Groaning for Glory

Sermon by Billy Dempsey on Jun 24, 2018

Romans 8:18-25

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I’ll ask you if you will, open your Bibles to Romans chapter 8. We continue our summer Sunday evening study of the eighth chapter of Romans. We’ll begin in just a few moments to read verses 18 to 25.

Before we do so, just a moment to remember together where we’ve been. The apostle Paul has introduced us to some marvelous concepts, some beautiful truth, and we have enjoyed together some soaring preaching and teaching on this portion of God’s Word. That’s not Acts chapter 8; Romans chapter 8. I’ll get there eventually! I mean, I don’t even know how we got off verse 1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why are we not still talking about that? That’s an amazing truth. That’s beautiful and it’s alarming. And then verse 2, “the law of the spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” And we’ve talked about the distinction between living according to the flesh and living according to the Spirit. The power of God’s Spirit indwelling us – how are we not still talking about that? We will be talking about that some even tonight.

And then last week we were talking about the truth of our adoption by God into His family so that we become heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. I don’t know how we wrap our minds around that truth, but God continues to confirm it in our hearts as He sent forth His Spirit crying, “Abba!” And Abba is what Jewish children call their daddy. “Daddy” is the best translation for “Abba.” God sent His Spirit into our hearts calling out, “Daddy!” That familiar, that intimate, that close, that personal. Daddy. God confirms to us again and again and again how He has adopted us as His children.

And Paul closes that that glorious paragraph where he talks about our adoption with these words of verse 17 – “provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” And then we go and think, “Why did Paul have to mess up such a wonderful thought by talking about suffering?” But the reality is, that while we are here, the promise of suffering and the promise of glory are inseparable from one another. They’re married; they’re welded together. We can’t talk about one without talking about the other. The Bible just won’t let us do that. So before we go to our passage, let’s look again to the Lord in prayer and ask for His help to parse this passage correctly.

Father, we need You. We need to hear from the Shepherd of the sheep. We need to hear from our Daddy who would teach us, who would send His Spirit to warm our hearts and open our minds and feed our hungry souls with truths that we need right now. So Daddy, hear us. Daddy, speak to us. Daddy, press us up against Jesus like play-doh and make us like Him. That would be our prayer, in His name, amen.

Beginning with verse 18. Paul, continuing his thought about sufferings as he mentioned in verse 17:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing 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 will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.

Suffering

Paul has begun to talk about suffering in verse 17 so it’s almost like he’s saying, “Okay, so let’s talk about suffering! Let’s spend some time talking about suffering.” And the first thing he does is to make an optimistic assessment. Having brought it into the conversation, now he makes an optimistic assessment. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Well, let’s talk about these sufferings. What is Paul talking about? What are the sufferings that he’s referring to? Well, I think there are a couple of things. One, they are the pains associated with belonging to Jesus. And let’s be honest, sometimes Jesus creates more problems than He solves. Doesn’t He? Sometimes He’s harder on us, way harder on us than we would be on ourselves. When He says things like, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.” Jesus is saying that discipleship as He defines it brings us into suffering, brings us into suffering. We don’t naturally want to do those things and Jesus says, “If you’re going to belong to Me, if you’re going to follow Me, if you’re going to be My disciple, this is what it looks like and there will be pain.” He welcomes us into suffering.

Or He says in Matthew chapter 10 verse 39, “Whoever finds his life,” and by that He means whoever keeps his life, who holds his life, who makes his life more important than anything else, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” He’s welcoming us as His disciples to suffering.

Then He says in John 13, just after He’s completed the washing of the feet of His disciples, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and you are right, for so I am. If then your Lord and Teacher has washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Jesus is talking about a discipleship that is personally costly. It will bring pain. It will bring pain. That’s our suffering; that’s part of our suffering. The cost that we pay to follow Jesus; the cost that we pay to be identified with Jesus. The cost that we pay because He’s made us His own. He cuts against the grain of our desires, against the grain of our personalities, against the grain of our wants and our dearest dreams and He says, “Follow Me. There will be pain.”

Suffering Refines Our Faith

That’s not all the suffering there is. There’s suffering that comes to us because of life in this fallen world and our Father brings suffering to us to refine our faith. Think about what James says. James, in chapter 1, we know this passage well. He talks about the testing of our faith through various trials producing steadfastness “and let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Our Father uses suffering and pain to refine us, to build steadfastness and allow steadfastness to do its work that we may lack in nothing in relation to Him. Peter makes the same point. You’ve been “grieved by various trials,” he says in chapter 1, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold, that perishes though tested by fire may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The tested genuineness of our faith. God knows the genuineness of our faith. God declaring to the world, “Look at My Church. Look at My servants. Look at the fire they’ve endured and look how they trust Me.” God’s refining us. That’s our suffering. That’s part of our suffering.

