My purpose this morning is to stir up holy optimism. There is a strange contradictions going on in the world. Unbelievers who have the most horrible future in store are filled with a vain optimism; and Christians who have every reason to be the most optimistic people on earth are often depressed. Things are not going to work out for the person who rejects Christ. For people who reject the grace of God and continue in ungodliness there is no hope.
Paul contrasted the condition of Christians at Ephesus before and after their conversion. “...that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13). Before Christ came into their lives they were (1) without hope (2) without God (3) in the world. Do you believe that kind of contrast exits between those who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and those who have not? Prov 10:28 says, “The prospect of the righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing” (NIV). That verse acknowledges hope in the wicked but those hopes are vain—they ultimately “come to nothing.” Look with me at a couple of other scriptures that address this contrast. Eccl 8:12-13 “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” Isa. 3:10-11 “Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, For they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11 Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him.” A sinner may seem to do well for awhile—but ultimately it will not be a good ending. I’m here to say to God’s people, “It shall be well with you.”
There is a kind of superficial optimism preached in America that is not biblical. It’s more like the world’s vain optimism than what the Bible teaches. Its values are similar to those of the world. Its promises are more about temporal things of this world than eternal riches. That message is very appealing to carnal Christians. When I’m more interested in material gain and personal comfort than eternal relationship with God, I’m carnal. When I get more excited about an increase in salary or a new car than I do the presence of God, I’m carnal. I would like to see us go deeper than some of the “Christian” optimism we see on television. I want to talk about something more lasting than mere positive thinking. Today I want to talk about “Biblical Optimism.” What does an optimism rooted and grounded in the word of God look like?
I. Biblical Optimism knows God’s attitude toward His people.
Jerm. 29:11 is my favorite Bible verse. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” That’s something I have to remember every day of my life. I’ve got to know that God is for me and not against me. I’ve got to know that in spite of all my floundering, He loves me and will not reject me. Imagine the horror of a God who just doesn’t like you. Some people think God is sitting in heaven just looking for an excuse to zap them. If you’re like me, you’ve already given Him plenty of excuses. Instead of zapping you, He has lovingly and patiently carried you in His arms. What is God’s attitude toward you, dear Christian? “... thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
In Romans 5 Paul reasons with believers about this. Verses 8-11, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Think about that. When you were God’s enemy—unconcerned about pleasing Him—doing whatever you wanted to in rebellion against Him—how did God respond to you? He loved you so much, He gave His Son for your salvation. Jesus loved you so much He suffered the pain, misery, and rejection you deserved so that you could be reconciled to the Father. Here is Paul’s reasoning. If God did all of that for you when you were His enemy, how much more will He do for you now that your His child. Foundational to our walk with God is this understanding of His attitude toward His kids.
A few chapters later, Paul drives this point home again.
Rom 8:31-39 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So here are sound biblical grounds for Christian optimism. God is for us, not against us. His thoughts toward us are thoughts of peace. His intentions toward us are to give us a hope and a future. That ought to encourage somebody here today.
II. Biblical optimism REMEMBERS God’s faithfulness in the Past.
The children of Israel were suffering under the cruel slavery of the Egyptians. Those oppressors were even killing their new-born baby boys. God intervened in behalf of His. Ten plagues shook them loose from the Egyptians. God parted the Red Sea to make a way for them when there seemed to be no way. God told them to keep the Passover as a remembrance of what He had done for them. It’s important to rehearse and remember the good things God has done for us. Forget not all His benefits. We will remember how God took care of Hank Billings in his motor scooter wreck this week. God kept all his bones. Here he is alive and well. Without God’s faithfulness, the result might have been quite different. In Deuteronomy God told His people to not forget His goodness to them.
When David faced Goliath his faith was strengthened by remembering. He remembered the time when a bear tried to destroy one of his sheep. He remembered how God enabled him to defeat that bear. He remembered another time when a lion tried to attack the flock. God gave him victory over that lion. Remembering those times, David was able to say to Saul, “...this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them...Moreover...The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Has God delivered you from the paw of the bear and lion sometime in your past? Well, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He took care of the past for you and He’ll take care of the present challenges as well (1 Sam 17:36-37).
Biblical optimism remembers God’s faithfulness in the past.
III. Biblical optimism EXPECTS God’s Help in the Present.
In Acts 27 Paul was a prisoner on a ship sailing to Italy. God gave Paul a prophetic word warning the captain of impending shipwreck if they continued. Instead of listening to Paul the captain took a vote and the majority decided they should continue the voyage. Sure enough, they encountered a horrific storm. As the situation was going from bad to worse, the sailors were throwing cargo overboard and frantically trying to stay afloat. Everyone was in a panic, except Paul. By the word of the Lord, Paul knew God would take care of him. He had even interceded for his captors and God gave Paul instruction for saving their lives. The ship did run aground but everyone was saved just like Paul had said. What’s intriguing to me about this story was Paul’s faith. There he was a prisoner, in the natural the least empowered person on the ship, at the bottom of the social ladder. But in the end, Paul is running the show. Paul is telling his captors what to do. Paul had hope when all hope was lost by the others. What was the basis of that hope? The word of the Lord. Based on that word, Paul expected God’s help in the situation.
IV. Biblical optimism Sees the Unseen.
Remember in 2 Kings 6 when the King of Syria would lay traps for the King of Israel. It never worked because God would give Elisha a word of knowledge about what was going on; Elisha would tell the King of Israel; and the Israeli King would avoid the trap.
