Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Hope of Heaven for the Hurting on Earth

One of the most encouraging verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This verse was given to the people of God while they were suffering from the disciplining hand of God because of their own disobedience. But it was delivered by a prophet who had gone through difficult waters himself. The message of the verse is clear, God gave His people a gracious promise (v10) to deliver them and He planned on keeping that promise! God makes His plans for His people, and they are good plans that ultimately bring hope and peace. 

The word translated future could be better translated as an expected end. Another translation says a ground of hope or things hoped for. In other words, there will be an outcome. There will be a completion in your life. God will tie up the loose ends.

In John 11 we read of Mary and Martha had seemed to have lost hope, because their brother had past away. When Lazarus was first sick, they sent for Jesus, but He delayed His coming. Difficulties come to each one of us and often when the first come we do what they did, we call for Jesus, we cry out to Him in prayer. Sometimes we are even shocked that this is happening to us, but 1 Peter 4:12 tells us “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” The Lord Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). 

But just as the Lord Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, He loves each of us. In fact in Jeremiah 31:3 He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you.” But we could look at the story of Lazarus and say if He really loved them why did He allow Lazarus to die, why the pain and suffering? Why the hurt and heart ache?

Martha must have felt this, look at her words in John 11:20-26, “Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

One of the things that stand out here is that Martha wasn’t running from Jesus, but just the opposite. She ran right to Him, opening up her confused and troubled heart to Him! The Lord Jesus never does give her an explanation, but he does give her an eternal perspective! He went to Calvary and was alone and forsaken (Ps. 22), “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our grief, and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted" (Is. 53:3-4). He knows, Scripture tells us, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:17-18). What can we learn from all this, what breaks your heart breaks His! Back in John 11:33 when the Lord saw them weeping we are told that “He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” And then we read that Jesus wept!

If we went on in this story we would read that Lazarus was raised from the dead. Their prayers were answered the way they wanted them to be answered. But that does not always happen? Why not? Sometimes that sickness does not go away. Sometimes that problem is not removed! Why not? God is not always glorified through the removal of the difficulty. There are many times when God desires to be glorified and demonstrate His strength and grace through my weakness. This is what Paul experience in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

God can be glorified through our endurance and reliance on His strength. But what happens to us during this process? We develop hope through the hardship. Look at Romans 5:3-5: “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." This hope reminds us that death is not the end! The crisis that you might be experiencing right now is not the end of the story, it is simply part of the process to tell us the rest of the story!

Psalm 42 encourages us in the midst of deep struggles when we feel crushed from all sides, when all that you can see is sorrow, to HOPE in God! Read these words, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. 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. O my God, my soul is cast down within me.” Remember that God has loved you with an everlasting love, that He has a plan for you, a plan of good and a plan of Hope!

Proverbs 10:28 reminds us that we either are hopeful or hopeless, “The hope of the righteous will be gladness, But the expectation of the wicked will perish.” You may be struggling right now, but the Lord Jesus pointed us to that wonderful hope when He promised, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Don’t let your heart be troubled, there is a wonderful hope of Heaven the ultimate future or ground of hope! 

This is our expected end everything else is part of the process as 1 Peter 1:3-5, reminds us: "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 the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

What a blessed hope, that can never disappoint!