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Our Inheritance of Hope (part 1) – June 2014

“What do you hope your obituary will say?”  I am not asking you.  I am telling you the first question interviewers often ask Ray Kurzweil.  He is an inventor who has given us the flatbed scanner, optical character recognition technology, a reader for the blind, and an iconic line of music synthesizers.

Interviewer Holman Jenkins explains why the usual lead question is a trick question.

  “Kurzweil famously hopes an obituary won’t be necessary.  And in the event of his unexpected demise, he is widely reported to have signed a deal to have himself frozen so his intelligence can be revived when science is equipped for the job.  He thinks his chances are pretty good of living long enough to enjoy immortality. …with a bit of DNA and personal papers and photos, he has made clear he intends to bring back in some fashion his dead father.”   

The inventor seriously thinks we need to hang on about 15 more years to achieve immortality via technology.  He says, “When most of our intelligence, experience, and identity live in cyberspace, in some sense we will become software and the hardware will be replaceable.” 

For now, he works hard to keep his hardware functioning.  Jenkins reports, “Kurzweil takes more than 150 pills and supplements a day.  [He] submits to a relentless series of blood tests to monitor his efforts to reprogram his body chemistry against aging and against inherited propensities for diabetes and heart disease.”  Kurzweil says, “I‘m reasonably confident that I will make it, but it’s not guaranteed.’”

What if you knew that you could enjoy guaranteed immortality?  What if gaining immortality required no technology at all?  What if it is was available today, for free?  It is.  Let’s see how.

The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians scattered over many of the areas of the Roman Empire – places we have mentioned in our sermons from Acts. Those people lived in very different cultures, but they shared one living hope.

Start with 1 Peter 1:3-9.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

The resurrection of Jesus does what no technology can.  It rescues sinners from death as eternal judgment.

Go back to the text and pick up 1 Peter 1:18-25. Peter tells the Christians, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.”

You can take 150 supplements a day, and it will not stop you from being grass.  But Jesus can give you immortality through his resurrection power.

The apostle Peter talks to Christians about our inheritance of hope.  Before we look at that gift, consider two other ways of facing the future.  Start with…

I.  AN INVESTMENT OF HOPE

Some people hope they will enter God’s eternal kingdom because of the good things they do.  I used to be one of them. I thought I had to do my best, and that God would honor that by opening the door to heaven.

Consider a well-known person who thinks that way today. “New York Times” reporter Jeremy Peters recently interviewed former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg. Peters notes, “His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the ‘in memoriam’ pages of his school newsletter. But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity, and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: ‘I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.’”  His plan is to make a self-righteous IRA.

When the former “Hizzoner” faces the Supreme His Honor, he will get a whole new perspective on holiness. Let’s hope he learns some humility before then. The prophet Isaiah was a decent man, but when he saw God exalted as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” he did not confidently stroll by. He cried out, “Woe to me!  I am undone!  I am dirty!”

Any sinner who is self-reliant before the living holy God, will end up where the smoking never ceases. Jesus said even our impure thoughts and angry hearts are enough to merit hell.  None of us is righteous enough to earn heaven.  It’s not even close.  Consider the second approach to the future…

II.  BANKRUPTCY OF HOPE

Self-confident sinners feel hopeful, but they have a dead hope.  Other folks, by contrast, have suffered the death of hope.

Maybe they once were fairly confident, but then did something they cannot forgive themselves for.  They assume God cannot either. That is a false assumption.

Maybe they never had hope. They assume that they never can or will.  That too is a false assumption. To think that God can forgive other people, but cannot forgive you, is not humility.  It is an unpleasant from of pride. God can save anyone.

The downcast soul must turn to the supreme life giver.  Listen as the poet Christina Rossetti moves from her burden to available hope in her poem “Who Shall Deliver Me?”

“God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run! Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

Myself, arch-traitor to myself;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free.”

Jesus rolled the stone from his tomb.  He can roll away our strangling load of guilt.  Let’s turn attention to his most worthy work …

Howard Lawler is Senior Pastor at Fishkill Baptist Church in Fishkill, NY. This sermon was originally preached on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014. You can listen to the sermon here.  You can read Part 2 here.