So the King of Syria sent a huge army to capture Elisha and bring him back to Syria as a prisoner. During the night this army surrounds the village where Elisha is. The next morning his assistant steps outside and freaks out. There are thousands of enemy forces surrounding the town. There is nowhere to run. He screams out to Elisha asking what to do. How many remember what Elisha told him? “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The assistant looks around and sees no help. Maybe he wondered if Elisha had lost touch with reality. I don’t know. But Elisha prayed a simple prayer. “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” Does anybody here need your eyes open to see all the help God has available to you? Do you feel outnumbered by the problems? “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” Are you only seeing half of reality? Sometimes Christians lose heart because they are only seeing half of reality. They can see the problem; that’s easy enough to see. But they do not see God’s solution. God, open our eyes to see the whole picture. Don’t let us get so focused on the problem that we can’t see the solution that you have already prepared for us. Amen? 2 Kings 6:17 says, “...Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (NIV).
The way God gave victory to Elisha is quite humorous. God strikes all the Syrians with blindness and Elisha leads them to the King of Israel. The King of Israel wants to slaughter them. But what does Elisha do? He feeds them a meal and sends them back to Syria. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when that captain tried to explain what had happened to the King of Syria.
Biblical optimism sees “the rest of the story.” Biblical optimism sees the whole picture. Biblical optimism sees what other people can’t see.
V. Christian optimism is Unmoved by Externals.
Christian optimism does not depend upon circumstances. On that ship Paul could have gotten all depressed about the situation. Here I’ve tried to serve the Lord and what happens. I am put in chains for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am put on this sticking ship and now we are going to be shipwrecked. God, it’s just not fair. I don’t deserve this. It would be easy to become self-centered in a situation like that. But Paul stayed God-centered. Paul saw and heard things, others were not hearing. Paul had more confidence in what God had told him than in what the circumstances seemed to indicate.
In 2 Corinthians Paul talked about some of the hardships he had experienced. “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
A carnal Christian does not want that kind of optimism. He wants an optimism that works exactly like the world. I avoid all hardship. I get what I want, when I want it. I don’t need an enduring faith because I don’t want to endure anything.
Paul had an optimism that could not be shaken by difficulties. His optimism was founded on something altogether different that the optimism of the world.
VI. Biblical optimism Rejoices in its Relationship with the Lord.
The optimism we opt for is based upon our relationship with Christ. I am so connected to Jesus that His victory is my victory. His future is my future. Scripture tells me to “Rejoice and again I say rejoice.” That is a perpetual possibility because I am hid in Christ. Biblical optimism expresses itself in praise for who God is and what He has already done for us in Christ. It’s not about things; it’s about relationship. Out of that relationship flows everything we need for this life and for eternity. 2 Peter 1:2 “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness....” I got everything I need because of my relationship with the Lord. I don’t have to worry about tomorrow because I know who holds the future.
Remember Habakkuk’s struggle that we talked about last week, where God said to him, “The just shall live by faith”? We know that Habakkuk got the revelation of what that meant for him. We know it by what he says later in his book. Hab 3:17-19
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls --
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.”
Habakkuk’s rejoicing was not dependent upon a good crop. It was not dependent upon a successful harvest. “I will rejoice in the LORD—in my relationship with Him, in who He is. I will joy in the God of my salvation—in knowing He is my salvation—He provides everything I need for life and godliness.
I can live a life of praise just because I belong to the Lord. In Luke 10 seventy disciples came back to Jesus excited about the fruit of their ministry. People were healed and changed by the word of the Lord. They were amazed as to how the demons were subject to them. These are valid reasons to be excited. But Jesus puts joy on a more solid foundation than ministry results. He says to them “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Is your name written in heaven? If so, you’ve got plenty to rejoice about.
Biblical optimism rejoices in our relationship with the Lord.
VII. Biblical optimism Anticipates a Final Victory.
This whole thing is moving in a good direction. That’s not to say there won’t be negative things happen. Paul told Timothy that perilous times would come in the last days. 2 Tim 3:2-5 “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” I think the church has to be particularly concerned about the last two points of description: lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. When we call it church but it’s really just a form of godliness—just the shell with no real presence of God—no real activity of the Holy Spirit—that’s not church as God intended. When it’s about fun, entertainment and pleasure rather than loving God, that misses the whole point of church. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and being.
Biblical optimism is not polly anna. It does not sweep the negative under the rug; it acknowledges the truth. But it also does not stay there when God has more in mind. Beyond the great falling away that may occur in the last days, we also have the promise of His coming. Jesus is coming back! “Why do you stand here gazing into heaven,” said the angel to the disciples in Acts 1:11. “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
We are tenaciously optimistic because we have read the end of the book and know without a doubt that we win. Regardless of the day to day struggles we may experience, in the end God wins, Christ wins, and we in Christ win. I want to take you forward in time for a moment. It is a point in time when the devil has done his worst, but still loses. It is a point in time when our King and Bridegroom Jesus receives the glory and honor due His name. It is a point in time when knees bow and tongues confess He is Lord. And guess what? We get to be with Him in all this.
Rev 19:11-16 the Apostle John writes,
“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
That’s what you and I have to look forward to. We ought to be the most optimistic people on the face of the earth. Live in the reality that in Christ, you win!
For FOOTNOTES/SOURCES go to www.GatewayNixa.org
Gateway Foursquare Church