The 15th Sunday After Pentecost September 21, 2014
1 John 3:1-3
6, 398, 363, 785 (TLH alt. 428)
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. 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:
Over the past several months our living rooms have been flooded with disturbing reports of violence everywhere. People of all ages are suffering torture and death at the hands of the radical Islamists in the Middle East. Murders and riots occur in America’s cities. Christians are persecuted and killed all over the world, and the list goes on.
The worst thing we hear about is not news at all, but more of the same foolishness of which the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 14. Three thousand years ago David said: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Now again, as people hear and experience the horrors of human hatred, some are saying, “There is no God.” “There can’t be a God.” But Paul testifies in our text that GOD IS. WHAT A COMFORT FOR THE CHILD OF GOD!
Yes, there is suffering, sickness, disease, loneliness and war in the world. All of this is part of the common experience of fallen mankind on this earth. But Paul says that in suffering the child of God has the hope of glory. This glory is so great that Paul says “the sufferings of this present time” cannot begin to compare with our future in heaven! [v.18]
So wonderful is this glory that Paul says that the whole creation is anxiously longing and eagerly waiting for the day when the sons of God will be revealed. [cf. v.2] Think of what this means! The trees, the flowers, and the sky and all creation are eager for the coming of Christ that will bring God’s believing children into everlasting glory!
Why is that? Because when Adam fell into sin, all creation was made subject to “vanity” and “futility.” [cf. v.20] In other words, the creation was no longer able to serve man perfectly, as God had intended. For example, we eat the fruits and foods of the earth which God intended for our life, but we die. Mosquitos and wood ticks suck our blood and carry diseases to human beings. The larger animals fear human beings and often can take their lives. God intended none of this in the beginning!
But Paul tells us that the making of creation futile was God’s doing. Man sinned, but God pronounced the judgment: “Cursed is the ground for your sake (because of you), in toil (sorrow) you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). Since all creation had been made for man, when man fell into sin God put the whole creation under corruption. God wanted the creation to continue serving man but also to remind us of our sin and guilt before Him whenever we suffer from disease, bug bites, natural disasters, the sins and hatred of others, and so on.
Verse 20 says that God did this in connection with hope. What hope? The hope that when the children of God are set free from the bondage of corruption on this earth, then the whole creation will also be set free from its slavery to corruption. This will happen when Christ comes to receive us into Heaven.
We know that this hope of glory is present in the creation for Paul tells us in v. 22 that the creation “groans” or sighs daily under the distress which man’s sin has brought upon it. We see this groaning of creation when we take the wilted flowers off our church altar. But did you notice that Paul compares creation’s agony with a woman giving birth to a child? When a woman is in labor there is hope that the pain will cease when a new and wonderful life comes forth.
What about the children of God? Is there hope in the midst of pain? Yes! We have an even more certain hope! Do you believe in your heart that because of the life, sufferings, and death of Jesus Christ, you, a sinner, stand completely righteous and acceptable before God? If so, then God’s Spirit is telling your spirit that you are a child of God and an heir of everlasting life! Paul says that by faith you have “the first fruits of the Spirit”—the down payment which assures the final ransoming of our body as an adopted child of God! [v.23]
Do you also “groan within” and eagerly look for the glory to come? I hope so, for Paul says that “we are saved in connection with this hope.” But hope that is seen is not hope; for a man does not hope for what he sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, then through patience we wait eagerly for it! [cf. vv.24-25]
Not only do we have hope, but we also have the help of the Spirit in prayer. We may become so troubled by our circumstances that “we do not know how we should pray,” or what we should pray for as being necessary.” [v.26] When we pray for ourselves or others in times of suffering, we might pray for a solution which is really not a good solution at all. But the Spirit of God, who dwells in us by faith in Christ, knows our condition. He makes up for our weaknesses in prayer. As “the Comforter” whom Jesus sent to be with us, the Holy Spirit interprets the deepest concerns of our hearts which we can’t put into words.
Tough prayers not heard by us and beyond our ability to express, are taken to the Father by the Spirit on our behalf. The Father who “searches the hearts,” [v.27] knows the thinking of the Spirit with that heart because the Holy Spirit makes intercession for the believer according to God’s will. So, the great comfort for you, as a believing saint and child of God, is that the Holy Spirit intercedes for you from within your hearts! So wonderful is the mysterious union and communion of the believer with the Triune God who is!
This saving union must continue through every condition, because we have the assurance of God’s saving purpose for us from beginning to end! Paul says: “Furthermore, 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] If you truly love God, it’s only because He first loved you and called you to faith in Christ by the power of His Gospel. God has revealed His eternal purpose for you. This means that all things—even the worst of them, must work together for your final and eternal blessing.
This is true in the lives of all God’s believing children, whether they know it or not. Job certainly wondered how all the believers’ suffering could be for their good. Jonah didn’t expect any good thing for himself when he was thrown into the sea! But both of these men were strengthened by what they suffered. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and yet, years later, Joseph said to them: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20)
Who doesn’t like chocolate cake or apply pie? And yet the baker’s recipe calls for a lot of bad tasting things to be thrown into the mix! So also in our lives not everything that God throws into the mix is good and sweet to our taste buds. But your God promises that He will cause all things to work together for your good.
Why will God do this for us? Because, Paul says, “Those whom God knew before, He also predestined (pre-determined) to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that His Son might be the firstborn among many brethren.” [v.29] The New Testament letter to the Hebrew Christians tells us that our Brother, Jesus, was “made perfect” through the sufferings He endured in this life for us (cf. Hebrews 11:40). God wants to change every believing child of His into the perfect image of His Son by the means of suffering.
This process begins with faith and continues through all the sufferings and trials of this life. God’s wonderful purpose for us is completed when we too are raised from the dead, as Jesus first was. Then, like Him, we too will receive the glorified bodies of immortality!
Now read the comfort in v. 30: “whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
The baker may decide to bake a cake or a pie and then never finish it for many reasons. He or she may be interrupted by the little ones in the house. Or the baker may spoil the whole mixture with too much salt, sugar, or baking soda. But our God never makes any mistakes in carrying out His saving purpose with His believing children. He cannot be side-tracked from what He set out to do for us in eternity, because He is God! What comfort belongs to you, dear child of God because God is! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.