“The Hope” (Easter Sermon 2018)

A young man came into our church in Oklahoma City one Sunday morning, and he was in despair. His marriage, and really his whole life, had fallen apart, and he came to church in despair for help, and he said the question that kept going through his mind was, “Is there any hope? God just show me if there is any hope.” One of my sisters was visiting our church that Sunday morning, and we had a greeting time like we had here this morning, and while this question was going through his mind, “Is there any hope; God show me if there is any hope,” my sister walked up to him, stuck out her hand and said, “Hi; I’m Hope!” He told me later, “Shawn you just don’t know what that meant to me. It was as if God was saying, ‘Yes Skip, there IS hope!’” And God did raise that young man out of his difficulties, and he is still serving God in that church today!

There IS hope in the Lord. And that hope is based on what God did for us that first “Easter Sunday” when He raised Jesus from the dead. Let’s look together at “The Hope” we have in Jesus. Our passage for today comes right out of our daily Bible reading this week in Acts 26:

 

I. THE PROMISE OF THE HOPE

Paul said in :6-7 “and now I am standing trial for the HOPE of the promise made by God to our fathers … to which our 12 tribes HOPE to obtain … And for this HOPE, O King I am being accused by the Jews.”

THREE TIMES in here :6-7 Paul uses this word “hope.” What is he referring to by this word “hope”? He answers that in the next verse: “Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

So the “hope” that Paul was talking about, that God had promised His people, was the resurrection from the dead: eternal life.

See, God created us in the beginning to have eternal life with Him. That’s what God made us for. But the problem came when we sinned against God. Adam & Eve sinned in the beginning, and they passed down their sin nature to us, and each of us when we come to the time of choosing, also choose to sin. The Bible says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And our sin brings death. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.” People say: “If there is a good God, then why is there so much death and hurt in the world?” Well we can’t blame GOD! He created us good, and that goodness included the ability to choose. Sadly we chose to sin, which brought all this death and evil into the world.

But despite our bad choices, God still loved us. He said I will make a way that you can still have eternal life with me, and live with Me forever in heaven. Though your bodies are tainted with sin and will die, I will give you eternal life, and raise you from the dead, to will live with Me forever. Throughout the Old Testament He gave promises that He would send a Messiah who give us a way to have eternal life with Him.

So God’s people throughout history looked forward to the promise of that hope. Job looked forward to that promise when he said: “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).

So ever since He gave us the promises, God’s people have had this hope of eternal life. Paul told King Agrippa here, this gospel we are proclaiming is all about the HOPE of this resurrection and eternal life that God had promised us all along.

And the promise of that hope was fulfilled when Jesus — God Himself — came to earth. He lived out all the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, including Isaiah 53 of how He would suffer as our substitute (as we saw last week) but He did not only die on the cross for our sins, He also ROSE from the dead, demonstrating that the hope of resurrection and eternal life that God’s people have was not vain and empty, but a legitimate hope.

Peter preached about that hope in Acts 2; John wrote about that hope in John 11; Paul could sing in prison, facing death, because he said in Philippians 3:11 that he had this hope in the resurrection from the dead.

We have that same promise of hope today. When Cheryl & I were in our high school youth group, there was a high school football coach and his wife who were active in teaching in our group; John & Deanie Merrill. When we were there, they had two little girls, one of them was named Jenni. A couple of years ago I read that Jenni, now a mom with 7 kids, had gotten cancer and died. And because John was a well-known football coach in Oklahoma, they interviewed him in the Daily Oklahoman. Typically of him, he witnessed for the Lord in the interview. He spoke of how hard it was to lose his daughter, but also of the hope they had in Christ. He said:
“My heart’s broke. My wife’s heart’s broke … I don’t know if my heart will ever not be broke.” He was honest. But then he added: “But I do know I get to see her again in eternity.” See, John has that HOPE of eternal life, that he will see his daughter Jenni again.

All Christians have that same hope. Many of us here today have lost loved ones — Easter should be the best day of the year for us! — it is the day of greatest HOPE! God has promised that there is resurrection from the dead and eternal life and He demonstrated that it is REAL in Jesus. We will see those loved ones again; that is our hope!

Some of us here are sick, or dying, or in great pain every day, or in great physical difficulty. But we have this hope that the pain and difficulty we know now, will one day be nothing more than a faint memory! There is coming a resurrection from the dead and eternal life, when we will have no more sickness or pain or death ever again. This is our HOPE!

