Where real HOPE is found

Pastor Jeff Struecker

God didn’t speak to his people for 400 years. He was silent. Nothing. Around 430 BC is when God’s final words came from Malachi, which display both his kindness and his severity. Judgment is coming. But for those who believe, it says the Son of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. 


That’s pretty much it. 400 years. Silence.


So then what happened? The Jewish people had rebuilt the temple and restored the wall, but all was not well. They had wandered from God. His ways were far from their hearts, and centuries of hardships were upon them. 


First they fell to the Greeks, and then to the Egyptians, and then to the Syrians who persecuted them greatly. The temple was desecrated. Tens of thousands of God’s people were slaughtered. All the while… Silence. Where was God?


On one end, I would think that those years would drive God’s people to study scripture, to seek God to cling to his promises. Instead, God’s people became deaf and blind, unable to fathom what was coming. I wonder if they yearned for the days when God wasn’t silent. -when he spoke through prophets, angels, dreams and burning bushes. I wonder if they looked up to the sky and pleaded, “God, deliver us! We will respond the right way this time. Can’t you see that we need you?” Silence.


Generations came in went, and hope for many was lost. But it was about to return in a most unexpected way. God was writing a new law, while simultaneously fulfilling the old. Its ink would drip with love. Its pages would be filled with hope. You see, God had always been at work. The silence which had been deafening for so long, was about to end with the sound of a heartbeat. 


We all need hope. Every second, every minute, every day, we need hope. It’s hope that helps us get up in the morning. It’s hope that helps us face our challenges. It’s hope that helps us make it through the difficulties of life. We need hope at the soul level, like the air that you breathe. Our soul needs hope like your stomach needs food. We need hope like you thirst in a desert. That’s what hope does for God’s people. 


You see, the river winds and it bends and it makes its way over the rocks, because the river hopes that it will enter into the sea. Blades of grass hang on in the middle of the bitter cold, and they push through the dirt because they hope for the warm sunlight. And just like the river, just like the blades of grass, you and I need hope in someone or something bigger than us. 


We’re studying through what the Christian calendar calls Advent. Advent is just a Latin word that means coming. In the Advent season when people put Advent wreaths, calendars or candles up, they talk about peace; they talk about joy. 


Today, what we’re going to do is talk about hope. And here’s what I just want you to know: the birthplace of hope was found in the most unlikely of all places. The birthplace of hope was a manger in Bethlehem. It was God speaking to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, born in the most unusual and unlikely of circumstances.


The birthplace of HOPE is a manger in Bethlehem.


We’re studying through this really unusual passage of scripture. Most people turn to Luke, they go to Isaiah, or they even look at Matthew. But we’re looking in the book of Romans. We’re in Romans chapter five. Two weeks ago, we opened up Romans chapter five to read about peace. Last week we were in Romans 5:2, and we heard about faith. Today, what we’re going to get from Romans 5:3-4 is this beautiful, really intense passage about hope.


I want you to see how you can have this rock solid hope that no one and nothing, no circumstance of life, nothing that happens to you, can take this kind of hope away from you. So let’s read Romans chapter five, starting in verse one:


Ro 5:1–4 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 


Romans chapter five is one of the best Advent passages I can find anywhere in the Bible, because of this description of hope. I want you to do something that may seem really simple, but just humor me for just a second, because people all over the world as a result of the coronavirus and because of the economic fallout that goes along with it, because of relationships that have been strained and people that are distancing themselves from one another, the world is longing for hope. -the hope that you and I have as Christians. 


So, I’m going to just spell out for you as easy as I can, where this hope comes from. I’m going to give you four phrases, and each phrase, I want you to hold up a finger that describes where this hope comes from. Here we go. 


Our hope is found in the solid rock of Jesus Christ, and here’s how that hope is described for us: First, my God knows what’s going on in my life.

Say out loud, “My God knows.”

Hold up the second finger. My God cares about what’s going on in my life.

Say, “My God cares.”

Hold up the third finger. My God is bigger than what’s going on in my life.

Say, “My God is bigger.”

And what the Christmas message says is that my God acts.

Say out loud, “My God acts.”


