We Are: A Hopeful People

Text: Ephesians 1:15-23

I am an avid fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, both the books and the movies. I have even read some of the works that derive from Tolkien’s notations regarding the fantasy world of Middle-Earth that he created. I can sit down and watch the movies – the extended versions – over and over again, all 10-12 hours worth of them. If you are unfamiliar with the Tolkien’s world of elves, hobbits, dwarves, men, goblins, orcs, and wizards, we don’t really have enough time for a proper introduction. However, I do want to share one scene with you.

Frodo Baggins, one of the peace-loving hobbits, is caught up with some friends of his in a dramatic journey of good versus evil in which the fates of all of the races of his world hang in the balance. Frodo has no special standing or training to prepare him for the course that he is destined to follow. He simply plods along, depending on the aid of friend and stranger to see him on to the next point. Along the course of the journey, two of the other main characters, a wizard, Gandalf, and another hobbit, Pippin, are talking about Frodo’s journey and task and the possibilities of him completing what he was given to do.

Pippin asks Gandalf, “Was there ever any hope for Frodo?”

Gandalf replies, “There never was much hope. Only a fool’s hope.”

The obstacles that Frodo faces are immense. The powers that stand in his way are mighty – mightier than nearly anything else in the world. Yet great battles take place over the hope that Frodo will succeed in the end.

Hope is the belief – warranted or not – that things will work out in a desirable way.Things will get better. The disease will wane. The money will come in. Rain will come, or rain will subside. Our side will be victorious in the battle – whether that battle is on the game field or in the war zone. Hope sustains us in times of suffering and distress. It supports and energizes our will to live. In one report of the ongoing famine in Somalia, the writer described how the women, having lost their children to hunger, had lost hope. Their eyes were vacant. They stumbled around aimlessly. Certainty was lost. The assurance of a better tomorrow was robbed from them. They no longer entertained a reason to continue in the life that they knew.

We might say that hope is a necessary ingredient for human life. We must have hope in something or we risk losing our validation of living and of living by certain moral and ethical standards. Such standards make no sense if there is no hope for the next hour or the next day or the next month or the next year. So as people, we place our hope in a lot of things, and in doing so, we place our own enjoyment of life and willingness to persevere in that in which we place our hope. Perhaps it is in politics or even a particular politician. Perhaps it is a sports celebrity or team. Perhaps it is in a promotion. Perhaps it is in a retirement nest egg. Perhaps it is in the weather as we make plans.

This morning, I want to remind you that we are a hopeful people. We who believe, we who make up this church body, we who trust God, we are a hopeful people. We believe that things will turn out in a desirable way. Paul says it in verse 18, “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” Later, in chapter 2 verse 12, Paul will say, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Paul was speaking particularly to Gentiles at that point in his letter, but all of us here are Gentiles, so it is fitting. We were people who had no reason to hope. But that is no longer who we are. Instead, we are a hopeful people.

So what reasons do we have to be hopeful? Paul gives us three in the context of his thanksgiving prayer at the end of Ephesians 1. We are hopeful because we possess and are given the ability to understand the revelation of God. We are hopeful because we have a rich inheritance that, as we read last week, is guaranteed for us by the Holy Spirit. And we are hopeful because we serve a mighty and powerful God.

The first reason Paul gives us for being a hopeful people is that we have the revelation of God. But more than just possessing the revelation, we are given access to the wisdom and knowledge of that revelation. For many centuries, the common lay people of the church had no access to the words of Scripture. Books were expensive, and, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, literacy rates declined sharply. People couldn’t read, and even if they could, there were no books available to them. The word of God was meted out through the priests of the church – many of whom themselves could not read or understand the Latin text of their tomes. Possession of the revelation is not enough.

Two remarkable events in the middle of the second millennium of our Christian era changed all of that. First, Martin Luther and other Reformers challenged the role of the Catholic Church and unleashed the Protestant Reformation that had as one of its rallying cries the phrase sola Scriptura, a Latin phrase meaning by Scripture alone. Rather than relying on the traditions of the church as an equal or even predominant guide for living, Martin Luther and others argued that our lives should be guided by the word of God as revealed in Scripture.

The second event was Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press that dramatically changed the cost and expense of transmitting text. Suddenly it was possible for the masses to gain access to the written word. That has made it possible for me to have 21 copies of the Bible sitting in my office, one of which has four different translations. And those are just the English copies. I also have a Hebrew Bible and two copies of the Greek New Testament. My access to Scripture via the computer is even more remarkable, with nearly anything I could hope to read literally at my finger tips or an Internet search away. My access to Scripture would have been highly valuable in the Middle Ages.

We Baptists are People of the Book. We know that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, as Paul declared in 2 Timothy 3:16. And we know that the Word of the Bible is inspired because it rests in the person of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity as revealed by John in the first chapter of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Paul also reminds us in his letter to the Romans that even if we lacked such a rich treasure trove of access to Holy Writ, creation itself is sufficient revelation of God to hold us accountable to God.

