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On Hope

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Hope

I really enjoy movies. I don’t find anything wrong with entertainment as long as it doesn’t become an idol or incite you to sin. My views on that have changed over the years since I first became a Christian, therefore the types of movies I have watched have changed.
A movie I have loved for many years is one that I’m hesitant to bring up from the pulpit because I don’t want younger people to watch it without their parents being fully informed. However, the Shawshank Redemption is a movie that both entertains and challenges the viewer. It may not entertain everyone, and it may not challenge everyone, but if you ponder the themes of the movie, you’ll find concepts of justice, morality, brotherhood, and hope.
In this movie a man named Andy is unjustly sent to prison and is befriended by another man, named Red, who also has a lengthy sentence. I was once asked what I thought the movie was about. I said, “Obviously, it’s about brotherhood and friendship - one of the best ‘bro’ movies of all time.” This wise friend of mine said, “Everyone thinks it’s a bro movie. It is, to an extent, but it’s really about hope.”
And watching it through that lens, it becomes obvious that hope is the key. The character Red, played by Morgan Freeman, has one famous quote while Andy is devising a plan to escape. Red says:
“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
In the dark confines of a prison, hope is a rare thing. Inmates are living a life they were never to meant to live - caged, secluded, deprived. They face malice and violence with little or no hope of reprieve. For many, it is simply a long stretch of drudgery and dreary living, waiting for death.
But Andy has something the others don’t. He has hope. It was keeps him going. It was kept his head up and his momentum going forward.
Later in the movie, Andy says: "Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
Today I would like to draw some parallels to our own lives today, and I hope you don ‘t think it’s too much of a stretch. In the same way those prisoners were living in a place they weren’t created to live in, we live in a place that is not what we are made for. 1 Peter calls Christians “sojourners and exiles” in the ESV, “aliens and strangers” in another version. John 15 says we “are not of this world”. Philippians 3 says our “citizenship is in Heaven”.
This is earth is but a temporary place. This life of struggle - something I know so many of us are enduring right now - is not our final destination. However, it can feel like it. I saw something on Facebook the other day that being an adult just means saying “It’s been a hard week but things will slow down next week” over and over again until you die. This is funny, but it’s a mentality we get into, because life is a week-by-week struggle. Day by day. For some of you, it’s minute by minute.
I want you to know, we struggle together here. If your life is currently absent of significant struggle, find someone not as privileged and be their support. We struggle together, and I want us all to realize this struggle serves a purpose. Not only does it it serve a purpose, but both the ends and mean are hope. Hope is a purpose of struggle. Hope is also how we overcome it.
Let’s turn to our text together:

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Red said that hope is a dangerous thing. He was implying that hoping without any real opportunity to accomplish what it is that you are hoping for - without any real opportunity to attain what you hope for - will result in a succession of failures that will drive you insane.
If we hope for the wrong things in this life, it can do terrible things to our psyche. It can do terrible things to our mental health. It can do terrible things to our relationships.
But, if we have Biblical hope, then our story changes. If we have the hope that is contained in the Word of God, made known to us by the Holy Spirit and realized in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ - if our hope is in the eternal - where our citizenship resides - rather than things of this world - this world that serves as our temporary residence in which we are imprisoned until the right time - if our hope is in the right place, we will have the desire and ability to persevere through this life
1 John 2:15-17 exhorts us:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Struggle

