Good afternoon. That song is called a Better Way by the group Downhere. It is the same group who sang the Three Kings song which we performed during our last Xmas service. Let me read for you the lyrics.
A Better Way by Downhere
I’m not alone, I really believe
You never go, You never leave
Here and now, You always stay
“I love you” could not be said a better way
It’s everything You’ve promised
There’s no greater love than this
From prophets until today
A man laying down His life for His friends
Your sacrifice has spoken, You gave everything
And “I love you” could not be said
A better way
I am forgiven, I clearly see
It’s why You came to do all you did for me
Trading earth with heaven, You took my place
“I love you” could not be said
A better way
Because You redeem, I know what’s to come
Everything I could lose here, You’ve already won
So You have my surrender, with passion obey
“I love you” could not be said
A better way
I’d like to start today’s sermon with the conclusion. God loves you. And it’s not just mere words. God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. “I love you” could not be said a better way. And I’d like to add, it’s not only a better way, it is the ONLY way.
The title of this sermon is “Need Faith, Hope and Love? What If I Don’t?” Inside joke for those who attended Ravi Zacharias a few weeks ago. Ravi is a stud. That’s all I have to say. I listened to a bunch of his sermons and lectures in college and just hearing that rapid fire Indian accent made me want to repent and recommit my life to Jesus every time without fail.
I like the way Ravi ends some of his phrases like this – “the thundering sound of silencccccce.” When Ravi does this, it’s mushisuh, it’s cool. If I tried that, people would say, man, what’s up with Ray’s lisp. So I thought, instead of doing that s sound, how about if I did my own thing? Like, one of my favorite disciples is Philipppp. Nah, sounds like I just burped.
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith in recent months.
Today, I’d like to cover faith, hope, and love from 1 Cor 13, paying particular attention to verse 13 which reads “And now these three remain — faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” I chose this verse as my key verse for the year.
At the end of last year, I was meditating on the life of Mary. You’d be hard pressed to find a person of greater faith in the Bible. And as I was thinking about Mary’s faith, John JDSN spoke about the dilemma of faith from Heb 11 on the last Sunday of 2008. P Daniel spoke recently from John 2 and faith as filling to the brim whatever Jesus tells us to do wholeheartedly.
I want to build upon this theme of faith and expand it to include hope and love. Read 1 Cor 13. Repeat 1 Cor 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
What is the relationship between this trio, the big 3 – faith, hope, love?
Why are 3 even mentioned when the greatest, the most excellent, the highest and best is love? The greatest command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. And the second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself. For the Christian, love is indeed central. Need faith and hope, what if I don’t? Who needs the first two? Why 3? How are they related?
My actual title for this sermon is “The Door of Faith, the Path of Hope, and the Destiny of Love.”
The door of faith. Faith is a door. It’s the start of our faith journey. Without faith, there is no beginning of our relationship with God. That is why we say that one important first step of encountering God is often a leap of faith. Faith is saying Yes to God. Lord, I trust you. I believe that you will catch me when I take that leap of faith into your arms.
Once our faith journeys begin, we start down the path of hope. Hope is a path. It is narrow. It is one way and not another. It is not strolling through the park. There is a direction and a focus. Hope has to do with committing to one thing and saying No to the rest. It’s saying since I have no hope in anything else but you, Lord, I will commit my whole heart doing whatever you tell me. Hope is about saying Lord, I am ready to hang my entire life on You.
For Peter, his faith journey began when he answered Jesus’ call, Follow me. In response, Peter dropped his net, he docked his boat and left his family. And after entering through this door of faith, Peter was well on this path of hope. And he testifies in John 6:68-69 – “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of
That’s hope – to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life. Hope is not blind faith. It is much stronger, it is more tangible than faith. Hope is looking at the world, at ALL the alternative paths, and concluding, Lord, I’ve tried the world and I know there is nothing there for me.
And more than that, Lord, I’ve tasted your goodness, your mercy, your grace. I know your ways are good and true. And for these reasons, you are my hope. I will commit to you, God, because you are true and trustworthy and no other paths can satisfy my soul. I will stay on this path of hope. To whom shall I go? I have no other option. Lord, tell me what to do and I’ll do it.
And having entered through the door of faith and now having walked down this path of hope, the destiny is love. Love is not so much a destination, but more of a destiny. Love is what occurs to us on this path of hope, this faith journey. We come to understand God’s love — how high and how wide and how deep is God’s love for us.
