A Living Hope

I heard once about a young man who was very sick. In fact, he was terminally ill. He went to the medical clinic for his usual treatment and there was a new doctor on duty. Without really thinking, the doctor said to this young man, “You know, don’t you, that you won’t live out the year?”

And, as you can imagine, it devastated this young man. And it wasn’t so much what the doctor said as it was the way he said it. He left the doctor’s office in tears and he went to the director’s office to complain. He said to the director, “That man took away my hope.”

The director’s response was this. He said, “I guess he did. Maybe it’s time to find a new one.”

Let me tell you this this morning: if your hope is centered on anything in this world – if your hope is based on your desire to live for many more years, or if your hope is based on the fact that you have a certain amount of money available to retire with, or if your hope is based on the way other people treat you, there will come a time when your hope will be taken away. And it’s time for you to find a new hope.

Fortunately, God has given us the basis for a hope that will last. In I Peter chapter 1, the apostle begins his letter with these words:

“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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:3-4,6-9)

Peter wrote these words about 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he set about to write something encouraging to these Christians of Asia Minor who were going through such a difficult time. They were being abused by overbearing bosses (2:18). Wives were being threatened by unbelieving spouses (3:1, 6). They were all being ridiculed by skeptical neighbors and associates (4:14). And, it appeared that they were not far off from the possibility of a much more violent form of persecution (4:12–18).

It was a very anti-Christian society that they were living in. And the question raised by those believers is the same question that we need to ask ourselves today: How can we have the strength in times of great stress and anxiety not just to endure the evil day, but to be joyful and to fill our lives with the fruits of righteousness, with deeds of kindness and mercy, with labors of love? When your life is in jeopardy, or your job, or your marriage, or your health, or your respect in the community—how can you rise up with joy and bless those who abuse you and commit yourself to loving them?

To be busy serving others in love takes a lot of effort in the very best of circumstances. But to devote yourself in love to others when your own life is falling apart, that takes a strength that is utterly beyond us. And if that is what we are called to do, then the strength needs to come from some source greater than us.

As you know, the Bible — and especially Peter’s first letter — does not ease our burden by saying: “When things get tough, don’t worry about others; just take care of yourself.” In fact, Peter seems to suggest that the tougher times get, the greater the need for us to live a life of love toward others.

There is no let-up in the call for us to live like Jesus, even when life gets really tough. So, Peter doesn’t lighten our load by saying we don’t have to live like Jesus in tough times. Instead, he writes something to give us the power to live that kind of life.

And he begins by saying, “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.” (I Peter 1:3)

The power with which Peter tried to equip those struggling saints was the power of hope. If they, or if we, are going to live like Jesus lived, and love like Jesus loved, even when things get tough, then we must be filled with a “living hope.”

Because there’s not a lot around us that offers us hope. According to one poll, most Americans believe that the past decade was the worst decade in history. It was a decade that included 9/11, two stock market crashes, a financial recession and job losses, our involvement in war in Iraq and Afghanistan, scandals, corruption, Hurricane Katrina, mass shootings, school massacres, and so on.

There’s a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown is telling his problems to Schroeder. To comfort him, Schroeder says, “Don’t be discouraged. These early defeats help to build character for later on in life.” Charlie Brown asks, “For what later on in life?” Schroeder said, “For more defeats!”

And sometimes that’s the way we feel. And if we don’t have any hope that things will ever get any better, we’re left with a feeling of meaninglessness, of futility, that can go so far as to destroy our desire to go on living. Hope is as necessary to the human spirit as oxygen is to the body. We’ve got to have it.

And Peter says that God has given his children “a living hope”. The definition of “hope” is a “desire for something, with the expectation of getting what is desired.” Notice that hope is not just a desire for something; it also involves an expectation that you’ll get what you desire. That’s what makes it a living hope.

