Hope Happens Here
This message is from National Back to Church Sunday, September 18th, 2022.
This church, and every Bible-believing church, is here to help support you and your family’s spiritual needs. We are here to help you discover what the Bible says about God and His plan for your life. But honestly, the church is not a building; it is made up of the people inside—people like you—who are looking for purpose, authentic relationships, support, and hope.
The basis of the Christian faith is an audacious hope that God is at work in our lives. A hope that things don’t have to remain the same tomorrow as they are today. A hope that broken things can be mended. A hope that we are loved by our Creator. Maybe this morning you have come here in need of some hope. Perhaps the weight of the world is more than you can bear. Or maybe you have come here today because you feel there is nowhere else to turn. May I reiterate: hope happens here.
Pastor Timothy George, in his sermon “Unseen Footprints,” recounts a story told to him by a professor during his time at Harvard Divinity School. He recalls the professor telling a story from when he was preaching in Louisiana during the Depression. Electricity was just coming into that part of the country. He was out in a rural church that had just one little lightbulb hanging from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary. He was preaching away when, in the middle of his sermon, the electricity went out. The building went pitch black and, being a young preacher, Dr. Taylor didn’t know what to say. So he stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, “Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark.” Sometimes that’s the only time we can see Jesus—in the dark.
In the gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12). And it is Jesus who both illuminates our lives and exposes all that needs to be restored. The illuminating and healing hope of Jesus can be found all throughout scripture. But today we’re going to look at three specific points together. First, God has a plan for your life. Second, He loves you with a never-ending love. And third, you can do anything through His strength.
For these three reasons, and so many more, we have hope for an illuminated and restored life.
First, God has a plan for your life.
You were created by God. He made you with a purpose and an intention. He placed you uniquely in the family you have and equipped you with the gifts that you possess. The greatest questions in human history has always been: who am I, and why am I here? God offers us the answer to those questions, which give us hope.
One of the most famous verses in all of scripture is found in the book of Jeremiah. The backdrop to this passage is that Israel had been conquered by Babylon, and many people were going to be taken into captivity. This was known as the Exile. It was a very dark time in Israel’s history. Many of God’s people had lost hope and believed that God had forgotten them. I would argue that many of us today may feel the same way. After years of a pandemic, perhaps relational conflict or a devastating diagnosis, we may wonder if God has forgotten about us and be tempted to lose hope. However, the writer makes a profound statement as he writes to God’s people in the midst of their exile.
For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 NET
This is not a promise made to us today as so many try to make it, but God places hope in the hearts of the people of Israel. He tells them that, though they were now living in a land that was not their own and though Jerusalem had been destroyed, God was not done with them yet. He still had a plan to prosper them and not to harm them. God was working for a better future for Israel, and he had not forgotten about them.
He goes on to explain to them, in chapter 31, the hope of the New Covenant he will make with them through Jesus. Although they have been unfaithful to him over and over again, he sends his Son as the promised Messiah, to bring not only them but the whole world into a relationship with him.
A few verses later in chapter 32, God tells Jeremiah to purchase a piece of land. This instruction would hardly make sense since Israel was under siege. But God reminds Jeremiah that he is not done yet. There was hope for Israel’s return to its home because God had a plan.
It’s like planting fruit trees. There are many farmers in our community and some of you have fruit trees on your property. We all know that trees don’t produce fruit overnight. In fact, it can take years of growth before you harvest any fruit. Many trees begin as tiny twigs that look like they have zero chance of survival. But you plant that twig in the ground and faithfully water it year after year, hoping one day you’ll enjoy the fruit of your labors.
God was asking Jeremiah to be faithful and plant himself even though there seemed to be zero chance of survival. God was working an even greater plan for the good of His people.
Wherever you find yourself today, I want to encourage you that God has a plan for your life. When you continually do the next right thing and live in obedience to God, you can rest assured that you will live into God’s purpose for your life and he will produce wonderful fruit in and through you.
God has a plan for your life, and you can put your hope in Him. His love and care for His creation is unfailing and never ending.
