By Pastor Glenn Pease
Billy Graham in his book Hope For The Troubled Heart tells the story of the lone survivor of a shipwreck who was marooned on an uninhabited island. He managed to build a hut in which he put everything he had saved from the wreck. He prayed to God for rescue as he daily scanned the horizon for a passing ship. One day he returned to his hut and to his horror he found it in flames. All he possessed was going up in smoke. It was the ultimate tragedy, and he sat in despair. Shortly after that a ship arrived. The captain said, "We saw your smoke signal and hurried here." The ship wrecked man fell to his knees and thanked God for the fire he had just been cursing as a tragedy.
The point of Graham in telling this story is that he recognizes the great need for people to have hope. When bad things happen it is important that we have hope that God can work in all things for good. The world is full of bad things, and today we do not have to wait for weeks and months to hear about them. We get the bad news the very moment terrible events are happening. This much bad news is affecting people around the world and producing a lot of the sense of hopelessness.
Graham writes, "Perhaps the greatest psychological, spiritual, and medical need that all people have is the need for hope. Dr. McNair Wilson, the famous cardiologist, remarked in his autobiography, Doctor's Progress, 'Hope is the medicine I use more than any other-hope can cure nearly anything.' I remember years ago that Dr. Harold Wolff, professor of medicine at Cornell University Medical College and associate professor of psychiatry, said, 'Hope, like faith and a purpose in life is medicinal. This is not exactly a statement of belief, but a conclusion proved by meticulously controlled scientific experiment.'"
This is confirmed over and over again by Dr. Robert Veninga, professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. He has written a book called A Gift of Hope. In it he gives dozens of illustrations of how hope is the key ingredient for facing the trials and tragedies of a fallen world. I can share only a few examples. He says that when children are diagnosed as diabetic they are overwhelmed. Disease is supposed to be for old people and not kids. They get depressed at the cruel injustice of it all. The treatment is not just diet and insulin, but hope. They teach the children that they can back pack, play football, and be fully involved in social activities. They learn that prominent personalities like Mary Tyler Moore, and former New York Yankee star Jim (Catfish) Hunter are diabetics, and they live full and exciting lives.
When hope crowds out their fears these children adjust rapidly and begin to enjoy life again. He goes through a whole series of family problems and tragic situations, and he shows that families that survive any crisis do so because they give each other the gift of hope. Jerry Lebenow was locked up for three and a half years for a crime he did not commit. A woman was brutally killed and he was charged and found guilty, he was sent to Stillwater prison. Three years later the Supreme Court reviewed his case and found that he had not received a fair trial, and that the evidence did not support his guilt. He was released to return to his family. How could he suffer such an injustice and not be bitter and hateful? He had family and friends who kept encouraging him and giving him hope.
Survivors in concentration camps did so because they never lost hope. Those who did lose hope died. Hope is a vital ingredient to life. Dr. Veninga says there is nothing in the world of medicine or psychology that can help people survive and be healed that can match the power of religious hope. And this brings us to our text, for long before all of the scientific and psychological research the Apostle Paul told the people of God that hope is the foundation of even faith and the knowledge of the truth. These are the two vital goals the church is to achieve in the lives of the believers. It is to build up their faith and their knowledge of the truth, and he says these both rest on the hope of eternal life.
Hope is used about 180 times in the Bible, and so it is a major topic of the Word of God, but I never saw it before that Paul is telling us here that hope is foundational, and that even faith rests on hope. That means when he said these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love, that the second greatest is hope, and so he has these three basic virtues in reverse order of their importance. Faith rests on hope. Let's focus on this.
I. THE FOUNDATION OF HOPE.
Paul is famous for saying that we are saved by faith, but in Rom. 8:24 he says, "For we are saved by hope." Faith and hope are like two strands wound together to make a rope. We are saved by both together, for they both link us to Christ who alone can save. They just 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 even of our faith. The point being, if we do not have the hope of eternal life, what good is it that Jesus died and rose again? Paul says in I Cor. 15:19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to 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, for it is all worthless without this hope.
God recognized the necessity of this hope and so Paul says that He promised eternal life before the beginning of time. Here we see the ultimate goal of God before He started the creation of the universe, and the whole creation of reality and time as we know it. Here we see the purpose of God which gives meaning to all of life. God promised eternal life before He even made a living soul who could enjoy it. Before time God said that this hope will be the key to meaning through all of time. It will be the hope of eternal life beyond time.
Who in the world did God promise this too if it was before time, and the creation of Adam and Eve? It was a promise for us, but the one who got the promise first had to be Jesus who would become a man and make it possible for the rest of mankind to enter into this foundational promise of hope. The hope of eternal life was the motive that brought Jesus to earth to die for lost mankind. Do you think Jesus would have come to die if the end result was that man would just be restored to live 200 or 500, or even a 1000 years? It is not very likely. It was the hope of eternal life that made His sacrifice worthwhile.
