The Reason for My Hope

 

Series: My Personal Testimony, Part Two

A sermon by Pastor Dale Wolcott

Presented December 15, 1999

Scripture: Revelation 12:1-10

“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. 2Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

*  *  *  *  *

Some years ago a group of young businessmen were having lunch together at a downtown restaurant. As you might expect, the conversation went from golf clubs to fast cars to sharp clothes to beautiful girls.

Eventually somebody said, “What I’ve discovered is that you can have anything you want if you’ve got the money.” One of the other men, who was a Christian, said, “I think I’d have to disagree with that.”

The first gentleman was adamant. “Absolutely. Money is power. That’s life, man, you’d better get used to it. I challenge you to name three things that I would want that money can’t buy.”

The Christian young man took a paper napkin and began to scribble while the group fell silent. Then he handed it across the table and his friend read it aloud.

It said: “Three things money cannot buy. #1 The beauty of a sunset; #2 The love of a good woman; #3 Entry into heaven.”

Several weeks ago I promised you that I would begin my preaching here at Midland by sharing with you my personal testimony, in three parts. We used a worksheet which you have found in your bulletin again this morning. “The pastor’s three core convictions.” Let’s review:

#1 God is smarter than I am.

#2 Jesus is stronger than the devil.

#3 Love works better than selfishness.

That Sabbath back in November, we looked at #1, and I told you this is the Foundation of My Faith: God is smarter than I am. I was born a doubter, but God has given me faith.

Today my Christmas message is going to focus on #2, and the title of this Christmas sermon is “The Reason for My Hope.”

I’m a born loser, but in the gift of Jesus, God has given me hope. In fact, God has helped me to become an optimist, and I want to tell you why. It has a lot to do with the love of a good woman.

The worst Christmas of my life was my junior year at Pacific Union College in California.

I was studying for the ministry, and the school year had started out wonderfully, because there was this girl in the dorm on the other side of the campus, and her name was Nancy. The week after school started I asked her out, and she said yes.

And then I asked her out again a few days later, and she said yes again. And I wrote home to my parents and I said, “I’ve found the perfect minister’s wife.” We started spending a lot of time together, and after a while I got up the courage to hold her hand, and she seemed to like it.

Meanwhile my roommate started dating Nancy’s roommate, and he and I were on cloud nine all quarter. And then came “dead week,” the week before final exams. And Nancy handed me a note, I think it was on Friday afternoon, and in the note she told me, very gently and very courteously, but very definitely, that it was over.

When I got back to the room I found my roommate feeling the same way I was feeling, because his girlfriend had made the same decision about him, and we had a rough exam week. I don’t think we flunked any, but it was bad.

The bottom had dropped out of my world, and furthermore I knew it was my own fault. She said she felt like I had been taking her for granted, and as I thought it over I knew it was true.

I went home for Christmas and my parents sympathized and consoled me and told me there were other girls out there, but I was devastated. If a good girl like Nancy didn’t want me, how would anybody else worth having ever want me? I felt like a loser for sure.

Now if you know the name of this wonderful young lady sitting down here in the front, you know there’s a happy ending to this story, but I want to share with you the Bible reason why I have learned that I can be hopeful and optimistic, even when things look hopeless, and even when things look hopeless at Christmastime!

Before we open God’s word, let’s bow our heads again in prayer.

Lord, for someone here this morning, this Christmas season could well be a time of painful memories, a time when our enemy would like to drag us down with discouragement, with depression, even with despair. I pray for your Holy Spirit to use these moments to reach into that heart and give him or her a reason to hope again. And if there’s someone here who isn’t sure if they can trust you, or hasn’t yet decided to fully open up their life to you, please speak especially to that one through Your Word, I pray in Jesus name, Amen.

I know that there are some of us here who are going to hear the voice of Jesus this Christmas morning in a very specific way, and He is going to be calling you to make a new start, take a step forward in fully trusting Him with everything in your life; to give Him the gift of your life. During the closing hymn, I’m going to give you an opportunity to come forward and make that greatest Christmas gift to Jesus. This won’t be a general call, but if it’s for you, you’ll know it. If it doesn’t apply to you, please be praying for others around you.

