[Video available on my Sermon Video page here.]
The Gathering, Chattanooga
December 6, 2015
~The doctor slowly walked in and sat down with the look on his face that said it all. Before he could say a word, tears began to stream down her face as she leaned onto her husband’s shoulder. He tightly wrapped his arms around her and quietly wept, determined to take care of her for as long as he could.
~It’s been 2 years since he actually held a steady job. Never a day goes by that he doesn’t think of his ex-wife and two beautiful young girls, wondering what they’re doing today. Every passing day on the street is one step further from any chance for a normal life again.
~Hearing the verdict was like a swift punch in her gut. The color drained from her face as the reality that every tomorrow for the rest of her life would look exactly the same…and it was almost too much to deal with, wishing she could go back in time and change what rage-filled moment in time.
What happens when all options are eliminated and any belief that things can get better begins to fade; when the last bit of good news doesn’t come and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it?
What happens when hope runs out?
Everybody has reason to hope so long as there is some possibility that things actually can turn around. That’s the very way the dictionary defines hope: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Sometimes, though, things don’t turn out for the best and there is no rational basis to think they will. What do you do?
The answer to that depends on your starting point.
Many people start from a position that believes that all you get is what you see. The philosophical term is “Naturalism.” Someone who holds to Naturalism believes that the material, physical world is all there is; that everything that exists is nothing more than the product of chance. There is nothing beyond what we can see and there is nothing beyond this life. There is no God; no higher power, no after-life…and no real hope.
Some people seem to have no problem with this. They simply make the most of this life, realizing that this is all there is and they will someday simply cease to exist.
I think there is a problem with this, though. As long as everything is going well, I can see how people can pretty easily hold to that position, but when we’re faced with no hope that things will get better, it might be different story. When you’re faced with the reality that the cancer IS going to kill you, that the world is falling apart, the harshness of reality can be overwhelming.
Further, I think the vast major of humans want to exist. The idea of nonexistence doesn’t set well with most people, especially the closer they get to the point of that non-existence and they can’t live within the worldview they claim to believe. After all, we pay a lot of money to stay alive. We seem to want to continue existing and I think the thought of non-existence is a repelling thought.
There is an alternative to having to think this way (at least in the short term). To avoid the consequences of meaninglessness, many people embrace what is known as Existentialism. They have no basis for believing there is any meaning in life—with naturalism, there can be no real meaning in life—but they can’t live that way. They can’t practically live according to the system of belief they’ve embraced. There is no basis nor reason for things like love, rational thought, truth or hope. So, they invent meaning and purpose for their lives. They pursue careers that can give meaning. They have families so they can build a legacy after they cease to exist. See, Existentialism separates the harsh reality that there really is no meaning in the world from the desire for meaning; the desire to have meaningful thought, to truly love and to have significance, even when it is known that there is no reason for them; no basis for believing in them.
So they create meaning for themselves; they make themselves who they are.
The problem for existentialists is that they are always faced with the reality of the objective world. Death is always present; always threatening to destroy their meaning and purpose; always demonstrating the objective truth that what we have created is nothing more than an illusion. Nothing we have can last, so the happiness and satisfaction we live is a fantasy we have dreamed up to keep us from the truth. They may act as though there is hope, but it’s just a sham.
For that person who is honest with himself and follows his worldview to its logical conclusion (which rarely actually happens), a new reality becomes evident. They understand that the meaning in their lives is something of their own invention, but in reality, there is no meaning. All of life is an absurdity and of no value. We see this most clearly in those who kill for no purpose at all, simply because life has no value, no purpose, with no ultimate meaning. To live or die is equally worthless. Those who cannot find meaning and can no longer create meaning find themselves living according to another thought-system: Nihilism.
Nihilism is the reality for an honest naturalist. It is the denial of everything that is real. It is the end of the line; the natural conclusion for anyone who lives honestly as a naturalist. It realizes that nothing matters. Nothing is ultimately right or wrong, good or bad. There is no such thing as love and commitment because it all ends in the same place—nothingness. Nothing is worth investing in because it cannot last and means nothing.
There is only one place for a true Nihilist to go: Despair.
Few can actually survive living a life in which there is no trace of hope and, as a result, and end up either committing suicide or madness. They lose it…sometimes taking out as many people as they can in the process.
If this is the case, there is really only one other possibility…one other hope. That lies in Theism (and I would get more specific to Christian Theism): The belief that there really is a God who has created everything that exists and moves freely within His creation.
