June 29, 2014
Against All Hope
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A long time ago, a boy became enamored by anything and everything adventure, from exploring the abandoned houses in his neighborhood to reading books and watching documentaries of untouched areas in South America. He was fascinated by the travels of Charles Muntz, the beloved explorer of lost worlds! “Adventure is out there!” was Muntz’s catch line. Well, his spirit of adventure was infectious not only for this little boy, but also for another neighborhood girl. These two shared the same passion for adventure, the same hero Charles Muntz, and the same destination South America. It’s like America, but South! And in time, these two grew up and got married, bought that abandoned house, fixed it up, and even thought about having a large family. So they painted a spare room in their house, got all prepped and ready, and was then told by their doctor that they would not be able to have the child. That spirit of adventure seemed to deflate.
If you were like me, when I watched that beloved Disney-Pixar movie “Up,” I was not expecting such a serious matter for what I was assuming would be a light cheery movie. I was actually impressed that Disney would be so bold to refer to an emotional topic that our hero of faith, Abraham, could refer to. God had repeatedly promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son, through whom they would become a great nation. Time moved on. In fact God waited so long that the fulfillment of the promise seemed not only unlikely, but outright impossible. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah only 10 years younger than him. I can’t imagine knowing that you were supposed to have children, but it just wasn’t happening. Can you imagine Abraham and Sarah painting their spare room, getting all prepped and ready? Can you imagine a doctor saying, you can’t have children? But doctor, you don’t understand, we have to have children. God promised we would! God promised to us in person that someone great would come from our family and save the world! You don’t understand, we have to have kids!
When we see those words in our text, “hoping against hope” or “against all hope” in other translations, it is like saying “against all odds.” I think we would be more familiar with that terminology. The underdog team who had no shot, won the tournament...against all odds. The cancer patient with a 10 percent chance of surviving lives on...against all odds. Here, in Abraham’s case, odds weren’t even on the table. It was impossible. Zero percent chance of having children. Abraham had absolutely positively no reason to continue in his hope of being the father of many nations.
And yet, Abraham continued to trust in God, contrary to every human indication. I mean, I would think that was preposterous! You can just imagine the words from his friends and family. Abraham, buddy, give up! It’s impossible! There’s no hope! But hope in God and his promise was exactly what Abraham trusted in.
Imagine jumping on the diving board and heading out into the deep end of the pool. Perfect dive. No splash. You start to come up for air. But by the time you get to the surface, you are already exhausted. It has been a long day out in the sun, running around, and swimming. You try to play it cool, but the splashes from the people around you make the water choppy and soon you catch some water in your mouth. It’s difficult to breathe. You look around wondering if anyone will even help. Soon the surface of the water covers your eyes as you sink down. You scream and are trying to grab ahold of anything to keep you afloat. You grab on to somebody’s ankle, but they immediately kick it out of your hand. All of a sudden...you feel a life preserver. And then the life guard, having dived in, brings you to safety.
Let’s be honest, life is exhausting. We may try to play it cool, but sometimes it feels like we are drowning. People and the situations around us seem to make life difficult to breathe. You scream and try to grab ahold of anything that comforts you. Maybe it’s listening to calming music. Maybe it’s hanging with friends. Maybe it’s going for an afternoon bike ride. I’m not saying those things are bad at all! However, when we are sinking in this life, sometimes it’s like trying to grab a hold of somebody’s foot in the water.
Hope in God’s promises, and being constantly reminded of that in God’s Word, is what gives to us buoyancy and a sense of purpose to our lives. Without it, we flounder around. Without it, we lose sense of direction. Without it, we have nobody and nothing to tell us that we are special in God’s eyes, that we are awesome, that we don’t have to go out and look for approval, but God loves us the way that we are! Hope reminds us that God wants us to be with him forever in heaven. Hope gives us security in a world of insecurity.
