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“Our Hope, and How It Helps”

Nov.27, 2011 Rom.5:1-5


It seems like everybody’s camping out these days in an attempt to get what they want. Even as the Occupy Wall Street protesters’ tents are being removed in many cities, other tents are springing up – not in parks, but parking lots of big box stores. “Black Friday” as it’s known in the states marks the initial rush of the Christmas shopping season, welcomed by retailers because it frequently turns their books from red ink to black. In anticipation of door-crasher deals, enthusiastic shoppers have taken to lining up for hours ahead of store openings, even camping out overnight so they preserve their spot in line for limited-quantity red-hot deals.
    But this year, some chains began opening at midnight following the US Thanksgiving on Thursday. A few even opened earlier on the ‘day of’ Thanksgiving. That forces some employees to miss out on Thanksgiving dinner with their families, and entices the most avid shoppers to do the same.
    In some quarters there’s resistance to the store-openings creeping ever-earlier into the holiday, as people are concerned about employees’ rights and the robbing of family time; but other people welcome the move. In their push to be near the front of the line when it comes to Black Friday specials, there don’t seem to be any boundaries as to how far they’ll go to make shopping a priority.
    In the secular materialist point of view, who can blame them? For the materialist, there’s no room for God or life after death; all that we can ask for in life is the ‘now’. Our only real hope consists in elbowing our way into line ahead of others to get “THE DEAL” before somebody else beats us to it. Is that really all we have to hope for in the universe – shopping at midnight to snatch a better deal than the next person?! Isn’t there anything more worthy of our hope and aspiration?
    The Apostle Paul described what comes to control those who forget God: 1Thess 4(4f), “each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God...” When we’ve thought we’ve killed God, lust and passions take over. If ‘this life is all there is’, why not give full rein to our appetites? Paul observed in 1Cor 15(32b), “If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."”
    He reminded the Ephesians about their alienation and purposelessness before they cam to know God: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12) Without hope! Apart from God and the Biblical promise of life after death through knowing Jesus, the world becomes a very bleak place; existence becomes trite, flipping through the flyers.
    A New Bible Dictionary entry on ‘hope’ points out, “the hope with which the Bible is concerned is something very different [than the conventional sense]; and in comparison with it other hope is scarcely recognized as hope. The majority of secular thinkers in the ancient world did not regard hope as a virtue, but merely as a temporary illusion; and Paul was giving an accurate description of pagans when he said they had no hope (Eph 2:12; cf 1Thes 4:13), the fundamental reason for this being that they were ‘without God.’”
    Younger generations may be starting to react to the emptiness, the banality, even silliness of purely consumeristic living. Adbusters, which sparked the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, is shifting gears into a new campaign, “Occupy Christmas: take back the season”. It will be interesting to see if they go so far as to suggest folks should endeavour to recover some of the season’s religious significance from under the retail smothering.
    Somehow innately as persons we know we need real hope; but where to find it? Emil Brunner wrote, “What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of life.” An English proverb holds, “If it were not for hope the heart would break.”
    In the Bible, God communicates to us that we can have real, lasting hope. Today we’ll examine several verses to find out, first, “What is hope’s content?” Next, “How do you get hope?” And then, “What’s the effect (or, result) of hope?”


