1 Corinthians 15:50-55: “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The knowledge that Jesus has conquered death is the fire that lights our ‘lamp of hope.’ If there is no resurrection, the wick is dry and the room is dark.

I always remind the mourners at these services that the day is coming when everyone who loves them will be gathered into a room much like the room we’re in to say goodbye to them. Then I ask, with all the gravity I can muster, “Are you ready for that day?” It’s a powerful question to ask at a funeral service, isn’t it?

The truth is, only Jesus, the Light of the world, can bring light to a funeral parlor! Why? Because only He has conquered the grave!

Only Jesus can ignite our ‘lamp of hope.’

Without Him, we are hopeless. But, once we’ve come to know Him, we can wait patiently, confident that He is ever working to complete what He’s started in us (Philippians 1:6).

“Hope is patience with the lamp lit.”

Whether in our darkest hour or in our brightest day, our hope is found only in His victory. He has done it. He alone is victorious. And not only that, He promises that all who would simply believe in Him will share in His victory over death. Is it any wonder that just a few verses later the Apostle Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57) He can hardly contain himself!

The resurrection, then, is the foundation for all our work. We do all that we do knowing that God is fulfilling His purpose through us, working toward an expected end.

So, Paul concludes his discussion of resurrection with an encouragement: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

“In the Lord your labor is not in vain!” What a glorious promise this is!

When we consider those, who are suffering for the Christian faith in far-flung parts of the world, it can seem like we’re losing, but we’re not!

They may feel like they’re forgotten, but they’re not!

Not at all.

God is fulfilling some great purpose in their suffering, a purpose that is working an eternal weight of glory.

God is working, and in the Lord our labor is never in vain!

Now, at times it may not seem like God is working, but, O, He is! He’s working all things together toward His own purpose.

The world may try to take all it can from God’s people, but it can never take our hope from us. And though we may be surrounded by darkness, we sit in a room lit by the fiery glow of hope.

“Hope is patience with the lamp lit,” Tertullian said.

So, as sons of the day, we wait patiently for the Lord to come – not in despair, but with the absolute confidence that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will do all that He promised to do.


To consider . . .

What comes to your mind when you consider the image of hope as “patience with the lamp lit.”

  • Can you think of times in your life as a believer when you felt the lamp of hope was burning low?
  • Why?

In Psalm 42:11, the psalmist wondered where his peace had gone. He concluded that his hope had waned.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.”

  • The loss of peace is a good indication that our eyes have shifted away from God. Do you need to reinvigorate your hope by refocusing upon its Source?

In 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, the Apostle Paul argues that if “there is no resurrection of the dead” then Christ and those who “fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” He concludes: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

  • Why would this be true?

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  1. I have to admit to struggling with making sense of the statement that hope is “patience with the lamp lit”. After contemplating it a bit, I hit upon this visual that, at least for me, helped me get my head around it. I was thinking back to times when I found it hard to see and in need of a lamp to have a clear sense of what was before and around me, and I thought of the many times I or Scott and I have driven in a bad snow storm. A few of these times have been near “white outs” where you can see next to nothing save the falling snow. If you have ever been in this situation you know it can be quite harrowing! All you want is to reach that destination safely…to be free of the stress and potential disaster. In this scenario, hope is like the taillights and tire tracks of the truck in front of you. They are your guide. They keep you headed in the right direction. They relieve some of the stress of the situation. And if you are follow close enough and don’t let them out of your sight, they provide you hope you will make it through the storm and arrive to your final destination — safe and sound.

    • Wow that was awesome Lisa I have never thought of it that way. Because I have been in situations like that coming back from New York many years ago in a driving snow storm and doing the same thing looking for brake lights or something to show you where your going. But even though that God shows us the way we just need to look for that light. But it can be scarey thank you for that testimony.

    • Great illustration Lisa! I love that!

    • Kathryn Boisvert : December 20, 2017 at 2:03 pm

      Thank you for sharing what you did Lisa. That too, spoke to me. I was in a situation like that one time where I felt like the Holy Spirit put a truck in front of me to see their lights on the road. It was white out. I could not have een except for that truck to guide me!
      Thank you also Pastor for sharing what you did. That is very helpful because I am in life and death situations all the time in the nursing homes at the bedside. I have “new material ” to use with them. it is so incredibly wonderful that we do have the blessed hope. I try to be faithful to share that hope as much as I can in the right situation at the right time. This is not new to everyone but remembering that we have the cure for life after death who is Jesus Christ and not sharing that is like not sharing a cure for an incurable disease. Sometimes that motivates me to share!

  2. I see the “lamp lit” as a readiness right now. In waiting Jesus return, His light — the fuel and reality of Christ in my life – must shine in my life, keeping me open and available to what God might bring in the next moment with my eyes set on my eternal home. Whether it is a person that my life intersects with or a circumstance totally unexpected, my “lamp lit ” is the availability of my heart for God’s use in that moment. In all honesty, I miss most of these moments that He brings, but He’s not done with me yet. My lamp is lit BY Him and FOR Him…so I can trust that His faithfulness and teaching will bear fruit that brings Him glory.

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