The Advent season is a season where we stand right in the middle of two realities. Advent means arrival or coming. As we enter into the Advent season, we're reminded there was an arrival. There was a coming that has already happened, that being the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as Christians, we stand right here looking back to what has already happened but also looking forward to what will happen.
There was an arrival that already happened in the birth of the Savior; there is an arrival that is coming that will happen in the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, so here we sit, here we stand, here we are in the midst of this tension. As we already sang this morning, we are a people who are filled with longing and expectation. We look back in remembrance. We look forward with longing and expectation, a people with angst.
It reminds me as a young boy I had no idea what Advent was, but I did know in this particular season I was filled with longing, angst, and hope around presents. I can distinctly remember, because the way my family kind of worked this whole thing out, was on Christmas Eve you could open one gift. It was the tease gift, but it was the gift you hoped would set the stage for what you prayed and longed would be a feast of gifts the next morning. The Christmas Eve gift kind of set the tone for Christmas.
On this particular Christmas, we were down at my grandparents' house in the Houston area. It was my turn to open the Christmas Eve gift, so with great eagerness, anticipation, hope, delight, and all that a little boy could put into this, I ripped open the paper and received a scientific calculator. I realize for some of you that's an amazing gift. You have had an illustrious CPA career. You're the life of the party. It replaces your abacus.
But this, for me, was disturbing. It was so utterly disappointing that I can't really bring to words how I felt as this little boy. All I had done up to this point with calculators, essentially, was turn them upside down and try to figure out what bad words I could spell. Did anybody else do that? Praise God. You're an honest crowd. That's what I did!
I get this calculator, and the bottom just dropped out, where I thought, "Are you kidding me? Who wants this? I'm sure it's productive. I'm sure there are things you can do that are really neat with it, but I want a Nintendo. I was looking for Duck Hunt here. I was not looking for a scientific calculator." It wasn't even the groundbreaking TI-83. It was something before that. It was lame. It was boring.
The reality of this story is that it says more about me than it really does about the calculator, but I think you can identify with putting your hopes into something. Longing, waiting, hoping, eagerly anticipating what this will be, only to be, at the end, disappointed, only in the end to be let down. This little story is kind of a microcosm that can tell bigger stories in all of our lives.
It's the idea about misplaced hope. You've done it. I've done it. You're doing it. I'm doing it. There are things and people and situations that we are placing our hope in that ultimately will disappoint us. For some of us, we're putting our hopes in a person or in a people or in a government or in an ideology or in a system. We're putting it in things or projected image. We're putting it in things like success or this future promotion or entrance into this college or this association or whatever it may be. We are placing our hopes in a thousand different areas.
It reminds me of what the great Augustus McCrae, the cowboy in Lonesome Dove, said as he was thinking about Jake Spoon, the other cowboy who is promising Lorena that he will take her and lead her away from this old, dusty town called Lonesome Dove to the place where her heart longed to be, San Francisco. Gus, looking at Jake and knowing Jake to be somewhat of a scoundrel, says, "Jake's too leaky of a vessel to put much hope in." Then he goes on. In the book it says, "But, then again, all vessels leak to some degree."
Think about where you and I are placing our hopes. Think about where you and I are putting things in hopes that it's just going to work out a certain way, that it's going to fill us up and satisfy an aching or a longing in our souls, that it's going to deliver us (some good thing that we're putting our hope there), and the reality is all things this side of heaven leak to some degree.
The question I want to try to answer this morning is…If everything leaks hope, then what or who can hold my hope? If you think about the word hope, it's a word that is a part of our daily vernacular. We use it in our vocabulary all the time. We hope it stops raining. We hope the in-laws leave soon. We hope the holiday pounds will shed off nice and easy. We hope we don't overspend. We hope the kids adjust into school. We hope, we hope, we hope. We use it all the time.
In the Scriptures, the word is used over 200 times. In the Scriptures, as you begin to pull out and see how the word hope is used throughout the Bible, it can be summarized around something like, "Hope means a confident expectation in the future." It means a contagious enthusiasm for what will come. The idea of hope is that you're looking forward to the future with enthusiasm, with confidence, with expectation, that there is blessing on the other end of this. Hope is a good thing.
