Saturday, December 23, 2017

"Hope" By Romans

Tonight, we are going to start on a multiple-installment Series called, “Hope.” This is a deep subject, and the Word of God has much to say about it, and how it applies to us. But I would, first, like to share with you all what Scripture reminds us about our state before we accepted Christ as our Savior. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:12: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:”

The Life Application Bible tells us of this, “Pious Jews considered all non-Jews (Gentiles) ceremonially unclean. They thought of themselves as pure and clean because of their national heritage and religious ceremonies. Paul pointed out that Jews and Gentiles alike were unclean before God and needed to be cleansed by Christ. In order to realize how great a gift salvation is, we need to remember our former natural, unclean condition. Have you ever felt separate, excluded, hopeless? These verses are for you. No one is alienated from Christ’s love or from the body of believers.”

Of that hopeless state that has been replaced by the which Salvation God provides, Matthew Henry writes, “Christ and his covenant are the foundation of all the Christian's hopes. A sad and terrible description is here; but who is able to remove himself out of it? Would that this were not a true description of many baptized in the name of Christ. Who can, without trembling, reflect upon the misery of a person, separated for ever from the people of God, cut off from the body of Christ, fallen from the covenant of promise, having no hope, no Saviour, and without any God but a God of vengeance, to all eternity? To have no part in Christ! What true Christian can hear this without horror? Salvation is far from the wicked; but God is a help at hand to his people; and this is by the sufferings and death of Christ.”

We who have accepted God's Son, and we who have accepted Jesus' death on the cross for our sins, we have hope. We can look beyond our present circumstances, no matter what they might be, a see a bright future. God's Word tells us not only of God's Plan to save us, it tells us what God thinks of us. We read in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” Having this kind of knowledge available to us, the very thoughts of God Almighty is why we, unlike the world, can have hope for the future because we have an “expected end.” That expectation is our hope.

Of this The Life Application Bible tells us of this, “We’re all encouraged by a leader who stirs us to move ahead, someone who believes we can do the task he has given and who will be with us all the way. God is that kind of leader. He knows the future, and his plans for us are good and full of hope. As long as God, who knows the future, provides our agenda and goes with us as we fulfill his mission, we can have boundless hope. This does not mean that we will be spared pain, suffering, or hardship, but that God will see us through to a glorious conclusion.”

Let's go through Scripture chronologically, or, at least in the printed Book order which is not always chronolgical, and consider where the major occurrences of the word “hope” appear in it. We first encounter it in the Book of Ruth. Naomi was a widow. Her husband Elimelech had died. Her two sons Mahlon and Chilion had married Ruth and Orpah, but they (her sons) had died. Naomi's two daughters-in-law were widows. The Law provided for a widow in the family to marry a brother of the dead husband, but Naomi had no other sons. We read Naomi's advice to Ruth and Orpah beginning in Ruth 1:12: “Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.”

One might wonder, “I thought you were going to cite the major occurrences of the word 'hope.' Is Naomi's pessimistic assessment of the situation for her and her daughters-in-law a major or even a relevant occurrence?” And, to that objection I respond, “Yes, it is both major and relevant.” And why do I say that? How does Ruth have anything to do with our hope as Christians? Does Ruth have anything do with God's Plan of Salvation that gives us the hope that we have?

Ruth did not take Naomi's advice to go back to pagan Moab and find a husband. She responded to Naomi in Ruth 1:16: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:” Ruth stayed with Naomi and returned to Israel with her. She found that, even though Naomi did not have another son she could marry, she did have a “near kinsman” or relative she could marry.
That individual was Boaz. She did marry him and had a son named Obed. Obed grew up and had a son named Jesse. Jesse grew up and became the father of King David. Ruth is named in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus Christ who was often called a “son {or, descendant} of David” sixteen times in Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's Gospel Accounts.

