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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Prisoners of Hope

Allen Jackson - Prisoners of Hope

Allen Jackson - Prisoners of Hope

It's good to be with you again. Our topic today is "Prisoners of Hope". I love the image being imprisoned by hope. That no matter which way we look we look with hope in our hearts. That sounds like the Spirit of God to me. I know there's a lot of voices and a lot of circumstances that would like to diminish your hope, but they're not founded on the truth of God's Word. I read the end of the book. We win. So no matter what your circumstance is or what your political perspective or your imagination of current events, Jesus is still Lord, and he will triumph in this earth. That is good news. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most of all open your heart to the hope of the Spirit of God.

The title for the session is "Prisoners of Hope". I intend to be and live as a prisoner of hope. I have hope. Folks, I have a greater sense of anticipation about what God is doing in the earth and the opportunities before us than in any time in my life. Now, I will readily admit that's being met by expressions of evil and darkness that I've never seen before, but I'm a prisoner of hope, and it's not just my opinion. I took it from a passage that I'll share with you in just a moment. How are we to understand the landscape around us? Our world is changing more rapidly, more dramatically, more significantly, more consistently than any time in my lifetime. What exactly are our greatest challenges? Where is it that we are looking for solutions? And I know we're in church, and we answer everything with Jesus, but I mean really.

What's the foundation of any optimism you may hold? And some of you may not be holding very much. You know, my perception, this is mine. You may have a different one, but my perception of America today is somewhat of resembling the Titanic. We are traveling along with the imagination that we are for the most part just invincible. We always have been. We've faced great threats, we've faced global wars, we've faced economic disasters, we've faced natural disasters, but we've always triumphed over them, and we imagine we will always triumph over them. Nothing is going to threaten the momentum of our lives or the repetitive future that we've come to know and imagine for our children or our grandchildren.

We're a bit Titanic-like in our imagination, the greatest thing that's ever been built. We're invincible, the strongest thing on the high seas. We're eating and drinking and enjoying unprecedented opportunities. The music is playing. Fashion is certainly a primary consideration. We are bejeweled and bedazzled, and we are isolated from the reality around us to such a great extent that we are completely unaware of the threat of ice in the water. The fundamental challenges we face I don't believe they're economic or political or viral. I think the fundamental challenge we face is spiritual, in fact, I would submit to you that there's a demonic assault which has been unleashed among us.

Now, the indicators of it are not hard to see. The cause of it may be hard to identify, but the symptoms are not hard. Deception, lies, violence, lawlessness, greed, immorality, perversion, the cheapening of human life, all of those things are growing around us; ambivalence amongst God's people, spiritual blindness. We're just doing the things the way we've always done them. We're totally oblivious. These things are manifestations of spiritual activity more than their expressions of the failures of the systems that we depend upon. See, I would submit to you it's not our systems that are failing, it's our spiritual awareness that is so dim that we don't know how to respond to the structural challenges that we're facing.

When I listen to conservative thinkers and leaders, and I have the privilege of doing that with some frequency, they have a consistent message of hope. I've heard it across multiple platforms with multiple people in different settings. They express this hope that the church is a sleeping giant, that the church is going to be the game changer. Well, I have to be completely candid with you. I don't share their perspective. Just exactly how many decades of failed elections or a consistently deteriorating culture do we need to experience before we acknowledge that the perceived sleeping giant or the silent majority has been co-opted by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit? I'm an optimist, and I'm definitely an advocate for the church, but I also believe we should follow the science and awareness and evaluation of what we're watching and seeing and listening to as a part of the equation in the formula, not just stupid hope. Hope for us is informed by a biblical perspective.

I would submit to you that God is the only solution. That the people who will turn to God, and here's the awkward part, in desperation, in humility, and in repentance will be the catalyst for the change that we so imagine we need. We must talk more about God and how we can align our lives with his perspective, not how we can get him to align with our perspective. It's more than how can we mobilize like-minded people to confront our problems? You see, the fundamental we need is how do we experience the power of God and the presence of his Holy Spirit? We have to learn once again. We've lost sight of this, that we're not the most powerful beings in creation. I believe if we will do that, if we will take that up and make it our assignment and live with that on a daily basis, I believe we'll experience the presence of God in ways we have not known before.

