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Sermon Text: Romans 8:18-25
Date: August 2/3, 2014
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Romans 8:18–25 (NIV84)
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
We Have the Certain Hope of Rescue
“This is just not worth it.” Maybe you’ve said that as you’ve worked on a project. Perhaps the goal was good and exciting. Maybe you were looking to restore a car, build a complicated grandfather clock, or even trying to patch up a relationship with a friend which had gone sour. In any case, the goal was admirable; it was something that you wanted to happen. But, perhaps, once you dug into the work of what accomplishing that goal actually meant, it appeared to not be worth the incredible amount of effort required to pull it off.
Paul, throughout Romans chapter 8, is addressing that very thought amongst the Roman Christians. They were not discouraged because the car they were working on was turning out to be far more work than they had anticipated. They were beginning to feel troubled about their faith. Those who were Jewish converts to Christianity were feeling the pain and isolation of being cut off from the rest of their Jewish families who did not convert. The Gentile Christians were facing mockery for their faith that was making their lives more difficult. Rumors, such as that this supposed “renegade sect” of Judaism was practicing cannibalism (from a misunderstanding about the Lord’s Supper) continue to spread, so Christians are becoming persona non grata amongst the people.
All the while, there’s the mounting pressure from a public, government-backed and run persecution of Christians unlike anything we’re familiar with in this country. Christians were beginning to be tortured and killed in horrific ways because of their faith, all because the Roman government deemed the religion illegal.
You can almost feel the balloon ready to pop. As trials and struggles seem to multiply and compound on themselves and the sole cause of it all is that the people were Christians, they would begin questioning their faith, questioning whether all of this was really worth it.
Paul’s message to the Roman Christians is, of course, that, yes, it is all worth it. In fact it’s more than worth it. Listen to what he says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The word Paul uses there means that you’re trying to compare things of values that cannot be compared. Can you judge the difference in value between a handful of dirt and a handful of diamonds? Can you compare the value of a door knob and a mansion? There’s no comparison to be made; there’s no hemming and hawing over which you’d rather have.
But it’s easy to lose track of that. It’s very easy to become distracted and thinking that this life is the be-all, end-all of everything there is. And what a wretched state that would be! Because for as much as we might try to pretend otherwise, this life is horrendous. We have pain and misery. Families are at each other’s throats, sickness and disease ravage our bodies, and we are often miserable. Why? Because this world has been sentenced to decay. When God created it, it was perfect, but in our sin we ruined it. Sin’s very presence in this life causes that decay that even effects creation itself, “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.”
But more to the point, the sins that you and I commit against each other bring suffering and disaster to this life. Sin piles up on sin, people’s anger piles up against themselves and each other. The whole world has lost its mind because you and I and everyone else are so focused on ourselves and what we want, we don’t see how we’re hurting and destroying each other. Your sinful nature and mine have a “me-above-all-else” attitude that doesn’t care who or what it steps on.
So really, we should be without hope, and yet God has given it to us. But hope that God gives is not like the hope about which we often speak. “I hope my football team does well this year.” “I hope I’ll get a good grade on that test I really didn’t study for.” “I hope tomorrow will be better than yesterday.” There’s no confidence any of those statements. But when God gives hope it is a certain hope. It’s waiting for something that’s absolutely coming.
We’re not playing “Let’s Make a Deal.” Perhaps you remember that game show on TV from a while back or a more recent incarnation. One of the basic premises in that show is that the contestant is given a prize of some sort, but then given the opportunity to hand that prize over in exchange for what is behind a door or curtain. Sometimes the prize behind the curtain was worth trading the other prize for—maybe it’s a new car or a vacation. But there’s also the possibility that they’ll trade a handful of cash for a plastic bowl, a roll of tinfoil, or a broken car. Unlike the game show, though, there’s no doubt in our minds as to what’s coming. Paul says we’re standing in this life with that handful of dirt and by God’s grace we are trading it in for a bucketful of diamonds.
