Hope

Scripture: Mark 8:31-33 & 10:46-52

Title: Hope

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Bartimaeus’ hope – Mark 10:46-52
  • Peter’s hope – Mark 8:31-33
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Earlier in the year I preached a message on well-being and care of the soul, using the acronym: HEALING.

–         Each letter represents a word which, when properly applied, is life giving to the human soul…

–         Hope Energy Appreciation Lament Inter-dependence Nurture & Giving

–         At the time I touched lightly on each word and said I would come back later to explore the ideas in more depth

–         Now that we have finished our series on Abraham we can do this

–         Today our message focuses on hope

Hope is a very popular (in) word at the moment

–         It is rightly thought to be one of the life lines for those who experience depression – we see images on TV of John Kirwan writing the word ‘hope’ in the sand on the beach

But what is hope – what does it mean?

–         Well, to hope is to want something to happen

–         Hope, therefore, is a desire or a longing that is yet to be realised

–         Hope imagines something good and believes it can happen

–         We express our hope to God in prayer

–         In the Lord’s Prayer, for example, we say to God, ‘Your will be done, your kingdom come’ – which expresses our desire, our hope for heaven on earth

–         Prayer is important because it fosters hope

–         Hope requires some measure of faith or trust as we wait for our longings and expectations to be fulfilled

 

Developing our definition further, we could say hope is the capacity or ability to handle opposition, perspective and expectation (another acronym)

–         To help us understand this dynamic of handling opposition perspective and expectation let’s read a gospel story of hope realised, from Mark 10…

 

Bartimaeus’ Hope – Mark 10:46-52

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more,

“Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

Handling hope is a bit like flying a kite – you need three things…

–         A sail to catch the wind

–         A string to hold onto the kite

–         And wind to lift the kite up

 

Perspective is like the sail of the kite

–         Our perspective needs to be set at just the right angle to catch the wind and it needs a tail to keep it balanced

 

The string represents expectation – we control the kite of hope by managing our expectations

–         If we don’t have enough string (or expectation) our hope never climbs very high

–         But if we let our expectations get out of hand we risk losing hope altogether

 

The wind represents some difficulty or challenge or opposition

–         A kite rises against the wind, not with it

–         Without an opposing wind, hope doesn’t rise

 

Bartimaeus faced some winds of difficulty and opposition in his life

–         For starters he was blind, a significant obstacle in that context

–         He also faced the difficulty of living under enemy occupation

–         And, when he called out for Jesus to have mercy on him, Bartimaeus faced opposition from the crowd who tried to silence him

 

But Bartimaeus wouldn’t be silenced – he maintained the sail of his perspective that Jesus is the Son of David and the kite of his hope rose

–         That expression Son of David is code for ‘Messiah’

–         From Bartimaeus’ perspective Jesus was the true King of Israel, not Caesar

–         In naming Jesus as the Messiah, Bartimaeus was giving voice to the hopes and expectations of many of the people in the crowd

–         Perhaps the ones trying to silence him were afraid he might start a riot

 

Hope is good for the soul in that it generates its own positive energy

–         We call that energy joy

–         It’s the joy of expectation – of anticipating something good coming our way – of looking forward to our desire being realised

–         The joy or positive energy of hope is powerful – it can’t really be contained

–         That’s why hope is so important in helping to combat depression

–         Bartimaeus’ joy at hearing that Jesus was passing by only heightened his expectation of salvation, causing him to hold more tightly to the string of hope by continuing to call out for mercy

 

Okay, if hope is the expectation of something we want to happen then it logically follows that the opposite of hope is the expectation of what we don’t want to happen

–         The feeling that comes with the expectation of something bad happening can be described in a number of ways including, fear, worry or anxiety

–         Hope and anxiety are often in a wrestling match within us

–         For Bartimaeus, hope in Jesus overcame fear of the crowd and the Romans

–         But it’s not always like that for us, is it

–         We don’t want to worry, we don’t want to be anxious for anything, but sometimes (or perhaps a lot of the time) we can’t help it

–         Anxiety can be a brutal master – but Jesus is Lord, not anxiety

 

In Matthew 6 Jesus says to those who are anxious…

–         Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

–         Jesus then goes on to talk about how God clothes the lilies of the field

–         Jesus is saying here that we can find release from our anxiety when we change our perspective – when we take the focus off ourselves and our problems by looking outward to nature and to God

 

‘Look at the birds… look at the lilies of the field’ – in other words: spend time in nature, observe God’s creation, it will renew your mind

–         Being in the bush or by the sea or up a mountain grounds us – it puts us in touch with what is real and it gives our mind a break from our fears

 

But to get the most out being in nature we need to look for the ways that God is active and present in caring for his creation