Zechariah chapter 9 and verse 12 says, "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope..." Want you think about hope as a fortress. It protects you against the onslaught of discouragement, and depression, and despair, and fear, and intimidation, and bullying. It'll protect you from the concern you'll be canceled. Hope in God is a fortress. And God said, "Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you". One of the things we've done for a number of years around here that is profound as anything I think we've ever done as a congregation is we've read our Bibles together consistently, systematically through the course of the year, and we just finished the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Last two books to the Old Testament? Zechariah and Malachi.

Isn't that exciting? Well, I usually try to read ahead a little bit, and so I went back this week to go back through those books just in a casual way, and as I did I kept making notes in the margin of my Bible about what God was saying, and it's really what I want to share with you today. I hope many of you have read it. If you haven't, we're starting a new plan today, and this year we're starting in the New Testament. So you can get that online. You can get it from the apps. In fact, on the apps it will read it to you while you're driving to work or doing chores around the house. Not much of an excuse. It'll change your life. But it's from Zechariah that that message came. Now, I will freely acknowledge that Zechariah and Malachi were Hebrew prophets, and the primary audience or the initial audience that their message was addressed to would have been the Jewish people and God's relationship with them. But one of the unique characteristics of our Bibles is that it is addressive literature and it speaks to us more than in the original context.

In the Gospel of John when Jesus said in Jerusalem during the feast, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, and out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water," was not a message addressed intended only for the first century audience. It's as real for you and me today. And I wouldn't quibble at all that Zechariah had some things uniquely to say to his audience, but I believe a part of that message is just as relevant for you and me today. And that's where I want to start, with the words of the prophet. And the passage we already read gives you the suggestion. It's really the text that we're going to unpack, and it's this notion of the transition, the movement from being a prodigal to prosperity.

Zechariah chapter 1 and beginning in verse 1, "In the eighth month of the second year of Darius," Darius is the king, Persian, "the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah". And then it gives you his family. And they had weird names. And this was his message: "The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you...'" That's God's message. He said, "Return to me, and I'll come back to you". "'Don't be like your forefathers to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.'" But they would not listen or pay attention to me,' declares the Lord. 'Where are your forefathers now? How did it go for them?'"

And the answer to Zechariah's audience was, "Well, it didn't go well at all. They lost their homes and their places and their property, and they lived as strangers in a foreign land". Ignoring not... God is not a good plan. It wasn't then, it isn't today. "And the prophets, do they live forever"? Even the messengers that God sent them, he said they were temporary. "But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your fathers"? And then the response of Zechariah's generation, it says, "The people repented and they said, 'the Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.'" They're not angry at God. They're not resentful. They're not accusing. They repented.

Repentance in Scripture carries with it two suggestions: a change of thought, and a change of direction, a change of behavior. Real repentance isn't just saying, "I'm sorry," and picking up and resuming your routine, repentance is about restructuring how you've thought and how you've behaved. Then that same chapter, the continuation of the message I just, for the sake of time I abbreviated it for you. Verse 17 God said, "Proclaim further. This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.'" "I brought an enemy against you".

Some of you know the story. It was 587BC, and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. They destroyed the temple. They destroyed every aspect of their spiritual life. They couldn't offer sacrifices any longer, which was at the heart of their expression of faith to the Lord. They couldn't celebrate the Day of Atonement in the way they had celebrated. They couldn't gather in synagogues. They couldn't keep kosher. Their lives were completely destroyed, and now they've become to come back. And God says to them, "Your towns will again overflow with prosperity. The Lord will comfort you". Chapter 8, same book, "'So now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and to Judah. Do not be afraid. These are the things you're to do: speak the truth to each other, render true and sound judgment in your courts, don't plot evil against your neighbor, and don't love to swear falsely. I hate all of this,' declares the Lord".

