Keeping Your Hopes Up
Tonight I want to talk to you about the Christian virtue of hope. But before I do, I want to warn you that it’s easy to think about, talk about or sing about hope and still miss its reality.
Hank Williams is a name synonymous with country music. In his brief, tragic life, he wrote thousands of songs, performed in front of maybe millions of people, defining country before country was cool. One CD anthology of his work is entitled “Turn Back the Years” and consists of 3 CDs: Drinkin’ Lovin’ and Prayin’His most famous “prayin’” song is “I Saw the Light” in which he sang, “I saw the Light, I saw the Light, no more in darkness, no more in night….Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.” The words express a joy most Christians experience when they put their hope in Jesus Christ as the Light of their lives. But Hank Williams never personally experienced the hope he sang about. Toward the end of his life, Williams was so drunk one night in San Diego that he stumbled off stage after finishing only two songs in a two-show gig. Minnie Pearl and the promoter's wife drove him around town trying to sober him up enough to do the second show. They tried to get him to sing along with them to revive him. He sang only one verse of "I Saw the Light" before stopping. "Minnie," Williams said, "I don't see no light. There ain't no light."
One of the great tragedies of Hank Williams’ life was that he could write about and sing about a hope he didn’t possess.
You and I face the same danger today. You can read the words of hope in the Bible, sing the precious hymns of hope as loud as anybody else, yet still remain blind to the hope that Jesus Christ can give you. You can lose hope for your marriage or family, lose hope in the Bible or the church, even lose hope in God Himself. You can sink into the dark hopelessness that cries out, “I don’t see no light. There ain’t no light.”
I want to talk to you today about how to find hope, either for the first time or the fiftieth time. We’re going to look at a vision given to the nation of Israel during perhaps their most hopeless moment in their history. We’re going to see how God helped them get their hopes up and how God can help us get our hopes back up again. Turn with me please to Exekiel 37:1-14.
To begin with, let’s get our bearings in this section of the Bible. Ezekiel is one of what are known as the major prophets (because of its size.) His ministry spanned the years just before and just after the Babylonian exile of Jerusalem and the rest of the nation of Judah.
His first messages (1-32) predict God’s judgment and the exile, along with several prophesies concerning individual nations.
His second set of messages ( 33-39, which include the one we’ll read tonight) are given during the exile, and are meant to revive Israel’s hope in God. The final chapters (40-48) of Ezekiel describe God’s blueprint for Israel’s future. The book of Ezekiel is full of both warning and promise, both judgment and hope. These words are meant to bring hope to these defeated, discouraged people. How?
First of all, Ezekiel’s vision reminds us : Life can seem hopeless. (v. 1-3)
I recently read about a young lawyer who descended into a hopeless depression. Things were going so poorly for him that his friends kept all knives and razors away from him for fear he could commit suicide. In fact, during this time he wrote in his diary, “I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I fear I shall not.”
No matter how optimistic you try to be, there are times when everything seems hopeless. Ezekiel’s vision paints a very vivid picture of the hopelessness of the nation of Israel.
The scene is creepy. Ezekiel is transported by the Spirit into a large, dark valley full of human bones. Imagine the shock of finding yourself ankle deep in skeletons and skulls, lying everywhere you look. As he staggers through the grisly scene, he notices these bones are very dry, indicating that they have been dead for a long time.
The questions must flood Ezekiel’s mind: Where am I? Who were all these dead people? Why am I here? The Lord responds by asking a question: Son of man, can these bones live?
How would you answer? Surely there is no more hopeless scene than a valley full of dry bones? In the middle of a surely hopeless situation, Ezekiel’s reply is faintly hopeful: O Lord God, You know. It doesn’t look too likely, Lord, and I certainly cannot see how, but You’re really the only Person Who can answer that question.
Vs.11 tells us these bones symbolize His people, Israel living in exile, with no human hope of ever returning home again. It looks as if they will never live to see God’s promise fulfilled: that Israel would possess this land and be His special people. From a strictly human standpoint it looks hopeless.
