J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

A Hope That Is Real

This is the time of year when people are waiting to get their tax refunds in the mail.  As you can imagine, there are certain businesses that really benefit from the refunds.   friend of mine in Garner who works at Lowe’s said that this is the time of year where people choose to do home improvements so they buy appliances and start projects like painting a room or putting in hardwood floors.  That makes sense.  Believe it or not, this is also the time of year according to one friend of mine in the area where people choose to trick out their cars and buy things like 28 inch spinner rims for the ’78 Buick Regal.

Whether or not you have home or hooptie improvements on your agenda, most people really look forward to receiving their tax check in their mail.  Oh, there is a little bit of grumbling about the government keeping your money, but I’ve never heard anyone complain so loudly that they returned the check in protest.

Right or wrong, the tax refund for some folks is a real source of hope.  Maybe the Christmas bills got out of hand, and the tax check is how you plan on paying off the credit card.  Maybe this month, you just don’t have the money to pay the bills at all, and you are desperately waiting for the check to arrive in the mail.  Maybe your microwave always burns the popcorn, I don’t know, but for lots of folks, the tax check is a source of hope.  Now, waiting on a check from the government is always going to be a temporary solution and a quickly fleeting hope.

But then again, most of the things that we put our hope in are temporary and fleeting.  Dr. John Townsend in his great book “Where is God?” defines hope this way:  the anticipation of a future good that we do not now experience.  He goes on to say, “With hope, we endure the now in anticipation of a better future.”  Essentially, hope enables us to press on.  But I know this is true, whatever it is that you are hoping for or hoping in, it better deliver because having hope in something that doesn’t deliver leads people to disillusionment, anger, and bitterness.

So, the question, right now is, what is it you are either hoping for or hoping in?  If it’s the lotto, you don’t have a lot to hope for.  If it is a better job, I’m still not quite sure have a lot of hope for.  If it is better health or more money or whatever, you are not actually hoping…you might just be dreaming.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hope for something that didn’t disappoint?  Well, that’s a great place to start with our sermon this week, so why don’t we ask Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  Aren’t you tired of looking for hope in places that disappoint you?

8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Last week, we briefly mentioned how Jesus’ becoming a servant enables you to serve others and accept them just as Jesus accepted them.  This is because of two truths.

  • Christ sympathizes with you in your weaknesses.  Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.
  • Jesus didn’t despise His children in their weakness but loved them, died for them, and rose again even while they were God’s enemies.  Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

But Christ’s becoming a servant has a much broader application than just your salvation.  We have a tendency to forget that sometimes.  We take a promise of God and minimalize it to such a point that we think that the only purpose of that promise is to satisfy us.  The promises of God are for you but Christ saved a church plural not just a person individual.  Whenever we focus solely on the personal blessings of Jesus’ work on our lives several things happen.

  • We lose compassion for those in need.
  • We judge those who have less than we do.
  • We are envious of those who have more.

Since Paul has spent the last chapter or so speaking about how you as a believer are to interact with other individual believers, it would make since then that he would draw our view back to give us a larger picture of Jesus’ redemptive work.  Yes, Jesus took on the form of a servant for your individual salvation, but he also did it in order to save a people.  Jesus’ service was specific to make a church out of two peoples.

Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people here described as the circumcised.  This was a common way of speaking of Israelites as circumcision was the entry point into the physical people of Israel underneath the Abrahamic covenant.  Jesus did this because God had promised to bring a Savior the descendants of Abraham and those who exercised faith in Jesus were evidence of God’s truthfulness and faithfulness to His promises.

How did Jesus become a servant to the circumcised?   His most obvious work was by being circumcised and placing Himself under the weight and expectation of the law.  By doing this, Jesus most assuredly obey the commands of God in place of His rebellious obstinate people.  Jesus served the Jewish people in taking on the form of a servant in the weakness of human flesh, overcoming the temptations of the flesh, living obedient, and of course dying on the cross.  Yet, Jesus also became a servant to the Gentiles.  He did this so the non-Jewish Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.

This is something that deserves extra attention from us as we don’t live in the tension filled era of Jew vs. Gentile.  Imagine for a moment living in a culture where one group of people feel as if they and only they were the only race who will be heard from by God.  Imagine living in a culture where one group of people constantly made you feel like that you were less than human, calling you a dog.  Imagine living in a culture where the idea of mercy from God was not only alien but there was also a constant sense that God was actively hostile to you just because you weren’t born Jewish.