The Life Application Bible writes, “Ruth was a Moabitess, but that didn’t stop her from worshiping the true God, nor did it stop God from accepting her worship and blessing her greatly. The Jews were not the only people God loved. God chose the Jews to be the people through whom the rest of the world would come to know him. This was fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born as a Jew. Through him, the entire world can come to know God. Acts 10:35 says that “in every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” God accepts all who worship him; he works through people regardless of their race, sex, or nationality. The book of Ruth is a perfect example of God’s impartiality. Although Ruth belonged to a race often despised by Israel, she was blessed because of her faithfulness. She became a great-grandmother of King David and a direct ancestor of Jesus. No one should feel disqualified to serve God because of race, sex, or national background. And God can use every circumstance to build his kingdom.”

We read of Ruth's part in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1:5-6: “And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king;” Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible adds to what we have already discovered about Ruth, “It is a notion that generally obtains among the Jews (u), that she {Ruth} was the daughter of Eglon, grandson of Balak, king of Moab; and it is often taken notice of by them (w), that the king (Messiah) should descend from her; and also other persons of note, as David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel; wherefore the mentioning of her in this genealogy, cannot be said by them to be impertinent.”

Matthew Henry also writes of Jesus' genealogy through King David: “Concerning this genealogy of our Saviour, observe the chief intention. It is not a needless genealogy. It is not a vain-glorious one, as those of great men often are. It proves that our Lord Jesus is of the nation and family out of which the Messiah was to arise. The promise of the blessing was made to Abraham and his seed; of the dominion, to David and his seed. It was promised to Abraham that Christ should descend from him, and to David that he should descend from him... and, therefore, unless Jesus is a son of David, and a son of Abraham, he is not the Messiah.” Genealogies were routinely male-dominated; that was a part of Hebrew culture, but Matthew broke precedent by including and identifying Ruth as the great-grandmother of King David. God responded to her faith in Him, and her loyalty to the people of God and her mother-in-law by giving her an honored place in the line that provided us our Hope, Jesus Christ the Messiah.

The next not-so-chronological occurrence of the word “hope” appears in the Book of Ezra. This was much later in the history of Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria, had already been invaded, conquered, and dispersed (not to return); in their place a mixed population of Hebrews that were not exiled, who had intermarried with pagans who were brought in. Nearly two centuries later, the South Kingdom of Judah was invaded, conquered and exiled for 70 years. When the Jews returned to Judah, they were scandalized by the population living in the North in Israel. “Hope” appears in that context in Ezra 10:2: “And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.” I include this because these people who had taken strange wives were the ancestors of the Samaritans. The bad blood that started even before Ezra's day continued between the Jews and the Samaritans over four centuries later, and is frequently commented on in the pages of the Four Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Jesus saw past this bad blood and animosity that was still going on. In John 4 when Jesus at first encountered a Samaritan woman at the well, but then the entire town came out and accepted Him as the Messiah, Jesus told His disciples right there IN Samaria in John 4:35: “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” Jesus considered a hated people and a hated culture of His day to be a potential field of harvest for His Kingdom. He went out of His way to specifically name them as a original recipients of the preaching of the Gospel. We read of Jesus telling His disciples in His declaration of the Great Commission, “... and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The Life Application Bible tells us, “Sometimes Christians excuse themselves from witnessing by saying that their family or friends aren’t ready to believe. Jesus, however, makes it clear that around us a continual harvest waits to be reaped. Don’t let Jesus find you making excuses. Look around. You will find people ready to hear God’s Word.” The Great Commission is a Commission of Hope for those (including us) who were not a physical descendant of the line of Abraham. But our status has been dramatically changed. Now we read in Galatians 3:29: “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

So far we have found just two books of the Old Testament, and two occasions of the word “hope.” But then “hope” suddenly comes alive with fifteen application s and occurrences just in the Book of Job: Many of these application s use the word “hope” but in a negative light. We read, for example, in Job 6:11 a very pessimistic question from Job: “What is my strength, that I should hope? and what is mine end, that I should prolong my life?” And also in Job 7:6: “My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope.” Zophar, one of Job's three friends, tried to turns Job around and see that, in spite of all that had befallen him, all was not lost. He said in Job 11:18: “And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety.” Zophar goes on to contrast the hopelessness of the wicked in verse 20: “But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.”

Matthew Henry writes: “It is our wisdom to comfort ourselves, and others, in distress, with that which will not fail; the promise of God, his love and grace, and a well-grounded hope of eternal life.”

