Hope That Kills You, Hope that Gives You Life
How to never die, drink from the fountain of perpetual youth, and how to have real hope.
Spoken April 2nd, 2023 at Hillwood Church
In my reading this week, I was in 1 Kings 17. Story of the widow who was about to die with her son, but when Elijah showed up, God gave her bottomless jars of flour and oil. Saving them both from death.
8Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9“Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” 12“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread— only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it— and die.” 13Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’ ”5She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
But a year or so later, her son dies after Elijah of a sickness. Here’s here response:
“She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
For the widow. No miracle in the past will make up for the tragedy of today. No hope from yesteryear will ease her soul today. In fact, the miracles of the past, make her loss that much more bitter. The miracle of the past caused her to have hope and faith. And she seems to say, “I wish you would have just let us die earlier than to give us hope that God forgave me and loved me.”
Ryan Reynolds has a very interesting documentary called Welcome to Wrexham. He and a partner purchased a struggling soccer club in Wales and attempt to turn its fortunes around. For something like 14 seasons this club has been relegated to the lowest league and can’t seem to move up. When Hollywood dollars move in in attempt to turn the club around, the fans are not hopeful. They can’t believe any longer. They have a phrase they use, “It’s the hope that kills you.” Because season after season they’ve had hope, only to see it dashed. Some could say that of the Mariners, up until last year where the ended a 21 year playoff drought.
Now sports are trivial compared to the life of a woman’s son. How much more bitter to have hope that your child will live, when he was on the threshold of death...only to see him die the next year.
“What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
It’s the hope that killed the widows heart. It’s the hope that made her feel that not just Elijah, but God himself was against her. I want you to see the pattern of people in the scriptures who having been saved, having been rescued, having been given hope before, are seemingly more jaded with God when problems and trial arise later. There’s a pattern in scripture that looks like this:
Miracles followed by Mourning. Provisions followed by poverty. Hope followed by hopelessness.
Keep going in the life of Elijah, the very next chapter Elijah will call the fire of God down on the stone alter and on the false prophets of Baal. The very victory of God that he has been contending for....He will see the end of the long drought...miracle after miracle. And then the threat from Jezebel and he is reduced to the same spirit as the Widow. Kill me now, he suggests.
I Kings 19:2So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Miracles followed by Mourning. Provisions followed by poverty. Hope followed by hopelessness.
And Elijah even knows it. He knows the stories of the Exiles in the desert: Manna daily falling on them to meet their needs. Seas parting, pillars of fire leading, water gushing from rocks, their clothing and shoes, never wearing out...miracle after miracle, provision after provision and then they find themselves thirsty again after all these miracles, 38 years into the exile: But the people grew impatient on the way; 5they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Numbers 21:5
Why give us hope, Moses? It’s the hope that kills us.
Elijah is saying, I’m just like them. I want the miracle to last indefinitly. I want an always happily ever after. I want miracles of provision and demonstration of God’s salvation un-ending. I am tired of living in time, where yesterday’s miracle is gone today. Where victory won’t sit still. The dead that are raised die again. The thirsty that are given water, are parched again, the healed get sick again. The larder that if filled goes empty again. I am no better than the Israelites, my ancestors in the desert, and I know it. I wish I was better, had more faith...that I could live on yesterdays bread, yesterdays miracles...but I cant. I’m sad, I’m afraid, and I’m sick of living in a world dominated by brokenness, sin and death. “Take my life,” says Elijah.
Have you considered Mary, the mother of Jesus? Gabriel appears to her and tells her she will bear the Son of God, the Messiah, as a virgin. She raises up a song in Luke 2:
From now on generations will call me blessed, 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
Her life is a party about the hope that God has given her. He’s done great things. This poor unheralded youth...a woman when women were more marginalized. This is God’s amazing reversal of the curse. Through Eve first came sin and the curse...and now through the second eve, Mary, first comes salvation and blessing. But you don’t have to read very much further...only 8 days after Jesus is born, she goes to the temple with Joseph to have Jesus circumcised and Simeon, a prophet finds them (Luke 2:28-35):
28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
You are going to suffer greatly because of this miracle. This hope, this joy, this miracle you have now will later, like a sword, “pierce your own soul too.” It’s the Hope that will Kill you....
In the Old Testament and in the New Testament, we have these moments in time where God breaks into our world to bring restoration into the physical, social, and spiritual dimensions. As if a portal to God’s Kingdom is opened, and in walks justice, mercy, salvation, healing and miracles. Why does God break into our world, tempt us with hope and joy...only to leave us here subject to the world of time and decay and inevitable suffering and death?
It is hard to be us, we are eternal beings living in a temporal world.
And it’s not just the dramatic miracle of the Bible where we taste this bitter hope. It’s woven into the very fabric of our existence: When we get that first job, first get married, buy that first house, have that first child. There is this sort of euphoria that we experience as a miracle of life, a provision from God, an unexpected joy. But it doesn’t take long for that marriage or that job or that child to break your heart.
It’s the Hope that Kills us.
See the problem that we have with yesterday’s miracles, yesterday’s life, yesterdays provisions, yesterdays salvations, yesterdays hope, is really a problem that we have with time. CS Lewis writes:
For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. 'How he's grown!' we exclaim, 'How time flies!' as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the very wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed: unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.
In other words, why do we have these desires for happily ever after, these desires for good things to last forever? What is our hang up that causes us to be mad at God who one day gave us our child, our spouse, our parents, and the next day takes them away? Why do we expect forever? And as Lewis points out we feel time and its passing in our souls and it feels weird; but it shouldn’t. If we were mere mortals, if our existence was nothing but physical...we wouldn’t feel this strangeness at its passing, this loss. In another place Lewis called us amphibians when it comes to time:
Humans are amphibians...half spirit and half animal...as spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time, means to change.
