Romans 8:18-25 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. 23 And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.24 Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.
In 1996, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood received a heavy dose of perspective … if only for a moment. It was the 68th Annual Academy Awards. As usual, the pre-ceremony buzz was all about who would receive Oscars. Would Susan Sarandon win for Best Actress or Meryl Streep? Would Nicolas Cage beat out Richard Dreyfuss for Best Actor? Would Braveheart or Apollo 13 win for Best Picture? Or, could Babe pull the big upset?
Then came the moment no one saw coming. One of the more obscure Oscars that night went to a short documentary about a woman who had survived the Holocaust called “One Survivor Remembers.” That survivor, Gerda Weissmann Klein, joined the director on-stage, but almost did not get a chance to speak. … But, speak she did. And as she spoke, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion fell silent.
Speaking to this room of tuxedos and gowns who were so concerned about who was going to win, Gerda Weissmann Klein reminded them what winning was to her. During her six years in a Nazi concentration camp, winning, in her words, was “a crust of bread and to live another day.” And ever since the gates of that camp had flown open and freedom was hers, she could now, for the rest of her life, experience what she described as “the magic of a boring evening at home.”
Perhaps you have a horrific or tragic period in your past that has given you perspective on your present. But, even if you don’t, the apostle Paul gives us perspective from a different source. He gives us perspective considering what is to come.
He begins by acknowledging that this present life is often difficult and full of suffering. We can expect no less. After all, it’s a world broken by sin – the sins of our forefathers, the sins of our parents, our sins, and the sins of our children and grandchildren. We have all contributed to a big ball of sin that we call Earth.
All this sin causes pain, suffering, and groaning.
But, we aren’t the only ones who have to deal with pain, suffering, and groaning. Paul teaches that all of creation groans under the painful and deadly effects of sin. “For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.” Paul describes God’s once-beautiful and perfect creation no longer being perfectly beautiful. It is the bondage of corruption. It is subjected to futility. It is groaning like a mother groaning with labor pains.
This is why there are earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and flooding in Burlington. Non-Christians will try to frame these natural disasters differently. They might try to soften the blows by referring to bad weather as “Mother Nature getting upset.” But, if you want to get to the truth of the matter, you need to go back to your Bible in Genesis chapter three when mankind ate the forbidden fruit. With that single action of defiance, all of creation ended up broken. The good and healthy balance of life became upset, unhinged. The earth became unbalanced like a toy top that starts to wobble as it loses its energy.
When we hear the thunder crash, the winds roar, the waters gurgling, the fires crackling, and the sirens going off – those are the sounds of creation groaning. Creation is straining under the burden of sin that Adam and Eve brought into the once-perfect world. These are the sights and sounds of creation laboring under the consequences of our sinfulness.
Not only does the creation groan, but we do, too. You groan with apprehension when the credit card bill comes due. You groan under the stress of a hard day’s work. You groan from the sadness of the loss of a loved one. You groan when you get out of bed in the morning or when you are trying to go up steps.
Our groans synchronize with the groans of creation to create a cacophony of suffering.
But St. Paul encourages us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Paul is looking for the future beyond our present suffering. He is listening for the glory that is beyond our current groaning. Our suffering here is temporary. Our glory in heaven will be permanent, when we will bask in the presence of Jesus Christ.
We will be in the presence of Jesus who came to earth to be in the presence of us. He became weak for us. He suffered for us. He was punished for us. He died for us. Why? To remove the weakness, sin, suffering, punishment, and death that sin had caused. He took all that upon Himself when He went to the cross. With His victorious resurrection from the grave, Jesus has opened heaven so that we can eternally be in His presence.
But, if sin is paid for, why do we still suffer?
Sin is forgiven in Christ, but it doesn’t disappear. Sin is still present in our world and in us. And sin hurts. All of creation is groaning under its weight. Sin is the disease. It will eventually kill all of us. The constant aches and pains, the groaning and suffering, are symptoms of this deadly disease.
Jesus is the cure for what ails us; for what ails the world. By His suffering, death, and resurrection, He has freed us and all creation from our constant groaning.
In the groans of creation and the groans of Christians, there is longing for that final day when all things that hurt and harm will go away forever.
And they will go away! For the day will come when the Lord Jesus will command it. At just the right time, the Son of Man will appear in the sky. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the planets will be shaken. There will be a loud trumpet call, as the angels go out to gather the elect from their graves, homes, and workplaces. The Lord will liberate us from the bondage of sin and the corruption of our bodies. He will bring about the redemption of our bodies. At that moment, in the twinkling of an eye, our bodies will be made imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. Just as His blood has washed away our every sin, so He will also wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain.
There will be no more groaning when you wake up in your heavenly mansion. No more groaning as you walk the golden streets of New Jerusalem. No more groaning as you kneel before the throne of the Lamb of God.
There comes a point in our shut-in members’ lives, when they’ve had enough of the pain, the loneliness, and the groaning. They are longing for something more, something better, something lasting and eternal. Eventually, each one of our shut-ins will express to me that they are tired; they are worn out; they want to go home to heaven; they want to be with Jesus.
You and I, we aren’t there yet. That’s probably because we haven’t experienced the pain and heartache, the loneliness and sadness, the constant aching and consistent groaning that older people have felt. Quite honestly, we haven’t suffered enough. We don’t have a past perspective to benefit our present or our future perspective.
Sometimes God allows suffering to get us to realize that heaven is not here on earth. Heaven is in heaven. We don’t want to stay here. We are strangers here. Heaven is our real home. The tornadoes and flooding, the doctor visits and hospital stays, the tears and sadness are a constant reminder that there is something better waiting for us. Jesus has prepared a home for us in heaven. We need to be longing for that new creation.
This summer, I was asked to preach for the Christian funeral of a family friend. She had been a former member at First Evan and her children had attended WLS. First, her husband died very suddenly from cancer. A short time later, she had a massive heart attack in her bed and was gone. She was about my age. She left behind five boys, three of them with severe physical disabilities.
My goal in that sermon, like all funeral sermons that I preach for, is to allow Christians to grieve, but not to grieve as those who have no hope.
All Christians who grieve have hope. For we know that a time is coming when death will be no more. We long for that time. A time as the Holy Spirit describes through Isaiah that there will no longer be “a nursing infant who no longer lives only for a few days or an old man who does not live out his years.” In fact, a time is coming when there will be no death at all. Death itself will be a thing of the past and won’t even be remembered anymore. “The past events will not be remembered or come to mind.”
We long for this future reality. Jesus created this future reality with His actions of the past. Jesus died on the cross to conquer death. He rose from the grave to destroy death’s power to hold God’s people anymore. Because of this past, present, and future reality, now we know that death does not hold our Christian brothers and sisters anymore. A time is coming when we will once again see our sainted brothers and sisters. We will be living together in the new heaven and the new earth. There will be no more pain or sadness or suffering or groaning. We long for that day when we will be with Jesus forever. Amen.