Psalm 139: 1-12
I want to set the stage for our time together with a true story. The story comes from Europe around the year 1200. The story involves an experiment ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II. It seems that the Emperor wanted to know the original language of mankind. He thought that God gave humanity a language at birth. And that the language God gave humanity must be either Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? He just was not sure which language it was. So, Emperor Fredrick had several newborn babies imprisoned immediately after their birth. He assigned women to feed the children, clean them, and bathe them. However, the emperor order that the women not make any sounds or gestures of any kind in the presence of the babies. The emperor believed that by doing so, the babies would grow and speak the language that God instilled in each baby by birth and not the language they heard from their care takers. Does anyone know what language the babies came to speak? It was not Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or any other language at all because every baby died. They did not die due to lack of food or bodily care. They died because they had no hope. Their caretakers were forbidden any words, expressions, or gestures all of which communicate to an infant hope. The experiment did show that we are not just one more animal inhabiting the earth whose only interest is food, water, and reproduction. We are unique in all of creation because we are made in the image of God. And hope is part of the original language God shared with humanity and without hope there is no life.
People are created for hope. And because we are created for hope and created to share hope, I would like us to explore several dimensions of biblical hope during the next few weeks. The existence of hope gives meaning to our lives and so we need to see how God is ultimate the source of all hope. Knowing and then speaking God’s language of hope is essential for our lives, for our lives as Christians, and for the life of this church.
People are created for hope. Throughout our entire life we move from one hope to another hope. I want you to let that sink in for a moment. We move from hope to hope. We are constantly acting and responding to expressions of hope. Hope is what excites us and motivates us. Let me give you just a couple of examples . Anyone ever purchase a lottery ticket? Did you purchase it as a donation so the state had enough money to give away as a prize to someone else? Of course not! You purchased it with the hope that you would win. You mix the ingredients to bake a cake. You put it in the oven and hope it comes out just right so everyone can enjoy it. Maybe today on your way to church you were thinking about the people who might be at church. In that moment, you might have said in your own words, “I hope ‘so and so’ is there because I enjoy their company.” Or perhaps in the alternative you said, “I hope ‘so and so’ is NOT there today!” I think you get the idea. If we examine our lives, we will find that we move from hope to hope.
Now circumstances can come into our life that diminish hope. When hope grows dim we may feel sad, angry, jealous, depressed, resentful, defeated, or bitter. If hope is extinguished we not only live each endless day in hopelessness, but we live each day thinking about living each day in hopelessness. When we are convinced there we no longer can move from hope to hope because there is only darkness then we become very much like Emperor Fredrick’s babies and are at grave risk of death.
Today I want to talk about the greatest risk to our sense of hope. The greatest risk to hope is expressed in a single word, invisibility. What do I mean by invisibility? By invisibility, I do not mean that we become like the scientist in the movie who created a secret formula to make himself invisible to others. By invisibility, I mean we have the sense that others have chosen to make us invisible; as though we do not matter or even exist. This sense of invisibility, this sense of walking through life alone, extinguishes hope. Perhaps you have experienced such a sense where you did not seem to matter to anyone. Maybe you are feeling a bit invisible in your relationships with your spouse, your children, or with your parents. Perhaps you are feeling as though it does not matter what you say at home or work or school, no one cares what you think. You have been made invisible by others. The things you love, like, and care about simply do not matter to anyone else. It is frightening to be made invisible by others because in that invisibility we sense no hope. To live in this way is not the way God intended us to live. But here is something important to know. Even when others make us feel invisible, we are not.
Our Old Testament reading today from Psalm 139, a beautiful passage of Scripture, instructs us that we matter and are never invisible to God. Let me read part of that passage for you.
