Pastor Craig Carter
Last week I introduced a sermon series on three things that last forever – faith, hope, love.
We began our investigation of these eternal realities with a description of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews:
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT)
In this definition, we see the close connection that exists between faith and hope. Hope is the starting point of our faith and so, without it, there is no faith.
We observed last week that faith has a couple of facets to it. First of all, faith requires belief, which we do with our minds. But genuine faith also requires action, which we do with our wills. Now we can add a third component because faith requires hope, which we do with our hearts.
We are all, by nature, hopers. It seems like we can’t stop wishing.
As kids we collect four-leaf clovers, we hear stories about genies coming out of bottles to grant three wishes, and we grab the ends of a pulley-bone and the winner with the longest piece gets his wish.
We are taught to make a wish before blowing out our birthday candles and we wish upon the stars we see at night.
As we grow up, our wishes turn into hopes and dreams. We hope to graduate, we hope to meet the girl of our dreams, we hope to drive a nice car, we hope we can live in a big house in the nicest neighborhood, and then we hope we can get a good enough job to pay for it all.
As we age, our hopes become less ambitious and grandiose – we hope our kids turn out all right (or will at least move out of the house), we hope we can make it ‘til Friday, we hope the groceries will hold out until payday, and in 2020, we hope our troubling cough isn’t a sign we have COVID-19.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but many of the things we hope for ultimately disappoint us. Oftentimes, things just don’t turn out like we hoped.
As a result, most of the familiar sayings on the subject have a rather dim view of hope.
“Don’t set your hopes too high…” “Be careful what you wish for…”
So far, this isn’t a very hopeful message about hope, is it? But it is somewhat realistic.
One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. In it, the two central characters, Red and Andy (played by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins) have a running argument about hope.
Red, a life-long inmate, has learned to manage disappointment by giving up hope so he tells Andy, “Hope is a dangerous thing. It can break your heart.”
But Andy says giving up hope is to start dying so he clings to it even in the midst of terrible circumstances having been incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.
Ultimately, Andy escapes and Red is paroled. In the closing scene of the movie, Red heads to Mexico to try and meet up with his prison friend. On the bus ride there he says to himself, “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope…”
Even though we know it’s dangerous, even though we realize that ultimately hope may disappoint us, we cannot stop hoping.
That’s because hope lasts forever and we have been wired with this virtue. God made us to be people of hope.
Unfortunately, just as we are tempted to put our faith in the wrong things, we also have the tendency to hope in the wrong things as well.
As a matter of fact, as Christians, we are to put our hope, not in a THING, but in a PERSON.
It’s interesting that in the Bible, very little is said about hope in the Old Testament and the subject is never even mentioned in the four gospels.
Most of what we read about hope is found in the New Testament letters. Here’s how Paul begins his first letter to his friend, Timothy: “This letter is from Paul, a missionary of Jesus Christ. I am sent by God, the one who saves, and by our Lord Jesus Christ who is our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1 NLV)
Why do Paul and the other New Testament writers say that Jesus is our hope?
Remember when their letters were written? Following Christ’s death and resurrection.
So our hope is rooted and grounded in the event we celebrated last month – Easter. Our hope is in Christ, the one who is risen from the dead.
That’s why Peter makes this bold assertion: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)
Our hope isn’t in a thing that is temporal and one day will be long gone. Our hope is in a person who is eternal and alive forevermore.
The Apostle Peter goes on to say that when we have this living hope that lasts forever, we discover two important truths.
1) Hope that lasts forever is a priceless inheritance.
The followers of Jesus discovered on the first Easter that Jesus was alive. So he became for them a “living hope.”
And that living hope had a promise for all who followed him in faith.
Jesus told His disciples shortly before His death, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NLT)
“Trust in God, trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home…When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1, 3 NLT)
Not only is Jesus the living hope, He gives living hope to all who believe in Him.
That’s why Peter (one of those who heard Jesus speak the words of hope mentioned above) says, “Now we live with great expectation, and have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT)
Because of Christ’s resurrection we now have the living hope of a priceless inheritance – namely, eternal life.
Almost every religion provides a hope of heaven. They suggest that if you and I obey a particular set of rules or follow a certain person’s teaching, we may gain access to paradise in the next life.
Guess what? All of the folks who wrote the rules or made the promises are now dead and still buried. So while other religions may provide hope, it’s a “dead hope.”
