December 1, 2019

The God of Hope

Passage: Romans 15:13

Good morning! If you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to Romans 15. This morning, we are pushing pause on our sermon series on the Gospel according to Mark, because we have officially entered into the season of Advent.

And if you have no idea what Advent is, if you didn’t grow up with this particular tradition, it’s simply the time of year when we focus on the coming of Jesus into the world.

The word “advent” comes from a Latin word that means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent reminds us that there was a “coming” that already took place with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, but that there is a “coming” still to happen when Jesus will come again. And in the season of Advent, we stand in the middle of this tension between Jesus having already come and Jesus coming again.

And here is why Advent is so important for us to celebrate. You see, over the next month, we are going to get busy. It’s going to be exhausting. It’s going to be filled with commercialization and materialism. And we are all going to feel it.

Helena and I have already had the conversation with our children that Christmas isn’t about presents, and it’s only December, today. We still have a few weeks to go before Christmas, and I’m already showing them the clip from Charlie Brown’s Christmas, where Linus tells everyone what Christmas is all about. Unless we go away to a distant land, somewhere, we can’t escape it. It’s, literally, everywhere.

Two years ago, we did that. We went to Hawaii for two weeks during the month of December, and even though it didn’t feel like Christmas, there were still Christmas trees and decorations. There was even a Christmas parade.

And instead of burning ourselves out by swimming upstream against a current that we’re not likely to overcome, what we need is something that is going to daily reorient us to what is truly important, and that’s where Advent comes in.

Advent turns our focus, our attention, off of the busyness and commercialization of Christmas and on to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent gets us to look back in remembrance and to look forward with longing and anticipation.

Now, I’m not saying that Advent will make the Christmas season less busy, or less exhausting, or less commercialized, but you might discover something about the King who first came as a little baby and who is coming again as our triumphant ruler, that you might have otherwise missed.

So, for the next four weeks, we are going to be preparing for Christmas, so that when we come to Christmas Day, the celebration of Jesus’ birth will become that much more spectacular and meaningful.

And for the first Sunday of Advent, we are going to look at this theme of hope, specifically the God of hope. And I feel like this is a fitting place to start, because Christmas is a season filled with hope, right?

When I was younger, I would always look forward to Christmas Eve, not for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I wasn’t super spiritual like that as a kid, but because it was the time when our family would get together.

On Christmas Eve, we would go to church and participate in the Candlelight Service, which was always fun as a kid, because I got to hold a lit candle. And then, when that was over, we would go home, and we would eat lots of chocolate and gingerbread men, and we would listen to my dad as he read the Christmas story, and then we would open gifts as a family.

Christmas Eve just always held a special place in my heart. But like all good things, it always came to an end. The night would soon be over. We would all go to bed. And we would wake up the next morning to Christmas Day.

But it was never the same as Christmas Eve. There was something special about Christmas Eve that I had put my hope in. I had waited for it and eagerly anticipated what it would be like, only to be disappointed to have it end.

And what this reveals to us is the idea of misplaced hope. And each one of us has been here. You’ve done this. I’ve done this. We’ve all done this. There are people and situations that we put our hope in, that will ultimately leave us feeling disappointed.

Our hope might be in a spouse. Our hope might be in a political system. Our hope might be in our work. Our hope might be in our future plans. We are placing our hope in a bunch of different areas of our lives on a regular basis.

And the reality is that hope is not something that we can get away from. It’s so ingrained in us to hope. This summer, how many of us were hoping that it would stop raining? How many of us are hoping that we don’t gain any weight over the holidays, and that even if we do, we are hoping we will be able to work it off? How many of us are hoping for good things for our children or grandchildren?

We hope. We hope. We hope. The story is told of a meeting in a certain church at a time of emergency. The meeting was opened with prayer by the chairman. He prayed, “Almighty and eternal God, whose grace is sufficient for all things.” When the prayer was finished, the business part of the meeting began, and the chairman introduced the business by saying, “Friends, the situation in this church is completely hopeless, and nothing can be done.”