If we ask the question, "If everything leaks, who or what can I put my hope in?" I want to try to answer that by looking at a verse in Romans, chapter 15. If you have a Bible, grab it and turn to Romans, chapter 15. We'll be in verse 13. As you're turning there, let me just set up the book of Romans.
Paul writes the book of Romans. This is his letter to the Romans. It's basically considered his magnum opus. It's his crown jewel. It's his masterpiece. It's a wonderful letter. In the book of Romans, Paul outlines through chapters 1 and 11 a beautiful bedrock of theology. He begins to talk about all of us being condemned before the Lord, but this good and gracious God has made a way for us.
He talks about the promises given to Abraham. In chapter 5, he talks about the justification, in chapters 6 and 7, sanctification, and in chapter 8, glorification. Then he talks about God calling people unto himself. He's just laying out the beautiful truths of our salvation. In chapter 12, he turns and talks about how these truths aren't just some dusty ideas on a shelf, but they actually work themselves out in your life and my life in daily living.
He's going to do that in chapters 12, 13, 14, and 15, and in chapter 16, he's going to close the letter with some closing remarks and personal greetings. At the end of chapter 15, in the first 13 verses Paul is laying out the promises given to the Jews and to the Gentiles, and he basically ends his letter in verse 13 of chapter 15. It's like in this moment Paul has just penned through the power of the Holy Spirit an unbelievable doctrinal treatise.
He has laid out a compelling and beautiful and rich theology of all that God has done for us in Christ. Then he talks about how these truths work themselves out in our daily lives. Then it's almost as if Paul sets down the pen and breathes out a prayer for his people. Romans 15:13 is a benediction of sorts. It's a prayer. It's Paul's hope for his readers. It's Paul's hope for his church. In verse 13, he says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
"May the God of hope…" Here's my point. If we walk away with this, praise the Lord. God is both the source of hope and our supplier of hope. He is the source and supplier of hope. You see this right out of the gate, where the apostle Paul says, "May the God of hope…" He is declaring something about the very essence and nature of God. God is not just the inspirer of hope; he authors hope. He doesn't just dole hope out. It describes the essence of who he is.
It's not just that God is giving hope, but it's descriptive of the very nature and character of the God we serve, that he is a God of hope. The beautiful truth about this reality is that hope is not based on probabilities but based on promises. Let me see if I can flesh that out a little bit. All the hope you and I have down here at this level, all these misplaced hopes, are based on probabilities. "I think I have a really good shot at this promotion. I think if I put this much away in my 401(k) and it grows at this much interest, then I should have this type of nest egg when it's all said and done."
All of that is based on probabilities. It is based on a kind of wish and a hope that may or may not come true. Whether it's a person or thing, a system or spouse, whatever it is, you're banking on probabilities, but with the God of hope it's different. You're banking on promises, and you're banking on promises God himself has made.
In the book of Titus the apostle Paul says, "And this is a God who cannot lie." When he promises to do these things, he will do them. These promises he has placed over your life and spoken over you and to you… These things will happen! His Son will return. You really are not condemned in Christ Jesus. You really are forgiven and cleansed. You really will be made new. You really will receive a reconciled and fully redeemed and resurrected body. This will happen.
Our hope is not based on probabilities but on promises. Paul says, "May the God of hope…" May the One who authors it, may the One who has sourced it, may the origin of hope, may this God of hope, may he do something, may he fill you. I love the word there. May he fill you. May it just begin to come up and well up in you to overflow. May he fill you with…what? With joy and with peace.
When Paul talks about joy, which he uses more than any other author in the New Testament… Twenty-one times the apostle Paul is going to speak of joy. Joy, joy, joy. This is a mark of the Christian. Joy. What is he talking about? When he talks about joy, he's talking about an inward satisfaction of soul. He's not talking about a bubbly personality type. He's not talking about a disposition that is candy-like and cheerful.