My God knows my challenges. My God cares about my challenges. My God is bigger than my challenges. But if we stop there, you still don’t have hope. The fourth and the most important message of Christmas is, my God doesn’t leave me in the middle of them. He acts in the middle of my challenges. 


We’re going to break down these three verses, we’re just going to focus on these two verses: verses three and four. We’re going to dissect exactly what the writer of the Bible is saying when he describes hope, because he uses two verses and four phrases to describe hope for us. By the time that you finish this sermon today, I want you to have this absolutely clear picture in your mind of the hope that we have at Christmas.


Hang strong in affliction


Here’s the first phrase that Romans chapter five says to us: Hope is what gets us up in the morning. Hope is what helps us to hang strong to bear under affliction. Those are the words that Romans chapter five uses for us. It’s hope that helps you see in the middle of a dark night. Here’s the truth, y’all: When the candle is burning in bright daylight, nobody notices. But when you light a candle in the pitch darkness, you can’t help but notice. And hope is the candle that burns bright in the darkness. Hope is what helps us to get up and to keep going when life gets really challenging.


What the writer of Romans is saying is, it is going to (not might), but it will get hard. And when it gets hard, I need you to understand that there is hope. And that hope is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives you the strength to get up in the morning, to keep going and to hang in there under really difficult, really challenging circumstances, when it gets hard. You need to know that you’ve got somebody you can lean on. But more importantly, you need to know that the one that you lean on is big enough to handle what you’re going through.


And this is what Christians have that the rest of the world is looking for but just simply can’t find. I’ve got someone to lean on who is bigger than my problems, who cares enough about me to get involved in my problems. And when life gets really difficult, I don’t throw in the towel, because I know, he knows, he cares, and he acts. He’s bigger than whatever is going on around me. 


You will face afflictions. Some of you are going through it right now. For others of you, it’s coming in 2021. For some of you, it’s financial, maybe it’s a health thing that’s waiting around the corner for you. Maybe it’s a relationship. There could be 50 other ways that you’re going to handle affliction. And I need you to know that no matter how bad this gets, no matter how difficult the circumstances, you’ve got someone you can lean on who is bigger than your problems and who is going to be there for you every step of the way, who is the candle that lights the darkness and gives you the strength to get up tomorrow morning and to keep going no matter how bad life gets.


The first thing that Romans chapter five, verse three says about hope is that hope helps us hang on,  hang strong and hang tough. In the middle of tough times, in the middle of affliction, here’s what he says next, very naturally from Romans 5:3: Hope gives us a viewpoint about the future. In my opinion, the most important word in this whole passage that we read today is not faith. It’s not peace. It’s not even the word hope, necessarily. What the writer of Romans is saying is that, we know that no matter how bad it gets, our God is with us.


Optimism about the future


These two words we know are without a doubt the most important words. In fact, if you’re in the habit of marking in your Bible, those are words that you need to underline, exclamation mark, circle, and highlight. Do them all, because what the writer of Romans is saying is, “I don’t wonder how things are going to turn out. I know it’s going to get bad, but I also know that God is going to be with me, right there in the midst of these difficult times. I have this optimism for the future, because I know my God. I know he’s involved. I know he cares. I know he’s bigger than my problems. I know that he acts.”


I was thinking about it this week, and honestly, the story of the wise men when they follow the star to go see Jesus really just blows my mind. There’s a lot of Christmas pageantry and a lot of Christmas hymns that give us some indications of who these wise men were and how many there were. The truth is the Bible doesn’t tell us the number. They present three gifts, so we often think there are three dudes, but maybe there were more. 


It doesn’t tell us exactly where they came from. They came from the East, but we don’t know exactly where these guys originated from. It also doesn’t tell us how far they traveled. But what we do know is these brothers went for a long distance, because they hoped for something. They hoped to see the king. In fact, they were waiting and watching, and that’s why they knew that the king had just been born. Because in the sky, they saw his star. And what Matthew chapter two tells us is that they followed this star. 


It was like a North arrow on a compass, and for them, they just went night after night through the desert, following this star, because they were longing for, expecting, optimistic about what happens when they see the child. They ended up going to Herod’s house, and they asked Herod, “Who is the king of Israel?” It just makes sense that he would know about the birth of a king in his territory. 


“Hey, where is this child?” And Herod says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” So the Bible tells us that they leave Herod’s house in Matthew chapter two, and the star goes in front of them. The star leads them. And then Matthew 2:8-9 say that they were exceedingly joyful, because the star rested over the place. It stopped and hung out over the place where Jesus is born.


Tomorrow night, right after the sun goes down, go outside, and you will see something that we haven’t seen on earth in 800 years. You’ll see the Christmas star. Tomorrow night, about 45 minutes after the sun goes down, Saturn and Jupiter will come together so close in our field of view that it will look like one single spot in the sky. If you look to the southwest tomorrow, 45 minutes after the sun goes down, you will see this amazingly bright phenomenon in the sky that’s low on the horizon, and it almost looks like… follow that star. 


So what this star is giving you an indication of what those wise men saw. For days, weeks, perhaps months, while they were following the star of the king, what would get those guys up every morning and get them back on the camels to keep riding through the desert, is the hope, the optimism about what they were going to experience when they came to the place where the child was. And they worshiped Him. 


Proven character 


The Bible tells us hope is what helps you hang strong in the middle of affliction. Hope is what helps us to be optimistic about the future. And then the writer of Roman uses a really unusual phrase. It says that hope proves our character.


Now, I’m kind of tracking along with everything that he’s saying in Romans 5:3-4, but when I get to this phrase, it often feels to me like, “Wait a second. This feels like it’s a little bit out of place. I get endurance, and I understand affliction. I really even understand this optimism, this knowing without a shadow of a doubt that the future is better than what I’m going through right now, that what’s waiting for me is better than what I’m dealing with today. I get that. But I really struggle with the phrase proven character.


You see, character is not something that you can touch with your hands. Character is not something that you can smell or that you can taste. So I think my challenge with this phrase, is the word proven. How do you prove character? Paul, the guy who writes this passage for us, I think he would say this: When you have hope, you can get up and face obstacles that other people can’t face. They’re gonna buckle under that kind of pressure. But when you have this rock solid hope in a supernatural God, the hope in a God who would descend on his own creation, leave heaven and come to his own creation in the form of this vulnerable helpless baby, when you have that kind of hope, you can face circumstances that would just simply break other men. 


And here’s what’s going to happen. People are going to watch the way that you handle that. They’re going to start to notice something about you. They’re going to start to notice, “Wait a second. This sister has something that I don’t have because of the way that she’s handling this physical or this financial difficulty.

This brother has something that I don’t have, because of the way that he’s handling this health crisis or the way that he’s handling this marriage crisis, or the way that he’s handling the difficulties at work or at school. There’s something about them that they have, and I can’t even put my finger on it, but I can see it in the way that they live their life.”


This is, I believe, what Paul is saying to us about proven character. We show our character so the people who are looking at us see something. They see it in the way that we handle difficulties and the way that we hang on to hope when everybody else would simply throw in the towel. That’s proven character. That’s the kind of character that attracts people to what you and I believe.


Endurance


You’ve probably been able to figure this out, you’re smart enough to see what we’re doing here. We’re taking each phrase from Romans chapter 5:3-4 and spelling HOPE. Here’s the fourth and final thing that the book of Romans tells us about this word hope: Hope gives us endurance, the kind of endurance that no matter how bad it gets tomorrow, I don’t throw in the towel. I don’t give up. Hope gives us this passion for the possible.


The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “The great reformer of the faith, Martin Luther, said that everything that has been done in the world has been done through hope.” Hope is the thing that helps us to hang in and to hold on and to not give up. Hope is what helps us to endure no matter how bad the difficulties get. Hope is what sustains us. 


The word hope here, the word endurance that goes along with hope, most of you would recognize this phrase, especially if you are in a habit of memorizing Bible verses. Maybe you memorized this Old Testament verse, Isaiah 40:31: “God’s people will run with endurance. They will not grow weary; they will not faint.” 