Why are these things important?  Well, studying things like this is really what we need to avoid a myopic faith:  a larger perspective of what is doing.  Remember last week when we talked about how we sometimes ask God “why” questions like”

  • Why does the microwave break the same week the car insurance is due?
  • Why is my husband sick on the night that we want to get out on a date?

Sometime those questions become more directed to God’s motive, like

  • Are you punishing me for my impure thought life?
  • Are you punishing my children because of all the problems that my spouse and I are having?
  • Are you not answering my prayer because of some sin that I haven’t confessed or some sin that I am unwilling to stop doing?

Again, all of these are good questions as we process our lives before God as long as we process them in light of God’s grace and our repentance.  But sometimes the circumstances of our lives are brought about by the hand of God as part of His larger plan of the kingdom because God grants each and every believer the privilege of playing a part in the advancing of His Kingdom and His will.  Basically, God does as He wills because He wills because of His will for one main purpose:  His glory.  Yes He loves you and promises to be gracious to you, but God has one commitment higher that supersedes but is also consistent with His promises to love and be gracious to you and this is the pursuit of His own glory.

So there will be circumstances that seem not to make sense that we quite often arbitrarily apply meaning to that very well may be brought about because God wants to bring glory to Himself.  Typically our thinking goes like this:  Oh something good happened.  I must have been really good so God gave me good things.  Or Oh something bad happened.  I wonder what I did to make God angry?  This type of thinking reduces God to dog trainer who gives treats for good behavior and returns a newspaper to the nose for bad behavior.  But look at this passages’ emphasis.  God took the proclamation of the gospel beyond the Jewish people and extended it to the Gentiles.

We know this caused immense confusion when Jesus did it.  In John 10, He tells the Jewish people that He has sheep outside the fold of Israel and that His job is to take His ministry to them by laying down His life for them.  Jesus says the Father loves Him for this as He and the Father are one.  What did the Jewish people want to do?  Stone him.

Look what happened to Stephen when he preached in Acts 7.  He said that God had dwelled with the congregation in the wilderness.  Only a small amount of effort will show you that the word for congregation there is ecclesia which is church.  Stephen called the children of Israel wandering in the desert the church thus making them and the incoming Gentiles together one family.  So the people stoned Stephen.

The people wanted to stone Jesus and did stone Stephen because they could not see that God worked in ways beyond just their own vision and experience.  If you always view the circumstances of your world through the lens of God’s singular interaction with you, you will be helpless.  It is necessary to see that God is doing more things in this world than attending to you and your needs.  God is gracious to hear and meet your needs but Jesus became a servant to Jew and Gentile demonstrating to us that God works mightily in ways that we quite often cannot imagine.  If you live with this big picture view of God always working through you, in you, yet also through and among others, then you will gradually see your life transformed from despair to hope.  Now what we are going to see as we roll into these next few verses are 4 similarly themed quotations from some interesting places in the OT.  That results in the second half of verse 9

As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

Now this quotation comes from 2 Samuel and Psalm 18.  Do you know what is going on 2 Samuel?  2 Samuel is about the people of God making the transition from being led by God in a theocracy to being led by a king in a monarchy.  David sings this .  So much of that time was about the people focusing on what it meant to be the people of God in the promised land yet God was making promises at that point and time to bring in the Gentiles, to bring in the nations.

Now again, place yourself in David’s shoes.  He has just been coronated the King of God’s People.  He has survived multiple death attempts from King Saul, and in a human sense, he has everything that any person would ever want.  Israel has everything it could ever want.  It would seem that they are enjoying the fulfillment of every thing God ever promised the Israelites,  They are in the land, they are secure, they have a Godly king.

So what does David do?  He thanks God.  He celebrates.  He worships.  And then David starts prophesying about God’s name being proclaimed not only in Israel but to the pagan gentiles.  It seems that Israel is not going to keep everything to themselves.  It seems that there is more going on than just things for them.  God is showing them that their hope has got to be beyond just their own interests.

God begins by telling us to do the same thing in verse 10.

10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

This is a quote from Deuteronomy 32 and it was proclaimed around the time of the people’s succession from Moses to Joshua.  Again, the people have everything they have ever wanted.  They have been wandering around the wilderness for a generation because of their idolatry and Moses has led them up to the Promised Land.  Moses is proclaiming the glory of God to them as they enter into the promises of God.  And then Moses drops “Hey all you pagans.  Rejoice with the people of Israel.”

I’m sure there were a few folks that were scratching their heads.  I’m sure they were wondering what in the world the Gentiles had to do with the Promised Land.  The answer?  Don’t put your hope in the things of this earth.  Place your hope in God who has a much larger plan for your life than your singular blessings.  There are singular blessings no doubt, but God is always at work for higher and more grander purposes than we can ever conceive.