A new, a better life is coming. But it’s not going to come here. We’re not going to be able to make peoples and nations stop fighting each other. We’re not going to be able to solve every problem that comes up in our lives and in the lives of others. And we’re not going to put an end to sin on this earth. But we don’t have to, because God already has. Even though we ruined everything, God fixed it all. When Jesus came, he took the punishment for every sin that had been committed, he took the pain and misery and guilt for everything wrong that anyone has ever done and he took it on himself. Every time we’ve wallowed in self-pity because life was tough, every time in our hurtful words and actions we’ve made someone else’s life more miserable, every thing we’ve ever done wrong, every painful thing that made us estranged from God, Jesus took it all away.
Jesus has restored us to our rightful position as children of God. Every time that we’ve hurt someone, God has forgiven us. Every time someone else has hurt us, God has forgiven them. God has fixed the sin problem and enabled us to treat each other not as problems, but as fellow heirs of eternity. He has enabled us to put an end to family squabbling when we see each other in the light of the cross. He has enabled us to bear up under the pain of disease or heartache, because we know something better is coming. He has enabled us to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Jesus has given us real, certain hope.
Paul described the torment creation is undergoing as the pains of childbirth. Having never experienced such pain, I’m hesitant to draw too many comparisons, but the point of Paul’s comparisons is not the severity of the pain. The point the comparison is the end result. Breaking and arm or a leg is pain without purpose. Smashing your thumb with a hammer is a pain without purpose. Dealing with the stomach flu is pain without purpose. But childbirth is different. Childbirth is pain with purpose because something amazing is coming—a new life, a new member of your family.
For the Christian, the pain of this life is pain with a purpose. The end is in sight, and while we suffer here, we won’t suffer in heaven. While we deal with our own sin and the effects that it has on us and on those around us here, we won’t in heaven. Heaven will be a place of unending joy and happiness.
How do we know that’s true? How do we know the hope of heaven isn’t as vapid as my hope that my football team might win more games than it loses this year? God has given us a deposit, a down payment of what’s to come. The Holy Spirit is that down payment, or as Paul says, the firstfruits of what is coming. The Holy Spirit is the only reason that we can believe in Jesus as our Savior, he’s the only reason that we can begin to trust the promises that God has made to us. He works through his Word to show us what God has said and done. As Jesus said in our Gospel, that Word, planted in our hearts, produces a harvest of faith. The Holy Spirit uses that Word to cling to his promises and to tighten our grasp on them.
For the Old Testament believers, they clung to the hope that God would send a Savior, that they would be forgiven, and for them that hope was certain. For us, living after Jesus’ work, we cling to the hope that what Jesus accomplished it for us. Paul says, Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Do you notice the tension there? We’re eagerly awaiting all that God has promised us, but we wait for it patiently. Perhaps one of the real problems that we wrestle with is impatience. Maybe we’re so eager to be done with sin-filled world that we wish God would just take us out of it, take us home. Maybe our prayers take a turn from asking God to help us endure to helping it all to end.
There’s no shame in being excited for heaven—Paul himself says we’re eagerly waiting for it—but we also recognize that while we’re here, right now, no matter what our present sufferings are, we are here for a purpose. Do you have coworkers who need to hear God’s Word? Be the sower and share it. Are there people in your family who are suffering or sad? Take their needs to your heavenly Father. Are there things you don’t yet know or understand about God’s Word? Of course there are, so dig into his Word, more every day, to uncover those gems of his love for you!
We are waiting, hoping for the fulfillment of what God had promised. We’re waiting for the fulfillment of what Jesus won for us at the cross, our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. We are all, men and women, boys and girls, waiting to become sons, that is, heirs of forgiveness and the unending joys of heaven. Lord, keep us strong in the face of adversity and patient in times of trial. But, Lord, hasten that day when we no longer hope for what is to come but are able to fully enjoy the things you have prepared for us! Amen.