This morning I want you to focus your attention on Christian hope.

The first century world in which Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected was a very brutal age. When I say it was brutal, I mean we would declare it to be brutal if we compared it to our American middle class culture.

reconstruction of Rome's Circus Maximus In the early first century, the amphitheater called the Circus Maximus was an established reality in the city of Rome. Basically, it was an oval chariot race track (2,035 feet long and 460 feet wide and three stories high). It was used for a variety of things in its early history including chariot races, gladiator fights, wild animal hunts. Early in the history of that amphitheater, chariot races were authorized to be conducted there 17 days a year. Typically, 10 to 12 races a day were run with each race traveling around the race track 7 laps. Because the races were so popular, in time, the number of days devoted to racing were increased. The horses for those chariot races were carefully bred and trained, but the drivers were often untrained slaves. Often the results were violent crashes that maimed or killed the horses and the drivers.

Since the circus maximus could seat around 200,000 people, it also became a forum for the masses anonymously shouting grievances to the emperor. Some emperors did not appreciate this voice of descent. At times people were killed for daring to speak out.

The chariot races were a popular, violent form of entertainment in Rome.

reconstruction of Rome's Colosseum In late first century Rome the Coliseum became extremely popular. Though it was Nero's idea, it was built after his death. In its early history it was called the Flavian Amphitheater, named for the family of emperors who built it. Centuries later it was known as the Coliseum because of the 120 foot high statue of Nero that stood in front of it.

It measured 620 feet by 510 feet and was also 3 stories [160 feet] high. It seated between 40,000 and 60,000 people. While it was home to a number of entertainment activities, by far the most popular were the gladiator fights. The crowds loved blood and killing. What they considered entertainment, we would call murder.

Anyone in Rome's society could attend, but where you sat depended on your station in their society. When Emperor Titus opened the Coliseum, he had 100 consecutive days of gladiator contests. By the beginning of the second century, there was a contest in which, 4,941 pairs of gladiators fought each other.

Men who fought as gladiators in the Coliseum were trained. At times unarmed criminals and slaves were slaughtered in the Coliseum by gladiators as a form of punishment.

Exotic animals were imported from all over the world to be slaughtered in the Coliseum "hunts". As many as 5000 animals were killed in a single day in the Coliseum.

Slavery was common in first century Rome.

To be a slave was to be another person's property. The person who owned you could do anything he or she pleased with you--that even included sexual acts [not excluding homosexuality], physical abuse, and death.

The Roman culture used slaves more than any previous culture. In the first century in both Rome and the Roman empire, the ratio of slaves to free people was about one slave for every three free persons. The only hope a slave had in his or her harsh life was the small chance that some day he or she might be free.

  1. How can an enduring hope exist in a society filled with injustice, despair, and death?
    1. I want you to focus your attention on some statements Paul made to Christians in the blood thirsty, brutal city of Rome.
      1. Romans 5:3-5 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
        1. "Life is tough, but I want to understand the benefits of living in this difficult, evil world."
        2. "Troubles give us Christians the ability to persevere [hang in there]."
        3. "'Hanging in there' demonstrates we have godly character."
        4. "Developing God's character strengthens our hope."
        5. "That hope does not disappoint us. Why? Because that hope is built on God, not on justice, or prosperity, or living the 'good life'."
        6. "God lives in our hearts, and a tough life cannot touch that."
        7. "God's Spirit lives in us, and an evil world cannot take God's Spirit away from us--it is God's gift to us."
      2. Romans 8:18-25 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
        1. "We Christians dare not compare our suffering in this evil world to what God will someday give us in His world."
        2. "Nothing in this entire creation is as God intended."
        3. "Everything that exists knows it has been perverted; only when everything belongs to God will anything be as it should be. Everything is corrupted and enslaved by evil."
        4. "It is not just humans who have been perverted by evil; it is everything God made."
        5. "We were saved to live in the hope of what is to come."
        6. "We have not yet received what God will give us, but we eagerly wait for it."
      3. Romans 12:9-13 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
        1. This is the character of the man or woman who has given himself or herself to God and lives each day on God's altar as a living sacrifice.
        2. We hate evil but will not turn loose of good.
        3. We are sincerely committed to each other, genuinely help each other out.
        4. WE REJOICE IN GOD'S HOPE! It is not what we have or where we are, but what we look forward to.
          1. When there is hardship, we 'hang in there.'
          2. We trust God to sustain us, and we demonstrate that trust by prayer.
          3. We are a caring people who take care of each other.
      4. Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
        1. Let me set this verse in context.
          1. "You Christians in Rome--it does not matter to God if you are a Jew who has known God for centuries or a non-Jew who has worshipped idols for centuries, if you are a slave or you are free--just accept each other like Christ accepted you, and let your accepting each other give God glory."
          2. "Never forget that Jesus died for all of you--no matter who you are or where you came from!"
          3. Those are very difficult instructions! All of us have a very difficult time accepting people who are basically not like us! It just is not easy!
          4. How can we do that?
          5. We do it the same way they did it--we let the God of hope fill us with the joy and peace of believing so that our hope directs our whole lives as it is empowered by God's Spirit.