You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve felt the cold hand of hopelessness rest on your shoulder, tempting you to call it quits, inviting you to give up your dreams, grow up and face the facts, get real. Life can seem hopeless.
There’s no hope your marriage will ever be healed.
There’s no hope that son/daughter will ever come back to you
No hope that lost loved one will ever come to Christ.
No hope my sins will ever be forgiven.
No hope things will ever get better.
Son of man these bones live again?
O Lord, You know.
When life seems hopeless, it’s time to turn to the Lord. Only He can bring hope even when all hope seems lost. With God, it’s always too soon to give up hope.
The young lawyer I told you about eventually discovered this for himself. He survived his period of depression, and struggled through many more to finally be elected President of the United States—a chap by the name of Abraham Lincoln.
When life can seem hopeless look to the Lord, because there is always hope with Him.
But how does He give us hope in these seemingly hopeless situations? Ezekiel’s vision shows us in vs. 4-10 (read).
This scene gets stranger by the minute. God commands Ezekiel to preach to these dry dead bones. I’ve felt like Ezekiel did sometimes when I’m preaching!
But seriously---dead people don’t hear. Skeletons don’t have ears. Why in the world would you preach to dead bones? Why would you call out in this valley of death O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord!
Because God’s Word brings hope to the hopeless.
God assures Ezekiel He can resurrect these bones, put muscle and skin on them and breath in them. You just preach, and I’ll do the rest, Zeke.
So the prophet starts to speak, and the weirdness ratchets up another level. First a rattle among the bones, then they rise up and start connecting to one another. As Zeke’s eyes grow wider, muscles and tissue begin to cover the bones, and finally skin wraps itself around the bodies of these dead people. But there is no spirit in them---just empty bodies, standing like zombies in the valley.
Then God commands Ezekiel preach to the wind, that the spirit will enter these bodies. Every Jew who read this immediately equated the wind= the breath of life.
Ge 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
In the Hebrew language, the word rûah= breath/wind/spirit. As Ezekiel preaches to the wind, the Holy Spirit gives life to these bodies, and they, too, become living souls.
In vs. 12-14 God explains this resurrection symbolizes how He will raise the nation of Israel back from their spiritual death and bring them back to the land of Promise. Though it looks like it’s all over for them, God gives them hope that He can restore life to them.
Why would you call out in this valley of death Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe on these that they may live?
Because God’s Spirit brings hope to the hopeless.
There is hope here for the people to return from exile. God’s Spirit will bring fulfill God’s Word. This vision connects God’s Word and God’s Spirit to the hope of God’s people. You and I need to make this same connection.
A little over a month before he died, the famous philosopher and atheist Jean-Paul Sartre declared he often said to himself, “I know I shall die in hope.” Then in profound sadness, he would add, “But hope needs a foundation.”[i]
Hope needs a foundation or it’s just wishful thinking. You can hope for anything, but if your hope is not grounded in reality, it is only a matter of time before it evaporates. Whether your hope is in money, health, the government, other people, or just trying to convince yourself that everything will be OK, none of these things are solid foundations for hope. Ezekiel’s vision gives us the only sure foundation for a hope that will stand forever: the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
How sure a foundation is the Word of God?
Is 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
Mt 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
The Word of God revealed in the pages of the Bible is solid truth you can depend on to stand when all else fails. His Word is what our hope of forgiveness, our hope of peace, our hope of life and our hope of heaven is built on. As surely as His Word came true for Israel in Ezekiel’s day, His Word will always be true for you and I as well.
Ps 119:89 Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.
I always love to hear stories from the Gideons about how God’s Word brings hope to the hopeless.
Dr. Doren Edwards, a surgeon in Erin, Tennessee, tells of a patient of his, Blanche Bennet, whose alcoholic husband had died. Her two children were giving her problems, finances were tight, and life was very hard. She wasn’t a Christian.
