Thursday, June 02, 2016

May 29, 2016 The Abundant Life: Hope

Last Sunday we began a three-message series called The Abudant Life, taken from John 10:10, where Jesus says I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (NASV).  The series forms around the foundational values of the Christian faith – faith, hope, and love.

Today we will consider hope, which is a fitting topic for Memorial Day, I believe.  If you have visited Washington, DC, you have most likely visited some of the memorials erected to those we honor on Memorial Day. It was a very moving experience for me to visit the Vietnam War Memorial, and to search for a name of a childhood friend.  To scan across the incredible number of names etched into the granite is very powerful.

It is right to honor those who have passed on and for us, as well, to think about our future resurrection.  To have certainty about resurrection is possible because of the gift of hope.  As we consider hope this mornng, we will turn to a Scripture text that comes from a time early in the history of the church.

Not long after Pentecost, in the earliest pages of the book of Acts, Peter and John were walking to the temple for afternoon prayers when they encountered a man who was crippled from birth.  Each day someone would help the man get to his spot at one of the temple gates in order for him to beg for some assistance from those who entered the temple.

Listen as Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, tells the story –

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.
And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.
When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.
But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”
And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.
But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”
And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.
With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God;
10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

How many times in the course of a day, a week, a month, or a year do we begin a sentence with the words I hope…?  This morning, I’ll offer a few points that begin with hope.

Hope is foundational to life
At funerals I sometimes offer the quote that we can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.  Hope provides a promise that we have the possibility of overcoming some of the most difficult circumstances and problems that life brings our way, and, at the end of life and all of its struggles, we transition to a new life where God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old  order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).  I love the image of that passage of Scripture, which offers the picture of a parent, kneeling down beside their child to wipe away their tears after suffering an injury.

Peter and John did something that most people do not do when asked for money – most people look away, avoiding eye contact with the person who asks.  It’s easier to refuse a request for help when you aren’t looking at a person, I presume, but Luke (the writer of Acts) makes the point to say that both Peter and John looked straight at him (verse 4).

The man, I imagine, was hopeful that they would give him some money, and was probably disappointed with their initial response.  Peter said I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!  Whatever gift the man was expecting, healing was certainly not it.  Overjoyed, Luke says the man followed Peter and John into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God (verse 8).  Those who were in the temple that day were amazed to see this man healed, and the dramatic moment was one among many that helped to spur the rapid growth of the church.

The man who was healed by Peter had most certainly given up hope that his life could change in any meaningful way.  Living in a time period when health care was very limited, even to those with the financial means to afford it, meant that any medical solution was beyond the boundaries of even the wildest of hopes, so it is easy to understand his joyous reaction.  Never in his wildest dreams could he have conceived that he would walk.

Peter was one who often gave hope to others, not just the man who was healed in this passage.  In I Peter 1:3-9 he writes, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. 

As we depend upon hope, we can instill hope in others.
The positioning of the man who receives healing is significant.  He is outside of the temple, and once healed, he is able to walk into the temple on his own.  It’s great that he was healed, and it’s wonderful that he was made whole, but we should not forget that many people walked by him as he sat at that gate every day.  He was literally on the doorstep of the church, begging for a bit of help, which, if it came at all, came a few small coins at a time.

Need comes right to the doorstep of the church.  We don’t have to go looking for need; it is always at our feet and at our doorstep.  It is always in front of us, we are always surrounded by need.

I assume there is also some symbolism in the fact that he only came into the temple once he was healed.  I fear that some people believe they must become whole in some way before coming to church.  There is a misnomer among some people that they are not good enough or that their lives are not together enough.  I have heard many people, throughout my years of ministry, say they will come to church when they get their lives together or when they solve all of their problems.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

But we must also remember that not all beggars appear to be beggars.  Some beggars work in corner offices on the top floor of office buildings.  Some beggars wear $1,000 suits.  Some beggars live in beautiful, expensive subdivisions.  In one way or another, we are all beggars, in need of God’s grace and, certainly, his hope.

The treasure of the gospel is the hope we are offered.  Peter and John might not have had any silver or gold, but they certainly had a great treasure as they offered hope.

There is also a contagious quality to hope.  The people in the temple, seeing that the man had been healed, were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him (verse 10).  There was a sense among the people of the possibility of their own hopes being realized.

Hope is the foundation of faith.
One of the reasons why faith, hope, and love are grouped together is because they are building blocks for each other, and are tied together in inextricable ways.

An interesting aspect of the digital age is the ability to connect to people from around the world.  I recently became linked to someone in Kenya, and he invited me to read some things he had written, and I want to read a portion of one of his writings to you this morning.  It is part of a longer piece, and in the portion I’ll read is some of his description about his upbringing, which was very impoverished –
Poverty is nothing to wish for; it’s vexing, afflicting, desperate and (an) unpleasant state and without great passion, the zeal to succeed and lofty ambitions, it may shatter dreams.
Poverty is an anathema; an oppressive ruler with (an) iron fist: It’s stressful and energy-sapping like drudgery. It’s as difficult as it sounds.
However, I’m grateful for my pain and suffering because there is nothing that has helped me to understand the fleeting beauty of life more than these. They also inspired in me the wonderful zeal for knowledge that I have and the call to uplift others.
I remain devoted and this makes me impregnable to the vicissitudes of life. My faith and firm Belief in GOD will never be shipwrecked.

What a declaration of hope! Praise God for the hope he offers!  Declare hope in your life today!  

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