If there is a God who created it, who is Lord over it, then He must be the Highest of all beings and He must be able to communicate with His creation if He chooses to and in any manner of His choosing. This is where we get into the Bible, a book that tells us there is a God who has created a people in His own image, which means that there is reason for things like love and rational thought and purpose.
We’re talking about a God who tells us that everything that happens to us can work towards making us better people that will not be lost at the time of that great objective reality, death. Instead, we can live beyond the grave because He is beyond the grave. He is outside of time and space and makes it possible for us to be, as well.
If true, this is the only basis for real hope and it is one of the greatest gifts we could ever imagine.
Assuming, then, that what is written in Scripture is true, we have another problem: Just because there is an almighty, sovereign and holy God, doesn’t automatically result in everyone rejoicing that we don’t have to live in total despair due to meaninglessness.
To the contrary, because He is almighty, sovereign and holy leads us to a problem: The Bible tells us that his holiness; his perfection can only allow perfection into His presence.
Because of the Fall of Man, the perfect relationship God established at the beginning of creation was marred, making mankind unfit for a relationship with God and, even worse, left us liable for our sin, punishable not by annihilation, but eternally paying for the offense against an infinitely holy God in hell. As a result, God gave Laws to demonstrate what it would take for man to be made right with God and escape the payment for sin: the Law had to be followed perfectly. So, now we’re back to despair because no one can do that.
What we come to find out, though, is that God had another purpose for the Law and a purpose for our despair which was to make understand that in our own power, we are hopeless. We cannot save ourselves. In the Old Testament, God had made a covenant with man through Abraham that said so long as you obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people. After centuries of trying and failing, the Bible paints a picture of a people in despair, crying out to God for a savior.
Then came hope! God spoke through his prophet in the midst of the despair of the Israelites and gave them reason to believe that things could and would get better!
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God promised that He would do what man could not do…He Himself would satisfy the requirement of holiness. God would make a way for eternal life, providing hope where there was only despair. This fulfillment would be through His Son, Jesus, the Christ (the Deliverer) and over 700 years before Christ was born, God said gave his people hope by telling them what was to come:
He would enter Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).
He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9).
The betrayal would be for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).
The money would be used to purchase the potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13).
The Messiah would die a sacrificial death for us (Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:8).
He would die with criminals but His burial would be with the wealthy (Isaiah 53:9).
He would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:8–11; Isaiah 53:10).
He would speak specific words on the Cross, he would be mocked, and people would gamble for His clothes (Psalm 22:1, 8, 18).
Remember, the definition of hope, according to the dictionary, is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” God gave the world a reason to hope and he gave the word a new meaning.
In Scripture, hope is no longer about something that we want to come about or even that we think it might turn out for the best. Biblical hope is a confidence that was is said will happen because God has said it. So, when we say that we have hope for the future, we believe that there is a certainty of what God WILL bring about based on what he has said he will bring about.
OK, so it’s one thing to say that God has spoken and that He has brought about promises, but how do we know that God’s Word and promises are true that lead to our certain hope?
Put simply, we believe. Now, I’m not talking about a simple act of the will as in choosing to believe against all evidence. When we think about what we believe, there are, as I can see it, three possibilities:
1. You can choose to believe something you know isn’t true (such as, I believe I can fly. I believe that unicorns exist)— that’s called delusion.
2. You can choose to believe something to be true but is actually false—that is error. (as in, I believe that the Vols will win the National Championship next year…though that might better be categorized as “delusion”).
3. You can believe something because you’re overwhelmingly convinced by evidence of it’s truth and reality. In this sense, You know in your heart that the external facts give evidence to what is true.
In the case of belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, the evidence is solid, but evidence alone is not enough. Salvation takes faith, and God’s word says that He gives us faith as a gift…an internal certainty that His promises are true. The Spirit of God convinces us to know what is true even though we can’t see it all with our eyes.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.”
John 3:16 is clear that the one who believes will not perish but have eternal life. It is this faith that leads to justification before God and eternal life through Christ. It also is the basis for our hope that things actually will get better; that even through bad circumstances, we can hope for the good. Look at Romans 5:1-9:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
So, when we trust in Christ, we are reconciled to God. We are made right with Him, being declared righteous because Christ has exchanged our sins for His righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This righteousness makes possible for God to welcome us into his family, but also gives us hope in our lives here on earth.
Hope that even bad circumstances are investments into our growth and development:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Hope that God will intervene when we struggle or when we are in need:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Hope that God will guide us every step of this crazy journey called life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
This hope is only found in Christ, but it is found in Him. It is real. It is comprehensive. It is eternal.
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. ~Romans 15:13