Eternal life is a value beyond our grasp. We cannot conceive of its worth. But it is the best God can give to a creature made in His image, and He promised this would be the gift He would give to those who receive His Son. Paul wrote, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The end result of sin is death, and the end result of salvation is eternal life. The focus of God from before time began was this hope of eternal life. It was the focus of Jesus coming to earth. Paul now says it is the foundation for our faith as Christians.
The one thing God wants for His people to have all through history is the hope of eternal life. What does it mean to be saved? It means that one has the hope of eternal life. What is the practical effect of Christ's coming into history? How does His coming, His death, and His resurrection effect us in our everyday lives? The answer is right here in the hope of eternal life. That is the bottom line that God was aiming for before time began, and it is the goal of His whole plan that His people would have 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 Savior, 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.
The second coming and the rapture of the church is called the blessed hope, for by these events Jesus will usher us into that fulfillment of this fundamental hope of eternal life. It is the foundation of our faith. Let's look next at-
II. THE FUNCTION OF HOPE.
Since God made the hope of eternal life a promise before the beginning of time, He expects this hope to be a foundation on which His people build their faith. So the function of hope is to reach out into the future and lay hold on it as a means of changing the present. The function of hope is to participate in the future now. It is to taste of the things to come and let the future have an impact on the present.
Henry Ward Beecher describes how so many falsely think of hope as having no function in the present, but only in the future. He writes, "A hope is to some like a passport, which one keeps quietly in his pocket till the time for the journey, and then produces it. Or like life-preservers, which hang useless around the vessel until the hour of danger comes, when the captain calls on every passenger to save himself; and then they are taken down and blown up, and each man, with his hope under his arm, strikes out for the land: And so such men would keep their religious hope hanging until death comes; and then take it down and inflate it, that it may buoy them up, and float them over the dark river to the heavenly shore. Or as the inhabitants of Block Island keep their boats hauled high upon the beach, and only use them now and then, when they would cross to the mainland; so such men keep their hopes high and dry upon the shore of life, only to be used when they have to cross the flood that divides this island of time from the mainland of eternity."
He is saying that hope is not something we die with, but it is something we are to live with, which makes life more enjoyable even with all its limitations. Hope is faith looking into the future and being filled with confident expectation that the final goal of God will be worth whatever trials we must endure. And so it sustains us and motivates us to press on in faithfulness to Christ 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.
Hope is the key to progress in all of life. It is hope for the harvest that keeps the farmer plowing and cultivating. It is the hope of improvement that makes every creative person striving to invent better ways of doing things. Rob men of hope and you do not just take away their future, you take away their now. Their present is directly affected by their hope of the future. So the Christian life in the present is directly affected by the hope of eternal life. Paul in Rom. 15:13 writes, "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 so that the present life can be one of joy and peace.
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 crisis of this fallen world. Hope functions in our daily life by doing at least these two things I have discovered.
1. IT PREVENTS DESPAIR.
This is major issue, and there is no solution except in hope. Suicide is a major public health problem, and the government cannot solve it. Tens of thousands of Americans kill themselves each year, and a growing segment of that figure are teenagers. They are not a bunch of drug addicts, or drop outs either. They are often bright and high achievers loaded with talent. They are often from good homes, and sometimes even from Christian homes. How can they sink into such despair as to take their life at such an early age? The answer is that they do not grasp the Christian hope, which is the foundation for victory over all the power of sin.
They are like 14 year old Melissa Putney who became pregnant and solved her problem by kneeling between the tracks with her hands grasped in prayer. The engineer of the Amtrak saw her, but at 100 miles an hour it was too late, and her life was ended. Dr. Veninga in A Gift Of Hope published her suicide note that went like this:
"You always ask me if there is anything wrong. I said, 'No, I'm O. K.' Mom, I wasn't telling the truth. I was never O. K. I was very depressed. I ran away from all my problems. I am taking the easy way out. I am admitting to myself that I am a weak person not able to handle the weight of life. I'm very sorry to put you all through the troubles. I think everything I have to do is done. I drank some wine and took some pills. But before I did all that I prayed to my Father God in heaven. I asked Him to forgive me but He won't. I don't blame Him for that. Please pray that I won't be sent to hell, because then I won't be able to come back and watch over you and help you. I want to do that. Mom, please don't have a nervous breakdown and be crying all the time. I don't want you to. I want you to live forever and ever, the way you want to, and I will always love you very much. Please try and forgive me. I love you always and always, love, Melissa."
If this was an isolated case, we would not need to be overly concerned, but it is going on everyday because youth lack the hope they need to escape despair. The girl had some degree of faith and knowledge, but it was not enough, and it had no foundation in the hope of eternal life. Jesus knew life in a fallen world would lead people to despair, and even His own disciples would feel it. That is why in the last two of His beatitudes He made hope of heaven the foundation for surviving the negatives of life.
