The Gospel of Hope
One of the great disparities between the first Easter and our Easter today is that today Easter has become that time when we as Christians at least appear to have everything together — and that’s not a bad thing; I’m not saying that — but this is just part of our church culture in America.
Easter Sunday is extra special, so we dress a little neater, and we get our family photo, and we want this service to go really well — because it’s Easter, you know! And again, that’s totally fine; but we should just realize that the first Easter was nothing like this. In fact, the first Easter was almost the exact opposite, and Mark’s Gospel, more than any other, gives us this perspective.
This is how Mark describes that first Easter morning: he says that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb where Jesus was buried, and they discover that the tomb is empty; and then an angel tells them that Jesus is risen; that he’s not here; and then Marks ends it like this:
And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
So Jesus is risen from the dead, just like he said he would, and we should celebrate — and we do! — but the first disciples, at first, were confused. They didn’t know what to do. They were astounded. And this is what gets at the great question of the Resurrection.
The Great Question of the Resurrection
The great question of the Resurrection is not whether it really happened (it did — and the evidence is overwhelming), so that’s not the question. Instead, the great question of the Resurrection is: Now what?
Now that Jesus has risen; now that the tomb is empty — what does that mean for us? What do we do with that? How does this make things different?
That’s the great question of the Resurrection, and rest of the New Testament is written to basically give us the answer, and if it had to be summed up in one word, it’s hope. The good news of Jesus, the Christian gospel, is a gospel of hope.
And so just in terms of how we think about the Resurrection, I want us to get the order right. The resurrection of Jesus is not the end of Christianity, it’s the beginning. It’s not the great climax of the story, but in some ways, it’s almost like the setting; it’s the start. It’s the new thing. It’s kind of like a new creation, and what it gives us is hope. That’s what the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3. He says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead …
My goodness! Do we hear those words? This is not the end! Now that Jesus is raised we don’t wipe our hands here like we’re all done. We’re just getting started. The Resurrection has brought something new for us, and this new thing is called a living hope. We now have, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, living hope. Now what does that mean?
Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today, and we need God’s help. Let’s pray, and we’ll get started.
Father, in your Word you are called the God of hope, and in this moment we come to you with confidence and we ask that this morning you would overwhelm our hearts with your joy and peace, so that by the power of your Holy Spirit, we may abound in hope. We ask this in Jesus’s name, amen.
If you have a Bible, turn to the Book of Romans Chapter 8, because when it comes to hope, this chapter is the “Greatest of All Time.” Romans Chapter 8 is the most important chapter in the most important book when it comes to a Christian theology of hope, and this morning there are five things we learn here.
This is a five-point sermon — because it’s Easter! — but I’m going to be quick. Here’s the first one. Fives truths on the meaning of hope:
1. Hope is about the future.
So we’re going to start basic here, because before we can understand hope, we have to have some idea about what we mean by the word.
What is hope?
Well, “hope” is a word we use it all the time today; and we use it pretty much the same way it was used in the First Century.
Paul tells us what he means by “hope” right in the middle of Chapter 8, starting at verse 24. So skip ahead for a minute if you can, look over at verse 24 where Paul says,
For in this hope we were saved
[we’re going to come back to that, but look at what he says after it…]
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
So very simply here, Paul defines hope by telling us what it’s not: Hope can’t be seen. If you hope in something you see, that’s not hope. Hope, then, has to do with the future. It means to have a confident expectation in what is to come. That’s what the original Greek word meant, and that’s how we use the word today. Hope is about the future. It’s a resolve, a feeling, a conviction we have about something we’ve not yet seen but believe that we will see.
And you might be wondering now: well, how this is any different from faith? Hope and faith sound the same, but they’re different; and the difference is nuanced, but important. It’s that hope is the expectation of those things that faith has believed to be true.
Hope is the expectation of those things that faith has believed to be true.
So faith considers something true of God now, and whenever that truth crosses the line into waiting and looking for the future it becomes hope. It’s been said that
- faith is the foundation of hope;
- hope grows on faith,
- but then hope invigorates faith.
So we believe Jesus cares about this world (faith) … and one day Jesus is going to make all things new (hope). And do you see how that hope impacts and mobilizes faith?
It means we have to have hope. We cannot live without hope.
2. Hope is received, not invented.
So most everybody would say that hope is important; most agree that hope is a good thing to have — But where does hope come from, and does it even matter where it comes from?
Some people might say that hope is a placebo, that it’s basically just the power of positive thinking, and that just as long as we’re wishing upon some star, it doesn’t matter which star it is — it’s all the same; there’s no difference. That’s the way some will talk about hope, but of course that’s not the way the Bible talks about hope.