Now, either his prayer was composed of empty and meaningless words, or his statement was untrue. But what it reveals to us is that we often tend to lose hope, as we look around at the state of things.

Hope is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. It’s like the famous quote, “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.” We need hope.

Throughout Scripture, the word “hope” is used over a hundred times. Hope can be defined as “a confident expectation of the future.” It’s this idea that you are looking forward to the future with confidence and enthusiasm that there is something good waiting for you on the other side.

As we reflect on our misplaced hopes, and all of the ways that we have been disappointed by the people and situations that we have put our hope in, what I want us to walk away with, this morning, if we are going to walk out of here with one thing, is that God is the source and supplier of hope. When everything inevitably disappoints us, we have a God who is the source and supplier of hope.

And we see this clearly in Romans 15. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul lays out these beautiful truths about our salvation, in chapters 1-11. It’s such rich theology. But then, Paul takes the rest of the letter, chapters 12-16, to write about how this works itself out in our daily lives.

And in Romans 15:13, Paul prays this prayer for his readers. He says, “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.”

We see right out of the gate that Paul wants his readers to know that God is the source of hope. Paul begins by saying, “May the God of hope…”. Paul is saying something here about the nature and character of God, and that is, that God is the God of hope. God is the source of hope. The very fact that we hope is an innate characteristic given us by God.

When it comes to our misplaced hopes, we are just hoping that they will deliver, right? We hope that the doctors will be able to find out what is wrong. We hope that we will get that job that we want. We hope that the weather will be nice.

But none of those misplaced hopes will ultimately be able to deliver. Why? Because those things can’t promise us what we want. Whether your hope is in a person or a situation, you are banking on wishes—something that may or may not come true. This is not the same with God. When we hope in God, we are banking on promises, not wishes.

Look at Ephesians 1. Look at all of the spiritual blessings that we have received in Christ just from this one chapter: In verse 4, we are chosen; in verse 5, we are predestined and adopted; in verse 7, we are redeemed and forgiven; in verse 13, we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. These are promises, not wishes.

Jesus will come again. We will be made new. We will receive a fully reconciled and restored body. These are promises that will happen, because our hope is not based on wishes, but on the promises of the God of hope. “May the God of hope fill you…” God is the source of our hope. May He fill you to overflowing, with what? “…with all joy and peace…”

Here is the reality of what Paul is saying: Our circumstances are going to try to rob us of our joy and our peace. When we don’t get a favourable diagnosis, or when we don’t get that job, or when the political leader that we want doesn’t get into power, we can find ourselves anxious and disheartened.

But what Paul is getting us to see is that joy and peace are not dependent on our circumstances. Just because we don’t get what we want doesn’t mean that the God of hope is holding out on His promises for us. It just means that His promises for us are going to look different than our wishes for us.

I read an article this week that pointed this out, throughout Scripture. It said, “God was not done when Noah was in the boat, Sarah was barren, Joseph was in prison, Moses was on the run from Pharaoh, the children of Israel were pinned against the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho blocked possession of the promised land, Gideon was hiding from the Midianites, Samson was seduced by a woman and blinded, Ruth was widowed, David was mocked as a boy facing a giant, Job’s children were all killed, government officials persecuted Daniel, Jonah was in the belly of a fish, Paul couldn’t get rid of this thorn, and Jesus was put in the grave.”

Hope is not undone, because God is not done. Paul is praying here for his readers, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace…” because he knows that their circumstances are going to try to get them to believe that the God of hope is not worth putting their hope in.

And Paul is going, “You can believe in the God of hope. You can believe in His promises, because He is not done.” It’s why Paul continues with “in believing.” “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.”

Throughout the letter of Romans, Paul has been making the point that belief in Jesus is putting your trust and confidence in the One who came to redeem you from the penalty of sin and death, namely Jesus Christ.

