April 2, 2013

Jesus: Hope

Hope can often be in short supply in our world. The news industry thrives on the destruction of our world. Television producers know that stories of heartbreak and tragedy, conflict, tension, anger producing programming will get the ratings! Politicians know that people will listen and believe a lie quicker than the truth if they can tell it well and attach to a deep seated fear we already have or something we already want to believe.

There is a scene in Shawshank Redemption where Andy breaks into the Warden’s office, locks the door and plays music over the loud speaker for the entire prison to hear. The Warden sends him to solitary confinement for his actions, but once he gets out be says it is the easiest time he has ever done in the hole because the music gives hope, and hope is most needed in a place like Shawshank.

We live in a world bereft of hope, and yet that is when we need hope the most! We need hope, in the midst of all that is going on and going wrong around us. We need hope because it brings meaning, purpose, and a confidence that better days are on the horizon.

For those of us here this morning, we must know the hope we really need can only be found in Jesus! When the world going to Hell around us, and there is little reason to believe that things are going to get better...we have hope because we have a Savior who was not defeated by death, but was raised to new life! That is the hope we need most.

Sometimes our church background gets in the way...We believe Jesus rose from the dead, but then talk about it as though it’s only applicable to our spiritual lives. That just doesn’t seem like God! Jesus’ resurrection is meant to give us hope with the everyday things we face; not just some future by and by.

When everything is going wrong...that is when we most need the hope Jesus’ resurrection provides.

We need hope when we are unemployed or under-employed, and there is a stack of bills sitting on the counter and a barrage of collection calls?

We need hope when all the guilt and shame of our past mistakes keep washing over and dragging us below the surface like a surfer being drowned beneath the ocean waves?

We need hope when our most earnest prayers seem unanswered and the one who promised, “till death do us part” walks out the door never to return?

We have access to the hope we need if we just tap into it in the resurrection of Jesus Christ...

Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. 
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

It is easy for us to look back, knowing the end of the story, but if we could transport ourselves back to the time of the disciples, and put ourself in their shoes; experiencing what they had experienced over the past week...we too would sense the depth of their despair.

Jesus, the one they believed to be the Messiah entered Jerusalem to a rousing crowd cheering and shouting. He spent the week confronting the religious leaders and teaching about the Kingdom of God. The disciples expected Him to start the Revolution that would overthrow the Roman government and establish the Kingdom of God Jesus had been teaching about.

That is when it all went horribly wrong...Jesus was betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten, crucified, and buried in a tomb...with a large stone and guards...it was over!

This wasn’t just their teacher. This was the man with whom they had spent 3 years of their lives...studying, preparing, laughing, and caring. They were broken and defeated. Peter, the disciple who said, “I will follow you even if it means death!” was so overwhelmed he denied Jesus 3 times. The rest of the disciples fled fearing for their lives. At one moment they are sure about the future and where it is headed...and the next everything has been taken away.

But here Luke begins...“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning...”

This is a whole new day! Things are about to get real!

1. Hope Heals our Past
By the time Luke writes this passage, the darkness the disciples felt had passed. The three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection were when all the loneliness, sadness, abandonment, and discouragement set in...the realization that there was no Kingdom...there was no revolution...Jesus was “not the Messiah they were looking for.” They left everything to follow Him, and now there was nothing.

But the resurrection changed all of that! Jesus’ resurrection took the pain and despair of those few days and vanquished them and filled them with hope. All of the the hurt and pain the disciples experienced was transformed by the resurrection.

And when we surrender our lives to Jesus, we are given access to the same transforming power that raised Jesus to life!

Romans 6:5-7, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”

When we surrender our past hurts, sins, disappointments, and failures to God...the Bible tells us in Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

He does not hold our past against us! He desires to free us from all the baggage we carry!

A pastor received this letter: "I'm 31 years old and divorced, though I fought the divorce bitterly. I feel bad. I have no hope for my future. Often I go home and cry, but there's no one holding me when I cry. Nobody cares. Nothing changes, and I continue to fail. I'm stressed out emotionally, and I feel I'm on the verge of a collapse. Something is very wrong. But I feel so hurt and embittered that I can scarcely react or relate to others anymore. I feel as if I'm going to have to sit out the rest of my life in the penalty box."

