Sunday, April 27, 2014

After Easter, Hope

After Easter, Hope

Romans 5: 1 – 11


We had a great Sunday last week.  After all, it was Easter Sunday…And Easter is supposed to be a big deal.  Easter 2014 did not disappoint…Baptism, Great music, Powerful Message of Cross and Resurrection, and the biggest crowd since I came here in 2006.
A couple of years ago, I started keeping a document with Easter Sunday attendance for our church and our three mission churches.  In 2007, we had a high attendance…then the following years fluctuated up and down staying close to 625.  This year was a big bump.  We had 717 in worship! 
When you add 717 in our worship service to 319 at Cross Timbers Cowboy Church; 95 at La Casa del Alfarero and 205 at New Beginnings Baptist Church, we had a total of 1,336 people at First Baptist Church and her missions!  That’s a great day!  But, there’s a problem.  How do you follow Easter Sunday?
The Sunday after Easter can be a letdown.  Of course, it shouldn’t be a letdown.  Instead, it should be a reminder that Easter has changed everything.  Because of the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, we have a new life…And, we live in a world which has been changed forever.  In one word, we live in a world of Hope.

Romans 5: 1 – 11… 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his loveinto our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

“Religion is the opium of the people.”[1] 
This quote is famously attributed to the atheist philosopher Karl Marx.  The quote never mentions the word “hope,” but “hope” is exactly what Marx was criticizing.  Marx believed that humans could create a better society by getting rid of religious belief and religious expression and what he thought was false hope.  His views led to the uniquely Twentieth Century phenomenon we call Communism and its ultimate expression in the Soviet Union—a society and government built on atheist foundations.
Marx’ beliefs about religion were complex.  On one hand, he considered religion to be oppressive and dreamed of a society in which people were no longer held back by the teachings or authority of the organized church.  On the other hand, Marx labeled religion as an opiate—a drug which had the power to mask the pain of suffering or to induce dreams of a fantasy world.
Legendary psychologist Sigmund Freud held a similar view of religion as an opiate.  Freud claimed that religion was nothing more than wishful thinking that there was a God, who could accomplish all our unfulfilled father issues.  Since our earthly fathers are the ones who provide for us and give us protection when we are children, Freud suggests that we imagine that God is our Heavenly Father who does for us what our earthly fathers never could.
These two views of God are similar in the way they describe religion and belief in God as nothing more than a crutch for weak-minded people.  They are also similar in the fact that they reject “hope.”  Faith and hope are illusions.  Religion is a crutch.  God is something we have created and not Someone who created us.  There is no reason to hope for anything other than the physical world we can perceive with our senses.
The biggest problem with this theory is the way it contradicts universal human experience.  We can illustrate this in two significant ways.
First, there is the historical evidence that religious belief has been widespread throughout human history.  People from many different cultures and historical eras have almost universally acknowledged that there is a God.  When I say “God,” I am referring to a supernatural Being who is worthy of reverence and worship.  This belief has taken on many different expressions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, nature worship, etc…  Not every culture has gotten this right, but every culture has entered into a search for meaning (and a search for hope) through a search for God.  This leaves us with an important choice.  Either, the vast majority of humanity in every culture and every historical era has been wrong to search for God.  Or, they haven’t.  The most rational choice is that they have not been wrong to search for God.  Therefore, the most rational choice is to believe that God exists, and we are correct to search for meaning (and search for hope) by searching for God.
Second, we can argue that there is a natural and innate human desire to find God.  Of course, we know that every innate desire has some real object which can satisfy that desire.  For example, hunger is a desire for food—and food is real.  Being tired is a desire for sleep—and (believe it or not) sleep is real.  Thirst is a desire for water—and water is real.  Loneliness is a desire for companionship—and other people are real.
Someone might argue that they have desires which can never be satisfied.  Some people desire to drive a fancy sports car but realize they will never have enough money to buy a sports car.  Other people desire to fly through the air like Superman but realize none of us will ever have the ability to fly.  Some people even desire for the Baylor football team to win the national championship.  But these are not natural, innate or universal desires.  Not everyone wants to drive a sports car, fly like Superman or for Baylor to win a football championship.  These desires are conditioned by advertising, societal influences or where you went to school.  Desire for food, water and God are experienced universally.
I cannot say this better than C.S. Lewis: 

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists.  A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

