A SEAT ON THE PEW: LIFE OR DEATH?
In November, 1992, I was invited to speak at the Technical Institute located in
Kalinningrad, Russia. The English Department invited me to present a series of lectures
in English. It was permissible to speak from the Bible as long as I did not "evangelize or
sermonize." I could challenge the students to think as long as I confined my teaching to
sharing information. The largest lecture hall in the institute was made available to me,
and the Dean of the English Department served as my translator.
I have taught in several different countries, but the Kalinningrad experience was
my most fascinating and insightful experience. It was also one of my most enjoyable
The city has over 400,000 residents. At that time, most of the residents of the
city were living without hope. I had never been in a city filled with people who had lost
hope. They were not depressed; they were not angry; they were not enraged; they were
not even protesting. The people in the city were calm and accepting. My hosts in the
institute and the students were very gracious and kind. The people simply had no hope.
Their hope had died because their confidence had been destroyed.
How did that happen? For sixty years they sincerely believed that conditions in
Western Europe were worse than their conditions. Then one day television signals
brought them pictures of life in Western Europe. They saw the prosperity of Western
Europe. Hope became terminally ill.
For sixty years they sincerely believed that the only true hope for their economic
recovery was communism. Communism would save the economy and stabilize the
Soviet Union. Then on a specific day communism collapsed. The communist
government ceased to exist. And terminally ill hope died.
In 1992, everyone was powerless. They faced extremely stressful conditions,
and there was no opportunity for improvement. There was no correct thing to do, no
correct way to improve your situation, no correct means of creating opportunity. No
matter what you did, it made no immediate difference. In 1992, nothing held the promise
of an improved future. There was no hope.
I was the guest of very gracious, considerate people who had no hope. That
was the most unusual circumstance I have ever experienced.
- When there is no hope, there is only a mindless, spiritless, physical existence.
- Without hope, life has no purpose.
- Without purpose, there is no reason to exist.
- People without hope physically survive each day by going through the
- Except for immediate family, there is almost no interaction with people.
- Why? When there is no hope, any other person is a threat, a competitor in
the ruthless game of survival.
- No one is a blessing.
- In fact, without hope, there is no concept of blessing.
- None of us can physically survive without hope.
- When we lose hope, we get depressed.
- When our depression becomes severe, we either get sick and die, or we kill
ourselves--suicide is the act of a person who is without value to himself or
herself because he or she has no hope.
- Is it surprising that a major theme of Christianity in the New Testament is
- Someone asks, "David, are you sure about that? Can you really say that hope is
a major New Testament theme for Christianity?"
- "We Christians don't talk much about hope."
- "We don't preach much about hope."
- "We don't study much about hope in our Bible classes."
- "How can hope be a major theme in Christianity when we place so little
emphasis on hope and talk so little about hope."
- I will let you decide for yourself: Is hope a major Christian theme in the New
- First, there are three primary, internal forces that sustain spiritual life in a
person while he or she lives in this world.
- God gives us spiritual life through Jesus Christ.
- Therefore, Jesus Christ is the source of spiritual life--anyone who is in
Jesus Christ is spiritually alive, and anyone who is not in Jesus Christ is
not spiritually alive.
- The proper way to respond to the gift of spiritual life is to allow these three
forces to be the dominant forces in our lives.
- What are those three forces?
- The New Testament writer, Paul, identified them:
But now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of
these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
- Of the three, love is the greatest because it is eternal.
- But all three are essential to spiritual life in this world.
- There are so many statements in the New Testament that declare the
importance of hope that we cannot mention them all, but consider a few.
- The Ephesian Christians were told that "you were called in one hope of
your calling" (Ephesians 4:4).
- The non-Jewish Colossian Christians were told that God had revealed the
riches of His glory to non-Jews through this understanding: "Christ in you,
the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
- Timothy was told that "Jesus Christ (is) our hope of glory" (1 Timothy
- The author of the book of Hebrews declared, "This hope we have as an
anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast . . ." (Hebrews
- Peter wrote that God in His great mercy "has caused us to be born
again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from
the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
- If you can, take a Bible and look at Romans chapters 4 and 5 with me.
- Look at Romans 4:18: In hope against hope he believed, in order that he
might become the father of many nations, according to that which has
been spoken, "SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE."
- Paul is writing about Abraham--all of Romans chapter four discusses
- Paul is teaching the Christians in Rome a basic lesson about faith by using
- God assured Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old (and his wife
was eighty-nine years old) that he and Sarah would have their first child,
and the descendants of that child would become many nations.
- There was no physical hope that Abraham and Sarah could become
parents--they were too old, and they had never had children.
- But Abraham hoped because God promised it would happen, and only
because God promised it would happen.
- He literally hoped against hope.
- And Isaac was born when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah
was ninety years old.