Theologians call these special revelation and general revelation, respectively. Scripture is special revelation – it was recorded at a particular time in a particular way for a particular people. Creation is and has always been available to everyone, so it is general revelation. They both testify to and about God. And the reason we are hopeful is because not only do we possess these things, but we are given the wisdom and knowledge to understand them.

What does it mean to both possess and understand revelation? It means that we know the story! From beginning to end, we know the story. We know how the world began. We know why it is as it is. And we know how the world is going to end. And for those of us who trust in Jesus as our Savior and are washed clean by His blood so that we can endure the presence of God, the ending is very desirable indeed. We have revelation – both general and specific – and it boldly declares to us that things are going to go very much our way thanks to the grace of God in our lives. It is because of this revelation that we have hope.

Incidentally, if you find your attempts at reading through the Bible to be difficult because a lot of it just doesn’t make sense, I encourage you to be part of our new Bible study beginning this Wednesday night called Read the Bible for Life. I promise it will open the Bible to you in new ways that you have not experienced before now. End of plug. Back to Paul’s reasons for us to have hope.

The second reason we are a hopeful people is because this revelation we possess tells us about a great inheritance that is ours for the claiming. We talked about this last week when we discussed the Holy Spirit’s role in guaranteeing this inheritance for us. We who are saved enjoy the indwelling of the Spirit of God with us, and His presence with us is a declaration that we can rely on the inheritance that is coming to us from God.

Remember that we are blessed by God by being adopted into His family. Christ becomes our first and eldest brother. And as the children of God, we are entitled to our portion of the inheritance that is ours in the kingdom of God. We get to inherit the Kingdom of God together with Christ! All of the good and great and wonderful and awesome and beautiful and majestic and powerful and eternal aspects of the kingdom of God will be ours as our guaranteed inheritance. The Holy Spirit declares that there is no way we can NOT inherit this promise. Heaven and all of its wonders are ours as an inheritance. Eternal life is ours as an inheritance. A place in the throne room of God is ours as an inheritance. The new heaven and the new earth that our specific revelation of the Bible declares will come at the end of Revelation are ours as an inheritance.

Surely this is news worth living for. Surely this is a promise (a guaranteed promise!) worth persevering for. Surely this is a good and fruitful hope. We possess and understand the wisdom of the revelation of God that declares for us that we are guaranteed a rich inheritance. This, my friends, is well-placed hope. This is reason to live, to thrive, to be generous, to love, to laugh, to praise. This is reason to be a hopeful people.

Paul gives a third – and by far greatest – reason that we are a hopeful people. Starting in verse 19 of Ephesians 1, “19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Our final reason for being a hopeful people is this: the dead live again. God is a powerful God whose power is able to raise the dead Jesus to life again. And what God can do for Jesus He has also promised and is fully able to do for each one of us. We are a hopeful people because God has definitively fully demonstrated in our Lord Jesus Christ that death is not the end. There can be life after death. There is life after death. And that life can be ours. For those of us who are in Christ, that life after death is ours. Present tense. As surely as I just finished taking a breath and am using it to talk to you.

The cornerstone that was rejected has become the Chief Cornerstone. The crucified and buried has become the living ruler above all rulers, the power over all dominions, the name above every name for all ages of eternity. The dead don’t rule. The dead don’t have power. The dead don’t need names, in this age or any another. It is the living that can possess these things. Jesus is alive! Amen? Jesus is alive! And because He lives, we are a hopeful people.

And so we don’t grieve like other people. Non-Christians grieve as those who have lost someone that they will never see again. Gone forever, they believe. Not so with us. We grieve not as those without hope, but as those with hope. We grieve knowing that we will join them again. We grieve knowing that their life has not ended, rather, their life – their real life – has just begun. It is we who are in a dream world. Hope does indeed change everything.

Gandalf told Pippin that their hope in Frodo was nothing more than a fool’s hope. Our hope in God and Christ is nothing like a fool’s hope. Our hope is real. It is palpable. It is a hope which lives because we have a living hope.

Paul takes his letter to the Ephesians and tells us many things about the church. He tells us many things about who we are. We are going to be looking at them all. We have considered two of them now. We who know Jesus as our Savior, who know the love of God, who have chosen to love God and surrender our lives to our Creator, we are blessed, and we are hopeful. Do not forget these things. This is who you are if you are in Christ, if you are a member of His body, if you are part of the church that is the Kingdom of God. You are blessed. You are hopeful. You have every reason to be these things. Don’t let yourself live otherwise, no matter what life may bring to you. Your blessings and your hope cannot be taken away or stolen from you. They are guaranteed.

Monte Vista Baptist Church, we are a blessed and hopeful people. Can you say that with me? We are a blessed and hopeful people! This is who we are. Let’s live that way!

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