Bill McFarland

March 30, 2003

You know, springtime is a season of hope in a lot of ways. After a long winter, with a good bit of snow and a lot of cold and all of the things that have gone on during the winter, we look forward to the warmth of spring and of summer. Trees budding and flowers coming up all make us anticipate the beauty of a season when we can be outside and admire creation. And even when the days come when the snow kind of weighs our daffodils down a little as happened a couple of days ago, we still live in hope.

This spring is a time when the whole world could do with a lot of hope, couldn't it. We are tempted to be occupied with news of war and of strife almost twenty-four hours a day now. There are news reports of families who suffer losses and others who deal with fears. I noticed one family this past week whose loved one had been taken prisoner in Iraq, and that family was interviewed and one of the family members said we have hope as a beacon to get us through. Hope is much needed in this world at this time but also at all times.

It is, therefore, a thought-provoking thing when we look into the scriptures and discover that Christians are a people of hope. A congregation of Christians are to be an oasis of hopefulness in this world. When you read the New Testament, and particularly the epistles of the New Testament, it is amazing how much hope is brought to the forefront. The passage that Russ read earlier tells us that as Christians we rejoice in hope, something that Paul actually instructs us to do over in Romans 12:12. In Paul's letters to the Corinthians, hope becomes the partner of faith and love and hope is something that love always does, according to I Corinthians 13:7. To the Galatians Paul wrote and said that we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness, Gal. 5:5. To the Ephesians, Paul says that there is one hope, chapter 4:4, and that as Christians we need to have our eyes open so we can see what the hope of our calling is and so that we can enjoy the riches of our inheritance according to chapter 1:18. To the Colossians hope is what we have heard in the gospel that is laid up for us in heaven, Col. 1:5. And actually Christ in us is our hope of glory, Col. 1:27. To the Thessalonians that good hope that we have been given through grace is the thing that sustains us through this world when we become sorrowful because of the loss of a loved one. To Timothy, having our hope set on the living God is what causes a servant of God to labor and to strive in this world to practice Godliness, according to I Tim. 4:10. To Titus there is that blessed hope of eternal life which the God who cannot lie has promised to each one of us. To the weary readers of the epistle to the Hebrews whose knees were weak and whose hands were hanging down, that better hope that we are given in Christ is the thing that gives them the strength in their spines to stand up and to hold fast to that hope that they have been confessing, and to be the house of God over which Christ rules a people who boast in their hope, according to Heb. 3:6. Peter speaks of the living hope that we are to have our minds set on while we look to the grace of Jesus that will be revealed one of these days, I. Pet. 1:13.

All of those statements and many more like them remind us of the power of hope in the Christian life. What an assembly of the church is about on the Lord's day is to remind us of our hope and call on us to live hopefully during the week. What a congregation of Christians is about in a community is to be a light of hope in the world as we studied last week. What we need in our lives at times as Christians is to take the time to let our sense of hope be renewed. That is why we wanted to read the scripture we have read this morning and to ask you to think through that passage with us this morning.

There are some things that maybe we ought to observe before we look into the passage in Romans 5, some things that strike me that need maybe to be in my mind as I look at this passage. First off, it is interesting to me that out of all of these mentions of hope, some of which we have referred to just now, the word is not found much in the gospel accounts. The Jesus who is our hope didn't use the word very much. And when he did, he was teaching, very often, people about some common practice of man such as loaning money to somebody that you hoped to get it back from, or maybe some false hope that someone might mention. And yet, when Jesus gives himself up for us and when God raises him up, then the apostles of Christ can't stop talking about hope. And what that says to me is that the work of Jesus has changed things. Peter says in I Peter 1:21 that Jesus has been raised up for us. God gave him up and then he raised him up for us so that our faith and hope might rest in God. And at the end of Romans 4, if you notice, it mentions that Jesus was raised from the dead, he was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. The work of Jesus has changed things, and you and I as Christians believe first and foremost that our Lord Jesus Christ brought hope into a hopeless world. When Paul wrote to Timothy in I. Tim. 1:1, he just said to refer to Jesus Christ, our hope. That's what he is.