Love is our destiny. That’s what we were created for. To love God and others. We will never achieve our destiny on this side of eternity and love as God loves. But day by day, on the path of hope, as we struggle against our sinful tendencies, God changes us into loving people.
Door of faith, path of hope and destiny of love.
To clarify, I believe this analogy can be applied to all areas of life.
What are some other paths available to us and what kind of person will we become if we stay on these various paths? One is the door of knowledge. We put our faith in knowledge. The path is education. We go to school from kindergarten to high school, all so that we can get into the best college, the best grad school, the best job, the best spouse, and the best happily ever
after life. This is the path I committed to. Or shall I say, my parents committed to for me.
Why didn’t they choose the NBA or American Idol as my path? Because they knew that no matter how unstoppable I feel I am in basketball, in my mind, truth is truth. And the truth is revealed when I am on the basketball court. And I have to admit I am just an average player, well, maybe above average among Asian males at this church.
And why not American Idol? The only reason why I have not tried out is because the show started too recently and now I am above the age limit. And it’s not Christian to lie about my age. Otherwise, I can pretty much guarantee that I would have made it on the show. I’d be like William Hung who only got on the show for comic relief. But those 2 minutes of fame were within reach and
now that dream is gone forever.
So many choose this path of education by default.
What is the destiny or outcome for such a person? The destiny is a person of degrees and achievements so that we can say to the next person, you are my competitor and I have beaten you. Look at me. Look at what I have become. And such a person is destined to a life of proving his or her worth through the next achievement, the salary we make, the car we drive.
Another is the door of hedonism or pleasure. People put faith in a life of r and r – a little rest and relaxation. The path is the smooth wide road, the path of least resistance, minimal pain and maximum comfort. What’s the destiny for this life path? Eating potato chips while sitting in a lazy boy and watching the eagles lose in the NFC championship game. Without Christ, that might have been me.
Such people don’t want too much stress and they arrange their lives around their favorite activities. Eating at their favorite restaurants. Watching their favorite shows. It’s a life of selfishness. And to put it bluntly, such a life is not even really living. At least the first path of education, you are putting in some effort and working hard. This path of comfort is a slow death.
What about the door of living for kids? Parents place so much faith in the belief that the best life is being able to provide a good future for their kids. Their kids are their hope. They commit to doing whatever they can to give their kids the best and this becomes the parent’s path of life. Usually, we have many moms in this category. Soccer moms, who are run ragged driving kids back and forth to sports practice, to music lessons, art classes.
What is the result or destiny of parents whose main hope is in their kids? Uncertainty. No matter how well we raise them, no matter how much we think we love them, no matter how many opportunities we give to them, we have no control over how our kids turn out. Either they turn out to be successful, whatever criteria each parent uses for success, or their kids fall short, or they get into trouble. We could be model parents, but in the end, there are no guarantees. You live for kids and you put all your hope in them and you will be destined for a life of uncertainty. None of these alternative paths lead to the destiny of love.
Meaning, apart from starting our faith journey and placing our hope in Christ, we will never come to understand nor reach the universal destiny for humanity, which is love. Door of faith, path of hope, destiny of love. 1 Cor 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I’d like to superimpose this verse onto the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus and I’d like to show how these 3 — faith, hope and love — play out in Mary’s life.
We read about Mary in the beginning of the gospels when the angel comes to her with the news that Christ will be born through her. Then, a short account at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when she tells the servants at the wedding at Cana to do as Jesus says.
From that point on, there is virtual silence about Mary until the crucifixion.
Part I: Faith
The door of faith.
The door for Mary was not an easy one to enter through. An angel appears and tells her, though you are virgin, you will be with child. But not an ordinary child, this is going to be the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.
And amazingly, Mary’s response in Luke 2:38 was “May it be to me as you have said.”
God presented Mary with a door. And Mary had a choice. Do I open this door and enter in faith? Or do I move on with my life? She chose the former and said May it be to me as you have said. That’s faith.
When she entered through her door of faith, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She did not know that she would have to flee for her life from Herod right after delivering the baby. And certainly, she never could have imagined having to watch her own son being tortured and killed right in front of her.
As Christians, it is the same. We have no idea where God will take us when we step through our personal doors of faith.
When I bowed the knee to Christ in 1993, I had no idea that God would take me from Berkeley, to another door of faith — the mission field in Tokyo a few months after Jackie and I had gotten married.
Then another door of faith –back to the States to LA of all places and seminary. And most recently, the door to Pasadena chapel. And now I am back on foreign missions in the mini mainland China called Alhambra.
