God With Us Part 1 - Hope
Series: Special Occasions
December 02, 2018
A few months ago I was drawn into something that had the world holding its breath. It happened in Thailand. A soccer coach and the 12 young boys on his team decided to explore a local cave after practice.
They had only planned to stay for about an hour, so they brought no food or extra clothing. While they explored the cave, monsoon rains hit. The cave flooded and they were stranded deep inside.
The coach said he realized that he had to keep the boys calm and hopeful.
He said, ”I tried not to tell the boys that we got stuck in the cave. I only told them something positive. I told the boys that we just had to wait for a bit longer, then the water may go down and we could get out. I tried not to make them panic. If I told them that we got stuck in the cave, the boys would get panicked."
Hours turned to days and then a week. Their mantra became "su su" -- Thai for "keep fighting.” But that must have been so hard sitting in complete darkness, hungry and afraid.
Ten days after they entered the cave, when many of them were getting weak from not having food, they heard splashing in the water below and a voice speaking English.
Two divers from the British Cave Rescue Council were stringing a safety rope through a flooded area of the cave when they surfaced in a cavern and, to their surprise, saw all 12 boys and their coach huddled on a small beach in the darkness.
Can you imagine their joy! But there was a problem: Getting them all out. Traversing the cave in scuba gear was extremely dangerous even for seasoned professional divers - one died - and here were 12 malnourished little boys and their coach. How could they possibly get them all out safely?
I nearly came out of my skin watching the news during that time. I rejoiced they’d been found, but my heart sank at the thought of them not making it out.
For three days divers took them out one by one, and by what can only be described as a miracle, all were brought home safe and sound. I think I may have shouted when I heard they got the last one.
What an amazing story! And what amazing hope! In interviews much later it was incredible to hear how positive they remained, how they didn’t lose hope.
If it were most of us in there sitting in total darkness, we probably would have given up hope that there was even a chance—a sliver of a chance—to survive.
But hope is like that. Hope is the whisper that maybe, maybe against all odds someone will find us, that everything will be ok, that a time of suffering will come to an end.
Hope is what we celebrate on this first Sunday of Advent.
The message of the Bible, the message of the gospel, the message of Christmas in God coming down to us, is one of hope.
Did you know there was a time when hope wasn’t needed, you might even say it didn’t exist? If you go back to the beginning (like we’ve done in our end game series) you discover that when God first made us and the world, hope wasn’t needed because everything was good.
But you know the story. Adam and Eve chose sin. Sin caused a separation between God and us. That left us and the world broken and dark and in need of hope.
Ever since God has been working toward restoring us and making us whole. He has also been working towards restoring all creation! This is the overall story of the Bible. A thread of hope runs through it from Genesis to Revelation.
The thing about hope is that it doesn’t work on a schedule, it doesn’t happen quickly or according to how we might want it to. Hope can be a long journey.
Abraham came to understand that. God came to him and promised he’d give him the best thing you could in his day and culture: land, seed, and blessing.
Genesis 12:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Talk about setting the bar high! God’s promises hinged on Abraham having a son. But did you get that last part? He was 75 years old at the time, and his wife Sara wasn’t a spring chicken either.
That’s bad enough, but it took 25 more years for God to provide him a son. We know Abraham was tempted to lose hope waiting so long, he even tried to help God out by having a child with Sara’s handmaiden, but in the end, God came through by giving Abraham a biological heir, Isaac.
Abraham got to see the beginning of the seed part, but not the land and blessing part. He died and God’s promises were carried on through his son Isaac and then Isaac’s son Jacob, to whom God said…
Genesis 28:15 (ESV) — 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Jacob had twelve sons who would be become the twelve tribes of Israel. God was making it happen! But things stalled as God’s chosen people ended up slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. But God didn’t forget about them…
Exodus 2:23–25 (ESV) — 23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
God came through and delivered them out of their affliction and into the promised land, but even that took 40 more years because of their hard hearts!