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Romans 8:28-29 NET
God wants a relationship with us and has a purpose for us, to look and act like his Son, Jesus.
Second, He loves you with a never-ending love.
The truest thing about you is that you are loved by God. Love is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. The Apostle Paul appeals to the powerful love of God as he writes to the early Church in Rome. Similar to Israel living in the foreign land of Babylon, God’s people were in the midst of a sinful and foreign culture in Rome. It was a difficult place to be—complete with persecution and suffering—but Paul wanted to instill hope into the lives of the believers there.
No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39 NET
Paul tells them: you are conquerors. You are not defeated. No matter how bad things may seem or how hopeless your situation may appear, you are overcomers.
But why? Why does Paul make this claim? It is because of God’s love for them. He is convinced that nothing can separate God’s people from God’s love. Death can’t do it. Demons can’t do it. The depths of despair can’t do it. God’s love is so prevailing and so potent that it is ever present and never ending. God loves us no matter what. He loves us when we love him back, but He also loves us when we fail to love him in return.
Roger Zerbe, who was succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s disease, journaled this to his wife after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness.
Today fear is taking over. The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. You and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love. I don’t want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.
Blinking back tears, his wife, Becky, wrote:
My sweet husband,
I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you, not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you. I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family. I’ll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you.
(Becky Zerbe, “Penning a Marriage,” Marriage Partnership – spring 2008)
This is the kind of sacrificial and pervasive love that Paul was referring to in Romans.
The Greek word used in the passage from Romans for the word love is the word agape. Agape literally means a selfless and sacrificial kind of love—the kind of love that gives without needing anything in return. God’s agape love for his people caused him to offer his one and only son on a cross as a sacrifice for our sin so that we might have new life. This sacrifice was once and for all and is available to everyone.
Our hope is found not only in His plan for us but also in his love for us. There is nothing that can separate us from the love that God has for us through Jesus. And that truth empowers us to face any challenge life may serve up.
Third, you can do anything through His strength
Living the Christian life is no easy task. Living counter culturally, loving our enemies, giving generously, serving faithfully, and avoiding sin obediently are all costly endeavors. The way of Jesus is not something we can do on our own. If we try, it will leave us exhausted and burned out. We must rely on God’s strength to do it.
Paul speaks to this hope we have when writing to the early church in Philippi. Again, the surrounding context of this passage is persecution, suffering, imprisonment, and the like. In fact, as Paul pens this letter, he sits in chains because of his faith in Jesus. You would think he feels hopeless; however, it is quite the opposite. He is overflowing with hope.
I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13 NET
When we become followers of Jesus, the spirit of God actually takes up residence inside of us. The spirit dwells in us, and it becomes the engine behind our faithful obedience. So when we feel like we can’t forgive that person who hurt us, the spirit of God gives us strength to set them free. In doing so, we set ourselves free from bitterness and anger. When we want to defeat a sinful pattern in our lives, we don’t have to do it alone; we can rely on God’s strength. When we want to make a difference in the world by serving those around us, we can accomplish much, not because of our hard work, but because of the work God has done in and through us.
There was middle school boy who recently defeated a rare form of cancer. After his diagnosis, his church rallied around the family by providing meals and mowing the family’s yard. Their pastor went to the house one day to pray with Adam, and he was blown away by his calm nature and confidence. When he asked him how he was handling the news, he smiled and handed the pastor a rubber bracelet to put on his wrist. He looked down and read the writing on the bracelet: “I can do all things – Philippians 4:13.” He told his pastor he was not afraid. He told him he had hope because God was with him every step of the way. His faith carried him for the eight months of chemo and radiation he had to endure. In the end, Jesus was the strength he needed to do something hard.
Oh, that we all might have the kind of hope that Adam had when we face troubles in this world. Hope happens when we come to realize that we don’t have the strength in and of ourselves to live the way of Jesus. Hope happens when we submit our lives to his leadership and allow him to empower us for his glory.
My prayer for each of us today is that we would be bursting with hope as we become more aware of God’s plan, love, and strength that is ours in Christ. I invite you to pray with me and ask God to fill you up with hope.