An Assurance of Hope

There’s a Peanut’s cartoon where Lucy and Linus are sitting in front of the television set when Lucy says to Linus, “Go, get me a glass of water.”  Linus says, “Why should I do anything for you? You never do anything for me.”  So Lucy says, “On your 75th birthday, I’ll bake you a cake.” So Linus gets up, he heads to the kitchen and he says, “Life is more pleasant when you have something to look forward to.”

            And that is so true.  But it makes all the difference in the world what it is we’re looking forward to.  Because if your hope is centered on anything in this world – if your hope is based on your desire to stay healthy and 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 all of the people in your life always treating you with love and respect, there will likely come a time when your hope will be taken away. 

            And so, we all need something to put our hope in that we can count on.  Hope is the theme of this passage in Hebrews that we’re going to take a look at this morning, and the writer of Hebrews is going to make this very point – that our hope as Christians is based on something that we can count on.

            We begin reading in Hebrews, chapter 6, verse 11:

            “But we want each of you to continue to be diligent to the very end, in order to give full assurance to your hope.  Then, instead of being lazy, you will imitate those who are inheriting the promises through faith and patience.”  (Hebrews 6:11-12, ISV)

            As I’ve mentioned before, the book of Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who were tired.  They were thinking about dropping out, quitting.  And so they needed to be told, “Hang in there, you can do it.  Others have done it, you can do it, too.”

            Those of you who remember your history from school will recognize the name of Sir Francis Drake who lived in England in the 16th century.  He had a lot of achievements – he sailed around the world, he was involved in numerous sea battles, most notably when he defeated the Spanish armada when it came to attack England.

            And he also wrote a prayer which is sometimes referred to as “Drake’s Prayer”.  He prayed, “O Lord God, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory; through him who for the finishing of thy work laid down his life for us, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.

            Now, when he prayed that prayer, I don’t know whether Sir Francis Drake was thinking about another long and dangerous sea voyage, or an upcoming battle, or one of the other many things that he accomplished.  But what he said is true.  And the book of Hebrews says that it’s especially true of living the Christian life.  What matters most is not so much the beginning, as impor­tant as that obviously is, but continuing, carrying on until our work is completely finished.

            And we understand how hard that can be.  At one time or another, we’ve all started projects and gotten bogged down: whether it was trying to learn a new language, or trying to lose weight, reading a long and difficult book, or remodeling the house.  Often, we dis­cover, after we’ve gotten into such projects, that it can hard to finish what we started.

            It always begins with a burst of enthusiasm and the excitement of doing something new, but then there’s the hard grind of carrying on, and then the weeks and maybe even years, when we’ve lost our enthusiasm and we struggle to keep working on the project, but we do so because we realize that there is a goal ahead which will make it all worthwhile if we will only keep going until we get the job done.

            Living the Christian life is sometimes like that, and the writer of Hebrews knows that his readers were in that situation. They started out strong, there was an excitement about becoming a Christian.  But now they’re at that point of the daily grind, day after day, wondering if it’s worth all the time and the effort.  And so, the writer of Hebrews says, “We want each of you to continue to be diligent to the very end, in order to give full assurance to your hope.” (Hebrews 6:11, ISV)

            This is a good time to ask the question, what exactly do we mean by hope?  Not just Webster’s definition, but the biblical definition.

            Because Webster’s definition is that hope is “A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  We use the word in that way all the time.  For example, a child might say, “I hope my daddy gets home early tonight so that we can play games after supper.”  Someone who is going on vacation might say, “I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend.”  An employee might say, “I hope I get a raise this year.”  A preacher might say, “I hope everyone stays awake through my sermon this morning.”

            But, whenever we use the word “hope” like that, we are expressing a degree of uncertainty.  There’s something we want, something we desire, but we’re not certain that it’s going to happen.  That child wants his father to come home early, but he doesn’t know for sure whether he will or not.  That person going on vacation wants there to be good weather, but he doesn’t know for sure what the weather is going to be like next week.  That employee wants to get a raise, but he doesn’t know for sure that he’ll get one.  And that preacher wants everyone stay awake during his sermon, but he doesn’t know for sure that that’s going to happen.

