The Lord's Day Morning
July 19, 2009
“Hope of Glory”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Let us worship God.
Lord, our God, we come into your presence in the name and by the merit of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The creation, the rocks and hills and rivers and seas praise Your name. The stars in the firmament above sing Your praises. They show forth Your handiwork. All that is owes its existence to You. Creation was made, came into being, by the word of Your power. And we join this morning, as Your redeemed people, to praise and adore You. We lift up our voices in Your presence. We join with angels and archangels and cherubim and seraphim and the Church triumphant on the other side to sing the praises of our God. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear. It calms his sorrows and heals his wounds and drives away his fear. Father we pray this morning as we come into Your presence in the name of Your Son, the Lord Jesus, and by the help and ministry of Your Spirit, that You would help us to worship You in spirit and in truth. May Your word dwell richly within our hearts by faith this morning. Hear us. Forgive us our sins. We ask it all in Jesus' name. Amen.
Please be seated.
Turn with me to the eighth chapter of Romans in this summer series that we've been calling “The Best Chapter in the Bible.” Now we come this morning to verses 18 through 25. Romans 8, verses 18 through 25. Before we read the passage together, let's look to God in prayer.
Lord our God, we once again bow in Your presence. We are doing so because we want to acknowledge that we can't even read the Bible correctly apart from the help of Your Spirit. So we pray now, that by Your Spirit, we might read, mark, learn and inwardly digest and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's holy and inherent Word:
“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 first fruits 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.”
Amen. May the Lord add His blessing to that reading of His holy and inherent Word.
Three people are missing and presumed dead following a landslide in a town just southwest of Berlin. The controversial drug, Thalidomide, does not improve survival rates of patients with a certain form of lung cancer. Over 100 people, Americans and British students have been quarantined in China due to an outbreak of suspected Swine Flu. The southern elephant seal is in danger of extinction, one apparently of over 44,000 species on the planet that are on the extinction threat list. Well, those are the headlines on yesterday's BBC news webpage - same old, same old. Death, disease, disaster, and cruelty to animals, all because of sin, our sin, mans’ sin, the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Johnny Cash, no, you know I'm not a fan, but Johnny Cash, you may have seen the movie, I was going to say “Walking the Plank”, but it's “Walking the Line.” In “Walking the Line”, you may have seen Johnny Cash sing that song that goes like this, and, I'm not going to sing it, I'm just going to read you the words. (laughter) “I'd love to wear a rainbow every day, and tell the world that everything's okay, but I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back ‘till things are brighter. I'm the man in black.” Well, if you know Johnny Cash, of course, that's what he is. He is the man that carries the burden of this broken world upon his back and apparently that's why he wore black. It's a broken world. It is a broken world. It's a world under a curse.
And that's what Paul is talking about here in Romans chapter 8. He's talking about creation and he's talking about suffering. What's led him to say that, of course, is what he's already said in verse 17 when he had spoken about adoption - that we are heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together. And that link between suffering and glorification, suffering and glory is what Paul is expanding on in these verses.
We live in a world full of suffering. I'd rather think that Paul had been reading Kohelet, the preacher king who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. You know in the Greek translation of the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes, you’ll know the refrain in Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanity, all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun.” Well that word “vanity” is the word translated here in Romans 8 as “futility”. The world has been subjected to futility. The world has been subjected to vanity. He says in verse 19 and 20 and 21 and again in 22, creation is longing for redemption. Creation is subject to futility. Creation is under bondage to decay. Creation is in birth pangs. He changes the metaphor, but it is the same illusion, the same idea. We live in a fallen world, a world of emptiness and frustration and meaninglessness or futility. The sun rises and falls, the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, but it never seems to reach its destination. The wind blows and blows but nothing ever seems to be gained. The waters run into the sea but the sea never seems to get full. There is nothing new under the sun.
You know it. You work hard, you save for retirement, and then the market crashes. You buy your retirement home and the wind blows it down. Fairy tales are fairy tales, but real life is different. You can have all the money in the world, but very often people with the most money are the most miserable people in all the world. And it's been like that ever since the fall. It's been like that ever since Genesis 3:17-19. God has cursed the ground. You toil and labor but thistles and thorns frustrate your labor. God has subjected it to futility. He has entered into a judicial curse, a judicial punishment. That is the world in which we live. Don't over personalize the sufferings that you have to endure in this world. Don't assume as a matter of course that every suffering is some kind of direct punishment on you. Yes, search your heart, yes, let suffering humble you, but don't add to the pain. The whole creation groans. It is part of God's decree, and Christians, even the godliest Christians, suffer along with it.