I believe God is always presenting doors of faith to us. New invitations to follow him. New ways to experience him more intimately. The problem is often we fail to recognize them. Or we see the door but we lack the courage to open it. Or we are too busy entering all the wrong doors.
That is why Mary’s response to the angel is so remarkable. May it be to me as you have said.
How many of us could answer like that? I am not a woman so I have no idea what it’s like to give birth. But if I were Mary and God presented me through an angel this kind of invitation, I wouldn’t be seeing a normal door. But I’d be staring at a titanium coated bank vault. Super security systems, quadruple bolted with guards in front. It would require tremendous faith for me to enter through this kind of door.
Faith is hard. Faith is believing and trusting in God when there is so little visible evidence to believe and trust. A virgin birth is already unbelievable. On top of that, the Son of God being born through a human mother. It’s absurd.
But it is Mary’s faith which accepted that these words were from God. And she said, Yes, Lord, May it be to me as you have said. This is the voice of faith.
I want to have this kind of faith. Don’t you? Whatever God says to us, whether something as incredible as what Mary heard, or the small whisper of God to turn off the TV and pray, I want to be able to say in all circumstances, Yes, Lord, may it be to me as you have said.
That’s faith. And unless you and I are willing to enter through whatever doors of faith come our way, we will miss out on so much that God wants to do in and through our lives.
Faith is a series of doors and we must enter through them. Whatever he asks. Whenever he asks. Big or small. May it be to me as you have said.
Part II: Hope
Next, we find Mary at the wedding at Cana at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. This is 30 years later. Mary knows Jesus personally, first as a mother but by now I’d say she is more like a veteran disciple. She has a major headstart from the other disciples because she has been with
Jesus since birth. Compared with the amount of faith she had in Luke 2 when the angel first comes to her, her faith in Jesus has much more substance to it by this time. It is more real, more tangible. Dare I say, her faith has moved down the path of hope.
I want to point out that the resolution to the problem of the wine running out started with Mary. And she takes this problem to Jesus. No hesitation. No wavering. It seems instinctive for her to take whatever problem, big or small, to Jesus. Because over the years, she has come to know that Jesus has answers. He knows what to do. He is powerful and compassionate. Jesus is her hope. Like Peter, Mary must be thinking, I have a problem, to whom shall I go, what other option do I have, who else can I turn to?
Jesus is her hope and so she can say confidently to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
We all begin our faith journey with high hopes. We are like Mary, May it be to me as you have said. But when trouble hits, what or who we place our hope in is revealed in the choices we make, or in the attitudes and emotions we take on. If our hope is Christ, if he is the answer, then when trouble hits, we would go to Jesus first. To whom shall we go?
Often times, don’t we resort to ourselves? A problem hits and we say, I can figure this out. We turn to books for advice from professionals. We talk out our problems among friends. And our hope ends up being our ability to solve problems or finding the right wisdom that is out there.
Sometimes, our physical problems require physical answers. When I encounter computer problems at work, and there are many, my hope is google. I feel I am skilled enough to type the right combination of keywords and quickly sift through the search results to find what I need.
Mary could have done that. It was a physical problem – no more wine. She could have resorted to her wisdom and asked the servants, where is the nearest market? Who’s the fastest? Okay, you, go run and get the wine. The rest of us will stay here and stall.
Mary could have approached this physical problem with a physical solution. Yet her first instinct was to go to Jesus in prayer. That much, Jesus was her hope. To whom shall we go? There are many paths to get answers. But for Mary, her faith in Jesus was blossoming into a robust hope. It was not just a future hope that Lord, I am confident that I will be with you in heaven and your FUTURE promises will SOMEDAY be fulfilled. It was a hope that broke through into her present and she could say, Jesus, I can bank my whole life on you today.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity has this to say about hope —
“Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking… If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” (p. 134)
The future hope in Christ breaking into our present reality today. Have you banked your entire life on Jesus? In this age of economic uncertainty, are you placing your hope in prosperity, in some magical bailout plan, or in the politics of our government? Are you so anxious about finances that you’ve stopped praying because you are paralyzed by worries or busy pursuing physical solutions?
We need to pray. Esp. in these uncertain times. We need to place our hope in Jesus. And when Jesus responds through a devotional, through a sermon, through a friend or circumstance, we need to have the attitude of Mary – WHATEVER Jesus tells me to do, THAT’S what I am going to do. To whom shall I go? What alternative do I have? Can I come up with better answers? Jesus, you are the only path to life. You are the way, the truth, the life. You are my hope and I have no other recourse. I am all in. I have no backup plan.
