Rescued From HopelessnessErwin W. Lutzer | November 20, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus came to deliver us from hopelessness. Believers have been given many blessings that are wrapped up in Christ. Among these blessings is hope—a hope that the darkness will someday come to an end because Jesus has already triumphed over the darkness.
But hope begins when you’ve made peace with God, and until you’ve dealt with that issue, until you’ve humbled yourself and trusted Christ as your Savior, your hope will be futile.
In their book titled Hope in an Age of Anxiety, the authors contend that there are nine different kinds of hopelessness. In most instances what this really means is that people feel alienated. They feel doomed and there seems to be no way out.
A number of years ago, a good pastor friend of mine tried to commit suicide. Fortunately, before he died it was discovered and he was taken to the hospital and his life was spared. The day after I visited him in the hospital and while I was there, his little daughter came through the door with her mother. “Daddy, Daddy, are you sick? I hope you’re going to be better, Daddy.” I thought, “Oh, thank God that he was not successful or that little girl would not have a daddy, which reminds me of the fact that suicide oftentimes is very selfish, even if you think you’ll be right on the other side. And I need to warn you that things might not go as well as you think, as Hamlet experienced. The fact is, you leave behind a devastated family with all kinds of unanswered questions, but it was a couple of weeks after that that the pastor and I had a long talk, and he said to me, “You have no idea what it is like to be in a depression that is so dark and so hopeless. It is like a tunnel, and you believe that there is no light at all at the end of that tunnel, and because of hopelessness you want to end it all.”
I’m not sure that I have the answer to all of the different forms of depression, because I know that there are many different causes, but I have no doubt that Jesus came to deliver us from hopelessness, and today if you are here and you feel hopeless, you have tuned in to the right channel. You are in the right church at the right time listening to the right message.
The Russians love to give people gifts and when Rebecca and I were in Russia, one of the gifts they gave us was an egg. It was actually a plastic egg, but it was very beautifully painted, and then when you looked at, it you noticed that it had a rim, and so you take it apart and much to your surprise there was an egg within an egg, and you think, “Well, this is rather remarkable,” and then you take and you open up that second egg and you discover that there’s an egg within it, and on and on it goes till about seven or eight different eggs were all involved in that one egg that you put on a shelf.
When you receive Jesus as your Savior, you receive Christ, but what you don’t realize is that with him you’ve got all kinds of gifts that are wrapped up in Jesus. The Bible says that he who spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Wrapped up in Jesus are marvelous, marvelous gifts, and what we’d like to do today is to look at some of them.
A few years ago I was going to preach a series of messages just on all the blessings that you get when you get Jesus. Maybe if I am here long enough I’ll actually get around to preaching it. Isn’t it amazing that after all these years I’ve still not run out of anything to preach? There’s more in God’s Word. (applause)
Now sometimes I preach messages to convict us and to rebuke us. Sometimes I preach messages in order to challenge us, and sometimes I preach messages in order to instruct us. The message today has one central theme and this message is being preached to simply bless you, to just bless you, to have you so blessed that you can hardly wait to get out of here and tell somebody how wonderful Jesus is. I want to bless you today, and in order to bless you I hope that you are relaxed. I hope that you are listening. I hope that you put away your cell phones and your emails and all the other things that you can now bring to services like this, and that you’ll just simply give God your undivided attention. Of course, needless to say, I’m not God, but we are going to look at His Word, and He is going to speak to us. And I want you to be open to what He has to say, and just let Him bless you.
The passage is Romans 5, and you’ll notice that it begins with the word therefore. “Therefore, being justified by faith.” You’ve heard it a dozen times. Whenever in the Scripture you come to the word therefore, you should pause and ask yourself what it’s there for. And the reason it is there is it connects with the previous sections of Romans, and I preached about three messages or so on justification by faith alone as expounded in these chapters because the summary of chapters 1 to 4 is this, that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight. We are justified by faith as a gift that comes to us in Jesus. So that’s what the therefore is there for. “Therefore being justified by faith,” and now we’re just going to list some of the blessings. We can’t cover them all, but the ones that are here in the text that are immediately evident are going to give you hope and courage and deliver you from hopelessness.
The first one is this: We have peace with God. The war is over with God. Now there is such a thing as political peace, and we know that that doesn’t go in a good direction. Someone said that it is easier to make war than it is to make peace, and that certainly is true in this life. But Paul is talking about personal peace. He’s talking about the fact that God, who had His back toward us because we were sinners, and was fighting against us, and we were God’s enemies, God now has His arms stretched toward us and says, “From my standpoint I am at peace with you because I have made peace with you.” Now hear me carefully. It’s possible to have peace with God and not experience the peace of God, because the peace of God is that tranquil sense of faith that you and I ought to have in the midst of circumstances, as we shall see in a moment. And this peace with God is not something that you work toward. It’s not something that you earn. It’s not something that you get better at. It is a fact that you are at peace with God. You may feel as if you are at war with Him, but you are at peace with God if you have believed on Jesus and have been justified by faith.
And you also have to listen carefully now, and I don’t want you to get lost on this one. It is possible for some people to have peace independently of God and Jesus, maybe through transcendental meditation or some other means. Maybe because of medicine or drugs, they can be at peace, but don’t let that deceive you. That does not necessarily mean that you have peace with God. Let me give you an example. Let us suppose that you committed a great crime and then you fled the United States of America, and to choose a country, let us suppose that you fled to Switzerland. There in Switzerland you might be at peace. You look at the beautiful mountains and they might inspire you and you might meditate on them, and you might be at peace, but the moment you come back to the United States the Feds are going to be waiting for you. They’ll get your name on the plane and then they’ll be there at the gate waiting, and they’ll say, “Just because you have had peace there, there are issues here,” and listen carefully. If you find peace independently of Jesus, when you die you are going to be in God’s presence and God is going to say to you, “You and I have some issues that we need to deal with and I am not at peace with you at all.”
So don’t be deceived. But there is such a thing as those who have the peace with God experience, the peace of God. In fact, it says, “Let the peace of God rule in your heart.” Let the peace of God rule. Some of you are not allowing that peace to rule in your hearts. You are allowing anxiety; you are allowing fear to rule, but you are at peace with God, and now because you are, you are to allow it to rule and be the umpire of your heart. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and your mind.” God says, “I make peace with you. If you don’t experience my peace, the peace of God, the responsibility rests with you.” One gift that God has given us in Jesus is we are at peace with God.
Let’s go on to a second blessing, and this is huge. You’ll notice in the text it says in verse 2, “Through him we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We have access to God. Understand how revolutionary this is. In Old Testament times people didn’t have access to God. They got used to distance from God, not just at Mount Sinai where God said, “Stay back or you’ll be incinerated.” Not just there, but when the Temple was built, you may know that it had various walls and various courtyards. In the outer courtyard that was the courtyard of the Gentiles, and Gentiles weren’t to go beyond that and if they would, they were to be killed because they couldn’t get any closer to God. Wow!
And then beyond that there was another court. It was the court of the women. Women and men would be able to come a little further if they were Jewish and so forth, and then the women would have to stay back because there was another wall and that led to where the priests could go. So the priests could offer sacrifices. They could go into the holy place where there was, you remember, a table of shewbread and a candle and so forth, and they could look after all of those things there. The priests were allowed to.
But then there was another part of the temple, which was about 15 feet as a cube and it is there that God dwelt because even those who did all these priestly duties were still separate from the presence of God, and in that place-the Holy of Holies–the very holy place, only the high priest could go once a year on the Day of Atonement, and according to Josephus they actually put a chain around his leg so that if he did something wrong and was struck down by God they’d be able to pull him out without going in the chamber themselves because between the holy place and the Holy of Holies there was a marvelously constructed curtain that was several inches thick and nobody went behind that curtain unless he was the High Priest, and he did it only on the Day of Atonement. But everybody got used to just staying back–staying away. God is holy! Don’t get near.
Now think about this. What happened when Jesus died on the cross? The Bible says that when He said, “It is finished,” the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom by an invisible hand. It was the hand of God. And God said, “Now if you believe in Christ you have access, you are brought near by the blood of Christ, you are in the very presence of God. Don’t stand back but come close. Come into my presence. And it says in Hebrews 10:19 that we have confidence to enter into the most holy place by the blood of Jesus and we come with confidence because of what Jesus has done. And you and I have access today into the presence of God. It’s as if Jesus delivered us to the Father and said, “Now that you are there, stay there.” All of life can be lived in the Holy of Holies today in the very presence of God because it is Jesus who gives us that right and that authority to come directly to the Father.
And if I might throw this in, that’s one of the reasons that we as Protestants do not pray to Mary or pray to saints–because we believe that when we come through the blood of Jesus we have access to the Father directly into God’s presence that was provided for us by Jesus. Personally I think I’d be a little insulted if my children had to go to other children and ask them to intercede on their behalf. If I am their father, come directly. And that’s why in the New Testament you have all of the invitations to come directly to the Father. You come through Jesus, to be sure, who Himself is God, but we come directly, and we’re thankful for others who pray for us, but we recognize that you and I, all as priests before God, come into God’s presence. We have access before the Father. That’s a second blessing that just comes wrapped up when you get Jesus.
There’s a third blessing and this is a little bit more difficult. And some people may wonder whether or not it is a blessing, but I’m going to just read the text, and that is, “We rejoice in suffering.” Now this is in verse 3. You’ll notice it says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings.” How can we do that? That is so counterintuitive. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” There’s hope.
You see, what we believe is that in the midst of pain and disappointment God is there. Now, hear me carefully. I don’t think that the Apostle Paul is saying that joy should take the place of pain, and by the way, there are two different kinds of pain. There is physical pain, and then there is something even worse than that, and that is emotional pain because of rejection, because of disappointment. Recently Rebecca and I were speaking to a rather well-known woman who has such disappointment with her son. She thought he was going to go into the ministry and then he’s actually ending his second marriage. There’s so much pain and so much disappointment.
And then there’s the pain of loss. Someone whom you loved is gone and you know that you’ll never be reunited in this life. Paul is not saying, “Now joy should actually replace all of your sorrow.” No, no, what he’s saying is that we can rejoice along with our sorrows. It is not contradictory to say that you are going through a time of pain and disappointment, and yet at the same time rejoice in your sufferings. Why? Because we believe that God is using the suffering. It is not superfluous. You’ll notice that it says that suffering produces endurance. God loves endurance and character–proven character. There’s the old story, you know, of gold when it is melted to get the impurities out. It has to be so melted in a very hot furnace. God says, “When you go into the kiln, when you go into the furnace, I keep my hand on the thermostat.”
Hear me today when I tell you this. God would have never allowed you to go through what you are going through today unless He intended it to help you and to refine you. It has a purpose. This is a longer study, but if you only see the devil in your circumstances, if you only see the devil in the terrible things that you are going through, you will always be defeated. You’ll always be chafing and agonizing and obsessing, and you will never be able to just pause and say thank you to God because you believe that God is there. Maybe the devil is working, but so is God, and guess who is stronger? So the devil is working but God is also, and right in the midst of that, if you give thanks to God, you will be able to rejoice in your suffering. God is up to something much bigger than the pain that you are experiencing.
So Paul says we can rejoice in suffering, and that obviously also is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is a gift. He’s mentioned in this passage, and I don’t have time this morning to expound on that particular gift. This is a longer subject.
About twenty years ago I preached a series of messages here at The Moody Church on the Holy Spirit, and I was just thinking to myself that I think it’s time that I preached another series on the Holy Spirit because He is often the forgotten one of the Trinity, and it says here that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
So the third gift that I am emphasizing here is the ability to have joy in the midst of our suffering, and that joy can only come through faith, through trust-through thanksgiving.
Well there’s another blessing we have time for, and that is hope. You’ll notice, in fact, that it is our trials that lead to endurance, character, and then hope. And of course it’s been said a thousand times, but I need to say it again. It is not hope the way in which we use the word today.
For example, I can imagine someone saying, “I hope that the Cubs will win the World Series next year.” Now you can say that and you can hope that, and you’ll discover that tens of thousands of people have been hoping that for a long time. You know, if you are new to Chicago you should know that we can actually buy a Cubs t-shirt that says, “Anyone can have a bad century.” (laughter)
Paul is not talking about that kind of hope. Paul is talking about an earnest expectation, absolutely convinced that Jesus will triumph, that these things too shall pass, that darkness someday shall come to an end, and that victory has been won by Jesus and will be applied and the hope and the sure knowledge that the suffering of this present world is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. That is the hope. And I give you hope today.
