SERMON TITLE: Enduring Hope
TEXT: Acts 23:12-26:32 ESV (Read via video)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
Watch the sermon here.
Take notes here.
As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
We’re beginning our final three weeks in the book of Acts. It’s been a long journey — a few years — in fact — of us traveling through the history of the early church and seeing God at work in the lives of the first followers of Jesus — folks who spread the news about the life, death, and resurrection of the One who came from heaven to earth to set people free from their hopelessness and from the darkness of this world — the One who sets people free from their enslavement to sin.
And — for quite some time — we’ve been following the travels of the apostle Paul. A man called by God to take the news of Jesus to the known world. His story began as an enemy of Christ and his followers. In fact — Paul had the power to have followers of Jesus arrested and imprisoned — even killed. And on an unexpected day for Paul — Jesus intervened in his life and told Paul, “You’re mine now.” That’s not exactly what Jesus told him, but the point’s the same. And from that moment on — Paul was indeed Jesus’ man for the assignment he’d been given. An assignment that came with great personal sacrifice — an assignment that provoked many to become his enemy — an assignment to proclaim news that many would want silenced. Yet — despite the opposition — Paul endured — he persevered — for he had a message that he was not only to spread — but had deeply transformed by the message himself. What kind of message was this? It was a message of enduring hope.
And — today — my goal is to remind us of this hope of our faith — a hope that endures. This hope changed Paul’s life — and has changed countless lives since. A hope that’s maybe changed your life already — or may change your life today. Let’s remind ourselves of this message of enduring hope.
Here’s the message of hope — as found in Paul’s words from our verses for today. In response to the charges made against him — Paul says, “I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. 15 I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people…‘I am on trial before you today because I believe in the resurrection of the dead!’” (Acts 24:14-16, 21b NLT)
A few years later — years all spent under house arrest — Paul finds himself once again standing trial because of the false accusations brought against him. And — again — Paul states, “I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. 7 In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me for having this hope! 8 Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead? 9 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. 12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. 13 About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’ 15 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. 17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’ 19 “And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven. 20 I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God — and prove they have changed by the good things they do. 21 Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. 22 But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen — 23 that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike.” 24 Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” 25 But Paul replied, “I am not insane, Most Excellent Festus. What I am saying is the sober truth. 26 And King Agrippa knows about these things. I speak boldly, for I am sure these events are all familiar to him, for they were not done in a corner! 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do —” 28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” 29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”” (Acts 26:6-29 NLT)
Here’s the principle — not only for this sermon — but for our lives as followers of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a supernatural hope that endures all situations — this is the unstoppable and unequal power found in our Christian faith. Here it is again in case you missed it. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ — we’ve been given a supernatural hope that endures all situations.
This is what we see in Paul’s life over the course of years of house arrest, false accusations, standing trial, and having to defend himself even though he’s innocent. He has an unwavering hope — a trust — in God’s promises to him that were guaranteed — not because Paul was awesome — but because Paul trusted in an awesome Savior.
And this means that our hope — what makes hope unique for us as Christians — is not that we trust in ourselves and the religious things we do — our hope is not an unfounded wish or dream that we’re “hoping” will come true — what makes hope unique for us as Christians is that our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ — a historical fact. Multiple times Paul mentions the resurrection of Jesus Christ — and this is the fight of our faith: will our hope be based on our circumstances — will it be based on what our eyes can see — that rocky marriage or a difficult parenting situation or an empty bank account or that doctor’s report or the moral and theological decay in society and the church — will our hope be based on our circumstances or on the resurrection of Jesus Christ? And what our Christian faith says is “No!” — what our eyes can see is not the grounds for our hope. Christ’s work — including his resurrection — is the reason for our hope — the resurrection of Jesus is the only reason for our trust in all of the promises of God being guaranteed to us.
And — I think you can see — how this means that our definition of hope is not the definition used by most people today. Meaning, Merriam-Webster’s definition of hope — “to want something to happen or be true” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope) — and dictionary.com’s definition — “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hope) — and the Cambridge dictionary’s definition of hope — “something good that you want to happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/hope) — are not the definitions we’re to be using when we talk about our hope as Christians.