–         We need to think about God as a good and loving Father who values us and wants to give us good things

–         One of the reasons we sing songs of adoration & praise to God is to restore our perspective – to remind ourselves that it doesn’t all depend on me

–         To be filled again with a sense of wonder at the largeness of God and consequently the smallness of our problems

 

Now for those of you who are struggling with significant levels of anxiety these measures (of spending time in creation and contemplating God’s care) are likely to be helpful but may not be the whole answer – there are other things that can help with anxiety as well, and we’ll touch on some of these in the coming weeks

–         Two things I’ve learned from my own experience

–         Most of my fears are never realised – most of the things I get anxious about never actually happen

–         But when bad things do happen I always seem to survive and somehow God uses that experience for good – he redeems it

–         So hold on, with God’s help you will get through this

 

Peter’s Hope – Mark 8:31-33

So far we have talked about the positive aspects of hope, but it needs to be said that hope is not always a good thing

–         If hope is about desire & expectation and we place our hope in something that is ultimately not good for us, nor good for others, then it can be destructive to the human soul

At least three times in the gospels Jesus tells his disciples how he must suffer & die before being raised from the dead

–         One of the reasons Jesus did this (I imagine) was to balance the disciples’ perspective and help them to manage their expectations

From Mark chapter 8 we read…

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Clearly Peter’s hopes and expectations for Jesus were quite different from what God had in mind

–         Perhaps Peter was wanting Jesus to be a military & political leader like David or Solomon – perhaps he was expecting Jesus to destroy the Romans

–         Certainly he wasn’t expecting Jesus to suffer & die

 

We might hear that line about Jesus referring to Peter as ‘Satan’ and feel a bit chilly, a bit uncomfortable – ouch that must of hurt Peter

–         But, if hoping amounts to coveting what others have, then it is not good for our soul and we can’t expect Jesus to bless it

–         Or, if hope amounts to wanting revenge or political advantage, then hope has become hate and we can’t expect Jesus to help us realise our desires

–         Hope can be detrimental to the soul when it is misplaced or disappointed and so we need to be careful what we hope for

–         It was kinder for Jesus to adjust Peter’s expectations, by speaking the difficult truth, than for Peter to go too far down the path of misplaced hope

 

If we widen our perspective on these verses we find an application for ourselves

–         Mark 8:31-33 provides a key for helping us to handle opposition, perspective and expectation

–         Jesus is saying here, following me is not an easy ride

–         You can expect some opposition & difficulty in this life

–         For Jesus opposition came in the form of rejection, betrayal & crucifixion

–         We probably won’t suffer as much as Jesus did, but, because of our association with Jesus, we can’t expect everyone to love us or accept us

–         There will be times when we face the dark night of the soul – when everything seems bleak and we feel like God is absent

–         The bigger perspective to hold on to is that our suffering is only temporary but the glory of heaven is forever

–         This life is just a drop in the ocean of eternity

–         Through Jesus the grief of death is followed by the joy of resurrection

–         As Laurie Guy says, “Human hope is based on divine suffering” [1]

 

In talking about hope we must acknowledge despair

–         Despair isn’t so much the opposite of hope

–         Despair is the utter loss of hope.

–         To despair is to lose the ability to believe that what we want could ever happen – despair is the death of desire and consequently the death of joy

–         To despair is to feel powerless – it is to think that nothing we do will make any difference

 

Despair is a terrible place to be – and when we are in despair we think it will never end, but it does end (nothing lasts)

–         It’s like the clouds of depression hang low & thick so we can’t see the sun’s rays of hope and everything is grey & gloomy

–         But just because you can’t see the sun behind the clouds doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there

–         Hold on – the clouds will pass and the sun will become visible again

 

In the same way that not all hope is good, so too not all despair is bad

–         Despair is a good thing if what we hope for is a bad thing

 

If you are in a place of despair at the moment then know that God is able to redeem the experience and use it for good

–         Despair has a way of purifying our desires

–         Despair can kill off those desires which are not Godly or life-giving, to make room for the new growth of desires that are good for our soul

–         As painful as it is there is a certain clarity that comes with despair

–         Bartimaeus saw Jesus with a clarity that others with sight didn’t have

–         I imagine despair had killed off Bartimaeus’ desire for more worldly pursuits and refined his hope in the Lord – in God’s Messiah

–         I expect that Bartimaeus wanted Jesus to restore his sight not just for the obvious reasons but more importantly so he could see Jesus for himself

 

Let me tell you a story about a young man named Jethro

–         Jethro grew up in a fairly well to do family

–         As a child Jethro didn’t really know what hope was because all his desires were taken care of – he didn’t really want for anything

–         He was, as Pink Floyd would say, ‘comfortably numb’