A second observation that really grows out of that first one then, is the thought-provoking phrase that we read a couple of times in the epistles - "no hope." If Jesus is the hope of the world and if his coming changed things, then it means that people living without him were living without any real hope. Now that is not because they didn't want more out of the world and they didn't want life beyond the hear and now, and it is not because they weren't seeking for meaning and fulfillment in their lives. It is just that up until then, there was no basis, really, for hope. When you get to investigating the word for hope that is used in the New Testament, you discover that there is an emphasis to this word that is not like the way we use it. I get up and I say "I hope I can talk," to say what I want to say this morning, but my using the word means there is no guarantee. But hope in the New Testament means not only something that you desire but something you have a good reason to expect to come about. People desire life. In Jesus there is a reason to expect that because of what he has given for us. My Bible encyclopedia says that hope should be thought of as "an intense desire which is cherished" meaning that you can't just talk about hope disinterestedly. It is something that is so precious that you cherish that expectation that you have been given. When the New Testament says we have been given eternal comfort and good hope through grace, it is something that enthuses people who really believe that. The phrase "no hope" appears when Paul in Ephesians 2:12 is talking to people who have been living dead in their trespasses and sins having no hope and without God in the world. The gloom of guilt overshadows people who know that they have been in the wrong and they don't have a reason to expect cleansing and forgiveness. In Jesus, we have a reason to expect that. Forgiveness.

On the other hand, in I. Thess. 4 when Paul talks to us about sorrowing but not as those who have no hope, in that case having no hope means living under the darkness of death and not having any reasons to expect anything other than that. So, hope answers the gloom of guilt and darkness of death through Christ.

The other thing that so impresses me as I read the passages about hope is how often the trio of faith, hope, and love appear together. Many, many times hope appears as the partner of faith and love. You will find it at the beginning of Colossians 1. You will find it in I. Thessalonians 1, in Ephesians 1, Hebrews 6, I Peter 1. Many places those three appear together. I appreciated the fact that Jon lead us three songs before this lesson this morning. Songs about faith, love, and hope. Did ya'll notice that? Hope has to keep company like that. Because, you see, hope grows out of something that you truly, genuinely believe in to the point that you entrust your life to that conviction. That is what faith is. Remember the Hebrew writer says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Hope can't survive without faith. In order to expect something you have got to have a ground for that that you truly believe in. On the other hand, the fact that hope keeps company with love says that hope is not a selfish thing. A person with Christian hope is not somebody who just walks around saying "I've got mine and that is all I care about." Hope is something that makes you speak up and makes you want to share what you have. Hope is the key, really, to evangelism. People become bold about what they really hope for.

Now, with those three observations, let's take a look real quickly at some principles from Romans 5. The first principle is that hope must rest on a promise. There has to be a promise before there can be hope. In Romans 4, if you look back up at verses 16 and following, God made a promise to Abraham. Through grace God promised Abraham that "I am going to make you a father of many nations." And here is a man who is 75 and that promise doesn't come true and he knows he is past the age, he and his wife both, of child bearing and yet the Bible says in verse 18 that in hope he believed against hope. He believed the promise. Hope is not a wish that just rests on the foundation of my desires or yours. Hope, to be real, has to be based on a promise. That means that it is not seen yet. Over in Romans 8, Paul says - verse 24 and 25 - that hope that is seen is not hope. But when there is a promise that you believe, when your life is governed by your confidence in that promise, and it is so real to you that even though you can't see it and you haven't received it yet, you still are ruled by that hope. Then there is what the Bible is talking about. By the way, that is why the Lord's Word is so crucial to strength of hope. In Romans 15:4, Paul says that things written afore time are written for our learning that through the patience and the comfort of the scriptures, we might have hope. So when we read the Lord's word, when Russ read what he did to us today, my hope is strengthened.