And so we suffer. We’re not safe. We’re not going to be safe from the suffering of following Christ or the suffering that God brings to bear on faith to refine it and build it and cause it to grow, cause us to cleave more closely to Him. We’re not safe from that suffering. That’s ours. And yet, Paul says that it’s not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. One commentator said these are “mere trifles,” mere trifles compared to the glory. “Light and momentary” suffering is what Paul describes elsewhere, compared to the great weight of glory awaiting us. Mere trifles. Perhaps Paul was thinking about what he wrote earlier to the church at Corinth when he said, “What no eye has seen nor ear heard nor the heart of man has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” Maybe he’s thinking also of the time, the experience when he was raised to the third heaven; language he uses also writing to the church at Corinth. He was speaking of himself in the third person. He was talking about a man caught up to the third heaven, caught up into paradise. He heard things that cannot be told “which man may not utter.” Paul says what’s waiting is better. What’s waiting is better. And this that we endure, the suffering the pain that we endure is not worth comparing to what God has in store and is preparing for those who love Him.

Paul speaks of it in terms of, in this passage, of “the glory revealed to us” because we will see it. We will see the glory he’s speaking of. But at least one version translates that passage as “the glory revealed in us” and I think for good reason. Because that glory that we will see will also share in and it will transform us, it will change us. And maybe we should define that glory as the unutterable, indescribable splendor of God, eternal, immortal, incorruptible, and in it, the adopted sons and daughters of God are revealed as such and glorified.  It’s interesting that glorification is part of that golden chain of salvation that we’ll be looking at later on in this study. We talk about God’s glory and the glory of God and here we find God’s not stingy with His glory but He shares it out. He doesn’t keep it out but He shares it with His adopted children. We will be glorified, revealed as the sons and the daughters of God, and transformed by His near presence and glory.

Creation is Eagerly Longing

How do we know? That’s wonderful, preacher! How do we know that? Paul says something very interesting. He takes the argument in a very interesting direction. It’s like he says, “Open your eyes.” It’s like he says, “Open your eyes.” Let me read verses 19 to 22. “For the creation waits with eager longing 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 will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now." We know the story well. In the garden, as Adam's sin is revealed, God begins the march of curses. The serpent is cursed, the woman bears a curse, and He comes to Adam and it's as though everything else is cursed in Adam's judgment. "Cursed is the ground because of you. In pain, you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread." Creation shared in the judgment of God following Adam's sin, and now it shares in the pain of Adam's children, and so it will share in the glory to come – the glory of the revealing of the sons of God. That is the moment of deliverance for the created universe when it is set free from its bondage to corruption – no more death – and it steps into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. And right now, it waits according to what Paul says here, "with eager longing."

What does that mean? The word is a kind of complicated word. It's a compound Greek word and it really communicates this – to wait with head raised and eyes fixed on a point from which one expects the object of waiting to come. It's like it's analogous to the creation waiting on tiptoe, craning its neck and watching the door to see the One who delivers it arriving. What is creation so eager for? To be free of its subjection to futility. Nature, as we see it, as we know it, as we experience it, is out of joint. The world around us it out of joint. It's locked in an unending cycle so that conception and birth and growth and beauty are all relentlessly followed by decline and death and decay and decomposition. Nature works. The sun goes up; it goes down. The tide works like it's supposed to. The moon rises; the moon sets. Storms come. Winds, weather, it all happens. The earth spins on its axis as it's supposed to. So much of it is breathtakingly beautiful, isn't it, revealing God's amazing power. But it's also in bondage to futility. It's on bondage to emptiness.

If you need a good illustration of what it means for the creation to be in bondage to emptiness, I’ve got two words for you – rake leaves! We live in a beautiful, leafy neighborhood. Many of you live in beautiful, leafy neighborhoods, and I love a leafy neighborhood until November and December and January and February. I’ve got a couple of trees that stubbornly hold onto their dead leaves until March! I’ve got friends rolling off to the beach, and what am I doing? I’m raking leaves in the yard in March! Why? My neighbor’s not raking his leaves, and as soon as the wind comes up, his leaves are going to be in my yard and I’ll look like I’ve never racked! And my wife, my sweet wife that I love so much will come home and say, “I thought you were going to rack leaves today.” “I tried to!” It’s futility. It’s empty. It doesn’t accomplish anything. But you have to do it or you’ll suffocate under a mound of leaves!

Is there anything more futile? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. It’s the creation’s bondage to futility. It’s a living picture every fall. One writer describes it this way. “The whole magnificent theatre of the universe, together with all its splendid properties and all the varies chorus of life, created for God’s glory, is cheated of its true fulfillment so long as man, the chief actor in the great drama of God’s praise, fails to contribute his rational part.” Because of our sin, nature’s bound; nature with us bears the curse for our sin. So it’s groaning; it has been groaning together until now. It’s groaning until it can be free to its bondage to corruption. It’s groaning until it can be free in newness of never-ending life. It’s groaning until it’s free to reflect the glory of God as its meant to. But it’s groaning is not pointless. Catch that phrase. “Groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” There’s hope in nature’s groaning. There’s a horizon; there’s a point to the pain. There is a new order coming. There is a new world coming. It has everything to do with the glory to be revealed to us, the sons and the daughters of God – to us and in us.