God is revealed to us throughout the Bible. It is by through the Bible that we find truth, the origins of all the Universe, the origin of human life, and the purpose of Creation. In God’s Word we have our sins revealed to us, as well as our means of redemption from that sin. In the Bible
There is a book that is popular in many Christian and non-Christian circles called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”. I’ve not read it in its entirety, though I’ve glanced it over many times. I’ve wanted to read it, because I have hoped to find within it answers to one of our faith’s most asked questions - “why is there so much suffering?” More directly asked, “Why does a good God allow so much suffering”?
What is the origin of our suffering?
What causes our suffering?
What is the point of our difficult times?
Books like this have become popular in contemporary culture for a few reasons.
First, we’ve stopped looking to the Bible for answers to the hard questions. We teach our children simple stories from the Bible to teach them morals, but fail to get them reading their Bibles and studying their Bibles to move past this simple moral teaching concept. As they grow into adults they see the Bible as a book of stories that teach us what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong, but parents often fail to teach their junior high and senior high children how to read their Bibles for more than simple moral lessons and encouraging verses during their difficult times. In the end, we have adults that look to the Bible for encouragement and comfort, but not for answers to the truly difficult questions in life.
Second, many pastors teach us that becoming a Christian is the answer to life’s struggles. They try to merge two concepts - that God is sovereign, and God wants you to be happy and successful in this life. Both of these sound great independently - God is the sovereign king of the universe, and God loves us, so he must want us to be happy. Successful. Healthy. Blessed.
The combination of these things results in “moralistic therapeutic deism”.
Moralistic - pertaining to concepts of right and wrong.
Therapeutic - “having a good effect on the body or mind; contributing to a sense of well-being.”
Deism - a belief in god. Lowercase “g”. Not the on true God of the Judeo-Christian set of beliefs. Just “god”.
So faith becomes a set of right and wrongs, makes you feel good, and in some general sense has to do with belief in a god. I know you guys see this all the time, you’ve probably just never put a name to it. It’s rather new agey, even in a Christian church context. Do more good than bad, feel good about the good you do because God wants you to feel good, and talk about God sometimes.
This is not, however, Christianity. The hope provided in this system of do-good feel-good religion is the type that lets you down. It’s the type of hope fails repeatedly and makes a person feel insecure in their believes, insecure in their purpose in life, and ultimately insecure in their salvation. When your hope is do-good feel-good, and your hope is all about earthly happiness and gratification and earthly passions and pursuits of success, your hope will fail you.
But the Christian hope is of a different sort. The false hope is fool’s gold, the Christian hope is a store-room full of treasure. Earthly hope provided by moral therepeutic deism is but a shiny rock on the ground, while the hope of Jesus is a diamond. But even better than a diamond, it really is forever.
But what exactly is this Christian hope? Perhaps you have a general sense of the hope given to you by your faith. Maybe you can even put some words too it. But I want us to be wake up each morning full of a hope we understand, and put our heads down on our pillows secure in that hope.
Let’s walk through this section of Romans 5 together. We’ll go bit by bit through verses 3 through 5, working our way from suffering to hope, and at our conclusion, we’ll rejoice together in that hope.

Rejoicing in Suffering?

Verse 3 says that we are “rejoice in our suffering”.
Depending on the translation of the Bible in front of you, you will see different words here. Some say that we ought to “rejoice” in our suffering. Others say to “glory” in our sufferings.
While rejoice is an apt translation, it is more than simply being happy or to be glad. It is one thing to simply submit ourselves to our tribulations. We can say to ourselves, “I will persevere through this time without grumbling or murmuring or complaining”.
However, it is another thing to rejoice or glory in them. To see the value that they have. To see that suffering is not simply hard times brought upon us by evil or sin or illness or corruption - but that suffering can actually be something ordained by God to grow and mature his people.
To view suffering as something that actually serves a purpose and is beneficial to us in the long term is a sign that your faith is maturing. It is a sign that you are coming to understand difficult portions of scripture - like those that tell us to rejoice in our suffering.
However, if our eyes are focused on worldly things, it cad. This does not mean we that we don’t take care of the earthly matters we are called to take care of. We are still called to work and take care of our children, to love and manage relationships, to give and take care of the hurting - but ultimately our eyes are on eternity. Our hearts are set on Heaven, our work done for the Lord, our lives focused on the Spiritual realm.
And how does suffering work towards this goal?