We need to go back to the archaic definition — where the word hope meant “to trust.” To trust what? Not what — but who. To trust — to have confidence — that “God will keep his promises” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary) — this is what it means to have biblical hope. This is the fight of our faith as followers of Jesus. To not believe the lies of our Enemy and the definitions of the world when it comes to the grounds of our hope. Your hope — and mine — if you believe in Jesus — is based on God — who he is and the promises he’s made to his people.
And the hope — that we’re to hold fast to — declares, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Psalm 33:16-22 ESV)
Or — as we read in the New Testament, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)
And — to show us that we must understand “hope” to mean “trust” — another Bible translates this verse as, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17 NLT)
To hope in riches is to put your trust in them. But God’s people are to have hope — not based on the things of this world — armies and strength and war horses — health, wealth, and prosperity — our marital status, our employment, or how many views or likes our last social media post received. Instead “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” (Psalm 130:7 ESV)
God’s people are to hope in the Lord! With him is steadfast love that never gives up nor abandons us. With him — our God — there’s redemption — freedom from hopelessness and despair and sin. For — we — God’s people — are never to forget that, “O Lord, [you are] the hope of Israel…” (Jeremiah 17:13a ESV) — just as he is the hope for his people today. Yet this isn’t some unknown Lord — this is not some unknowable God — who is our hope. The Lord — who is our hope — has a name.
““The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:12b-13 ESV)
The root of Jesse — the descendant of Jesse’s ancestral line — who is the hope of both Jews and Gentiles — the Lord who fills his people with hope by sending us the Holy Spirit to empower us — is Jesus Christ. And with the Lord Jesus Christ — who is our hope — always by our side — even as we groan and ache because of the sorrows and sufferings of this world — we do so trusting that our God will be faithful.
“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved.” (Romans 8:23-24a NLT)
And this hope — this Holy Spirit empowered — supernatural trust that pierces through the most trying of circumstances — is given to us when we first believe in Jesus. And this hope keeps growing in our lives as we follow Christ — as we mature in our faith — growing in our understanding of who God is and the promises he’s given to us. Hope that helps us to persevere — to endure — no matter what we face in life. This is what we see in Paul.
After Jesus appears to Paul — encouraging him — which tells you that this was not an easy moment in Paul’s life — he needed Jesus to bring him words of encouragement — “The next morning a group of Jews got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty of them in the conspiracy. 14 They went to the leading priests and elders and told them, “We have bound ourselves with an oath to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 So you and the high council should ask the commander to bring Paul back to the council again. Pretend you want to examine his case more fully. We will kill him on the way.”” (Acts 23:12-15 NLT)
And after the plot to kill Paul was made known — and he was transferred to Caesarea where Felix is governor — “Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish elders and the lawyer Tertullus, to present their case against Paul to the governor. 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented the charges against Paul in the following address to the governor: “You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. 3 For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you. 4 But I don’t want to bore you, so please give me your attention for only a moment. 5 We have found this man to be a troublemaker who is constantly stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes. 6 Furthermore, he was trying to desecrate the Temple when we arrested him. 8 You can find out the truth of our accusations by examining him yourself.” 9 Then the other Jews chimed in, declaring that everything Tertullus said was true.” (Acts 24:1-9 NLT)
Then two years go by before Festus takes over as governor — replacing Felix — and…“Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new responsibilities, he left for Jerusalem, 2 where the leading priests and other Jewish leaders met with him and made their accusations against Paul. 3 They asked Festus as a favor to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way). 4 But Festus replied that Paul was at Caesarea and he himself would be returning there soon. 5 So he said, “Those of you in authority can return with me. If Paul has done anything wrong, you can make your accusations.”” (Acts 25:1-5 NLT)
Here we see Paul’s hope in God — his trust in his Lord — even when the opposition he faces is persistent for years. And this is no lightweight opposition that he’s facing. As hard as it may be to trust God in the workplace these days — when your job could be on the line because of your faith — as difficult as social media cancel culture can be as it tries to ruin people’s reputations — as devastating as circumstances we might face as Christians in our nation — we’re talking about people plotting to murder Paul — that’s the kind of opposition he’s facing. And this goes on for years!