This is the path of hope.
Part III: Love
And lastly, we come to the destiny of love. It’s not a destination. We can’t reach it. We can’t say, ‘Love, yeah I got that down. I mastered that years ago.’ We’ll never become a fully loving person on this side of eternity. But gradually as we put our faith and hope in God, He changes us.
God changed Mary. After the wedding at Cana, we hardly read about Mary until the end when Jesus is on the road to Calvary. It’s been noted by many that at the crucifixion, with the exception of the disciple whom Jesus loved, only 4 women were there: Mary, Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Where are all the men? Where is Peter who said he would die with Jesus? Where are the sons of thunder? With names like that, surely they would not have wimped out.
Since I am a father of two boys, I have my theory as to why it was mostly women who remained to witness the crucifixion. It’s because women understand love. Guys, we’re into hobbies and looking for ways to distract ourselves. We’re into competition and beating each other and talking trash. We’re into being impressive and doing things worthy of recognition.
Many women, they are fine living in anonymity and just loving their kids. For me, after a few hours babysitting feels like slow torture and I have to get out of the house. When jeremiah is sick, who does he go to? Mommy. While I am busy troubleshooting an email problem at work or knocked out on the couch, who is at timo’s bedside in the middle of the night when he wakes up from being sick.
It’s mommy again. I hope to change this in the future and win the hearts of the boys through sports. Brothers, unite! We still have a chance!
Here in this moment of crisis when Jesus is hanging on a cross, all the men but one had fled. The collective faith of the men had been shattered. Their hope in Jesus dashed. How could this be? The man we banked our lives on for the past 3 years is now dead. And they were licking their wounds and picking up the pieces of disillusionment and disappointment.
Mary, on the other hand, responded to this crisis very differently. I want to point out that NOBODY, not a SINGLE person, not even Mary expected to see Jesus 3 days later. Everyone – men and women – thought this was the end. In that sense, ALL regardless of gender had their faith and hope in Jesus crushed. YET it was LOVE that brought Mary out to the cross to witness the unbearable sight of Jesus’ crucifixion.
In the end, that’s what matters. Love matters. Nothing else. We are all going to experience things in life that shake the foundations of our faith and hope, but when that happens, what do we fall back on? It is Jesus’ love for us and our love for Jesus. Love is the greatest because it is what remains even when faith and hope are gone.
Are you and I growing in our love for Jesus? That’s got to be the barometer of our Christian growth. Not how great our faith is, or how clear and how focused our hope is. Not how strong our commitment to Christ is. Or how radical our obedience. These are important, don’t get me wrong. But the more important question we need to be asking ourselves is — Is my love for God growing ever more intimate? This is why out of the 3 — faith, hope and love — love rises to the top. Love is supreme.
Part IV: Jesus as the fulfillment of faith, hope and love
It is at the cross that we realize that more than how strong OUR faith, hope and love for Jesus is, we come to realize that 1 Cor 13 speaks more of Jesus’ faith, hope and love FOR US. Jesus is the fulfillment of 1 Cor 13. And what a liberating truth this is!
When our faith fails, Jesus is faithful. He never breaks his promises. He never wavers. What Jesus says, He will do.
When our hope fails, Jesus is our hope. He steadfastly committed himself to go to the cross on our behalf. He conquered the impossible — sin and death — and he is preparing a place for us in heaven. His resurrection proves that we can place all of our present earthly hope in him.
Most of all, when our love fails, Jesus’ love for us never fails. Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus is not rude, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, for our sakes.
Jesus is love. He is our destiny. He is our Omega. While on this faith journey, we are becoming more like Jesus each day. And we long for the day when we will be with Jesus for eternity. This is our destiny.
Mary had faith, her hope in Christ was certain, and clearly she loved Jesus. But many of us are
not like Mary. She had faith, hope and love. What if I don’t? Even when our love falls short, Jesus’ love for us never fails. That’s why it is not surprising that in John 21, Jesus pursues Peter.
Peter had tried to muster up all his faith to be near Jesus in his final moments, but his faith faltered. The same Peter who boldly proclaimed, “To Whom Shall We Go,” was no longer very hopeful. And there was not enough love in the tank for Peter to remain by Jesus’ side and risk his own life. So he denied Jesus and fled.
After the resurrection, Jesus appears to Peter in a scene of such tenderness. Peter had returned to fishing. When all hope is gone, we tend to return to what is safe and familiar. For Peter, his security was his fishing. That’s what he knew how to do. Fishing was his trade. That’s what he was good at. And Jesus meets Peter in his faithless, hopeless, loveless state. And over a breakfast on the shore, Jesus engages Peter in dialogue.
