25th Sunday After Pentecost November 18, 2012
2 Chronicles 29:10-15
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
242, 613, 528, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
Many years ago, I served a bachelor who lived in a little town in northern Arkansas. I made the 200-mile trip from St. Louis only five or six times a year to visit a little group of believers which included this elderly Christian. After my last visit and not long before Jesus took him, I sent my friend a postcard. On the card was a little boy flying a kite. The caption read: “Keep your faith in God and your hopes high.” I encouraged the dying man to keep in mind the reason Christ died to save him—for the hope that one day his wretched weakened body would be raised to glory and eternal life!
You and I and all Christians have this same hope. The older we get, or the more we suffer in this life, the more difficult it becomes to wait for the hope we have been promised—the hope we cannot see! How far away, even unreal, the hope seems to be at times! It is then that the words of our text have special meaning to us, for they speak to us of OUR COMFORT AS WE WAIT FOR “THE HOPE.”
Our first comfort is knowing that the Spirit of God intercedes for us.
The children of earthly fathers have problems as they grow up in this life. They will hurt both inside and outside. Often it happens that children are not able tell their fathers where it hurts or even why it hurts. Children young and old often don’t know exactly how to ask for that help or what to say to their fathers. Sometimes, fathers feel like throwing up their hands and saying, “If you can’t tell me what is wrong or what you need, how can I help you?”
We Christians do the same thing to our heavenly Father. As we struggle here with our earthly trials, we hurt and are troubled and confused. We know we need our heavenly Father’s help, but what exactly is it for which we should pray? That we often don’t know with certainty. We are so weak in many ways, how can we know what kind of help we need first or most? Sometimes, we even worry that we have asked the wrong thing, or prayed the wrong way. What happens then?
All this time, something wonderful has been going on without our knowledge! Our Christian hearts have been groaning and crying within us. We have not been able to express or hear these inner groanings, but the Holy Spirit uses and interprets our groanings and then prays for us with these groanings; and God “who searches the hearts” also “knows the thoughts of the Spirit.” [v.27]
The Spirit makes no mistakes in His prayers for us. God knows that every time the Spirit prays for His believing saints, He prays according to God. He prays for exactly what God wants for His children! Amazing, but true!
This fact was of great comfort to my wife during her long and fatal illness. What a comfort this ought to be also for each of us. The Spirit Himself comes to our assistance as we pray, so even our unspeakable groanings are interpreted and brought to the heavenly Father on our behalf. This fact ought to encourage and strengthen us as we wait in great weakness for THE HOPE.
The second source of comfort as we wait for THE HOPE is that all things work together for our good. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” [v.28]
Love for God is the first fruit of our Spirit-worked faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian loves God not because he must, or because he seeks to be rewarded for his love, but because of what God’s perfect love has done for him and given to him in Christ. “We love Him because He first loved us,” John writes in his first epistle (1 John 4:19). Now if God has loved us in Christ, will He not care for our needs at all times? Oh, how we would like to really believe what Paul says, that all things work out for our good!
But Paul says we may believe this because we know it is true. How do we know it? Surely, because we know that the debt of our sins has been freely paid for and they are forgiven—we know it in our believing hearts.
But, more importantly, we know it outside of our fickle hearts from God’s own unchanging Word. For example, we have the record of Joseph in Genesis chapter 37. How did it turn out for Joseph when his jealous brothers threw him into a pit and left him for the slave traders? Later, when Joseph had risen to a position of power in Egypt that was second only to the Pharaoh, he was able to save his family from the famine in Canaan. Then what did he say to his brothers? “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).
We know that all things work out for our good from the record of the Prophet Jonah. Remember how a terrible storm and three days in a fish’s belly brought the prophet Jonah to his senses so that he repented of his rebellious ways? (cf. the book of Jonah).
We know that all things work out for our good from the account of Stephen in Acts chapter 8. The great persecution which broke out in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen did not seem good to the Christians who had to flee for their lives. But these lovers of God were able to bring His Good News to the whole Roman world, because “They went everywhere preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4).
Hebrews 12:11 says, “No chastening seems to be joyful at the time, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields a peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We know that every kind of suffering in our bodies or in our spirits, even every seemingly “bad” circumstance in our lives—all those things which press groans from our hearts and lips—All things are working together for our good and for the good of all God’s believing children.
What comfort this brings us as we wait for THE HOPE of our final redemption from the earth! But there is still one final comfort in our text…
God has chosen us for eternity. We are “called according to His purpose! “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” [vv.29-30]
Every true Christ-believer knows that he has been called by God into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9). Our faith in Christ and our fellowship with God is not at all our doing. If it were our work, then all sorts of doubts would arise in our hearts. Our faith is a gift of God’s grace alone. This is our comfort at all times!
Now, Paul wants us to know that the strongest pillar that supports salvation by grace alone is the foreknowledge of God which predestined us to be saved from eternity. Even before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1), God foreknew us for the purpose of saving us, and He predestined us to believe in His Son as our Savior and to finally obtain THE HOPE of heavenly glory.
Please notice that this passage only teaches the doctrine of predestination unto salvation for the comfort of the Christian. There is no predestination unto damnation here, nor anywhere else in the Bible. What is clearly taught in the Bible is that “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
We know that Stephen did not blame God when the Jews refused to believe in Jesus. Instead, Stephen charged the Jews saying, “You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). We know that when Jerusalem refused to believe in Jesus, our Lord responded by saying, “You were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
The God of heaven has revealed in His Word the comfort that belongs to His believing people. He gives us a peek into eternity, so that we may see clearly that we believe because we have been
chosen by grace alone before the world’s existence, before we could even think of doing good or bad! God has not said that we are to understand all that He is revealing about our election in eternity, but we are to be comforted by it. This is another place where we must bow in humility before our Lord and say with Paul in Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
So, let us be comforted! For what God purposed in eternity when He foreknew us and predestined us to be conformed to Christ and to follow Him to heaven, He has already accomplished in us! Think about it! Have you been called by the Gospel with the result that you believe in Christ as your only Savior from your sins? Then you are entitled and encouraged to know that God called you to believe already in eternity!
Those whom He called, these same ones, are righteous because of Christ! Those who are righteous in God’s sight, these He also glorified. How can it be otherwise? For in eternity, in the mind of God Almighty, all time and all that takes place in time were entirely finished for the glory of His Son and all whom have been chosen in Him!
Dear Christian, if you have been called by the Gospel and declared righteous by the Spirit’s working faith in your heart, you then may wait with patience for THE HOPE of final glory in the coming of our Lord Jesus. Your God, according to His faithful Word, already regards you as glorified! 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.