They want to kill him shortly after he’s first arrested. So he’s sent to Caesarea to stand trial before Felix. Felix sort of plays games with Paul — for two years — not treating him harshly — house arrest isn’t the worst that could’ve happened to Paul — but neither does he set Paul free. Then when Festus takes over — within days — Paul’s opponents are back at it. They haven’t given up on their plot to kill him. Makes you wonder how long the folks went without food or drink — obviously not two years — but they’re anger only grew as Paul’s situation made them break their original vow. Paul getting sent with military protection made them look bad — and no one likes looking bad — and so they were patient — oh were they patient. Waiting. Watching. Looking for the first opportunity to put their plan back into action. And they waited for two years until they saw their opportunity and tried to seize the day.
Which leads to Paul finally appealing to Caesar. If he stays where he’s at — with such a corrupt system of justice — eventually his opponents will have their chance. But — in appealing to Caesar — Paul knows he’ll be sent to Rome — far from his opponents — which will really put their commitment to their plan to the test. And — not only will his trip to Rome put their commitment to the test — his appeal to Caesar is the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him from back on that night years ago when Paul needed encouragement. Here’s what Jesus said to Paul. ““Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.”” (Acts 23:11b NLT)
And because his hope — his trust — has been in his Lord — who was always with him over the course of these years of being on trial and facing persistent opposition — Paul seized the moment. And to Rome he will now be sent.
But know that this isn’t the first time Paul tells us he had to trust God during difficult circumstances. He’s the man who writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ESV)
That’s an affliction unfamiliar to most of us — circumstances that test our hope in God that are foreign to us — but know that some of our partners in ministry are very familiar with these types of situations. One example is Sal and Sana — not their real names — a couple who live in Beirut and work with our partner Resurrection Church of Beirut — RCB — as pastors of one of the church's campuses. Gateway began partnering with them when we were made aware of the couple being separated from each other due to financial and political difficulties. Sana was stuck in the US with their young son and Sal was in Beirut, separated for more than 6 months. They had no place to live in Beirut. Thus — due to your generous giving — Gateway was able to send a large gift to reunite the couple and help them find a place to live in Beirut. As a result, they’re now thriving in Beirut and heavily involved in pastoral and training ministry at RCB.
Both Sal and Sana are Egyptians and from a Muslim background. Both have incredible testimonies of God's intervention in their lives and bringing them to faith in Jesus — for example — Sal was once a drug dealer. Both fled Egypt and have family antagonistic towards them because of their faith in Jesus. After attending the Arab Baptist Seminary in Beirut and getting married, they had to move to Brazil for 4 years so that their son could be born there. If they had not, their son would have been born in Lebanon without citizenship.
A few weeks ago, Sana let us know that she was returning to Egypt to see and care for her sister's children — her sister died 2 years ago. Sana said she fears that the government may detain her upon returning to Egypt. She wasn’t able to take her son with her because he would be taken and given to Sal's family. This sweet couple fears persecution for their faith in Jesus from their own families and from the dominance of the Muslim brotherhood in Eqypt's political system and yet she went back to Egypt anyway — to care for her sister’s children.
And with that simple act — returning to Egypt to care for her deceased sister’s children — because of her faith in Jesus — Sana put her life at risk because of her faith in Jesus. Yet she went anyway and I’m grateful to say she’s since returned back to Beirut safely. Theirs is a story full of afflictions for Christ — and theirs is a story of holding fast to an enduring hope in their Savior in all circumstances.
Maybe you’re in a moment of life where you feel burdened beyond your strength — where despair is a close friend — where life feels like a sentence of death. I can’t imagine how hard life must be for you — if this is where you are. If this isn’t where you are — first — be grateful to God. And — second — know that this is life for some among us right now.
