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Where Do We Find Hope?

The entire Bible declares the story of an unshakeable hope in the Living God.


On the hillsides and on the mountainsides along the ocean in Japan there are stone markers, some of them over six hundred years old, and on the markers there are engraved warnings about tsunamis. And the markers tell the Japanese people not to build their homes or any dwellings below this part of the mountain, because if a tsunami comes you're going to be in big trouble. Well, as Japan progressed into a modern culture with its technology and wealth, people disregarded those warnings. Instead, they started building their homes and dwellings farther down the mountainsides and closer to the ocean. They figured that all their intelligence, their technology, the sea walls, the early warning systems would protect them. Of course we learned last spring that that wasn't the case. According to the latest estimates, that earthquake and the subsequent tsunami killed about 1,600 people. So people disregarded the warning from their ancient ancestors about tsunamis. They were incredibly humbled by the power of the ocean that just came in and just swept everything away.

That event from last spring reminds us that we live in a world that is marked by chaos. You don't know when your world is going to be destroyed, when a wave is going to come in and wipe everything away—whether it's a tsunami in Japan, a hurricane in the gulf, or something closer to home like an unemployment letter or a bad diagnosis or the end of a marriage. At some point we will all realize that this world is chaotic and unpredictable and that we are susceptible to all kinds of things. So the question I want to ask this morning is this: Given that reality of our world, where do we find hope? Where does hope come from in a world marked by chaos and disorder? Is there a solid rock to stand on when the waves come rushing in? Where do we find hope? So that's what we're going to explore this morning as we look at the whole story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

God is the only source of hope.

But before we jump into Genesis, there's an interesting parallel with Japan and the ancient Israelites. The ancient Israelites, like the ancient Japanese, viewed the ocean or the sea as a realm of chaos and disorder. Many of us think about the ocean as a place you go on vacation. It's beautiful. There's recreation there. It's a beach. And that's true, but in the ancient world the Israelites didn't see the ocean that way. They were not like the Phoenicians, a seafaring people. The Israelites didn't go in boats. They were kind of like Hobbits: they were afraid of the ocean. The ancient Israelites believed that the ocean was a realm of chaos and disorder and destruction. And it stood in opposition to their God, who was a God of order and beauty. So throughout the Scriptures of the ancient Israelites, the ocean is almost always depicted in negative terms. It's always seen as a realm of evil, and that's seen right at the beginning in Genesis chapter one.

In the opening scene of the Bible we're told that the world is "formless and void and that darkness was over the surface of the deep." So the image at the beginning is this completely formless world, an endless abyss, dark and ominous. But the writer of Genesis goes on to say that "the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep." And then you know what happens. God speaks and he separates the water from the land. He separates day from night. And as the process of creation continues, God puts order and boundaries in a world that had previously just been chaotic. So that by the end of the creation account there's a perfectly ordered world that God declares good. And then at the very end of the creation account God establishes a garden where he puts the man and the woman. Eden is the complete opposite of that primordial chaos ocean at the beginning. A garden is a place of total order and beauty and abundance. It represents the opposite of the early creation—God triumphing over the chaos, bringing complete order where before there had only been disorder.

Next, God places a man and the woman in the garden and gives them a command: "Be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth and fill it." Humanity was supposed to take God's work of ordering the world and expand it far beyond Eden, so that the entire world would be a place of order and beauty and abundance. But of course the man and the woman didn't follow through with that command. Instead they rebelled against God, decided they wanted to rule the world without him, and plunged the world back into chaos. Because of that rebellion against God, we now live in a universe that tends to go from order to chaos rather than the opposite. In scientific terms, we call it the second law of thermal dynamics: things move from order to chaos when they're left alone. Everything deteriorates. Everything decays. Everything falls into destruction.

But thankfully we worship a God who isn't content to leave it that way. He hasn't abandoned the world to chaos. Just as he did at the beginning of creation where he hovered over the chaotic ocean and drew order out of it, so God is in the process of bringing order out of chaos. This theme continues through the Bible's emphasis on good versus evil where the evil is represented by the sea and the good represented by God's power over it.

Listen to what the psalmist says about this. There are two different psalms that speak of God's power over the sea:

  • Psalm 93—"The floods have lifted up, O Lord. The floods have lifted up their voice. The floods lift up their roaring, but mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea is the Lord Almighty on high."
  • Psalm 77—"When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you they were afraid. Indeed, the deep trembled."

