Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hope in the Christian Life

Hope is one of the greatest words in the Christian vocabulary! It not only points us to the future, but it gives us strength to live in and through the present. It is like a lighthouse in the midst of a stormy dark night whose rays of light help us press on through the waves of difficulty and doubt. There are many that are like a ship lost at sea, tossed back and forth, sailing aimlessly and hopelessly across life’s seas. They lost direction and have no real hope. In the words of the Apostle Paul they are “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). They are not only lost at sea and have no hope for the future, but they have no instruments to guide them through the turbulent waters when they come. Paul again describes these people as being “without strength” (Romans 5:6).

This hopelessness and helplessness is one reason we see so much despair in the world today. It is also one of the causes of so many false religions and cults. Men and women must have some thing to look forward to if they are going to survive the present. Many live with false hopes, while others escape through drugs or alcohol. Then there are those who give up all together and take their own lives because life without hope is not worth living.

The Bible has much to say about hope. It reveals hope, not as something uncertain and unknown. But something that is sure, steadfast and secure. Hebrews 6:18-20 says, “we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus.” We also read in Romans 8:24 “In hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” This verse suggests that there are many features of our salvation that is yet future, which motivate us now in the present. This is the hope the every Christian has in Christ. I would like to look at a few basic statements about our hope.

First, Psalm 42:5 reminds us that the only antidote for true hope is in God and God alone. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” These words are repeated two other times (Ps. 42:11, 43:5).

We also read that hope is an amazing gift from God, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Hope is an amazing gift of God’s grace for our encouragement, comfort and assurance for the future.

We might ask, “where to we get this gift on a on-going basis?” Romans 15:4 tells that hope comes as we read, understand and believe the Bible, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” The Word of God helps us have confidence during the rough waters of life.

Peter would remind us that this hope is secured by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Paul adds, “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; and you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to encourage the believer in the hope that we have for the future. Romans 15:13 says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Hope defends us against the attacks of Satan. He bombards us with the fiery darts of doubt and fear trying to shake our faith. That is why Paul told those at Thessalonica to “put on the breastplate of faith and love and put on as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). When we have hope on as a helmet these darts bounce off and do not affect us.

The Psalmist knew that this hope had to be an on going thing in our lives. In Psalm 71:14 he said, “but I will hope continually and praise you yet more and more.” This hope will also produces joy as we read in Psalm 146:5 “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord God.” If I loose sight of my hope in Christ I loose the joy that is found in fellowship with Him. Because hope causes rejoicing and does not disappoint (Romans 5:2, 5, 12:12).

Another thing about the Christians hope is that it removes the fear of death. Colossians 1:5 refers to “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” We have nothing to fear because we know that God has a wonderful future in store for us! Our Lord’s resurrection is the basis of the removal of the fear. Because He lives we can face tomorrow!

This hope brings comfort to the hurting. Those that have lost loved ones have a hope that helps heal the hurt. This is what Paul was getting at in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 when he wrote, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those that have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you, by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep in Jesus. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The hope of the coming of Christ is connected with three particular things. First, it is connected to the promise of His personal return for His own given in John 14:1-3. The same passage gives the promise of a prepared home (we will look at these in more detail in the next chapter). Then we also can be encouraged by the hope of prepared redeemed bodies waiting for us according to Philippians 3:20-21.

Hope for the Here & Now

We are living in a day with so many uncertainties. If ever we needed hope it is today. Just as the Lord Jesus prophesied many years ago we see kingdom rising against kingdom. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We see the threat of terrorism on ever hand. In the last few year there have more frequent natural calamities, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. Crime in many cities is at an all time high. We need hope for the here and now!

The disciples must have felt a similar need as they walked with and listened to the words of the Lord. They were not sure what was ahead for them. They might have had many concerns and cares. This is one of the reasons the Lord Jesus gathered alone with them in the upper room. But even before that private time of instruction with His followers the Lord spoke of the hope of Heaven. This hope is more than a destination. It should be an encouragement to us in our day of uncertainty. I would like to look at four places in the Gospel of John where the Lord used the expression “where I am.” He was referring to heaven. These four portions of scripture describe the kind of people we will be when the hope of heaven becomes our incentive.

Witnessing People

If we really believe we are going to heaven we will not be able to keep it to ourselves. We will want to tell others. The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of this. In John 7:32-34 we read, “The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him. Then Jesus said to them, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” As in previous messages, the people misunderstood what the Lord was saying. Within six months, He would go back to heaven, and these religious, but unsaved people would not be able to follow Him. The Lord Jesus gave them a loving uncompromising witness. They must trust Him if they wanted to go where He was going, to heaven. If we know we are going to heaven we ought to have a deep desire for others to go there too! That is why we see the Lord warning the religious time and time again. In John 8:21,24 He warned “I am going away, and you will not seek Me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

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