Hope for the Hopeless
Two weeks ago we talked about how Jesus treats failures. One of the reasons that this is so important to us is because each of us knows what it is like to fail. Today I want to take this idea of failure that all of us are so familiar with and address it from another angle. I want to ask, how do we treat failures? This question is twofold. First, this question deals with how we treat our own failures. How do we treat the areas of our life that we have fought and tried to fix but just seem to never be able to get right? What do we do with those sins in our lives over which we just can’t seem to gain victory? What do we do with our inability to keep our mouth shut when we should? What do we do with our need to always have the last word? What do we do with our inability to let things go, when we brood over them all day and night and let little things control our whole life? What do we do with our inability to live up to the expectations of our spouse? As hard as we try we never seem to be able to please them. What do we do with that? What do we do with our addictions—to TV, pornography, shopping, alcohol, or gambling? What do we do with those areas that each of us have in our lives that we just seem to fail at over and over again?
The second question we will address is what do we do with the failures of other people in our lives? What do we do with the people who continually let us down even when we give them so many second chances? What do we do with the people who continually break our trust? What do we do with the people in our lives who we have told about Jesus so many times but they keep running away from him and we begin to wonder if they will ever believe? What do we do with the people in our lives who let us down over and over again?
The fact of the matter is all of us are going to have to answer this question. All of us are going to fail ourselves and all of us are going to be let down by other people. So, what do we do? Romans 15:1 calls us to “bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” But that is a lot easier said then done, right? That’s why today I want to talk about how the Bible combats one of our greatest temptations when faced with failure.
I think that one of the most common responses to failure both in our own lives and in others is giving up. One of the most common responses to failure is quitting. At first this sounds weird, but I want to explain why so many respond to failure this way. Failure stinks. We hate failure. The harder we try the more our failure hurts. The more we trust someone else to come through, the more let down we are when they don’t. You see how that works don’t you? The harder we try, the more we believe that we are going to make it, the more it hurts us when we fail. This is why one of the most common responses to failure is not to try harder, but to try less.
The less we expect from other people the less they are able to hurt us when they don’t come through. The more we try, the more we open ourselves up for disappointment. Have you ever applied for a job, and then while you waited to see if you got the job you tried not to think about it too much because you didn’t want to get your hopes up? Why would you not want to get your hopes up? You didn’t want to get your hopes up because you didn’t want to be disappointed.
There is a whole religious system based on this philosophy called Buddhism. Buddhism teaches that all suffering comes from desire, so to avoid suffering, Buddhists are taught to not desire, to not hope, to live disinterested.
When I was coaching basketball, I had an amazing athlete on my team. This kid could have been amazing. But he had a few bad games, and he made a few mistakes and then the next thing you know he quit. I couldn’t believe it. I begged him to stay but he wouldn’t. You see, he had given up hope. He had become hopeless and his hopelessness had taken away his ability to try. He couldn’t take the pain of failure, so the answer he came up with was if I don’t try then I can’t fail. He stopped trying because he stopped believing it was possible for him to succeed. He believed that the chances of his failure and the pain it would cause was bigger than his chance of succeeding. Hope is the root of trying. When I say trying, I mean effort. Hope is the fuel on which effort burns. Where there is no hope, there is no effort. That is just the way we are. If we don’t believe that something is possible, we can never truly do it with passion. If we know we are going to fail, then we don’t want to try very hard because we know that we are going to be disappointed.
I realized this a few years ago when I was doing marriage counseling. I had a friend who had married, and then went away for a year. Things were pretty rough for him and his wife. When he returned a year later and came to me for counseling, I didn’t even recognize them. They both looked at the ground, they didn’t speak to each other, and they barely spoke to me. It didn’t take long to see that they were both hopeless. They didn’t think that it was possible to love each other again, so they had completely stopped trying. They had failed each other so often and so much that they had given up believing that it was possible not to fail.
Today I want to talk about our feelings of hopelessness. I want to talk about the areas of our own lives where we have given up, the sins in our own lives that we have stopped fighting, the sins in our lives that we just don’t believe we will ever see victory over. We stop fighting these sins in many ways, but all of them are rooted in hopelessness. We may try to distract ourselves, so we focus on the good and don’t focus on where we are struggling. Or we blame someone else for those sins. We blame our parents, our mental health, our kids, our economic situation, anything but our hearts. Or we justify the sin by saying that it isn’t that bad. Or we just give up, and acknowledge that we are failures and accept that this is who we are.
And what do we do with other people? What do we do with the people in our lives who have let us down? What do we do with the people whom we have tried to reach out to over and over again and have never been able to really connect with? What do we do with the people in our lives whom we used to pray for all the time, the people that we used to tell about Jesus, the people we once thought were so close, but now, after years of trying, we don’t really believe they will ever change?
