The Gift That Brings Hope
December 19, 2010 | Randy Smith
The Gift That Brings HopeRomans 15:13
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Pastor Randy Smith
I thought it would be nice last Monday to spend the evening with my oldest daughter in Manhattan. What started off with good intentions began to dissipate into a rather hopeless situation.
I did some preliminary research and determined that the cheapest way into the city was the train line departing from Secaucus. Unfortunately I ended up at a different station staring at automated ticket dispensers totally clueless as how to proceed. I yelled down to a solitary men by the tracks, "How do I get from here to Penn Station?" He kindly responded that we need to take the light rail from point A to point B and then jump on a bus at point C that will take us to point D where we will find a ferry to take us to point E followed by another bus that will conveniently take us to point F. Have you ever felt really stupid? Hopelessness. At this point I was about ready to turn around and go home.
"That's it Hailey, we are going to drive into the city." Yet at the last moment before entering the Lincoln Tunnel I see a sign that advertises ferries to New York City. So we took the ferry and found with no problem the complementary bus that dropped us off in front of Macy's. We walked the whole two-three mile Christmas circuit, but unfortunately I never took the time to learn how to catch the complementary bus for the ride back to the terminal. For two people unfamiliar with the city it seemed hopeless that we would ever find our way back to the ferry terminal on foot from Central Park.
After a very long and cold walk we arrived at our destination. We were freezing, especially after riding on the top of the ferry which was exposed to the elements (not my idea) and ready to go home. Unfortunately, I somehow lost our validation ticket and therefore was unable to exit the parking lot.
No doubt a memorable evening, but I'm sure my daughter hopes I learned a few lessons if I ever take her on another trip to the city.
Christmas is a popular time to hear of the word "hope" tossed around. Have you ever thought about that word? We contemplate joy and peace and love, but how often do we think about the concept of "hope"? What is the connection between Christmas and hope? Is hope common during this season because we hope we will receive a certain present or hope the family will be home for the holidays or hope our lives will be filled with good health and happiness in the year to come?
How does the Bible use the word "hope"? Why is it necessary to have hope? Where can we find true hope?
This morning I would like to focus on the often misunderstood and under appreciated concept of hope.
1. THE NEED FOR HOPE
Even though I think it will take little to convince you, let's begin with the first point, "The Need for Hope."
The true story is recorded in a book called Adrift. A man built a vessel that was to sail him through the whole Atlantic in somewhat of a large loop. He hit bad weather and his ship went down. He existed on a raft for almost eight days. The only thing that kept him alive was hope. His situation appeared hopeless. The days turned to night and his chances of drifting to an island or coming into the shipping lanes seemed more unlikely. Yet it was the hope of rescue that kept him fighting for his life. Along these lines it was said, "We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope."
This week I was informed that my cousin's wife in her early forties was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Last week we learned that our very own Sam Hanna was told that the cancer had spread to his lungs. Possibly your situation is worse. Most likely your situation is not as bad. Regardless, all of us need something we can hang on to despite the pain that may be going on in our lives. We need something that raises us above our situation and outshines all other things. We need hope. How often have I heard Christians say, "If there were no hope for the future, this world would be a terrible place." Anything less and we will be prime candidates for despair. Remember Job? "All I can feel is my pain" (cf. Job 16:6).
Ben Patterson in The Grand Essentials quoted Thornton Wilde when he said, "Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair. Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; hope is an energy that arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat them. In response to hope the imagination is aroused to picture every possible issue, to try every door, to fit together even the most heterogeneous pieces of the puzzle. After the solution has been found it is difficult to recall the steps taken - so many of them are just below the level of consciousness."
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Pr. 13:12). There are no words more devastating in the English language than, "There is no hope." We need hope that things will turn out OK, that there will be another sunrise after the sunset. All people who want to keep plowing through life need something to hold on to that will bring them hope.