And then for hundreds and hundreds of years, while God’s people continued to wait for Him to fulfill all his promises, they cried out “How long, O God?” Things got pretty dark and difficult, mostly because once again, they, like us all, were impatient and rebellious.
While they waited, God raised up a prophet named Isaiah. He wrote a lot and taught a lot and played a big role in Israel. He was a famous guy in his day, though not always popular, especially when he was telling kings and the general public things they didn’t want to hear, like “God doesn’t like the way you’re cheating poor people” or “An enemy empire is going to invade and destroy your country.”
But you might say Isaiah is the poster prophet for Advent, this season of longing, expecting, and hoping for God to be with us. Through Isaiah, God gave Israel and us many prophecies and promises about the Messiah He would send. And in that way, Isaiah was a voice of hope.
You probably have heard Isaiah’s prophecies even if you don’t know much about him. Scripture from the book of Isaiah is popular around Christmas.
Isaiah 7:14 (ESV) — 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:1–2 (ESV) — 1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
A little later in the same chapter, Isaiah wrote:
Isaiah 9:6–7 (ESV) — 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Hope is a long journey, but God promised to send the answer to their troubles, to bring an end to their longings, and he’d do it through the Messiah, who we know is Jesus looking backward from the cross.
Maybe some of you are thinking, That’s all nice and great for those people thousands of years ago, but what about for us? What about for me? They weren’t fighting cancer. Their spouse wasn’t killed fighting in a war on the other side of the world—or didn’t walk out on them. They didn’t lose their job with no warning, with bills to pay and debts stacking up and kids expecting Christmas presents, not to mention meals on the table.
No matter what kind of problems and struggles you are facing right now, no matter what kind of season of darkness and pain you are in, let me encourage you not to abandon hope. Hope is still alive because God is still with us.
How can we know? How can we find that tiny spark of hope when we’re on the verge of giving up?
There are a couple of ways we can reconnect with God’s hope during this Advent season, no matter what kind of circumstances we are facing.
Hope Based on God’s Word
The Bible is a book of promises and as we’ve seen God always keeps his promises. God promises in His word he will never leave us or forsake us. And nothing can separate us from Him. David wrote in…
Psalm 139:7–12 (ESV) — 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
This Christmas we have hope based on God’s Word. We also have…
Hope Based on God’s Character
The gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew named Matthew. You can tell in his account of Jesus’ life how convinced he was that Jesus was the Messiah, and not only that, God in the flesh. Matthew discovered that if you want to know who God is, or what he’s like, look at Jesus.
In chapter 12 of his gospel, he stops for a minute, looks at Jesus, how he’s acting, what he’s doing, the way he’s ministering to people and changing lives and it takes him back to the words of the prophet Isaiah…
Matthew 12:15–21 (ESV) — 15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Matthew looked at Jesus and he saw God, a God who is near the broken-hearted, a God who has compassion on those in need. He’s not like us. We have to work on our being kind or generous or loving, It’s just who he is.
That same Jesus promised…
Matthew 28:20b (ESV) — 20… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We have hope based on God’s Word, we have hope based on God’s character, and we also have…
Hope Based on God’s Faithfulness
The prophet Jeremiah wrote…
Lamentations 3:21–26 (ESV) — 21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Did you catch that at the beginning? “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” Jeremiah understood that there is hope in the future when we remember what God has done in the past.
All of history, all of our personal histories, is a record of God’s faithfulness even in the middle of our rebelliousness.
Conclusion: None of us are stuck in a cave today, but we are stuck in this world, this life. This world is a terrible place, isn’t it? Every morning I pull up a news app and read the headlines. They're never good. We were just getting into why that is in our God’s endgame series.
We’re dealing with life and all the difficulties it brings and some of us may feel like we’re stranded. Some of us may wonder if there’s hope.
If Advent is about anything it’s about the hope we have in Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of his promises. Jesus who is Immanuel, the light shining in the darkness, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus, the end-all fulfillment of God’s promises.
As we head into the holidays and all that comes with it, let’s make Paul’s prayer ours:
Romans 15:13 (ESV) — 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
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