October 20, 2008

Monday Morning Message - The Strength of Hope

In my former days as a minister to students I had the privilege of working with two outstanding young men; one was built like a dump truck the other like a toy truck. They were an entertaining pair to observe as the smaller of the two was always pestering the larger. I vividly remember one particular day when the dump truck had endured more than any patient person should have been asked to endure and he simply grabbed the toy truck by his ever so slight shoulders, effortlessly picked him up and sat him down with the instructions not to move. Never a raised voice. Nary a show of anger. Nothing to outwardly indicate the inward boil that had peaked. He simply, gently, and directly dealt with the issue confronting him. It stands out as a picture of strength under control.

We, as believers, are called to exhibit this kind of strength as we communicate the message of hope to a desperate world. There is no need for shrill shouting matches or angered protests over the compelling issue of the day. I believe there is a clear and hope filled road map for us to follow in difficult days like these. Take a look at it with me as we continue this brief journey through 1 Peter.

Read 1 Peter 3:8-17

Notice first that this hope is a generous hope. It is a hope that gives. It is a hope that stands in contrast to the ways of the world. In verse 9 Peter gets specific as he speaks of the appropriate response of the believer to being "reviled." Rather than give as good as we get, believers are called to a higher standard. We are to give better than we receive. If spoken evil of we are to bless. If trashed in the media we should speak well of them. If despised we should return admiration. Granted, this strategy probably won't lead immediately to the top of the heap but it is the very strategy God employed in bringing hope to this world through Jesus.

This generous hope offers blessing to a blessing starved world. It offers living water to a people parched by the dessicated wilderness of sin. It is a hope we didn't earn in the first place and therefore, we are able to freely offer to others. Perhaps the greatest problem the church of God faces is our holding too tightly His blessings. God never intended for us to keep them for ourselves but to share them freely with others. We are blessed to be a blessing.

This hope is also a genuine hope. It is the real deal. It is not built on some lofty cloud that will burn off in the heat of the noonday sun. It is not a fantastical notion without any foundation in reality. Indeed, it is a reasonable hope which we communicate to this world. Many will ask how faith in Christ as Lord can be a reasonable proposition. I say, ask those who saw Jesus after his resurrection if it is reasonable to believe. Certainly they are dead and gone but we have their eyewitness accounts marvelously (dare I say miraculously?) preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament.

Some will, no doubt, raise questions about the reliability of the New Testament. Can it be trusted as a document? Note the following facts about this most remarkable ancient document.

  • There are 5300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament
  • There are an additional 10,000 copies of the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Greek)
  • There are 9300 other early versions
  • This give us roughly 24,000 copies of the New Testament
  • The earliest of these dates to within 50 years of the writing of the originals.
Compare this to other ancient documents considered "authoritative"....
  • The 2nd place finisher is Homer's Iliad with 643 copies available. It's earliest copy dates to +/- 500 years from the writing of the original.
  • The 3rd place finisher is Ceasar's Gallic Wars with 10 copies available. Likewise it's earliest manuscript dates to +/- 500 years after the original.
Which of these documents, all considered authoritative by scholars, has the best textual evidence to insure that the document we have is as close as is possible to the original? Kind of a no-brainer don't you think? (For more see this paper.)

When Peter says "be prepared to make a defense...for a reason for the hope that is in you. (v.15)" he is talking about the logical, defensible nature of faith placed in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, this hope is a grounded hope. It is built upon the solid, immovable, unchanging cornerstone of Jesus Christ. But this is not simply an affirmation of propositions about Jesus it is, first and last, a relationship with Jesus. Note what A.W. Tozer said about this.

"Tens of thousands of believers who pride themselves in their understanding of Romans and Ephesians cannot conceal the sharp spiritual contradiction that exists between their hearts and the heart of Paul.

That difference may be stated this way: Paul was a seeker and a finder and a seeker still. They seek and find and seek no more. After 'accepting' Christ they tend to substitute logic for life and doctrine for experience.

For them truth becomes a veil to hide the face of God: for Paul it was a door into His very presence...Many today stand by Paul's doctrine who will not follow him in his passionate yearning for divine reality."

It is a grounded hope that is based on much more than empty facts. It is built upon the very presence of Christ in the life of the believer.

This leads to an understanding of the strength of hope. Peter makes a most unusual statement in verse 16. He instructs his hearers to express this reason for the hope that is in them with "gentleness and respect." This hope is a gentle hope. But be careful not to confuse gentle with weak. It is a gentle hope born of the great strength of God Himself. Much like the exhibition of strength under control that I witnessed in the lives of those two young men this hope is to be communicated with gentleness and respect.

This should be revisited by many of our Christian brothers and sisters today. Far too many are trying to communicate this marvelous hope in less than marvelous ways. Let us follow the example of the one we claim to follow, divesting ourselves of all claims and rights. Let us simply serve and communicate the message of hope to a world in desperate need of hope.


Sojourner said...

May the hope we have in Christ be manifest in the world through us as we reach out our hands to care for the broken hearted people all over this world.

Paul said...

Yes, hope is what is needed these days! It is so good to read the Bible and look at the way Peter and Paul lived their lives, learning and trusting - leading by example.

Jungle Mom said...

OT, but I just now realized you had been to Venezuela. How wonderful!!!! I read of your coffee addiction, I have the same problem.