Unfortunately for most of these people, the source of their hope is improbable, unreliable and unrealistic. I can hold out hope for the improvement of a health concern, but there is no guarantee that the situation will improve - in many cases the condition will only worsen with time. I can hope for happy days in the future, but like passing through a veil I have no clue of what trials await me tomorrow. I can dream and fantasize and convince myself of all kinds of wonderful scenarios, but the time will come when reality hits and my depression hasn't lifted, my situation at work hasn't improved, my kids are still rebellious, my marriage remains in shambles, my finances are tighter than ever and the conflict with my extended family hasn't subsided. The pot of gold never appeared at the end of the rainbow. Prince Charming never pulled up on the white horse and rang the doorbell. And the Cubs have still never made it to the World Series in my lifetime!
The Bible calls this worldly hope. It is hope (I cannot deny that), but hope without any certainty. This life is difficult. God has wired us with the need for hope if we are to press on. Yet instead of going to God as the source of hope, too many settle for cheap imitations that provide no true relief. They have no true hope in this life and definitely no hope following death in the life to come. Dante stated that tragic reality so directly in The Inferno, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here."
Two thousand years ago God took on flesh and became a man named Jesus. He lived amongst us and experienced all the hardships we experience. He knows firsthand about our pain. Parents of poverty requiring His being born in a stable. Having friends who would stab Him in the back. Opposition, persecution, rejection just to name a few. God knows our need for hope, and the Bible is filled with the promise that He is willing and able to provide the hope we need - a hope that is grounded not in wishful thinking, but in a confident certainty. It is a hope that the Bible calls "good" (2 Thes. 2:16) and "blessed" (Tit. 2:13) and "living" (1 Pet. 1:3) and "glorious" (Col. 1:27) and "sure" (Heb. 6:19) and "steadfast" (Heb. 6:19), and the "anchor of the soul" (Heb. 6:19).
Keep listening because now I will reveal the secret as how you may achieve this hope.
2. THE SOURCE OF HOPE
As we move to the second point, the source of hope is God Himself.
The Character of God
We have been learning on Wednesday nights as we are studying the "fruit of the Spirit," that all the good things we desire must come from God as the source (Jas. 1:17). Along these lines, the Bible calls Him "the God of hope" (Rom. 15:13). If we want hope we need His hope. God is not sitting up in heaven sweating it out. Rather He has hope, a steadfast confidence that all will turn out for the best because all is happening according to His perfect will. This is the hope we need. We need the God of hope to fill us with His hope. His hope is the hope that can look to the future with a smile.
Well, how do we get it? God will not drop His hope out of the sky like a plump jolly man with a red coat whenever we need it. That is not how He operates. Santa may be into gift-giving once a year through a distant relationship, but God is into gift-giving throughout the year through an intimate relationship. Hope comes from God as we abide in Him. It is a natural byproduct of this intimate relationship. If we are in Jesus Christ, we are connected to the Father by the Holy Spirit. As sap passes from the vine to branch, hope passes from Him to us as long as we stay connected. And that is a promise from God.
Listen to Romans 15:13: "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Can it be any clearer? We need the God of hope to fill us with His hope. It begins with our faith, moves to joy and peace and concludes with overflowing hope all through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, as we gaze upon the character and attributes of God, how can the Christian walk away hopeless? Did He not demonstrate His love by sending His Son to the cross? Did He not in His mercy take away all our sins? Has not His justice and wrath been satisfied through the work of Christ? Is He not completely sovereign and powerful and wise to work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28) whereby we can have hope in our suffering? Isn't He demonstrating His faithfulness to us, not only by beginning a good work in us, but also perfecting it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6)? So many confident reasons to have hope when we are on God's side, when we are connected to Him by faith in Christ! No wonder the Psalmist said, "Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord" (Psm. 31:24).
And in the Lord we must hope! Our eyes must be upon Him! We must look beyond ourselves to Him as the source if we are to have any hope. As Spurgeon said, "Do not look to your hope, but to God, the source of your hope." In his excellent book on depression, Ed Welch commented, "Other stories are always looking for ways to humanize God and deify us, but God's story exalts Him and brings appropriate humility to us as His creatures. All wisdom starts here. If you miss it, you are on the wrong path and without hope" (p. 252). Look to God!
The Promises of God
In addition to God's character, understanding God's promises is another boost for our hope.
Consider the lineage of Christ: It all goes back to the Garden. Because of disobedience, sin entered the world. Humanity would die not just physically, but also socially and spiritually. Man created in perfection was now without hope. Yet God acted to redeem His creation. He would send a Messiah. A chain of promises would begin that led to Bethlehem.