He's talking about an inward (not an outward veneer) satisfaction of soul that wells up with delight in knowing, "He is my God, and I am his son or his daughter." This joy, this inward satisfaction of soul different than the superficial realities most of us deal with is coupled with what the apostle calls peace.
He's praying the people of God would be filled with joy and with peace, and these two things work together. In peace, he's not talking about the inward satisfaction of soul; he's talking about the inward settledness of soul. There's a rest and a contentment and an ease of soul that comes through the work of the Spirit.
I love what Charles Spurgeon says about this verse. He describes it this way. "Peace is resting joy—joy is dancing peace! Joy cries hosanna before the Well-Beloved, but peace leans her head on His bosom. We work with joy, and we rest with peace." Leon Morris goes on to describe this interplay between joy and peace in this verse. He says that joy relates to the delight of anticipation in seeing one's hopes fulfilled, and peace results from the assurance that God will fulfill those hopes.
Joy and peace working together. It's important at this point to stop and remember what Paul is talking about here. He's not talking about joy and peace being some type of personality type. The joyful person isn't the kind of bubbly, cheery, extroverted guy or gal who loves to be around people and lights up a room. When he's talking about peace, he's not talking about the guy or the gal who is calm, cool, and collected in all situations.
Paul is not talking about a personality type. What he's talking about here is the fruit of the Spirit. What Paul is praying is that the God of hope would fill you with the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit at work in your life. You think about Galatians 5, where Paul writes, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…" He goes on.
What Paul is praying and asking for the people of God is that you and I would be filled up with the evidence of the work of the Spirit in our lives. To be filled up with this. He says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…" Here you see the interplay or the working between God and you.
The working there is in that phrase, "in believing." What the apostle Paul is saying, if you follow the thread through the book of Romans, in believing means that you have placed your love and trust, you have placed your confidence and your faith in the One who was sent to redeem and reconcile you, namely the Lord Jesus Christ.
What Paul has been arguing all through the book of Romans is, although we were condemned, God made a way. How? Through his Son. Although we were condemned, although we were without hope, God himself sent his Son to reconcile lost sinners. "Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us." This phrase, in believing, is you and me putting our belief, our trust, our confidence, and our hope in the One who has reconciled us, the One who died in our place. Paul says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…"
"So as you believe on the One in whom I sent, as you believe on the One who died on the cross for your sins, as you believe on the One who rose from the dead, as you believe in him, as you place your love and your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit is at working within you producing the fruit of the Spirit."
Then he goes on and says, "…so that…" The turn in the prayer here is where Paul is going to outline the why behind the what, where he's going to say, "This is why I want this. This is why I'm praying you would be filled with joy and with peace." Why? "…so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
You can see here the prayer itself is book-ended with hope. It begins with hope ("May the God of hope abound you in hope"), so I just want you to see what Paul in this beautiful one line of prayer is showing us. The God of hope is longing for us to abound in hope. How? How does this happen? It's this cyclical nature of what is transpiring.
He's saying, "I'm praying you would be filled with the fruit of the Spirit, and as you're filled with the fruit of the Spirit, an inward satisfaction and settledness of soul (joy and peace) happens. I pray it produces in you a growing desire and hope in the Lord, and as you have a growing desire and an abundance of hope in the Lord, it's producing in you more evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.
As you long to see the Spirit work in your heart more and more and as the fruit of the Spirit is giving evidence of his work in your heart, more and more producing joy, producing peace, satisfaction, and settledness of soul, that it's producing an abundance of hope."
The good news about the One who supplies hope is that he has an abundant supply of it. How good is that for us to hear on a morning like this when there's not one of us in here who doesn't need hope? There's not one of us in here who doesn't need it. The good news for you…hear this…is that God has hope for you, not just rationed out to you, but in lavish, abundant supply.
As hope grows in you and wells up in you and spreads in you, he has more for you. As hope is small in you and shriveled in you and you are parched without it, he's saying, "I have it. I have it for you. I am both the source and the supplier of hope, and my supply is abundant." The apostle Paul prays this prayer for his people. It's a benediction and a prayer that I hope for our church as well, that the God of hope would fill us with joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Spirit.