If you have never trusted Christ as Savior I am glad that you are listening to this message. It will help you to understand all of the blessings that come along with Jesus, and one of the most encouraging is the gift of hope, the certain conviction, the confident expectation that in the end, Jesus wins and you win too, because He wins.
Now there’s another gift, and I’d like to transition here in this passage to what it cost God. The gifts are free in Jesus, you must understand. He who spared not his own son, as I quoted earlier, with him freely he gives all things. I’ve listed three or four, but it’s all based on the sacrifice of Christ and the love of God. So it cost God. The gifts are free to us, but it cost God plenty. It cost God His Son.
Now notice Jesus died, and now we’re in verse 6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Now there are three categories of people for whom Jesus died, and if you don’t fit into any of these categories then I’m really sorry, because you’ll never take advantage of what Jesus did for you. So I’m going to give you these categories based on the text. Your Bibles are open. You can see it there–what the categories are for whom Jesus died, and here they are.
First of all, while we were still weak, powerless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Do you feel powerless morally? Do you feel powerless because you know you don’t have the ability to save yourself, that self-salvation can’t work for you? Do you understand that? That’s necessary to grasp.
And then you’ll notice it says in verse 8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners (there’s another category). Those who are weak, and of course sinners are the same people, but he’s describing them differently. So He died for us as weak. He died for us as sinners. And then it says in verse 10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son.” Wow! He also died for us as enemies, as hostile-as weak, as sinners, and as being hostile. Jesus died on the cross while we were still enemies with God. When He died on the cross, you hadn’t even been born yet, obviously, and you and I are basically born as enemies of God, and we shall see this in the next message. And while we were weak, and while we were in our sins, and while we were enemies with God in ways that we didn’t understand, even then Jesus died for us. No wonder Paul says (in verse 8) that God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners.
Now I’m going to say something to you in the next few moments that will be revolutionary and will change your heart if you are open to receive it.
When the Bible says that God loves us, what does He actually mean? Dr. Don Carson of Trinity Seminary has written an interesting little book on the love of God, which is really quite a challenge in Scripture because God loves in different ways, but he says this: “Picture Charles and Susan walking down a beach hand-in-hand. They’ve kicked off their shoes and the wet sand squishes between their toes. Charles turns to Susan, gazes deeply into her large hazel eyes and says, ‘Susan, I love you. I really do.’ What does he mean? If we assume he has some decency and Christian virtue, the least he means is something like this. ‘Susan, you mean everything to me. I can’t live without you. Your smile paralyzes me from fifty yards. Your sparkling good humor, your beautiful eyes, the scent of your hair, everything about you transfixes me. I love you.’ What he most certainly (Carson continues) does not mean is, ‘Susan, in spite of the fact that your nose is so large it belongs in the cartoons, your hair is so greasy it could lubricate an eighteen-wheeler, your knees are so boney a camel looks elegant, your personality makes Attila the Hun look sweet, I love you.’” Now Carson asks the question, “When God loves us, what is that like? What does he mean? Does he mean something like, ‘You mean everything to me. I can’t live without you. Your personality, your witty conversation, your beauty, your smile, everything about you transfixes me and I love you.’ Is that what God means? Of course not! When he loves us, does not God rather mean something like this? ‘Listen! Morally speaking you’ve got a huge nose and greasy hair. Your disjointed knees and terribly selfish personality, and your sinfulness, make you disgustingly ugly to me, but I love you, not because you are attractive but because I have chosen to love you.’”
I want all of you to hear me now. This is revolutionary. Do you know why you and I find it so hard to believe that God loves us as much as He loves Jesus, which is what the Bible says? After all, God would not have given his Son if he loved his Son more than He loved us. He would have said, “I love My Son too much to redeem you,” but it says in John 17 that the Father loves us as He loves Jesus. Do you know why you and I can’t accept it? It’s because deeply ingrained within us, and I struggle with this very much, is this idea that we have to earn God’s love and that somehow we have to make ourselves worthy of it. So at the end of the day you and I don’t really believe that God loves us.
