Andy Stanley - Why Should We Have Hope?
One of the objectionable, irrational, easy to criticize things about our faith as Christians is this, you've experienced this. We actually turn to God when bad things happen, believing he could have kept them from happening in the first place, isn't this true? Don't we all do this in fact, we encourage other people to do this. We actually turned to God when something bad happens and we turn to God with this crazy confidence that well God, you could have kept this from happening in the first place, but now that it's happened, I'm gonna turn to the very one who could have kept this from happening. But at the same time, most of us feel like we really don't have any choice, but to do that.
I mean, where else are we gonna turn? Or maybe you've been here before, you find yourself asking God to comfort someone else in the aftermath of a loss, a loss that you are confident God could have prevented in the first place, but didn't. So are we crazy? Are we naive? I mean, some would argue, yes. In fact, for you, this dynamic may be the reason you finally gave up on faith altogether and I'll just tell you just between the two of us, I understand that.
In August, this past August, I participated video in a Memorial service for two teenage boys. They were brothers who passed away on the same day in circumstances that, in circumstances that are so horrific, that I'm not gonna tell you their story, primarily because it's not my story to tell. But if I were to tell you their story, you may not be able to pay attention to anything else I say in the next few minutes. Weeks, I did not know this family weeks after the incident weeks, which took place in March. The parents actually, the husband sent me an email, a long email and told me the entire story in detail of what happened. There was a statement in his email where he said, it doesn't really matter what God does now because of what he did not do then.
The story was so difficult to even begin to imagine that I didn't even wanna respond to the email and I have since told the family that. When I called, I found myself in a conversation with a mom fighting, fighting to maintain her sanity and her faith, in fact, the entire family was. Her husband and their two daughters. And I was not sure their faith would survive, I even said that to her. I tried not to say anything patronizing. They already knew all the Bible verses and all the Bible stories and in a later conversation, she actually said to me, she said, "Andy, the most helpful thing you said", and when she said that, I thought, I can't imagine that I said anything helpful, but she said, "the most helpful thing that you said was that, that if our faith did not survive this", but that was understandable. "You said that it may take years for our faith to recover, assuming that it recovers it all".
And that is what I said and I meant it. And through the weeks that ensued, we texted several times and then in June, remember this event happened in March, in June she texted me to say, "Hey, we're planning a Memorial service for our sons at a church". One of our partner churches. "It'll be an August and we would love for you to send a short video that could be part of the service". And honestly, I was stunned not that they asked me to send a video, I was stunned that their faith had begun to recover, that they were rediscovering faith, but not their old version of faith. They would be quick to tell you if they ever tell their story. A much better faith, a deeper faith, a faith that wasn't propped up by everything is up into the right, a faith that wasn't propped up by will God will make sure that you get back to normal eventually because they will never get back to normal eventually.
And what they recovered was faith in God, not the promises of God, not the blessings of God, just God. Because all the other stuff, all the other fluff had been torn away in a day. Now you may know someone like that and perhaps you're hoping for a recovery like that. And it may help to know, it certainly helps me to know, it may help to know that the men and the women who brought us the message of Jesus walked through similar valleys, valleys filled with random acts of violence, unnecessary suffering, and unanswered prayer. And yet, somehow some way they believed and they persevered.
Now, last time we were together and I hope you were with us last time we were together. Last time we were together, we looked at an episode from the life of the early church where food was about to become scarce throughout the entire Roman empire. And most people in ancient times were already hungry most of the time. So when a famine struck people didn't just eat less, in many parts of the world, there was literally nothing to eat. And as we discovered the church in Antioch, instead of turning inward and focusing on their own needs, they actually stop to consider who would be most negatively impacted by the famine.
And then they asked the question, "What can we do about it"? And in an unprecedented move and an unprecedented move, they began collecting funds for a group of people, they had never met in a part of the world most of them would never visit whose culture was nothing like there's. In fact, this is so important and it was so unprecedented, I wanna give you a visual to help you understand the magnitude of their decision and what they did. Here's a map of what we generally consider the Holy land with Galilee in the North, Sumeria, Judea and the city of Jerusalem in the South.
Now these gentile Jesus followers were located in Antioch, which doesn't even show up on the map, it is 300 miles away from Jerusalem. And in terms of ancient travel, these two cities, take a look, these two cities were, they were any eternity apart. And culturally speaking, as I said, they were half a world apart as well, never before, never before in recorded history had a local multicultural group felt responsibility for a group of people with whom they had virtually nothing in common.