  2. Let me ask each one of you to do some serious thinking about yourself (please do not think about someone else, but think about yourself).
    1. Think about the matters you prayed about this week. Hopefully, each of us prayed about a number of things.
      1. Did you pray for some people who were struggling? That is good! What did you ask?
      2. Did you pray for some people who were going through a very difficult time? That is good! What did you ask?
      3. Did you pray for some undesirable situations? That is good! What did you ask?
      4. Did you pray for some of the difficult happenings in your own life? That is good! What did you ask?
      5. Did you pray for God to make things better in some specific hardship situations? That is good! What did you ask?
    2. If God gave you exactly what you asked for in all your prayers, what would happen?
      1. Would someone get a new home?
      2. Would unhappy marriages become happy marriages?
      3. Would a sickness come to an end?
      4. Would people be raised from the dead?
      5. Would physical hardships be removed?
      6. Would a number of people be given the physical things they want?
    3. In all the things you asked for in your prayers:
      1. How often did you ask for God to strengthen the hope of the resurrection in other people?
      2. How often did you ask for God to strengthen the hope of the resurrection in you?

  3. As Christians, we earnestly need to remember the 'bottom line' of belonging to God.
    1. "What 'bottom line'? What are you talking about?"
      1. The 'bottom line' is not, "God, give me what I want in this world and life right now."
      2. The 'bottom line' is, "God, teach me how to live in the hope of my resurrection in this life so I can live with you in the life to come."
      3. Surely, almost everything in this life that we experience has an influence on our hope.
        1. But I can have a very good job and it be taken from me.
        2. But I can have a lot of money and it be taken from me.
        3. In fact, there is not one single physical thing in this world that cannot be taken from me.
        4. However, if Christ lives in me, this world cannot take the hope of the resurrection from me.
    2. We have made the Christian existence something God never intended it to be.
      1. It is not some mystical way of getting the things in this life that we want.
      2. It is about learning how to serve God right now so that I can live with God in eternity.

In the first century world life was tough. Slaves who became Christians would likely remain slaves. Gladiators who became Christians would likely still die violent deaths. In fact, depending on where one lived, people who became Christians might be martyrs just because they believed in Jesus Christ. Their physical world would not suddenly become a wonderful world because they placed their faith in Jesus Christ. But they would have something more wonderful than any physical reality could offer--peace with God.

We do not become Christians as a means to getting everything physical that we want. There will always be struggle in this world. There will always be injustice in this world. There will always be sickness in this world. There will always be death in this world.

But in Christ God can give us something that goes far beyond anything the physical world can give us--God's hope. And in that hope, there is peace.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 June 2003
Study Along With David Chadwell
A Worship Worksheet
June 1, 2003

The first century world Jesus lived in was very ________________.

The Circus Maximus was an oval chariot _____________ _______________.

It could seat around _______________ people.

Slavery was _____________ in first century Rome.

In Romans Paul teaches that trouble gives Christians the ability to _______________________________.

Developing God's character strengthens our ________________.

As Christians we cannot compare ________________ in an evil world to what God will give us someday.

We live in the __________ of what is to come.

We have not yet received what God will give us, but we eagerly ______________ for it.

We ________________ in God's hope.

We are caring __________________ who take care of each other.

This week did you pray for people who were ___________________? Did you pray for people going through ____________________ times?

If God gave you what you _____________ for in your ___________________ what would happen?

There is not a _______________ thing in the physical world that cannot be taken from you!

If Christ is in you, nothing can take the hope of _________________________ from you!

God can give us more _________________ than the world can.

In this hope we can find _________________.

provided by Gary Brown

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