This post is a re-blog from 2018. It is a message I gave, and though it was only a 20 minute talk, it is about 2,600 words – longer than a typical blog post, yet a brief article if transferred to the printed page. Unfortunately, the internet has affected our reading perceptions and attention spans!
⇒ It has pertinence as we move from one tough year of “groaning” into yet another. We need to be people of hope, but first we need a proper understanding of hope! The message is based on Romans 8:18-27:
Christians should not be optimists. Perhaps you are thinking that you do not agree with that statement. Perhaps you are thinking that the alternative is to be a pessimist, and that does not sound like a good option for a Christian. Well, I don’t think Christians should be pessimists either.
Christians should not be optimists, because – more so than other people – we should properly understand the pervasive influence of sin in this fallen world. But Christians should not be pessimists because:
we know the living God,
we have a hope that the world does not have,
we have a helper the world does not have,
and we know how the story ends – and it is glorious.
We will explore these things in Romans, but first a quick review of the church calendar. We recently celebrated Easter. Jesus died on the cross for the sin of the world, and then he was bodily resurrected. A dead savior would not be a savior. Through the cross, Jesus delivered us from sin and conquered death. The resurrection assures us of the truths of the gospel.
Then we had Ascension Day, when we remember the ascension of Jesus. Jesus ascended into the clouds, and they were told that Jesus would one day return in the same way. Then they waited in Jerusalem for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. And today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Through the power of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus would go out on mission – sharing the gospel – and it is why we are here today.
We are living in the age of the church. And it is also an in-between time.
We live after the first coming of Jesus but before the second coming of Jesus. Sometimes it is called the “already, but not yet.” In Hebrews 9:28 it says that Jesus came the first time to sacrifice himself for our sin, and “he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – This is a time of waiting.
Maybe the statement about Jesus bringing salvation in the future was a little confusing. Don’t we have salvation now, if we have placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes, we do. But there is a future component to our salvation. Thus we live in the “already, but not yet.” If we are asked if we are saved, the correct biblical answer is yes and no. John Stott answers the question this way:
“Yes, in the sense that by the sheer grace and mercy of God through the death of Jesus Christ my Savior he has forgiven my sins, justified me and reconciled me to But, no, in the sense that I still live in a fallen world and have a corruptible body, and I am longing for my salvation to be brought to its triumphant completion.”
And this leads us into the Romans 8 passage. As I read it, perhaps you noted that there is a lot of groaning going on. Creation groans, Christian believers groan, and even the Holy Spirit groans. So is this advocating pessimism or just being a miserable person? No, it is not.
Let’s begin to look at this passage, but I need to warn you that things get worse before they get better.
First we read about creation groaning. Have you ever heard someone refer to a natural disaster as an act of God? The phrase seems to imply that God directly causes a flood or hurricane. But the truth is that God does not have to cause such acts.
When God finished creating in Genesis chapter 1, it was a good creation. Genesis 1:31 says that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” But it became a groaning creation in Genesis chapter 3 after Adam and Eve fell into sin. When God revealed the consequences of sin, it included a curse on the ground. The results of sin rippled like shockwaves throughout all creation.
The passage says that creation was subjected to frustration and is in a state of bondage to decay. Creation is waiting for the curse to be lifted. It says creation waits in eager expectation to be liberated.
Next we see that we as believers groan. I’ll re-read verses 22 and 23:
“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 to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
“Not only so, but we ourselves.” – There is a parallel here between God’s creation and God’s children. We groan too, just like creation. There is good in this world, but there is also heartache and tragedy.
Do you know someone whose body is being ravaged by cancer?
Does your heart ever ache for those who live in refugee camps?
Do you ever groan over your own sinful tendencies?
Some Christians grin too much, and groan too little.
But there is a time to groan. Jesus did. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane before the cross -and- when he was actually on the cross, Jesus didn’t try to look on the bright side of life, sing a happy song, and avoid the reality of his difficult situation. It says that Jesus sweat blood in Gethsemane, and hanging on the cross he uttered “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Jesus felt forsaken.
Acknowledging pain does not mean we are being pessimistic. It is just being truthful. Everybody hurts sometimes. We live in the already but not yet. It is a time of tension. We live between present difficulty and future destiny. We live between sufferings and glory. Romans 8:18 says that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Note that the groaning in Romans 8 is compared to the pains of childbirth.
A woman is pregnant for 9 months and eventually goes into a painful labor. But it is meaningful. The waiting and the pain bring forth new life. The result is joy. Jesus knew that on the other side of his suffering was resurrection and glory. It was a meaningful suffering that would ultimately bring salvation to humanity.
So what is the correct Christian approach or attitude during this time in which we live? Verse 23 says that we as Christian are to wait eagerly for our salvation to reach its completion. Verse 24 and 25 go on to say: “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
We are to live in this world with an eager expectation, patience, and hope. The future makes our life meaningful in the present.
This word hope. The way we use hope in modern English, the word has lost its biblical meaning. It is a weak word. We use the word hope in a non-hopeful way. Hope can be like wishful thinking. To say we hope for something, often means we have significant doubts about it. Right?
That is not biblical hope. My favorite definition of biblical hope is:
The confident expectation of the future we have in Christ.