Now here's the question, where did, where did this politically and socially incorrect behavior come from? Well, it came from their recognition that for God so loved the entire world that he gave. And so they gave, they gave because that's what love required of them. So picking up where we left off last week, the folks in Antioch, the Gentile believers in Antioch are beginning to take up a collection, they're concerned about the believers in Jerusalem who are already suffering because they're being persecuted for their faith and then there's a famine that's about to make things even worse.
So anyway, back in Jerusalem, something terrible happens. I mean, something terrible is coming, but something terrible happens. Something random, something seemingly unnecessary, something dark, something that would leave Jesus followers scratching their heads and wondering where in the world was God? Here's what happened. The text says that it was about this time, and again, just to put this into perspective, this is about 15 years after the resurrection. "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to torture them".
Now this King Herod is actually the grandson, this is Herod Agrippa, who is the grandson of Herod the great who murdered the babies in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. So violence clearly ran in their family. And the some, the son that he intended to arrest were actually Jesus' original apostles and his first victim was a high profile target. In fact, his first victim was one of Jesus first apostles. Here's what Luke tells us, He said, "He had James, the brother of John", not James, the brother of Jesus, "he had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword". He had James, the brother of John beheaded. Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
Now this was a huge blow to morale for the Jesus followers in Jerusalem, but it won Herod political points with his constituency. In fact, here's what the text says, "When he saw, when he saw that is met with approval among the Judeans Herod proceeded to seize Peter also". Now Peter is a really big fish in next to Jesus, this is the biggest fish, and this would keep the taxpayers happy and perhaps it would quell some of the anti-Roman sentiment that was usually very high during Passover season. So Herod followed through with his threat, "After arresting him", after arresting Peter, so he arrested him, "he puts him in prison, handed him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each".
So Peter is being guarded by four soldiers at all times and this happened at the beginning of Passover, inherit intended to bring him out for public trial after Passover, Luke continues, he says, "So Peter, Peter was kept in prison", but here it is, "but the church was earnestly praying to God for Peter". They were praying specifically for Peter's release. And there it is. This is one of the many places where the experience of first-generation believers intersects with ours.
Think about it. The Jesus followers in Jerusalem, think about it. The Jesus followers in Jerusalem are asking God to deliver Peter days after God did not deliver James. Again, the Jesus followers, they're asking God, they're praying, they're asking God to deliver Peter from prison just days after God did not deliver James. I mean, why bother if God was concerned about Peter, he wouldn't have allowed Peter to be arrested in the first place, right? So if God didn't stop Peter from being arrested, why turn to God after he's arrested? And if God didn't protect James, why should they expect him to protect Peter?
I mean, they were as crazy as we are. Actually, we are as crazy as they were because apart from their crazy, we would not be having this conversation. Apart from their crazy, the message of Jesus would have never survived the first century. In fact, it turns out they weren't crazy and their faith was not misplaced and neither is yours. So for me, narratives like this one are comforting on two levels. First, the people closest to the action, think about this. The people closest to the action, the men and women who actually knew Jesus personally and chose to follow him because of the resurrection, they were not immune to random inexplicable tragedy and loss. And in spite of believing that God could have kept these bad things from happening, they turned to him for comfort and help anyway right after they happened.
So we may be crazy, but we are in good company. We are not the first. And they didn't continue trusting and turning to God because it all made sense. They continued trusting it and turning to God because the thing that made the least sense of all, the crucifixion of God's Messiah resulted in the greatest possible good for all, the salvation of the world, forgiveness of sin and on-ramp to our relationship with God. And here's the thing, to the degree, to the degree that our faith is anchored to those same ancient events, our confidence in God will sustain us through the random, inexplicable God where are you valleys of life.
So when you find yourself praying to the very God who did not come through for you to begin with, the way you wanted it to, the way you expected him to, the way he came through for the person next to you, you are in good company. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Mary, Martha, the men and women whose faith laid the groundwork for the evangelization of the entire world. They're irrational in spite of where are you God faith is why the message of Jesus made its way into the 21st century. In fact, spoiler alert, Herod doesn't execute Peter, but we'll get back to that in just a minute.