            And so, normally, when we express hope, we’re expressing uncertainty.  But that doesn’t describe the hope that we read about in the scriptures.  Biblical hope is not just a desire for something good in the future, but rather, it is “a confident expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

            You see, biblical hope not only desires something good for the future; it expects it to happen.  It not only expects it to happen; it is confident that it will happen.  The term that the Hebrew writer uses here is that we have “the full assurance of hope”.

            As Christians, we are certain that God will take those who are faithful to the end home to be with him for all eternity.  This certainty is what N.T. Wright calls a “moral certainty.”  Let me explain what he means by that.

            Moral certaintyis different from mathematical certainty or logical certainty.  Mathematical certainty says that if we have two apples and we add two more apples, we can be “mathematically” certain that we now have four apples.  That’s mathematical certainty.

            There is also such a thing as logical certainty.  If all humans need oxygen to survive and if John Doe is a human, then we can be “logically” certain that John Doe needs oxygen to survive.  That’s certainty based on logic.

            And that kind of thinking is important.  But much of our experience is not like that. There is a kind of legitimate certainty and confidence that does not come from mathematical calculations or merely logical laws.  It’s what is referred to as “moral certainty.”

            Let me give you an illustration.  I am absolutely certain that Sueanne and I are going to stay married to one another as long as we live. That certainty is not based on mathematical laws or logical syllogisms.  Rather, it is based on the character of our wills.  And, at this point, we have over 44 years of evidence about the nature and commitment of our wills.

            And so, when we talk about the future, we do not speak of hope in the normal use of the word.  For example, Sueanne and I would never say, “We sure hope that we’ll never get divorced.”  No, I have a hope of spending the rest of my life with Sueanne, but that hope is not an uncertain desire for something in the future, but it is a certainty.  It is a moral certainty which is based on the character of our wills.

            Now, someone might be argumentative and say, “Alan, you can’t really be sure of that.  You could be wrong.  Something could happen that would change everything and the two of you would get a divorce.”  And I suppose I could be wrong.  I suppose technically we could get a divorce.  And I also suppose all the Muslims in the world could suddenly convert to Christianity this afternoon.  It’s possible!  And it’s possible that the Republicans and the Democrats in this country will decide to all agree with each other on every single matter of policy.   And it’s possible that every pornographic publisher will go out of business by the end of this year because everyone will suddenly manage to get control of their lustful desires.

            All of those things are mathematically and logically possible.  But we have such a strong confidence that those things will never happen that we are able to say we are certain they won’t happen.  Because we know something about the human will.  There is a kind of certainty that comes from knowing the character of a man or a woman or a group of people.  And so, because Sueanne and I know each other’s character, we can say with confidence, “Our hope that we’ll never get a divorce is a moral certainty.”

            Now it’s important that you understand this concept because biblical hope is not simply a desire for something good to happen. It’s not a group of Christians who gather and say to one another, “I sure hope we get to go to heaven.”  No, we have an “assurance of hope”.  We have a confident expectation and desire for something.  And the reason we can be so confident and so certain is because our hope is based on moral certainty.

            And the Hebrew writer tells us how it is that we can be so certain – it is because our hope is based on the character of God.  And God has proven his reliability for a whole lot longer than 44 years.  The Hebrew writer says:

            “For when God made his promise to Abraham, he swore an oath by himself, since he had no one greater to swear by. He said, “I will certainly bless you and give you many descendants.” And so he obtained what he had been promised, because he patiently waited for it. For people swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all argument. 

            “In the same way, when God wanted to make the unchangeable character of his purpose perfectly clear to the heirs of his promise, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by these two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to prove false, we who have taken refuge in him might be encouraged to seize the hope set before us.  That hope, firm and secure like an anchor for our souls.” (Hebrews 6:13-19, ISV)

            The Hebrew writer says that our hope serves as an anchor in our lives.  An anchor is an essential part of a boat.  It’s what you drop down when you need to stabilize the boat and sit still.  The anchor sinks down deep into the mud at the bottom. Then even when it’s windy and the tide gets high the ship won’t move.