One day she came to see Dr. Edwards with physical problems, and he diagnosed cancer, with multiple organs involved. No treatment was available, and she was very bitter. Dr. Edwards wanted to talk with her about the Lord, but she wouldn’t allow him to share his witness. She did, however, accept a small New Testament.
A few weeks later, the doctor learned from the newspaper obituary that she had died. He sent a card to the family, telling them he had donated Bibles in her memory to the Gideons.
The woman’s daughter called him. “Could you please send us a Bible like the ones you donated in memory of our mother. We don’t have a Bible in our home. The last six days she was alive, her whole life changed. She was no longer bitter, she wasn’t afraid to die, and she said something about knowing Jesus. But she asked that her Bible be buried in her hand, and we couldn’t keep it. Would you please send us a Bible so that we can find what Mama found in that book?”
Dr. Edwards sent them a Bible, and to date the daughter, the son, and one sister have been saved as a result.* [ii]
The Word of God is the sure foundation for our hope.
How sure a foundation of hope is the Spirit of God?
2 Co 1:21-22 21Now He…22…also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee= put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (NIV)
Eph 1:13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
God’ Spirit lives in us, filling us with hope that the same God Who saved us will keep us, will strengthen us, will guide us and help us to keep going all the way to heaven. As surely as God’s Spirit continued to work in the people of Israel, His Spirit will continue to work in us as well.
Leigh Richmond tells of his last visit to the death-bed of a young convert that he had led to Jesus. He asked the girl in the valley of the shadow what was her hope for eternity.
Putting her thin, wasted fingers on the Bible that lay beside her she said, "Christ here!" Then, placing her nigh transparent hand on her heart she said, "Christ here!" And then pointing upward, she said, "And Christ there!"
The Christ you find in the Bible, the Christ you find in your heart, the Christ Who is building a home for you in heaven---this is the sure foundation of our hope.
Is He your hope?
Eric Butterworth tells of a young soldier who lost his legs after stepping on a land mine while serving in Bosnia. When he awoke in the military hospital in Germany and found that he would never walk again, something died within him. He lay in his hospital bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. He refused to talk with anyone. He refused to cooperate with the doctors and nurses. All he wanted to do was to die.
One day a young man strolled into his room and sat down in the chair near his bed. Quietly he drew from his pocket a harmonica and began to play softly. The patient looked at him for a moment, then back at the ceiling. That was all for that day. The next day the harmonica player came again. For several days he continued to come and play quietly for the young soldier in the bed. One day he said, “Does my playing bother you?” The patient in the bed said, “No, I guess like it.” They talked for a while and each day their conversation went longer.
One day the harmonica player was in a jovial mood. He played a lively tune and began to do a tap dance. However the other soldier in the bed looked on, unimpressed. “Hey, why don't you smile once and let the world know you're alive?” the dancer said. The legless soldier just replied, “I might as well be dead as in the fix I'm in.”
“Okay,” answered his happy friend, “so you're dead. But you're not as dead as the guy who was crucified two thousand years ago and He came out of it okay.” “Oh, that's easy for you to say,” the patient replied, “but if you were in my fix, you'd sing a different tune.”
With that the dancer stood up and said, “I know a two-thousand-year-old resurrection is pretty far in the dim past. So maybe an up-to-date example will [give you some hope].” And with that he pulled up the trouser legs of his pants and revealed two artificial limbs. The tap-dancing fellow with the harmonica had faced the despair of a loss. But he had found his hope in Christ.
“Minnie I don’t see no light. There ain’t no light.”
Maybe you feel that way tonight. Maybe some bitter, terrible tragedy has left you without the light of hope. Tonight is the night the Lord Jesus wants to give you hope again.
Tonight I invite you to bring your hopeless heart to Him and let Him shine the light of His Word and His Spirit into the situation. With Christ there is no such thing as a hopeless situation. You can always keep your hopes up when your hope is in Him.
[i]Our Daily Bread, April 17, 199510,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical
* Personal conversation with the author.
[ii]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 780.