Groaning for glory

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Hi, please have Romans 8.18-25 open. Our heading is Groaning for Glory and let’s pray:

Father encourage our hearts from your Word and change us by your Spirit for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Here’s a question for you: If you knew that something wonderful was going to happen to you tomorrow, do you think it would make a difference in the way you thought and lived today? I would think so. It’s a bit like what’s been put before us as each of the three lockdowns were announced. The clear command was essentially to stay at home. But do you remember why those lockdown restrictions were put in place? To stop the spread, to protect the NHS and to save lives. For a time, we endure a period of hardship, because it will be worth it in the end. We may suffer for a while, but it will end, and we’ll be glad we did. And that’s what Paul tells us in Romans 8 today.

In Romans, Paul’s setting out the gospel or good news in its fullness. Chapter 8 is a summary of all that he’s already written, and draws out the implications of the good news of Jesus for the believer. In Romans 8.1, we saw how:

There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

We can already know God’s verdict on us here and now - as we trust in Jesus Christ, the verdict is ‘not guilty.’ And as the chapter continues, we find that we’re not just forgiven, we are also given the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8.15), who confirms that we are indeed God’s children - by him we call God, Abba! Father (or Daddy). This is all wonderful news. And then in Romans 8.17, just before our passage, Paul introduces the subject of suffering. He writes:

and if we are God’s children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and fellow or co-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

If you’re a believer you are God’s heir in and with Christ. Receiving that inheritance, which comes to us in Christ, involves sharing in his suffering, the pathway to sharing in his glory. Perhaps something inside of us reacts to that. Yes, we’re on board for all of God’s blessings and benefits, bring them on! But suffering? And that reaction might be even stronger when we read Romans 8.18:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Really, some of you ask? This Paul guy doesn’t know my life and what I’ve been through. He obviously doesn’t understand real suffering and instead seems to make light of it! Maybe he’s had a comfortable, easy life and hasn’t really undergone any suffering, so doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In another of his letters, he shares some of his experiences in serving Christ: beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, constant danger from robbers and in most places, toil and hardship, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, in cold and exposure (that’s 2 Corinthians 11.23-29). He knew what it was to suffer, so he’s not making light of suffering, rather – and please don’t miss this - he’s making much of the eternal glory to be revealed. By comparison, the eternal glory is far greater than all the suffering we may face in this life (see also 2 Corinthians 4.17).

It’s as if Paul has a pair of balancing scales. He puts all the suffering on one side, and on the other, the glory that will be revealed to us. What’s the result? What can we see from the scales? Well, it’s not that our sufferings are greater and it’s not that the suffering and glory is about the same, perfectly balanced. No. There’s absolutely no comparison. The glory completely surpasses and totally outweighs the suffering. Anything we face or endure now will be more than outweighed by an eternal weight of glory to come. The sufferings of this present time, whatever they are, are not worth comparing with the glory that’s to be revealed to us, which is a perspective to hold on to.

And the word that expresses our current experience isn’t the word unmute but groaning. Is that the word that summarises your experience of this last year? Groaning with frustration, perhaps, as your regular routine has been restricted. Groaning with boredom for some as you face another long day. Groaning with loneliness for others. Well that word, groaning, is the word that characterises today’s passage. Paul uses it three times, as he speaks of the current suffering and the incomparable glory that is to come.

First of all, the creation has been groaning. Look first at Romans 8.19:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

You know the way some people count down to their birthday with eager longing and know how many sleeps it is. Or you might wait for a delivery to arrive, and you’re watching out for it with eager longing, unless you’re waiting for a delivery from Hermes (who have still to find my new address). Creation itself is on tip toes, watching and waiting, with eager longing, for the revealing of the sons of God. Why does the earth do that? Why are the animals, birds, trees and every blade of grass waiting in this way? Well look at Romans 8.20-21:

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.

