Over the next four weeks we will be anticipating the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Lord. Our services will feature the lighting of advent candles – advent simply means coming. Each candle represents a portion of the blessings that Jesus Christ has brought to us – hope, peace, joy, love, and life. I will be preaching on each of these themes, as they are touched on in Romans 5:1-11. This morning we are looking at the hope that Jesus has given us.
Hope is the opposite of despair. Despair is the sense that things won’t change for the better and nothing that I do will make any difference. Despair is real to anyone living in a fallen world. Certainly there are varying degrees of despair.
I read an article the other day about 8,000 elderly people in Australia who face despair over their growing inability to care for children with physical and mental disabilities. Listen to a portion of that article.
Wilf and Fay Alcock live in Bendigo with their 40-year old son Rodney, who has a multiple disability (physical and intellectual). Their lives have focused around Rodney and his care all his life. For eighteen years of this time Rodney had no day placement and they coped with only several hours of support from the local council’s Specific Home Care service. They have never been able to have a proper holiday together. Wilf’s constant nightmare is ‘what will happen to Rodney’ and he wakes regularly during the night worrying about the future. They need permanent accommodation support now for Rodney. However the current reality facing Wilf is one of no hope. This reality they share with almost 8,000 other parents/carers over the age of 65. Their plight – one of no hope, no security, no peace of mind – is a national disgrace. No wonder parents like Wilf are forced to threaten: ‘If I thought that Rod wouldn’t have suitable care when I die, I would take him with me!’ (http://www.dice.org.au/~viccid/letters1.htm)
Despair is real. There are millions of African women who face despair over their plight at the hands of Islamic invaders who rape them, kill them, or take them as sex slaves. There are many that live in poverty and ghetto like conditions that see no possibility of life becoming different for them. There are parents whose hearts have been so devastated by wayward children that they live in despair. There are children and women who live with daily abuse who feel like their life is a torture chamber. How many people sit down with a checkbook each week and feel despair as they realize a growing inability to meet their obligations.
Despair is real! One church analyst observed that if churches will minister faithfully to people in today’s world they must offer four things: a sense of identity – you, as an individual, are of great value; a sense of community – we accept you and invite you into our fellowship; a sense of meaning – the Bible does offer a credible explanation for life; and a sense of hope – Jesus is alive and He will be with you in your suffering and will one day remove all suffering.
Biblical hope is more than a desire for something better; it is a certain expectation.
On a human level there is power in ‘positive thinking.’ Convincing yourself mentally that things will be better tomorrow may make you feel better today. And, by the way, I think we should live with that possibility that with hard work and God’s grace the evils, injustices, and disappointments of life may change for the better, At the same time, positive thinking might be delusional. Some things may never change for the better on this side of eternity. Yet we may think on things not related to reality and find them comforting for the moment.
Biblical hope goes beyond positive thinking because as will see, biblical hope accepts the reality of God’s providence and goodness in human suffering.
What is this hope that we have in Jesus Christ?
1. We have a hope that is centered in the glory of God
• A glory that is uniquely his
• A glory that we share
• A glory that is certain
What kind of hope are we talking about? We all desire and imagine a life and a world were everything is as it ought to be – a world where marriages never fail; a world where families never fight; a world where jobs are always secure; a world where the bills are always paid; a world where friends are always faithful; a world where Christians always love; a world where race is never an issue; a world where everyone is accepted; a world where everyone gets along; a world where loved ones don’t suffer and die; a world where there are no little people; a world where everyone has value and respect; a world that doesn’t go to war; a world where children and women are protected from abuse, etc.
Though we may desire this, life reminds us that this world doesn’t exist on planet earth.
We do not hope in the glory of human life on planet earth; we hope in the glory of God. The glory of God is the perfections of his being, including the perfections of his plan for creation and the perfections of his redemption. The glory of God is something that is superior to all of us for we ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’
The glory of God is the superior excellence of His person. The words and imagination of poets and writers fail to describe that superior majesty which far exceeds the beauty of a starlit sky or the blinding awe of a gorgeous sunset.
In Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 33 Exodus 34, he asked God to shown him His glory. We read about it in Exodus 33:17-19and Exodus 34:5-7.
Moses requested of God that He show him His glory (Exodus 33:18). After making it clear that He will not reveal His full glory to Moses, and that He is sovereign in bestowing His saving grace upon men, God manifests Himself to Moses. There is absolutely no description about how anything looked to Moses; we find here only the recorded words of God to Moses, words, which declared His attributes. God’s attributes are the manifestation of the “glory of God.”
A similar linking of God’s attributes and God’s glory is found in the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans 1:18-23
God revealed Himself in nature. In nature the invisible attributes of God are displayed (specifically, God’s eternal power and divine nature, Romans 5:20). Men exchanged the “glory of the incorruptible God” for the image of corruptible men and other earthly creatures (Romans 5:23). The attributes of God are God’s glory, and men are therefore obligated to glorify God in response to the revelation of such attributes. Sinful men do not glorify God, and consequently they prove themselves to be guilty sinners, rightly under divine condemnation. I wish to emphasize that the attributes of God and the glory of God are very closely associated, so much so that we might say God’s glory is the sum total of who God is, and who God is, is defined by His attributes.
Our hope is based on the expectationthat God’s superior glory is so overwhelmingly attractive that the endless ages of eternity will not diminish our satisfaction with His glory.
We have caught only glimpses of that glory through the eyes of faith but our appetite has been aroused to want more.
Look at the privilege granted unto us in the gospel: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
We have caught a glimpse of the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
2. We have a hope that thrives in the context of suffering
Note the pattern here: suffering brings about perseverance; perseverance brings about proven character; and proven character brings about hope.
A faith that is tested and proven is one that is strong in hope. It is difficult to know the reality and genuineness of your faith and commitment to Christ unless it is tested. Suffering is the crucible of testing. As you continue to look to Christ in suffering – honoring him and not denying him, you persevere. As you persevere, your character – i.e. your true nature – is proven. Out of this experience of God’s grace that sustains you in suffering and causes you to persevere, your hope is made alive.
How can we hope in God’s promise of the future if we believe He had failed us in the present?
Our hope in God is not in the resolution or removal of every distress of life. Our hope in the glorious God of the future is the glorious God who sustains us in the present.
While we should work hard to oppose every injustice of human society that brings about despair, we must recognize that the world where ‘everything is all right” is a future world.
3. We have a hope that doesn’t disappoint.
How many problems have appeared to be resolved only to reoccur again? How many times have we heard, “I won’t hurt you or disappoint you again?” How many countries have enjoyed freedom from tyranny only to be enslaved again?
Hope that is centered in a fallen world is destined to fail. Our hope is in an immutable sovereign God who love is everlasting and his mercy endures forever.
Our experience in the gospel today is a preview of the glory to come. How many times have you watched a preview of the coming attraction only to be disappointed by the actual event?
The Bible guarantees you that you will not be disappointed when you see Jesus at the throne of his father in all his resplendent glory. This glory is so brilliant that the New World and the New Jerusalem need no sun, moon, and stars, or manufactured light of any kind because the brilliance of God’s glory will illumine the universe.
We have a hope that is rooted in the gospel. When we were yet powerless, God’s grace came to redeem sinners. His grace in the gospel demonstrates his boundless love. This grace spares us from the wrath of God for we are no longer His enemies.
This is why we have hope. If you have not come to God through Jesus Christ, then you are ‘without hope and without God in this world.’
If you have come to Christ, then you have hope in the glory of God, you have a hope that is nurtured in suffering, and have a hope that never disappoints.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
John Davis is Pastor of Grace Fellowship Chapel in Long Island City, NY.