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Hoping Against Hope

Romans: Life in His Name  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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In Romans 4:18-25, the Apostle Paul shows us through the life and faith of the patriarch Abraham three realities of Biblical hope: 1) Its Analysis (vv. 18–19), 2) Its Assurance (v20- 22), and 3) Its Application (vv. 23–25).

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Romans 4:18-25. "Hoping Against Hope". Safe Haven Community Church. Sunday October 23rd, 2022. Romans 4:18-25. [18] In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." [19] He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. [20] No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, [21] fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. [22] That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." [23] But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, [24] but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, [25] who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (ESV) What does it mean for someone to put themselves into a position that requires a hopeful faith? One who did was George Müller, the German-born minister of the nineteenth century. After a wasteful youth and life-changing conversion to Christ, Müller moved to London, where he involved himself in a variety of ministries. Eventually, he was drawn to Bristol, England, where he began ministering to the multitudes of orphan children in the vicinity. Starting with only a few children, he eventually had two thousand under his care...Müller himself lived without financial or material assets, but trusted for all things in the provision of the one whom he believed had promised to meet all of his needs. By Müller's own testimony, there were times when he would have no food with which to feed the orphans under his care. But acting by faith, he would prepare the table, set the children at their places, and then wait upon God's provision. Invariably, provision would arrive-a delivery, a knock at the door, an unexpected gift. George Müller was a man who, like Abraham, placed his faith in the God who promised he would provide. "Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible," Müller wrote. "There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends" (Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6, pp. 140-141). Broadman & Holman Publishers.) The patriarch Abraham had such a hopeful faith through the promise of God, that his descendents, his children would have a future. Abraham had every reason, from a human point of view, to give up the attempt to produce a child through Sarah, as both were well beyond the physical ability to produce children. His hope flew in the face of that which is founded on the evidence of reason and common sense. The ancient patriarch had hope when, from the human vantage point, there was absolutely no basis or justification for hope. Yet despite the seeming impossibility hoped for, he believed it would happen as God said. People often use the word-"hope" as something that they long for when the odds seem against them, like "I hope to win the lottery". But Biblical hope springs from the promise of God. Abraham's faith is not described as a "leap into the dark," a completely baseless, almost irrational "decision"...but as a "leap" from the evidence of his senses into the security of God's word and promise (Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (282-283). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). In Romans 4:18-25, the Apostle Paul shows us through the life and faith of the patriarch Abraham three realities of Biblical hope: 1) Its Analysis (vv. 18-19), 2) Its Assurance (v20- 22), and 3) Its Application (vv. 23-25). 1)The Analysis of Biblical Hope (Rom. 4:18-19) Romans 4:18-21. [18] In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." [19] He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. (ESV) In this passage Paul lists seven key characteristics of Abraham's faith and of all faith that is God-given, the only kind of faith that results in salvation. First, the apostle declares of Abraham that in hope he believed against hope. Grammatically this is known as an oxymoron, a figure of speech in which seemingly contradictory ideas are combined (e.g., thunderous silence, sweet sorrow, etc.). Abraham against hope, or beyond hope, nevertheless (had) hope (KJV Bible commentary. 1997 (2226). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.). John Chrysostom called this situation: "It was against man's hope, in hope which is of God." (As quoted in Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (282). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Hope is a decidedly Pauline word, and a word found more often in Romans than in any other New Testament book.. Faith is the belief in God that he will do what he has promised to do. Hope is faith moving forward and putting that faith into action. (cf. 5:2; 15:13; Gal. 5:5; Eph. 1:18-19; Col. 1:23; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 11:1; 1 Pet. 1:21). It is distinguished from secular optimism in that it is grounded in what God has done in Christ (Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (210). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.) Poem: Of this situation, Charles Wesley said: In hope, against all human hope, Self-desperate, I believe; . . . Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone; Laughs at impossibilities, And cries: It shall be done! Applying this to ourselves, if God is who he says he is (and he is!), none of his promises will fail because he forgets us or our situation is beyond his power. The problem is, many...keep in the back of our minds unexorcised suspicions that what we say we believe about God's power is not really true. For all our lip service about trust in God, we rely chiefly upon what we can do ourselves. Some of us need to take deeper possession of the truths we have already believed about God. A good measure of how much spiritual truth we have appropriated is, how long is our worry list? (Hughes, R. K. (1991). Romans: Righteousness from heaven. Preaching the Word (101). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.) Please turn to Genesis 15 The object of Abraham's faith was God, and in particular His promise that he, that is, Abraham, should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring/descendants be." Genesis 15:1-6. After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." 5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (ESV) * In the previous chapter, Genesis 14, Abram rejected the sinful offer from the king of Sodom. But here in chapter 15 he is fearful, because on the surface, it doesn't seem like God will fulfill His promises. Fear often drives people to take the quick and easy route attempting to shortcut faithful obedience. But fear only leads us further from Him and the true source of blessing. But through the word of the LORD Abram got his eyes off of what seems to the God who is. Because of this trust in God, God blesses Abram and promises that He will have many descendants. Sin falsely provides a short cut to what we desire. Only through Faith in God and His promises will we receive what will truly bless. Abraham openly admitted before God that he could not understand how the divine promise of an heir, much less of a multitude of nations, could be fulfilled. The very fact that Abraham was trying to understand how God's promise could be fulfilled indicates he was looking for a way of fulfillment, although he could not yet see a way. Paul declares in Romans 4:19 that Abraham believed God and he did not weaken in faith. The interesting irony is that Abraham's faith did not "weaken" even as his and Sarah's bodies were progressively weakening. To weaken in faith is to allow doubt to cloud and partly undermine belief. Abraham had been trusting God for 25 years, acknowledging, as Paul had just intimated, that "God ... gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist" (Rom. 4:17). As far as we know, Abraham had witnessed no miracle of God. He had never seen God raise a person from the dead or call anything or anyone into being who did not already exist. Yet he firmly believed that the Lord was easily capable of doing such things, as we saw last week from Hebrews 11:17-19. (Osborne, G. R. (200). Romans. The IVP New Testament commentary series (118). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.) Paul tells us that the Hope that Abraham had prevented him from becoming discouraged by his own natural weakness. Because Abraham's faith in God was strong and unwavering, his own ignorance and weakness were no obstacles to his trust. He therefore did not falter when he considered/contemplated his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old). Abraham's natural procreative power was now gone, as good as dead, yet that physiological fact did not diminish his hope. Natural impotence was no problem to Abraham, because his hope was in the supernatural God who had created him in the first place. Abraham himself was fully aware of this. He took full account of the deadness of his own body and of the deadness of Sarah's womb (the double evocation of the description of God's creative power in v 17 is deliberate). He knew that only the lifegiver could fulfill his own promise and only by the exercise of his own power. The strength of his (hope) was precisely his recognition that there was nothing in him which could make the fulfillment of the promise possible, his recognition, that is to say, that he had to rely wholly and solely on God who alone can give life to that which is dead, who alone can make something out of nothing (Dunn, J. D. G. (2002). Vol. 38A: Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary (238). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.) Abraham did not doubt God's promise when the circumstances around him seemed to make its fulfillment impossible. When God repeated the specific promise that Isaac would be born to Abraham and Sarah the following year, both "Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing" (Gen. 18:11-14; cf 17:21). But the barrenness/deadness of Sarah's womb was no more a hindrance to Abraham's hope than was the impotence of his own body. Since the word "barrenness/deadness (Gk. νέκρωσις.) is not the normal word for a woman's barrenness, Paul has deliberately chosen his language to make clear that Abraham's faith with respect to this promise was specifically faith in the "God who gives life to the dead" (v. 17b) (Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (284). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). God waited until it was humanly impossible to fulfill the promise in order to exclude any possible human merit (Lopez, R. A. (2005). Romans Unlocked Power to Deliver (p. 96). 21st Century.) Illustration: POWs In his book Winning Life's Toughest Battles, psychologist Julius Segal wrote about the 25,000 soldiers who were held by the Japanese in POW camps during World War II. "Forced to exist under inhumane conditions, many of them died. Others, however, survived and eventually returned home. There was no reason to believe there was a difference in the stamina of these two groups of soldiers. The survivors, however, were different in one major respect: They confidently expected to be released someday. As described by Robins Readers in Holding On to Hope, 'They talked about the kinds of homes they would have, the jobs they would choose, and even described the kind of person they would marry. They drew pictures on the walls to illustrate their dreams. Some even found ways to study subjects related to the kind of career they wanted to pursue.'" (The difference between life and death, is hope). (Quoted in Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (450). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.) 2) The Assurance of Biblical Hope (Romans 4:20-22) Romans 4:20-22. [20] No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, [21]fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. [22] That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." (ESV) Concerning/with respect to the promise of God in Romans 4:20, no distrust made Abraham waver. Not that Abraham never had momentary hesitations, but that he avoided a deep-seated and permanent attitude of distrust and inconsistency in relationship to God and his promises. Unlike the "double-minded" person who displays a deeply rooted division in his attitude toward God (Jas. 1:6-8), Abraham maintained a single-minded trust in the fulfillment of God's promise (Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (284-285). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Please turn to Genesis 18 He did not vacillate between hope and doubt as many believers frequently do. When from the human viewpoint things are going well, it is easy to trust God. But when things seem impossible, it is even easier to distrust Him. Sarah was a woman of faith, and "she considered Him faithful who had promised" (Heb. 11:11). But before her faith came to that point of unqualified trust, she had laughed at the promise she overheard the Lord making to her husband. I alluded to this last week. Let's look at that change from doubt to faith that Sarah had in Genesis 18 now: Genesis 18:10-14. 10 The LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" 13 The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son." (ESV) * Sarah (cf. Gen. 18:12) and Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:17) laughed at the promise. They did not have perfect faith! Thank God, salvation does not require perfect faith, but only the proper object (God in the OT and His Son in the NT). (Utley, R. J. (1998). The Gospel according to Paul: Romans: Vol. Volume 5 (Ro 4:18). Bible Lessons International.) * Perhaps at this point you are discouraged, thinking, "If God requires such faith as this, namely, that a man way past the age of begetting children, with a wife whose womb is dead, must believe God's promise that he is going to have a child, that this child will be a boy, and that this very wife, and not some other woman, will give birth to him, then there is no hope for me. When it comes to simple, steadfast faith, the kind of trust that takes hold of God under any and every circumstance of life, what a struggle I often experience!" (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 12-13: New Testament commentary: Exposition of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. New Testament Commentary) But struggling with God's promises is not doubt, just as temptation to sin is not itself sin. Hope refuses to doubt and trusts in God's promises, even when no way of fulfillment is humanly imaginable. How was it that even when God's promises seem further and further off, Abraham grew strong in faith. Initially Abraham did not fully understand the promise, that the child would come from Sarah. Even Abraham's faith was not perfect. (Utley, R. J. (1998). The Gospel according to Paul: Romans: Vol. Volume 5 (Ro 4:20). Bible Lessons International.) * Hebrews 11:1. Explains that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". (ESV). When we act upon trust, it becomes stronger. Exercised faith develops persistence (Barton, B. B., Veerman, D., & Wilson, N. S. (1992). Romans (p. 92). Tyndale House Publishers.) Paul says that Abraham's hope was gave glory to God. Godly hope glorifies God; the One who gives faith receives all the credit. Faith in God, because it affirms His trustworthy character, is the supreme way that people glorify Him, while without faith, any attempt to worship, praise, or honor Him is a worthless, self-righteous sham. Glorifying God means declaring who God is. Abraham, by his faith, acknowledged that God was faithful and powerful enough to keep His promise.( Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Ro 4:20). T. Nelson Publishers.) Abraham's hope was shown because he was fully persuaded that God's promise was certain and His power sufficient, because he was, as Paul states in Romans 4:21, fully convinced/assured that God was able to do what He had promised. Trusting in a person's promises requires believing he has not only the power to keep them, but also the will to do so. I.e., "behind all promises lies the character of the person who makes them". Though it is not explicitly stated in this verse, it is implied that Abraham was fully persuaded not only that God could keep his promises because of his power, but also that he would keep them because of his faithfulness (Cottrell, J. (1996-). Romans : Volume 1. College Press NIV commentary (Ro 4:21). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co.). God is able to bring to pass anything that is consistent with his nature and in concert with his redemptive purposes (Mounce, R. H. (2001). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (130). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.). * The question is: how big is your God? The answer to that question will determine how big your hope is. Is your god only the god of the everyday, simply maintaining the status quo? Or is your God, the sovereign God of the universe who delights to show people that everyday He accomplishes the humanly impossible to show that with God, all things are possible (cf. Matt 19:26). Abraham's Hope was not simply a form of fatalistic passivity ("let's see what happens"), nor a fearful reliance on the goodness of some blind providence. It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God's power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition (Dunn, J. D. G. (2002). Vol. 38A: Word Biblical Commentary : Romans 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary (239). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.) The heart of this entire passage, in fact of the whole chapter, is that in response to Abraham's faith, Paul says in Romans 4:22, God graciously counted/reckoned it to him as righteousness. In his sinful flesh, Abraham was totally unable to meet God's standard of perfect righteousness. But the good news of salvation, "the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1), is that the Lord will take the faith that He Himself has enabled a person to possess and count that faith as divine righteousness on the believing sinner's behalf. It is not that faith merits salvation but that faith accepts salvation from God's gracious hand. Through that acceptance comes the righteousness that only God can impart. Faith provided Abraham's entrance into the old covenant promises, and it provides our entrance into the new covenant promises. Furthermore, faith characterized Abraham throughout his earthly existence and is the criterion for life in God's family in every age. (Osborne, G. R. (2017). Romans: Verse by Verse (pp. 128-129). Lexham Press.) Illustration: We can learn something about hope from fishermen. In Pavlov's Trout, Paul Quinnett writes: "It is better to fish hopefully than to catch fish. Fishing is hope experienced. To be optimistic in a slow bite is to thrive on hope alone. When asked, "How can you fish all day without a hit?" the true fisherman replies, "Hold it! I think I felt something." If the line goes slack, he says, "He'll be back!" (Larson, C. B. (2002). 