You see all of this at work, all of this at play. In terms of application and in terms of where we go from here, I have two points or categories, really: one for the Christian and one for the non-Christian. For the Christian in here, what I would admonish you to consider is a charge I would put before you in light of this… In light of the God of hope, in light of the season we find ourselves in, here is my hope.
My hope is, first, that you would increase over these next 30 days or so the regularity in which you're in the Scriptures. Here's the reality of what's going to happen over these next 30 days. It's going to get busy. It's going to be tiring. It's going to be filled with commercialization and materialism. We're going to all feel that.
The reality is, unless you go to some faraway, distant land, you will not escape it. You just can't! It's too, literally, everywhere! Rather than burning a bunch of energy trying to swim upstream against a current that you're not likely going to overcome, I would challenge you to become a little bit more of an aggressive swimmer downstream and do a couple of things.
One would be to increase the regularity by which you're in the Scriptures. If you read the Scriptures one to two times a week, then I would say over these next 30 days increase it to three to four. If you're in the Word three to four or five to six times a week, read it daily. If you're already in the Word daily, then read it twice a day. Over this next little Advent season, if you could just turn and tune your heart just a little bit. Why?
Because it's through the Scriptures that the Spirit reveals to you and to me the God of hope. It's through the Scriptures that our perspective is lifted and the fog is cleared a little bit. As we navigate the craziness of what this season will be, we'll be reminded yet again of a true hope, a future hope, that is ours in Christ. Over this next 25 to 30 days, how about we just get in the Scriptures and look back and remember about the King who came as a little baby and be reminded that he is coming again as our triumphant ruler? What if we spent some time as a church there?
Secondly, I encourage you to do this. If you could, just courageously identify some of the misplaced hopes you have in your life even now, some of those areas where you have maybe placed it in someone or something, good or bad. Recognizing that all vessels leak to some degree, begin to name some of the things I have placed my hope in. "I've looked to this for ultimate satisfaction, fulfillment, ultimate hope, or ultimate deliverance. I've looked to these things, and they're less than. They can't deliver."
I would just encourage you to maybe name those. Write them down. Share them with a friend, a family member, a spouse, or whoever it may be. As you increase your regularity in the Scriptures, I would encourage you to identify some of those misplaced hopes, but also, right alongside those misplaced hopes, I would encourage you to wash over your soul with the promises of God.
You've been in the Scriptures with more regularity, you're identifying some of these misplaced hopes, and then you're putting the promises of God right there in your heart to replace, reminding yet again, "This is true. 'There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.' This is true. 'As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he's with me. His rod and his staff, they comfort me.' This is true. 'I actually am a new creation. I feel dirty, I feel full of shame, but I am a new creation in Christ. I have been washed. I have been set free. I have been redeemed.
This body, which may not be working properly, and the cells aren't doing what they need to be doing… I know I'm cantankerous and maybe full of disease, but there is coming a day when all of that will be made right. There is coming a day when all of these tears will be wiped away. There is coming a day when the King will come back to redeem and rescue fully and finally and forever.'"
For you to be washed over yet again in these promises, church, I'm not saying the season won't be any less busy, I'm not saying it won't be any less tiring or any less frustrating at points, but you may be able to capture something you would otherwise miss. You may be able to capture some more time peering into the beauty of the reality that he is a God of hope and that you and I may have misplaced hopes, but even in the midst of our misplaced hopes we have a God who forgives, heals, restores, and redeems.
For those of you in here who are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I'm confident there are probably many among us, I want to say welcome. You may be here with family as you're finishing out your Thanksgiving holiday. You may be here at the arm of a friend. For whatever reason you are here, just know we love that you're here and are extremely grateful for it.
If the admonition to the church would be, "Seize the season and redeem it," my encouragement to you, friend, would be to receive the gift God is offering to you. God right now is offering to you a gift called eternal life through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Here's the crazy thing, and I feel a little awkward even saying it, but I'm saying it because I believe the Bible.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, that right now in this moment as I'm speaking to you God himself is making his appeal through me to you. He's using a broken, messed up, dysfunctional vessel like me to make his appeal to you. What is that appeal? What is he offering to you? The appeal is this. He's saying, "Be reconciled to God." That's the appeal God is making to you right now, so the gift he's offering to you is a gift of eternal life, but it gets even greater than that.