But all was not as it seemed on the surface

–         Jethro’s dad worked in finance and when the market crashed he wasn’t able to keep his family in the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed

–         Jethro’s dad started drinking too much – well, he had actually always drunk too much but now it was more noticeable

–         Not only that but he started gambling to try and recoup what the economic recession had consumed

–         The TAB and the pokies seemed to offer hope of redemption

–         Unfortunately, not everyone is a winner babe, and the boat, the bach, the car and eventually even the family home were sold to repay gambling debts

–         Jethro’s dad had misplaced his hope

By this stage Jethro was no longer numb – he had started to gamble with hope himself, although not in exactly the same way as his father

–         Jethro’s longing, his greatest desire, was to make his dad proud of him

–         And to this end he found himself half way through a finance degree

–         Now let me say, there is nothing wrong with doing a finance degree or working in the stock market, if that is what your passion and calling is

–         We need Christian businesspeople

–         But finance wasn’t really Jethro’s passion or calling – he was just doing it in the vain hope of winning his father’s approval

–         Sadly, it didn’t matter how many A’s Jethro got, his father kept on a downward spiral and the approval he craved from his dad never came

–         Jethro’s hope just kept being disappointed

To avoid too much student debt Jethro lived at home while studying at university and as a consequence he got to witness most of his parents’ arguments

–         In the end, when his mother had had enough, she threw his father out

–         It was a survival thing more than anything – she had to do it to save herself. No sense in being dragged down further by her husband’s problems

Jethro remembers watching his dad walk away and realising in that moment that he was never going to win his father’s approval

–         The hope that had once motivated him to succeed in business school was lost – it just emptied out of him like diarrhoea

–         For the first time in his life Jethro felt despair – the death of desire

–         There didn’t seem like much point in finishing his degree after that

The next year was extremely difficult for Jethro – he felt lost, abandoned and sad

–         Nothing gave him pleasure anymore

–         Depression is a vicious cycle – when we are in pain we tend to withdraw from people because there is too much risk in getting close – it hurts to be touched – but the more we withdraw the more isolated & lonely we feel

–         And loneliness feeds depression

–         Jethro would have self-medicated with alcohol except there was a deep anger in him that refused to be like his father

At the time Jethro thought the pain he felt would never end – but it did

–         Not overnight or all at once, but gradually, like ice thawing

Looking back Jethro could see that losing hope had purged him of his demons – despair had changed his perspective and given him clarity

–         It became clear to Jethro that putting his hope in things like making lots of money or gaining his father’s approval was wasted

Unexpectedly Jethro’s despair drew him closer to God (his heavenly Father) – the suffering of Jesus helped him to make sense of his own suffering & loss

–         Or to put it another way, suffering opened Jethro’s eyes to see who Jesus really is

New shoots of hope sprang forth

–         Jethro started to reconnect with people and he retrained as a teacher – now he finds meaning in helping others to develop their potential

–         He still has the odd dark day now and then but they are few and far between

–         For the most part Jethro is able to enjoy life again

As it turned out, Jethro’s dad came right too

–         He didn’t get back together with his wife, but he did give up the drinking and the gambling and made his peace with the family

 

Conclusion:

Each of us has a slightly different experience of hope and despair – maybe your experience is similar to Jethro’s, maybe it’s different

–         The point is, we need to place our hope in that which is worthy of us and Jesus is worthy – hope in Jesus is hope well placed.

–         Jesus doesn’t promise to give us everything we want or expect – sometimes he makes us wait – but ultimately, in him, we find abundant life

 

Let me finish with some words of hope from the book of Revelation

–         To those early Christians who faced much opposition from the Roman Empire, the apostle John gives an eternal perspective…

–         He who sits on the throne will protect them with his presence. Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them, because the Lamb, who is in the centre of the throne, will be their shepherd and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

 

Questions for Discussion or Reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading these Scriptures and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What is hope?

3.)    In what sense is opposition or difficulty necessary for hope?

–         Can you think of other Bible verses (or stories) that show a connection between opposition/difficulty and hope? (E.g. Romans 5:1-11)

–         When has hope been most real in your own life?

4.)    What can we do to combat anxiety?

5.)    When is hope good for us?

–         When is hope bad or dangerous?

6.)    What did Jesus say to manage people’s expectations or adjust their perspective when they had misplaced hopes? (E.g. Mark 8:31-33; Matthew 5:11-12, etc.)

7.)    How might we be helpful to someone who is in despair?

–         Or, reflecting on your own experience of despair, what was most helpful to you?

8.)    Take some time this week to simply be in nature and meditate on God’s love, care & provision for you and/or those close to you.

 

[1] Laurie Guy, ‘Unlocking Revelation’, page 64.

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