The creation is subject to futility. That's the second law of thermodynamics isn't it? It's the law known as Entropy - that everything is running down. It's built into the universe, that there is this tendency to disorder. It's amazing, isn't it, how many Christians want to remove God from the suffering in the world and become quasi-deists in the process. Men and women, I have to tell you that Christians have never found any comfort in Deism. We live in a fallen world. We live in a broken world. We live in a world subject to futility. We live in a world subject to frustration and disorder.
But here's what you do. Here's what you do if you’re a believer. Here's what you do if you are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Here's what you do if you‘re an adopted child of God and an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. Look at it in verse 18: “I consider”, “I consider”, “I reckon”. Yes, I see what happens all around me, I feel the frustrations of all that occurs around me and in me, but I “reckon”, I “consider”, I take a Christian worldview. I see what I can see with my eyes, but with the eye of faith, I consider, I reckon, I see another point of view. I see a world that is running down, but I see something beyond that; I see a God who is in control. I see a God who has subjected it to futility. I see a God of providence - that things happen because there is a divine plan and purpose. In Jesus, there is hope. You notice how, at the end of verse 20, that's the point of change in the text. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it (that is God) in hope that the creation itself will be set free from bondage.” In hope! Creation is longing for something, “the revelation of the sons of God” he puts it in verse 19. “The freedom of the glory of the children of God”, he puts it in verse 21. Creation is longing for it.
I love J. D. Phillips’ rendition that creation is “standing on tiptoe” as though trying to peer over the wall, over the fence of futility to the hope that resides in Jesus. It's the pangs of childbirth. These are not death pangs, but birth pangs. And what is creation longing for? Well, Paul has a variety of ways of describing that. He describes it as liberation from futility here in Romans 8. In Colossians chapter 1 he uses a different metaphor. He talks about creation being “reconciled to Himself”. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, or after the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 3, speaks about the “restoration of all things” and Jesus in Matthew 19 speaks about the “regeneration of all things”, actually using the same word as Jesus employed when he spoke to Nicodemus and said to him, “you must be born again or you must be born from above to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is saying the creation itself, the cosmos, the universe itself is waiting for its regeneration, its rebirth.
Now, you may ask the question, how can the Jungfrau, or the Matterhorn, or the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls be subject to futility? I had the enormous privilege of seeing the Matterhorn just ten days or so ago, and it takes your breath away. Its shear scale, its shear beauty, is awesome. It speaks of the handiwork of God. How can the Matterhorn or the Jungfrau or Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon be said to be subject to futility? The answer, it seems to me, is that so long as man, who is at the center stage of creation, so long as man doesn't view those and see the glory of God, it has been subjected to futility. What the eye of faith sees, is what Isaiah speaks to at the end of his prophecy in chapters 65 and 66 when he speaks of the new heavens and the new earth. Yes, creation is subject to futility, yes, creation seems to be running down, yes, creation as we know it seems to be subject to frustration, but with the eye of faith, there is coming a day, a glorious day, when there will be a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell.
You know, I'm asked all the time: Will there be animals in heaven? And the answer to that question is…duh! Of course! I mean, people ask that question — have you never read Isaiah chapter 11?
“The wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together and the little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over all of the cobra and the weaned child shall put his hand in the adder's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”
Now, you may interpret that passage as a post-millennialist and think that that refers to some latter day glory before Jesus returns, and you’re perfectly at liberty to do that, but I rather think that what Isaiah is actually talking about here is the new heavens and the new earth of which he speaks in the closing two chapters of his prophecy. And, oh to be sure, that's metaphorical language, that's poetic language, but it speaks of a new creation! Not just as glorious and diverse as this one, but more glorious; more glorious than you had ever imagined it to be. That's what creation is longing for. That's what every earthquake speaks to. That's what every tornado speaks to. That's what every hurricane speaks to. It's creation in its birth pangs, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God. And not just creation in general, but Paul's main point, that we also, not just creation, but we also, verse 23 “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit” the down payment if you like, the initial promise of more and greater to come, now are we the sons of God in Jesus Christ. “But it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him.”