YOU can have that same hope that makes such a difference for us: “the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers …”. If you will repent of your sins and follow the resurrected Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior, then YOU can have the hope of the resurrection and eternal life.

 

II. THE POWER OF THE HOPE

But for Christians there is not only the PROMISE of hope, but we also know the great POWER behind this hope. See, there are a lot of people who “hope” for something, but there is no power or confidence behind it.

For example, many people “hope” they are going to win the lottery. There is absolutely NO power in that hope. You literally have more hope of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. Put your money in a savings account. You are not going to win the lottery. There is no power in the hope of winning the lottery. (Not to mention that those who actually have won it, have had their lives totally destroyed by it.) There is no power in the hope of changing your life for the better through the lottery.

But there is a strong power behind the Christian’s hope in the resurrection from the dead and eternal life. Paul tells King Agrippa here in :8:
“Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

Paul’s key point here is that the power behind the Christian’s hope in the resurrection from the dead, is GOD HIMSELF! And as Jesus said, “For nothing is impossible with God.” What God said, He will do!

See, sometimes people make promises that they don’t really have the power to keep:
— For example, a doctor says to a very sick patient: “Don’t worry; we are going to make you well.” Well, I’m glad he wants to do that, but honestly, it may not be in his power to do that. He may not have the diagnostic tools, or the technology or the healing power to bring that to pass.
— Or a detective says: “Don’t worry; we are going to find the person who did this.” Again, it’s good that he wants to find the criminal, but that detective is not omniscient. There are many things he can’t see or know, and sometimes criminals escape detection.
— or a president tells the country: “Never fear; we will catch these terrorists and we will bring them to justice.” Those tough words may be what his people want to hear, but the fact is, the President of the United States has great power but even he is not ALL-powerful or all-knowing; there are people he cannot reach, and things he cannot do.

There are many in whom people put their hope, who don’t have the power to do what they hope. But the Bible says our hope for resurrection and eternal life, is in GOD. And He DOES have the power to raise the dead!

In fact, He has done it already, hasn’t He?
— In II Kings 4, God raised the Shunammite’s son, who had died after a great headache.
— In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave after he had been dead for 4 days.
— But these were only a taste of His power. All of these who were raised up, would one day die again. But greatest of all, Jesus Himself, after He died for our on the cross, rose again from the grave on the third day, just as He promised He would, never to die again.
Romans 1:4 says He “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul told the kings here in :26, “These things did not happen in a corner.” It’s not like what Jesus did should have been a surprise to anyone. Jesus TOLD everybody that He was going to rise on the 3rd day. His disciples had heard it. The Jews knew He had said it, and they told the Romans, who put a seal and a guard on the tomb and they made it “as secure as they knew how.” But Matthew 28 says on the morning of that 3rd day, a great earthquake occurred, an angel of the Lord came and rolled away the stone, and a sat upon it, and the guards shook for fear of him like dead men — and Jesus rose from the grave! He had the power to do what He said He would do.

Jesus is not like a doctor, or a president, or a detective, who makes empty promises he can’t keep. When Jesus says in John 11: 23 “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies …” He says it to us as One who personally has raised people from the dead, and who HIMSELF has risen from the dead!

It is THIS Lord Jesus who says to us in Revelation 1:18, “I am the first and the last and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Jesus has the keys of eternal life and death. He can do for us what He did Himself.

It is this Jesus is the power behind our hope. He has the power to do for you what He says He will. That’s why Paul prays for us in Ephesians 1 and says “I pray … that you will know … the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. In accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places … and He put all things in subjection under His feet.”

He is saying, O Christian, I pray that your eyes will be opened to see the power behind our hope!

 

III. THE PEOPLE OF THE HOPE:

And all of that is good news: there is the PROMISE of hope, and God’s POWER which is behind that hope; but there is one more very important question: who are the PEOPLE of the hope — just WHO is it who can legitimately lay claim to this hope of the resurrection and eternal life? Well we see that in this passage too:

Here in Acts 26:20 Paul says that he “kept declaring … that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
Who is it, according to Paul, who has this hope of eternal life? Those who have “repented and turned to God,” and “performed deeds appropriate to repentance.”

He’s saying the people who legitimately have the hope of heaven are those who have repented of their sins and followed Christ. To “repent” means to “change your mind”, and to show that change of mind by changing the direction of your life with what he calls “deeds appropriate to repentance.” So if you have repented; and your life is different, then rejoice! — you have the hope of eternal life! But if you have not repented of your sins; if you are still living in the same old sins you have always been in, then you do NOT have the hope of heaven!