Endurance

As we continue in Romans 5:3, we see that suffering produces endurance.
This may not make sense initially, but I think we can easily draw an analogy between suffering in life and suffering in athletics. Paul often compares the Christian walk to a race, or the Christian life to athletics, so I don’t think this is stepping too far off the beaten path.
If any of you have done much running - especially if you started doing so later in life - you know that the the initial stages are very difficult. When you just start running, or just start back to running, your lungs burn and your legs hurt, but you know you are building up your endurance for that 5k, and then that 10k, then the half marathon, then maybe you’re crazy and you want to run to Culbertson and back again. But if you do a 5k and get your time down to 25 minutes and then simply run a 5k at that same pace a few times a week without pushing yourself farther or faster, you’re not going to improve much. You have to feel the suffering. You have have to push yourself past being comfortable, even if it’s a little bit at a time. In order to increase your endurance, you have to feel some suffering.
I find suffering more akin to weight lifting, than running, however. Weight lifting is focused on the idea that you lift heavy things and by doing so your muscle fibers actually tear. Then, your body repairs itself and becomes stronger. However, you don’t build more muscle without the muscle going through this process of tearing and rebuilding. Tearing and rebuilding.
And so it is in the Christian life. We willing subject ourselves to suffering knowing that it will build within us endurance for the Christian life. Some of you have seen some of the crazy Crossfitters - the guys and girls that are like “Yeah I’m doing burpees and box jumps today until I puke!” And they are excited about it. That’s a rough analogy to a Christian saying, “I’m going to face this trial with joy, because I know God is working in it and will use it to bring me closer to Him, to glorify Him, and to give me endurance in this life.
Something similar shows up in the book of James, Chapter 1:

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Here, the word is “steadfastness”, but if you take a look at the original Greek, the same word is used here as in Romans 5. Obviously, it means the same thing in both places though the English word used to translate it may be different. One definition for this Greek word I found is perfect: the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty.
And here in James, just as in Romans 5, this steadfastness or endurance or perseverance, is one primary use God has for difficulty and suffering in our lives.
Here in James two, we are told that the full effect steadfastness is part of our Christian maturity - stating that we are to let steadfastness work in us to drive towards holiness.

Character

Romans 5, however, does not stop at endurance. Verse 4 tells us that this endurance will produce character.
In this instance, it is our character proven through trials. Proven through our perseverance.
I’m sure you’ve heard a father somewhere say, “Go out and mow the lawn. It builds character.” Or “scoop the snow off the sidewalks - don’t complain, it builds character.”
And yet no child knows what this abstract concept of character is.
In fact, most adults would probably relate the concept of character to morality. Someone of good character is someone who is a good person. Someone who does the right thing. Someone who works hard and cares and ultimately is morally upright.
While those things may be true, we must look again to the original language, and I hope I’m not boring you with the Greek today. However, it’s important so that we can understand this concept correctly.
The word used here for “produces character” is actually one word.
I’m not trying to use character to define character here, but rather to show you this Greek word has a more specific meaning that just “character”.
Proven Character********
This Greek word is also used in 2nd Corinthians, chapter 2, starting in verse 5:

5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

Hope

Robert Mounce wrote, “Hope is not superficial optimism but the confident assurance of that which will surely come to pass. It distinguishes those who have kept the faith in times of severe testing.”
This means more than simply hoping life will get better. A surfacey pronouncement that God is in control and everything will be okay.
This hope comes from proven character born from the suffering and trials of a life lived for Christ - an enduring of difficulties consistent with a life worthy of Christ.
This is a hope of which we are confident, knowing with our hearts that God is sovereign. That God has both power, ability, and right to rule over this universe from the greatest galaxies to the stars and planets and even over us.
And knowing that God is good, and that God loves us. Loves us enough that, as you would read later in Romans 5.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

And to what end did this sovereign God love us? That we would be granted eternal life with Him.
That we would have hope not only in this life, but in the next!

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

And this Christian hope is found in our mourning.
It is found in enduring the tribulations in this life.
This hope is found in suffering through illness.
It is found in enduring a difficult marriage in love.
It is found in bearing the burdens of our hurting children.
This hope is found in keeping the faith during financial hardship.
This hope is found in loving our enemies, even those who hurt us physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
This hope is found in loving those who talk behind our backs, work against us, seek to harm us, intentionally make our lives more difficult
This hope is found in the proven character of a Christian who has endured the test.
And this hope is our confidence that one day the words of Revelation 21 will come true. John wrote, with regard to his visions:

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Conclusion

Revelation 15 states -

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

55 “O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

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