First, What is hope’s content - what’s its legitimate focus or object? The main answer can be summed up in an enigmatic acronym, HiGkJ: “Hope in God, knowing Jesus.” Psalm 31:24, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Ps 33:22, “O Lord...we put our hope in you.” 39:7 “Now, Lord...my hope is in you.” 43:5, “Put your hope in God...” 71:5, “For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth.” 146:5, “Blessed is he...whose hope is in the LORD his God...” This carries through to the New Testament: 1Peter 1:21, “Through [Jesus] you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
    Under the New Covenant, the object of our hope in God becomes more clearly focussed in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s unique Son, the God/Man who came to surrender His life for our deliverance from the bondage of sin and death. 1Cor 15:19, “we have hope in Christ...” 1Timothy 1:1, the apostle introduces himself as “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope...” 1Jn 3:3, “Everyone who has this hope in Him [Jesus]...” And Colossians 1:27 speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So, you can see in all these how for the believer our hope is fundamentally in God Himself, and in a more specific sense in Christ Jesus who came to save us at Golgotha and is coming again to take us to Himself. HiGkJ - Hope in God, knowing Jesus.
    What a difference hope in God makes for the way a Christian sees the world! Leon Joseph Suenens writes: “I am a man of hope, not for human reasons nor from any natural optimism, but because I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church and in the World, even when His name remains unheard.”
    It’s possible to hope in God because He is good, He has good and loving characteristics. His nature as the Christian God, the God of the Bible, leads us to hope rather than just tremble in fear. Psalm 130:7, “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” 33:18, “those whose hope is in His unfailing love.” Lamentations 3:22, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”
    God has chosen to reveal Himself, to make Himself known, through His prophetically-inspired word in Scripture; so the Psalmist could say, “I have put my hope in Your word.” (119:74,81) That’s how we come to trust God’s promises and affirm His ways.
    But the New Testament unleashes a group of new treasures associated with hoping in God. Jesus’ resurrection and promise of coming again bring a cluster of things for believers to keenly anticipate. Romans 8:25 can refer to these broadly as “we hope for what we do not yet have...” Colossians 1:5, “the hope that is stored up for you in heaven...”
    So, as Jesus’ resurrection was a one-of-a-kind big news, we hope in resurrection. Paul, testifying before a court in Acts 23:6: “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” 24:15, “...I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” Similarly in 26:7f, his ‘hope’ is ‘that God raises the dead’.
    And resurrection is but the start of eternal life. So as he writes to Titus (1:2) Paul refers to “the hope of eternal life”, and in 3:7, “we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” CS Lewis defined hope as “a continual looking forward to the eternal world.”
    This goes along with salvation from the terrors of hell-fire, conscious eternal suffering as the justly deserving targets of God’s wrath as we described last week. 1Thess 5:8 speaks of “the hope of salvation as a helmet”.
    We hope for God’s glory: Romans 5:2, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Titus 2:13, “we wait for the blessed hope— the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ...” 1Peter 1:13, “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
    So, we’re looking forward not just to what’s going to happen TO us, but also what’s happening IN us as God through the Spirit carries on the process of conforming us to His excellent Son’s image. Galatians 5:5, “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Righteousness – that’s character transformation.
    And in Ephesians 1:18 Paul writes rather mysteriously, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints...” Jesus isn’t the only One who will be glorious on that day!
    So, while our hope is primarily in God, we also wait eagerly to see all He’s promised to bring about in us - resurrection, glory, grace, righteousness, and riches of the spirit-kind.


If that’s the content of Christian hope - and it sounds wonderful - how do you get it? Is it something you earn, or try to perform in such a way as to become deserving? No, we receive hope as a gift by trusting in Christ’s achievement for us, shedding His perfect blood to wipe out our sin.
    The book of Lamentations comes from one of the darkest hours of Israel’s existence, the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Parents resorted to cannibalism of their own children. But even at a time when the nation’s sins were being punished so severely, the prophet Jeremiah found a way to have hope. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” He ‘called to mind’ - thought about, reflected upon - God’s good, loving, merciful nature as historically revealed in Israel’s past. Hope’s aquifer is deep within God’s grace-filled, great-love nature.
    Hope isn’t something we can ever earn or manufacture; it has to come from God as a gift. 2Thess 2:16, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope...” Thomas Aquinas wrote: “No man is able of himself to grasp the supreme good of eternal life; he needs divine help.Hence there is here a two-fold object, the eternal life we hoped for, and the divine help we hope by.”
    Because it is a gift, not work’s wage, hope is received by faith. Romans 5:2, “through [Jesus] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” We gain access to grace and hope by trusting in Jesus, committing our lives to Him, yielding to His Lordship, determining to obey His leading.
    So, hope is received by faith, yet there’s a working-out of it by remaining faithful, persevering in life’s trials. The very next verses continue, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom 5:3f)
    The Protestant reformer in the 1500s, Martin Luther, observed: “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” Hope motivates our carrying-out, persevering through suffering, developing character.