In the Bible, hope is not something that we can just make up, but it has to do with who we are. That’s one of the first things we learn in Romans 8, verse 8. The apostle Paul is talking about identity here, and he says, verse 8,
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
And the key in this passage is right there in verse 15. We have received the Spirit of adoption. And this metaphor of adoption is helpful because it makes clear to us that this is God’s work, not ours. We cannot make ourselves adopted. Adoption is something that happens to us. Until God moves in action, we are helpless and left to ourselves. It has to be God who makes us his children.
What God Has Done
And we’ve got to this right. See, the Bible says that we were orphans. We were left to ourselves, and stuck on ourselves; we were far from God and without hope (see Ephesians 2:12).
But then God, rich in mercy, comes to us with the good news of Jesus, and we hear the truth that Jesus died for us — that he took our sins upon himself, that he bore the wrath we deserve, that he gives us his righteousness. The gospel is that Jesus took away everything that keeps us from God, and he gives us everything that brings us to God.
And so, if you’re a Christian, you heard that good news, and you believed that good news, and God dropped the gavel and said about you: My child! My son! My daughter!
And then God gives us his Spirit to prove it. The Spirit now bears witness with our sprit that we are children of God — and listen for the future here — “and if we’re children then we’re heirs — heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ” (verse 17). To be an heir means you have a future. We are heirs of God. God has a future for us, which means we have hope.
So it’s goes like this: we have hope, because God has a future for us, because we are his heirs, because we are his children, because we have received his adoption.
So hope is received, not invented. And you can receive it right now by faith. You can. Believe the gospel of Jesus.
3. Hope puts us in contradiction to the world.
Now so now we have to talk about suffering. You probably heard it there in verse 17, that we are fellow-heirs with Christ “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” [First, as a Christian, we need to know that when we suffer we suffer with him. That’s part of what it means to be united to Jesus by faith. Our lives are bound up into his own, and so when we suffer we can never suffer alone. We suffer with him. And that suffering is pretty much life in this world. This life is full of trouble. ]
Look, I’m not trying to ruin your day here; I know it’s Easter and we’ve got our pastels on, but listen: this world is dark and life is hard and we suffer. Let’s be honest. This world is turbulent and full of chaos. It is not your friend. Suffering is the reality here. And to the extent that we understand the future that God has for us, we will be disgusted by the current darkness. Because it can be dark here.
That’s why we have to remember the comparison. That’s why Paul says in verse 18,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
So if we’re going to think rightly about the sufferings of the present then we have to know about the glory of the future. And it’s not even worth comparing, Paul says. Verse 19 — we’re talking about glory now —
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
So what is the glory of our future? It’s our transformation.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
And this is where the rubber meets the road for us. It’s in this waiting. It’s this groaning. That is the pain of this life. It’s that:
- we are not yet who we will be.
- This world is not yet what it will be.
- And all of that is in the future —
- which means that current reality stands against us.
If we know how different our future is from what the world is now it means we cannot live in harmony with this world. Hope forbids harmony with a broken world. This is why hope is a resistance movement. If we know our future in Christ, if we know what God has promised, then we can’t be okay with the darkness of this world now.
Our American Despair
I don’t know how many of you have seen the March 5th issue of TIME magazine, but the whole issue is about the opioid problem in America. It’s all one photographer’s work, who went different places all over the country, to document this crisis we’re going through as a nation — and it really is a crisis. Ever year in America over 64,000 people die from drug overdose.††† And for the second year in a row the average life expectancy in our country has dropped. Can you believe that?
Here we are in 2018, and people are not living as long as they used to. With all of our advances in science and technology and medicine, people today are dying sooner and it’s by their own hands.
And as I was looking through the magazine, it was disturbing. I got this lump in my throat because this whole crisis is a crisis of despair — which is the opposite of hope.
It’s been said that the two great enemies of hope are presumption and despair. First, when it comes to presumption: presumption is the fabricated fulfillment of God’s promises now by our own hands.
Presumption is when we try to make our own heaven out of this world.
It’s precisely what the “prosperity gospel” is — which is the lie that God wants everybody to be healthy and wealthy now, and that if we just prayed hard enough we all would be. That is toxic, and it’s the enemy to Christian hope.
And the other enemy is despair. Despair is when we consider the promises of God and we believe that he will not fulfill them.
Despair is to believe that God will not do what he has said, and therefore, we have no future, and if we have no future, then everything is bleached of meaning. Life becomes nothing, and when life is nothing, then all you want to do is escape, and so you give yourself over to whatever it is that gets your dopamine levels higher. And right now, in our nation, that is why we have an opioid crisis. It’s because we have a despair epidemic.
