Our hope: an anchor of the soul
Christopher Seaman, 8 July 2018
Ezekiel 2: 1–5; Mark 6: 1–13
Today is Sea Sunday, and I’ve chosen a special text with a connection to the sea, Hebrews 6: 19, ‘We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner on our behalf’.
The picture of an anchor is often used as a symbol of hope and security. I expect we can all think of someone who has been a real anchor of hope for us in times of trouble and difficulty.
But there’s more than one kind of hope. The first kind has a patron saint: Mr Micawber in David Copperfield, who always hoped that ‘something will turn up’. We all have this kind of hope from time to time: ‘I hope that it won’t rain for my daughter’s wedding next May’, ‘I hope my train will be on time’, and so on. But this kind of hope is based on what is vague and changeable. It has been described as ‘a wish without warrant’.
Christian hope is the absolute opposite of that. St Peter wrote in his first letter, ‘God has given us new life with a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is useless’. So the resurrection of Jesus, say Peter and Paul, is the main ground and source of Christian hope.
Why? Because it proved that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God, who would be killed and then rise again. It also proves that Jesus had done what he came to do (again in the words of St Paul), ‘To reconcile the world to himself’.
I don’t know about you, but I find the evidence for Christ’s resurrection quite overwhelming. The documentary evidence, the archaeological evidence (there are Christian tombs dating from the second century) point to this. And most of all, that 12 men (the apostles) changed – from terrified people, locking themselves in an upper room, cowering from the Jewish and Roman authorities, to 12 men openly declaring that Jesus had risen from the dead. They saw him dead, then they saw him alive, and that changed them beyond recognition. Faced with all this evidence, I find the balance of probabilities overwhelming.
Here are a couple of interesting quotes, the first from Dr Billy Graham, the great evangelist, who recently died at the age of 99: ‘There is more evidence that Christ rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caesar ever lived at all, or that Alexander the Great died at the age of 33’.
This one is from Chuck Colson, US President Nixon’s right-hand man, who was convicted and imprisoned in the Watergate affair, which toppled Nixon. Colson came to faith after reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. ‘I know that Jesus’ resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men (the apostles) testified that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and imprisoned. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. But Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world, and they couldn’t keep up a lie for three weeks! You’re telling me that the 12 apostles could keep up a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.’
Our text also tells us that our hope enters behind the curtain. This is the curtain or veil of the Temple, which kept people out, kept them from getting close to God, except for the High Priest once a year. The gospels tell us that when Jesus died on the cross, that curtain was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, no longer shutting people out from the presence of God. By his death, Jesus opened the way for us to draw near to God. He went before us, making it safe for us to follow. So when we pray, we can approach God boldly, without fear. We will be welcomed. James wrote in his letter: ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you’.
But there’s another curtain, another veil, and we all know this one too well. This is the veil over the things we don’t understand – often bad, painful or tragic things that have happened to us. We all have them. I myself could ask, ‘Why did my father die when I was 18? Why have two of my godchildren had cancer?’ We really need an anchor beyond that veil.
If Jesus rose from the dead, we have the basis for hope: that in the end God will make all things well, and make all things new. But if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are back with Mr Micawber, hoping that ‘something will turn up’.
An anchor only works when you can’t see it. St Paul wrote to the Romans, ‘We are hoping for what we don’t see. Hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees?’ I could say, ‘I hope there will be coffee at the end of the service’, but that’s not a hope at all, because I can see it from here!
So if we can see something, that isn’t faith; it’s seeing, like dear Doubting Thomas who saw, and then believed. If we can feel something, that isn’t faith, it’s feeling. We probably all know what it’s like to feel that God is very near, then at other times to feel that he’s miles away.
But we need to know that God is close to us, active in our lives, even when we feel that nothing whatsoever is going on. Otherwise, God is the size of our feelings, and we need him to be much bigger than that.
We need to know that God is close to us, active in our lives, even when we feel that nothing whatsoever is going on. Otherwise, God is the size of our feelings.
So we have an anchor, safe and secure, and we can hang on to it with confidence, because it’s based on the most important event in history – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
A prayer, using some words of St Paul: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’. And we ask, Lord, that we may indeed overflow with hope, that it may spill over into the lives of other people, and especially that it may spill over into the parts of our own lives where we sometimes feel like giving up hope altogether. We ask this for the sake of him who came to give us hope, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.