We seem to gravitate to this time of the year. I think the reason that we gravitate to this time of year is that there is hope. We have hope for the new year to not be like the last year. We have hope that things could be different in the future. There are many times in the year when we are not hopeful for our future but feel that the future is bleak and dark. But there is something about this time of year where the future brings a feeling of hope.
But our short term memory causes to forget something very depressing. You had this same hope at the end of last year and how did this year go? And you had this hope at the end of the prior year and had did that next year go? I am not trying to cause depression, since this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” The point I am making is that we observe our desire to desperately grasp at hope even when there is truly no real basis for grasping for it. We have wired in us a need for hope. In particular we grasp for future hope.
We may not realize how often God is trying to give us the hope that we are grasping for. In preparation for this lesson I was blown away to find out how many passages speak about the hope we have. But the hope that God speaks about for our lives is not that it is going to be a new year. Nor is God’s hope in something baseless, blinding wishing for the future to be better than the past. God offers an amazing hope. Yet it seems that God’s offer for hope is not something we talk about or rest our confidence on like God wants us to do.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3–5 ESV)
God does not want us to have a false hope or an empty hope. Nor does he want us to have a wishful hope. But there is something that Satan seems to be very good at doing: taking away hope. Satan is so good at making us feel hopeless. But hope is often the one thing that keeps us going. When life is hard and we are under great strain from life and the great strain of faith we need hope. What I wanted to do in today’s lesson is consider the book of Romans where the apostle Paul tells us about the hope we have and with this hope, it is my hope that it will change the way we approach the new year and ground us in the true hope we need for life.
Building Hope (Romans 5:1-5)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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. (Romans 5:1–5 ESV)
I want us to consider what all our sufferings are funneling us toward. Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Notice that Paul puts forward the hope that we are supposed to have. Since we have been justified by faith and have obtained access by faith into grace, we are able to rejoice in hope. Then Paul says that we also rejoice in our sufferings. We have the tendency to understand how suffering produces endurance and character. But ultimately Paul tells us that suffering produces endurance which producing character which produces hope. How is suffering ultimately producing hope in us? Suffering is not to destroy our hope but strengthen our hope.
This is going to sound a little strange but I would like for you to think about it for a moment. Hope is not hope if it is not regularly challenged. There is an example of this truth given in the text. Back up a few verses to Romans 4:16-21. Paul recounts how Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations. The problem became that Abraham became too old to have children. Abraham’s faith is being challenged, which is what every trial and every suffering causes: a challenge of faith. Look at Romans 4:18. “In hope he believed against hope…” Why did he do that? Why did Abraham have hope when there was no reason to have hope based on how life was going? What made Abraham have hope? Verse 18 says that it was because God has told him what he would do. Verse 21 says that he was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Testing, trials, and suffering challenge us if we are going to have hope. We exercise our hope when we are in seemingly hopeless circumstances.
I will use my recent experience as an example. My grandmother that I love just passed away a couple weeks ago. This is when hope is made real. Do you really believe in the hope of eternal life? Do you really believe what Jesus said that those who die in the Lord still live? Hope only works in difficulty. Hope only has value through suffering. Hope becomes real in our minds and hearts in the hardest of times and apparently hopeless circumstances. What Paul wants us to initially see is that hope is built up and confirmed through suffering. Suffering produces endurance which produces character which produces hope. To state this another way, difficulties in life cause us to reach for real hope.
Real Hope (Romans 8:23-25)
Paul returns to speaking about our hope in Romans 8:23-25.
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. For in this hope we were saved. 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. (Romans 8:23–25 ESV)
Paul says that we are waiting eagerly for our adoption as children of God, the redemption of our bodies. Listen to what Paul says next: “For in this hope we were saved.” What is the hope of the Christian? What is to be our hope as followers of Jesus? We were saved into this hope: we will receive the full adoption as children of God. This is the hope that Paul speaks about as he opens his letter to Titus.
In the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began— in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…. (Titus 1:2–3 NRSV)
God promised and he never lies that we have the hope of eternal life, which is this glorious relationship with God as his adopted children forever. Whatever is happening to us in this life, no matter the darkness or the difficulty, we have this hope of eternal life promised by God before the ages began. Our bodies will be redeemed and changed so that we can be with the Lord.