What will not fail? God alone, His Plan of Salvation, and His work in our lives are the only things that will not fail, and in which we can have hope. The Book of Psalms is full of such hope. Let's notice the hope that is conveyed in the hymns that ancient Israel sang in their worshiping of God.

We read in Psalms 16:9: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.” Of this the Life Application Bible tells us, “David’s heart was glad—he had found the secret to joy. True joy is far deeper than happiness; we can feel joy in spite of our deepest troubles. Happiness is temporary because it is based on external circumstances, but joy is lasting because it is based on God’s presence within us. As we contemplate his daily presence, we will find contentment. As we understand the future he has for us, we will experience joy. Don’t base your life on circumstances, but on God.”

Psalms 31:24: “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

Psalms 33:18: “Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;”

Psalms 33:22: “Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.”

Psalms 42:5: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” The Life Application Bible tells us, “Depression is one of the most common emotional ailments. One antidote for depression is to meditate on the record of God’s goodness to his people. This will take your mind off the present situation as you focus your thoughts on God’s ability to help you rather than on your inability to help yourself. When you feel depressed, take advantage of this psalm’s antidepressant: Read the Bible’s accounts of God’s goodness, and meditate on them.”

Psalms 71:5: “For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth.” Later in the Psalm, the writer goes from reflections of his hope in God when he was young, to his maintaining that hope now that he has grown old. He adds in Psalms 71:9, 10 and 14: “now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing. my enemies are whispering against me. They are plotting together to kill me. But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.” The Life Application Bible tells us, “As we face the sunset years, we recognize that God has been our constant help in the past. As physical powers wane, we need God even more, and we realize he is still our constant help. We must never despair, but keep on expecting his help no matter how severe our limitations. Hope in him helps us to keep going, to keep serving him.”

Psalms 78:7: “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:”

Psalms 119:81: “My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.”

Psalms 119:114: “Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.”

Psalms 119:116: “Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.”

Psalms 130:5: “I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.”

Psalms 130:7: “Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.”

Psalms 146:5: “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:”

In the Psalms, intertwined with hope, we also find gladness, strength, rejoicing, courage, rest, mercy, praise, help, trust, patience, obedience, salvation, happiness, and “plentious redemption.” God is pictured as upholding us, being our Hiding Place and Shield, and life, itself. For the believer, to have God is to have hope and all of the accompanying Blessings that God pours out on us. As I quoted in the beginning, because the world is without Christ it is without hope. Even some who claim to be believers in reality set their sights on material acquisition as their god. Job asks of them in Job 27:8: “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?” Jesus asked in Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” As believers, our hope is not in material gain, prestige or position, but rather, in God alone.

Of this the Life Application Bible tells us, “Many people spend all their energy seeking pleasure. Jesus said, however, that worldliness, which is centered on possessions, position, or power, is ultimately worthless. Whatever you have on earth is only temporary; it cannot be exchanged for your soul. If you work hard at getting what you want, you might eventually have a “pleasurable” life, but in the end you will find it hollow and empty. Are you willing to make the pursuit of God more important than the selfish pursuits? Follow Jesus, and you will know what it means to live abundantly now and to have eternal life as well.”

Before we leave the Old Testament, I would like to cite and expound on one more occurrence of the word, “hope.”
it is found beginning Ezekiel 37:11: “Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.”

We will all one day breathe out last. Consider: it is not just the unsaved, but the whole House of Israel which says that without a resurrection, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost.” But consider: the idea and the hope of the resurrection is not limited to the presentation of God's Plan of Salvation in the New Testament. It is also right here in the Book of Ezekiel, written 593 years before Jesus was born. A resurrection of the deceased, ancient House of Israel is clearly depicted in Ezekiel 37:5 and 6: “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” Where God is, and only where God is, there is hope.

The prophecy in Ezekiel is a literal prophecy of a literal, physical resurrection. I did not expect the Life Application Bible to comment quite as it did. It derived an unexpected spiritual allegory from that prophecy which could be applied to us, today. While I don't necessarily agree that is what God was trying to say, because there is a valid teaching in it, I have included it in tonight's Discussion. It writes, “The dry bones represented the people’s spiritually dead condition. Your church may seem like a heap of dry bones to you, spiritually dead with no hope of vitality. But just as God promised to restore his nation, he can restore any church, no matter how dry or dead it may be. Rather than give up, pray for renewal, for God can restore it to life. The hope and prayer of every church should be that God will put his Spirit into it. In fact, God is at work calling his people back to himself, bringing new life into dead churches.”

