One of the most popular, yet least understood, passages in Revelation comes in chapter 6 with “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”. What could it all mean? Is there any hope for God’s people, or for the world? In this message, we look at Revelation 6 and what hope it provides for people, before it’s too late. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
One of the most beloved Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In that carol, New England preacher Phillips Brooks wrote, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Well, let’s say that 2021 has brought with it its own share of hopes and fears, intermingled. And Brooks’ words have never been more true: even the hopes and fears of 2021 are met in Bethlehem’s manger. No matter what the world may throw at us, Jesus is able to meet it head on.
And this is not just warm, fuzzy romanticism: if we will believe it, it is true. Of course, there are those for whom the truth proclaimed in Christmas carols remains mere romanticism, because they lack faith in the One those carols exalts. But when we believe that Jesus came into this world to save sinners like us, we realize in a most profound way that “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
The late theologian, J. I. Packer, once said, “Faith is not just believing Christian truth, but forsaking self-confidence and man-made hopes to trust wholly in Christ.”
We might look back on the year and be pretty proud of ourselves – for surviving, if nothing else. But faith in Christ means realizing that even that comes solely by God’s grace.
So bring your hopes and your fears, and lay them at the foot of the manger in Bethlehem. It’s a move you won’t regret.
“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy” (Psalm 34.4-5a, NLT).
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament, has always been big on hope.
A lot of people think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is not the same God as the God portrayed in the New Testament, but even a cursory reading of the Bible suggests otherwise: the gracious, merciful God of the New Testament is also gracious and merciful in the Old Testament. And he is the great purveyor of hope.
Consider the story of Abraham and Sarah. When God promised that Abraham, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, would become the father of many nations, it was hard to believe, but as far as he was concerned, a promise was a promise, and so he held out hope, because he believed in the God of hope. And at age 90, Sarah became pregnant with her centenarian husband’s son – Isaac.
For what do you hope in these days?
A child, like Abraham and Sarah?
The healing of a loved one?
An end to the Coronavirus pandemic?
Put your hope in the God of miracles. And remember, the church of Jesus is God’s instrument, today, in dispensing hope.
What are you doing to bring hope to the lives of others?
“Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!’ And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.18-19, NLT).
One of the things that our world’s current situation has shown us is that the church can still be the church, even when we cannot gather.
Chances are, we don’t like it – I know I would rather worship God with the people I love each Lord’s Day – but that doesn’t mean we cease to be the church through this time.
As I’ve heard and often repeated over the last couple of months, we may not be able to be the church gathered right now, but we can be the church scattered.
Each of us, individually and as households, can praise God together each Sunday (with whatever online connections we have with our church families) and every day (through personal and family devotional times). And we can act on what we read and hear from God’s Word in the various ways for which the Lord may open doors, whether that be helping the needy; continuing to work in an essential service; praying for the sick, the lonely and the unemployed; getting groceries and needful things for vulnerable people who should not be going out in public right now; or keeping an eye on our neighbours.
We can also share our hope in Jesus with anyone with whom we might have the opportunity to converse.
Our witness is made even more strong when we couple some act of service with sharing our hope.
What can you do in these days that will bear witness to our hope in Jesus?
“[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3.15b, NLT).
I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism. “April showers bring May flowers,” the saying goes, and though that’s not in the Bible, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of reality, at least in Canada.
I haven’t checked the meteorological statistics for April, but even if it wasn’t as rainy as some Aprils have been, it certainly carried a cloudy atmosphere, didn’t it? None of us has marked down the days of April as we all did this year. And we are all hopeful that as the rainfall of April brings May’s promised verdancy, so too will April’s air of gloom from the Coronavirus pandemic will bring some hope of emancipation in May.
We live in hope. That’s good for followers of Jesus, because hope is our commodity.
Buds on the trees and bright yellow flowers on the forsythia bushes signify our hope that summer is coming. Being meticulous about avoiding the spread of germs, and seeing “the curve” slowly flatten, signify our hope that freedom to congregate again is coming.
While I’ve always thought of May as a month of optimism, I’m not sure I’ve paid quite the same degree of attention to the signs of spring before; perhaps it indicates that I am more eagerly waiting in anticipation of what God may do with our world in the coming weeks.
Each spring brings change to the landscape. This spring has brought change to the way we live our lives, whether we like it or not. And with change comes opportunity.