750 engaging illustrations for preachers, teachers & writers (252). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.). * The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms, for a Christian has Christ's righteousness counted to them which means believers have the assurance of hope. 3) The Application of Biblical Hope (Romans 4:23-25) Romans 4:23-25. [23]But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, [24]but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, [25] who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (ESV) Please turn to Psalm 78 The marvelous thing about Abraham's faith being reckoned as righteousness is that the same divine principle applies to every person who trusts in God's Son. The Holy Spirit inspired that truth to be written ...[24] for our sake also. It will be counted/reckoned to us also just as it was for Abraham. Justification has always been by faith. That is the point that Paul has effectively dealt with in this chapter. Paul built his case in vv. 1-22. In these verses he makes application of what he has said up to this point (Forlines, F. L. (1987). Romans (R. E. Picirilli, Ed.; First Edition, p. 117). Randall House Publications.). No part of Scripture was given only for the time in which it was written. We are to have hope in God through reading and hearing His works in Scripture: Psalm 78:5-7 [5]He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, [6]that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, [7]so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; (ESV) (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11) * Notice how this hope is not just wishful thinking, but active obedience that proceeds from faith. Paul expresses the same truth later in the book of Romans: Romans 15:4. [4] For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (ESV) From the human side, the key phrase in Romans 4:24 that it will be counted to us who believe in Him. Faith is the necessary condition for salvation. As the eleventh chapter of Hebrews makes clear, the only persons who have ever been received by God are those who have received Him by faith. That the counting to us will be in a future tense points to the eschatological aspect of justification. In one sense believers are justified now; they have received right standing with God and this is their present possession. From another point of view the consummation waits till Judgment Day and thus may be referred to as still future (Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (214). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.). If, despite his limited revelation, Abraham could have hope though God's promises to anticipate the Savior and believe that God could raise the dead, how much more reason do people today have to believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord. Those who believe "in Him will not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Faith means not only that we believe in Christ's resurrection, but that we are also removed by his death and resurrection from the realm of sin and death and taken up into the status of uprightness and life (Fitzmyer, J. A., S. J. (2008). Romans: a new translation with introduction and commentary (Vol. 33, p. 388). Yale University Press.) Romans 4:25 concludes with the marvelous that that Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses/because of our transgression, and raised for our justification. The Greek noun for justification is derived from the Greek verb dikaioō, meaning "to acquit" or "to declare righteous" (used by Paul in 4:2, 5; 5:1). It is a legal term used of a favorable verdict in a trial. The word depicts a courtroom setting, with God presiding as the Judge, determining the faithfulness of each person to the Law. In the first section of Romans, Paul makes it clear that no one can withstand God's judgment (3:9-20). The Law was not given to justify sinners but to expose their sin. To remedy this deplorable situation, God sent His Son to die for our sins, in our place. When we believe in Jesus, God imputes His righteousness to us, and we are declared righteous before God. In this way, God demonstrates that He is both a righteous Judge and the One who declares us righteous, our Justifier (3:26) (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Ro 4:23-24). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.). Delivered up was a judicial term, referring to the commitment of a criminal to his punishment. Jesus Christ was delivered up to serve the sentence of death that our trespasses/ transgressions deserve, and He was raised up to provide the justification before God that we could never attain in our own power or merit. In the first instance, our trespasses/ transgressions were the problem that needed to be dealt with. In the second instance, our justification is the result that is assured by Christ's resurrection. There could have been no justification if Christ had remained in the tomb. But the fact that He rose tells us that the work is finished, the price has been paid, and God is infinitely satisfied with the sin-atoning work of the Savior (MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Ro 4:25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.). (Format Note: Some base commentary from MacArthur, J. (1996). Romans (266-269). Chicago: Moody Press). Closing Hymn: #271 "Standing on the Promises". (v. 1, 2, 3) 043 Benediction May the Lord, Who longs to be gracious to you, Who waits on high to have compassion on you, Plant you firmly in the faith, established, steadfast and unmovable' Through the hope of the Gospel, proclaimed to all the creation under heaven. In Christ we Pray. AMEN. (cf. Isa. 30:18; Col. 1:23) 1
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