Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
This must be one of the ‘big texts’ in the Bible. How simple are these words of one syllable to understand as they follow one another . . . God, hope, fill, joy, peace, trust, him . . . “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” The one thing I don’t want to do is to make the simple complex. Although they are very profound, they not confusing words. Let me make this simple point to start.
1. WE MEET MUCH DISAPPOINTMENT IN OUR LIVES.
This week I was reading in a little monthly magazine these words, “I once met a person in Shropshire who as a young man had been engaged to my mother’s beautiful younger sister, but she had died in the terrible flu epidemic of the 1920s. This man had been left heartbroken. It must have been thirty years later before I met him again; he was still grieving. A gentleman, generous in spirit, he had prospered financially so that everything he touched had turned to gold, but he’d never settled down and got married, and he said he never could. This man had had a heart-breaking disappointment; he’d never been able to handle the death of his fiancée. This might be an extreme case, but it’s not unknown for mysterious sorrows to extinguish hope in Christian people. Years later they are still hurting from such disappointments as sickness in the family, inability to get a job, the lack of a friend, a broken relationship, divorces, long depressions, failed exams, a bereavement.”
Can we say that Christian leaders in the Bible also experienced overwhelming disappointments? Noah grieved at the behaviour of his son Ham, Jacob at the reported death of his favourite Joseph, Moses with the rebellion of the children of Israel in the desert, grumbling and complaining about how hard it was and better back in Egypt, David’s heartache at the conduct of his sons, Jeremiah’s disappointment that after forty years’ preaching to Jerusalem they still refused to believe him. Weren’t they all disappointed at such events? Was Paul disappointed that many in the Galatian church had believed a heresy? Of course he was. Was he sad that all in Asia Minor had forsaken him? Of course. Listen to the sadness in these words of the psalmist, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psa. 41:9). Could we affirm that the Lord Jesus knew disappointment? Listen to his words in Matthew chapter seventeen, “‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?’” (Matt. 17:17). Don’t they sound like a man disappointed in his twelve disciples? So that is my first point, that even godly Christians can know disappointment, and that such feelings are not necessarily sinful.
2. CHRISTIANS SHOULD INTERROGATE EVERY FEELING OF DISAPPOINTMENT.
Why are we disappointed? Is the reason for my grief godly or not? It may not be. Has my pride been hurt? Had I made up my mind that something had to happen in my way and at my time and then it didn’t? Am I disappointed at what God has done? The mothers of Bethlehem refused to be comforted when Herod had their children butchered. But the promised Messiah had been born; he’d been spared the sword that he might go to the cross to save them. There was comfort for the grieving mother. You have to let go of your disappointment and seize the hope.
Or again I can ask myself whether I am setting my mind too much on earthly things? Am I failing to love my neighbour as myself and as a result they are disappointed in me? Am I letting them down, breaking promises, being careless in my behaviour, parading my sadnesses before them?
Again am I responding to delayed answers to prayer in a godly manner? Could God be saying ‘No’ because I am asking amiss? Perhaps the prayer I want answered is focused on wrong desires. If I have a secret regard for something evil in my heart then God won’t hear me. Is God testing these things when he says ‘No’ to my requests? If the difference between vice and virtue is a razor’s edge then it certainly is when it comes to understanding our own hearts.
Again is my disappointment a godly grief at men’s rejection of my Lord as it was with Jesus? Or is it peevishness and sulking because I am not getting what I want? Then that is not disappointment; it is a sinful spirit of discontentedness. Are we simply shrugging off our disappointments? Or are we sinking under them? Both responses are wrong. Examine yourself. Ask your heart why you are feeling as you do. Doesn’t the psalmist do this? “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psa. 42:5). Doesn’t he do this more than once? Doesn’t he search his heart with those words three times?
3. THE LIVING GOD OFFERS TO FILL US WITH ALL JOY AND PEACE.
What does Paul say in these simple little words in our text? “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (v.13). The picture in my mind is a car with an empty tank, the orange light warning that you’ll soon be right out of gas had been flashing for over half an hour, but where is the nearest garage? You’ve never been to this part of the country before. You are leaning forward in your seat with the tension. No one’s saying a word in the car, and then, coming around another bend, you see a sign for a filling station and you shout aloud with delight. You drive onto the forecourt and stop at the pumps. In the old days an attendant would come along and you would say to him, “Fill it up!”
Keep that picture in mind as you think of yourself despairing and hopeless with the light indicating ‘Empty’ flashing away. “You are out of joy and peace,” is God’s judgment of you. Men without God are men without hope, the Bible says. Then, some time you go round a corner in the road and you meet a friend who starts talking to you about Jesus Christ and what he means to you, or you pick up a Bible, or you read a tract, or you sense a strong desire to go to church. You are coming to the one in whom all fullness dwells and today I am urging you to come to him.
Of course we tell people that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. He is a consuming fire; it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. We tell people the great solemn sanctions of judgment and eternity but let us never forget the unique distinctive of the Christian faith that is contains a message of hope. Jesus didn’t say to the church, “You are the headmaster or the traffic warden of the world.” He told them that they were the light of the world. I focus on the God who is the God of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. This God of hope can fill despairing people with all joy and peace. It is possible for your burden to be lifted, your heaviness to evaporate, your discouragement to be turned to acceptance by the influence of his love. It is possible for you to be filled to the brim with all joy and peace. That is what our text says. It is almost unbelievable – “too good to be true” the devil says, but that is what the Bible is saying. Shouldn’t you listen to this message more seriously than to anything else you’ve ever heard?
Paul is writing to the entire congregation in Rome, to the weak believers as well as the strong, to the illiterate, the slaves, the children, the blind, the feeble-minded and the leaders of the church. He is praying for every one of them, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The great question on the lips of our ‘ME-generation’ is, “What’s in it for me?” What is in Christianity for you is about your being filled with all joy and peace, that’s what’s in it for you. Isn’t that marvelous? You’d better believe it. You’ll never meet another offer like this. How can this be yours?
4. THE BIBLE TELLS US HOW SUCH HOPE CAN BE OURS.
i] The God we Christians worship is the God of hope. He has this title because he invites the worst of sinners, murderers and rapists and torturers and thieves and liars, the most guilty despairing group of men and women, to turn to him, and he promises that when they do though their sins have been like scarlet they shall be as white as snow. He assures them that if they entrust themselves to his loving care he will freely pardon them for the worst things they have done. He will clothe them with the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ. He will adopt them into his family and make them his sons and heirs. He will become their teacher and lead them into an ever growing understanding of his truth. He will continually pray for them that they may be kept from trials and temptations. He will in fact indwell them and change them from the inside. He will give them a heart that loves him and loves their neighbours. He will work everything that meets them for their good. He will never leave them, even when they walk through the valley of the shadow of death he will not forsake them. He will take them to where he is in heaven, and they will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Isn’t that a marvelous message of hope? Isn’t it a wonderful, glorious hope? Karl Marx couldn’t promise that. All he could do was to mock it and belittle it. When people came to see Sigmund Freud with their depressions he couldn’t tell them of this hope. Only God can say such things because he is not like the god of the humanists, or the god of the stoics, or the god of the Baal worshippers in despair on Mount Carmel. Jesus Christ is the God of hope.
ii] God has given us assurance that this is so. “How?” you ask. “You Christians are always talking about joy, peace and hope. Words. Just words.” No. God has given us assurance that what he says is true by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter, the companion and eye witness of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). Peter had been a know-all; not even Jesus Christ could tell him anything. He didn’t need warnings or straightforward predictions about the future. He knew it all. He didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ; he could see no reason why Jesus should die but now he was dead and Peter was in despair. He had given up three years of his life to follow a healing dreamer with fantastic ideas, but that was all. Jesus was dead and Peter was shattered. But on the third day he ran after John to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, and then in the upper room he saw and spoke to Jesus Christ risen. He was forgiven and recommissioned. Jesus ate and drank with them at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter’s whole life was reborn; he was a new creature; he had a living hope and he spent the rest of his life telling people of God’s way to be filled with all joy and peace.