We can choose to find good in this season of restraint that will benefit our lives when we approach the “new normal”, for there will be no going back to the “old normal”. We can choose new, edifying habits; intentional rest; even loving people we might have taken for granted.
May is a month of optimism, hope, and opportunity – perhaps no more so than this year. The choice is ours.
“God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” – Ecclesiastes 3.11, NLT.
Perhaps you’ve been walking in your neighbourhood more often lately. I know I have. And if so, you’ve probably seen various neighbours’ windows decorated with rainbows.
I went to the all-knowing Google the other day and typed in, “Why are people putting rainbows in their windows”, only to discover mid-search that I’m not the first person to ‘Google’ that question.
It turns out that this trend started in Italy, accompanied by the phrase, andra tutto benne – everything will be alright – when the Coronavirus problem got serious in that country. And it spread across many countries in the western world, including here in Canada.
Some Christians may be uncomfortable placing rainbows in their windows these days, because of the fear of misunderstanding: a certain demographic some time ago decided to appropriate a variant of the rainbow as its primary symbol, and not everybody understands the difference.
For followers of Jesus, of course, the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise never to destroy the earth again by flood. It’s a sign of hope. Indeed, ultimately, everything will be alright.
But if you want to try something different, why not do so? Some of my social media friends decided to create stained glass Christian images in their windows using masking tape and paint that can later be removed.
With today being Good Friday, and Easter being around the corner, we could use images like the empty cross, or the heart, or even the anchor. We can even use words, provided they are painted (or printed out) large enough for passersby to see.
Many of our neighbours are hurting and lonely. A lot of people are looking for hope, looking for something stable to which they may cling in this season of uncertainty. Consider using your front window as a witness. When this is all over, who knows what seeds God may have planted in people, through our silent witness, to draw them to him who is unchanging?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13.8, NLT).
By the way, if you don’t have an online church ‘home’, feel free to watch our live-streaming of worship on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday, at 10:00 a.m. You don’t need an account to watch at http://www.facebook.com/stpaulsnobleton. You can watch later at http://www.stpaulsnobleton.ca/sermons.
One day, Jesus told his friends a story. “A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13.3-8, NLT).
When I was in Bible Society work, I often preached on this passage, because, as Jesus notes later in that passage, the seed is the Word of God, and I was in the business of promoting the reading, promotion and distribution of God’s Word.
It has another layer of meaning, though, too.
When we sow seeds of faith, we can’t always see immediate results. It might take years for those seeds to take root and grow.
I’ve heard a few stories this week of people in whom much has been invested spiritually who are starting to bear fruit. It’s exciting to watch, and exciting to hear these stories.
Here’s another example. A few weeks ago, I was called to oversee a ‘celebration of life’ service for someone who had died. I knew no one in the family at all. In the conversation, I learned that the reason I was called is that a young person in their family has attended our summer Vacation Bible Camp.
Because our volunteers helped a child learn about Jesus while having fun, I now have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with a group of grieving family and friends.
We have no idea what may happen when we sow seeds of the Word, seeds of faith. Ultimately, that’s up to the Lord. We may benefit in our own part of God’s vineyard, or some other congregation may benefit. Either way, the Kingdom wins when we share faith.
“Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15.58b, NLT).
It’s one word that nearly everybody can identify with. For many people, it’s what fuels their lives. Hope is what makes people put one foot in front of the other, what makes people decide to get out of bed for the day.
I hope I will have a better day at work than I did yesterday.
I hope I will do well on this test.
I hope my spouse will not get cancer.
Sometimes, hope is misdirected, though, isn’t it? We can hope for something that we think might solve our problems.
I hope I will win the lottery.
I hope I will get a big inheritance so I’ll never have to work again.
I hope that nasty so-and-so falls into a pit and is never seen again.
Even hope can have its ugly side. But that’s not what God intended.
Hope is invariably tied to faith. What we hope for is often what we place our faith in. If you re-read those “I hope” statements, they can all seem pretty vapid, even when the best of intentions are behind them.
There is a lovely little gospel hymn that reminds us where to direct our hope:
My hope is in the Lord
Who gave himself for me,
And paid the price for all my sin
For me he died, for me he lives,
And everlasting life and light he freely gives.
Jesus is the one on whom we rightly place our hope, because it is in him that we rightly place our faith. Is your hope in Jesus?
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11.1, NLT).