1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
No matter what, we are not invisible to God. Now, when I was growing up as a child, this thought of God always watching me, was driven home by the church. But the idea conveyed to me was that God was there always seeing me with a book writing down every mistake and misstep I made so that he could punish me. That was the image of God I received. Even the religious cartoons I watched, “Davey and Goliath,” reinforced this image as Davey’s dog, Goliath, would often say, “God’s not going to like that, Davey!” But the psalm is not talking about God as some ultimate policeman hovering over us. The psalm is talking about God as the ultimate companion walking with us in life. Even in the darkest moments, God can find us. Even in the moments when we seek to run from him we discover God is already waiting for us to arrive at the very place to which we ran. Why is God with us? God is there because he created us as people of hope and God is with us to move us from hope to hope. This movement from hope to hope is the essence of the flow found in Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
The flow of the psalm is from hope to hope.
These psalms are such wonderful words. And yet throughout the generations there still developed within humanity a sense of darkness and misunderstanding about God and his presence with us. After all who had seen this God moving them from hope to hope? How could people know this God of hope in the same manner they knew themselves if they could not see him? God understood our need to move from hope to hope and so God acted. In sweeping, beautiful poetic terms, God’s actions are unfolded for us in the book we call the Gospel of John.
John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:1-5, 14, 18)
God knowing our need to move from hope to hope understood the spiritual darkness that surrounded his people and so he sent his light into that darkness. He sent Jesus, his son, the personification of hope.
It is that same Jesus that Paul wrote about to the church at Colossae. In our New Testament reading from Colossians, Paul began with these words, “The Son is the image of the invisible God.” We must pause for just a moment to take in what Paul said. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Now in one dimension, Paul’s statement does not make any sense. Critics today might saw. “How can something that is invisible have an image at all?” Of course, the answer to such a critique is that as the image of God, Jesus is an exact, visible, representation of God character not his appearance. Paul said in verse 19, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus].” In Jesus, the attributes, the character traits of God become fully visible.
John would later write to his friends, “That which was from the beginning, [Jesus] which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” Paul and John are making it clear that invisible God became visible in the flesh in the person of Jesus and everything about Jesus displayed God’s character. Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Now what does Paul say about this person Jesus, “[He] is the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Jesus is first among all things and he is the creator of all things, including the creator of you and me. We are part of the creation fashioned by and through Jesus. This means through Jesus we not only see an image of God, but we also know that God sees and hear us. Jesus makes God known and visible to us and us known and visible to God. We are not invisible and cannot be made invisible to God. And because God is able to see us always he is able to move us from hopelessness to hope and then from hope to hope.
In verse 23, Paul states clearly the source of God’s hope. He wrote, “Do not be moved from the hope held out in the Gospel.” The hope of the Gospel is this: God sent Jesus to let each of us know that God sees us, hears us, and that God wants us to see and hear him. Hope.
The hope of the Gospel is this: Jesus lived the human life like we are living, complete with moments of great joy and tears, times of companionship and aloneness, so Jesus knows our highs and lows. Yet Jesus in living did what we are not able to do, he did not sin. Because of his living as we did and his sinless nature he is uniquely able to speak to God for us and about God to us. Hope.
The hope of the Gospel is this: Jesus died for you and for me and in doing so can give us his sinless image before God. Hope.
The hope of the Gospel is this: Jesus arose from the dead into a new life. Because he did, we can live a new life in him now and eternally. Hope.
The hope of the Gospel is this: Jesus established his church [his gathering of people] here on earth to be his visible image for all future generations. Jesus empowered the church with the Holy Spirit to give life and hope to each member of his church and to cause his church to be a continuous beacon of hope into an otherwise dark world. Hope.
The hope of the Gospel is this: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, you, me, the Church. That is the hope of which Paul speaks.
People are created for hope and the original language of humanity is hope. God moves us from hope to hope. You are here today because God sees you and hears you and he moved you to receive the hope of the Gospel. You are here today because God desires that you see and hear others as he sees and hears others and that in your seeing and hearing you would share hope with them. This week let us open lives to be moved by the hope of Jesus and to share that hope with someone else as we walk from hope to hope. Let us pray.