This phrase, “in believing,” is you and me putting our hope in the One who reconciled us to God by dying in our place. What this means is that as we believe in Jesus, as we believe that He died the death we deserved to die, as we believe that God raised Him from the dead, as we believe that He is interceding for us at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we are being filled with hope.

And notice that this isn’t our doing; it’s the work of God. Paul continues, “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.”

So, follow this: Paul is saying, “I’m praying for you, that the God who is the source of hope would fill you with all joy and peace, even though your circumstances would suggest otherwise, and that as you continue to put your trust and confidence in Jesus, revealing the Holy Spirit’s power and work in your life, that you might receive an abundance of hope from the God who supplies it.”

Do you see the cyclical nature of this prayer? God is the source of hope, who fills us with the confidence to put our hope in Him, who supplies us with hope. And this God of hope, not only supplies our hope, but has an abundant supply of it.

The good news is that God doesn’t ration His hope. It’s not like He gives you a little bit of hope, today, because you used up a lot of hope, yesterday. No, God lavishes His abundant supply of hope on you.

He is the God of hope, who is both the source and the supplier of hope. He has more than enough hope for you. When your misplaced hopes continue to disappoint, you can put your confidence in the God of hope.

Turn over to Romans 5. Paul is laying out that we have been justified by faith in Christ, and because of that justification, we have peace with God. Then Paul goes on to say, in verse 3, that as we walk through suffering, these sufferings produce endurance, “and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

Think about that. Think about the people or experiences or things you have hoped in, throughout your life, and how at the end you have always been disappointed. And Paul is saying that there is hope, real hope, true hope, that is sourced and supplied by God Himself, and it will not disappoint.

Paul is hinting at a future day when Jesus will return and there will be no disappointment. There will be no regret. There will be no wishing for something better. There will be no longing. There will be no anticipation. On that day, all of our deepest longings and desires will be satisfied, because we will forever be content in Jesus.

In the meantime, we will suffer disappointment. We will struggle with putting our hope in people and things that won't be able to come through on their wishes. This world reminds us that we are in need of something greater—Someone greater. And Advent points us to this truly greater One.

Turn over to Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul has just finished saying that we are, by nature, dead in our trespasses and sins, but that God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, made us alive together with Christ. What Paul is saying is that we have been brought from death to life, and that this is not a result of anything we could have ever done, but is the gift of God. It’s called grace.

But Paul describes something interesting about our situation before Jesus, in verse 12. Paul writes, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

If you are here this morning, and you are not a follower of Jesus, I just encourage you to think through this. What God is offering you today is something you don’t have, and that’s hope.

I’m not talking about a misplaced hope in doctors or the weather or the future or your spouse or your children. I’m talking about a hope that does not disappoint. A hope in the God of hope, who can fill you with all joy and peace in believing.

But that’s where it must begin. It must begin with believing. If you feel like you don’t deserve the free gift of Jesus Christ, that’s probably a good thing. None of us are deserving of the grace that is offered to us in Christ Jesus. But that’s the very nature of grace. God loved us even when we were dead in our sins. And He is inviting you this morning to receive the hope that is found in Jesus.

And if you are here this morning, and you have put your trust and confidence in Jesus, who came to redeem you from the penalty of sin and death, what we need in the middle of this busy and exhausting and commercialized season is to reorient ourselves to what is truly important.

What we need is for the promises of God to daily wash over us, and the only way that is going to happen is by reading the Scriptures, because it’s through the Scriptures that we will be reminded of a better hope—one that won’t disappoint.

When the bottom falls out, or when the health is all but gone, or when Christmas Eve ends and everything goes back to the way it was before, what we need is to be reminded that there is coming a day when the King will come back to fully and finally restore all things. We are being invited today, on the first Sunday of Advent, to turn our focus, our attention, toward Jesus. Look up. Look up, Christian, to Jesus.

May we be a people who abound in hope, as we look to the One who is source of hope and who supplies it in abundance. Let’s pray…

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