Jesus didn’t say, Where was your faith? He didn’t ask, How come you lost all hope in me when the chips were down and I needed you most? Instead, he asked, do you love me, Peter. If you do love me, then feed my sheep. Meaning, love me by loving my sheep. Love others as an expression of your love for me.
Even those with great faith will falter. Even those with a seemingly unshakeable hope in Christ and strong commitment will lose hope and break their commitments at times. But the one thing Jesus is always looking for is love.
I’d like to end with a story. It happened a couple of weeks – the shocking account of a family of 7 killed in a senseless murder-suicide. The married couple had both worked at Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center as technicians and had been laid off in December. That was only a little over a month ago and not too far from here.
And the poor victims who had no voice in this tragedy were the children, an 8 year old daughter, 5 year old twins and a second pair of 2 year old twins. 5 children in all killed in vain.
Upon hearing this story, my initial response was anger. How could the father and mother decide to take their lives and the lives of their children because they were too proud to ask for help? We don’t know the full story but it sounded like, among other things, the parents couldn’t live with themselves because they failed to provide materially for their children? And possibly that ate away at their pride.
How did they get the idea that love is expressed merely by providing things?
Then, I was angry at society. How did we get into this economic mess in the first place which ultimately put this couple into this position to even consider doing this? I am no economist, but our present predicament seems to be the result of years and years of human greed and now it is all catching up with us. And all of us living in America have in some way fallen into the lies and false promises of materialism and economic prosperity of years past.
We are a people who live well beyond our means. We see our neighbors upgrading their homes and we borrow more money so that we can keep up with the Joneses. We believe the ipod commercials of people in neon colors dancing and looking so joyful and we actually think that possessing a new shiny gadget will take us to some musical and spiritual nirvana. And we pile on the credit card debt to buy things we don’t really need. All for what?
I’m angry that for those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs, we live in this kind of world that demands that we work long hours just to make ends meet. For some, we feel pressure to chase the highest paying jobs so that we can maintain a certain standard of living. Hectic schedules, deadlines and the balancing the many demands of life take us away from what is truly important.
And by the weekend, we are so exhausted, aren’t you? Just by life. Life is tiring. And because of the stress, we need to decompress. We become weekend warriors who try to consume as much entertainment as we can, not because those things are particularly enjoyable. But mainly just so we can unplug our brains. That’s why it is called mindless entertainment. Our minds need a break. And we look to various forms of escape to numb the emptiness we feel when the cycle begins every Monday morning.
Why would anyone place their hope in this kind of life?
Eph 2:12 reads – 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
Without hope and without God. Apart from Christ, there is no hope. Don’t place your hope in the American dream, whatever that means now. Or in a job. Or in your possessions. Or the size of your savings account.
If you place your hope in money, like many news stories we have read about in recent weeks, you lose a job and it feels like all that you worked so hard for and put your hope in is ripped out from under you. And when that hope is gone, some may conclude that there is no point to go on.
Thinking about this family of 7 more throughout the week, my emotion changed from anger to sadness. Where was the Christian to offer a helping hand and say, don’t worry, you can stay with us? We’ll get through this together. And while helping them get back on their feet financially, pointing them to the Christian’s hope in Christ.
Why do we need to stay on this path of hope and strain forward to achieve our destiny of love? To love God, yes, of course. But also so that we can be people who can point others to Christ. There are a great number of people hurting out there and the numbers are only going to get worse in the coming months.
Life presents to us many paths. Which door will you choose? May we all enter through the door of faith. Not once many years ago. But every invitation or prompting from God is a door that He is calling us to open in faith.
For some of us, we have lost hope in Christ. Maybe you feel like God has let you down and now alternative paths seem attractive. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve committed yourself to really following God passionately. Let’s return to the path of hope. To whom shall we go? Lord, you alone have the words of eternal life.
And most importantly, are you growing in your love for Jesus day by day? That is the most important question. Love is the greatest because it is our safety net when all faith and hope seem lost. Love remains. Love is our destiny. The world needs us. Let’s feed God’s sheep.
Faith. Saying Amen to God – may it be so. May it be to me as you have said.
Hope. Saying, I will bank my entire life on you, Jesus, and do whatever you tell me to do. To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Finally, be encouraged – even when our love fails us, God’s love for us never fails. He will pursue EACH and EVERY one of us until we recognize his love for us.