Sunday, November 13, 2016
Sermon: Romans 8: 18-25 The Hope of Glory
“The price was heavy, but it was worth it.” Words taken from a letter written by soldier in the Royal Irish Fusiliers to his parents shortly after the Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago. When we hear of the dreadful conditions the soldiers faced - the sea of mud in the trenches, cold and damp from the rain, the rats and lice, the constant danger - we might wonder what kept them going? The answer, of course, was victory. To win the war, they would put up with anything - as the soldier said, ‘The price was heavy, but it was worth it.’ Their sufferings wouldn’t compare to the victory that was to come.
That same idea is what lies behind our reading from Romans 8. Let’s see how he says it: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ It’s as if Paul has a pair of scales, and in one side, he puts the sufferings we endure, and on the other, the glory to be revealed. It’s not that they’re close, neck and neck, about the same. No, he says there’s no comparison. The glory completely surpasses and totally outweighs the sufferings.
Now, it’s not that Paul didn’t know anything about suffering. In another NT letter, he outlines some of what he had endured - beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, constant danger, toil and hardship, hunger, thirst, in cold and exposure. (See 2 Cor 11:23-29). He knew what it was to suffer, so he’s not making light of suffering, rather, he makes much of the glory to be revealed.
So why does he say that? Paul gives us the reason in verse 19. ‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.’ Perhaps you know some people who are eagerly waiting for Christmas. They’re counting down the days, they know how many sleeps it is, they just can’t wait. Well Paul says that the whole of creation, the natural world around us is waiting like that - with eager longing - not for Christmas, no, but ‘for the revealing of the sons of God.’
Creation can’t wait until God’s children are revealed. It’s as if it’s standing on tip-toes watching for the moment. Why? Well that’s what verse 20 tells us: ‘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.’
At the minute, creation is subjected to futility. It’s in bondage to corruption. 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 mouldy. The thorns and thistles and weeds spring up. As the hymn puts it, ‘Change and decay in all around I see.’ It’s the world as we know it, but it’s not the way the world was originally made.
Our first reading from Genesis 3 showed us the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s decision to rebel against God’s good and generous rule. The world comes under the curse, but it’s in the hope that one day the bondage will cease, and creation will share in the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
No wonder the creation waits eagerly! And then Paul gives us another picture of the creation ‘groaning together in the pains of childbirth.’ I’m not really fussed on medical programmes, but sometimes ‘One Born Every Minute’ will be on the TV. Even if I’m not watching, you can still hear the sounds of the delivery suite. The groans and pains come, but are worth it whenever the baby is born. It’s as if the creation is groaning, waiting for what comes after, the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Just think what this means. The gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus isn’t just about me and my ticket to heaven. The victory Jesus has achieved, the salvation on offer, is for the whole creation. Jesus redeems and saves the natural world, as he makes the new heavens and the new earth.
In verse 23, we see that the experience of the creation is also our experience, as we long for Christ’s return. ‘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.’
The ‘we ourselves’ here is speaking about the Christian, the person who is trusting in Christ. Throughout this chapter, Paul is showing us what life as a Christian is like in this world, and here, he says that a Christian is someone who has ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit.’ A Christian is someone who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, the firstfruits of glory. It’s a bit like when there are cakes being made, and you get to lick the bowl. You know the cake will be good because the first taste is good. The Holy Spirit gives us a taste of heaven here and now. But that first taste only makes you long for the finished article even more. Having licked the bowl, and smelling the cake in the oven, you can’t wait for a slice of the cake.
So just like the creation, (do you see how the same words are used?), we too ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.’ We just can’t wait for the glory to be revealed - when we are known for sure as God’s children, when our bodies are redeemed and glorified.
That is still ahead of us - as we know only too well in our frail and feeble bodies. In the meantime, we’re suffering, struggling along, looking forward to what will be, with a sure and certain hope. That’s what hope is all about - looking forward, eagerly waiting, even though we don’t see it now. Because if we had it already, then it wouldn’t be hope. No, Paul says that ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’
So how good are you at waiting for something? Do you get impatient? Feel like giving up? Wonder why you’re bothering at all? Wondering if it’s really worth it in the end?
Remember what Paul sets before us here. The glory that is to be revealed to us (and in us), when we are adopted as God’s children and our bodies are redeemed and made new. The glory that will be when this world is redeemed, and corruption, decay, sadness, sickness and suffering is no more.
With a future as bright as this, as glorious as this, Paul urges us to keep going. Your sufferings now may seem overwhelming, you might feel like despairing, but they are not worth comparing with the glory that is coming. This is the promise given to us by God, as he gives us the firstfruits, the foretaste of glory - in his Holy Spirit.
You can know this hope today. This future can be your future, as you receive the promise, and trust in the one who overturns the curse, the one who has defeated the serpent. Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you too can look forward to the immense glory waiting to be revealed, as we wait patiently, on tippy-toes, for the completion of God’s purposes and the renewal of all things.
This sermon was preached on Remembrance Sunday 13th November 2016 in Aghavea Parish Church.