1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
The English poet Alexander Pope penned the famous words, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” He wrote that poem more than 250 years ago, but his words apply as much to us today as they did to his generation. Hope is a word we use often, and I seriously doubt that there is anyone who does not hope for something new, and something better in all aspects of their lives.
We hope for better weather, we hope for better health, we hope for an improvement in our finances, the list is literally endless.
But what about hearing the dreaded words, “there is no hope?” Surely there are no more devastating words to hear than those? Dante, in his epic poem The Inferno, said the sign over the gate to hell reads, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
I made mention in the bulletin this morning of the popular phrase “the rainbow nation.” This phrase was coined by Desmond Tutu in 1994 immediately after our first democratic elections, and the newly elected president Nelson Mandela said in one of his first speeches in office, “Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” South Africa during the 1990’s was the place to be. There was real hope, and there was such a positive vibe in our country. But how things have changed! Hope has turned into despair.
So while every human being can hope, it is only the Christian who has true hope.
Romans 15:4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And verse 13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Hope is a central theme of the Bible. If you’ve ever read it from cover to cover you will know the emotional and spiritual rollercoaster ride that the Bible leads you through, but on virtually every page you will find the message of hope. If it is not expressly written about, it is certainly implied on each page.
We live in a world, and a country in particular, which is so full of despair and hopelessness, that we need to be reminded of the hope that we have in Christ – a hope that the world cannot offer us.
Firstly, what is hope? The dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen, or wanting something to happen or be the case.” Webster’s Dictionary says hope is a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.”
Those are secular definitions of the word hope, but Hebrews 11:1 speaks of a clear connection between faith and hope. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Hope is linked with faith because faith is the foundation of our hope and hope is the object of our faith.
There are a number of verses in the New Testament in particular that speak about hope, and it’s well worth having a brief look at some of them.
Because of God and what He has done for us through Jesus, we have the hope of eternal life. Paul, in the opening statement of his letter to Titus writes, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness - a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at His appointed season He brought His word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour.” In Titus 3:7 he says, “having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
We have the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 says, “let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”
Our hope is not based on earthly things, but is based on the eternal promises of God. Colossians 1:5 talks about “the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.”
We need not fear death, because we are promised the hope of resurrection from the dead.
As you read through the New Testament, you will find the recurring theme of hope in the promises of God. It is a hope that is good, blessed, alive and glorious. Hebrews 6:19 is one of the true gems in Scripture: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
What Jesus has done for us is good news and fills us with true hope.
What better news is there than to know that we can be made right in God’s eyes? Jesus has paid the penalty that we deserved for our sins, and we can now be free to experience the fullness of God’s love and grace.
We who have acknowledged that Jesus is the son of God who died on our behalf have been washed clean and are now filled with the Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us to live our lives for God.
The Gospel is a message of great hope. There is hope in knowing that God’s love overpowers our sins and that we have nothing to fear. We don’t have to be bound to and haunted by our past failures. We are now invited to put the past behind us and to now live our lives for God. The Good News of Jesus can fill you with great joy when you experience the fulfillment of the hope that you can be purified in God’s eyes. If you are a Christian, God no longer sees you as a rebellious sinner, but as His cherished child.
Once you have experienced God’s mercy and acknowledged your need for it, you have great hope. Once you have this great hope, passages of Scripture like Romans 8:38-39 are for you: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Knowing Jesus gives us great hope that when we fail, God will receive us when we turn back to Him, and that no matter what we face in life, God can overcome all obstacles and accomplish His will.
We do though, have a responsibility to share this hope with others. There are so many people out there who have no hope. Ephesians 2:12 reminds us not only of who we once were, but also of where so many others still are: “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
We are called to testify to the work Jesus has done in our lives and help people realise their need for a Saviour.
Yet as easy as it is to say and know that God loves all mankind and wants everyone to know what Jesus has done for them, it can be very difficult to speak of that hope to those who don’t know Jesus. It’s difficult because the world without Jesus offers very little in the way of hope. Every day we see around us and experience meaninglessness and despair. We see people putting their hope in things that won’t last.
We find people who see no meaning in life beyond what they can make happen for themselves. They either arrogantly view their own thoughts as greater than God’s or they slip into greater despair because they find they are unable to really prove their worth. It can be hard to hang onto hope for people who continue to live this way.
It is difficult to maintain hope for others in a world that tells them to put their hope in the empty things of the world. The world tells us that it’s all about us. We’re encouraged to put ourselves first. Just do what feels right for you, and so many buy into that lie. We’re told that we are victims of circumstance, and that we deserve better. Just follow your own heart and your own dreams. You are great just the way you are. Sometimes it takes a whole lifetime to see through that lie.
In a world that seems intent on denying and drowning out the truth of our sinful nature and the incredible message of grace in Jesus Christ, is there any hope of reaching the lost for Jesus?
