Summary: The message of Easter is hope. There is something beyond the cross - beyond the suffering. There is resurrection.
April 20, 2003 Colossians 1:24-27
“Is there anything beyond the cross?”
A Sunday School teacher asked her class to write one sentence each on "What Easter Means to Me." One pupil wrote: "Egg salad sandwiches for the next two weeks!" As a child, I might have said something very similar to that. But now that I am an adult, Easter means something very different to me. It means the restoration of hope. Someone has said, “We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope.” Speaking of the role of hope in our lives, Thornton Wilde said, “Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; hope is an energy that arouses the mind to explore every possibility to combat them.”
The people who were a part of the first Easter knew all about the need for hope in order to be able to continue on. They had knelt there at the foot of the cross watching the one who carried all their hopes and dreams die. They had listened as He said, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit”, and then, they saw Him bow His head for the last time. Their guts had wrenched as the Roman soldier plunged the spear into his side removing all doubt that Jesus was really dead. They followed those who carried Him to the tomb, and when they heard the resounding sound of the rock that sealed the tomb, they knew that their hope was dead – sealed in the tomb with the one that they thought was their Savior. They knew what it was like to be hopeless.
Some of you know that same feeling of hopelessness. When you look at your marriage, you see only despair. When you think about your children – whether they are still young or full grown, you wonder what kind of a future there is for them. When you consider your life and the mistakes that you have made, you are tempted to give up hope that anyone could ever love you, forgive you and make something good out of your life.
This morning, my goal for us is that we will experience that same restoration of hope that those first century Christians experienced when they came to the tomb and heard the words, “[Jesus] is not here; He is risen just as He said.” They discovered that there is hope beyond the cross. What you are going through or whatever you have done does not need to destroy you and steal your hope. You can hope again.
1. Beyond the cross, hope endures even through suffering. (vs. 24)
One of the things that threatens to steal your hope is suffering. Suffering has been a part of what it means to be human ever since sin entered into the world. And even though, Jesus paid for our sins on the cross with His own blood, still suffering is present with us and will be until this world is a part of history. You can let suffering steal your hope, or you can hold onto that hope by concentrating on some of the positive things that can come out of suffering.
Suffering can bring believers closer to Christ. (Phil. 3:10) – It teaches us total dependence on Him. How many of you have been through circumstances where you knew that you could not have made it through without the Lord being there? Suffering also brings people closer together. Six of the rescued POW’s could have come home to America and their families sooner than they did, but they chose to wait a few extra days so that all of them would be healthy enough to come home together. Why? Because their ordeal had developed a bond between them.
Suffering assures believers that they belong to Christ. (John 15:18) – Jesus said that we should expect persecution and suffering. They persecuted Him; He promised that they would persecute us. That’s what Paul is talking about in in vs. 24 when he says that he had to fill up Christ’s afflictions. It wasn’t that Jesus death and resurrection wasn’t sufficient to pay for Paul’s or our salvation. It was that the world continues to pour out its hatred of Jesus on us. This will continue until one day when God says that the cup is full, and His judgment will be poured out. Suffering itself and the attacks of the enemy confirm that I am a part of God’s family.
Suffering reminds believers that this world is not eternal and it is not home.
Suffering changes believers and produces hope within us. (Rom. 5:2-5)
I heard about an interesting Scientific experiement that was done a while back at Duke University. A group of behavioral Scientists put some Wharf Rats in a tank of water, and observed them to see how long they would survive before drowning. The average time was 17 minutes. Then, they repeated the experiment, but this time they "rescued" the rats just before the point of drowning, dried them off and returned them to their cages.... fed them, and let them play for a few days, and repeated the drowning experiment. This time, the average survival time for these rats increased from 17 minutes to 36 hours! The scientists explained that phenomenon by pointing out that the second time around, the rats had HOPE. They believed that they could survive this, because they had done so before. One scientist said, "They were able to survive because they had been SAVED". -- Heard on Chuck Smith’s radio broadcast, "The Word for Today". We usually say, "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Duke experiment proved, "As long as there is hope, there is life." -- Bruster & Dale Every time that you make it over some obstacle in your life, it gives you hope that empowers you to make it over the next obstacle that comes along. When you are faced with a situation that threatens to steal your hope, look back. Look back at all those other times that you thought there was no hope. You made it through those. God is still the same as He has ever been, and His power is still available to you. You can make it over.