So far we’ve looked at the content of our Christian hope; and how we can get hope. Last, what’s the effect or result of our hope? Once we discover this wonderful hope, what should be the outcome, what flows from that?
    One result is security, or assurance. Proverbs 23:18, “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” There’s a sense of unshakable security in God’s promises for us. Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Now there’s a solid symbol of security for you: an anchor! Hope in Christ, hope that’s not conditional on earthly circumstances, gives us assurance despite what may happen to us or how other people can let us down.
    Protection is a related result of hope. 1Thess 5:8, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” Today we might talk about construction workers wearing hard hats for protection; back then, helmets were more common. Hope of salvation is a protective ‘hard hat’ for those days when the sky seems to be falling in around you.
    Joy is probably the outcome of hope that’s most-cited in the Bible. Wouldn’t this alone be enough in itself for us to hanker after hope? Romans 5:2, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” 12:12, “Be joyful in hope...” 15:13 (I like this one especially), “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Joy and peace together from ‘the God of hope’; the Holy Spirit helps us ‘overflow with hope.’ Gilbert Brenken said, “Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope.”
    God’s word reminds us that FAITH is related to hope. Colossians 1:4f, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.” Faith and love spring from hope. Titus 1:2 speaks of “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life...”
    Also, hope gives you gumption, staying power. A Biblical word for this is ‘endurance’: 1Thess 1:3, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” When things are tough, you’re running into difficulties and are tempted to give up, hope prompts you to endure, to keep on keeping on.
    A small town in New England was to be relocated because the valley was going to be flooded by the construction of a hydroelectric dam. After the decision was made, the buildings in the town fell into disrepair; instead of being the pretty little town it once was, it became an eyesore. As one resident put it, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no work in the present.” Christian hope motivates us to actively endure, to work, knowing our labour’s not in vain.
    Hope also moves us to govern our behaviour better. 1Peter 1:13, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Because we have a certain hope, that helps us exercise self-control, to say ‘no’ to the wrong things now so we can say ‘yes’ to God’s best for us later. 1John 3:3, “Everyone who has this hope in [Jesus] purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Hoping for Christ’s glory helps us not click on or watch that which would drag our mental life into the gutter.
    Now, what reaction is our hope going to get from non-believers? Are we going to stand out in some way as noticeable different because we have a hopefulness that’s not common in society? Some may be drawn to it; others may reject it and react negatively.
    The interest of the first group may be piqued by our hope: 1Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.But do this with gentleness and respect...”
    Some - piqued; but others may persecute. This was the reaction Paul drew from the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish religious leaders. Acts 26:7-8, “This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night.O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me.Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
    Even if our hope draws a negative reaction from some people, it makes us bold in the face of opposition or being poked fun at. 2Cor 3:12, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” Heb 3:6, “...we are [Christ’s] house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” It is allowed to boast of your hope in Jesus: that’s not boasting of your accomplishment, but His!
    Hope gives us spunk and pluck even when the situation doesn’t look good. One afternoon a man approached a little league baseball game. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy replied, “18 to nothing – we’re behind.” The spectator said, “Boy, I’ll bet you’re discouraged.” To which the little boy responded, “Why should I be discouraged? We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!” (Now, there’s a bold and hopeful attitude!)
    The secularist may have hope for this life only; a Christian has hope in life or in death. When I approach a person in hospital (as I did this week) and the man’s body is gaunt, his limbs weak, and his face around the mouth a mess of cold sores resulting from chemo for a rare form of cancer, I am thankful that we share a common faith in Christ that serves as a basis for hope. When the outlook in earthly terms is grim, hope in a forever future with God is rekindled by reading His promises and praying together. As Paul could say near the end of His mortal journey in Philippians 1:20, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Let’s pray.