In the New Testament, when we encounter the Four Gospels, (no, not this Website, the OTHER Four Gospels) the word “hope” appears only once. And when we do finally see it, it is not applied to any spiritual context. Instead, Jesus uses it in Luke 6:34 to say, “And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” And that's it! The word “hope” does not appear, again, in the Gospels. I found that intriguing. The word “hope” is virtually nonexistent in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Why do you suppose that the word “hope” is virtually nowhere to be seen in the Four Gospels? Even when it does appear that one time, it does so outside of the spiritual context it had in the Psalms where it appeared so often?

Let's notice the account of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus had been crucified a few days before. They were downcast and completely demoralized as we read beginning in Luke 24:13: “And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel...”

That closing thought provides, what I feel, is the answer to the extreme scarcity of the word “hope” in the Four Gospels. Let's look at it, again: One of the two disciples told Jesus that “we trusted {past tense} that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel...” Trust goes hand-in-hand with hope. Notice, first, in Psalms 71:5: “For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth.” And then, again, in Jeremiah 17:7: “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.”They had hope that the appearance of the Kingdom was imminent because the Messiah had come. They never expected the Messiah to be taken from them as He was, in spite of Jesus' frequent advance declarations of His coming crucifixion. (See Matthew 16:21, Mark 9:31, Luke 24:7). I hasten to add that in each of these declarations, Jesus also spoke of His being raised after He was executed. The disciples seemingly were oblivious to the fact that both events would take place, and now they were absolutely distraught.

Notice again these closing thoughts: “We trusted {or, we hoped} that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” They already had in their midst Who they were sure was the long-awaited Messiah. But the prophecies all spoke of a Messiah Who would throw off the yoke of Gentile suppression, for them the Roman Empire, and establish the world-ruling Kingdom of God on earth. The redemption of Israel included the Messiah setting up His Throne in Jerusalem, and from there He would rule the world. Jerusalem would be transformed from just being that capital city of Israel, to the capital city of the Kingdom of God on earth. That was what they had trusted in... what they had hoped would take place but had not taken place yet.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:24: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” Hope that is seen in not hope it is reality... it is tangible possession. The word “hope” is missing from Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, because these are four accounts of the life and ministry of the Messiah Jesus Christ finally arriving... He was ON the earth! Again, “Hope that is seen is not hope.” Jesus was seen daily by the writers of the Gospels! John tells us beginning in 1 John 1:1: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” Hope is not expressed in the Four Gospels: Eyewitness experience, seeing, hearing, speaking and eating with and other interpersonal contact with Jesus Christ was being routinely experienced every day. He was not called “our Hope” in the Four Gospels. (One last time: “Hope that is seen is not hope.”)

But after Jesus' crucifixion, His resurrection and His Ascension to Heaven, hope – the need for hope – was rekindled. Notice Paul's words, first, in 1 Timothy 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;”

Scripture progressed from eyewitnesses seeing and hearing and experiencing the Messiah, and not writing about hope, to the post-Ascension writings of waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah as the Apostle Paul wrote about beginning in Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

I will close with Matthew Henry's comments on the above: “At, and in, the glorious appearing of Christ, the blessed hope of Christians will be complete: To bring us to holiness and happiness was the end of Christ's death. Jesus Christ, that great God and our Saviour, who saves not only as God, much less as Man alone; but as God-man, two natures in one person. He loved us, and gave himself for us; and what can we do less than love and give up ourselves to him! Redemption from sin and sanctification of the nature go together, and make a peculiar people unto God, free from guilt and condemnation, and purified by the Holy Spirit.”

This concludes this evening's Discussion, “Hope.” Next week we will branch out further into the Book of Acts and then the Epistles to see other occurrences of the word, “hope,” and what we can learn from them. I look forward to seeing you all then!

This Discussion was originally presented “live” on August 30th, 2017

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