“Hope in Hopeless times”
Lamentations 3:22-31, Mark 5: 21-43
The reading from Lamentations was written at a time when God’s people had lost everything; their city and nation; their temple and their very freedom. Things could hardly be worse than that. Except for the family in our Gospel reading; who had lost the life of their young darling daughter: what a tragedy! Yet we are reminded by our Lord that in both situations that all is not lost. We still have every reason to live in hope. For the Lord is still God; and he is our portion. We can still live in hope even in the very worst of times – even in the face of death itself.
These reading could well be called hope for the hopeless times and with that in mind we might well say to ourselves that this doesn’t apply to us here now so let’s just switch off and change the subject. Yet, I would be very surprised if there are not of us who even now, are going through very difficult times: some worse than others. But we also need to remember that all of us at some time or other will go through our difficult times, and we will have to face death itself. The question is, what is or is going to be our source of hope in those times of difficulty and even hopelessness. Difficulties and hopelessness as seen in the Middle East and even within the land of the free, the U.S.A. whereas mentioned by the Reverend Fred Nile on the ABC T.V. show Q&A where Christians are being taken to court for adhering to their faith.
In “Pastors School” a lecturer mentioned that it is not your job to purposely seek out to be persecuted because that would be silly, but it is your job to face it when it comes and as Christians that’s the same for all of us in whatever form it may take.
And indeed it would seem that we are in interesting times where to be in the world but not of the world will certainly get attention one way or another because as one famous social critic declared our Contemporary culture is, in his words a “culture of narcissism.” Narcissism is vanity, self-admiration, self-centredness and importance and tragically, the Church is not immune to this virus because at some point during the last quarter century it became all-too-common to stop proclaiming a gospel directed at people’s real spiritual needs and instead focus on the wants and desires of potential church goers, and so more than mirroring the first century church, this conduct reflects more the way of how a coffee franchise markets overpriced coffee to potential consumers.
For example, conventional wisdom in evangelicalism today is that suffering is the exception, not the norm for the believer. Moreover, if a Christian does suffer it is quite possibly because of sin in his or her life. Many segments of the church’s—immersed in a culture of happy, prosperous consumers—have failed their constituency by not faithfully proclaiming what the Bible says about the reality of suffering.
But suffering in the Christian life is the rule, not the exception. From the day Christ called us to follow Him he fully disclosed two prerequisites: denying ourselves and taking up our cross. When Saul of Tarsus was converted on the road to Damascus, he didn’t experience a T.V. evangelist “big tent” type healing. On the contrary, God blinded him, left him in that condition for days and sent a reluctant evangelist by the name of Ananias to inform him of how much he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:15).
And suffer he did. Consider what Paul endured: five times beaten with 39 stripes, three times beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, a night and a day floating in the sea, danger of all kinds, weary and in pain, hungry and thirsty, naked and cold. And to add insult to injury God refused to answer his prayer for healing from whatever was ailing him—a thorn in his flesh. Paul was told to be content with grace in the midst of his sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:1).
How did Paul respond to his sufferings?
I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities (2 Corinthians 2:30).
I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand …henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto them also who love His appearing (2 Timothy 2:8).
The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 2:18).
How could Paul rejoice in his sufferings and give glory to God? The answer lies in a full reading of 2 Timothy 3:1, written in prison just prior to his execution. Note the use of the word “love” five times in these two chapters: lovers of self (3:2); lovers of money (3:2 – “covetous” in some translations); lovers of pleasure (3:4); love his appearing (4:8); loved this present world (4:10).
One of the five loves mentioned stands in stark contrast to the other four: loving the appearing of Jesus Christ.
When we live in anticipation of seeing Jesus and hearing Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord,” we can endure suffering. Why? Because such a focus helps us realize that the worst thing that happens to us here and now can never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. With our focus not on self but Jesus, we more fully realize the truth of 2 Corinthians 2:17: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
The tragedy is that much of contemporary evangelicalism has sold the future and eternal “weight of glory” for the immediate and transient satisfaction of “your best life now.” As a result, when Christians encounter difficultly they are ill-prepared to deal with it biblically: the storms come, the winds blow and “Cultural Christian” is blown away because there was no firm, biblical foundation for life (Matthew 7:24).
In contrast, the English Baptist John Rippon wrote in 1787 of the believer’s firm foundation:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
In Jesus we have a foundation not only for this life, but for all eternity. Therefore, come what may, the Christian can proclaim, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalms 73:26).
So the encouragement we have here again is for us to look away from ourselves and the things of this world, to the Lord Jesus Christ and his unfailing love toward us. Sure we still have to live and work in this world, and we have to be real; and have to be involved and active our society, but our hope now is not centered on ourselves, and the things that our world trusts. Instead we remember that the Lord God Almighty is in control, and that he has our best interests at heart. Even if at times it may not look that way.
Our assurance that this is the case for us, we only look to Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. He not only raised that little girl from the dead, but he himself rose again after dying on the cross for us. So now there is hope for us in hopeless times. There is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory and honor now and always. AMEN.