Now, the opposite of a living hope is obviously a dead hope. If you desire something, but you don’t really expect to get it, that’s a dead hope. That’s the kind of hope you have if you hope to win the lottery, or if you hope that Fayetteville State will one day win the NCAA basketball tournament, or if you hope that I’m going to cut my sermon short and get you out of here by 11:30. That’s a dead hope. But Peter says that we have a “living hope”, or as the Hebrew writer puts it, we have a “full assurance of hope” (Hebrews 6:11)

Because Peter tells us that our hope is centered on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the very cornerstone of our Christian faith. It is mentioned over 100 times in the New Testament. It was and is and always will be the absolute most important thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.

When the apostles set about to choose someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot, the first chapter of Acts tells us that they wanted to have someone who would be a witness with them of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ was the great emphatic point in the sermon of Peter on the day of Pentecost. He said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32)

Acts 4 tells us that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33)

The central doctrine that Paul preached everywhere he went was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And in fact, he said that the very essence of our faith is wrapped up in the resurrection of Christ. Without it, there is no gospel. Paul began I Corinthians 15 with the affirmation that, of all the things he preached, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb were the most important things (I Cor. 15:3).

The resurrection is everything to Christianity. Even the crucifixion loses its meaning without the resurrection. The life of Christ is a waste without the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the death of Jesus becomes only the death of a martyr. Or it becomes the execution of a fraud. Or maybe it becomes the pathetic death of a deranged madman. But with the resurrection, it becomes the death of the Son of God.

You see, it wasn’t Jesus’ teachings, and it wasn’t his miracles, and it wasn’t his dying that accounted for the church and accounted for Christianity. It was his resurrection. The truth is, there would be no church if Jesus had not risen from the dead. In fact, after Jesus died, the disciples were scattered to the wind, but it was in his resurrection that he gathered them together, and it is by his resurrection that he continues today to regather his people from all over the world.

As I have said before, I love the perspective of children when it comes to the Bible. That’s one reason why I enjoy our Wednesday night Bible class so much. So I thought I would share with you how two little girls view the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here’s the story in their own words, and with their drawings.

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“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.” (I Peter 1:3)

Our hope arises from being born again, and this new birth is connected in some way to Jesus’ resurrection. Later in this chapter, Peter will talk about the new birth again and he says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (I Peter 1:23-24)

So, first, Peter says they were born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and then he says they were born again by the Word of God, specifically the gospel that was preached to them.

Because, you see, the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t produce hope unless we actually hear about it. Before it can bring hope to our hearts, we have to get the news. But the other way around is true, too. Words by themselves don’t produce hope. There has to be some assurance that they are true. We have to have some evidence that Jesus really was raised from the dead.

If the scribes and the Pharisees had been able to produce the body of Jesus on the day of Pentecost, Peter could have preached until he was blue in the face and nobody would have been born again unto a living hope. That’s why Paul listed in I Corinthians 15 all the different people who were witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.

If there’s anything that I believe in, it is that that tomb some 2000 years ago was empty. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He came up out of that grave. Now I realize that we live in a world that has all but banished the miraculous. We live in a world of scientific law and technological discovery. And so, fewer and fewer people seem to acknowledge the resurrection.

Most people will accept that Jesus was a real person. Most people will say that he lived, and may even admit that he was a great moral teacher, perhaps even that he was the greatest moral teacher of all time. And some will even go so far as to say that Jesus was in some way a spokesman for God.

But more and more people are saying that Jesus was only a man. And while he may have died on the cross, he certainly did not rise from the grave. Resurrection is the ultimate miracle, and our modern minds are convinced that miracles don’t happen.

Just this past week, British newspapers revealed the results of a poll taken by the BBC a couple of months ago. This poll asked people, “Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus?” And among those who identified themselves as “Christians”, 25% of them said they don’t believe it ever happened. That’s not 25% of the general public; that’s 25% of those who regard themselves as Christians!

But Paul clearly made the point in I Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then Christianity has no meaning whatsoever.

“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15:14-15, 19).

The resurrection of Christ is central to our faith. But there’s still a question that I think needs to be answered. If indeed Jesus was raised from the dead (and we believe that he was), then how does that resurrection give me hope? Let me suggest a couple of ways.

1. The resurrection gives me hope that I can change and be freed from sin

In Romans 6, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:3-6)

Paul talks about being a slave to sin. Have you ever noticed the grip that sin has in your life? You try so hard to do what’s right, but you can’t seem to do the things you know you need to do. You end up doing things you’re ashamed of. That’s the enslavement of sin.