Read again these familiar words, but note how hope is the key. Matt. 5:10-12 says, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven." When people treat you like dirt and life is so unfair, it leads to despair unless you have a hope that is permanent. When hope is strong Christians can take the worst that life can throw at them and overcome despair.
It is quite shocking to read about the comets plowing into Jupiter and causing explosions that would end life on our planet if they happened here. All God would have to do to bring about the end of the world is to have a good size comet make earth its target. When I read such things there is a moment of fear, but then my faith kicks in and overcomes the fear, for my faith is based on the hope that even the end of life on earth does not change the promise of God that there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which we will dwell forever with our Redeemer. Fear not those who can kill the body said Jesus. He might have added that we need not fear what can destroy the whole world, for if your hope is in God, you can be assured of eternal life.
We need not despair at bad news, but can have the confidence of the poet who wrote,
What can we not endure
When pains are lessen'd by the hope of cure?
Eternal hope! When yonder spheres sublime
Peal'd their first notes to sound the march of time.
Thy joyous youth began-but not to fade,
When all the sister planets have decay'd:
Who wrapt in fire the realms of ether glow,
And heaven's last thunder shakes the world below.
Thou, undismay'd shalt o'er the ruins smile,
And light thy touch at nature's funeral pile.
Hope says let the comets come, or whatever else of destructive power, for I will not despair, or live in fear, for my Lord is coming too, and will fulfill God's promise of eternal life. Such a hope prevents despair. And secondly,
2. IT PROMOTES EXPECTANCY.
Joseph Fort Newton said, "It is almost a definition of greatness to say that is greatly hopes; that it does not surrender to the weakness of despair but lives expectantly." The best is always yet to be in the minds of the great. Beethoven said after producing one of his compositions, "My ninth symphony is but a empty echo of the heavenly music I heard in my dream." Rapheal said after painting the Sistine Madonna that he could not put on canvas the vision which his soul saw. Isaac Newton after his great scientific discoveries said, "I seem to have been like a boy playing the seashore while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
It is this hope of eternal and infinite possibilities that motives people to ever strive to be creative, for they know they can never exhaust the potential of the infinite. This hope gives them the faith to believe that they can make progress and keep on improving. Because they can keep growing they are never content to stay where they are, but are ever seeking more knowledge to improve. Faith and knowledge rests on the hope that is ever promoting expectancy.
Hope is the motivating factor in Christian growth, and really in all growth in every area of life. All people can grow and make progress in coping with their problems, but they are often not motivated to do so. One psychiatrist made this confession: "Psychiatry has learned to make an accurate diagnosis and to recommend a useful plan, but psychiatry cannot furnish the motive which will make the patient want to follow the plan." Christian hope provides that motivation.
Nothing is more practical than the hope of eternal life. Find any book quoting the great minds of history on hope and this is the sort of thing you will find:
"Religion is the mother of dreams. Over the gray world, ruined by deluge and death, it has sought ever, and found the arching rainbow of hope." A. E. Haydon
"Eternity is the divine treasure house and hope is the window, by means of which mortals are permitted to see, as through a glass darkly, the things which God is preparing." Mountford.
"For present grief there is always a remedy; however much you suffer, hope is the greatest happiness of man." Schefer.
"Hope is a lover's staff; walk hence with that, and manage it against despairing thoughts." Shakespeare.
"Hope is the best part of our riches. What sufficeth it that we have the wealth of the Indies in our pockets, if we have not the hope of heaven in our souls?" Bovee.
Finally, let me share one of the greatest statements ever on the practically of the hope of eternal life. This is from C. S. Lewis in his book Christian Behavior.
"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."
Lewis had a great impact on the 20th century because he was a man who had a hope in eternity. His expectation of what was to come made him work at changing the now. 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 time. Hope is the basis for goal setting, and for persistence in running the race. Take away hope and you cut out that which gives meaning to all of life, and all of our efforts to live the Christian life.
Paul had a life filled with negatives that he had to endure, but he could cope because of hope which made him live always in expectancy. Here is the way Paul comforted Christians in their trials, and notice how hope is the key ingredient in being victorious. "But we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." (Rom. 8:23-24). "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who sleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who sleep in Him." (I Thess. 4:13-14). Peter was no less enthusiastic about the power of hope to keep Christians afloat in a world trying always to sink them. He writes, "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." (I Peter 1:3-4).
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 focusing on the best and not the worst. They will 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 affections on things above. It is not to escape reality, but to add to the reality of this fallen world the practical values of hope. Ask yourself more often in your daily life-what is my hope, and how should it affect my attitudes an actions today? Build your life on the foundation of hope.