No wonder why some of us hate change so much. Change is the evidence that we don’t belong here. That something is sort of kicking us out of this world....that we won’t ever really find home among this place. As we age, come on folks whose bodies are wearing down, doesn’t it feel like we are getting kicked out of our very skin? We feel young inside but our bodies are wasting away, our joints are wearing thin. That’s not to say that we aren’t our bodies...because we are that too...right, we are amphibians. But we are also eternal beings that are wrestling with the temporary, wrestling with our physical loves and longing, our physical hopes and fears. And the fact is that part of us will never die and consequently we can’t get use to the idea of not having happily ever after.
For people living in time, those moments where God breaks through into our lives shows us his love, provides for our needs, gifts us the miracle of life in marriage and children and rites of passage that thrill us...those are not to be the destination but an arrow that points us to something and to someone beyond, to something eternal. They are a link in the chain to our anchor of faith....not the anchor itself.
Ok so to summarize our condition: we are spirit and we are flesh and as such our eternal hopes are often dashed by this changing, morphing, broken physical world. But it hasn’t always been this way. The one source of information that makes sense of all this is the Bible. In the beginning sin entered the earth, perhaps the solar system... first through spiritual beings, (through the Satan) and then into the physical world, through Eve and Adam. When Adam and Eve essentially said, we will be our own Gods, we will determine our own truth...and they ate of the fruit, death entered into the physical cosmos, for God had warned them that it they ate of that fruit “you will surely die.” And after they ate He pronounced this curse in Genesis 3:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your fooduntil you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
There is no escaping the ultimate consequence of death and the suffering and the loss of hope along the way. There are something like 100 Billion people who have lived on this earth. And each and every one has shared these three experiences:
They were born.
Each lived differently, had different experiences, different victories, different sufferings, different joys and sorrows. But they all ended the same. And you and I will too. When we are young we think we can escape it: the tyranny of time. But we cannot. From dust we came to dust we will return. Now there is one notable exception to 3 point existence. There is one man who was born, who lived, who died and who rose from the dead never to die again. Complete regeneration.
I read recently a fascinating idea about the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Which is a physical law based on universal experience in which the energy that creates heat always is a net loss. Heat always moves from hotter objects to colder objects (or "downhill"), unless energy in some form is supplied to reverse the direction of heat flow. In other word the universe is like a billionaire who is losing money ever day. And some day she will be out. Bankrupt with no one to bail her out.
One Christian astronomer I read this week on-line (lost the reference), said that while the second law of thermodynamics is not a result of the fall of Adam and Eve, he believes that another system of energy regeneration was lost.
So although the 2nd law was in full effect, another compensating restorative process may have prevented any net decay of the universe. This would allow the universe and life on earth to exist forever, while heat and energy would still behave as they do today (for the most part).
Ok, so look at Jesus. The Bible tells us he was fully man, but that he was also fully God. Like us, he was subject to time, decay, and death. He was also eternal. He felt and experienced all we have. But in his full Godness, he had not sinned. And so he knew he was bringing something different into the world, not religion per se, but something into the very cosmos itself. He was bringing Life...the regenerative process of perpetual regeneration down to the atomic and molecular level into the psychical universe that has been lost in our world.
Here is how Paul says it: Romans 5:12-17
12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.... For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Here is how Jesus explained his mission of returning perpetual, regenerative life into the world:
John 4 “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 10 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 11 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus claimed before his death to be the one that changes everything. I’m not talking about religion to you today. I’m talking about the very fabric of the universe being fundamentally changed because of Jesus. God in the flesh, come to renew and restore his universe. And he offers us that by choice to us simply by believing in him.
Not believing in outcomes, mind you. Those whose understanding of belief is the sort of faith that is all about getting their next miracle, will only experience the hope that kills. But those who believe in Jesus have their hope in the one who will regenerate all those who put their belief in him, they will live though they die.
Jesus is the well that never dries. The happy ending that never ends, the fountain of perpetual youth, the source of eternal, regenerative resurrection life. The system that the world lost as a consequence of the first sin was reintroduced into the physical universe in Jesus.
This is why the Scriptures tell us, “don’t grieve like those who have no hope.” We have hope unending. And though we will taste death, it will not sting us; it cannot embitter us. So today we look at the cross of Jesus. And we see that the Cross was the avenue through which Jesus would secure this life for us.
Look, there are lots of theological reasons why Jesus died. How his death brings us life. He atoned for our sin and Adam's sin. Living perfectly he died unjustly thereby canceling the law of death via sin. He reversed it. There’s the substitutionary theory that Jesus took what was ours, the penalty for us, thereby setting us free from the the consequences of our sin. There’s the just God theory, that states someone sinned so someone had to pay else God would not be just by allowing evil to go unpunished.
Regardless of the theory of atonement, in the end the affect is the same. Here is how Jesus says it just before he goes to the cross in the book of John:
John 12 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
It is Jesus's death, as seen in this cup, and this bread, and this cross that gives the hope that lives. I can't provide you with the exact reasons except to say that in Adams death all died, but in Jesus' death all can live. CS Lewis found it a shade easier to explain the phenomenon of the death of Jesus bringing life in his depiction of Aslan's own sacrifice on the stone table. When Susan seeks to understand why Aslan's death would bring life, Aslan explains:
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
"Death working backwards." What a phrase! And what truth. In Jesus' death, and in our participation of his death, the outcome of those deaths cancel themselves...just like two negatives in math create a positive. And so in Jesus death creates eternal life and the hope that lies in that life is itself life-giving too. It is the hope in Jesus that is life-giving hope.