Friday, December 11, 2015

Hope in the Dark

Many need hope today. Many are at the breaking point—emotionally immature and spiritually lifeless. No amount of support, encouragement or counseling will help. People battle with denial, fear, anger, crazy schedules, workaholism, and covetousness. Marriages are on the rocks. Kids are starved for leadership. The only thing that will change things for the better is hope.


Only hope can help you through the difficult times. Only hope can get you through if you feel a distance growing between you and your spouse. Only hope can strengthen you when you discover a close friend is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Only hope will sustain you when you find out that your child has a learning disability and needs constant help and support. Only hope can keep you moving forward when you face an impossible situation.


I remember a day a little more than a decade ago; I was walking down the aisles of the empty auditorium at South Roebuck Baptist Church. I remember the afternoon sun beaming through the stained glass windows, streams of colored light shining on the empty church pews. In that quiet holy place, I had a “fight” with God in prayer.


God brought my family to this wonderful little church of primarily senior citizens. We moved to Roebuck after having lived in a place we loved and people we developed friendships. I was a disillusioned and concerned about the future. I struggled. I feared. I prayed. The people of the church were not the problem. I was the problem.


My question to God was, “Why?” “Why did we come here, God? What can we do that can make a difference?” My little “fit” of prayer pointed out a need in my personal life. I was scared and disillusioned. I needed to reconnect to the hope I had in Jesus Christ. I am thankful that God broke through my pride and fear to help me see his purpose. Out of that experience was the beginning of a process to plant North Valley Church.


Today we will discover the hope we may have in Jesus Christ. Hope is “confident expectancy. . . . The word hope stands for both the act of hoping and the thing hoped for. Hope does not arise from the individual’s desires or wishes but from God, who is Himself the believer’s hope.”[1] If you are searching for hope today, you are in the right place.


God’s plan, from the beginning, was to save us and deliver hope to us. This was always his intention. God wanted to deliver us from sin for himself. He desired to take us from the despair of this world. God wanted to take us and focus our sights on the day when His Kingdom will come in glory and power.


1 Timothy 2:4 [He is a God] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.


God wants you to know him and experience his hope—a confident expectancy that God has a purpose for you. To bring this hope, God sent his only Son, Jesus to provide salvation for all. Jesus’ objective and purpose was to redeem the world for the Father. Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again to bring hope.


Jesus came first to his own ethnicity, the Jews. He followed that principle throughout his ministry. John the Baptist began to prepare them for their Messiah. He did not ignore other people groups; however, Jesus reached out to the Jews first. Unfortunately, most of the Jews rejected Jesus.


God’s plan always included delivering hope to all of the nations. When Jesus came and died, he died for the sins of the world. As we read our text today, notice this beautiful story that Paul tells using quotes from David, Moses, and Isaiah. The Jews glorify God among the Gentiles. Then, the Gentiles rejoice with the Jews. Next, the Jews and the Gentiles together praise God. Finally, Jesus Christ shall reign over Jews and Gentiles.


Paul wrote to the first-century believers in Rome about the importance of accepting each other, not holding grudges or living with resentment. The Gentiles, those who were foreign to the promises of God, are given hope in Jesus Christ just as the Jews.


Romans 15:7-13 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” 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.


This amazing hope we have was given to us so that we may share with others. You can share this hope with others by inviting them to church or a community group for Bible study.


Hope is available to all through Jesus Christ.


Paul made it clear that Jews and Gentiles have something essential in common; both have hope through Jesus Christ. Jews had been a channel of blessing for bringing Jesus Christ into the world. However, hope belongs to no age, race, or ethnic group exclusively. Hope is available to all through faith in Jesus Christ.


No one has reason to walk alone, without hope! The Bible communicates it clearly, “By the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope!” Hope allows people who are from different backgrounds and experiences to join as one and live in peace.


We are a fulfillment to these promises in God’s Word! Hope, abounding hope, is ours in Jesus Christ. Not only do we have hope, we share in God’s peace and power! We, those who had no hope, have a future through Jesus Christ.