We Groan

And now Paul adds another layer. I call this layer the “we too” layer. Look at verse 23.  “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 body.” Like creation, we live on tiptoe. We live on tiptoe. Our necks are craned. We are searching the horizon. Where is our deliverance coming from? Where is our deliverance coming from? When does He get here? When does He come to make everything right, to make me finally right? When does He come? We have the firstfruits. We have the deposit, we have the guarantee, the indwelling Spirit. And now we crane our necks longing for the One who will bring the fullness. Meanwhile, we groan. The Spirit speaking to us through the Word has taught us that this world is not our home; that another home is being prepared for us. Another world awaits us; a glorified reality is our future. “The glory of the children of God.” The glory of His own that God shares with His children out of love and delight. The more deeply we know that truth, the more we groan, the more we long for our house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

But let's be honest. Sometimes we get sideways. We lose sight of that horizon and we busy ourselves cozying up to our temporary digs. And so we work hard, really, to gussy up our families and make them just right. We work hard to make our houses just right. We work hard to make work just right. We work real hard to make our spouse just right. Real hard on our spouse! We work real hard to make our appearance just right, make our friends just right. We work really hard to make where we are now, heaven. And it leads us to frustration, disappointment, maybe even despair. It leads to broken relationship. It leads to cynicism because this is the groaning time, not the glory time. When we get a little sideways we forget that. We want this to be the glory time; this is the groaning time. This is the groaning time and this world will never be the glory time. There will always be something not quite right, a fly in the ointment, or as my grandmother was given to say – my grandmother quite the one for graphic expression; I’ll be in trouble for saying this – “There’s always going to be a hair in the butter.” There’s always going to be something that’s not right. As hard as we try to make things right here, as hard as we try to make people right, as hard as we try to make everything just-so, it will always be out of joint. It never will be just-so.

We’re groaning for glory, and we won’t find it here. We’re groaning for glory and we won’t be satisfied without it. Not to say that there’s not good; there’s lots of good and we rejoice in all manner of good. From good food to good friends to grand opportunities to the fun we enjoy and work that pleases us, that engages us and our enjoyment of it seems to take away some of the sense of toil. There’s plenty of good, but we’re not longing for good. That’s something we’ve got to understand. We’re not longing for good; we’re longing for glory. We’re made for glory. We’re made for more than good, better than good, bigger than good. We’re made for glory! And we’re longing for glory. We’re groaning for glory. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit, the deposit, the guarantee. Something marvelous is coming! That’s what we groan for. Even as we suffer and even as we endure pain here, we long for the greatness, for the beauty, the glory that is to come.

We’re longing for the promise of a revealed adoption, for an adoption all its fullness lived out in the undim presence of God the Father Almighty, our elder Brother Jesus Christ, among the glories of a new heaven and a new earth and nothing less will end our groaning. And that is our hope.

The Hope of Redemption

That’s exactly where Paul goes as he wraps up his argument here. Look at verses 24 and 25. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” We carry the hope of the redemption of our bodies – no more death, no more decline, no more decay. The redemption of our bodies being free from the bondage to death in the corruption. We talked before about hope as it’s conceived of in Scripture. And maybe it’s worth reminding that when the Bible talks about hope it’s not a wish, it’s not a dream, it’s not a daydream. It’s a promised, expected, longed for, future reality that will be ours in God’s good time. We hope for what we do not grasp. We have the promise but not the reality. We have the expectation but not the experience. We can see it, we can see it, it’s described to us the Scripture, we can see it, but we can’t lay hold of it yet. And so we live and we groan in a confident hope of promised, expected, longed for, longing for the world that God is making us ready for. 

Let me close, let me close with this quote. It’s from John R. W. Stott; many of you know and appreciate. “This is our Christian dilemma. We’re caught in the tension between what God has inaugurated by giving us His Spirit and what He will consummate in our final adoption and redemption. But now we long,” or rather we groan, “with discomfort and longing. The indwelling Spirit gives us joy and the coming glory gives us hope, but the interim gives us pain.” Let me read verse 26 just to let you see where Paul is going. “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” There’s great hope and great help that we learn of in the next portion of this study. But this is where we are. We live in the interim of longing and groaning. But let’s be real clear about what we’re groaning for. We’re groaning for a world beautiful and powerful and intimacy with God beyond compare; to see Jesus’ face. That’s what we’re groaning for. And that’s the promise, not an empty hope, but a settled promise. “You will be with Me where I am.”

Let’s pray.

Father, we give You thanks because these words are so real and so true. This settled promise of Yours shapes our future and shapes our present. In the meantime, yes, we groan; yet, we don’t groan without hope. We see a new horizon. We crane our necks. We’re eagerly expecting our redemption to be fully accomplished. And so help us be faithful. Faithful in the groaning, faithful in the day to day, faithful in what’s in front of us, even as Your Son the Lord Jesus, our elder Brother was faithful. Help us be likewise. Hear us, Father, as we make our prayer in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.

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