The glory of the resurrection is that it did not belong to the world of hypotheses, or to the realm of ideas, or to the sphere of theology. It belongs to the realm of facts. The empty tomb; the great word of the angel, “Behold the place where they laid him. He is not here; he is risen.” That empty tomb, the triumph of Christ over death and all the forces of evil. There were hours in which the Son of God lay in the tomb, love incarnate, wisdom incarnate and power incarnate seemed to have been overthrown and evil seems to have triumphed, but God raises him from the dead; God gives him the victory; God vindicated incarnate grace and so the Son of God arose, and that is the great guarantee of our resurrection. It is the model of our resurrection. There on the first Lord’s Day is the eruption of the power and goodness of God into our world where all must die in the vindication of his Son in raising him from the dead. In that simple fact that Jesus rose on the third day is the reason for our hope. God thus gives us assurance of this hope.
iii] The God of hope tells us how this joy and peace can be ours, it is as you trust in him. Some of you are not sure whether you have faith in God or not. The New Testament doesn’t give us much information about the psychology of saving faith. Let us use Paul’s word in our text because it can be more easily digested; it is the word ‘trust.’ You know whether you trust something or not. I use the illustration of the digital clock by your bed. You wake in the night, open an eyelid and peer at it; it says 03.24. You trust that that is an accurate reading because you’ve had the clock for years and you rarely have to reset it except if there’s been a power failure when it blinks at you. You know that it is 03.24; you trust it. You can trust your mother’s love for you; that she wouldn’t do anything to harm you. We can trust God implicitly. He cannot lie; not the Lord of heaven. Why should he play games with specks of dust? What he says is straight.
When God the Son says, “The Son of Man came to lay down his life a ransom for many,” then you can trust that that is the reason why he died. Our ransom has been paid. When he says, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” you can trust those words of Jesus. If you go to him just as you are and entrust yourself into his loving keeping then you will discover rest for your guilt-racked life. He is meek and lowly of heart, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. You can trust him absolutely and implicitly, especially those times when the devil will say we have sinned too much and too defiantly, that we have out-sinned his forgiveness.
There was once a little girl aged six named Aspen who was being driven through a city by her father on a very wet day. He was driving carefully, and suddenly the silence in the car was broken as she said, “Daddy, I’m thinking of something.” “Yes, what are you thinking?” he asked. “The rain is like sin,” she said, “and the windscreen wipers are like God wiping our sins away.” Her father was touched quite deeply, and he wanted to go with her thought a little further, so he said to Aspen, “Do you notice how the rain keeps on coming? What does that tell you?” Aspen didn’t hesitate for a moment. She said, “We keep on sinning, and God keeps on forgiving.” We keep on sinning, and God keeps on forgiving because of what Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God has done on Golgotha. You may protest that that is a license for promiscuity, for continuing in sin. No, Golgotha won’t let you. You love the Lord too much to add one ounce to the burden he bore for you. You trust right into him; you believe right into his eternal love and his keeping power. You can trust everything about Jesus, his teaching, his warnings and promises, his never dying love for you. You say, “If I die I will die trusting in Jesus. If I go to hell I will go trusting in him.”
iv] The God of hope tells us that the result of trusting him is that we are filled with all joy and peace. The joy of discovering the truth. The joy of knowing God. The joy of being loved by God. The joy of realizing all our sins have been cast into the depths of the sea and God remembers them no more. The joy of walking through life with Jesus Christ as our friend. The joy of having the Bible. The joy of the Lord’s Day. The joy of the Lord’s people. The joy of the means of grace. The joy of serving others in Jesus’ name. The joy of bearing witness to your faith in him. The joy of hearing the word of God preached in power and with the Holy Spirit and with much assurance. The joy of knowing we shall see our loved ones in Christ again after we die.
Do you see how Paul describes it here? ‘All joy.’ Every kind of joy for every kind of circumstance. Joy for true celebrations – birthdays and weddings and the safe arrival of a baby, and the ending of a war, such joy for those occasions that is a pure joy, utterly delightful and not raucous or vulgar or selfish. Sometimes you see a sunset over the Bay, or you are sitting in the window and see a bird hopping along on the lawn looking for worms, or you stare at your grown up daughters sitting together and talking away earnestly and quietly with one another, glad to be with one another and at such times your heart can be flooded with joy. That is the joy of our humanity restored to us by Jesus Christ when we trust in him. Then there is joy on those strange days when our dearest ones have been taken away from us but in our hearts a quiet joy is sustaining us, a joy that seeks us through pain. A joy in hearing of the growth of the gospel, of conversions, of God-honouring preaching, of courage under affliction. When Philip had preached the gospel in Samaria and many Samaritans had trusted in Christ the result of course was a city full of joy. But when Paul and Silas were feeling the pain of their wounds in a prison cell in Philippi they were filled with all joy and sang psalms in the darkness. God gives to the Christian all joy, every suitable joy for every single occasion. Paul is the apostle of joy. He mentions joy twenty-one times in the New Testament; John mentions it nine times.
God also gives peace. Never joy alone. Never peace alone. Always all joy and peace. This peace comes from a knowledge that all things that enter our lives have been allowed to touch our lives by an all-wise and all-gracious Father. Never does anything happen to us solely because wicked men did it, and never by chance, and never by luck. All our different times have been appointed by him.
“Times the tempter’s power to prove;
Times to taste the Saviour’s love;
All must come, and last, and end,
As shall please my heavenly Friend.” (John Ryland 1753-1825)
An old minister once said, “If only we believed what we do believe.” You must have been struck by those last words of Jacob to Joseph and his boys in Genesis chapter forty-eight. Joseph brings his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim to their grandfather Jacob for the patriarchal blessing. Joseph puts his first born son Manasseh on his father’s right hand side, and he put Ephraim on his father’s left hand side. But old Jacob crossed his hands, and he put his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, and he prayed, “the Angel who has delivered me from all harm – may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth” (Gen. 48:16). And their father Joseph was disappointed at this cross-handed blessing, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head” (Gen:48:18). He took hold of Jacob’s hand to move it to Manasseh, but the old man strongly resisted. He said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great, nevertheless the younger brother will be greater than he” (Gen. 48:19). Aren’t we like Joseph? We ask whether the Lord knows what he is doing? The blessing must come on this person. Why do blessings come on another whom we don’t favour? Why is this ministry blessed and that one not? Why do no doors open for this brother’s gifts? Why does this ministry get smaller and smaller? Why is this man blessed greatly and another receive such small blessings? Is it all chance? Does Heaven know what is happening below? We certainly wouldn’t work things that way, but God simply says, “I know, my son, I know.” Peace comes from this assurance that God knows what he is doing. Peace comes from accepting and doing his will without murmuring.
Let me bring that point home with an illustration I got from John Newton. He tells us, Think of two angels who were assembled with all the rest one day to receive their commission from God. One was to go down and rule the earth’s grandest empire; the other was to go and sweep the streets of its meanest village. It would be a matter of entire indifference to each which service fell to his lot, the post of Emperor or the post of road sweeper. The peace of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will. One day one would be lifting the stinking beggar Lazarus from his place outside the rich man’s house up to Abraham’s bosom. Another would be driving a chariot and horses of fire to take Elijah to heaven. Obeying God’s will is all that counts. There is no point in our praying the Lord’s prayer saying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and when we discover what is God’s will is for us that we grow bitter and pensive. Peace comes from doing God’s good and perfect will. The old poem says,
“Disappointment” – His appointment –
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better plan for me.”
Disappoinment – His appointment. We all can quote Romans 8:28 and some tend to abbreviate it to say that all things are for our good, but in fact it says that they are “working together for good”. Think of the back of a grandfather clock with its wheels, large and small, some moving in a clockwise direction and others in an anti-clockwise direction, some seem to be barely moving while others are moving relatively quickly, some move in brief jerks of action and other move steadily and imperceptibly on. Yet they are all working together for one grand end. So it is with God he works together some things that seem designed to give us the greatest pain, and thwart all our schemes of serving God and spreading his kingdom. Principalities and powers, and life and death, the hatred of the world and the prince of the power of the air are all used by God. Everything he works together to do us lasting and eternal good, that is, to increase Christlikeness. By itself Islam hates Christianity; by himself the devil seeks to destroy us; by themselves illness and death take away from the church the best of men, but God works all these things together for our good. As William Gurnall said, “God will put his egg under Satan for him to hatch it for the good of the church.” Some of the best medicines contain ingredients which if they were used by themselves would kill us, but used alongside the other ingredients can work for our good. Knowing that gives us joy and peace.
I have told you of a friend who had hoped to marry a girl in his congregation, but her parents forbade him to go out with her because he was a much older man. He was very sad at this and then especially as another boy in the congregation started to sit with her and take her out, finally coming to his pastor for advice about courtship. I tried to comfort and encourage him . . . “It’s all right Geoff,” he said to me, “You know that we believe God either gives us what we ask for or he gives us something better.” And it was indeed someone better whom God brought into his life a few years later. Today they are happily married with the children God has given them. God had designed something better. That’s what we read in Scripture, “God having provided some better thing,” and again, “He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second.”
