In most of the nations of our world, the majority of the population live in open despair. Their despair is no secret--the truth is it cannot be hidden. There is not enough food to feed families, and what they eat we would not consider eating. They exist in crude, inadequate forms of shelter. Every day they face incredible hardships and short life spans--when we observe their hardships we wonder how they survive at all. They endure sickness and disease with little hope for medical treatment.

Despair is no stranger to the people in our society. We have people who live in open despair in our society. We have our homeless, our hungry, our jobless, our people who exist in inhumane conditions. But the majority of people in our society who live in despair live in hidden despair. In daily life they try hard to act as if everything is fine in their lives. But it is anything but fine. Some are trapped in horrible marriages and endure outrageous abuses. Some struggle with deep depression and are filled with anger. Some are trapped in addictive behaviors that they struggle to hide. They often wonder if their lives are worth living, often think that there is no reason for them to go on. But they are determined to keep their despair a well hidden secret.

I want to ask you a serious question. What do all these people need? These people who are living in open despair or hidden despair in any society, what do they need. We answer, "They need the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ!" May I ask a second question. If these people heard the gospel, if they received the gospel, how would this good news about Jesus Christ address their despair?

I am in total agreement that it can address their despair, but it can only if one thing is true. The good news of Jesus will address their despair only if it gives them hope. Not speculative hope, the hope that says, "Well, maybe things can get better." Not wishful thinking hope, the hope that says, "I wish this could change." But the hope emphasized in the New Testament, the hope based on solid assurance.

Last weekend we heard the great commission emphasized, and it should be emphasized. But I am convinced that Jesus' great invitation must always accompany Jesus' great commission. It is the great invitation that reveals the solid hope of Jesus' great commission.

  1. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus issued his great invitation:
    Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.
    1. There are several striking things to note and to accept in Jesus' great invitation.
      1. Jesus wants struggling people to come to him.
        1. He did not call those who are confident that they have their lives together.
        2. He did not call those who would have us believe that they have no problems.
        3. He called the people who are so distressed in their lives that they can hardly struggle on.
          1. The word weary here literally means "those who have worked to exhaustion."
          2. These folks have struggled with life until they are exhausted.
          3. Their burdens are so heavy that they are being crushed under them.
      2. He wants the struggling and the burdened to put themselves in his hands, to place themselves under his control, and to allow him to teach them. He assures the struggling and the burdened that:
        1. He is gentle.
        2. He is humble in heart.
        3. Jesus is not some egomaniac that exploits people to advance his self-importance.
        4. Instead, Jesus is totally devoted to helping the weary, struggling person who is being crushed by his or her life.
      3. This great invitation includes a promise, a promise that is stressed twice: "I will give you rest; you will find rest for your souls."
        1. When we are distressed, we can't rest.
        2. When we are struggling and so burdened with life that it is crushing us, we can't rest.
        3. But Jesus promised that if we come to him, he will extend a rest to us that we can receive and experience.

  2. One of the rich blessings that has touched my life has been the joy of witnessing the hope of the good news at work.
    1. In West Africa:
      1. I gave a Bible to a woman who had never touched a Bible before.
        1. Even though she could not read, you could see the joy in her face and her eyes.
        2. She had a child who was going to school who could read her Bible to her in the evenings.
      2. I listened as a converted witch doctor implored me to return to America and tell the people who supported my mission work how much he appreciated being a Christian.
        1. His conversion had cost him his wife, his property, and his prestige.
        2. But he regarded those to be acceptable sacrifices when he compared them to what he found in Christ.
    2. In Kaliningrad, Russia, I was the first American invited by the Institute to speak in English about Christianity to their students.
      1. For four days the lecture hall was packed with students who listened with total attentiveness--no one left the lecture hall for any reason even when I spoke for over an hour.
      2. The first day a few professors came.
      3. By the last day, professors took over the first row of seats in the lecture hall.
      4. The first day, a lady professor told me that she had never entered a church.
        1. The second day she told me, "You are sharing things that can be useful to our people."
        2. The next day she said, "I see that I need to give serious consideration to the things that you are saying."
        3. The last day she said, "I am ready to go to a church."

  3. But here in our own country equally moving experiences have touched me.
    1. A few years ago I met a young woman whose life was about as messed up as a life can get.
      1. Though she was an accomplished, capable professional, she was struggling to find a reason to live.
        1. She was close to recovery from anorexia.
        2. She was a recovering alcoholic.
        3. She was as depressed as a person can be and still be alive.
        4. She lived every day of her life terrified by fears that she could not identify.
      2. Years prior, at the lowest point of her life, she was converted to Christ and became a member of a very controlling religious group.
        1. When she could not instantly overcome her problems, when she could not meet their demands, the group was ordered to withdraw their support and association and she was told that she was possessed by demons.
        2. When I met her, she knew that she needed God, but the thought of seeking God terrified her.
      3. She was so filled with fear that she literally could not enter a church building to study or to worship--church buildings were places that hurt struggling people.
        1. At that time we were conducting some group work one night a week for struggling people.
        2. She came, but she stood outside the door trembling; when she could come in, she might be so overwhelmed with fear that she would have to get up and leave.
    2. She was rooming with another young lady who was an agnostic.
      1. This lady's father delighted in getting her drunk when she was six because he thought it was funny to watch a drunk child stagger around.
      2. She was an alcoholic before she was 10.
      3. Though her family never worshipped, they forced her to attend Bible classes and worship.
      4. In Bible class, as a child, she became friends with the teacher's daughter.
        1. After a class, the teacher caught them together.
        2. The teacher told her daughter, "This is the kind of person that you must not associate with."
      5. She detested the church and God from that day forward.
    3. Listen to what happened.
      1. The agnostic lady said to the fear-filled lady, "This class is obviously helping you. I will go with you so you will be able to walk in the building."
      2. That is the only reason the agonistic came.
      3. But the agnostic could not believe how the group and the discussion was building hope.
      4. By the third class the agnostic was coming because she wanted to be there.
      5. That led to personal studies and, in time, to baptism into Christ.
      6. I have never seen a person in any country any happier than was this lady on the day she was baptized.
        1. She said, "For the first time in my life I understand what love is. For the first time in my life I know what a friend is."

  4. The hunger, the burning desire that I have for us as a congregation focuses on three great needs.
    1. I want us to grow as we expand our mission outreach into the world.
      1. I want our commitment to reach out to other peoples in other nations to capture our imaginations.
      2. I want us to bring the good news of the hope of assurance to other people.
    2. But I also want us to grow as we develop and expand our outreach to the Fort Smith area.
      1. I want that commitment to also capture our imaginations.
      2. I want to bring the good news of the hope of assurance to those who know despair all around us.
    3. And I want each of us as a part God's family to grow and develop spiritually as never before.
      1. I want each of us to understand and to trust the hope of the gospel as we never have before.
      2. I want the assurance of our hope to draw us closer together than we have ever been, to make us more respectful and forbearing with one another than we have ever been.

Jesus was the most compassionate, merciful man who ever lived. When you read the gospels, his unselfish compassion is beyond belief. Again and again he astounds you with how much he cared, and who he cared for. He amazes you with the kindness and consideration he extends to the most unlikely people. Constantly he proved that his great invitation was genuine, that it was sincere, and that he meant it.

With all my heart and being, I want us to be a congregation in which we can see Jesus in each other. I want everyone of us to know that we will help each other when we are struggling. I want those who visit with us to see Jesus in us. I want them to know that this is a congregation that helps anyone who struggles and lifts burdens.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 17 November 1996

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