Now, several years after Peter was arrested in Jerusalem, he actually sits down and he dictates a letter to Christians living in a variety of regions, scattered around the Roman empire. Christians who like himself and his friends in Jerusalem were suffering because of their faith. Now, before I read you what he writes, keep in mind, by the time he's writing this letter, he's been arrested multiple times, he's been living as a fugitive for years. In fact, he kept his whereabouts so concealed, nobody even knows for sure where Peter was between his arrest in Jerusalem and his execution in Rome, maybe nine or 10 years later. Yet in spite of this, in spite of this, in spite of the fact that he's living on the run, here's what he says. He writes to Christians who are experiencing some of the same things he is. He says, "Praise, praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ".
It's like, wait, wait, wait, Peter, Peter, you've been arrested multiple times, you've been flogged, you are scarred for life and the God and father of our Lord, Jesus Christ did nothing to stop it. I mean, you have a price on your head. Stephen is dead, James is dead, the apostles are all scattered. What are you talking about? And he would say, here's what I'm talking about, "In his great mercy, he has given us a new birth, a different kind of relationship with God. He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade".
In other words, your prayers may not all get answered and you may never understand the randomness of life, but you have hope and your hope is an anchored to theology, it's not anchored to belief and it's not anchored to a book. Peter says that our hope is anchored to an event, an event that rekindled his hope, the resurrection of Jesus. And then he says this, "In all of this, all of this suffering and all of this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief of all kinds of trials in all kinds of trials". In other words, he says in light of all that God has done for you, you can find joy and you can rejoice in the middle of it. There's not joy because of their trials, there's joy in spite of the trials because of what God has done for you.
And Peter, again, who has suffered in ways we can't even begin to imagine says that this suffering is just for a little while and he could have added on all kinds of trials like I have. To which we say, so wait again Peter, grief, trials, suffering, randomness are not evidence that God's not listening, that God's not involved. They don't indicate that things are spinning out of control that we need a revival that Jesus is returning soon, or maybe we've done something wrong and Peter would say, "No, not at all". "These, these trials have come. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, the proven genuineness of your faith of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire may result", in other words, there's gonna be a result, "may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed".
Again, to which we would say, so Peter, we should expect this to which Peter would say, "Yes". And people are watching, people who are suffering as you suffer are watching, people suffering without hope will be drawn to your hope, your peace. In fact, they may be drawn to the object of your faith because the darker it gets, the brighter your hope, the brighter your response shines. And then he would say, perhaps, as Jesus said, "So as you suffer, and as you try to explain the inexplicable, as you navigate yourself and navigate your way through things, you never anticipated and for which there are no answers, let your light shine in such a way, in such a way that people see your response and they look up".
Then he continues, he says, "Though you have not seen him", And I love this because remember, he's writing to people who had never actually seen Jesus, the way that Peter had seen Jesus. He said, "Though you never met him, though you've never seen him, you love him based on my testimony about him, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls".
So once again, we pushed back, so Peter, so what you're saying is this, that the inconsistency and the randomness of life, it doesn't throw you off, It doesn't undermine your confidence. I mean, come on, they got James, they came for you and Peter would say, "No, my faith, my faith doesn't depend on consistency or certainty or my ability to explain things. My faith is not shaken by the randomness of life. Come on, I saw the best possible person suffered the worst possible death, it made no sense at all, none. And God brought him back to life. So while there's a lot, I can't explain, there's a lot I don't understand I just got to tell you. After the resurrection, the rest is just detail". And then in the same letter, Peter gives his audience and gives us the strangest to do list, but we're gonna talk about that next time.
Now I want to get back to the storyline real quick, so to catch this us up. So God allows Herod to execute James, he allows Herod to arrest Peter and put him in jail, the Jesus followers in Jerusalem are praying, asking God to facilitate Peter's release, knowing that Herod may be coming for them next.
And then for reasons that made absolutely no sense to them at the time, but would become clearer later, "The night before", check this out, "The night before Herod was to bring Peter to trial and then have him executed, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers bound with two chains and sentries stood guard at the entrance. And then suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell and the angel struck Peter on the side and woke him up. 'Quick, get up!' He said, and the chains fell off of Peter's wrist. Then the angel said to him, 'Put on your clothes and sandals.' And Peter did so. 'Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.' The angel told him. And so of course, Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening. He thought he was seeing a vision or maybe having a dream. And then they pass the first and the second guards and they came to the iron gate, leading to the city. It opened for them by itself and they went through it. And then when they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him".
