Intro - The Gospel gives hope
Over the last couple of weeks we have talked about the "Good News" of Jesus; what is it, what is means for us and how we can share it with others.
What Jesus has done for us is indeed good news.
- It is great to know that we can be made right in God's eyes. That 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.
- It is a thrill to know that 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 sin's...that we don't have to be bound to our past failures...that we've been given the opportunity to put that past behind us and to now live well for God. The Good News of Jesus can fill you with great joy when you experience the fulfillment of the hope that we could be set right with God and He would no longer see us as rebellious sinners but as cherished sons and daughters.
When you have experieced God's mercy-and acknowledged your need for it-there is great hope in statements such as Romans 8:38:
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 great will.
Hope for others?
As we have been discussing, though, this Gospel is not just for us, but for all those who have not yet received it, and that we have a responsibility-a duty-to share who Jesus is and what He has done with others. We are called to testify to the work Jesus has done in our lives and help people realize their need for a savior.
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 maintain hope day by day for those around us who don't know Jesus.
- It's difficult because the world without Jesus offers very little in the way of hope. Every day we 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 desparation 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 an be hard to hope when the messages our loves ones are exposed to day in and day out reinforce messages of hopelessness or empty pleasure.
Is there any real hope in governments...or economies...the environment.? Is there hope that the next new toy...or gadget...or new technology? Do we find anything lasting in pursuing the next new exciting thing...or person? No..we know this but people around us don't and they often feel their purpose in life is to just keep pursiring whatever makes them feel good for that moment. This makes it difficult to continue hoping they will find true meaning and value in Jesus Christ.
It is difficult to maintain hope for others in a world that tells them it's good and OK to put their hopes elsewhere. They are encouraged to put themselves first. To do what feels right for them. You can always find some teacher, expert, author or prophet who will support whatever it is you want to believe. That you are a victim of circumstances...that you deserve better...that you are great just the way you are. You want to believe that the world is against you, there are groups for that. You want to believe that there is no God or that He is cruel and selfish...go ahead-peopel will support that. Want to believe God couldn't possibly be angry with you for anything you've done or that you are OK because you are at least not as bas as some other people you know? There are churches who will teach that.
So how do we who have discovered truth and freedom and power in the biblical message of Jesus have any hope of being heard above the noise of a culture that offers false hope.
- How do you reach a child who is listening more to their friends at school than to their parents or Sunday school teachers or even their friends in church?
- How do you maintain hope for a parent or a sibling who thinks you've gone off the deep end with your faith and doesn't want you challenging their faith?
- How do you maintain hope for a friend or neighbor who thinks life is about having as much fun as possible before you die?
- How do you hang onto hope for a spouse who denies there is a problem when their life is crumbling around them?
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 these people?
As we have been walking through the book of Acts, we are nearing the end and the focus has shifted to Paul and the events that occur before he is sent off to Rome where he lived out the rest of his life.In reading through chapters 22-26 you see Paul being arrested and handed over to several different authorities. In every case, when given a chance to speak, Paul simply tells who he is, how Jesus cahnged his life and how He has been sharing this message ever since...and that's what he's been arrested for. He simply shares his personal testimony. And as I read through it...this is where I found renewed hope for these people I've been talking about.
This, again is the power of our personal stories....it's not Paul or how he presents himself, but what you see God doing here.
Take a look at Acts 22. Paul tells how he was trained in the Laws of the Jews and was zealous for God. He reminds the people that He persecuted the followers of Jesus-he was determined to wipe them out, but that Jesus himself intervened and Paul was dramatically changed.
His story reminds me that it's God not me that changes people's hearts. It's not my intelligence or charisma or persuasive words that change them...it's not my righteous behavior or acts of service or outreach events that I coordinate...it's God Himself reaching into their hearts through the things He has given me to say and do. We are all called to be a witness to Christ...to simply show people and tell people what Jesus has done...and then allow God to work. When we lose hope and get desparate for people to change. When we worry that we are not doing the right things as individuals or a church...that we might fail if we don't do or say things just right....we are attempting to take God's power into our own hands, and we are losing faith in Him. It is our job to be witnesses, and it is God's job to use our witness to transform and break down walls in people's lives.
A second thing I find here is that God has the ability to change anyone. There are no lost causes for God. Paul new 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...and those didn't convince him. He knoew how Jesus lived his life for God...and that didn't matter. And He knew about the miracles Jesus performed...and even that didn't convince Him. He was determined to wipe any influcence Jesus had off the face of the earth. He was about a far away from Jesus as anyone can be...yet Jesus reached Him and used Him in a powerful way.
What is is going to take to reach the people close to you? I don't know...but God knows. He knows what they need to see and hear. Our job is to simply continue being the best witness to the power of God as we can....and continue to place our complete hope in Jesus.