We live in a world just like creation itself. We live in a world in frustration and bondage to decay. Jeremy was referring to it in his prayer this morning. Paul has been referring to it in the previous chapter of Romans 7, “the groaning”. Do you know what it is to groan? “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” I long to be free from sin. I long to be free from the tyranny of sin. I long to be free from the entropy of this moral body. I was telling the folks in the first service of my relative decay. I was moving my office, not here, but at the seminary this week, and I wouldn't like to tell you how many books I have. I have a lot of books. I should also tell you that it was the interns that did most of the work for me. I directed, told them where to go and which shelf what books went on, but I have to tell you that the next day I ached in every core of my being. There were parts of me that ached that I didn't know I had. Paul has been talking about that in Romans 7, but in a spiritual sense - groaning under the weight, under the burden of sin's decay and longing, yes for the new creation, longing for a new body, longing for that body that isn't subject to disease and age and sickness and death.
Calvin makes that extraordinary comment when he is speaking on 1 Peter: “God has so ordered the Church from the very beginning, that death is the way to life and the cross the way to victory.” That's this world. To get the crown, there must first of all be the cross. “If any man will come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” And what Paul is longing for here, and it's the longing that every child of God knows, it's not just the salvation of our souls, Paul isn't thinking about a heaven whereby we are floating on clouds somewhere adrift in heaven plucking harps. No, he talks about redemption of our bodies and in verse 23 “the redemption of our bodies.”
I get the impression, I can't quite prove it, but I get the impression that when I read the New Testament that Paul believes that more is gained in Christ than was lost in Adam. More is gained in Christ than was lost in Adam. Paul isn't envisaging a return to Eden. It's not just a return to Eden before the Fall in that state of probation. No, he's thinking of something even more grand than that, and even more definitive than that, and more everlasting than that. And the word he gives it here in this passage in verse 18 “they considered that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” Perhaps, even in us.
Do you remember how Paul says something very similar in 2 Corinthians chapter 4? That our “momentary, light affliction cannot be compared to the weight of glory.” There's this momentary, light affliction and then there is the weight of glory. There's suffering now, there's heartache now, there's frustration now, there's disorder and decay now, but there's glory to come. There's glory to come.
What is glory? The Hebrew word for “glory” means weight; something heavy, something substantial. The best description I think that gets closest to what Paul is trying to say here is that given by C.S. Lewis. In 1941 you’ll remember there was war in the world. In 1941, C.S. Lewis was asked to preach a sermon in OxfordUniversity at St. Mary's in OxfordUniversity. It has become quite famous and it's called The Weight of Glory. Let me read to you just a little section of it. And it's, yes, it's C.S. Lewis so it's a little artsy, it's a little poetry, a little fanciful, but he's trying to describe the indescribable.
We are to shine like the sun. We are to be given the morning star. I think I began to see what it means. In one way of course, God has already given us the morning star. You can go and enjoy the gift of many a fine morning if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more. Something the books on aesthetics take little notice of, but the poets and mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, for God knows even that it bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words. To be united with the beauty, to pass into the beauty, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That's why the poets tells us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into the human soul, but it can't. They tell us that beauty born of murmuring sound will pass into a human face, but it won't, or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the morning star and cause us to be put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both ancient myths and model poetry so false as history may be very near the truth as prophecy.
At present, we are on the outside of the world. The wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and the purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see, but the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in, when human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation in its lifeless obedience. Then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which creation is only the first sketch.
Well, he's a poet of course, and it's a little poetic, but I tell you that's what Paul is trying to get us to see this morning - to reckon, to discern. I don't know what suffering you may be going through in your particular life or family. There could be a thousand different things going on here this morning among the children of God, but for this moment, see beyond that. See suffering as the pathway that leads to the redemption of your bodies, and the glory, in all of its beauty, its ethereal beauty, the beauty of the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness will dwell, which is what God has prepared for those that love Him.
Well, I can't find the words to describe it, you see. And in fact, neither can the Bible. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the hearts of men what God has prepared for those that love Him.” That's hope. What a great and extraordinary vision that it to keep before us so that, as Paul says at the end of this passage, “we may live our lives in patience” with endurance, knowing for sure what lies before us.
Father we thank you for Your Word. Thank you for this extraordinary statement of what lies before us as Your children. Encourage us, motivate us, challenge us, equip us. Give Your servants who are passing through the fire this morning patience and endurance to see that which cannot be see, to hear that which cannot be heard, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Receive the Lord's benediction:
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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