There are really only two ways an atheist can argue with C.S. Lewis.  They might say something like, “But, I am perfectly happy and satisfied with the material things in life.”  Are they really happy and satisfied?  Universal human experience and the themes of classical literature suggest otherwise.  The search for meaning in life is uniquely human.  Plants do not search for meaning in life.  Dogs, horses and emus do not search for meaning.  To be human is to be unsatisfied with the material universe.
The other argument is to say something like, “I might not be happy and satisfied right now, but I will be happy if I could just have $10 Million, the biggest house in town and a new relationship.”  If you think this will bring you satisfaction, then you are in good company.  Billions of people are desperately searching for satisfaction like this right now.  They will be disappointed.  This is the only gamble in life guaranteed not to pay off.  It has been tried for centuries and has a proven 100% failure rate.
The good news is that people are beginning to realize that there is something else beyond the material world.  We have been taught by the brightest philosophers that the only real things in life are the things we can experience through our senses.  However, we are beginning to rebel against our philosophers.  TV personalities like Oprah Winfrey are teaching us about “spirituality.”  Bookstores are carrying books about mysticism, reincarnation, and (if you look hard enough) books about Jesus.
We can agree with the prayer of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who prayed, “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”[3]

In Romans 5: 1 – 11, the Apostle Paul makes two very important points about Hope. 
First, Paul connects the dots between suffering and hope.  Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. 
Suffering by itself is inanimate.  It has no life of its own and cannot accomplish anything in our lives by itself.  Paul tells us to think of suffering as an instrument or tool, which can be used by God to accomplish God’s good purpose in our lives.  Through suffering, God teaches us how to persevere.  Through perseverance, God develops our character to become more like the character of Jesus.  Through character development, God instills hope in us—a hope that does not disappoint.  This is a hope that will be fulfilled when God keeps his promises.
One way to think of this is to make a very common illustration about the way our physical bodies grow and develop.  There is only one way to grow your muscles and to make them stronger.  Muscles grow when they face resistance.  Without resistance, our muscles would become weak and flabby.
In the same way, suffering is exercise for our spiritual lives.  We grow spiritually to become the men and women God wants us to become—molded into the image of Jesus our Lord—through suffering and perseverance.  This is the reason why Paul tells us to rejoice in our sufferings.  When we suffer, it means God is using the difficulties of life to make us stronger in faith and in character.  It means God isn’t finished working on us.

Second, Paul ends this passage by giving us three descriptions of salvation.  Salvation is Justification / Righteousness.  Salvation is Reconciliation.  Salvation is Life.  I believe Paul is making a connection between the Resurrection of Jesus and our Resurrection / eternal life in Heaven.  If Jesus died and rose again, then we have hope.  If Jesus did not die and rise again, then we do not have hope.  SINCE Jesus died and rose again, our hope is secure. 
When we read Paul’s words about salvation in the context of Christian hope, we can form a good definition of Christian hope.  First, we have hope, because God is still working on us…as long as there is suffering in the world, there are opportunities to grow.  Second, true hope has nothing to do with this world (and this life) becoming a better world.  Instead, our hope is found in God’s salvation—God’s Righteousness; Reconciliation with God; and the life God promises through the Resurrection of Jesus.


Back in March, I did something that I have never done before. 
March is the month for the NCAA basketball tournament—March Madness.  The tournament starts with 68 teams, then 32, then 16, then 8, then the Final Four, then the Championship Game.  I have been filling out a bracket of winners and losers for a long time.  Back in the days before the Internet, I used to get a bracket from the newspaper, fill it out with the teams I expect to win and lose, and exchange my bracket with my brother.  That way we can laugh at each other and our picks.
This year, I went on the Internet and filled out a bracket like I always do.  But, I did something different this year.  I entered my bracket into a contest on the Internet.  You can probably guess which contest.  I entered the contest that offered $1 Billion for a perfect bracket.
I never really expected to win $1 Billion.  But, hey…it’s worth a shot.
On the first day of the tournament, there was an upset.  Number 11 seed, Dayton, beat number 6 seed, Ohio State…I picked that!  Then there was another upset.  Number 12 seed, Harvard, beat number 5 seed Cincinnati…I picked that one too!  I went through the first 24 hours of the tournament with a perfect bracket.
On the second day of the tournament, number 15 seed, Mercer, beat number 2 seed, Duke.  And, NOBODY picked that one.  I certainly didn’t pick it.  My dreams of having a perfect bracket were over by the second day.
I never really expected to win $1 Billion.  But, I went to bed after the first night of the tournament dreaming about how I might spend $1 Billion.  (In my defense, I did plan to set up endowment funds for every church I have served and to establish a scholarship at Truett Seminary.)
My dream of winning $1 Billion is what a lot of people think of as hope.  But, that is not hope.  It is nothing more than wishful thinking.  “I wish / hope I can win $1 Billion.”  “I hope it doesn’t rain on Sunday.”  Wishful thinking is dreaming about a better future with no basis in fact / reality.
Hope is not wishful thinking, because hope is based on reality.  Because Jesus died and rose again, we know that we have a better future ahead of us.  My future does not depend on random chance, luck or wining a basketball tournament.  My future depends on the accomplished fact of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.  I know that Jesus died and rose again.  Therefore, I know that I will experience Resurrection / Heaven / eternal life.
Easter gives us hope, because Easter has changed everything!

1 comment:

tyrrel said...