But God tells us we can be freed from that sin. We can die to sin, so that sin no longer has control of our lives. Because we died with Christ, and we were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, and we were raised up to walk in newness of life with Christ, we have a second chance to live for God. Through the resurrection of Christ, we have hope.

In I Peter 3:21, there’s an interesting passage. Sometimes we think of baptism as being connected only with the death of Christ, but Peter tells us that the resurrection also plays an important part in that act — “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience…”

In other words, baptism says, “God I want a clean conscience. I want to start over.” But where is the power of baptism? It’s not in the water. Peter says it’s “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism is of significance only because of the resurrection of Christ. That’s where the power is. That’s where the hope lies.

In Colossians 2:12, Paul said you were “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

That’s why Paul said over in I Corinthians 15 that without the resurrection of Christ, we have no hope. Our hope lies in the truth that just as Jesus Christ rose from the dead and had new life, so we can be raised from the dead and be given new life — that new birth, that second chance, and we can be new creatures.

The resurrection of Christ is proof that God has the power to give us hope in this life.

2. The resurrection also assures us that there is an eternal future ahead that is better than anything we have ever known in this life.

Let me share with you something that happened on an October afternoon in 1982. Badger Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin was packed. That day, there were more than 60,000 die-hard University of Wisconsin football fans watching their team take on the Michigan State Spartans. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to determine who the better team was. Michigan State was winning against the Badgers.

But what seemed odd was that even while their team was losing, there were occasional bursts of applause and shouts of joy from the Wisconsin fans. How could they cheer when their team was getting beat? It turns out that 70 miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Many of the fans in the stands were listening to portable radios and responding to what was going on in another game, in another sport, in another place.

There is something to be said for being plugged into what is going on elsewhere because sometimes the things that are going on where you are become extremely difficult. Fortunately for us, because of the resurrection, no matter how difficult or even desperate our situation seems, we can face it with hope, not because of what is going on around us, but because of what is going on somewhere else.

That’s why when Peter talks about our living hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he continues by saying it is a hope for “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (I Peter 1:4).

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we begin to see that God has something better in mind for each of us. You may get sick and die in this life, but if you’re a child of God, you won’t get sick and die in that life. You may have all sorts of hardships in this life, but you won’t have any of them in the next life. The treasures you cling to so tightly right now may get old and rot, but in the next life it won’t be that way.

Because we have hope. Hope that no matter what we have in this life, there’s something better that waits for us in the next life. If you are a child of God, you have the assurance that one day you’ll be raised from the dead to live with God forever. And the reason that we have that hope is because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And the interesting thing is that if we have that hope for the life to come, it gives us the strength to be able to live out this life. Because people who have no hope tend to say, “Well, if things are bad and there’s no hope that they’re ever going to get any better, then I may as well just get the pleasure I can for today.” And so, my life becomes very self-centered. Or maybe living without hope causes me to be anxious and depressed, to the point where I have no incentive or strength to care about other people.

But if I have a hope that one day things will be different, things will be better, I can stop worrying about me and I can focus on others around me.

Conclusion:

In John 11, Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

And that’s a question that we all need to answer — do you believe this? Jesus is the resurrection and the life. There is something that lies ahead that is more than what we have here. The empty tomb is our assurance that things can and will get better.

A few years ago, the psychology department of Duke University conducted an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. And so, in one container they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container, they made the hope of escape possible for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning.

The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of what we sometimes say. You may have heard people say, “As long as there is life, there is hope.” But the Duke experiment proved, “As long as there is hope, there is life.”

You see, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, life is a hopeless end. But with it, life is an endless hope.

Jean-Paul Sartre was a famous atheist who died in Paris in 1980. It is said that about a month before he died, he would say to himself, “I know I shall die in hope.” Then in sadness, he would add these words: “But hope needs a foundation.”

This morning, our hope as Christians has a foundation – Jesus Christ was raised from the dead some 2000 years ago. Do you believe this? May that resurrection give you hope this morning, a living hope.

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