Let me tell you something. If you and I believed that God really loved us, we’d all be free of jealousy. We wouldn’t have to be jealous of anyone else. We wouldn’t have to compete. We’d be totally content with the way in which God made us. We would be happy just to be loved by Him, and we would let Him love us without all the pressure of performance. We would just bask in God’s love and say, “Here I am with all of my warts and sins and good intentions, which I never fulfill, all of my broken dreams, all of what I am, but there You are because I have received Christ as Savior. You love me as if I am Him, and I am just going to rejoice in that. We would be content. No more striving, no more struggling, no more obsessing! We’d say, “You know, I belong to God and He loves me and that’ll carry me through from here all the way to heaven. I can make it.” Right? Can we make it because He loves us that much? (applause)
And so God loves us. What’s the bottom line here regarding hopelessness? First of all, hope, which overcomes hopelessness, begins by having peace with God–right there in verse 1. That’s the beginning of hope. And I say to all of you today that until you deal with that issue, your hope is futile. It’s a bad hope. It’s a hope that will get you nowhere.
During the days of David Livingston, the great missionary in South Africa, there were some Zulu tribes that were at war with one another, and one of the chiefs of one of the tribes said to David Livingston, “We were at war and this tribe came and plundered us and took my son with them. How can I have peace with them when they treated my son in this way?” What the Bible says is this: Until you deal with God’s Son, you can’t have peace with God. You have to deal with His Son. You have to deal with the fact that Jesus died for sinners. You need to receive Him. “Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the beginning point. Now, at last, having dealt with God’s Son and no longer being at war with Him, God says, “I am no longer at war with you because, you are My child.” That’s the beginning point in hope because what that means is that no matter how bad things get, your relationship with the Father is always intact, always dependable.
So that’s the first lesson regarding hope. There’s a second too. And that is hope continues not by looking at our emotions, which are so flexible and tell us so many different lies. Our emotions lie to us all the time. Hope rather looks beyond ourselves to those truths in which we are secure. To those of you today going through that dark tunnel of hopelessness, if you are a Christian, remember this: You are as loved in the darkness as you are in the light. You are loved and you are cared for, and in the end it will be okay. You don’t need to end it or try to end it because you know that this too shall pass. Your emotions are lying to you when you think that God doesn’t love you and things are hopeless. So what you need to do is to dip into the deep reservoir of Scripture and read and meditate on all that God has revealed. I encourage you to use the Psalms. During a particularly difficult period in my life I tried to read through the Psalms at least once a month by reading several of them a day. I had a schedule. Notice this:
“I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog.” I memorized it in the King James Version and it said the miry clay, but this is good. Some of you are in that pit of destruction. “And he set my feet upon a rock. He made my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and hear and put their trust in the Lord.” Wow! So in the midst of David’s experience here of rejection, it says, “Though my mother and father forsake me,” David says, “the Lord will pick me up,” and remember he went through his own depression. He said, “Why art thou cast down, my soul?” That word cast down is sometimes used for sheep when they get into a position where they roll on their back and can’t get up without help. They can use their legs, but their legs simply beat the air because the center of gravity is such that if they are cast down they can’t get back up without a shepherd. David says, “Why am I cast down, oh my soul? Here I am in my despair and there is no hope at the end of the tunnel. Why am I cast down, oh my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God.” Wow!
So God is there to bring you up from the pit. God is there to give you hope in the midst of your hopelessness. God is there with us, and He walks through the tunnels with us, and our emotions lie continually to us and we have to say, “I’m going by an objective standard, namely God and His Word, and I have to hang in.” The Bible says, “He that spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all, with him freely (at no charge) he gives us all things.”
I love that song that perhaps you and I have sung from time to time: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
God gives hope to the hopeless. He gives light where there is darkness, and Jesus came to rescue us to give us dignity, purpose and hope. No matter where you are at today, God has a plan for you. If He didn’t, He’d have already taken you to glory. God is here.
And if you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior you have to deal with His Son before you can say you have peace with God.
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, we stand amazed at how freely You give blessings. We thank You that today wrapped up in Jesus is all that we need, and through Your people, through groups that meet together and pray together, we can be given hope as we are reminded of Your promises, and reminded of all those who love us.
Now whatever your need is today, would you just talk to God for a moment? Would you thank Him for His gifts? And may those who have not trusted on Him believe on Him right now.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.