We all need some time to appreciate that God taking something from us was for our good. When parents say, “No, we forbid you to start this relationship,” then our hearts are breaking, but many a Christian has been grateful some time later that the Lord overturned their schemes and gave them something better. Our light affliction is not the end; it will end. We’re thinking, “Alas, this is the end of all my happiness,” but this is not so. Indeed the end of some things is often far better than the beginning. We were discussing in the Manse last week with the students the case of a woman who had fallen in love with a married man, and now that it has ended how suicidal she feels. But the end of this relationship is vastly better than its beginning, though what excitement she had once felt, and now there is much grief. There must be grief in such circumstances because they were sinful circumstances, but when they are dealt with righteously joy will come in the morning. So God will work in us all joy and peace.
5. THE RESULT OF GOD’S WORKING IN US IS OVERFLOWING HOPE.
The apostle describes the great end of all these works of God in us, “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (v.13). Preachers always compare the two seas in Israel. One is the Sea of Galilee and the other is the Dead Sea. Why is the Dead Sea dead? Because it never overflows. It takes in water from the river Jordan but it never gives out. The water evaporates and the chemicals get stronger and stronger, but the Sea of Galilee takes in the rain from heaven and the streams that run down from the surrounding hills so that it overflows and cascades down into the Dead Sea.
Why should God fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him? Is it for the buzz? Is it to make us feel high? Is it so that we feel really good? No, it is for a life of service, that we overflow in hope. You remember how the apostle Peter considered that people would be coming on to Christians, taking them to one side and asking them why they were so positive and optimistic. What was the reason for their confidence and hope? They were to tell them of the resurrection of Christ, yes, but they were also to bear witness to their own living relationship with God. We do not have simply ‘vicarious spiritual lives’ which we live through the apostles or through God’s men and women in the Bible. We don’t simply have past spiritual lives which flourished briefly at the point of our conversion. We have an ongoing relationship in which we live with God, in which the assurance of his love to us is based on our present experience of his goodness, our experience of answered prayer, of that grace which helps us in all times of need, of that strength which makes his people perfect in weakness, of the remembrance of those fears which erupted at one time but were never realized, of those great blessings which God poured down upon us. Don’t we as Christians have a living, and ongoing, and existential foundation and reason for hoping in God? I have cried to God, and God has answered. You will remember Elijah on Mount Carmel, and he was outnumbered at least 300 to one. The prophets of Baal all cried to their god, and they cried and cried, and they heard nothing but the mocking echoes of their own voices. Then the prophet cried to the Lord, and God answered because he is the living God, and in that moment on Mount Carmel the whole nation of Israel found a reason for hope. Surely we too in our ongoing experience of the loving Lord have a reason for our hope?
God is good to us. God hears us and answers our prayers. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. There is much in this world that I can doubt today; I can doubt the promises of politicians, global warming, windmill farms on the mountains and moorlands, the value of state schools giving lessons in religion and morality. I can doubt many things that others believe, but I can’t doubt the goodness of God. I can’t doubt the love of God. I cannot doubt that God answers prayer because I have experienced these things for almost fifty-three years. I am one of the people of hope who share their hope with others. It is an overflowing hope.
How is this possible in our secular society? How can we keep going, and keep telling people of the hope of the forgiveness of sins, the hope of an over-ruling providence, the hope of immortality and eternal life, the hope of the resurrection of the body, the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, the hope of a viable future with meaning, and light, and a sense of purpose, the hope that God has the whole world in his hands, that he is grasping it this minute and inviting men and women to come to come to him. How do we keep going with this message? By the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul says in our text. We are controlled by a divine energy which motivates and recharges and keeps us abounding in this work day by day. We are told in the Acts of the Apostles chapter thirteen how the gospel came to Pisidian Antioch, the preaching that took place there, and the abiding impact on the community of the gospel, and the very last verse in Acts thirteen is this, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
No matter the world’s dismissal of our hope; no matter the overwhelming sense of our own unworthiness and incompetence. No matter the constant lack of success, a sense of hope is overflowing from the gospel church. Let’s keep it flowing! Don’t let anything prevail upon you to stop. This is the only hope that the world has, or ever will have.
January 28 2007 GEOFF THOMAS