- Only because Abraham could hope could Abraham believe.
- Romans 5:1-5 is Paul's application statement.
- After devoting all of chapter 4 explaining faith and hope, Paul made
several application points.
- You have been justified by faith, just as Abraham was justified by faith.
- Because you were justified by faith, you are at peace with God.
- Jesus Christ made possible both your justification and your peace.
- This same faith has introduced you to grace, and it is grace that enables
you to spiritually stand.
- The end product of faith, justification, peace, and grace is hope--a hope
that makes you feel triumphant.
- Understand this: severe hardship teaches you how to hang in there;
hanging in there develops character, and developing character generates
- That hope will never disappoint you--once you find hope in Christ, you will
never regret having it, and you will never regret the price of finding it.
- Why? Because when you find hope, you also find the love of God, and the
Holy Spirit pours your heart full of that love.
- Hope is a cornerstone message about Jesus.
- A cornerstone was a genuinely square stone used to start the foundation of a
- If the stone was truly square, the foundation of the house would fit together
at the corners.
- If the stone was slightly out of square, the corners of the house would not
- Without a proper understanding of hope, the foundation of Christianity will
not come together in your life--the corners will not meet.
- Hope is a cornerstone message.
- The first message of the cross is the reality of God's love; the second
message of the cross is the reality of your hope.
- The first message of the resurrection is the power of the God who loves
you; the second message of the resurrection is the power that guarantees
the hope that God gives you.
- Jesus' compassion is the message of hope.
- Jesus' forgiveness is the message of hope.
- Jesus' mercy is the message of hope.
- We believe the Bible is God's word and is inspired by God, and we believe
that the message of that word comes straight from the mind and heart of God.
- During the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, how many people do you think that
Jesus healed and forgave?
- I would not dare to try to guess--that number would be at least in the tens of
thousands if not the hundreds of thousands.
- Chapter after chapter in the gospels reveals people Jesus healed and people
- In guiding the writing of the Gospels, how many examples did the Holy Spirit have
to choose from? How many examples of forgiveness or healing were available to
the Holy Spirit for use as examples in the gospels?
- More than you and I can count!
- The Gospel of John ends with the statement, "There are also many other
things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose
that even the world itself would not contain the books which were
written" (John 21:25).
- With all the examples that the Holy Spirit had available, have you considered the
examples the Holy Spirit chose?
- In Matthew:
- He told a paralyzed man, "Take courage, my son, your sins are
- He spent personal, meaningful time associating with and eating with tax
collectors and people everyone knew to be evil people (9:10).
- He cast demons out of people who were possessed by those evil spirits
- In Luke:
- An uninvited, sexually immoral woman just walked in a home where Jesus
was guest for a meal (7:36-50).
- Her behavior was totally unacceptable--she entered without asking; she
let her hair down; she washed Jesus' feet with her tears; and she
repeatedly kissed Jesus' feet.
- And Jesus told this woman, "Your sins have been forgiven."
- He told a story, a parable, about a son that deliberately left home to live a
wasteful, disgraceful, wicked life (15:11-32).
- When he came to his senses and returned home, his father welcomed
him with love and total forgiveness.
- He told a story about a sick beggar who died and went to live with the
blessed, and a wealthy man who died and went to live with the condemned
- He told a story about a very religious man that God refused to listen to and
a very wicked man that God heard and forgave (18:9-14).
- In John:
- Jesus offered the living water of salvation to an outcast woman who had
been married and divorced five times and was presently living with a man
to whom she was not married (4:7-26).
- He told a woman captured in the very act of adultery, "Neither do I
condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more" (8:1-11).
- He healed a blind man that the religious leaders declared to be a sinner
who was born blind because of sin (9).
- Of course you have to include Peter who cursed and swore that he did not
know Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75) and the thief who died beside Jesus whom
Jesus forgave as he was dying (Luke 23:39-43).
- So what's the message in all these examples? Why did the Holy Spirit choose so
many of these examples?
- The message is clear: "There is hope, hope for anyone with any problem,
hope for everyone controlled by evil."
- The message of Jesus is this: "God can help you where you are. I will forgive
you where you are. Where you are is where you and I begin."
Is a seat in the pew the opportunity for life or the curse of death? If you find the
hope God created in Jesus Christ, it is the opportunity for life. If your hope is destroyed,
it is death. Hopelessness kills us physically, and hopelessness kills us spiritually.
If it is my struggling son sitting in the pew, help him find hope in Jesus. If it is my
struggling daughter, help her find hope. If it is my struggling wife, help her find hope. If
it is my struggling husband, help him find hope. If it is my struggling parent, help him or
her find hope. If it is my struggling friend, help him or her find hope.
Why? When you find hope in Jesus, you find life and love. And the corners of
your spiritual house will fit together.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 9 March 1997
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