It's not just eternal life, life forever. It's life with him forever, but it's not just life with him forever. It's life with him forever as a son or a daughter. It's not just a future forever kind of thing. It's a right now thing as well. The invitation to you, even right now, is that you can be forgiven, that the weight of your sin and the burden you carry can be lifted, that you can be made whole and right before a loving God, your creator God who loves you, created you, and sent his Son to die on the cross for you.
He's offering for you a righteousness that you and I could have never earned. He's offering for you, and I love this word, grace. Here's the deal. If it sounds too good to be true, it really is. That's how we all felt. If you don't feel worthy to receive the gift, you're not welcome, but what God is saying to you right now, friend, is, "Receive the gift of Christ."
If I could just summarize it in one word… He's offering you something you seriously don't have right now. Hope. He's offering you hope. For us as a church, if I could just go back and think about that scientific calculator and all the disappointment that was in me. I think about all I've worked through with that little gift and how that tells a story that points to a bunch of different stories in my life as it relates to misplaced hopes and disappointments and dissatisfactions all along the way.
What I think is astounding is the way Paul describes hope in Romans, chapter 5. Paul is laying out in Romans, chapter 5, that you and I have been justified by faith in Christ, and because of that justification we have peace with God. Then he goes on to say as we walk through tribulations and trials and situations and sufferings, these sufferings produce endurance, and endurance produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope.
Get this. He says, "…and hope does not disappoint." You think about that! You think about your experience and things you've hoped in and how at the end of that line you've experienced disappointment, but Paul is saying, "No, no, no. Hope, real hope, true hope, hope that's sourced and supplied by God himself, it does not disappoint." That's an astounding statement.
What the apostle Paul is saying in Romans, chapter 5 and in Romans, chapter 15, verse 13, is that the God of hope on that day, on that future day, that day that is coming… When you and I get to that better day, there will be no disappointment. There will be no regret. There will be no wishing it was more. There will be no more longing of heart or longing of soul or thinking, "Man, I just would have done it this way, or I sure wish it worked out like this."
He's saying on that day all of your deepest longings and satisfactions will be overflowing. Not only will disappointment be all the way to the wayside, he's saying, more than that, it will be beyond anything you can ask or imagine, so on that good day, on that glorious day, there will be no disappointment.
In the meantime, as you and I travel and traverse through this journey called life, we will suffer disappointment, and in those moments, God is saying, "Son, daughter, lift up your gaze. Lift up your eyes. Look. There is coming a day when your hopes will be finally and forever fulfilled with no disappointment. There is coming a day when, beyond all that you could ask or imagine, you will be richly satisfied. You will be forever content in me. You will not be disappointed."
Even on an afternoon like this, with some of us with questions and confusion, with hardships and heartaches, God is saying to you right now, church, "Look up. Look up. Look to that day. Look to that day, that day when hope will not disappoint, because it's a hope that is sourced in me." What God is offering to you and to me is the best gift: himself. May we be a church and may we be a people who abound in hope as we look to the One who sources hope and supplies it in abundance. Let's pray to that end.
Father, we thank you that you are the God of all hope. You are the God of hope, and to think about the beautiful and amazing truth that just washes over us through your Word. I pray for those in here today who came in feeling hopeless, who even right now may still feel hopeless. I pray you would give them the courage to look up, to be reminded about what your Word says to them.
That you are the God of hope, that you will fill them with joy and peace in believing so by the power of the Holy Spirit they will abound in hope, that you are the One who supplies hope, and that your supply is in abundance, that you never run out of it, that you never have to ration it to make sure everybody gets a little bit.
But because it's sourced in you and you have no end, I pray that you would, God, fill them with hope today, and I pray as a church we would be a church with contagious enthusiasm for the future, because the future is ours through Christ, and that future is glorious and beautiful and mighty, because it's a future that's forever secure with you. We bless you and we love you. It's in Christ's name we pray, amen.