God gives them a little process. It's like a roadmap for a better behavior. Did you read it? What a wonderful thing it would be if we embraced it. First he said, "Don't be afraid". We don't have to live in fear. Stop it. Start to deal with the fear. Don't just give into it. Don't welcome it. Don't allow it to map your future. Yes, the world's a mess. Yes, the economy is upside down. Yes, the leaders lie to us. Yes, justices is unequal. Yes, they're practicing all sorts of things that are illegal. Still don't have to be afraid. "Well, those are frightening things". Yes, they are, but there's a greater power at work on our behalf. Jesus stood before a Roman governor that thought he had the power to have him executed, and he said, "Oh, bother. You don't have any influence unless my dad gave it to you. You should humble yourself a little bit. You want to grow a second nose at your forehead? I could do that".

That's not really in the text. If it would, it'd been more fun. And then Malachi the very next book, different prophet, slightly different context, but a very similar message. "I the Lord do not change. So you, descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them". Here's the message. "'Return to me, then I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty". How many remember the story of the prodigal son in the New Testament, the parable that Jesus taught? Took his inheritance. He didn't want to live by the father's rules. He didn't want to be hampered or encumbered. He wanted to do his own thing, give expression to himself.

So he took his inheritance, and he went to a distant place, and he spent it in, the Bible says it rather in the old English, riotous living, in ungodliness, in immorality, in depravity, in debauchery. And when all of his money was gone, all of his friends were gone, and he had the most humiliating job that a young Jewish man could have. He's feeding the pigs. To keep kosher means you don't eat pork, and if you're reduced to eating the pigs and the only foods you have available is the slop that the pigs eat, you're about as low as you're going to go. And it says that the young man said to himself, "If I go back to my father's house I could say, 'I don't deserve to be one of your children any longer, but could I be a servant in your house?'"

It's a story of returning. And that's the message that Zechariah was delivering to the people. It's the message that Malachi was delivering to people. I would submit to you it's the message that the Spirit of God is giving to God's people in our generation. "Will you return to me"? Now, the Jewish people they had worship service, they had all the formalities of worship, but their hearts were a long way from the Lord. We still fill our churches, we still have Bibles on the shelves at home, we still can sing the hymns or the choruses, we still imagine ourselves Christian, we haven't declared ourselves agnostic, or atheist, or Buddhist, or Muslim or something, but our hearts have been a long way from the Lord.

We've been more immersed in the things of the world than the things of the kingdom of God. We're more aware of the trends in business and economics or communication than we are the trends of the Spirit. In fact, we're far more comfortable having a secular conversation around our fantasy sports teams than we are having a conversation about how the Holy Spirit might move in our lives. We're very awkward in that discussion because we've been a long way from the Lord. So I believe the invitation as we look at the future is where we have the courage to return to the Lord. Are we desperate enough to say that the trajectory we're on is not going to bring us the solution that we need, or do we think the Titanic is just going to keep sailing forever? Do we believe the press?

Well, I think a lot of this has to do with the vision you're willing to accept, how you see the world. You know, perspective changes everything. The perspective in a home is vastly different if you're a child or a parent. The perspective in an office is vastly different if you're a supervisor or the supervised. Perspective changes everything. The perspective in church changes if you're standing behind the podium or you're seated in front of it. In front of it, you're brilliant. Behind it, you struggle to get words to go together. If you don't believe that, I'll swap with you really quickly. The vision that we accept has a great deal to do with our lives.

Now, when I say vision, I want to take a few minutes with that, but I'm not talking about updating your mission statement, your personal mission statement. And I don't think that's wrong, but I'm not talking about a new slogan for defining activity in your personal life or your home or your business. Again, not evil, but vision in the biblical context has a much greater meaning. Biblically, this notion of vision is what you see, what you know, what you understand. Maybe revelation is a more encompassing term than just vision. What is been made known to you? It's not just a dream, it's not your fantasy for a better future, it's what has been revealed to you. What's your insight?

You see, God's people are imagined to have a different understanding of life, of our world, and of our future, and because of that vision, we live differently. We don't live differently out of fear, we don't live differently because we're concerned about judgment, we have a different perspective. We understand there's a different set of objectives, a different set of goals, a different set of forces in play that the people of God, the people who don't know the Lord are completely unaware of. We've lost our vision. We are vision impaired. Our revelation is small. And in exchange for revelation or vision, we've said, "I'm born again". And we can cite the day or perhaps talk about a baptism event. And I believe in conversion, and I believe in baptism, but being the people of God means we live with an insight, an understanding of revelation of who God is. It's not just my imagination.

Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision", depending on the translation you use, the older translations, King James, New King James, tend to say vision, the more modern translations will say revelation. "Where there is no vision or where there is no revelation, the people are unrestrained". And, again, the word there is not an exact translation into English. The older translations will say, "Where there is no vision, the people perish". The more modern translations have some perspective on where there is no revelation or where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint. They're unfettered. They live as if there's no boundaries. "But happy is he who keeps the law".

See, a revelation of God, a vision of God, an understanding of God is intended to change everything. So the invitation of the prophets, again: "'Return to me,' the Lord said". These are the covenant people of God. They've got the right DNA. They've got the right religious settings. They have the right history. They have the right stories. They have the books of the law. They have a lengthy history of God's deliverance. They've got the pedigree. They can tell the story. But God said, "You need to return. I would love to return to you," he said. "I want to bring prosperity to you in a new way. I want to restore what's been taken from you".

Do you believe that we can see God restore what we have forfeited because we weren't paying any attention? Do you think we can see God restored to our schools, into our college campuses, into our courtrooms, in our classrooms, in the corridors of our hospitals, in our factory floors, in our corporate boardrooms? I do, if we would return to the Lord. We got to stop pointing our fingers at somebody else. You see, we've wanted to continue sailing on the Titanic, doing our own thing. It's like why are we still on those ungodly people? We're changed. And I don't mean you, but somebody.

Look at Habakkuk. 'Cause we're looking at books at the end of the Old Testament, I thought I'd choose one more. You can pronounce Habakkuk, you get a gold star. Says, "I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart. I'll keep watch to see what God will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. Then the Lord answered me", in the previous chapter Habakkuk accuses God of being unfair. He said the wicked prosper, and the righteous suffer, and God answers him. "The Lord answered and said, 'Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets. The one who reads, so that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; it hastens toward the goal, and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it, for it will certainly come, it will not delay.'" I love the imagery. He said, "Write the vision down so that the one who reads it can run with it, so that it can be easily communicated, that it can be shared, it can be spread broadly".

See, what we're asking God to do isn't something, it may begin in our hearts and in our homes and around our holiday tables, but I believe we will see it spread. Thank you for that resounding response. I'm glad you're encouraged by my announcements today. I want to give you an example of someone who received a revelation from God. And I chose, I think the most obvious in all of Scripture is Abraham. Abraham, he's the father of our faith. We meet him in Genesis chapter 12. He becomes a character that's discussed throughout the remainder of the Bible. So I hope he's known to you. Abram was not Jewish. You can't speak of the Jewish people yet in Genesis chapter 12. They really haven't come into being. And God calls Abram. It's in your notes.

Genesis 12: 1, "The Lord said to Abram, 'Leave your country and your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I'll make you into a great nation. I'll bless you. I'll make your name great. You'll be a blessing. I'll bless those who bless you and curse whoever curses you, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'" Wow. Most of us just pray for a good parking place on the square. God said, "I'll bless everybody that blesses you, and anybody curses you, I'll curse them. I'll make your name great, and all the people in the earth will be blessed through you".

If God made that promise to one of us, we would hurt ourselves puffing out our chest. That's a revelation. Though the language is incomplete, it's inadequate. And we'll see that in a moment. Says, "So Abram left as the Lord had told him to". He just packed up. He got that message, and he loaded the U-Haul. And his wife said, "Where are we going"? He said, "I don't know". Don't you know that conversation went well? "Honey, we're moving". "No. We've always lived here". "Yeah, I know. We're going". "Where are we going"? "Not telling you". "You never tell me anything. You always keep it to yourself". "Okay, I'll tell you. I don't know". "That doesn't make me feel better". I mean, there's just no way to craft that discussion that really goes well, but I can tell you Abram was never the same. And you and I will never be the same after God touches our lives with his vision, once you're awakened to the fact that there is a God.

Before we go I want to pray that God will give you a revelation, a vision of who Jesus is that will change your future. Let's pray:

Father, I thank you for your Word and the value it has in us, but I ask that by your Spirit you would open our hearts to understand you and your kingdom as never before in Jesus's name. Amen.

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