Each of these psalms (and there are many more Psalms like this) speak of the power of God as being more mighty than the sea. The psalmist is saying that God is more powerful than chaos. He can bring order out of chaos. He can bring beauty where there's ugliness. He's the only one who had to power to do that.

So the first message we have to understand about hope is that hope is to be found in nothing in this world. Hope is found in God alone. God is the one who can speak to the waters and they separate. God is the one who can triumph over the seas. He is the one who brings order out of chaos.

In 1815, James Riley was a merchant captain from Connecticut who left his family and took command of a ship called the Commerce, which at the time was one of the largest and most advanced and strongest ships in the American fleet. Riley was a very experienced sea captain. He'd been at sea since he was fifteen years old. He knew the world's oceans very well. But on this one voyage with the Commerce the unthinkable happened. They entered into a dark fog in the middle of the night, and they blew off course near the north coast of Africa. The Commerce shipwrecked near Cape Bojador in North Africa. In the morning the crew woke up, and they knew they were shipwrecked but they weren't far from shore. But Riley reported that they knew they couldn't go to shore because it was filled with what he called violent savages who were picking through all the remnants of the shipwreck that had washed up on the shore. So they only had one option: head out back to sea. The problem was there were huge sea breakers about twenty feet high all along the cape. Riley knew there was no way they were going to be able to take a lifeboat from their shipwrecked ship out to the open sea and get through those breakers. But he knew they had to be eaten alive by those cannibalistic savages or get out to sea. So they lowered the lifeboat and filled it with supplies. Riley and his crew members got in the boat, and they started rowing toward the breakers.

Riley was a nonreligious man. In fact, at one point he admitted that he didn't believe that God was actively involved in the affairs of the world. But as he got closer and closer to those breakers, he told the men in the boat to take off their hats. And then Riley offered up the following prayer:

Great Creator and Preserver of the universe, who now sees our distress, we pray Thee to spare our lives and permit us to pass through this overwhelming surf to the open sea. But if we are doomed to perish, Thy will be done. We commit our souls to the mercy of Thee, our God, who gave them.

And then Riley recorded that as he finished his prayer, as if by divine command, the winds stopped and a twenty-yard gap emerged in the breakers where they were able to row right through as the sea continued to roar on either side of them about twenty feet high. Sometime later Riley wrote a book about his adventures at sea, and he included this story. But his publisher begged him not to include this story because it was so fantastical and "miraculous" that nobody would believe it. Riley basically agreed with his publisher. He knew the story didn't make sense. But he insisted on including it. Here's what he wrote:

I cannot suppress or deny what so clearly appeared to me and to my companions as the immediate and merciful act of the Almighty, listening to our prayers and granting our petition at the awful moment when dismay, despair, and death were pressing close upon us. My heart still glows with holy gratitude for his mercy, and I will never ashamed nor afraid to acknowledge and make known to the world the infinite goodness of my divine Creator and preserver.

James Riley learned what the Psalmist said: God alone brings order out of chaos. He alone has triumphed over the sea. He has dominated everything in this world that is chaotic and evil.

My point about hope is this: Our hope is to be found in God alone, not in our experience, not in our technology, not in our early warning systems against tsunamis, not in our wealth—not in any of these things, because in a moment the world can sweep in and take it all away. Hope is to be found in God alone.

God is with us through life's chaos.

Apart from this simple idea that hope is found in God alone, the Scriptures have a lot more to say. After the opening scene in Genesis where God brings order out of chaos, just a few chapters later we read another story about the sea in Genesis chapter six. Noah has been preserved in the ark with a few others, a remnant, while the rest of the world is destroyed in the flood. God protects them and saves them through it.

Then at the very beginning of Exodus we read about the Pharaoh, this king of Egypt, who orders that all the Hebrew babies be thrown into the Nile and killed. But one of them is preserved—Moses in a little basket is preserved through the waters. The story of Moses is a retelling of the story of Noah on a micro scale. God protects one little child through the waters. Of course Moses then grows up and redeems and rescues God's people from Egypt. And how does that happen? Remember they're up against the sea on one side and Pharaoh's army on the other? Once again, God acts. A mighty wind comes. The sea separates. And his people walk out on dry land. Then when Pharaoh's army goes into the sea to pursue them, the waters cover them over. And just like in the story of Noah, the evil ones are destroyed by the sea.