In contrast, Christianity is different in kind because it’s based on a “living hope.”
Through Christ’s resurrection, death has been transformed and a new and living way has been opened into God’s eternal presence. It’s a “priceless inheritance.”
It’s hope that lasts forever – it will never change or decay. Do you believe this?
But Christ, our living hope, does not just provide us a way to the “sweet by and by.”
2) Hope that lasts forever is a powerful shield.
Hope that lasts forever affects the way we live – right here, right now. It is a powerful shield for us.
“And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” (1 Peter 1:5 NLT)
Christ’s resurrection brings us hope on the day we die, but it also brings us hope every day we live.
It’s the argument from the greater to the lesser I mentioned in my Easter message. Logic says if you can lift 500 pounds, you can lift 200. Or, if you can perform open heart surgery, you can stitch up a small cut.
What is the most hopeless situation known to humankind? Death.
Since Jesus conquered it, we now have hope He can conquer anything and everything. Nothing is too difficult for God and no situation is beyond hope or His help.
There is no marital problem that can’t be fixed.
There is no broken relationship that can’t be mended.
There is no sinful habit or addiction that can’t be stopped.
There is no sickness that can’t be healed.
There is no pandemic that can’t be eradicated.
No situation is hopeless, because our living hope can bring resurrection power to any and every circumstance.
Come to think of it, what Red contended in The Shawshank Redemption is true: Hope is a dangerous thing – not for us, but for our enemy.
One of the most successful movie franchises of the past decade is The Hunger Games trilogy based on the best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins.
In its fictitious future world, young people ages 12 to 18 are pitted against each other in a battle to the death. But the annual “hunger games” are more than a perverted form of reality-based entertainment. They are a means by which the ruling government keeps the masses at bay, making them feel hopeless and afraid.
In one scene, President Snow meets with the gamemaster Seneca Crane. He tells the one who is devising the current rules of engagement: “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained … So contain it!”
The President knows that too much hope is hard to control. In the same way, our enemy, the Devil, is threatened by hope so he tries to make us feel hopeless.
He knows that what Protestant reformer Martin Luther discovered is true: “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”
As it is with faith, through hope, nothing is impossible because we have a living hope – Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and King.
So even though you and I may feel hopeless from time to time, we really aren’t.
Let me close with this thought: One of the ways we can categorize Bible stories is by their time frame. One kind is the 40-day story. These are usually “wait around and learn patience” kind of stories.
Noah and his family were on the ark for 40 days and nights.
The Israelites hung around Mt. Sinai for 40 days waiting for the Ten Commandments.
Jesus began His public ministry spending 40 days in the wilderness.
The focus of these stories is on the need for God’s people to be wait on the Lord and be faithful and obedient in the meantime.
We could call them “crock pot” stories where folks have to simmer for awhile.
Another kind of biblical narrative is the 3-day story. These episodes are about crisis and urgency. They could be labeled “microwave” stories.
In these stories, the pressure is so crushing there is little if anything human beings can do. God has to show up to rescue them … or it’s curtains.
In them, God’s people find themselves in desperate and dire circumstances.
When the Hebrew people were threatened with genocide, Esther said she would fast for 3 days and then seek deliverance from the king.
How long was Jonah in the belly of the big fish before he was belched up onto the beach? You got it, 3 days.
And where does our “living hope” originate? From an empty tomb, and how long was Jesus there? Right again … three days.
The first day was a dark day when His followers’ dreams were shattered. The second day wasn’t much better as a Roman guard was dispatched to guard the place where Jesus was buried. It was a disappointing day.
But this was a 3-day story, so on the third day, Jesus walked out and hope was born!
Our God is a third-day God.
That’s why Christians decided to change their primary day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath (which falls on the second day, Saturday) to Sunday (the third day).
And they began to call it the Lord’s day because the third day is God’s day.
They wanted the whole world to know that they were now third-day people who were betting the farm on this great truth and putting all of their hope in Christ.
You may be living in a first day so things might look dark and gloomy. Or maybe it’s a second day and disappointment and disillusionment is beginning to set in. Can anyone say, “stay at home order and social distancing?”
Don’t dismay, because the third day is coming when hope springs eternal.
Friends, you and I live in a first and second day world, but we have a living hope in a third-day God.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)
The truth we proclaimed on Easter is still true: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Since Jesus is alive forevermore, our hope lasts forever and provides us a powerful shield in this life and a priceless inheritance in the life to come.