As I write, today’s “Morning Joe” program on MSNBC, reported an AP/Gfk poll which found that a majority of Americans are worrying themselves sick. They worry about retirement, they worry about paying their bills, keeping their jobs, and sending the kids to college. They are worried to death about the shape the economy is in, frightened that Congress and the President will not be able to fix it anytime soon, and scared for the future of their kids.
I googled “men’s hearts failing them for fear” just to see if people are picking up on that prophecy from Luke 21:25-26. Sure enough, it’s being quoted everywhere. Some preachers are saying it’s the sign of the end.
As with almost everything, calling this a sign of the end reminds me of a funny story. (Sorry. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone.) The fellow hanging over the rail aboard a storm-tossed ship had lost everything in his stomach and was now turning a ghastly shade of green. A crew-member came over, put his hand on the fellow’s shoulder, and said, “Cheer up, buddy. No one ever died yet of seasickness.” The passenger said, “Oh, don’t tell me that. The hope of dying is the only thing that keeps me going.”
We have learned — to our distress — that the bubbling and bobbling of the stock market in this country has less to do with actual economic indicators and rather is more closely tied to the ebbing and waning of the hopes and fears of the American people.
That’s how we are to understand the Dow Jones Average dropping on the day Congress passed the greatest economic stimulus bill in history. We would have thought an infusion of nearly a trillion dollars into today’s economy would have spurred enthusiasm and provoked a new round of investing. Nothing about this makes sense any more.
People are losing hope. Their hearts are failing.
We should prepare ourselves to see more and more news stories in which distraught breadwinners do desperate things when they lose their jobs and have no prospects for the future. “Man kills family, turns gun on himself” is becoming a staple of the morning news stories, to our chagrin. “Fired employee returns to shoot up office” is another. And, while not as deadly, we’re seeing a rash of arrests for fraud, as people resort to illegal schemes to generate money to live.
Hopelessness is a terrible thing.
But this is when those with the Gospel of Jesus Christ are most needed and find their most receptive audience. Whatever else this message of Jesus offers, it is all about hope. And lest anyone misread this and misunderstand our mission, bear in mind that those who proclaim Christ’s message endure the same economic deprivations as everyone else. There is no Pollyanna, poke-your-head-in-the-sand, everything-will-be-okay-in-the-sweet-by-and-by element in this message.
“This hope we have as an anchor for our souls, both sure and steadfast.” (Hebrews 6:19) If there was ever a word for our day, this is it.
The passage surrounding this powerful statement makes three assertions:
1) It’s about Jesus. Everything about the Christian message has to do with the work of Jesus Christ, who died for us, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and now sits enthroned. In his commentary on this verse, John MacArthur says: “Our hope is embodied in Christ Himself who has entered into God’s presence in the heavenly Holy of Holies on our behalf.”
2) Our hope is in Him. We “have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18) Here’s how Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of this passage from “The Message:” “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God….”
3) We are thus anchored. In his commentary on Hebrews, Kent Hughes writes: “…an anchor was everything to those at sea. A firm anchorage meant security. Well-anchored, the winds could blow, but the ship would not be awash or headed for the rocks. For this reason the famous catacomb of Priscilla is decorated with no less than sixty anchors!”
Kent Hughes pictures the church reeling in the storm, then suddenly throwing an anchor out. But “instead of falling to the depths, it rises through the blue skies and on up through deep heaven where it passes unhindered through the curtain and anchors on the throne of God in the heavenly holy of holies where Jesus is seated ‘at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’ (Hebrews 1:3).” He adds, “Our lives are accessed and anchored in Heaven!”
God’s people are no strangers to storms. Hughes says, “If we are true followers of Christ, the prows of our boats will always be treading heavy seas and bucking contrary winds.” But we are not at the mercy of the waves, tossed to and fro. “Steady as she goes” characterizes those who are anchored in Christ.
Modern seafarers know that anchors come in all shapes and sizes, and not just the familiar image used to represent seagoing through the centuries. However, in recent years, with the advent of satellite technology, an automated system of “dynamic positioning” has done away with the need of a heavy anchor for many ships.
Using this system, the ship’s Master feeds in calculations on where he wants to position his vessel and sends the data to a satellite circling the earth. Thereafter, the ship’s computer receives ongoing input from the satellite instructing it to make necessary adjustments using stern and bow thrusters, all designed to keep the ship in place. The computer on board the ship is constantly receiving the information, compensating for the tides and winds, and keeping the ship steady.
The ship is anchored, not by a chunk of heavy metal on the floor of the ocean, but by an unseen, overseeing Presence in the sky above. Anyone feel a sermon coming on?
Christians used to sing hymns and gospel songs that confessed “I don’t have much of this world’s goods” and “silver and gold have I none.” We sang them, but we felt guilty because these were no longer true of us. We were saying the words written by an earlier age when deprivation and poverty were realities of life. In time, many of those songs were deleted from the hymnals and songbooks.
It may be time to bring them back.
It’s certainly time to recommit ourselves to the faith that announced “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. When all around my soul gives way, He then is still my hope and stay.”
On Christ the solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.