You see, at present, the creation is frustrated. It’s in bondage to decay. I don’t need to tell you that, you experience it every day. Things wear out and break down. The lovely banana you were going to eat has turned black and mushy. Thorns and thistles and weeds spring up. ‘Change and decay in all around I see’ as the hymn Abide with me puts it. It’s the world as we know it, but it’s not the way the world was originally made.

In Genesis 3 we hear of the bondage of creation not by creation’s choice, but as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s decision to rebel against God’s good and gracious rule. The world is under the curse, but one day bondage will cease, and creation will share in the glorious freedom of God’s children. Paul describes creation’s groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8.22). The present condition of creation is not its final one; it’s like a mother groaning in labour pains. The groans and pain are worth it, whenever the baby has been born. And that’s what’s happening around us, as the creation groans, in anticipation of release and freedom. Can you imagine how glorious our world will be when decay has been stopped? When viruses are no more? When there’s no more sadness or sickness or suffering or sin? You see the gospel is more than just me and my ticket to heaven. The victory that Jesus has won is for the whole creation. The natural world will share in our redemption. And in the meantime, the creation groans.

It’s not just the creation groaning, though. You see, we too share in that groaning. Christian believers are groaning too. Romans 8.23:

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We’re living in the now, and the not yet. Already we have the firstfruits, the presence of the Spirit, and the final verdict. We get to taste what eternal life will be like, but there’s so much more to come. And so we groan, as we wait. We’re still sinful, and know sorrow, and suffering. We long for the day when we receive our new resurrection bodies, when we see Jesus face to face and are like him and live with him forever. And so, we groan as we wait. Do you get that? Yes, if we’ve put our faith in Christ, our salvation has begun – we have the Holy Spirit as a down payment but it won’t be consummated or fully realised until the resurrection (the full realisation of adoption in Christ). We have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. So the Christian life involves patient waiting, but patient waiting in what, just a load of definite maybes? The kind of definite maybes or even U-turns that come from the government? No, patient waiting in hope, sure and certain hope.

Now, we often use the word hope in lots of different ways. You might hope the weather will be good tomorrow, but it may not be. Often, our hopes are more like wishful thinking - wouldn’t it be nice if... But the Christian hope isn’t like those vague wishes because it’s based on the fact that Jesus died, rose again and ascended. Our hope is sure and certain, as we trust God’s promises and wait for what he will give to us. Look onto Romans 8.24-25:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees [or already has]? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

If our present Christian experience is all that there is, then there’s nothing to hope for. But hope looks to the future, to what God will do. And we wait patiently, because the glory to be revealed in us is worth far more than anything we endure here and now.

The creation is groaning, Christians are groaning. And, as Paul continues, we find that The Spirit is also groaning. But in what way? Well, much more on this next week but look at Romans 8.26-27 for a taste now:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints [believers] according to the will of God.

All through this chapter, Paul has been reminding us about the power and presence of the Spirit in the life of the Christian. And the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Have you ever found yourself wanting to pray, but not knowing what to pray? You’re not alone! When we struggle to find the words, the Spirit himself is praying for us, with groans that words cannot express. He takes our groaning, and groans our prayers for us, translating them into prayers in line with God’s will. He knows and understands our hearts, our sighs, our longings, and prays on our behalf. Isn’t that encouraging?

But back to Romans 8.18-25 as I conclude. Perhaps you’re struggling. Well remember it’s just for a time, and it will be worth it. So how much more worth it? Well it will be what God says here in Romans 8. Our present sufferings, characterised by the groaning of creation, and our groaning and the groaning of the Spirit as he helps us in our weakness - those sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. A short period of pain, leading to an infinitely greater pleasure. Suffering now, and glory after. That’s our story, here and now, because it’s the story of the gospel; the way Jesus himself followed the cross before the crown.

Jesus endured the cross, bearing our sin and shame, wearing the symbol of the curse, the crown of thorns in order to enter his glory by overturning the curse, and ushering in life and peace; victory over death, and bringing his new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells. We’re called to go his way, as we wait for the glory to be revealed. So, in the meantime, don’t give up, keep looking to Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. He is with us by his Spirit.

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