November 28, 2021
"God's Gift of Hope"
Richard Sibbes was a Puritan theologian from about 400 years ago. Here's something he said:
When Times Are Bad, God Is Still Good.
That is the essence of hope.
Our hope isn't in our circumstances or our current situation. Our hope isn't tied to the economy or our health status. Our hope isn't in family or relationships or work. Our hope is in Christ and Christ alone.
Is watching "It's a Wonderful Life" part of your holiday tradition? As bumbling angel Clarence is given his assignment, the boss angel says, "You've got to help this guy George Bailey." Clarence then says, "What is it? Is he sick?" "No," says his boss, "it's worse than that. He's discouraged." Discouragement…hopelessness…is never a good thing.
Here's what Proverbs 13:12 says about hope:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
In other words, when hope is crushed the heart is crushed.
Here's what Paul writes about hope in Romans 15:13:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Because our God is the God of hope, He has given us the two foundational sources of hope. Before we look at those, let's take a moment to look at what hope isn't.
Hope is not wishful thinking. Sometimes we think hope is convincing ourselves of something even when something isn't true. Or it's some mumbo-jumbo alchemy of if we hope for it with determination and positivity, somehow it will become reality. It's like say you're sending someone positive vibes. What does that even mean? There's no place like hope… there's no place like hope.
Here's what I mean. How many times have we been through this or known others going through some iteration of this?
A couple finds out they're expecting. They have one child, and so, thinking of the balanced ideal, they hope this second one is the opposite gender. They say things like, "We hope it's a boy," or "We're praying for a girl." Well, you can hope and pray all you want, but that train has already left the station. Hopes and prayers have no determining factor in this outcome. Once that little swimmy guy hits the egg, the outcome is set in motion.
We sometimes think or talk about hope in superficial ways.
Here's as good a definition of hope as I've been able to find:
THE CONFIDENT EXPECTATION THAT GOD IS WILLING AND ABLE TO FULFILL THE PROMISES THAT HE MADE TO YOU.
The Bible refers to this as a living hope. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, "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." With the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life, we have hope in all things. We know that no matter what we experience or go through in life, all is well because Jesus is not just a baby in a manger, he is our Risen Lord and Savior. Our hope is rooted in the cross and empty tomb. Nothing else. Hope is the cross and the empty tomb.
The truths of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection lead us to the absolutely rock-solid foundation of hope. These are the two gifts from God that matter most.
First, we have hope because our past is forgiven. Lamentations 3:21-24 says:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
We live with hope because, even though we often fail God, His compassion is never ending. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, "We must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus." His compassion fails not. In spite of us. There's also this:
"The Lord would have been completely righteous to never save me or to even expose me to the truth of the Gospel. Truly, I deserve His wrath. It was only by His love, grace, and mercy that He forgave my sins, gave me a new heart, and sealed me with His Spirit."
- Ekkie Tepsupornchai
God's mercy is a renewable resource. It is never exhausted. God's forgiveness is fresh and available every single day.
Here's hope in the Christmas story:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
- Matthew 1:18-21
We have hope because our past is forgiven.
Second, we have hope because our future is secured.
Without getting into detail, 16.5 years ago I had major surgery. There was some risk involved. My only prior experience had been with a minor outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. I had never been under general anesthesia before. The pre-op and operating room people kept reassuring me, assuming I'd be at least a bit anxious. I remember telling more than one person that day that I knew there was going to be one of two outcomes. I was either going to wake up to see the face of my lovely wife or I was going to behold the face of Jesus. In my book, that's a win/win proposition. Our hope is in nothing less.
What can anyone or anything do to you if your hope is in the Lord?
Make no mistake. What think about death and how we face death speaks volumes about how we face life. When you are assured of a future in eternity with Jesus Christ then you have a boldness and confidence and courage in this life. The promise of resurrection turns hopelessness into hope. How can you despair when gazing into the empty tomb?
Titus 3:4-7 answers that question:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Do you have that hope? It is a hope resting on a forgiven past and a secured future. That is what Christmas is all about.
THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS, AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT.