Mark Sanders Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church June 8, 2014 “Hope”
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12
Hoping for something is a very interesting experience, with a multitude of emotions accompanying it.
Hope includes desire! Right now I’m hoping for a wonderful trip to Korea in a few days because I have such strong desires to see friends and family there.
Hope involves fear as well! People hoping that their favorite team or preferred political candidate will win also experience a great amount of fear at the thought of the other side winning.
Hope can even include frustration, impatience, and discouragement… A child in an orphanage hopes that some day people will stop passing him by, and some loving parents will invite him into their family. But with every family that doesn’t adopt him, he starts to become more and more discouraged and might even begin to lose hope.
Hope is a tricky thing. Hope makes us vulnerable. Hope opens us up to be wounded. Hope creates the possibility for disappointment. And yet, the person who no longer hopes is the person who no longer desires to live. Life requires hope.
If this is true of everyone’s life, how much more important is true hope in Kingdom life!
We, the church, live in a period where hope should be paramount in our lives. We of all people in the entire world, have more reasons to hope than anyone else could ever have. The one who has everything this world could offer: health, fame, security, comfort, entertainment, pleasure, good relationships, a loving family, a satisfying career, monthly vacations, the finest dining, talents beyond measure, looks beyond compare, bank accounts beyond counting – But if he has not Christ, his hope is always in jeopardy! For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
But this is not so for those in the Kingdom. Kingdom life to those on the outside might look fairly hopeless, but we know the truth. “For we are treated as imposters, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything!” This is Kingdom reality!
But how can this be so? How can we have nothing yet possess everything? How can we die, yet live? Well first, none of these truths will mean anything to the person who has not set their hope in the right place. For the one who has set his hopes in this temporal life, the Bible has no words of comfort to offer. God’s comfort and wisdom is foolishness and empty talk to those who can’t see beyond this life. And so we must ask ourselves, where is our hope truly?
I want us all today to honestly assess where our hopes are today. In order to do that, I want to first tell you a story. It’s a story you all know very well, but perhaps some of the details may be new for you. And also, there’s a good chance the weight of this story hasn’t really impacted how you understand hope in the Lord. I know this was true for me. I didn’t understand the implications of this story until a professor of mine shared it with our class. And now, I wish to share this story with you.
Our story begins around the year 1000 B.C. David is King of Israel. And God makes a promise to David. Promises offer hope. God said to Daivd, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
This is an amazing promise the Lord has given David. This would set his hopes and the hopes of his offspring very high! David’s throne, the Kingdom of Israel will be established forever!! It’s a sure thing! It’s a done deal!
And things seem to be looking very promising with King Solomon. He does just what God promises, and he builds a house for God. Perhaps King Solomon is the great King, God’s son, who was promised to his father David. But Solomon gets led astray into idolatry. His Kingdom begins to crumble. 70 years after the promise to David, his kingdom is split in two by Rehoboam and Jeroboam. How can this be? What of the hope of David’s offspring? Well, it only gets worse.
With only a few exceptions, king after king in both Israel and Judah turn away from the Lord and store up more and more wrath for themselves and the nation. Things go from bad, to worse, to downright ugly in Israel, until in 722, the Assyrians take the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity. Judah was better than Israel, but not by much. In three waves, from 600-586, the Babylonians siege Jerusalem and send Judah into exile. And this exile was a brutal, awful experience. Sieges on cities entail horrific experiences. These attacks usually involved forced starvation, which meant that some people in the city were so desperate, that they resorted to cannibalism. I won’t go into details at the moment, but go home and read Deuteronomy 28 and consider the level of desperation these people were really in.
In the midst of all of this destruction, with both kingdoms completely ransacked and destroyed, what possible reason for hope did the Israelites have? And yet was God a liar? Was his promise of the seed of David sitting on the throne forever a lie? Or was God’s plan somehow thwarted by the forces of evil?
Well things don’t really get that much better for Israel any time soon. After they being exiled to Babylon, the Persians eventually come in and take over Babylon. And in 539, they allow the Israelites to go back and rebuild some remnant of Israel’s temple and city. But we read in the book of Ezra, that when the temple was rededicated, there were shouts of joy interspersed with cries of wailing. Those who were weeping bitterly were those who were old enough to remember what Solomon’s original temple looked like, and they were wailing because this second temple was nothing like the first. Israel really wasn’t it’s own established Kingdom at this time. Plus, there was no King in Israel now! The throne was not established, which is what God had promised to David! What is going on?
Put yourself in their shoes. They knew the promises of God. They were expecting a great King to rise out of Israel and establish an amazing Kingdom. How would you feel if you were them? How much hope would you have at this point?
Fast-forward a couple hundred years to 334, when Alexander conquers the Persians. The nation of Israel then is caught in the middle of fighting between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, and then after that Antiochus IV comes in and things get really bad.
You could say at this point, around 167 BC, the Israelites are fed up with waiting on God, and they are tired of hoping and being frustrated. So they decide to take matters into their own hands, and try to set up their own Kingdom. But what good is a house unless the Lord is its builder? This Kingdom was corrupt, civil war broke out, nothing worked right, and eventually in 63 B.C., the Romans come in and take over everything.
What a slap in the face to the Israelites. Over and over again, they are occupied by one nation after another. And then when they try to set up their own kingdom, it’s a complete mess. To make matters worse, when Pompey, a Roman military and political leader, took over Jerusalem, he marched straight into the temple, and straight into the Holy of Holies. No one was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies except the high priest, and here Pompey just waltzes right in. Again, showing how little hope there was left for Israel’s Kingdom being established.
Try to think of yourself now as a faithful Israelite who is trying your best to remember and trust in the promises of God. 1,000 years have passed now since God’s promise to David. 1,000 years!! For us, that would mean year 1,014 A.D. That’s a long time to wait! Not only that, but there has now been 400 years, 400 years since the last prophet has said anything form the Lord. God has been silent for 400 years. And not only has He been silent, but it feels like He’s forgotten his people, or at least he’s given up on them.
And yet, I guarantee you there were people, families, men, women, children, grandmothers, grandfathers, through out this millennium, through out the 400 years of silence, who trusted the Lord. Who kept their hope in the Lord! Generation after generation of silence, with nothing but oppression, and yet there were those who never lost hope in who God was, and what he promised he would do for his people!
Hebrews 11 tells us that these people “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
Generations of faithful Israelites died under Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman oppression and occupation. But they died in faith, greeting from afar the fulfillments of God’s promises, knowing that in this life, they are ultimately strangers and exiles on the earth.
Today I want to highlight two of these people in particular who exemplified such amazing hope and faith.
The first person is a man named Simeon.
Luke in his gospel tells us that Simeon was a righteous and devout man. He was a man who had the Holy Spirit upon him, and it says that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. The consolation of Israel is the nation’s deliverance! Deliverance came through the Messiah! This man Simeon, despite such bleak circumstances for Israel, and despite such an awful history of disappointment, has kept his faith and hope strong in God’s promises!
For Simeon, he had a very special reason to hope for the coming of Israel’s deliverance. In Luke 2:26, we read that the Holy Spirit actually revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. This prophecy consumed Simeon’s life. My professor, Brandon Crowe, set the scene like this. He said, “Simeon was ready to take God at his word for the coming of the Messiah. Other people were busy with other stuff, but Simeon let this guide everything he did. He woke in the morning thinking, “Could today be the day?”
If you were a Jew in Simeon’s day, would you be eagerly awaiting the coming of your true King? Or would you be more concerned about what you were going to eat that night. Or how much money a tax collector would cheat you out of? Not many people were as fervent in their expectancy as Simeon was. How would you feel if you were Simeon? God promised to you that you would not die until you saw the Christ? Would you be pretty excited about that for the first week or two? What about 2 years later? 2 decades later? Would you start to doubt God’s promise? Simeon didn’t seem to.
Verse 27 says, “And Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
There are a few interesting things about Simeon’s meeting with Jesus. First, Simeon immediately knows when he sees Jesus that God has made good on his promise. Before Jesus had done anything to bring about salvation for his people, Simeon already declared that he had seen God’s salvation! Simeon’s hope was not just in seeing the Christ, his hope was placed in what the Christ would do for his people. Not only did Simeon have hope and faith in what Jesus would do for Israel, but he even understood the world-wide effects of the Christ’s mission, that God’s salvation would be a light for revelation even to the Gentiles! Jesus’ coming changes everything! It’s no longer just about ethnic Israel; it’s about salvation for the entire world!
But Simeon most certainly was not alive to see that salvation come to pass, and yet, he had peace!
Do you have peace today? Can you pray Simeon’s prayer. Can you say with confidence that God will let you depart this world in peace. If you don’t have that peace today, I encourage to do what Simeon did, and look to Christ!
We’ll come back to Simeon and more of his value for our lives in a moment. But first I want to tell you about one more amazing person we get to meet in this story.
She is the prophetess Anna. Luke tells us that Anna lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then she was widowed. Now if she was married at say age 12, and then she was married for 7 years, then she would be 19 years old when she was widowed. Now in our English Bibles, it says she lived as a widow until she was a eighty-four, but in your footnotes you might see something that shows that verse 37 could be translated that she lived as a widow for 84 years. That means by the time this story took place, she could have been as old as 103. That’s impressive! 84 is impressive too. So either way you look at it, this woman has lived a long time. And what was she doing this entire time she was a widow. Was she desperately searching for a man who could fulfill her life, and especially in those days, provide her security, a means of survival, and offspring. No she wasn’t doing that, and it would have been fine if she was. But she wasn’t. And she wasn’t gossiping and being a busy-body as Paul warns Timothy about in 1 Timothy 5. No, she wasn’t doing that either. Instead, night and day, she stayed at the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer!
The question is, why? What would compel her to dedicate her entire widowed life, to worship, fasting, and prayer at the temple? It was hope! Hope was her drive! Hope and expectation in waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. But this could not have been easy for her.
As my professor pointed out, remember that in 63 B.C., Pompey came in with the Romans and Pompey waltzed right into the Holy of Holies. Anna would have been alive at this time. And there is a good chance that Anna would have been praying at the temple for the redemption of Jerusalem, when Pompey storms in! What would she have thought? What if you were her? Would you continue going to the temple after that? Maybe for a few more weeks or a few more months. But Anna stayed there after Pompey came for another 60 plus years!
What would possibly motivate anyone to do what Simeon and Anna did?
There was one single thing keeping them motivated. And that was the promises of God. They knew that one day, Israel’s Messiah would come, and that influenced EVERYTHING they did! The future redemption of Jerusalem consumed their thoughts and lives! It’s what they woke up thinking about, and what they went to sleep dreaming about!
Simeon and Anna exemplify what Paul described as a good soldier of Christ Jesus to Timothy in his second letter. Listen to how Paul describes a soldier of Christ, and think of Simeon and Anna.
He says, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”
Simeon and Anna could have been concerned with 100, 1,000 different agendas in their lives. But they let one single agenda permeate everything they did.
My brothers and sisters, what agendas consume your energies? What civilian pursuits are you entangled with? Who are you aiming to please? I don’t mean to suggest that we should all give up jobs and engagements, and spend all of our time praying and fasting here at Maple Glen. But what I am suggesting is that there should be an overarching aim in your life that permeates all activities and motivates the decisions we make. This is the example Simeon and Anna leave for us.
But we must remember that Simeon and Anna’s situations can’t just be ripped out of their context and messily proof-texted into ours. A lot has happened since the events recorded in Luke 2. Most importantly, Jesus Christ, who Simeon and Anna saw as a child, he grew up! And he lived a perfect, righteous, blameless life. And it was this perfect Jesus who was also betrayed, beaten, and crucified, bearing the awful weight of our sins and the wrath of almighty God! It was this Christ who then was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and has granted us the indescribably amazing and wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit! Since Simeon and Anna, Jesus has established his everlasting Kingdom on the earth, and with that Kingdom come all of the benefits to those of us who inhabit this Kingdom! The hopes of Simeon and Anna and right now, today, in many ways, present realities!
Besides the promises of God, Simeon and Anna had very few reasons to hope in their present situations. But it is not so now with the Kingdom! We have every reason to hope today my brothers and sisters! He have been sealed with the Holy Spirit! The gospel at this point has spread to every nation of this entire world, and it continues to spread to 1,000s of tongues and tribes who have yet heard of the great news of our King! Each one of us is living proof of the mighty power of God to forgive sins, restore sight to the blind, and even raise the spiritually dead! Right now, in Christ, we are seated with him in the heavenly places! Right now! That’s what Paul tells us in Ephesians. We have every reason to hope in our great and awesome God!
And yet this world has not yet been perfected. Diseases and sicknesses continue to spread and multiply. Nations continue to fall deeper and deeper into godlessness and debauchery. The church is still marginalized and persecuted in every corner of the earth. Friends and family still struggle spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. There are still days when you and I walk through the valley of the shadow of death! And there is a very good chance, that every single one of us will taste death before we see our King face to face!
None of us have what Simeon had. None of us have the guarantee that we will not see death until we see Christ. But my brothers and sisters, too often I think we assume the opposite. We live and act as though we’ve been given a prophecy that he will not come back for a long, long time! That it’s guaranteed that we will die before he returns. And while that could very well be true, I think in some ways, this kind of thinking could have some negative effects.
When the Bible speaks of Christ’s return, it speaks with an imminent tone. You’ll never see a verse about Christ’s return that says something like, “Take it easy, kick back, you’ve got lots of time.” No, the Bible speaks again and again of the urgency of preparing ourselves for our Lord’s return! So to speak of Christ’s return as some far off distant reality goes against the tone of Scripture. So the question is, why would Scripture want to speak with this kind of urgent tone, especially if God knew that countless generations would live and die before Christ actually returned. I think there are many reasons.
1. First, the Bible wants us to live loosely to the things of the world. If you knew that in a few weeks, you would leaving your home, and going to a different country to live, would you want to acquire for yourself lots of items right before you left. Like TVs, and new furniture. NO way! You’d be wanting to get rid of things if anything. In the same way, if every single day, one of the foremost thoughts in our minds was, “Christ is coming back! He could come back today” I believe we would be making some very different decisions about the things we spend our time and money on. I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to consider over the next few days and weeks, when you make decisions, to ask yourself, “In light of Christ’s return, is this a wise thing to do?” If there’s a Tsunami barreling down the streets towards your home, I guarantee you, you will think twice about putting in a backyard swimming pool.
2. Secondly, I believe the Bible speaks so imminently about Christ’s return because God knows we are so nearsighted. Now feels so much more real than the future does. And there’s a way in which that’s good thing. You know some people are too focused on what will happen that they can never be in the moment. That’s a bad thing. But is it impossible for us to be too focused on the return of Christ, because the more we consider true, future realities, the more we will be able to live properly in the present day realities. Now when I speak of focusing on Christ’s return, I don’t mean focusing on it the way some people do, in predicting dates and times of his return, and selling all of our possessions because we are convinced he’s coming in 2 weeks. Of course I don’t mean that. And of course that is not proper way to live in present reality. But what I do mean is that every single day should be informed, to some extent, by the future reality of Christ’s return!
3. Thirdly, the Bible speaks of the urgency of Christ’s return as a warning to the idle and the ungodly. There’s a flood coming, and even though we have life-preservers, we all have loved ones who are not yet prepared! Do we believe that God is sovereign over everything, including the hearts of men? Absolutely! And yet God wants to use the reality of Christ’ return, when he will come to judge the living and the dead, to inform every single interaction and conversation we have with co-workers, friends, and family!
Simeon and Anna….
If people saw them at the temple and asked them, “Why are you here?” They would probably respond by saying, “Because Our King is coming!” When people ask us why we come to church, we can respond by saying, “Because Our King has come, and He is coming again!”
Let me close by addressing two kinds of people in this room today. There are those of us here who need encouragement, and those of us who need a bit of a wake up call. Both groups of people have perhaps forgotten the reality that Our King is coming again!
First, to those of us who perhaps don’t think too much about Christ’s return because life here is good, we’re doin’ our own thing, and we’d like very much not to be disturbed or interrupted by the return of our King. In many ways, I fall into this category. I just got an internship, I’m going to Korea in a few days, a whole lifetime of aspirations and dreams ahead of me! It’s easy in my heart to say, “Jesus, I’m really super glad you’re coming back, but could you delay it for a while. Could you wait until I’ve got my agenda all wrapped up neat and tidy.” John Piper, in talking with his daughter about Christ’s return, was told by his daughter that she wanted to get married and have a family before Jesus came back. Piper’s response to his daughter was to say, “You know I completely understand how you feel. Those are good things you want. But if you could taste and see what it truly means for Christ to come back, you wouldn’t say that.” You see to snub our noses at Christ’s return because we’ve got more important things to do first is like passing up a free vacation because we’re too busy being enthralled by the brochure. Yes, this life has many great things that are to be enjoyed! But as Tim Keller says, “A good thing becomes a bad thing, if it becomes a God thing.” The moment that Christ’s return no longer trumps all other desires and plans you have, you know that you have idolatry in your heart.
Let me just give you one poor example of what I mean by this. I love outdoor hot springs. There are very few activities to me that are more enjoyable than going to a hot spring. There are very few things that I could think of, where I wouldn’t be happy to stop them immediately if I could go to a hot spring at that moment. What might that be for you? What are those things that when you think about them, you immediately become enthralled with the thought of them. Especially if there is a chance that you could do those things in the near future. It could be going on a vacation somewhere, or going to your favorite restaurant, or the arrival of your first child or grandchild, or seeing a close friend or family member you haven’t seen for a long time. Those things that you would drop everything in a moment to go do them. My brothers and sisters, Christ’s return should be infinitely more important and delightful and exciting than all of those combined! To prefer this life to the return of Christ is like being in a movie theater, and being satisfied to just sit there for hours and hours, simply watching the advertisements, and being happy with the movie never actually starting. To these people, and to myself, I say, “Start hoping in Christ’s return!”
But perhaps many of you are not in that first category today. Perhaps you are much more in a situation like Simeon and Anna. Life has beaten you down. Sickness, financial woes, relationship strife, inner turmoil, guilt, persecution, and chronic pain have all but sucked the life out of you, and the strength it takes to simply get out of bed in the morning seems almost impossible at times. To you, I want to encourage you with a picture of what it will look like when Christ returns. Imagination is truly a gift from God, and I fear in today’s day and age, our imaginations suffer from great atrophy. But try right now to imagination with me this scene described for us by the Apostle John in Revelation 21:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear form their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.””
I think of Pastor Saeed, imprisoned in Iran, reading these words. I think of the mothers and fathers who lost their precious daughters to the Boko Haram, reading these words. I think of people who suffer from intense mental and emotional anguish on a daily basis, where suicide seems to be their only hope of relief, reading these words. I think you, my brothers and sisters, who suffer with many different kinds of ailments and difficulties, listening to these words right now! This picture, of the dwelling place of God being with man, is what Christ brings with him when he returns. To those who are trying their best to hope in Christ in the midst of insurmountable difficulties, I encourage you to “Never stop hoping in Christ’s return!”
For everyone, whether we suffer from too much affluence, or too much suffering, a proper shift of our perspective onto the return of Jesus, puts all of our earthly joys, and all of our earthly sufferings, in their proper perspective!
So I want to leave you with this charge, to see all of life with perspective and lens of our reigning King Jesus. Who came into this broken world to redeem it. And he is coming again to consummate that redemption! Listen to these familiar words from Helen Lemmel
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.