            The only other place in the Bible where anchors are mentioned is in Acts 27, which tells the story of Paul’s voyage which ended in shipwreck on Malta.   The ship he was on was being tossed to and fro, totally out of control and in danger of being dashed on the rocks along the shore.  And so they threw the anchor overboard to provide some stability. 

            That’s what hope does – it gives us stability.  Life is unsettled, there are storms that come into our lives that threaten to destroy us, but our anchor of hope provides us with an assurance that everything is going to turn out all right, and allows us to remain calm.

            But remember, our assurance regarding the future is not based on mathematical certainty or logical certainty, but on moral certainty.  More specifically, our certainty is based on the character of God. 

            The Hebrew writer goes back to the promises God made to Abraham.  A promise that he would have many descendants.  A promise that God would provide salvation to everyone in the world through one of his descendants — the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  It was that promise that gave Abraham hope to continue on even when things got tough.  And it is that promise that gives us hope to hang in there when things get tough.

            The reason we have this hope is because of God’s character — he says what he means and means what he says, and when God says he’s going to do something, you can be certain that he’s going to do it.

            And so, when God made promises to Abraham, he swore that he would keep those promises.  Now, whenever we want to confirm an oath, even as humans, we find something greater on which to take our oath.  That’s why we have the Bible in our courtroom – “Please place your hand on the Bible.  Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

            But what could God swear by to prove that he was telling the truth?  He couldn’t swear on a stack of Bibles because he hadn’t written them yet.  He couldn’t swear on his grandmother’s grave because he didn’t have a grandmother.  And so, God swore by the greatest thing in the world – he swore by himself.

            God made a promise to Abraham, and then he swore he would keep that promise.  The character of God is what gives us the assurance of our hope. 

            And what that means is that we don’t have to sit around being anxious saying, “I sure hope there’s something better in the life to come.”  No, we have an assurance of hope.  We can be absolutely certain of what lies ahead.  Not mathematically certain.  Not logically certain.  But morally certain.  A certainty based on the character of our God.

            That’s such an important thing to have in a world where things are constantly changing.  I don’t know much about the ins and the outs of the Stock Market, so I didn’t realize until recently that the Dow Jones average is influenced greatly by what is called the Fear & Greed Index.  If people are afraid, the market goes down.  When people get greedy, the market goes up. 

            Lately, this index has been showing extreme fear.  It’s because of the coronavirus, but it’s so much more than that.  Everybody seems to be anxious.  Besides their health, many are afraid of losing their job or losing their personal freedoms.  Many are afraid of economic collapse, while others are anxious about environmental collapse.  Others value security and are fearful of anyone or anything that threatens that security.  In the end, it’s all about control.  We get anxious and fearful because there’s so much that we can’t control.   As someone has put it, “Fear is an index of the object of our worship, the one ultimately in whom we place our trust.”

            And so, when the storms of life rage, when everything we’ve always counted on begins to crumble around us, when everything we thought we could depend on starts to disappear, it becomes more and more important that we have an anchor of hope that is centered in Jesus Christ.

            For the next few minutes, I want to read to you a lesson that I gave 19 years ago.  Let me set the context, and I think you’ll understand.  I gave this lesson on September 11, 2002.  It was one year after the 9/11 tragedy.  Sueanne and I were living in the Nashville area.  There was still a lot of pain in our community, and so the church I was preaching for decided that we would hold a memorial service in the city park.   And these are the words that I spoke that day:

            We are here this evening to remember the events of September 11, 2001, events that changed the course of the entire world.  Today, we remember, and, the truth is, we have no choice.  Because the memories of 9-11 are inescapable and impossible to purge from our minds.  I feel certain that each and every one of you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard the news of two airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center.  And, in those first few days after the tragedy, we all watched in hypnotic disbelief again and again.

            The stories of the people captivated us and captured our hearts – people who escaped by the skin of their teeth, people who lost friends and loved ones, and the people who acted heroically and unselfishly to lend a helping hand.  Now, a year later, what we may have pushed into the back of our minds has now come flooding back over us in a torrent of stories, images, and memories. The articles, the images, and the TV specials have brought it all back to life, and we once again feel the emotions we felt a year ago.