Now I know what you're thinking, because I think the same thing, really, really. And why doesn't God do that kind of thing anymore? And why doesn't God do that kind of thing for me anymore? But let me tell you what Peter and his friends were wondering, why didn't God do that for James, our friend. And they never got a good answer to their question. And we may never get satisfying answers to ours either. "Now, when Peter realized that this was not a dream, that he really was safe and outside the city walls, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying for his release.
So Peter runs down the street". He knows he doesn't have much time. He certainly doesn't want to incriminate his friends. So he runs to the door of a home he'd been to many times. "And Peter knocked on the outer entrance and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. And when she recognized Peter's voice, because he had been in their home many times, she was so overjoyed, she ran back to the people who were praying without opening the door and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door.'"
Now, remember they're praying for his release, but apparently they did not really expect God to answer their prayer. In fact, listen to their response and this is important, this is just more evidence that the writers of the new Testament did not write the main characters in as heroes or even people with more than average faith, they didn't experience miracles every day and they did not expect a miracle this day. Now when Rhoda tells the prayers that Peter is at the door, here's what they said. They said, "Rhoda, you are out of your mind", which would say, wait, weren't you just praying for this to which they would say, "Yeah, but we didn't really expect anything to happen".
"When she kept insisting, when she kept insisting that it was so they said, 'Well, then it must be his angel, it must be his spirit counterpart. He must already be dead and it's, it's his ghost.' But Peter, but Peter kept on knocking. And when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished". Imagined that an actual answer to prayer, imagine that. Now at this point they are so delighted, they're celebrating and they're making so much noise in the middle of the night that Peter motions to them with his hand to be quiet and then he says this, "Tell James, James the brother of Jesus, tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this, let them know that I've been, I've been released that I'm free. He said, and then he left for another place".
Now this is so interesting and we're gonna come back to this next time, Luke doesn't say where Peter went. Now, remember when he wrote this, Peter was still alive and was still a wanted man. If Luke knew where Peter was, he didn't document it lest his document fall into the wrong hands. So Peter went underground, in fact, he went underground so successfully that to this day, no one has discovered for certain where he went. And then Luke gives us even more detail. As you might imagine, "In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. And after Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross examined the guards and ordered that they be executed".
Now, Herod is publicly humiliated because he had promised the people that they were gonna see the trial of Peter, Jesus number one follower. He's so humiliated, he leaves town, he goes to his beach house down by the Mediterranean sea and while he's there a group from the neighboring city asked to have an audience with him to show their support because they depended on Herod and his favor for their food supply. And Luke tells us about this. Here's what he says, "He says on the appointed day, when Herod was having this public meeting, he was wearing his royal robes and he sat on his throne and he delivered a public address to the people".
Now Jewish historian Josephus says that heritage robe on this particular day was actually made of silver. And that when the afternoon sun reflected off of the silver robe, that the crowd erupted and declared him a God. Luke says it this way, "The crowd shouted, this is the voice of a God, not a man. And immediately because Herod did not give praise to God an angel of the Lord struck him down and he was eaten by worms and died". And again, Josephus confirms this here's his version, he says, that Herod was seized by a severe pain in his bowels. He was rushed off the stage and several days later he died.
Now, what do you think? What do you think Peter thought when he got the news? I mean, he was probably relieved that Herod was out of the way, but he may have thought, "God, if you had just taken him a month earlier, James would still be alive as well as four unfortunate prison guards". And then Luke wraps up this account with this statement, "But, in other words, in spite of all of this drama, in spite of all this inconsistency, in spite of all of these unanswered questions, but the word of God continued to spread and flourish".
In fact, we know that it did because it's why these texts were created and preserved, it's why the name and the message of Jesus would eventually circle the globe. But on a personal level, these events and events like these and the response of our first century brothers and sisters is why to borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul, it's why we don't grieve, it's why we don't mourn as those who have no hope, for we believe that Jesus died and rose. Again, it's why to borrow from Peter's words, it's why we can cast our cares on him, because we know he cares for us.
You can know that he cares for you in spite of what you see around you, in spite of what's happening to you, it's why to borrow a phrase from the author of Hebrews, "We can approach God's throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need". It's why we have hope even when we half explanations. If Peter is correct and he would know, if Peter is correct, what strikes us as random, unfair, unnecessary, may in fact be random, it's certainly unfair and perhaps unnecessary but in spite of that, if Peter is correct, he assures us our hope is not misplaced, our hope, your hope is not in vain because we have a living hope that is anchored not to our ability to predict and interpret circumstances, we have a living hope that is anchored to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.