Being Filled With Hope (Romans 15:4, 13)
As Paul begins to end his letter to the Romans, he has a prayer for them which is found in Romans 15:13.
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. (Romans 15:13 ESV)
God is a God of hope and wants to fill you with all joy and peace so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. God wants us to be filled with hope. God does not want us to be hopeless Christians living miserable existences. Now Paul gives an explanation about this hope that we are able to have just a few verses earlier. Look at Romans 15:2-4.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:2–4 ESV)
Notice how Paul ends the thought: we might have hope. How are we supposed to gain this hope that is to be found in Christ? “Through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We have already spoken about endurance in earlier in this lesson as we saw in Romans 5. We rejoice in our suffering knowing that it is producing endurance which produces character which produces hope. But let us consider the other point Paul makes about how we obtain hope. We have hope through the encouragement of the scriptures. In other words, we gain hope just like Abraham did. Why did Abraham have hope? Because God gave him a promise. God spoke to Abraham and told him that he would have offspring. Therefore, Abraham had hope. How do we have hope? We have hope because God has also spoken to us. God’s word contains promises to us. God is speaking to us and telling us about who he is and what he is doing for us. The scriptures are intended to give us hope.
Do we think about the scriptures in this way? How often we think of the scriptures as a painful chore to have to pick up and read! How often we choose to neglect the scriptures! How often do we look for hope in all the wrong places? Hope is not going to be found in simply turning the calendar, dropping the ball in NYC, and saying that things are just going to get better. We so often want to shortcut this process but in doing so we end up with a false hope. It is an empty hope. We just participate in wishful thinking. God wants to give us a real hope. Our lack of hope comes from a lack of time in God’s word.
Please notice that these things were not written for an academic knowledge. They were written down for our hearts. They were written down for our encouragement so that we would have hope. The strength to live is in the scriptures and no where else. Our often negative view of the scriptures keeps us from receiving hope. The scriptures are 66 books of hope bound together in your hands. Consider even further that when Paul said the scriptures were written so that we have hope he at that time was referring to the first 39 books, what we call the Old Testament. Even those books were written so that we have hope. Hope is generated through carefully reading, understanding, and obeying what was written down. This is the way to battle hopelessness and sadness.
Think about it like this as well: where else are we going to get hope? Don’t worry, be happy does not work. Keep calm and carry on does not work. Everything we try is empty. What else is going to fill us up with true hope? We try to put our hopes in our careers or our wealth or our family or our friends and yet these things always increase our hopelessness. Hope cannot ultimately be produced by human beings. Any hope we personally generate cannot be secured. Whatever we hope in we do not have the power to achieve. Joy and peace come from faith and are the results of believing in God’s great promises. The Holy Spirit is filling us with hope we read and meditate on the scriptures.
As we approach the new year, I would like for us to have a different idea about hope for 2019. Do not let your hope be tied to the flipping of the calendar but the hope that we have been given through Jesus. Because Jesus came, died, and rose from the dead we have a real, tangible, living hope.
The apostle Peter writes to Christians who are going through suffering and difficult times. Listen to how hope changes what we do.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13 ESV)
Here is how you live as a follower of Jesus. Prepare your minds and be ready. Ready yourself with this knowledge. Set you hope fully on the grace to come at the revelation of Jesus. Jesus did not come only once. Jesus is coming again. Set your hope on that. God promised eternal life and he cannot lie. Jesus said he has gone to prepare a place for us and he does not lie because he is God. Set your hope on his return and our being joined with the Lord. Increase your hope in 2019 through the encouragement of the scriptures and through the knowledge your difficulties are changing you to bring you closer to the glory to be revealed. Do not put your hope in silly things. You will hear many silly things as the end of the year approaches. Ground your hope on Jesus who will return and give life to those who love him and give their lives to him. Finally, do not forget that suffering exercises our hope. Suffering and difficulties challenge us to set our hope on the life to come and not rest our hope in this life.