            So, remembering 9-11 isn’t a problem.  The memories are engraved in our minds. Every trip we make to the airport reminds us of our changed world.  Every flight taken by a loved one fills us with concern.  Television and the Internet have sealed the images of this experience in our heads and hearts.  The nightly news of a declining economy, Middle East violence, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan keep the turmoil of our changed world on the front burner of our thoughts.  And so, many around us live in fear – afraid to live, afraid to travel, afraid to trust.

            We cannot escape 9-11 and its realities.  Forgetting is impossible, but remembering is hard because it hurts; it’s a brutal reality. As much as we would like to wake up and the world be the same as it was September 10, 2001, it can never be that world again. We remember!  We cannot forget!  We cannot cleanse our minds of the horror of that day, nor should we!

            The question is, do we remember with hope?  Some might say that there is no place for hope.  But there are many reasons for hope. 

            Life is different, but life has gone on.  Babies have been born, some of them a living legacy of fathers who didn’t come home that day. 

            And life has been nobler. We have seen the return of real heroes — something that had been lost in the hype and glitter of celebrities and superstars is now replaced by true heroic sacrifice and service. 

            Our lives have been more aware.  People have wrestled with real questions about meaning and purpose and not just lost themselves in consumerism and selfishness.  Life has been recharged with an earnestness and awareness of what is precious.  Family, faith, freedom, and friendship are returned to a place of high regard.

            But our greatest reason for hope is found in something even greater.  Our nation has been brought to its knees by the loss of freedom we are experiencing in even traveling around in our homeland.  But, Max Lucado wrote these words in a prayer to God:  “The enemy sought to bring us to our knees and succeeded.  He had no idea, however, that we would kneel before you, God.  And he has no idea what you can do.”

            Ultimately, our reason to hope is found in God.  And so we remember with hope because we have the opportunity to be a part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  We remember with hope because we know that death can never be victorious in a world of faith.  We remember with hope because we share the faith and the history of those who have suffered previous defeats at the hands of evil and hung on to hope, centered not in what they had experienced, but in God who is their anchor point.

            Many years ago, with his country and city in a heap of devastation and his eyes bloodshot from his tears, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet of Israel reminded us how to remember with hope:

            “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:21-26)

            It is so very important that we realize that our hope is not centered in ourselves.  There is that danger – that we will develop an attitude that if my weapons are bigger than your weapons and my armies are bigger than your armies, then I can live in confidence.  But our confidence cannot be founded in our military power or our economic power.   And though we wave the American flag with pride, our hope is not based on our principles of democracy or on the fact that we are more righteous than others.

            Plainly and simply, our hope is in the LORD God – the same God who rescued Joseph from the dungeon, the same God who brought the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, the same God who answered the prayers of Sarah and Daniel and countless others, a God who has always kept his promises to his people, and who brought us our Savior in Jesus Christ. 

            And I find it interesting that what happened a year ago today was very similar to what happened on Calvary almost 2,000 years ago.  Because on that day, innocence was slaughtered.  On that day, goodness was murdered.  On that day, mothers wept and evil rejoiced.  And just as smoke filled the city of New York with darkness, so darkness fell on Calvary. 

            But what happened that day so long ago is what gives us hope today.  Because ultimately, our hope is founded in the Son of God who died that we might find forgiveness and have the opportunity to share an eternity with the God who created us.  And our hope is strengthened by what happened the third day afterward – as God demonstrated his great power shown in raising Jesus Christ from the dead.  Out of tragedy comes hope.

            I believe those words that I spoke 19 years ago are just as relevant today as they were back then.  And so, I come back to a question that I raised earlier in this lesson – where are you placing your hope?

            Because if your hope is centered on anything in this world – if your hope is based on your desire to stay healthy and 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 all of the people in your life always treating you with love and respect, there will likely come a time when your hope will be taken away.  And it’s time for you to find an assurance of hope that is centered in Jesus Christ.

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