Sure, in the eyes of the world, hope in God is idiocy. It’s just something to make us feel better about ourselves. But that hope isn’t isn’t foolish in God’s eyes because of what we put our hope in. Faith and hope is anything but a pipe dream or a desire. They aren’t dimly dreamt of possibilities. Saving faith is trust and confidence in God’s promises. Hope reminds us of who is in control. Abraham faced the fact that as a father, he was dead and gone and that there was no life in Sarah's womb. The more impossible it became from a human point of view, the more Abraham relied on God’s promises and his power to do what he had promised. That was a possibility for God alone. All human knowledge and experience contradicted this promise of God. God’s promise gave him strength to overcome doubt and unbelief.
A lot of times our trust in God is skewed. I think I may be so bold to say that we sometimes lie when we pray the Lord’s prayer. Sure we pray, “your will be done” in the Lord’s prayer. But, we want God’s will to fit into the tight niche of our will. So, it is more as if we pray, “your will be done, as long as it’s what works out for me in end and in the manner I desire.” How many times have I thought, why me? I thought everything is supposed to work out “for my good,” and then here I am stuck in a stupid hospital with medical bills up the wazzoo. Why did my good friend have to die at such a young age? He was smart and didn’t have diabetes! Ok, Lord, your will be done, as long as I don’t have to deal with the pain of everyday life stresses.
Why do we do that, even though we pray to an almighty God? It’s because we think it’s impossible. It goes against all the odds and against all hope to hope in God’s promises. It goes against all human logic to trust some God who we can’t see. It’s difficult really to trust in God when it seems like he fails us or he doesn’t work in our timetable. It’s difficult to trust in God when things don’t seem to work for our good, but the complete opposite. It’s difficult to trust in his promises when our family member’s health tanks rather than improves. Far too often, our our logical and rational mind tells us that God really doesn’t care and our faith in God weakens. In fact, our mind wants to discredit our God, which sadly only leads to eternal hell.
But to have a faith like that of Abraham? How do we hold on to the hope of God’s promises like he did? Our faith, like Abraham’s, only comes from what is heard and holding on to what is heard. For us, the death and resurrection of Jesus live on in the gospel that proclaims them. We meet them only in the word, the promise of God. Paul will say only a little later in his letter to the Romans, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Faith is strengthened when we read God’s Word and we see how God has fulfilled every single promise that he has ever made. Faith holds on to the promise that God has declared us righteous in his sight, because of Jesus. Jesus was delivered over to death for us, for our eternal good!
Notice, though, how it doesn’t say that he was delivered so that our lives here on earth will be all hunky-dory, that couples will be fertile, cancer will go away, the nagging bills that keep stacking up will blow away. No, we see something so much more. Jesus was here on this earth for us. He was there when his good friend Lazarus passed away. He spoke with a woman who was unclean because of her unfortunate perpetual bleeding. He spent time with people who were no doubt lonely, lost, and depressed. Jesus saw and felt the heartache caused by the worst disease of all, sin. God loved us so much that he sent his Son for us. He gave us comfort when death is around. He gave us a shoulder to cry on. He gave us someone who knows what we are going through. Not that God will necessarily take away the causes of death, or sadness, but he gives us the hope that we have a life where there will be no sickness, death, or sadness.
We have that comfort because in God’s eyes, we are perfect. We are righteous. In our text, we see Abraham, this ungodly creature, sinful like the rest of us, unworthy of heaven. And here we see him standing before the almighty Creator looking to him for his salvation. Notice how Abraham nor any of us do the crediting or the meriting. We aren’t the subject there. God is the one who credits us with the work of his Son, Jesus. God is the one who reached down below the choppy water surface while we were drowning and brought us up to safety. God really is our hope.
Abraham wasn’t considered righteous in God’s eyes because he was an upstanding man in the community or that he was a good husband. Neither are we considered righteous or even good enough to go to heaven because we are polite to people or because you volunteered once at an event. Faith that is considered righteous in God’s eyes recognizes our holy God and the depravity and desperation of humankind. Against all hope and against all odds, against everything that the world tells us, against what our mind tries to rationalize as impossible, we trust in God that he will keep his promise of bringing us to heaven because God’s promises are a sure thing. Let us join the ranks of Abraham and all Christians who have gone before us and put our hope in God, even against all hope.
And the peace and love of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.