I love to tell the story;
Tis pleasant to repeat
What seems each time I tell it,
More wonderfully sweet. . . .
I love to tell the story;
For those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting
To hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory,
I sing the new, new song,
Twill be the old, old story,
That I have loved so long.
— “I Love to Tell the Story”
This favorite hymn stylizes the gospel as “the old, old story.” A message depicted as so “wonderfully sweet” is worth telling again and again.
What exactly is this gospel story? There are many ways to answer that question. Innumerable books have been written, songs sung, and sermons preached on the subject throughout thousands of years. In short, the gospel is the good news of Jesus, and it is news rooted in hope.
Hope motivates us to keep supporting that team that never seems to do anything but lose. It urges us on when the gas tank is empty. We hope for something good when we open that wrapped present. More significantly, hope is what we cling to when a loved one is ill or running down the wrong path. A marriage proposal is swimming in hope — that the man will ask and that the woman will say yes.
Whatever the circumstances, in matters of hope, our hearts and minds lean forward, yearning for consummation of a desire. In the gospel, our hope finds its deepest desire, its most complete consummation and true soul mate, in our final reunion with our Creator through Jesus Christ. Nothing else will satisfy like being in the presence of God one day, with all creation perfected along with us. Our hope is spurred on toward God in the same way as all the examples above: We hope for what we do not see.
We have tasted a small measure of the results of hope in this life, and the returns to come are worth the continued investment of hope now.
We find biblical examples of this truth. The apostle Paul faced the death of his mortal body by execution for the crime of being a Christian. But he leaned forward into what awaited him.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Paul’s hope granted him peace when the same circumstances would cause many to suffer fear. The God he knew, the God he had seen and walked with, waited on the other side of his coming sleep. Paul’s hope was not mere wish but assured fact. His desire was to be with God because he had experienced glimpses of the glory to come throughout his life. He knew the fullness of the kingdom of God awaited, and it was worth all his hope to look to its fulfillment. He may have written these hopeful words from the same prison: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:21, 23, 24).
In these intimate passages, Paul shares a heart completely enthralled with the hope of the gospel, desiring to fulfill his longing to spend eternity in God’s presence. His only restraint was to stay and point others toward the same experience of God.
The same hope that so enamored Paul — to see God face-to-face and be crowned with righteousness — was not merely for himself but for “all who have loved his [Jesus’] appearing” (emphasis mine). This hope of the gospel is a promise for all who believe it — all who taste it, all who love the old, old story.
Paul wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Peter had been changed from a hot-headed, foot-in-mouth expert to a refined and thoughtful leader. In glowing terms he wrote to believers of the living hope of the gospel:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Peter helps us see that our hope is rooted in the story of Jesus. Our hope is assured because just as Jesus Christ died and rose again, so we will die and rise again (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14). Peter assures us that the result of our hope is held secure in heaven for us by God himself; it cannot be spoiled. What amazing promises God grants to those who believe and have found this living hope in Him!
The hope of the gospel is one of the most transformational forces in the world. By this hope a headstrong fisherman became the wise Peter. The same force of the gospel took the murderous Saul and transformed him into the apostle Paul.
So many more throughout history have been transformed by this living hope into bearers of the name Christian. The hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” traces the thread of hope found in the gospel down through the ages to glory.
That same hope stirs inside our souls today, searching for its source, the only thing that will satisfy our longings: the gospel, that old, old story. Nothing else will do.
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