See, look, without hope, what are we doing here? Without hope for the future, this is all misery. That’s what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19. He said, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” There has to be a tomorrow if today is going to matter. We must have a future. We do have a future. That’s what we are waiting for.
But the waiting is not easy. It means we need help.
4. Hope requires us to need help.
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. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
So we can’t live without hope, and that means we can’t live without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the minister of hope, and we need him. Notice what he does.
We don’t know what to pray. A lot of times we’re just stuck. You ever been there? We’re stuck in the tension, in the waiting, but that’s when the Spirit prays for us.
And here’s how that goes:
God — “he who searches hearts” — God — he knows the way the Spirit thinks because the Spirit thinks what he thinks, and the Spirit prays for us according to that — that’s verse 27.
And so there’s this mysterious collaboration happening in God, and we are right in the middle of it, and the goal is God’s will.
And what is God’s will? Verse 28 says it’s our good. It’s all things working together for our good.
And what is our good? Verse 29 says it’s being conformed to the image of Jesus.
And that is an absolute guarantee. This is part of God’s saving work that stretches back from eternity past, through the present, and into the future.
See, look, when it comes to God’s work in our lives, some of it we did not see; some of it we have seen; and some of it we will see.
You’ve been predestined. You’ve been called. You’ve been justified. And so consider it as good as done: you will be glorified. Your entire body will be redeemed. You will experience the glory of being a child of God. You will know that freedom. You will be conformed into the image of Jesus. You absolutely will! Christian, that is your future!
And that changes us now.
5. Hope changes us now.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I love Paul’s question in verse 31. He has just explained for us Christian hope. He has laid out for us what our future is because of Jesus, and then he says: What does this mean? What does this mean for now? What difference does this make now?
It makes us invincible. And to be honest, I blush a little by saying that, but it’s what Paul says. Since God is for us, nothing formed against us can succeed. And here’s his logic. This is gospel logic:
In the gospel, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us the greatest gift of all. And it’s so great that everything else in comparison is small beans for God to do.
So then, the cross and resurrection of Jesus create for us a universe of glorious possibility. If God has given Jesus for us, crucified and risen for us, then what would he not do? What would he not give us?
He’s going to give you all things — he’s going to give you all things for your good, for your joy, for your conformity into the image of Jesus.
Because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, because of Easter, we have hope. That’s what we celebrate today. And Paul’s point here is to strengthen our hope by telling us that it can never be taken away.
God is the judge over all, and he has justified you. Because Jesus was condemned, you are not condemned. You are forgiven and righteous. You are helped and prayed for. You are forever united to the love of God. Which means that everything in this world, and everything in your life, that opposes God’s love for you will fail.
And this is where we need to feel it. This is where our hope for the future peels back into our present, into our now, and it changes us.
Since God is for us, no person and no thing nowhere, can overcome us. Your suffering will not destroy you. You think it will. It feels like it will. But it will not, it cannot, destroy you. God will do what he has promised.
This is your hope, and it’s a hope that will never die.
That’s why it’s called a living hope . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
This morning we have gathered to celebrate this hope and to worship the God of hope, and that’s what we do as we come to this Table.
The Table is a banquet of hope for us. The bread symbolizes the broken body of Jesus, and the cup symbolizes the shed blood of Jesus, and when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we remember what Jesus has done, and look forward to all that he has promised.
So this morning if you’re united to Jesus by faith, if Jesus is your hope, we invite you to eat and drink with us.
Calvin, Institutes, Book III.2.42, quoted in Moltmann, J. (1993). Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology. (M. Kohl, Trans.) (p. 20). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Calvin writes, “Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when this truth shall be manifested; faith believes that he is our Father, hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us; faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed; faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith.”
See Horowitz, Mitch. One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition. "The principle of positive thinking is simplicity itself. Picture an outcome, dwell on it in your thoughts and feelings, and unseen agencies—whether metaphysical or psychological—will supposedly come to your aid. Seen in this way, the mind is a causative force." (Kindle Locations 69-70)
 In the TIME magazine article, I think the hardest thing I read was the account of one user who said that they use because the sensation feels like a “warm hug from Jesus.” And when I read that I thought, what a description! And then it occurred to me that I was reading the epitome of despair. Because here’s how that thinking goes: God will not do what he has said; warm hugs from Jesus are not real; that is not my future; therefore, I might as well get as close to that as I can now. Accessed: http://time.com/james-nachtwey-opioid-addiction-america