By why? There is the second principle. Hope involves a certain relationship with whoever made the promise. In order for a promise to mean anything in anyone's live, then the one who made the promise has to be trusted by whoever would benefit from it. Abraham didn't let his faith waiver. He hoped against hope, according to Romans 4:21, because he was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. And interestingly, in Hebrews 11, when it mentions Sarah and her hoping, it says that she believed that he who promised is faithful. Our being people who rejoice in hope comes from our having access to the one who made the promise. We have been introduced to his presence. We have peace with God, Rom. 5:1. And because of our confidence that that God who made the promise - the promise of salvation, the promise of life, the promise of righteousness - he is able and he is faithful and that is why hope can be a powerful influence in our life.

The third principle that stands out here is the fact that hope has to be made precious through struggle. There is a simple principle suggested in Romans 5 and it is that hope never can mean very much to a guy until that guy has been through very much. People who are content where they are and how they are, are not very much moved by hope. But you put us in the face of death and in the face of loss and in the face of difficulty and in the face of our own needs, then suddenly hope begins to be a little more precious to us. Here in Romans 5, Paul made the point that the way it works is that there are sufferings and sufferings produce endurance, and then endurance produces character - approved character if you will - a character that stood the test, and character then produces hope. I ran across a little poem that says: "Who has not suffered does not know all that his God would have him know. He has not learned the patient trust that those who suffer bravely must. He has not seen faith's star arise above the blackest midnight skies nor clung to hope that lights the way across the greyest, bleakest day, nor waited quietly aware of God beyond unanswered prayer. He has not known how deep a peace may follow some sweet, sure release. Who hath not suffered does not know all that his God would have him know." Strong hope comes from the experience of struggle.

And then the fourth principle is that hope, because of the faith that is there, begins to have an influence on life. It said in verse 5: "Hope does not put us to shame." We become people then who face life and who truly live. I want to give you a couple of pairs of statements in Scripture that I hope will illustrate this point to you. It is interesting to me the two illustrations of hope that the New Testament chooses. In I. Thess. 5:8, the hope of salvation is a helmet in the Christian armor. In other words, what guards the way we think is our hope. In Hebrews 6, hope is an anchor of the soul, something which remains tied to something firm way down there below the surface of what is seen -- in this case, inside the veil of the most holy of heaven - where Jesus appears before the face of God for us. An anchor to keep us stable in tough times.

And then the two affects that the New Testament says hope has in life grow out of those two pictures. Starting with the last one first, hope is what keeps us strong and steady in our lives. In Romans 8:25, the apostle Paul, noting that hope is what saves, us said if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Patience is the word that is translated steadfastness - so endurance. Hope makes you strong. It keeps you anchored in the storms of life. On the other hand, this comes to the helmet illustration now, hope is what lets you overcome temptation and to be pure. Remember that in I John 3, John said "And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." So, there is the effect in life that hope must have to Christians. I hope you will think about that today.

Hope is based on a promise by somebody we have access to. It grows more precious as we experience Christian living, and won't fail us. It will give us patience and purity in our lives. Mary Oler wrote, "Hope is a window. I can see God's love shining across my couch erasing gloom. That window never curtained, never closed brings God's rainbow of light into my room. I stand beside my window, lift my face to feel the warmth of promises and grace." That so well fits with what Paul says in closing the teaching part of his letter to the Romans. Romans 15:13, he wrote, "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." Whether we abound in hope depends on how we stand with the God of hope. Nobody needs to be separated from him. Anyone can be right with him because the gospel is the news of hope. A person can believe in what Christ has done and repent of his sins and be buried with Christ in baptism, and be raised up hoping in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Have you done that? And then living by hope we can walk with the Lord in purity and in patience. Are you doing that? Can we help you in some way this morning?