Now as you read these stories keep in mind not just that God brings us hope over chaos or that he triumphs over the sea, but that God is with us as we pass through the sea. Remember that in Exodus the God led the Israelites by a cloud by day and a fire by night, which represented the presence of God himself. He was with his people, guiding them through the chaos.

Another way of thinking about this is found in Isaiah. When everything's chaotic, everything's falling down around us, and when we appear to be trapped without hope, these words from Isaiah 43:2 make sense: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you."

The imagery of God's presence with his people is seen throughout the Scriptures—the story of Moses, the Exodus, the Psalms, and the prophets. The idea is simple: there are times when we cry to God and he immediately delivers us from chaos, and there are times when it appears that he doesn't answer us immediately. In that moment, hope comes from the conviction not just that God can triumph over the sea but that God is also with us as pass through the sea. As God says in Isaiah, "I am with you when you pass through the sea." Our God is with us.

In the Old Testament these things were metaphorical, but they become literal in the New Testament. In the story found in Mark 4 Jesus and his disciples get in a boat and a terrible storm strikes them on the Sea of Galilee. They wake Jesus up because they're frightened to death, and Jesus just speaks a word and the storm is calm. And then his friends look at him and they say, "Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?" They didn't quite get it yet. They would later. But the One in the boat with them is the same one who separated the sea from the land at the beginning, the same One who protected Noah through the flood, the One who delivered Moses from the Nile, the One who delivered the Israelites through the Red Sea. He is the One who is with us as we pass through the waters.

So, secondly, when chaos appears to be winning we find hope from the fact that God is with us. He doesn't abandon us. He doesn't leave us. He is with us in our boat in the midst of the chaos, and therefore we don't have to be afraid.

When James Riley was finally able to get through those breakers out into the open sea, they only had a few days worth of supplies, and when they ran out they also ran out of hope. They never found another ship to pick them up. They couldn't find a safe port. So eventually they had to row back into the shore. And when they did those nasty savages were waiting for them. Riley and his crew went ashore. One of his men was almost instantly killed by the savages. The others were bound, stripped naked, thrown onto some camels, and headed out into the desert. Eventually Riley and the rest of his crew were sold as slaves, and they spent the next year traveling through the North African desert enslaved and treated cruelly, beaten, put into hard labor. Riley reported that his weight went from about 240 pounds down to 90. The things they did to try to survive are too graphic to share this morning. After a year in these circumstances he thought I'm never going to get home. I'll never see my wife and children in Connecticut again. He knew he was going to die. But as he was traveling in a caravan through the Sahara Desert, he shared his story with another traveler in the group, a Muslim man, actually. And as this Muslim heard James Riley sharing his story about God's deliverance from the sea and some other things, this Muslim basically rebuked Riley for giving up hope and for despairing. This is pretty remarkable. Listen to what the Muslim said to Riley. He said, "Dare you distrust the power of that God who has preserved you for so long by his miracles? No, my friend, the God of heaven and of earth is your friend, and he will not forsake you."

From the mouth of this Muslim came a deep biblical truth: Your God will not forsake you; he is your friend. God is with us as we travel through the waters. Though chaos and despair seem to win, we must not give up hope because he has not abandoned us. These words gave Rile hope to persevere, to fight, to not give up, and to hope.

There are going to be seasons of our lives when hope doesn't seem obvious, deliverance doesn't come immediately, when the waves of the sea overwhelm us, when the chaos seems to be winning. And in those scenarios we need to remember that God is with us. He has no abandoned us. He's in the boat with us. And if that's the case, we don't have to be afraid.

So we've explored two simple ideas about hope: First, God is mightier than the sea. Our hope is in God alone, not in anything we have in this world. Secondly, he is with us when we pass through the waters. He doesn't abandon us to chaos.

God will triumph over evil.

There's a third truth I want to see in the Scriptures about hope. Throughout the Bible a metaphor that we read about in the creation account, the story of Noah, the Exodus, the Psalms, the prophets like Isaiah, and then even in the Gospels where Jesus speaks to the sea and it's calmed. But it reaches its culmination in the book of Revelation. There's an interesting account from the apostle John in the book of Revelation as he's given this vision of the new heavens and the new earth. And in Revelation 21, almost in a side comment, John makes an observation. As he observes the new heaven and the new earth, he says, "The sea was no more."