Open to Daniel 3. This Christmas morning we are going to spend a few minutes looking at “Stage Two” of the conversion story of a Bible character whose life has helped me to understand my own life: King Nebuchadnezzar.

At the end of chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face in front of Daniel and said, “Your God is a Lord of kings, because He could reveal this secret.” God is smarter than I am.

Nebuchadnezzar was convinced. But as my folks used to tell me, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t converted. The most important person in Nebuchadnezzar’s life was still Nebuchadnezzar; his own self. And not only was Nebuchadnezzar self-centered, but also, like all of us, he had some deep emotional attachments to some ideas which he had been taught as a child, which weren’t true, but which he believed were true.

Have you ever had to change something that you’ve believed deeply, all your life? It’s not easy. It’s kind of like giving up Santa Claus. Except in this case it was harder, because Nebuchadnezzar was a grown man.

All his life, growing up under the teaching of the greatest of Babylon’s wise men, Nebuchadnezzar had listened to those classic, ancient stories of the powerful gods of Babylonian mythology, stories that went all the way back to Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. These were the gods in whose names Nebuchadnezzar had marched in triumph to the ends of the earth. He believed in those gods. After all, weren’t those the gods who had helped him conquer Jerusalem, the city of Daniel’s God?

It’s hard to change old ideas, isn’t it? It’s hard to give up the ways of thinking that have been part of us for years and years. But sometimes we need to, and Nebuchadnezzar needed to, because the Bible says that people who worship other gods are actually worshiping demons, worshiping Satan (1 Corinthians 10:20).

And so in chapter 3 of Daniel, we find Nebuchadnezzar blending his ancient Babylonian religion, which was actually a subtle form of Satanism, with a new variety of emperor worship. He’s worshiping the gods, but he’s really worshiping himself.

Verse 1: “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” And in verse 2 he commands every official in the kingdom to assemble there on the plain of Dura and bow down to this 90-foot-tall idol, this Satanic symbol, to demonstrate their loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar’s god.

But who is this golden god on the plain of Dura? Who is this statue a statue of? NEBUCHADNEZZAR.

Whenever you or I hold back from worshiping the God who created us, the God who knows the end from the beginning, the God who is smarter than we are, we end up worshiping ourselves, and to worship yourself is to worship the devil.

If there’s anyone here this morning who’s holding back from a full surrender of your life to Jesus, I don’t want to scare you and I don’t want to condemn you, and I don’t want to offend you, certainly not on Christmas morning of all days! But based on what I’ve learned from this Book I need to warn you: It’s very dangerous to try to live life by yourself, because there’s a great controversy going on in this universe between Jesus and Satan, and nobody can stay neutral. Jesus said, Whoever is not with me is against me. (Matthew 12:30.) And you are no match for the devil, and neither am I. Because even the devil is smarter than I am, and the devil is also stronger than I am.

So, at this point in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, he has gotten himself so deep into worshiping himself that you can hardly tell where Nebuchadnezzar ends and Satan begins. Nebuchadnezzar is directly challenging God, just as Lucifer did in heaven.

That’s why the book of Revelation uses this story of the great image as a symbol, a type, an example of what Satan is going to do at the end of time to try to force everyone to worship “the image of the beast,” worshiping on the day of the sun, the deity of ancient Babylon, instead of worshiping the creator on His Sabbath day.

So when Nebuchadnezzar thought he was getting everybody to worship him, thought he was in charge, thought he had everything under control, he was actually nothing more than an unwitting stooge for Satan himself. Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man in the world, but Nebuchadnezzar was a born loser.

But when to all appearances Nebuchadnezzar was hopelessly lost, at that very time Jesus, who is stronger than the devil, was working to draw Nebuchadnezzar to Himself.

My brother, my sister, don’t give up on anybody! Where there is life, there is hope. I have a younger brother who was away from Jesus for 20 years. My parents never gave up on him. When they retired 13 years ago, they moved to Tennessee to be close to my brother.

There were some heartbreaking Christmases through those years. But last summer my dad rebaptized my brother, together with his wife, and they are happy in Jesus today.