I really want to challenge you, if you’ve committed that one verse to memory, maybe you need to add the three verses before it, because here’s what verse 28 says in Isaiah chapter 40: It says, “Our God is mighty. Our God is powerful.” Verse 29 says our God gives his mind and his power to his people. Verse 30 says that when life gets tough and you really, really want to throw in the towel, we have access to God’s power. Verse 31 says we can run and not grow weary, we can walk and not faint. If that’s where our endurance comes from, it’s supernatural endurance that comes from a supernatural God.


This is really what the Bible is describing as rock solid hope. You see that this kind of hope is not some faint belief that in the future, things are going to get better. I just know they’ve got to get better because it’s so bad now, there’s no way but up from here. That’s not what the Bible is describing. The Bible is saying, “I have no idea what the future holds, but I have hope. So, it doesn’t matter. I have hope, and so I can hang strong in affliction. I have hope so that I’m optimistic about the future, maybe not here on Earth, but I know what my ultimate future holds. I have hope that helps me prove my character. I have hope that gives me endurance.”


One of my first paid positions at a church was that I was a youth pastor at a little country church in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. There was an older couple that just poured their heart and soul into the teenagers in this church. Quite honestly, I didn’t really understand why this older couple (I don’t remember their names, but I think it was something like Gertrude and Tom) just gave their heart, their soul, their energy, and their money. They opened up their house. They wanted to be around the teenagers, not around people their age. 


I’m talking, their grandchildren were older than the teenagers that they were hanging around in church. And one day, I had a chance to just ask these two this question: “I don’t get you two. Why aren’t you hanging out with all of the old people doing all this stuff that old people do? Why are you hanging around all of these teenagers every day that the doors are open all of the time? Even when they’re doing activities, you are there and their parents aren’t even there.”


And then Tom told this story. He said, “Early on in our marriage, we were both Christians. We were both trying to live our lives, and our marriage was a mess. I mean, it was really, really bad, Jeff. -so bad that no matter how hard we tried, it wasn’t getting better, so bad that no matter how much counseling that we went to, our marriage wasn’t getting better. We finally got to the point where we were at a marriage counselor together, and after months of working on this marriage, it was getting worse; it wasn’t getting better. The marriage counselor looked us in the eyes and said, ‘That’s it. It’s over. Go get a divorce because this marriage won’t last.’”


Tom said they walked out of that office, and they were devastated by what they just heard, because this guy said, “You are beyond the point of return. There’s no hope for this marriage.” I remember what he said next like it was yesterday. 


“This was 30 years ago. So Jeff, the reason why we’re hanging out with teenagers today is when we walked out of that office and went to the parking lot, and we were both getting in the car. We unlocked the doors and didn’t even sit in the car yet. I looked at her over the hood of the car and said, ‘I can’t believe that there’s no hope. I can’t believe it. I just cannot bring myself to believe that we are beyond the point of hope. I’m not getting a divorce.’”


And she said the same thing. “I can’t believe it either. If we really believe in God, I cannot bring myself to believe that our relationship is beyond supernatural help. And so I’m turning from this counselor, I’m turning from you, I am turning to Jesus Christ and asking him to do a miracle in our marriage.” Tom said it got really, really hard from that point forward, but we started making progress. Every day, we started making little gains. 


And he said, “Jeff, the reason why we’re always around you and always around teenagers is, we want them to understand what we learned in that parking lot. As long as you have the Lord Jesus Christ, you have hope.” They basically said, “We’re not throwing in the towel, no matter what this Christian counselor tells us, because we believe that our God knows what’s going on. We believe that our God cares about our marriage. We believe that our God is bigger than our problems. And we really believe right here at this car, before we close the doors and start the engine, we believe that our God will act in this marriage if we’ll just get out of the way and let him.” And they said, “We want every teenager to experience the same kind of hope that we experienced.” 


Now I need you to understand, I need you to know that your God knows. I need you to know that he knows about your challenges. He knows about the challenges that you don’t know about. I need you to understand that your God cares about these challenges. I really, really need you to understand that your God is bigger than these challenges because if he is not a supernatural God, it doesn’t matter, and we have no hope. And I need you to understand fourth and most importantly, your God loves you enough that he is willing to act in human history and to act on your behalf. The Christmas message shouts with a heartbeat that our God knows. Our God cares. Our God is bigger than our problems, and our God acts.