The Bible is very clear about that. In I Corinthians 6:9-10 the Bible says: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the Kingdom of God. Such WERE some of you; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

We need to hear what God is saying here. He’s saying there is forgiveness available in Jesus for every sin — every single one of these things he just listed can be forgiven in Jesus, IF you will repent of them and bring them to Him — He says you people in the church at Corinth had committed ALL of these sins! — but you have been WASHED from them, and “sanctified” from them. The word “sanctified” means “set apart.” When you come to Jesus He forgives you; He “washes” you; but He also “sets you apart” from your sins. As we talked about in our sunrise service this morning, He changes us when He comes into our lives.

Our son Michael liked a tweet from Pastor Tim Keller this morning: “God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us as we are.”

When Jesus truly touches your life, you will not just continue practicing your sins like you did before. You can’t do that, and think you are going to heaven. Paul says there in I Corinthians 6; NO! “Do not be deceived.” He’s saying, don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can just continue practicing sin like you used to, and think you are saved. You aren’t! You must repent of your sin in order to have the hope of eternal life.

You may say “Well pastor I haven’t heard that before!” Listen, just because compromised preachers today don’t preach the word of God doesn’t mean it’s not in the Bible! Just because “feel good” devotional books don’t bring it up doesn’t mean it’s not in the Bible. This is one of the reasons why we need to read the Bible through for ourselves — so we can see what is really in there, and not just what everyone SAYS is in there! And folks: repentance is “in there”!
— Paul preached repentance: He said here in Acts 26, “I kept declaring that they should repent.”
— John the Baptist preached it: we just read in Mark 1 where he preached repentance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
— Peter preached repentance. In his first Christian sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when the people were smitten in their hearts, they asked him, “What shall we do?” And the first word out of Peter’s mouth (Acts 2:38) was “Repent.” He went on to say in Acts 3:19 “Repent ye therefore and be converted THAT your sins may be blotted out.” (Catch that? If you want your sins blotted out, you have to repent!)
— All of Jesus disciples preached it.
— And Jesus Himself preached it. In one of the least quoted verses in the whole New Testament Jesus said “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

The Bible makes it very clear: if you want to be saved, you must repent. There is NO Biblical assurance of heaven for a person who has never repented of their sins. Repentance of sins is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. We just read this week in Acts 20 where Paul, in his “farewell address” to the Ephesians, said in :21 that he did not hold anything back from them, but that he shared the whole gospel. He said “I solemnly testified to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The whole gospel is not just “believe in Jesus.” The devil “believes in Jesus.” The gospel is repent — turn from your sins — and believe in Jesus as your Lord & Savior. You must repent!

I thought it was very interesting that when we were in Romania, our mission pastor there Stefan Berci and I were talking about a certain man and I asked if he was a Christian, and Stefan said “Yes, he is a repenter.” See, they use the word “repenter” like we use the word “Christian” here; because in parts of the Old World the word “Christian” can mean someone from a Christian tradition; or someone from a Christian political party. So when they want to describe someone we would call an “evangelical Christian,” or someone who is born again, they call them a “repenter.” What a strong statement that is, about the importance of the place of repentance in the life of a Christian, that the Romanians call “Christians,” “repenters.”

In light of that, let me ask you: could somebody here in America look at you and say: “There’s a repenter”? That puts a little different spin on it, doesn’t it? Not just “Do you say you’re a Christian?”, but would they say you are a “repenter?”

That’s a big difference, isn’t it? Are you a “repenter”?
— NOT are you a member of a church?
— NOT have you been baptized
— NOT just do you “believe” in God — ‘cause the devil does that James says!
But are you a “repenter”?

Can you honestly look at your life and say: there are things I used to do, that I am not doing any more, because I have repented?
Can you honestly say that even when you do still sin (and we all do), that you know it is wrong and you are really trying, with God’s help, to turn it around? Are you continuing to be a repenter?
Can you honestly say of your life, “I am a repenter”? Someone could look at me, and say I am a “repenter.”

If you can, then Easter is your day to celebrate! If you are a “repenter” then you have every confidence that you are one of the “People of the Hope” that Acts 26 talks about; you have the eternal life and one day you will be raised from the dead. But if you aren’t a repenter, the good news is, you still can be. It’s not too late! Repent: turn from your sins and turn to follow Jesus, and claim the gift of the hope of eternal life that Jesus bought for you that first Easter Sunday!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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