Now, when Jesus was tugging on Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, he used some people to do it. It was those three young men who were willing to stand up for their faith even when facing the flames of the fiery furnace.

So when things get hot for you, and you’re tempted to despair that Jesus will ever be able to save the ones you love, whom you’ve been praying for all this time, don’t give up. If your Christmas seems hollow because the hearts of those you love aren’t in tune with the real meaning of Christmas, don’t cease hoping, and praying, and expecting God to work for them and bring them to Him!

When those three faithful Hebrews were standing there on the plain of Dura, standing upright in the midst of that sea of prostrate worshipers, what do you think they were doing? You’re right, they were praying! And I wonder if perhaps they were praying, not just for themselves, but for Nebuchadnezzar.

Now we come to the part of this story that is “The Reason for My Hope.” Nebuchadnezzar is hopelessly entangled in egotism and Satanism and materialism — the same kinds of things that have turned Christmas into a materialistic front for greed and gluttony for all too many people. Hopelessly entangled.

The three faithful young men are hopelessly outnumbered and overpowered, staring death in its flaming, fiery face. And man’s extremity is Jesus’ opportunity to let it be known that He, Jesus, is stronger than the devil.

Let’s read beginning at verse 24. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’

They answered and said to the king, ‘True O king.’

‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’ Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire.”

Notice Nebuchadnezzar’s words at the end of verse 29: “There is no other God who can deliver like this.”

Jesus is stronger than the devil.

One of these days very soon, Jesus is going to come in person again to rescue His people from Satan’s death decree. That’s what it means to be an Adventist. That’s the Blessed Hope! And it’s my hope.

But the Reason for my Hope is the story of the first advent, the Christmas story. The Christmas story is the story of Jesus coming, not just with a promise to rescue us FROM the fire, but to actually be with us IN the fire. It’s the story of Jesus saving us from the fire by walking with us through the fire.

In the Christmas story, three kings from the east go looking for Jesus and find him in a very unexpected place: in a stable, in a place of humility, a place of rejection, a place of suffering, a place of weakness. Most people didn’t recognize that Baby as a king because He wasn’t in a place where kings belong. But the wise men from the east did, and gave Him their gifts.

In Daniel 3, another king of the east, a king named Nebuchadnezzar, also finds Jesus and finds Him in a very unexpected place. He’s in the fire, with his suffering children. And He’s in the fire not only to save His faithful ones. He’s in the fire to save His enemies. Jesus is in the fire to save Nebuchadnezzar.

We still have one more chapter to go in Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion story, but eventually Nebuchadnezzar realized that he needed to hang his hope on Jesus, because Jesus is stronger than the devil.

And if Jesus was strong enough to save both Nebuchadnezzar and the three Hebrews, there’s hope for me! My testimony to you today is that I’m a born loser like everybody else on this planet. But Jesus has proven to me that He’s a winner, and so I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to hang all my hopes on Jesus.

I could have used this whole sermon telling you about times in my life when I’ve been tempted to be hopeless, because I’m weak, and not too smart, and the devil is both stronger and smarter than I am; but because Jesus was there, things turned out better than I feared they would — in fact, turned out wonderfully well. I suppose I should at least tell you how my horrible Christmas at college turned into a wonderful New Year’s.

About three days after Christmas, Nancy and I were both scheduled to be at a certain large meeting. Both of us knew the other would be there; we both had responsibilities there; we couldn’t get out of it. So it was awkward.

But when I got there, I sent a message to her through a mutual friend. “Could we talk?” So we sat down together in the front seats of my little 1960 Volkswagen beetle, and we agreed to renew our friendship, but in a different way.

We agreed that the purpose of our relationship was not just for the fun of it, but rather for the serious purpose of finding out if it was God’s plan that we should become life companions. We agreed that we would meet before breakfast every morning to have worship together, and we would read the book Messages to Young People together. And that’s what we did, and the love of this good woman has truly been a priceless gift of God’s kindness to me, and as I wrote these words the other day, I suddenly found tears running down my cheeks, just thinking about how good God has been to me.

