The Third Sunday After Trinity July 6, 2003
19, 369, 546, 50
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. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits 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; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus, our Living Lord:
Not too long ago, many of you were probably looking forward to summer vacation. Most of us know what those last couple of weeks are like in a school room—it’s pretty hard to get anything done. The students can hardly tolerate doing another five math problems, and the teachers can barely bring themselves to assign another five problems for all the groaning and hysterics it will generate from the class. What was a minor burden months ago seems unbearable now.
As Christians, our wait for the day when we will be delivered from the pain and trouble of this sinful world is not unlike those last few days of school. We know something large and wonderful is coming, but we lose sight of it and we fail to let ourselves be buoyed up by it because we are so preoccupied with what we view as burdens. Five math problems can make us forget ninety days of baseball, beaches, swimming, and sleeping late in the morning. Translated into the broader picture, a short time of laboring on this earth can all too easily obscure our view of the everlasting Christian joy.
So what do we do about it? Grit our teeth and drag ourselves through the day like mules that don’t know where they are going or why they must endure? Surely there’s something better to grasp than that!
Paul shows us what is better. He points us to the thing we hope for: liberty. He speaks of what he described elsewhere as “the eternal weight of glory” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17) that will be ours. Nor is this just a vague, unfounded dream. The hope that fills us is as real as Christ is, and we have a surprising companion in this hope. So let us listen and pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we hear Paul speak of the Longing for Liberty: A World Awaiting the Redemption of Man I.We who suffer with Christ long for liberty as co-heirs with Him. II. The world that suffers with us longs for our glorious liberty too!
One thing that is often forgotten when we think of our various trials and struggles is that we who are believers in Christ are not suffering alone. When we suffer, particularly when we suffer persecution for our faith, Paul says we suffer together with Christ—we are merely participating in His sufferings.
Maybe that sounds a little strange to us. No one could go where Christ has gone. No one could suffer what He suffered. Thanks to Christ’s suffering and death, we who believe never will suffer those things.
So then what does Paul mean by this suffering with Christ? It is not some sort of punishment when we fall sick, or when someone denies us a job because want a schedule that allows a worship life. It is a reminder, a vivid connection with Christ, who suffered so that we could live. As Jesus said “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But I have called you out of this world” (John 15:19). Our sufferings, inasmuch as they stem from our faith in Christ, bind us more tightly to the Jesus who is no longer in this world and who is preparing a place for us in the Heavenly Father’s house. We who suffer with Christ long for liberty as co-heirs with Him.
See how Paul looks at our situation: “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.” [v.18] Think of Paul’s sufferings: the back-stabbing of the Jewish legalists, the dangerous and strenuous journeys on missionary trips, the lonely hours in Roman prisons, his sorrow over companions who abandoned the faith and surrendered the good fight. These were sufferings indeed, but ones that were patterned after his Lord and Savior’s life. They were reminders of the patience, love, and fortitude of Jesus in His life—a life that did not end in failure or defeat, but in success and victory.
We who live by faith in Christ live in hope of glory. When Jesus rose from the dead in glory and power, He was called the first fruits of the resurrection. Many other fruits are to follow and will be co-heirs with Christ of the everlasting kingdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20ff).
In the text, Paul speaks of a glory that shall be revealed in us. For now, this glory not easy to recognize. We look and live pretty much as the unbelievers do. They work. We work. They get sick. We get sick. They take vacations. We take vacations. The only difference is that we look to Christ with eyes of hope and longing. We long to be free of this sinful flesh that drags us down in unrighteousness. We long to be free of Satan and his constant efforts to steal that hope away from us through doubt, despair, or sinful pleasure-seeking. We long to be free from the world’s violence, waste, greed, coldness. We long for the liberty of those who will be with Christ in eternal glory.
The glory will be revealed in us. There will be no sin, no sorrow, no weakness. We will experience in full what we have a first taste of through the Spirit namely, peace with God that rules our heart. harmony with God’s people, and righteousness that guarantees God’s good favor. We look forward to the day when we, the despised of the earth, will be revealed as rulers in the kingdom of God, as judges of those who rejected our Lord, and as the elect of God from the foundation of the world. Paul says that our present troubles cannot begin to measure up to the glory that is to come to those who fight the good fight of faith.
Paul adds something—something rather strange to our way of thinking. He says that we have a surprising companion in our current struggles. It is something we could not have guessed or known had the Holy Spirit not revealed it to us. Paul says that the world suffers with and longs for liberty too!
We tend not to think of the created world as animate—as having some sort of rational, knowing relationship with the Creator. After all, rocks are rocks. They don’t feel pain. They just cause pain when we fall on them. Trees are living—they make their food, grow, die, and decay to fertilize the earth for more trees. But trees only talk and think in storybooks. Nevertheless, God has created the world and all of creation was made with purpose and meaning. God created man to serve and glorify Him. God made the world for man to carry out his purpose. When man disobeyed God and brought sin into this physical world he did more than bring misery and death upon himself. He brought it upon the earth as well. Death came to animals. Vegetation changed. Suddenly, the thorns and thistles became a scourge and have now made gardening a sweaty chore. The whole earth changed. Apparently, weather patterns became more violent, the geological structures of the earth began to shift and bring the shudders which we call “earthquakes.” Disease and sicknesses arose. Starvation became known in a world that should be able to produce enough for itself in abundance.
Paul describes this as the world’s “subjection to futility” which was imposed on the created world against its will. Luther had an interesting view about this. He observed how all of creation, which was created to serve man in righteousness, is instead forced to surrender its wealth and blessings to sinful, greedy, violent men. The sun which would gladly shine on the good must shine just as well on the wicked. Diamonds, sapphires, gold and silver, which might wonderfully adorn those whose true beauty lies in the honor and glory they give to God, are instead torn from the earth by those who care nothing for righteousness and would commit the worst acts to obtain more of these objects.
Creation is put under a bondage to corruption. It is harnessed to the service of people who use the elements of the earth—right down to the atom or the electron—in ways that harm other people and spread man’s hate.
Paul says this creation is groaning and labors even now because of it all. Those who have ears to hear can hear it in the roar of a forest fire started by a careless camper, in the scream of a hurricane sinking ships and flattening towns, by the lowing and crying of livestock starved and mistreated by careless and heartless owners.
But all of this lowing and groaning and screaming is that of a creation subjected in hope. Paul understands that God’s creation joins us in looking ahead to Christ’s coming. At that time, the earth and sea will give up the bodies of all the dead. The believers in Christ will be gathered to the right hand of the King. There we will see fully what we now see only with the eyes of faith. Whereas, God will exercise His judgement on all the wicked and unrighteous who in unbelief have tormented and abused His world as well as His children.
Creation has been subjected in hope. It presently endures just as we endure the sorrows knowing that the weight of future glory far outstrips the pangs of the present time. This world, corrupted and spoiled with the wickedness of man will be burned up and God will establish “a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Our liberty will be creation’s liberty.
These words of Paul are not a manifesto of the environmental movement. We are not being told to go back to Walden Pond and live like Thoreau. But they give us a perspective on the groans and struggles of this world which echo the groans and struggles of the people. We believers know that this world is not all there is. We seek to honor God here and now while also being certain of the glory we will have in the future world. There we will all know Christ face-to-face and live forever with Him in His glory. 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.