Biblical hope is a strong word. It involves assurance and confidence. We live by faith in an unseen reality. The well-known verse Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith and hope are connected to each other.
Groaning and hope also go together. Groaning does not mean we lack hope. Now it could mean we lack hope, and hopeless people need hope. We need to point them to Christ, through whom hope comes. People need Jesus.
As Christians, Titus 2:13 says that “we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Maranatha. Do you know the phrase Maranatha? Maranatha comes from two Aramaic words and means “the Lord is coming” or “come, O Lord.” The phrase can also be a bit ambiguous because if you move one letter it means the Lord has come. But I like that. The Lord has come, and the Lord is coming. The early church lived under adverse conditions, and their morale was lifted by the hope of the coming of the Lord. “Maranatha!” appears to have been a way the Christians would greet each other.
There is a difference between optimism and hope. As Christians we don’t want to be optimists, we want to be people of hope.
Optimism can too often be naïve or blind. We must always think positive, no matter what. But denying reality or having a “put on a happy face” mentality can make things worse. I have 2 quotations here, which I thought really nailed it. The first one is from a random person on twitter. The second one is from a theologian.
“Naive optimism is not the same as hope. The former looks at a cross & says, ‘Maybe it’s not so bad.’ Hope sees death but believes in Resurrection.”
“Genuine hope is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering and yet believes in the future.” Jurgen Moltmann
We need to keep moving in this Romans 8 passage. It is Pentecost Sunday, and of all Sundays, we do not want to forget the Holy Spirit! Verses 26 and 27 bring in the Holy Spirit. I’ll re-read them: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
Note in the same way. The previous verses were about hope.
Just as our hope sustains us, so does the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said in John 16:7 “it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
The Advocate in that verse is the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascended, and the Spirit arrived. As we live in the “already but not yet”, the Spirit gives us special help.
I think the Holy Spirit helps us live in hope. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us, and the Holy Spirit helps us look to Jesus – the source of our hope. As Titus 2:13 says, the appearing of Jesus in his second coming is our blessed hope. Maranatha!
We are not left to our own resources as we wait for that DAY. It says the Spirit helps us in our weakness. I think that word for weakness can include physical, emotional, and spiritual weakness. And that word helps is a rich word – it pictures someone helping another carry a heavy load.
Note that it says twice that the Spirit intercedes for us.
I tend to think of Jesus as our great intercessor or mediator, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us too. Jesus ascended and he sits at the right hand of the Father. We say that in the Apostle’s Creed. Christ intercedes for us in Heaven, while the Spirit intercedes for us in our hearts.
If we have trusted Christ as Savior, the Spirit dwells within us. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” —- Wow. It is amazing to consider that we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. And we also have double duty intercession going on for us: Jesus in heaven and the Holy Spirit inside of us. Do I hear an amen? C’mon, you can say it!
It also says that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” What does that mean exactly? I think there is some mystery here. But God, through the Holy Spirit, is at work on our behalf – in exactly the way we need.
It says “We do not know what we ought to pray for” and we can trust the Holy Spirit to intercede for us “in accordance with the will of God.” – This is very comforting, at least to me.
In one aspect, sometimes I’ll have to pray for a complex situation where there does not seem to be an easy answer – thus I am uncertain how to pray. And I’ll just pray in a vague way that God will be at work, and that just seems so lame. But the Spirit takes my lame prayer and intercedes in accordance with God’s will. I’m so thankful.
And in a second aspect, it should be about God’s will, not our will, when we pray. But we can sometimes pray selfishly, ignorantly, shortsightedly. We don’t always pray as we ought to. But again, there is comfort here. The Spirit will intercede in accordance with God’s will. Perhaps we should pray more often like Jesus did in Gethsemane “not as I will, but as you will.”
I need to bring this message to a close…There is just so much in this passage. But I want to quickly point something out, which could be a whole other sermon by itself.
Romans 8: 23 says that we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. We say at the end of the Apostle’s Creed “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Remember the opening verses of this passage focused on the earth. The groaning earth longs to be liberated and to be a good creation once again like it was in the Garden of Eden. And it will be when Jesus returns in glory.
The final redemption is both spiritual and physical.
It’s about heaven but it’s also about earth.
In the Lord’s Prayer it says “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The passage emphasizes eager waiting. It said that creation waits, and we as Christians wait. Have you considered that the Christians who have already died and are in heaven are eagerly waiting along with us?
If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, our soul goes to heaven when we die. Those who have gone before us are with Jesus and they are at wonderful peace.
But our soul being in heaven is not the end of the story. We will not be disembodied souls for all eternity. We get our bodies back at the return of Christ. And don’t worry, it won’t be these old and worn out bodies, they will be glorious incorruptible bodies.
And what is the point of a body without an earth? The Scripture in both the Old and New Testament speaks of a future day when there will be a new redeemed earth. Everyone from the prophet Isaiah, to Jesus, to Peter, Paul and John speak, in one way or another, about a new creation or the renewal of all things.
The apostle John states it in a particularly poignant way. Revelation 21 says:
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 22:3 says that “No longer will there be any curse.” – This is the Christian hope. Maranatha! The Lord has come, and the Lord is coming.
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