Dr. Joseph McDougall tells a Christmas story of a young lady whom he met at a TB sanitarium shortly after WWII. [Women of Spirit, Nov/Dec, 1999]

Eleanor was 23 years of age, and she was dying. It was in December that the doctor finally concluded that there was no hope. Eleanor’s resistance was so low, and the tubercular portion of her lung was in such an unusually difficult place, that there was nothing more that the medical science of 50 years ago could do. And they had done a lot. The very last attempt to save her had occurred just a few days before. They had taken a big needle and tried to pump air into her abdominal cavity, to force that tubercular lower lobe to collapse so it would have a chance to heal.

But it didn’t work. She couldn’t take it. In fact, they had almost killed her trying, and now the doctor had to admit he was licked. As gently as he could, he broke the news to Eleanor that she was going to die. She didn’t seem surprised; she had been so sick for so long. But she did have just one request. “Doctor,” she said, “if I’m still alive on Christmas Eve, can I go home for Christmas?”

The doctor pondered. He really shouldn’t send her home. She was contagious. But he knew she had a husband and a little girl at home, and this would undoubtedly be their last chance to be together. Besides, she probably wouldn’t live until Christmas Eve anyway.

So the doctor said yes. He told her the precautions she would have to take. Her husband had had TB before, so he was immune. But she mustn’t hold her little girl, and she must wear a mask anytime she talked to anybody other than her husband. Eleanor listened carefully. And on Christmas Eve she was still alive, although, as the doctor put it, “just barely.”

So he kept his promise. He arranged for an ambulance to take her home that afternoon, and then to pick her up and bring her back to the hospital 24 hours later.

So Eleanor went home for Christmas, and she was grateful. But she wasn’t better. All through January and February she kept getting worse and worse, and the doctor was amazed that she was still clinging to life.

Finally she was down to 80 pounds, She couldn’t eat; and then a new complication set in. She began to vomit, even though her stomach was empty. The doctor was mystified. He called in a specialist, and he couldn’t figure it out either. Finally, almost jokingly, the specialist said, “Maybe she’s pregnant.”

For lack of anything else to do, they gave her a pregnancy test, and it came back positive.

The doctor was absolutely astounded. Here she was at the extreme outer limits of life itself, and now she had another life to sustain.

They put the patient on IV’s; they did everything they could think of, which wasn’t much. Eleanor was at the very edge of death, and the doctors grimly awaited the inevitable tragic moment, a moment that would be even more painful for all of them because of the unborn child whose life would also end, even before it had begun.

But days stretched to weeks, and strangely, Eleanor refused to die. It was as if the child within her had given her an irrational hope that kept her going in spite of all the medical reasons for hopelessness.

And then a miracle began to happen. By the end of March, her chronic fever was coming down a little. She began tolerating food, and even began to put on a little weight. The doctor ordered a chest x-ray, and it showed that the deadly tubercular cavity in the lower lobe of the lung had stopped growing.

Soon another x-ray showed that the diseased lobe was closing up — it was being forced to collapse by the pressure of the diaphragm which was moving upward to make room for the growing baby beneath it! By the time that healthy baby was born, Eleanor was well on her way to health as well.

A tiny child, weak and helpless, had come to someone hopelessly ill, dying, and in coming the child had brought strength and life and hope and healing and joy. That is exactly what Jesus has done for me, and for you. And that is the reason for my hope.

In a moment we’re going to sing our closing hymn. It’s a Christmas song, a song about hope, Hymn #125, “Joy to the World.”

As we sing this song, I’d like to make an invitation to you to give your heart fully to Jesus.

If you’ve given it to him before, give it to him again as we sing.

But if you’ve not fully surrendered your life to Jesus and you know this is the time, I invite you to just come forward while we sing, and I want to especially include you in the closing prayer.

If you’ve been away from Jesus and know it’s time to come back, come forward also. This is not a general call, but you if you know it’s time to make a new start in your life, please come forward. I know there are some of you who have already decided that you want to prepare for baptism, and to be a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church I also want to invite you to come forward.

Hymn #125. This was originally written by Isaac Watts as a Second Coming song. Let’s sing it that way: “Joy to the World, the Lord will come….”

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