God promised a chapter later (Gen. 3:15) that He would put enmity between Satan and the offspring of the woman. Satan would bruise His heel, but He would crush Satan's head. Then we learn in Genesis 9 that this promised Child would come from the Semitic people (Gen. 9:26). In Genesis 12 He will be a son of Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3), Genesis 22 a son of Isaac (Gen. 22:18), Genesis 28 a son of Jacob (Gen. 28:14) and Genesis 49 from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12). Second Samuel 7 informs us He will be a descendant of David and rule on David's throne (2 Sam. 7:11-12, 16). In Isaiah 7 we learn the He will be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) and in Micah 5 that He will be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). Then as Paul said in Galatians 4, "When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
It is easy for us to look back to that first Christmas with hope, but I am sure in the first century it would have been easy to doubt God's promise of hope. Walking by mere sight the people had to wonder how any hope could come from a baby, much less a baby born in a barn? How could this insignificant One deliver us from the oppression of the Roman Empire or the cruelty of King Herod? How could this tiny infant help us with our continual struggle for survival or transfer our sin-tainted and God-accursed souls to fellowship with our Creator? Yet Mary and Joseph and the Magi and the Shepherds had hope. They trusted in the promises of God even though it didn't make sense. Romans 8:24, "Hope that is seen is not hope."
We too must walk by faith and cling to the promises of God when things do not make sense. We can see how God fulfilled His promises to bring the Messiah in absolute perfection. We stand on this side of the cross and have witnessed His wisdom and faithfulness. Should we have any doubt that God will not fulfill His promises to us now and into the future? Knowing God's promises and having confidence that God will faithfully keep them brings us hope. Isn't He the "God who cannot lie?" (Tit. 1:2). That is why hope has been defined as "a trusting expectation that God is going to keep His word."
Scott Hafemann, one of my Greek teachers in Bible College said, "The hope that God has provided for you is not merely a wish. Neither is it dependent on other people, possessions, or circumstances for its validity. Instead, biblical hope is an application of your faith that supplies a confident expectation in God's fulfillment of His promises. Coupled with faith and love, hope is part of the abiding characteristics in a believer's life. To know God is to trust Him. And to trust God is to trust His promises. And to trust God's promises is to be sure of their fulfillment. This assurance concerning the future, anchored in God's promises, is what the Bible calls 'hope'" (The God of Promise and the Life of Faith, p. 109).
We need to know the biblical promises of hope! For example, we will never be a rest unless we know our eternal destiny. Colossians 1:5, "Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven" (cf. Ac. 23:6; 1 Thes. 5:8; Tit. 3:7; 1 Pet. 1:3). We will never persevere in ministry unless we can have some confidence. First Corinthians 15:58, "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." And the list continues - biblical promises from God that provide hope in all aspects of life.
Are you lacking in hope? If you are the reason is simple. Most likely it is because you have placed your hope in something other than God and that specific object or person has let your down. Even Christians can have these momentary lapses into idolatry.
Another possibility is because as a Christian you are going to God, but you are not understanding the power that He is able to provide. Maybe it is a lack of biblical knowledge. Maybe it is a lack of faith. Whatever it is remember this, if God can transform Good Friday into Resurrection Sunday there is no reason for our despair. Maybe that is why hope is a command. Maybe that is why Romans calls us to "rejoice in hope" (Rom. 12:12). Christians are not permitted to walk around as if our Savior suffered defeat and is still in the grave. Because of what we know and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us we are to be examples of hope.
Yet maybe there is even a more fundamental reason why some of us are missing out on hope and that is because Jesus Christ is not your Lord and Savior. God the Father has presented to this world the wonderful gift of His Son. You don't need to put Him on your Christmas list nor will you find Him under the tree. All you need to do is receive the present that He is more than ready to give. You simply need to ask Jesus to come into your life and take up full residence, to receive the grace that He provided through His death on the cross, to get repentance and forgiveness, to experience the hope that your heart always desired.
This is what Christmas is all about. Jesus is God's gift of hope to a hopeless world. As we sing in the popular hymn, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight."