This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.
OLD TESTAMENT READING Isaiah 40:31, NIV
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
NEW TESTAMENT READING Romans 5:1-5, GW
Now that we have God’s approval by faith, we have peace with God because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done. 2 Through Christ we can approach God and stand in his favor. So, we brag because of our confidence that we will receive glory from God. 3 But that’s not all. We also brag when we are suffering. We know that suffering creates endurance, 4 endurance creates character, and character creates confidence. 5 We’re not ashamed to have this confidence, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
We hope for many things…
Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” To have hope is an act of faith! My faith in God allows me to hope for things that I believe are within God’s will, hope not as wishful thinking, but that conviction that God’s purposes will be fulfilled. Hope allows me to lean into the future with less worry and less fear, not for a smooth road necessarily, but for a future worth the effort, worth the pain, worth the frustrations along the way. That is the hope that becomes an anchor for my soul, firm and secure, because it is grounded in my faith in God and God’s promises.
An anchor holds a boat or even a ship fast in the water; it can even help it ride out a storm without getting lost at sea. We need that in the stormy waters of our lives when we feel so lost. When the tasks are overwhelming, when someone hurts us, when we receive bad news, when a loved one dies. We need a place to anchor our souls. At those times why wouldn’t we trust the one who breathed that soul into the first human being?
God created all of life, plant and animal, but when God formed Adam out of the dust, God breathed his own Spirit, his ruach, into Adam’s nostrils. As Max Lucado says, God gave him more than oxygen, he gave Adam a soul. He goes on to say, “Your soul separates you from animals and unites you to God.” (Unshakeable Hope, p, 156)
That union takes place not just here on earth, not just in our physical body. The soul is more than that; it rests with Christ in the inner sanctuary, behind the curtain as our theme verse in Hebrews tells us. That inner sanctuary referred in Old Testament times to the most sacred place in the tabernacle God instructed Moses to have built. Behind that curtain rested the Ark of the Covenant carrying the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. The top to that Ark was called the Mercy Seat, considered to be God’s throne when God held court, if you will, among God’s people. When Moses went into that tent we call the tabernacle, it was to meet with God. When he came out he had to wear a veil, because being in the presence of God’s full glory caused his face to shine so bright, the people couldn’t look at him.
In the Temple that Solomon built, that inner space was again part of the design and was called the Holy of Holies. It could be entered only by the High Priest, and even he could only enter once a year on Yom Kippur to make atonement by sacrifice for God’s people asking God to forgive all their sin. When we talk about Jesus behind the curtain, we are referring to Jesus as the Highest Priest who sacrificed himself to atone for our sin, to grant us mercy and reconcile us with God.
The book of Revelation refers often to that heavenly throne room of God and those who worship there. Here is one example from Chapter 4: “9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one seated on the throne, who lives forever and always, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one seated on the throne. They worship the one who lives forever and always. They throw down their crowns before the throne and say,
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
because you created all things.
It is by your will that they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:9-11)
In the final scene of chapter 22 there is this promise: “There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (v.3)
Hope anchors our soul, tied by a life line more secure than the strongest cable, to God’s throne room in the heavens where the Lamb of God, who is Jesus, sits at God’s right hand, and together they reign over this world we know and all the worlds beyond our human grasp. Christ reigns supreme over the entire universe. It is the ultimate image for Christ the King, and that is where hope in Christ, anchors our soul. We are not lost, we are not adrift on the seas of worldly troubles, we are tied securely to the Mercy Seat of God, the throne room of Christ.
When his disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walked across those waves, climbed into their boat and commanded the waves and the winds to be still. When are tossed about by the storms of life, Jesus comes to us if we welcome him, and again, can bring peace and stability to our soul. By faith our Hope is anchored in Christ our King.
Max tells the story of a man in Texas who faced such a literal storm with his family. The rains that came down he described as a “once in a century flood…The Blanco River came up twenty-eight feet in ninety minutes.” (p. 158) The family climbed to the second story of their cabin, but eventually clung to a mattress floating the turbulent waters. Jonathan had several broken bones, but much worse lost his wife and two children to that flood. Two weeks later, he spoke at their funeral, was very honest about the pain and grief left by that tragedy, but also managed to share his faith with the verse from our call to worship, to trust God rather than lean on our own understanding. Jonathan knew the reality of the phrase, “cry me a river” and he knew that anger, frustration and confusion that go with such loss. But even so he anchored his hope in the reunion they would one day share in heaven. He expressed that hope and faith not as “I wish,” but as “I know.” (p, 160)
The Bible encourages us to “pray always and never lose hope.” (Luke 18:1) The two do go together. If you have no hope, there is no reason to pray, but if believe in the power of prayer, there is every reason to have hope. Again, our hope is in God’s purpose and plan not just our own limited view or desires.
The scripture I have used as a benediction throughout this series comes from Romans 15:13 and includes the phrase to “abound in hope.” Lucado plays a bit with that word abound. Rain abounds in a downpour. Yosemite abounds with trees of all sizes. A cotton field abounds in fluffy white cotton. We are more likely to see fields that abound with corn, the Mississippi abounds with water, and by the end of today our yards may abound with snow. Does that give you an image of what it means to abound with hope? It is hope that fills us up and overflows, that is beyond the scope of our limited vision.
Sometimes that hope isn’t our first reaction when things go wrong. Max tells a story on himself of taking a break from writing this book and going to play golf. But a message from another staff member didn’t sit right with him. At each successive tee he got more defensive and angrier. He admits that by the fifth hole he had resigned, fired the guy, gone on strike and moved to Mexico, all of course, just in his own mind. Then God reminded him about the book he was writing on Unshakeable Hope, and some of the scripture promises he has shared with us these past few months began to work in him. I will admit that last Wednesday, as I pushed myself to get the house ready for company while still faced with uninstalled furnishings and a mountain of boxes, I got tired and cranky and ran out of hope, even though I had started this sermon that morning. I, too, needed the well-loved verse from Isaiah 40 that was our Old Testament reading today.
Those who wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up on wings as eagles.
They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (v.31)
If life were smooth, we wouldn’t need hope. But if life were too smooth, we would be weak, rather than strong. That is why our New Testament reading reminds us that,
Trouble produces endurance,
endurance produces character,
and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3b-4a)
Trouble will come, but God can use it to build us up. Paul tells us as he wrote to the Romans, that hope abounds by the power of the Holy Spirit. The hope produced by troubles will not disappoint us, because God’s love is poured through us by the Holy Spirit. I begin to get the image that the Holy Spirit is that extraordinarily strong cord that tethers our anchor of hope to the Mercy Seat of God and the throne of Christ our King. God, and none other is the source and the strength of our hope no matter what we face. I pray that as you enter Advent, the season of hope, you will indeed abound in hope inspired by the Holy Spirit, trusting in Christ and in the promises of God.