11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

This comes from Psalm 117:1.  This verse constitutes half of the entire chapter of 2 verses.  It was a Psalm written to the Jewish people but it highlighted the taking of the glory of God to the nations.  Again, God is saying, “There is more going on than just God’s work with the Jewish people.  And finally, verse 12…

12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

This is one of the more famous verses pertaining to the birth of Jesus.  Isaiah prophesizes that the Savior will be a descendant of Jesse and when He arrives, He will not only be a Savior to the Jewish but also to the Gentiles.  In fact, the Gentiles will have the same hope in Him that the Israelites have.  Take that in for a moment.  Every Jewish person was raised with the hope that one day a Savior would come.    He would bring in every hope and promise given to Abraham.  Restoration of the Kingdom  The overcoming of sin and death.  In addition, many Israelites felt that the coming Savior would mean the overturning of the enemies of God .  In the mind of most, that meant that God would cast out the Gentiles and forevermore protect the Israelites from the pagans.

Yet, the promise of Isaiah was that the Savior would come just as God promised way back at the onset of sin in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus was going to restore the Kingdom of God – partially here on earth and ultimately in Heaven.  Jesus was going to overcome sin and death and He did by His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus was going to overturn the enemies of God.  Jesus did that overcoming the twin enemies of Satan and death.  But destroying other races was not part of the Savior’s plan.  In fact, the Savior’s plan was much bigger than any one could have conceived when Isaiah made this prophecy, and God’s plan was much bigger than any one could have expected when Jesus began His ministry.

And I cannot emphasize this enough to you:  God’s plan is much bigger than what you can and I can conceive at any moment and time.  We may not understand it.  We may not even like it.  But God promises to be at work in the lives of His children.

Right now, each and every one of you has a circumstance in your life that puzzles you, confuses you, or you just flat out wish would go away:  your health, your job, your marriage, your friendships, your kids.  Within each and every one of those and among a host of other issues I didn’t mention, there are things going on that don’t make sense to you or are flat out unbearable.

In addition, each and every one of you has a circumstance, hopefully more than one, that brings you great joy.  It could be the same list.  You might take great joy in:  your health, your job, your marriage, your friendships, your kids.  Here is the thing.  Our sovereign God has place both good and bad, joyful and challenging circumstances in your life for various reasons but there is one higher over-arching reason that we often forget.  God has placed both good and bad circumstances in your life so that He might receive glory.  God may have other purposes but none higher than the purpose of bringing glory to Himself.  The challenge for you in your circumstances, whether they be perceived as good or bad, is to do several things.

  • First, give thanks during all types of circumstances because God will ultimately receive glory in what you are going through.  You may not see it, and you may think it will never come about, but God will receive glory for your circumstance and our proper response is to give God thanks for being used as an instrument of His glory.
  • Then, pray and ask God how your particular circumstance can be used for greater purposes than just your own comfort and ease.  Ask God to use whatever it is, found money, new job, loss of job, good marriage, bad marriage, successful kids, struggling kids, whatever, ask God what kingdom purposes those things might have and then sit back in faith and watch God do amazing things.

Then, if that is your goal, purpose and aim, you will find real joy and hope the likes of which you have never experienced before.  It will not be necessary for life to be all cheery and roses for you be happy.  Taking that in, understanding that God is at work in larger purposes than we often are aware of, Paul prays verse 13 for the Romans and for you.

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.

The God of hope fills those who believe, those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ, with all joy and peace so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you can live and about in hope.  You see, each and ever blessing here, joy, peace, belief, power, and hope come from God Himself.  He does ordain difficult, challenging, and even hurtful circumstances in your life.  They are always for your good despite the fact that you can’t always see that.  But God is not cruel and torturous.  He also ordains joy, peace, faith, power and hope for you in the midst of each and everyone of your circumstances.  Keep that in mind today and this week as you enjoy both the sun and the rain, the pleasant and the sad, the healthy and the sick.  Keep in mind that God always has higher purposes than we can see.  Keep in mind that as you have faith in Jesus Christ, you are being used as an instrument of the Kingdom of God and any thing you might need to live in joy or sadness, God has provided for you.



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March 23, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Gordon – This message has totally rocked our lives! It was so challenging to hear and then discuss with eachother how it spoke to both of us individually and as a couple (Michael and me). It was filled with truth and has brought us (real) hope! To GOD be the glory – in every circumstance!

    Comment by Joyce | March 23, 2010 | Reply


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