Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: 1 Peter 1:3
Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope.

Industrial strength hope

I have here a DVD.  This little disk contains a movie, maybe two hours or more in length.  The story on this DVD is fixed.  It never changes.  I can play this movie a thousand times and it will always play the same story with the same ending.  It’s beyond any of us to make any difference to the events in the story or how it will end.  If the story has a sad and tragic ending, it doesn’t matter how many buttons I press on the remote, the story will always remain the same. Even if I really, really want to have a happy ending there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.  It’s pointless and hopeless wanting a different ending to a movie on a DVD.

If the story of our lives is on a DVD like this, then this disc would contain all the scenes of our lives – past, present and future.  The past is made up of pictures which we have already seen, the present is on the screen right now and the future is yet to play and flash up on the screen at some time yet to come.  Some people might like to be able to fast forward the DVD to catch a glimpse of what the future might hold.  However, as much as we might like this at time, this isn’t possible.

Imagine what it would be like if our lives were like a movie on a DVD.  The story would be fixed and no matter what we did we couldn’t change a thing; at the end there is death.  Family trouble, money troubles, unemployment, health issues – everything is fixed and we have no choice, no responsibility, no role to play.  There is no reason to plan for the future, no purpose in education, in seeking to improve our health, our future is fixed, and nothing we do will alter that.  There is no future.  There is no hope. 

We have seen our fair share of hopelessness in the news over the Easter weekend – people ending their lives, or the lives of partners and children, of people they once loved all because they have lost all hope.  They can only see that the end of their story is fixed and they have lost all purpose.  They have felt that their lives are running like a DVD with only one ending possible – an ending without hope.

While I was writing this I was thinking of my Dad who left this life just before Easter and others who have almost reached the end of their earthly journey.  Their days are numbered, their story has almost reached an end, they know that death is near and yet they don’t despair or look into the future with a feeling of hopelessness.  Their earthly story has come to an end, but their confident hope is that their story will continue forever.  When the credits roll at the end of their earthly journey at their funeral, that’s not the end.  Unlike a DVD their story will continue.

Unfortunately sometimes people look at life a bit like Lotto.  What happens in life is all a matter of chance.  Sometimes you hear people refer to death like that.  When your number is up there is nothing you can do about it.  It’s like there is someone, and some might even call that someone “God”, who is pulling numbers out of barrel and each number represents an event – a death, a war, a recession, a sickness, an argument or a run of bad luck.  Again what a despairing thought.  If it's fixed in the future that your marriage will break up, then there is nothing you can do to change it.  What’s the point of trying to make it work?  Who can trust a God who randomly calls a number and a loved one dies?

Some people may like their lives ruled by predictions, the stars, luck, crystal balls or whatever, but that’s not for me and that’s not the way God wants us to look at the future.  God has made it possible for us to believe that the future is full of possibilities, even on a deathbed.  Nothing is closed off, new things are possible.  Hope is not wishful thinking with an element of doubt, as when we say, “I hope the weather will be fine tomorrow”.  Christian hope is certainty. As one writer has put it, “Hope is not the prospect of what might happen but the prospect of what is already guaranteed”.

Hope is linked to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. 
Our hope focuses on a God who loves us and has paid the ultimate price to save us. 
Our hope focuses on a God who will keep on rescuing, helping, supporting, and comforting us in the future.   
Our hope rests in God who never gives up on his children when times are tough in the future.  He is always there to be our strength and help.  As the psalmist says, 
“I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him. 
He alone protects and saves me;
he is my defender, and I shall never be defeated. 
My salvation and honour depend on God;
he is my strong protector; he is my shelter”
(Psalm 62:5-7.)

This hope begins with the conviction that God is the master of time; past, present and future.  This world doesn't just run down like a worn out piece of machinery; nor is our future out of God’s control and in the control of some lurking germ or health crisis or an out of control enemy waiting to take us down.  This is a world that is loved by God and our future, your future and mine, rests in God's loving hands.  To say anything less than that is simply to leave everything to fate or “the luck of the draw”.  Germs and enemies and death do exist but they don’t have the last say.

Christian hope is the confidence that the future is not determined by past mistakes and failures.  God does not hold our failures against us.  Because of Good Friday, we are forgiven.  We are given fresh starts.  The future is open to new possibilities.  There is freedom and the opportunity for change, growth, development.  Hope always involves looking forward, making decisions, learning, growing, beginning again and enjoying the future.

And the future also involves a future beyond this life. We heard from the Apostle Peter before.
“God the Father... has given us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death.  This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people.  He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away” (1 Peter 1:3,4).

Hope for Peter is not wishful thinking.  He is firmly convinced that because Jesus has died for him and risen again from the dead his future is guaranteed.  Our hope is centred in the future when God will raise us to a new life with him in heaven.    

This hope is important when we are suffering and we only see more pain and worry ahead of us in the future.  It is just then that a light pierces the dark clouds and we have a vision of hope for the future.  This is not a hope that clings to a faded dream, a dead hope, but a living hope, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Because Jesus lives, we shall also live.  Our future history is not in the hands of fate or destiny; it is in the hands of God.  Trusting Jesus our Saviour, our lot in life may not be so brilliant at the moment, but our future is a bright one. 

It's easy for us to become depressed about our lot in life.  We are disappointed about the way we fall into temptation again and again.  We become dejected about the sickness we suffer, the business failures we experience, the family problems we face.  And I don't want to belittle the agony in mind and body that these cause us by any means.  These and other troubles cause us a great deal of hurt. And if we let them, they can get us down.

But look up! We have real hope, a confident knowledge that God loves us, and cares for us, and constantly has our welfare before him.  We have a "living hope", we have a living Saviour raised to life from the grave, who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).  The troubles that we face are not like the movie on a DVD that can only have one tragic ending.  With Christ even hardship is turned to a moment of confidence and trust, and death is turned into a triumphant victory.

Christ enables us to face anything with confidence. The apostle Paul had a strong sense of hope.  He knew that life would not be easy for him, but he looked forward to that time when it would be all over and he would be in heaven.  Paul expressed his hope this way,
“We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed...  And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble” (2 Cor 4:8,9,17).

It is this hope that keeps Paul's troubles in perspective.  His troubles were only passing events, but the joy of heaven is forever.  With that in mind he could endure anything! 

There is one steadying force in our lives.  It is the one that God gives – hope.  We have this hope right now, it's an industrial strength hope that will stand up to the severest trial and testing that anyone may encounter. 

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have a living hope - whatever the future may hold we may rest secure in the knowledge that we are the Lord's.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
27th April 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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