Have you ever thought about that? What does that mean? Does it mean in the perfected creation there's going to be no ocean, no water, no sea? I think it's metaphorical, especially when you understand the theme of the ocean throughout the Scriptures. What John is saying is that in the perfected creation, in the news heavens and the new earth, there will be no realm for evil. The forces of chaos and evil will be completely eradicated. Everything will be ordered and beautiful and perfect. In other words, everything that's wrong in the world will be set right. Of course he's writing this to first-century Christians who are experiencing deep and terrible persecution and he's offering them this glimpse of hope—that the day is coming when everything is going to be made right. You won't be under threat anymore by any force. God will triumph over all.

So the third idea about hope is this: Hope is temporary because the day is coming when the sea will be no more and our desires will be fulfilled. Everything will be made right. And not just for us. The message of the New Testament is that this hope will be fulfilled for all of creation. That's what Paul writes in Romans 8. He says it isn't just we who long to be liberated from sin and evil in this world. He says, "the whole creation groans in anticipation for the day when it will be set free from chaos and evil and sin." And until that day, Paul tells us, we have to hang onto this truth—that "all things will work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes."

In other words, despite all the chaos and terrible things you see in this world and the things you yourself might be experiencing, you have to believe that the day is coming when all of that is going to be taken up and transformed into goodness. That all the chaos, all the evil, all the tsunamis, all the floods, all the diseases, all the brokenness, all of that somehow is going to be taken up by God and turned into good. The sea will be no more.

Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that we have a God who isn't just interested in redeeming souls off of a sinking ship but a God who is interested in redeeming all of creation and taking everything that has been intended for evil and transforming it into good?

In 1816 James Riley was eventually redeemed from slavery. It's a long convoluted story, but an Englishman named William Wilshire literally redeemed him for $920 and two shotguns. Riley ended up getting all the way back home to Connecticut, reunited with his wife and his children, and the next year he wrote a book about his experience. It's called Sufferings in Africa, a fascinating read. Good came from this crazy experience. You know if it just ended there you'd think that Riley's captivity in Africa was unfortunate. It was terrible, and we're glad he got out. But God actually ended up taking this terrible experience and bringing good from it.

The first good that came of it is that Riley changed his life and spent the remaining days he had fighting for the liberation of the slaves in America. Here he was a white American, who had become a slave in Africa, and because of that experience he came back and realized he needed to help free the African slaves in America. He wrote,

Adversity has taught me some noble lessons. I have now learned to look with compassion on my enslaved and oppressed fellow creatures, and I will exert all my remaining faculties and endeavors to redeem the enslaved and to break to pieces the rod of oppression.

And that's what he did. He worked the remaining years of his life to fight for the freedom of the American slaves.

Then in 1817 his book became a nationwide bestseller. For the first time many white Americans were given a glimpse of slavery through the eyes of one of their own, and it transformed many of the attitudes and opinions Americans had about slavery. In fact, a young lawyer in Illinois picked up a copy of that book. His name was Abraham Lincoln. And he said that apart from the Bible James Riley's book informed his political ideology more than anything else he ever read. And it was Lincoln who then ended up liberating and emancipating the slaves in America.

Does our God bring order out of chaos? Does he bring beauty from ashes? Does he bring goodness from what others intended for evil? Of course he does. That's why we worship him. That's why we gather here. That's our great hope.


So we have these three simple truths about hope. First, hope is to be found in God alone. He is mightier than the sea. He has a power which is greater than any in this world. Second, even when it appears that chaos is winning, God is with us as we pass through the waters. He's in our boat. We don't have to be afraid. Third, the day is coming when the sea will be no more. Our hope is temporary because a day is coming when everything will be made right.

As we close I want you to take a moment and identify where there is chaos in your life. It could be from innumerable sources. But think of an area where you feel like things are out of control. And then which of these there truths about hope do you need to hang onto today? Are you putting your trust in something other than God, who alone is mightier than the sea? Are you feeling God's absence in your life? You need to be reminded that he's actually with you as you pass through those waters. Or do you need to have your vision lifted beyond your immediate circumstances to that day when all will be made right? Take a few minutes. Commune with your God. Find you hope in him.

Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, consultant, and ordained minister. He also serves as the co-host of the popular Holy Post Podcast.

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Sermon Outline:


I. God is the only source of hope.

II. God is with us through life's chaos.

III. God will triumph over evil.