I can remember a time when I was working in Navy Headquarters in Canberra when the Government introduced yet another round of economy measures and cuts in the Defence budget. We could no longer implement many of the initiatives that we were working on, or even continue doing many things that we were currently doing. The economy drives included such things as cutting back on travel and making sure that we turned off computers at night to save on electricity. In the midst of it all, someone with a sense of humour sent an email around with this announcement: “To assist in the economy measures the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off!”
The light at the end of the tunnel represents that glimmer of light when we are passing through dark times; or to put it another way, it represents the hope that we have for better times when experiencing difficult times in life.
For the Christian, our hope is in Jesus because, we can trust wholly in the Lord Jesus in all things.
I. In Jesus we have hope for the future.
In Mark 10:17-31 we find recorded a discussion between Jesus and a rich young man of some status in the community, who came up to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response was a lesson that follows on from his earlier lesson on the little children. It indicates that eternal life is found in him; but, there are a couple of requirements:
1. Receipt of eternal life requires total dependence upon, and trust in, God.
Many people, however, put their dependence and trust in material possessions, achievements and wealth. Not only can material possessions not get us into heaven, but material possessions can actually hinder entry into the kingdom of God.
This was the problem that the rich young man had. On the one hand, he desired eternal life very much and earnestly sought it out. He was devout in his religious practices and kept the law scrupulously. He was even prepared to humble himself as indicated by his running to Jesus and kneeling before him. In those days, people, especially those of higher office, did not run.
But Jesus knew that he had a major problem. Unfortunately, the rich young ruler was actually in contravention of the first and second commandments: you shall have no other God’s before me and you shall not worship idols. Rather than trusting totally in God he was placing his trust and worship firstly in his wealth.
When Jesus tested him by telling him to give up his wealth, in order to ensure that there was nothing that stood between him and Jesus, the young man could not even contemplate doing this - he desired his wealth more than eternal life. If he had been prepared to put Jesus before his wealth, he would have received eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today, possessions can continue to be a hindrance to total trust in God. We accumulate much and find it hard to let it go. As well as wealth, position in society and popularity can also be a hindrance. But, it is not the wealth or possessions in itself that is the problem – after all, Jesus said that God gives us good things to enjoy in this life. It is more a matter of how we use these things and what our attitude towards them is.
If they rule our life, and take priority over Jesus in our life, as often occurs, then we cannot receive the gifts that God wants to give us. Such things prevent many people from having hope for the future through placing their trust in Jesus.
Nevertheless, there is still hope because God is a God of grace and is a God who acts through Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. Whilst we may find it hard to put our dependence and trust totally in God, ….
2. Receipt of eternal life does not result from what I do – it is what God does.
Only God can give us eternal life – it is a gift of God through grace and is not reliant upon our own achievements such as the observance of law or accumulation of wealth or status.
Salvation by grace is a work of God and therefore is something miraculous. It is not something that we can do without God’s miraculous intervention, and even more so if we are ruled by our possessions. To illustrate the impossibility of us achieving this, Jesus said that trying to hold onto your trust in riches and enter the kingdom is as impossible as trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle.
The disciples were somewhat overwhelmed by this revelation – if the salvation of a rich man requires something of a miracle, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus’ response is a summary of the means of salvation – Yes, ‘With man this is impossible’, we cannot achieve it through what we have or what we can do; but, for God, ‘all things are possible’. God can do the miraculous and through his grace has provided the means. Our part is to put our trust totally in Jesus Christ and not allow anything to take our focus off him.
Of course, there is a cost in doing this. Anything that hinders our total trust in God must be given up. And we tend to value the wrong things. In addition, following Jesus can bring persecution – the world does not respect Jesus and at times, following Jesus can sometimes be a difficult road to travel.
Nevertheless, Jesus says that whatever it cost to be a follower of Christ in terms of self-denial, is far outweighed by the gain of belonging to the family of God’s kingdom.
Transition – So, we must not place our trust in ourselves or our material possessions; but, place our trust in Jesus. And we must rid ourselves of anything that would be a hindrance by taking our focus off Jesus. As we do this we receive eternal life and can have hope for the future. But our hope in Jesus is not only for the future, it is also for now because …
II. In Jesus we can find support for today.
1. Jesus supports us when times are tough.
As we look around the world right now, it is only too obvious that there is another reason why we should not place our trust in our material possessions - we can lose all of our wealth and possessions overnight. Over the last week, many have lost their possessions, livelihood, and loved ones through the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia. And in Australia, many have been in danger of losing, or have lost, their possessions and livelihood through drought.
The Old Testament reading for today from the Book of Job provides a historical example of a man who lost everything. Job lost all of his property, and his sons and daughters were all killed in a natural disaster – a tornado. His suffering was then increased through affliction of a disease that caused his body to break out in sores. During long periods of desolation that followed, Job felt abandoned by God. And yet, in the midst of this suffering, he maintained his integrity and continued to place trust in God.
God knows what it is like to lose an only and much-loved child in an unjust manner. He also knows what it is to suffer through the rejection and abandonment of his created children, men and women. Yet, because of his love for us and his mercy, we can find comfort and hope for a future that he has promised when justice will be done, and all things will be put right.
Typically, however, our response to these sorts of disasters is to want to make sense of it. Rather than simply trusting in God, we want to be able to find a purpose in it. “Why do such things occur?” As we saw last week, sometimes injustice and evil occur because of the hardness of heart of mankind, ie our rejection of God and indulgence of our greed and self-centredness. We also know from the account of mankind’s rejection of God (‘the fall of mankind’) that we are no longer living in the perfect world that God originally created. Sin has impacted God’s creation, as well as men and women.
A question that I often hear when disasters occur is, “Do disasters occur because we are sinful, and God is punishing us?” In other words, is suffering necessarily linked with sin?
Jesus gave a clear “No!” to this question when he was asked if eighteen Galileans who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them, and other Galileans who were slaughtered by Pilate, were worse sinners than other Galileans.
And Job’s suffering was certainly not due to any sinfulness. He was a righteous man and God was delighted in him. Job’s suffering was a result of Satan testing him to see if he would deny God. Satan’s claim was that Job was really only righteous because it brought blessings and that if Job were to suffer then he would turn against God, revealing his true nature. So, Satan challenged God - ‘stretch out your hand and strike him and he will surely curse you.’
But, Job remained steadfast in his trust of God and refused to curse God – even when his wife who understandably had become fed-up with all of the suffering said to Job, “Why are you persisting in your integrity – curse God and be done with it”
So, suffering is not necessarily linked with sinfulness. Whilst mankind will be judged for rejection of God, this judgement will not occur until the end of the age when Jesus returns. Meanwhile, we have a God of mercy and grace who provides us with a way of repentance and salvation through trusting in Jesus Christ. And when we trust in Jesus, we can find support through him when times are tough. We also find support for today because …
2. Jesus supports us by interceding for us.
In the Hebrews passage for today, we are told that Jesus is our ‘great high priest’ through whom we can make confession, who intercedes for us with God, and who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He can do this because, during his time on earth, he has experienced all of the testing that we experience.
So Jesus knows our struggles, our temptations and our trials. And he understands our weaknesses. Because of this, we can look to Jesus for support in all aspects of life, and we can be confident that we will find compassion and forgiveness in times of need.
Conclusion. For those who put their trust in Jesus, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. Our hope is in Jesus because, we can trust wholly in the Lord Jesus in all things. Through Jesus we receive eternal life and can have hope for the future. And in Jesus we can also find support for today. When times are tough we can look to Jesus for support because he understands us and intercedes for us. And for those who put there hope in Jesus, God is compassionate and merciful.