The tragedy is many people live life like this. They can't get on with the present and the future because they're stuck in the past. Guilt or regret ties them down. Sometimes they're letting a former relationship mess up their current relationship. They say, "I guess I'll just have to live with this the rest of my life."

The resurrection is God’s way of saying our past doesn’t have to define our present or our future!

No matter what sin you have lurking in your past...

No matter how often you have failed...

No matter what hurts and pains you have experienced...

Jesus’ resurrection gives hope that you can have freedom from your past and start again!

2. Hope helps our Present Problems.
I love football...especially Ohio State football, but I’m usually busy when the games are on so I don’t get to watch it. So that is why God gave me a DVR to record them. I do find it impossible, though, not to peak. But I have found, if I know my team is going to win the game, I don’t get as tense and upset when I’m watching the dvr’d game and they fumble the ball....I already know they win.

When we take the power of Jesus’ resurrection into our lives...it is like knowing our team wins. It puts our current pain into perspective. Jesus declares that nothing will overcome those who place their trust in Him...this gives us a tremendous advantage in handling our current problems

To often we say things like “My life is out of control.”

We say...
I feel powerless to change the situation…
I feel powerless to break that bad habit…
I feel powerless to save a relationship…
I feel powerless to get out of debt…
I feel powerless to manage my schedule...

What we need is a power greater than ourself. You were never meant to live life on your own power...disconnected from God.

Our Present can seem unmanageable because we have not tapped into the power Jesus makes available to us.

Ephesians 1:18-20 says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you...and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead...”

Some of us came crawling in here—you've had a tough week, a tough month, a tough couple of years, and the idea that God can do something about our present circumstances may sound as nonsensical as the women’s description that day to the disciples, but God wants you to hear this: "Don't give up."

No problem is too big for God. No situation is hopeless if you'll turn it over to him.

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

It does not says, "I am ready for anything through the power of positive thinking"? It doesn't say, "I am ready for anything because I psyched myself up"? It doesn’t say, “I am ready for anything because I can tough it out!” No.

It says, "I am ready for anything because of the strength of Christ who lives in me."

That strength is available for you today!

3. Hope means our future is secure
Jesus’ resurrection means that in the end...He wins. Pain, suffering, death, sin, evil...they don’t win. They don’t get the last word. God has spoken against the injustice in our world...and about the injustice in our lives! Despite everything we see around us screaming to the contrary....the pain, the turmoil, the heartache...even in the death of His only begotten son...something good will come of this.

When we are faced with a hopeless situation...we can rest in the promise of Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Our future is uncertain...not one of us here knows what will happen to us...we can live in fear of that future...we can worry about all the stuff that MIGHT happen...we can allow the pressures to overwhelm us...or we can trust that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead will bring life to our future, and take care of us no matter what the world throws at us.

I love 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. I use it often when doing funerals. It says, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

You see, we don’t have to fear the future...least of all do we have to fear death. Because one day, Jesus will raise us from the dead to live in His presence in the Kingdom of God in realm where pain and tears are wiped away, and joy and celebration replace all the heartache. We do not grieve as those who have no hope, because we are certain that God is working everything toward the ultimate goal of His Kingdom.

Your future is not uncertain...God holds it in His hands!

I love this quote, “The Christian gospel [Jesus’ death and resurrection] asserts that...God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”

God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, shows us a different God than many have come to believe exists. We have a Savior who left heaven, surrendered His God-ness, and took on our humanity...suffered alongside of us...took on our infirmities, as the Bible says, all so He could rescue us.

Today, maybe you walked in here struggling with baggage from your past...that doesn’t have to define your present or your future...If you are willing to surrender it to Jesus, he can give you the strength you need to make it through.

Maybe you are just slammed with all kinds of present problems. You feel your life is unmanageable and out of control. You are struggling just to maintain...You don’t have to do that under your own strength.

Maybe it is the future that frightens you. You live in fear of what might or might not happen...I invite you to place your trust in the God who promises to make everything work out to the good.

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