Every one of us has people in our lives like this. I have an older sister who walked away from God when I was about nine years old. I will never forget getting a letter at school that said I needed to go to the office because there was a family emergency. My parents picked me and my little brother up from school. They brought us home and we sat around our dining room table as they told us about the note that my sister had left. They had caught her before she left school, but the note had been about running away with her boyfriend. She was 15. I remember we sat around the table and wept. We sat there and cried and begged her to stay. My parents pleaded with her to love Jesus. They begged her not to walk away from her God. But she did. That was over 20 years ago. I remember that for months it really affected me. I remember the way I would pray for her. I remember having the elders in our living room after a Sunday night service and begging God to bring her back. I remember a time when not a day would go by that I would not think of her and wish she would come back and love Jesus. But today, 23 years later, I often go days without thinking about her soul. When I do pray I don’t pray with the same passion, the same intensity, the same vigor that I once did. I know that if she was saved, I would be blown away. It would be the happiest thing ever but it would be an utter shock to me. And my sister is just one of the people in my life that I know deep down inside I really struggle to believe that they are going to change. All of us have family members, parents, kids, uncles and aunts, coworkers, and friends that deep down inside we know we have given up on. We might not ever say it out loud, but we know that we are not praying for them with the firm confidence that God is able to radically change them even through our prayers. When we stop praying, we are not listening for a phone call to see if something happens. We pray but we expect things to stay the same.
It’s funny that in Acts 12:6ff. we see that James has just been beheaded and Peter is in prison about to be executed, and a bunch of people gathered at a woman named Mary’s house to pray. As they were praying, Peter is rescued out of prison and comes to the gate. But when the servant girl who went to get the door saw Peter, she ran back and told everyone and they didn’t believe her. They said maybe it was his angel. Do you see how that is exactly what I am talking about? They were praying but they were not praying like it would happen. They were praying for God to be with Peter, yet when he was rescued they didn’t believe it.
How many people are there like that in our lives? How many people have we been disappointed by so many times? How many people have we tried everything we know, and they still reject Jesus? Now we pray, but we pray a rote prayer because we know we should, not a prayer of hope because we long for God to do a work in them.
Romans 15 talks about how we are to treat failures and then it tells us how. You will notice that the main theme of Romans 15 is a call for us to maintain hope in the face of failure, difficulty, and what seems to be impossible. Romans 15 has some difficult commands. It begins with: “we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves…” It goes on to call us to live together in harmony and welcome one another just as Jesus has welcomed us. Paul knows what a difficult task this is. Paul knows how hard it is for us to bear with the failings of the week. He knows how hard it is for us to get along with people who are radically different then us. He knows how much we are tempted to love ourselves and how difficult the call is to consider others as more important than ourselves. He knows these things. And he knows that in the face of these difficulties our greatest temptation is going to be to want to give up. He knows that our greatest temptation is going to be to despair, to become hopeless. That is why if you look at verse 4 he talks to us about the importance of endurance and encouragement during the difficult times and he speaks of the necessity of hope. Paul ends this section in verse 13 talking again about the importance of hope. In verses 8-12, Paul speaks about the Gentiles and how Jesus came to be their hope.
I want us to look at verse 12 and take a moment to really consider what it is saying.
Romans 15:12 says, “the root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” Now, I want to tell you what Paul meant when he spoke about the Gentiles. Today, with a predominantly Gentile church, most of us totally lose the significance of the word “Gentile” in Paul’s day. Paul explains what he means by Gentile in Ephesians 2 and I think it’s important for us to take that understanding of Gentile and read it into this context. When Paul spoke of the Gentiles, here is the type of people he had in mind. Listen to Ephesians 2:11ff: “Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having NO HOPE, and without God in the world.” That is how Paul defines Gentiles. Gentiles are those who were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. The Gentiles were those who had no hope and were without God in this world. The Gentiles were hopeless. They were alienated, separated, without hope and without God. Do you see that this is what Paul means when he speaks of the Gentiles? Now, I want you to go back to Romans and read this understanding of Gentiles into verse 12. “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the hopeless, in Him will the hopeless hope.” In Jesus will the hopeless hope. Another way to say this is that Jesus came to be the hope for the hopeless. Jesus is the hope for the hopeless.
Let this sink in. In Jesus, the hopeless will hope. Jesus is the hope for the hopeless. Do you understand the gravity of what this means? Do you get it? This passage is saying that there hope for the hopeless. Think about that. If there is hope for the hopeless then in reality there can be no more genuine hopelessness. There is no longer such a thing as a genuinely hopeless person. That means that whatever sin in your life you have given up on, whatever area of your life you have quit trying to overcome, there is hope. Jesus has come to bring hope to the hopeless. This means that the people you have given up on, the people you have stopped really trying to reach, the people that you don’t really think will ever be saved—those are the people that Jesus came to save. Jesus came to save the hopeless.
I Timothy 1:15 puts it this way, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners.” He came to save sinners, he came for failures, and he came to bring hope to the hopeless. Think about this with me. Think about the people in your life that you have given up on. The people in your life that you just don’t pray for like you used to. The people in your life that, if you were totally honest, you don’t think will ever come to know Jesus. The people that you doubt will ever change. The people that you no longer really have hope for. All of us have people in our lives like this. When we give up hope for someone, when I give up hope for my sister, not in my words but by my actions, guess what I become? When I think that my sister is hopeless I become the very thing that I think she is. Do you see that when I give up on my sister I become hopeless? I am the one who has given up, I am the one who is no longer hoping. Do you see that? Do you see that when any of us begin to give up hope on others, stop praying like we used to, stop believing that God will change a person, or thinking that a certain person is beyond hope, we become the hopeless. We may think that they are hopeless but that very thought proves that we are the ones who have given up hope.
So this message is first and foremost for us and about us. Jesus came to be our hope. He came so that we don’t have to be hopeless anymore. We don’t have to give up on anyone. We don’t have to doubt God’s ability to save. Jesus came to give hope to us. We are the hopeless to whom he came to give hope. We are the sinners he came to save. All of us need to hear this so desperately. It is so easy to lose hope, so easy to stop trying, and we must be reminded that hopelessness is a lie. It is a lie from hell because Jesus came to be our hope. He came to end hopelessness. I honestly just can’t get over this truth. Jesus has taken away the sting of hopelessness, he has disarmed it. Someone once bought me a U2 shirt that deals with giving money to the poor. It says, “End poverty in this generation.” That seems tough. That seems a bit idealistic. But guess what? An even bigger problem than poverty is hopelessness. And Jesus has come to end hopelessness now, today. If you feel hopeless, that you have given up, that you don’t really believe anymore, I want you to know that in Jesus you can find hope.
Romans 15:13 is honestly one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. I don’t know if there is anything I hate more than hopelessness. There are few things more destructive. Hopelessness is disbelief, it is a lack of faith, it destroys our ability to try, it leaves us a shell of the person God made us. There is no joy in hopelessness, no peace. What is so devastating about hopelessness is that it not only destroys the present but it reaches into the future. The hopeless can see nothing good either in the present or the future. But Jesus has come to give hope to the hopeless. And in the midst of our hopelessness he has given us a prayer, a call for the hopeless. Romans 15:13 is the prayer of the hopeless. It is a cry out to God from the depths and it cries out “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.” There have been times in my life after a devastating counseling meeting where my heart just breaks for the people with whom I have met. There have been times in Africa after sitting and talking to the most beautiful children and hearing about how lonely they are, how beneath their smiles is a life of pain and suffering. It is the prayer I prayed after going to an orphanage and seeing two boys who wouldn’t let me get close to them. I remember looking at their necks and seeing them scarred and burned, and then hearing that they had been rescued from the dump a few days ago. Their father had hung them and the people from the orphanage had found them hanging from a tree and cut them down and brought them there.
What you do with that? What do you say? I remember going back to my room and crying out “God of hope, God of hope please, please come and fill these kids with peace and joy as they put their faith in Jesus. God of hope, you sent your only son Jesus to be the hope for the hopeless. God of hope you have given us the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that raised Jesus Christ up from the dead. God of hope please, please fall upon these kids. May the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead rescue them from their past, rescue them from their pain, rescue them from their loneliness and despair. God of hope give these kids Jesus. Give them Jesus so that they might be filled with the joy that only he can bring. May they know that there is one who loves them. May they know that their creator, the one who formed them in his very hands, may they know his love. May they know that the God of hope has sent his only son into the world, and he was hung by his father so that they didn’t have to be. He was hung on a tree by his father so that they might be taken down off of the tree. He was hung for their sins if they will only run to him. God of hope rescue them. God of hope show them the love that only you can give.”
Our God is a God of hope and he came to give hope to the hopeless by sending his only son to earth to give his life on the cross for his people. Jesus has come and he has borne the hopelessness of all his people on a cross. He bore it when he called out to his God, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” He bore it when he called out to the one he had lived with and loved and perfectly obeyed for all eternity. He bore it when that God, his own father, turned his back on him. In that moment, Jesus bore our hopelessness. And then he was put in the grave and God sent his Spirit down from heaven. He sent him to raise up his only Son, Jesus, from the dead. In that moment, the moment when a dead man was raised from the dead never to die again, Jesus became the hope for the hopeless. In that moment the hopeless can find hope. In that moment death, our great enemy, the great unknown, who is always trying to take away our hope, was destroyed. Now all of us can turn to Jesus and find hope, a hope that transcends the grave, that no longer fears death, and that has found its peace, joy and satisfaction in the Son of God who gave his life on the cross for us.