Yes, there is. And how do we make a difference in the lives of others? 1 Peter 3:15 has the answer. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Can it really be that simple? You might be surprised at how the story of what God has done in your life can have an effect on others.
The point is that it is not us, but God who changes lives. It’s not our intelligence, our charisma or persuasive words that will change them. It’s not even our acts of service or outreach events. It is God Himself reaching into their hearts through the things He gives us to say and do. We are all called to be a witness for Jesus - to simply show people and tell people what Jesus has done, and the hope He offers them, and then allow God to do the work of changing their hearts.
God has the ability to change anyone. There are no lost causes for Him. The apostle Paul, before his life was changed by God, knew the Scriptures inside and out, yet he was blind to the connection they made to Jesus. He saw and heard about all that Jesus did and said. He knew about Jesus’ teachings, but they still didn't convince him. He knew how Jesus lived His life for God, but that didn’t matter. And He knew about the miracles Jesus performed. Even that didn’t convince Him. He was determined to wipe any influence Jesus had off the face of the earth. He was about as far away from Jesus as anyone can be, yet Jesus reached him and used him in a powerful way.
What is it going to take to reach the people close to you? How will they hear about the hope of God? I don’t know exactly how God plans to use you, but He does. He knows what they need to see and hear. Our job is to simply continue being the best witnesses to the power and hope of God as we can, leaving the details and specifics to God.
Paul is famous for saying that we are saved by faith, but in Romans 8:24 he says, “in this hope we are saved.” Faith and hope are like two strands wound together to make a rope. We are saved by both together, because they both link us to Jesus. They just happen to look in two different directions. Faith looks back to the past, and at what Jesus did for us on the cross in dying for our sins, and also at the resurrection where He conquered death and all the consequences of sin. Hope, on the other hand, looks ahead to what Jesus has promised to do for us because of the cross and the resurrection. He has promised to come again and to raise us up, or to change us in a twinkling of an eye, and take us to the place He has prepared where we will enjoy eternal life in His presence.
Paul is saying that this hope we have of eternal life is the foundation of our faith. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” The hope of eternal life is so foundational that without it there is no meaning to our faith and knowledge, because faith is worthless without hope.
The hope of eternal life was the motive that brought Jesus to earth to die for lost mankind. It was the hope of eternal life that made His sacrifice worthwhile.
The one thing God wants for us in this life is the hope of eternal life. To be without God and without hope in this world is to have life with no meaning. To have God as your heavenly Father, and to have Jesus as your Saviour, and to have this hope of eternal life is to have the meaning you need to cope with and to conquer, and to be victorious in a fallen world. Hope sustains us and motivates us to press on in faithfulness to Jesus no matter what the cost. The function of hope is to keep us facing in the right direction and pressing on. If we are always facing the sun, the shadows will always be behind us.
Romans 15:13 again: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
God is the God of hope, and the Holy Spirit has as one of His tasks to fill us with hope. We usually connect the Holy Spirit with power, but hope is power, and if we are filled with hope, we can have joy and peace even when bad things happen, and we have to cope with the fallout of living in a fallen and broken world.
Nothing is more practical than the hope of eternal life.
CS Lewis, in his book Christian Behaviour, wrote “Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth and you get neither.”
Hope is practical. That is why Jesus taught us to pray daily, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are to let the expectancy of heaven’s perfection motivate us to strive for that perfection in this life. Hope is the basis for our lives. Take away hope and you destroy the things that give meaning to life. Without the hope we have in Christ, we will never make sense of this life. We’ll keep chasing after the empty things of this world and the empty promises that go with it.
The Apostle Peter had a clear understanding of the power of hope in God. In 1 Peter 1:3-5 he wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”
How can you tell if a Christian is exercising this living hope? They will be expecting good to come out of all circumstances. They will be focussed on the best and not the worst. They will be seeking for ways to do instead of grumbling about what can’t be done. They will be lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness. They will regard problems as opportunities. They will never let failure stop them from setting goals. This is why we are urged to set our hearts on things above. It is not to escape reality, but to add to the reality of this fallen world the hope we have in God.
What is your hope? On whom and in what are you placing your hope?
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Romans 15:13
Discuss how we are able to have “all joy and peace” in such a turbulent and uncertain world.
What are the differences between hope in the promises of God and the things of the world?
How have you put your trust in worldly things, only to discover the hopelessness of doing so?
Read 1 Peter 3:15
Why do you think so many Christians are reluctant to share the hope they have in Jesus with others?
What are your struggles in this area?
Someone once said that faith and hope work together, in that faith looks back to the saving work of Jesus, and hope looks forward to what is to come.
How do you understand the differences between faith and hope?
What are the similarities?
Read Hebrews 6:19
Close by praying that God would strengthen our faith in Him, and that He would give us the strength to keep our eyes on Him, and to fill us with the hope of eternal life.