Word of Promise, Spirit of God, Hope of Man
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 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. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 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.” 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 question I posed last time from Romans 15:9-13 was how the awakening and strengthening of hope happens. I argued that the main point of verses 9-13 was indeed to produce overflowing hope in the church, and that this hope was based on Jesus Christ, the root of Jesse, the ruler of the nations (v. 12), and that this Christ-based hope is for the glory of God (5:2), a new heavens and a new earth (8:20-21), and new bodies (8:23) with no pain and no sin. Then I asked: How does it work? How does God, through the apostle Paul, bring about abounding hope? That is today’s question.
Seasons of Suffering and Relief
As I prepared this message on Friday I took time out to pray through the pastoral email I got about some of the suffering in our church. A mom of six dealing with chemotherapy for breast cancer, another mom having abdominal surgery this Wednesday and in the hospital over Christmas, a couple trying to adopt two children from Russia and needing thousands of dollars, a woman recovering from radiation therapy at home, a young wife with unexplained fever for weeks, a woman recovering from painful inner ear surgery, a family whose son may have surgery in January for seizure activity (in fact, we have two families like that), and a 92 year old saint who is hospitalized with pneumonia. And of course there are the hundreds of others who have more or less pain that just happen not to be on the list this time.
What made this more immediately relevant for me as I prepared this message on hope was that I was sick a couple days this week. And as I lay there shivering under the covers for only 12 hours I was thinking how this message would work for someone in that condition or any of these conditions—especially if it lasted for weeks or months or years—and if it turned out that this was the terminal illness and that the doctors said: We don’t think there is anything we can do. I tried to be utterly realistic. How would hope feel in this sickness, and how would it rise in my heart?
A couple things were clear: There were hours when I could not read—all I could do was close my eyes, hold still and try not to throw up. I hate to throw up. Therefore, reading the Bible at that moment was not going to happen. Neither my mind nor my body in those hours were able to read or think anything extended. But there were thoughts. They would come and they would go, and they made a difference in how I felt emotionally and spiritually, not physically. Physically, I was nauseated, feverish and miserable. But the thoughts that Christ died for me, and that my sins are forgiven, and this misery was not the wrath of God, and that Christ has all authority over sickness and Satan, and that he has promised to work everything together for my good, and to die is gain—those thoughts preserved my hope. They did not make me feel good physically. But they were like an anchor to keep my boat from being swept out into the sea of despair while I was seasick on board. I knew I would not perish in the abyss. And that made a great difference.
The reason I mention this is so that when I show you how God causes hope to abound you will not think me—or him—naïve. I am going to make a great deal out of the word of God as the ground of hope, knowing that often, when we need hope most, we have the least ability to read the Bible. For most of us God gives us seasons of relief and seasons of suffering. The seasons of relief are the times when you should use all the means God has given to prepare you for the seasons of suffering. Those hope-giving thoughts were in my head because during the seasons of relief I have savored the preciousness of God’s promises. I hope you will do the same.
So please know that what we are about to see in this message is God’s method to give you hope in the seasons of suffering if you will embrace the method in seasons of relief.
How God Produces Hope: Six Steps
There are six steps in this passage of Scripture that describe the way God produces hope in our lives.
1. The first and most fundamental is God himself identified as the God of hope.
Verse 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.” Everything starts with God. If there is hope for joy that is deep and eternal it will be hope that is founded on God. Any other foundation will fail. God is, and God is a God of hope. This we must believe. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” That is, we must believe God exists, and that he exists as a God of hope. That’s the first and most fundamental step toward hope. God.
2. Second, the God of hope speaks words of promise.
There are four of them in verses 9-12. After Paul says in verse 9a that Christ became a servant so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, he says in the middle of verse 9, “As it is written . . .” Then he quotes Psalm 18:49 (=LXX 17:50) in verse 9b: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” Then he quotes Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX) in verse 10: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” Then he quotes Psalm 117:1 in verse 11: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And finally he quotes Isaiah 11:10 in verse 12: “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
What’s remarkable about these four Bible quotes is that only the last one is an explicit promise. Verse 12: The root of Jesse will come. He does arise to rule the Gentiles. In him will the Gentiles hope. The middle two quotes in verses 10 and 11 are commands or exhortations to the Gentiles: “Rejoice with God’s people . . . Praise the Lord . . . Extol him.” And the first one in verse 9b is a testimony of a Jewish king standing in the midst of Gentiles, “I will praise you among the Gentiles.” But Paul quotes all four of these divine words to give hope. Evidently, once Paul knows the big picture of what God’s going to do in history—namely fold the Gentiles into the covenant people—he sees hope for the Gentiles wherever God witnesses to them or woos them.