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ know that this moment is not a punishment from God. How can I say this with confidence? Because — if you believe in Jesus — he took all of your punishment on the cross in your place. God doesn’t punish his children — he disciplines us — for sure — he leads us back on his path — which may be painful. And — often — what we’re meant to learn in these hard moments of life is — as Paul says — to learn to “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” May this be a source of comfort for you as you walk in the valley of the shadow of death. You’re not being punished — God is with you and he loves you. This is an opportunity to trust him — to hope in Christ — to not rely on yourself or the things of this world — but on he who raises the dead.
If you’re not a Christian — and you find yourself in a similar situation — one of despair and hopelessness — you have one of two choices. To run from God or run to him. You can run from the One in whom hope is found or run to the Lord who redeems and sets captives free — even from despair and hopelessness. And the Lord who sets people free has a name — Jesus. What does it mean to run to Jesus? It means just what Paul has told us it means. To stop trusting in yourself and the things of this world to give you freedom and peace and joy and life and — instead — to say, “Jesus, I trust you. I don’t know where this will lead me. But I turn from myself and the things of this world for my comfort and joy and purpose and identity and I turn to you. I need you to rescue me — to save me from myself, my sin, and from the punishment I rightly deserve. I’m desperate to be loved — and for you to be the One who loves me.” If your heart is desperate for this to be your prayer — please let someone know before you leave today. Come up front for prayer or stop by the Resource Center before you leave.
And — if you’re not ready to pray something like this — keep coming back and exploring the Christian faith. Just because today isn’t the day for you — well — that doesn’t mean the day for you to believe isn’t just around the corner.
And — for those Christians among us who are not in a season of despair — there’s still a reason for you to live in hope, to walk in hope, and to keep trusting in your Lord. Hoping in Christ is how we grow in our faith — living with an enduring hope is how we prepare to face future opposition, trials, and troubling moments. As the apostle Peter tells us, “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:13-16 NLT)
The way we live as faithful followers of Jesus is by putting all of our hope in the fulfillment of the promises God has given to us — one promise being the completion of our salvation on the day when Jesus returns. And — until that day — we’re to live holy lives — as we trust and follow our holy Savior. One characteristic of this holy hopeful living is our love for one another. A characteristic of God’s people we’ve been reminding ourselves of for the past few months. Loving each other with the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV)
A love for one another that forges our fellowship with each other. A loving fellowship — a sweet bond — a brotherly and sisterly kindness towards one another — a thankfulness for each other — a thankfulness we express to our God.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV)
What a fellowship — what a church — what a compelling community we have the opportunity to be. One built on an enduring hope — a persevering trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Trusting in the work he’s accomplished on our behalf and the work he’s doing in and through each and every one of us. A work that he’s guaranteed will be completed — no matter the circumstances we face — Christ has guaranteed that the good work he’s begun in us — individually — but don’t miss this — Christ has guaranteed that the good work he’s started in us together as a church — will be completed. And that’s why we have hope in all circumstances. Christ has made a promise to us — we will endure — and his work in us will be completed. What promises to us — what hope we have. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, what hope we have as your people. Hope undeserved. Hope unearned. Hope that — to the eyes of the world — seems too good to be true. But hope that is guaranteed and is ours nevertheless.
Holy Spirit, forge in our hearts a trust in you and your promises to us that is unwavering. May our eyes be fixed on you and your promises to us. In the storm tossed days of life — may we have a peace that surpasses all understanding. A supernatural peace that is your gift to us.
And — Jesus — thank you for being our hope. For being with us. For promising to never leave us nor forsake us. For not only telling and showing us how to live and love — but you have empowered us to live and love the way we’ve been created to live and love. In your freedom. In selflessness. In holiness. In joy. May you be honored and glorified by our hope in you. In your name we pray. Amen.
May you go having great hope in your God and the promises he’s made to you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.
Stories, news, and resources for things happening at Gateway Church.