Fourth Sunday after Trinity July 5, 1998
540, 527, 427, 552
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. These are the words.
In Christ Jesus, Who is our Light of Hope even in the midst of darkest suffering, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
On May 18, 1980, Mt. Saint Helens erupted in Washington State, killing 65 people and devastating the surrounding countryside. In 1988, a huge earthquake in Soviet Armenia took thousands of lives, and left hundreds of thousands homeless. During the spring of this year, widespread flooding devastated the Red River valley in North Dakota, doing billions of dollars of damage and leaving thousands homeless. When such natural disasters take place, it almost seems—doesn’t it?—as though creation itself is groaning and suffering.
But I’m sure no one has to tell you the meaning of suffering, do they? In your personal life, each of you has experienced suffering of one sort or another—some of it very severe! You may even be going through something particularly painful in your life right now. Whether it’s physical illness, emotional stress, financial hardship—WHATEVER, I’m sure you’ve already discovered for yourself the truth of the passage, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22.
Your own personal suffering may not seem as huge or cataclysmic as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. But you know what’s interesting? In our text for this morning, Paul says that the sufferings of the Christian are very closely linked with the groanings and upheavals of nature. The Christian and Creation both suffer for the same basic reason. More important still: they both look forward to the same ultimate deliverance. Our theme today:
Did you know that there’s a conspiracy to produce suffering in this world? It’s true! One thing—and one thing only—is at the root of all suffering in the world. If you dig deep enough, this one factor is responsible for every evil event that takes place, personal and social, natural and manmade, here in Washington and around the world. Every bit of suffering, from the smallest pinprick of pain in your body to the most giant earthquake that rocks central Asia—is caused by SIN.
That’s right—sin! Think back to the Garden of Eden. There were no earthquakes, no volcanic eruptions; no blistering heat and no chilling cold. There were no weeds, thorns or thistles. For Adam and Eve, tending the Garden was pleasure, not work! Mankind and creation were in perfect harmony.
And then sin entered. In their sinful pride and ambition, Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit—and that changed everything. “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin,” Paul said. Rom 5:12. Nature itself was infected with Adam’s sin. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” If you gardeners ever wondered how the blight got in your tomato plants, now you know. It comes from sin. The infectious disease of sin is what causes cutworms in wheat, brucillosis in cattle, destructive hail storms, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. For (our text says) the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but because of sin. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
More to the point, sin is at the root of all our physical suffering, as well. No, not even we Christians are exempt from the suffering caused by sin! And not only they, Paul says, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. The sinfulness that has infected the world has also infected us, often making us groan with actual physical pain. Our bodies, like the rest of creation, are imperfect—flawed and subject to failure. Maybe you’re like me, and you groaned with lower back pain when you rolled out of bed this morning. Maybe it’s a much more serious disease or disability that plagues you. Perhaps you have arthritis, or cancer, or heart disease. Maybe it’s emotional stress or mental depression that keeps coming back to make you suffer. One thing’s for sure—no one is exempt. Sin makes everyone suffer!
All this is the outward evidence of sin. And of course, sin has infected us all in a much deeper, spiritual way. A few moments ago you and I confessed to God that “we are by nature sinful and unclean;” and not only that, but each of us has actually “sinned against Him by thought, word and deed.” Even though we’re Christians—even though we want to serve God and we want to avoid sin—that old sinful flesh still sticks to us. We daily sin much. With downcast eyes, we have to cry out with that wretched tax collector in the Temple, “God be merciful to me—a sinner.”
A pretty gloomy scene, isn’t it? Mankind suffers, and nature suffers. And all of it—God tells us—because of sin. But praise be to God, His Word doesn’t stop there! God not only explains to us the CAUSE of suffering, He also promises us the CURE for suffering.
First of all, God has taken care of our most urgent and pressing need—the need of forgiveness. If somebody was thrashing about in a lake, and screaming for help, he might not react very kindly if you offered him an aspirin for his headache, or a cough drop for his sore throat. What he needs is radical help—something to keep him from drowning. The same is true about us sinners. There are all kinds of suffering we need relief from, but God’s first priority is saving our lives—eternally. To do that, God sent His Son Jesus to earth. He lived a perfect life in your place, in order to give you the righteousness you need. And He died—one Friday afternoon on a lonely hill called Golgotha—in order to buy you back from Satan and hell. Christ is the One who accomplished your radical rescue from sin. That’s your number one need, and God has fulfilled it. So what has happened to those sins of your past? Jesus has wiped them from God’s book. When Satan comes to you and reminds you of them, all you have to do is point him to the first verse of Romans 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!” Whatever other evils you suffer in life, there’s no longer any reason at all for you to suffer with a guilty conscience!
This forgiveness in Christ is what Paul, in our text, calls “the firstfruits of the Spirit.” We don’t have to wait for that salvation; through Christ we’ve got it right now. But it’s only the “firstfruits”. It’s only a down-payment on “the glory which shall be revealed in us.” For God promises us the total cure for all our suffering—in eternity!
Creation itself is waiting, like a woman labor, for that glorious delivery from sin and death. This earth will not always suffer under the corruption of sin. In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, we heard the Lord say, “Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Is 65:17. Like us, all of creation is yearning and striving toward that Day when, according to our text, the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
And we ourselves, Paul says, are groaning within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Through Christ, our souls have already been released from the consequences of sin; soon, our bodies will be, too. When we are united with our Redeemer on Judgment Day, there will be no more physical flaws in our bodies to wound us and cause us pain. No more tears, no more diseases, no more sorrow—only joy. Then we will have a perfect, glorified body, like our Savior’s. “For the trumpet will sound,” says the Apostle, “and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. …When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” I Cor 15:52,54.
Drug companies are always looking for a cure for the common cold. To help them in their research, they’ve been known to hire volunteers who are willing to let themselves be injected with a cold virus in order to test new drugs. For payments of up to a thousand dollars, subjects have shown themselves more than willing to put up with a few coughs and sniffles for a couple of weeks—I just wish someone would make that kind of offer to me! Paul wants Christians to view their lives from that kind of perspective; for now, we have pain. For now, we suffer the inevitable effects of a world stained and corrupted by sin. But keep heaven in mind, won’t you? Remember the eternal reward that your Savior has earned for you, the heavenly treasure that’s just waiting for you to come and claim it. No matter how great your suffering seems in this life, Paul says that it will one day seem to you very small and trifling indeed. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Is there hope for the suffering Christian? There certainly is! God will guard us and care for us, His children, in this life; nothing will happen to us without his knowledge, and the loving guidance of His hand. In Christ, He has already set us free from sin. And the ultimate deliverance from every form of suffering—that will be ours, too, one Day. All we have to do is wait for the Lord. Do good things really come to those who wait? I’ll let the Psalmist answer that question: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—I say, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption!”—Ps 130:5-6. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.