But the most important thing to see here is that Paul is quoting Scripture. When he is on his way to pray for the abounding hope of the church he precedes that prayer with God’s word of promise. Don’t miss that. It is going to prove absolutely essential when we get to step four.
So step one: the God of hope. Step two: God’s word of promise.
3. The third step is the Spirit of power—the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit.
Verse 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.” Hope that is based on Christ and has the glory of God for its hoped-for treasure is not the product of the unaided human will. If you hope in Christ today and not in money and health and friends and joy and government, that hope is the work of the Holy Spirit. You did not create it.
By nature our will is at enmity with God. We are born depraved. And the essence of our depravity is self-exalting, self-reliant self-determination. Therefore, if the glory of God is going to become our highest hoped-for treasure, and if we are going to hope on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and not ours, we must be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:6-7 says (literally), “The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind of the flesh is hostile to God.” In other words, the way we are by nature—by mere flesh—is hostile to God. Only the Spirit of God can change that. Or Paul says it another way in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Or he says it another way in Ephesians 2:5, “We were dead in our trespasses.”
Therefore the third step in awakening hope is the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of power. First, the God of hope. Second, the word of promise. Third, the Spirit of power. These first three steps are all objective realities different from ourselves. They are not our experience: God, Word, and Spirit exist whether we do our not. They do not depend on us. We depend on them. They are not shaped by us. We are shaped by them. Now come three more steps and all three of these are experiential steps inside of us.
4. Step four: Faith.
I put it that simply because that is how simply Paul says it in verse 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 works joy and peace leading to abounding hope as we are believing. Here’s the key question: How does the power of the Holy Spirit connect us to the word of promise so that it produces joy and peace and abounding hope? Answer: the Holy Spirit does it by creating faith.
Picture it this way. Before we are converted there is our spiritually dead heart. Then by God’s grace, in some way, our spiritually dead heart is presented with the word of promise—the gospel of Christ. What happens? Maybe nothing. But if the Holy Spirit comes and gives new birth—new life, new spiritual perception—to our heart, suddenly we see Christ in the word of promise for who he really is. And when our born again heart sees Christ for who he really is faith receives him, embraces him, closes with him, links with him, unites with him. And this link, or union, with Christ in the word of promise is the conduit—the channel, the connection—through which the joy-giving, peace-giving, hope-giving power of the promises flows to us.
So you can see the crucial connection between step two and four: The word of promise and faith. Saving, hope-giving faith is never a vague positive attitude in the Bible. It is very focused trust in God’s blood-bought words of promise. It is what happens when you read verse 12 and the Holy Spirit awakens a sense of the truth and beauty and reality and value of what God says: “The root of Jesse will come (Yes! Praise God my King has come!), even he who arises to rule the Gentiles (Yes! My King rules over all the nations!); in him will the Gentiles hope (Yes! I will hope in him. He is my Savior, and my Lord and my God!).” That is the work of the Holy Spirit as he awakens faith in the word of promise.
5. Step five we have already mentioned, namely, the awakening in our hearts of joy and peace.
Verse 13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” Joy and peace flow from the word of promise through the connection of faith by the power of the Spirit into the soul of the believer. Which leads finally to the surprise step six.
6. Step six is abounding in hope.
Verse 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 reason I say this is a surprise is that surely hope is what prompted the joy and peace. Surely when we saw the word of promise what it awakened in us, coming from the God of hope, is hope. And hope gave rise to joy and peace. But now Paul ends by saying that joy and peace result in hope. God fills you with joy and peace in believing “so that . . . you may abound in hope.”
The point is surely this: the fullness of hope never reaches a limit in this life. It can always grow and always abound more and more. And Paul is pointing out that one of the ways it grows is by feeding off its own fruit. Hope in the promises of God produces the fruit of joy and peace. But joy and peace in the promises of God are glorious evidences that we are born again, and every evidence that we are born again stirs up more hope (see Romans 5:3-5), and more hope wakens more joy and peace, and so the graces of God continue to “abound” more and more.
O Bethlehem, in this advent season, give yourself to the word of promise. Pray to the God of hope that he will pour out his Holy Spirit and enable you to see the truth and beauty and preciousness of Christ there, and be filled with joy and peace so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.