The Gift Of HopeErwin W. Lutzer | April 22, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
In a broken world, Christians are a people of hope. Christ’s resurrection gives us hope for our own future—His future return will bring justice to the wrongs of Earth. And while that day will be terrible for some, Christians will experience the fullness of an eternal inheritance.
I begin today with a question: what does the Moody Church have to offer the city of Chicago and the world? That is going to be the focus of my messages for the next four Sundays as we prepare for the dedication of the Christian Life Center. I need to remind you that I am not insisting or thinking that we are the only church that can give these gifts to the city of Chicago. There are many fine Evangelical churches that are doing the same thing. However, our emphasis is Moody Church. We need to answer this question: why would we invest $15 million in a Christian Life Center?
A few years ago we came out with a promise statement which says, “Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and with others.” Our CLC, the Christian Life Center, is in a sense driven by the motivation that we need a place where people can connect with God and with others. I need to tell you right from the beginning that it is not about us. If we exist only for ourselves we will die and we deserve to die. We exist for the city of Chicago and eventually of course we exist for the world. What gifts do we have to offer them?
Today I am speaking on the topic of the gift of hope. As you look around the world you will agree with me that there are few reasons to hope. You look at the political campaign and you think of the war that we are engaged in that is not going very well and you say, “Where is the hope?” In terms of religion we don’t have that many reasons to hope. Morally and spiritually we continue to downslide as a nation. You watch the news of Columbine and you see what happened at Virginia Tech and you begin to ask the question, “Where is hope?” Where is hope in an age of terrorism, disease, angry people, and AIDS around the world, especially with children? Where is hope?
Where do we look for hope? Maybe things are so bad that we should decide to become atheists. Some people feel things are so bad that there can’t be a god and they become atheists. Atheism is a terrible and an irrational decision to make because in an atheistic world there is no such thing as good and evil and there is no such thing as hope. I always admire atheists that strive at consistency because 99.99% are totally inconsistent. They don’t believe in God and yet they speak about good and evil.
At least some atheists have begun to see the consequences of atheism. I am thinking of Fredrick Niche who said these words: “The greatest evil of all evils is hope because it prolongs man’s agony.” Wow! Niche proclaimed the death of God and he knew that in an atheistic world there could be no hope.
That is why Albert Camus said that the only serious philosophical question is suicide because his atheism forced him to conclude there could not possibly be a rational reason to live. It is putting a period where there should be a comma. It is a terrible, terrible option. Shakespeare even said, “In that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” Some people who commit suicide to get out of their misery discover that they are in greater misery than they could have ever imagined.
I have finally found a consistent atheist. When is atheism going to be consistent? I came across this quote by Richard Dawkins: “In a universe of blind physical forces and blind replication, some people are going to get hurt and other people are going to get lucky and we don’t find any rhyme or reason to it nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no good, no evil, and nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” That is true because in an atheistic world there is no good and no evil. He goes on to say, “DNA neither knows nor cares, DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” Atheism has absolutely no hope. You can’t even use the word consistently.
Where do we turn then? If we are going to have hope I think that hope has to have at least three components. First of all, we need the assurance that the evils of this world are going to someday support a greater end. Somehow at the end of the day evil has to be redemptive and there has to be something good that comes out of it without justifying the evil. That has to be part of hope if we have hope.
I think we also need justice. There was an atheistic Jewish friend of mine who lived near us and sometimes I took him to work. He was a wonderful man and we had long conversations together, but he was committed to atheism. I said to him, “Does it bother you that Hitler will never have to answer for his deeds and that all of the terrible injustices of the Holocaust will go unanswered because in your world there is no God and therefore no justice?” He said, “Yes, that does trouble me.” I think we need the assurance of justice.
I also think we need the assurance of eternity. This is not the world where all of the wrongs are going to be made right. But, there is a world coming that will enable us to better understand this world and eventually it will all contribute to some good.
Where do we turn? Think with me for a moment about the word hope. We always use it in the same way. My wife and I might say that we hope our children made it home safely. Or maybe you say to yourself, “I hope that I will get a raise.” That probably is a vain hope, but you hope that you will. One man said, “I hope I will win the lottery.” I said to him, “I hope you won’t.”
What is the characteristic of hope and how do we use the word hope in our society? I will tell you how we use it: we use it with all kinds of uncertainty. You turn to the Bible and you discover that there is a different definition of the word hope. The word hope in the Bible means a confident assurance. That is why it says in the book of Hebrews that you can enter into the full assurance of hope.
Also, there is a passage in Psalms where the psalmist is preaching to himself. It’s okay to preach to yourself. I preach to myself often and even when I am talking here sometimes I am preaching to myself. But in Psalm 43 it says, “Why are you downcast, oh my soul, why are you in turmoil within me? Hope thou in God.”
In addition, in the book of Hebrews there is one of the most powerful biblical images. I wish I could explain it to you but we do not have time. It is really deserving of an entire message. It is speaking about our time of death and it says, “Hope we have as an anchor for the soul, most sure and steadfast, going into the veil where our forerunner is.” Wow! Jesus made it to heaven and our hope is an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast. In the Bible hope refers to something that you look forward to in the future and is something for which you need not have a scintilla of doubt.
What I would like to do in the next few moments is give you three certainties that all start with the letter “R.” If you go out later today and somebody asks you what the pastor preached about, you can tell them you can be hopeful because of the three “R’s.” These three certainties can be found in the book of I Peter. Please take your Bibles and turn to I Peter. I didn’t know what text to use in this message until yesterday because the word hope occurs in the Bible about 120 times. I could have preached on my wife’s favorite verse, Romans 15:13, which speaks about the God of hope filling you with hope. I however chose I Peter.
What are the three certainties? You look around the world and you say, “You are making all these promises, but what is there basis?” You think of the earthquake that recently happened in Chile and you think of our schools and you think of the terrible AIDS epidemic and there is no hope. The reason we have hope is because of the intervention of God on this planet.
Yet I Peter 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Why is it a living hope? It is as living as Jesus. It is a hope that is as triumphant as Jesus at the resurrection.
What does the resurrection signify? The resurrection signifies the fact that the payment that Jesus made on the cross for sinners was accepted by God. Imagine that when God entered into the world, God in the flesh became a victim of cruelty and violence and lies and injustice. There is no hope of making sense out of the world or believing that sense can be made out of the world unless we go to the cross and see that Jesus himself became a victim of all the things we read about in the newspapers. The cross represents the love of God and the acceptance of God by those who believe in Jesus.
In his book, The Silence of God, Sir Robert Anderson writes, “But of all the questions which immediately concern us, there is not one which the cross of Christ has left unanswered. Men point to the sad incidents of human life on earth and they ask, ‘Where is the love of God?’ God points to that cross as the unreserved manifestation of love, so inconceivably innocent as to answer every challenge and silence doubt forever. That cross is not merely the public proof of what God has accomplished; it is the earnest of all that he has promised. The crowning mystery of God is Christ, for in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and those hidden treasures are yet to be unfolded. It is the divine purpose to gather together all things in Christ. Sin has broken the harmony of creation, but that harmony shall yet be restored by the supremacy of our now despised Lord.”
One mother said to her pastor in anger when her boy was run over by a truck, “Where was God when my son died?” “He was in the same place where he was when his son was killed,” the pastor said softly. God in Christ has suffered. It is not just the resurrection of Jesus that gives us encouragement, although he was triumphant over death and violence itself. It is also our own resurrection. Because he lives we shall live also. The cross reminds us of one of the answers to the meaning of hope. It is possible for evil to become redemptive. It is possible and actual that the violence that nailed Jesus Christ to the cross turned out for our good and became a means of redemption and the means of a higher end.
You say, “How does a massacre in a college do that?” I have some answers, but not all the answers. And to people who grieve, we weep with those who weep and we don’t come with a bag of answers in our back pocket as if we can read the divine print and the footnotes of God. But we do have the assurance that at one time God took violence and used it for his purposes. We also have the deep and settled assurance in ways we may not understand in this life that God will take even the violence and the insanity of men today and use them also for some higher purpose. That is why the first reason to hope is the word “resurrection.”
The second reason to hope is the word “rewards.” Let’s pick up the text in verse four. It says in verses three and four, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable.” It can’t be blown up by terrorists. It is “undefiled.” We defile ourselves through sin and in heaven there is no sin. That is why only holy people can go to heaven; those whom God makes holy through Jesus.
It also goes on to say it is “unfading.” It is not like those flowers that you gave your wife for her birthday last year. This is unfading and it doesn’t last just for a day or two. Our inheritance is fixed and unalterable.
You’ll notice also that the text says that our inheritance is “kept in heaven.” It is guarded in heaven just for you. Do you realize that there is a room in heaven that only you can enter and a crown that only you can wear if you are a believer? Did you know that God is guarding it? Did you know there is a place in heaven that is reserved for you? You say, “Well isn’t Jesus still working at it?” No, all the rooms are finished and it is all done. It is just waiting for your arrival. It is in heaven and it is kept for you and it is guarded by God. Heaven is the safest place in the universe. This world isn’t safe, but when you get to heaven it is safe.
Yet that is not all. Look at what the text says again. This is enough to bless even someone that is depressed this morning. Verse five says that the inheritance is for those, “Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation.” I discovered that the word “kept” or “guarded” is a different Greek than the word “guarded” in verse five. The word in verse five is a very strong word. It was used for guarding a city. He is saying that not only is our inheritance kept for us and guarded for us in heaven, God is guarding us on earth so that we can’t escape and loose our salvation. God is guarding you on earth and also protecting you so that you are actually going to make it to receive your inheritance that is waiting in heaven. If we were not guarded and protected by God then Satan would have us for lunch.
This morning the elders were praying for a young woman for her health. We anointed her with oil and we prayed against some evil spirits that are causing her trouble. There are people like that who are not crazy. Satan wants to get us and harass us through temptation and through his wiles. But praise God we are guarded all the way to the heavenly city.
What are the three “R’s?” The first “R” is resurrection and the second “R” is rewards. Is there anything more secure? No wonder the hope is called a living hope. Finally, the third “R” is “return.” You’ll notice that it says our inheritance is guarded for us in heaven ready to be revealed in the last time. I take that to be the return of Jesus.
You say, “Pastor Lutzer, when Christians die don’t they already enter into their inheritance?” Yes they do, but not completely. That friend that you buried, that child, that husband or wife that is in heaven today does not yet have its complete resurrection body. Those who have died have an intermediate body that is able to function and the soul takes on the characteristics of the body, but it is not the final redemption. No special rewards have yet been given for faithfulness on earth because the judgment seat of Jesus Christ is still in the future. What he is saying is that the full redemption will be revealed when Jesus comes at the last time.
Do you know what this also means? It means that all people are going to be raised, the just and the unjust. Jesus said that there is a resurrection unto life and a resurrection unto damnation. What that means is that justice, which eludes us on earth, is going to be meted out in heaven. There is a time coming when all will be judged with such accuracy that we will marvel at the judgment of God and we will sing throughout all of eternity, “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints.”
Justice will be answered. The parent that abused a child will be judged for that abuse. The way the child handled the abuse and the crimes that perhaps were committed as a result and all that we can’t begin to sort out will be fully understood and answered by God. Either people will fall fully upon the judgment of God and what Jesus did on the cross or they will bear their own, but God will be shown to be totally meticulously just.
Where does this leave us? There are a few observations that should send us on our way rejoicing, if I might say so. First of all, please know that this inheritance that I have talked about is not something that we earn. I know that I used the word rewards, but these rewards are not earned. The way in which we enter it is not by works but by birth. You’ll notice it says in verse three, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” That is the way you enter into the reward. You are born again of the Spirit. This is the new birth. This is what you receive when you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and say, “I trust him fully for my redemption.”
Wasn’t that a wonderful testimony we had today in the baptistery just a few moments ago? A man said that he thought he was a Christian and then attended our class on Evangelism and discovered that he had never believed the gospel. It’s amazing how people stumble over its simplicity. Those of you who are listening here or by radio or on the internet, right where you are now you can say, “I receive the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus.” Give up the weapons of a rebel and receive Christ. You will be caused to be born again and you will have the same hope. Here at The Moody Church the invitation for people to believe in Jesus is as wide as the gospel; whoever wills, comes.
Secondly, notice that the way in which we handle life until we get to our inheritance means understanding the difference between time and eternity. Notice what the text says in verse six: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” You say, “Yeah, but it’s so long.”
My father is 104 and he thinks he is dying every day and then the next day he still does the dishes. He’s been going through this for months and he thinks it is long. My mother is 98 and she thinks it is long. They are so anxious for heaven they can taste it. They certainly don’t want to be resuscitated if they go to a hospital. Don’t interfere with my glorification, please! Peter would say to my father and mother, “It is a little while and eternity is coming. One hundred and four is just a little while. It is a fleck on the spectrum of eternity. Be faithful.”
But now you say, “Why do I have so many trials?” It is nice to talk about going to my inheritance and my rewards, but why the trials?” Do you know what it says in the text? This is so exciting! It says that you are going through trials, “So that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
You look around at the world and see no good reason why you should believe in God and no good reason why you should trust Christ. All that you have is one tragedy after another and one unanswered prayer after another and there is no reason for you to believe that God cares. Yet you go on believing his bare word. When Jesus comes your faith is going to be more precious to him than gold, which perishes, because gold eventually perishes. But your faith does not, and it is going to be a present that you will give to Jesus at his appearing that he will highly value. So we keep on with a lively, living hope.
My dear friends the real bottom line is this: we are God’s ambassadors of hope. What do we have to offer the city of Chicago? We can offer hope, the gospel, transformation of life and connections. Isn’t it interesting that this church began with Dwight L. Moody who started with a Sunday School where he had 1,000 boys and girls. He attended a church who didn’t want them because you know kids do terrible things, they cut up things and make marks all over the place. So D.L. Moody began a Sunday School and from that Moody Church was founded and in a few years we will celebrate our 150th anniversary. D.L. Moody offered hope to those boys and girls. Isn’t it fitting that D.L. Moody began with a children’s ministry and now we are building a Christian Life Center with the entire second floor devoted just to the children of Chicago and of Moody Church?
I have to tell you I am so excited about our dedication. Yesterday I walked around the second floor. I don’t know if I was supposed to be in the building, but I found a way to get in. Don’t you do that, okay? I went through the second floor and prayed in the hallways and thought, “Praise God that this building is being built not for my children but for the children of unseen generations for the glory of God and to give children hope.”
Isn’t it fitting that there would be a woman in this church who started a ministry called Kids Club in Cabrini Green that has even expanded beyond that? Isn’t it fitting that it should be transforming the lives of 400 children right now, not to mention all those who have gone on before and now the vision is for one thousand kids? Isn’t it fitting that we should say to the children of Chicago, “We are here to give you hope. There is a better way. God loves you and God cares.”
Isn’t it fitting that there would be a woman in this church who began a ministry called Shared Hope? We adopted a refugee center in Angola and we sent five or six semi-truck containers full of supplies to this particular camp. In addition, we built them a church and a woman’s center so that women would have a safe place. Then we sent them blankets when the cold season came. Did you know that we bought them 10,000 blankets? Why? Because we wanted to say to a different community in Angola, “We are here to offer hope.”
Isn’t it wonderful that we are part of a group called Charasia that is touching the lives of people in India? We are trying to find out ways to help them expand their orphanage and also build a Bible school.
Isn’t it fitting that we should be here in the city of Chicago thanking God for a strong church so that we might touch the world and that through touching the world we can give people hope? Isn’t it fitting that we should have a Christian Life Center and when it is up and running we will have a course called “Christ and Culture” that will help people to better understand the gospel and be better equipped to understand our culture and to put the two together? Why? So that we can more widely disseminate the gospel and give people hope.
Isn’t it fitting that we should have an equipping center that will enable people to connect, to learn, and to understand so that we can reach more people with the message of hope? We can say to them, “You can have a living hope.”
Those of you tomorrow who are going to be in offices, banks, hospitals, factories and classrooms, isn’t it wonderful that you can say to people in the midst of this world that is so filled with despair, “I have an anchor for the soul, most sure and steadfast.” Maybe they will ask you, “What did the pastor preach about on Sunday?” You can say to them, “The three R’s.” They will say, “Really, what were they?” You can tell them they were resurrection, rewards, and return. In the midst of a broken world we are a people of hope.
I love to tell a story of something that happened in Montana. I need to tell you that I have been to Montana and there ain’t much going on in Montana. Some of the folks out there, God bless them, it takes them an hour and a half just to watch 60 Minutes. They have a whole different time frame.
In the 1850’s there was a gold rush in Montana. There were people who found gold in the river bed - lots of it. But, some of the people had died and their tools were all broken and they were hungry. They said, “Let us make a pact among ourselves that we will not tell anyone where the gold is located. We will go back to the town, get new tools and new supplies and then we will come back and we will get all of the gold for ourselves.”
Ten days later after being in the town they left early one morning and fifty of the townspeople began to follow them. They had a little huddle among themselves and said to each other, “Did you tell?” Nobody had told, but the people in the town said, “We knew that you had found gold because of the smiles on your faces.” My friends in Jesus we have found gold. We are going to dedicate a Christian Life Center so that many others can find gold and we are going to offer the gift of hope in the city of Chicago. I say to you today that in this broken world there is hope.
Would you join me as we pray? “Our Father, we are so excited when we read your word that we have been begotten freely to a living hope. There is more to this world than Columbine or Virginia Tech and the bombings in Iraq and the violence all over the world. There is a living hope. Help us Father today we pray.”
Now before I close this prayer I want you to pray and I want you to say whatever you need to say. If you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior and you say, “I wish I had that assurance of a living hope,” say to him, “Jesus right now I receive you. Cause me to born again into that hope.” If you come acknowledging your sin and understanding his grace you will be saved. Whatever it is, talk to God right now.
“Father, help us as a church to rise up for the city of Chicago and for the cities around the world. Help us to show the world that there is hope found in Jesus. Help us not to exist for ourselves but for those who have not yet believed but will because of our witness and because of our invitation. We pray that the CLC will be used mightily for your purposes and your glory, in Jesus name we thank you, amen.”