I want you to know that this hope is real. I want to tell you about the place where I saw a group of hopeless people become overwhelmed with peace and joy as they put their trust in Jesus. The place was in Gulu, Africa. It was a really hot day and at about I was getting ready to leave and preach at a prison. As I sat inside preparing my talk, I noticed a number of women coming into the yard and sitting under a tree. I walked outside and talked with them for a while and shook their hands. They began to sing and I went back inside. There were about 100 of them. Some were sitting down, some were standing and jumping up and down praising God, and others were lying on mats on the ground. There were a bunch of really little kids running around and some of them were holding babies. I asked the missionary who they were and he told me they were a group of women who had been registered HIV positive by the government and they got together to sing praises to God and study the Bible every Tuesday. Their name was The Women of Hope. I will never forget sitting there and listening to them worship. I went to the prison and preached, and when I returned two hours later they were still there, still singing to their God. It was absolutely amazing. Here is a group of women who are dying. They didn’t have medication; most of them had a year or two at the most to live. They were dying, they had little children that they were going to leave as orphans. Yet they were filled with joy and peace because they had put their trust in the God of hope. They had put their faith in the one who had come and died on the cross for their sin and been raised from the dead so that HIV didn’t have to scare them anymore. Death no longer controlled them. I want to tell you that even though they were leaving orphans, they were leaving orphans who had seen Jesus. Those children had seen what it looked like to love Jesus. Those children were blessed children because they had mothers who knew what it meant to love Jesus. They had mothers who proclaimed loud and clear to them that Jesus was enough, that he was beautiful, and that in the face of the worst thing that life could ever throw at you, Jesus is enough.
If Jesus is enough for women dying of AIDS, he is enough for us, isn’t he? If Jesus is enough for women leaving their children orphans, he is enough for your neighbor who just lost their job, isn’t he? If Jesus can bring hope to those women in Africa he can bring hope to those going through a divorce, can’t he? He can bring hope to those who have lost children, he can bring hope to those who are losing parents and grandparents. The moment you begin losing hope and give up, remember this: the root of Jesse has come, and in him the hopeless can find hope. Call out to your God. Remember that he is the God of hope. That is his name. We don’t have to be hopeless anymore because we serve the God of hope.
In our own lives, for those sins that we have given up on, for those areas of our lives that we just don’t ever believe are going to change, I beg you turn to Jesus. Turn to him and find hope. Turn to him and know that you are more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ. All things are possible through Christ who gives you strength. Find in Jesus peace and joy in the midst of your struggles as you put your trust in him. Don’t be afraid of failure, don’t despair when you fail, turn to the one who endured the cross to forgive you. Turn to him and find peace and joy in victory, and find peace and joy in failure, for in all things, he is the God of hope who will fill you with peace and joy as you put your trust in him.
And for those in your life who seem to let you down over and over again, for those whom you keep giving second chances to and they keep failing, don’t give up on them. Point them to Jesus. Point them to Jesus by bearing with their failures. Point them to Jesus by forgiving them over and over again. Point them to Jesus by believing that he can transform them even when they don’t believe it anymore.
And for those in your life who have lost all hope, for those in your life who are always complaining to you, for those who tell you their story and you feel sorry for them and don’t know what to say, for those in your life who have given up all hope— please, point them to Jesus. He is the only one who can give them hope. He is the only place that they will ever find lasting joy and peace. Please, don’t obsess over physical needs, don’t obsess over your inability to give them what they need, don’t obsess over your inability to provide for them food or shelter or a job or to bring their wife back or to help their kids love Jesus. There are so many problems in this world that we are helpless to fix in physical ways, but in Christ we have all that we need for peace and joy. In Jesus we have hope for them in their despair. Give the hopeless Jesus. If they will believe in him he will be all that they need.
I want us to love Jesus today. I want us to see how amazing and beautiful he is that he has come to bring hope to the hopeless. I want you to love the God of hope and I plead with him to come and fill you with peace and joy as you put your trust in him. And then I want you to think of one hurting person in your life and plead with the God of hope to fill them with joy and peace as they put their trust in him. We are going to take two minutes of silence and let you pray for these things. And then the music will begin and we will come up to give you communion. Communion is for all who believe in Jesus. It is for all who know God as the God of hope. So, after you have pleaded with the God of hope to come and fill you, and after you have pleaded with him to heal a hurting person in your life, come and take communion. Know that the God who broke his body and shed his blood for you is able to fill everyone with hope who puts their trust in him.
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