Jesus is our only hope! I have an awful thing to confess to you this morning. Carol and I have been talking about what we are going to do when our dog Buddy dies. We love Buddy. Buddy has one good eye and a broken tail. He was a pound puppy. He is a loyal, low maintenance dog. However, Buddy is old. I confess that I have been looking for a backup dog—a replacement.


I don’t feel right telling you that I have been looking at different breeds of dogs and thinking about what to do when Buddy is not around anymore! I admit it. We have a backup plan. I know that is heartless and cruel. My kids believe that no dog could replace Buddy. Dad is not being hopeful.


Some of us have a backup plan for our hope. If our faith in Jesus Christ does not work out, some will go and scope out some other opportunity. I have seen it happen many times. You cannot treat Jesus like a trial subscription. Either Jesus Christ is your hope, or he isn’t!


The Enemies of Hope:

I want to spend a few moments discussing the enemies of our hope in Jesus Christ. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have already discovered that this world is filled with enemies that want to extinguish your hope. I know of men and women who were faced with a job loss, family or health crisis, or discouragement right after they believed in Jesus Christ or were baptized. To be sure, when you make your stand with God, the enemies line up to steal your joy and take away your hope. I call these enemies the birds, rocks, and weeds.


In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus told a parable of the sower who went out to sow seed. Some of the seed fell on the path, and the birds ate the seeds. Other seeds fell on the rocky ground and did not take root. Some fell among the thorns, and the plants were choked out. Finally, there were those seeds that were sown on good ground.


Matthew 13:23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


Enemy number one: The birds.

Some battle against the birds. For many, the hope you have in Jesus Christ is not in good soil right now. The Devil—the Bible calls him “the wicked one,” “a murderer,” “a liar,” and “the father of lies.” He wants to tempt you to be unkind to others. Satan wishes to teach you to lie your way out of situations. He wants to fill your heart with confusion, fear, and hatred. The Devil is powerful, seductive, and subtle. You have to be vigilant, or he will swoop down and try to take your joy. Are you battling the birds? Do Satan and his minions repeatedly sweep into your path to take away hope?


Enemy number two: The rocks.

Some are up against the rocks. I know of those who are not deeply rooted; they are trying to grow in the rocky soil. When the wind blows, or the sun comes out, their spiritual growth blows away or dries up. There is no root system. Your hope takes root when you get into the Scriptures every day and spend time in prayer. You need to renounce those things in your life that detract from your relationship with Jesus Christ. Take the spade and dig deep!


Enemy number three: The weeds.

Some are being choked out by the weeds, the cares of this world. Relationship problems, money concerns, trouble at work and busy schedules are growing like vines around many. The cares of this world may quickly sap the spiritual nutrients from our lives. Again, time with the Gardener is important. Only Jesus Christ can help us prune back the weeds and vines and help us flourish. 


What part of your life is “on hold” right now? What dreams do you have that have been tangled up in the weeds? What do you think has to happen before you can move forward? Is your hope on hold? Let Jesus cut the weeds away and free you up to move forward.


We cannot lose sight of the hope we have in Jesus Christ! We must be careful to keep our focus on Jesus with confident expectancy. The greatest hope we have is the blessed hope of Jesus coming back for his people. Until that awesome Day of Jesus’ return, our attitude must be one of hopeful watching and expecting.


Matthew 24:42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.


Titus 2:11-13 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.


The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a story of hope. The climax of all history is the return of Jesus Christ. The great philosophers, Plato, Seneca, and Aristotle, did not expound on the future. The Koran does not delve into the future. The horoscopes, palm readers, tarot cards, and psychics don’t hold the future. The greatest thinkers can only speculate about the future. However, as a believer in Jesus Christ, you can have the assurance of hope that Jesus is coming for you. Jesus has a plan and a purpose for your life. In that day, war and strife will cease. Sin, sorrow, and pain will be no more. In Heaven, nothing will divide us. We will be hope-filled people living in the presence of Jesus Christ. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” This is the hope of the Christian!


For a believer, the future is not something to be feared. I get frustrated with Christians who focus on the “doom and gloom.” Fear is not of God; fear is a distraction from the mission.


We must embrace the future because of the hope we have in Jesus Christ!


[1]Hope,” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (New York, NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), 488.