You Have Hope in SufferingErwin W. Lutzer | October 19, 2008
Selected highlights from this sermon
Groaning – that inward longing for relief – we all do it. When what’s going on in our lives or in the world is too much for us to endure, we groan.
But did you know that nature groans? The entire universe was permeated by sin when man fell. And like us, it too is longing for restoration.
We’re all groaning for the day of redemption –for the release from the bondage of decay– and while the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, He also reminds us that day is yet to come.
Cancer and cystic fibrosis challenge a person’s faith. They challenge our faith because the question is, are we able to trust God—to believe in His care, His love and His concern—when we know right well He could heal us? It’s a challenge to faith. We as Americans are not very good at suffering. Helmut Thielicke says, “Americans don’t know how to suffer. They consider it fundamentally inadmissible, disturbing, embarrassing, and not to be endured.”
I expect that one of the political candidates will introduce a resolution in our Congress saying that we should outlaw suffering constitutionally and make it illegal to suffer, and then claim that it is the right of every American to avoid all suffering.
Well, today we’re going to talk about suffering, but we’re also going to talk about hope. We’re going to speak about groaning, which is an inward kind of grief that we have because of what we are enduring and because of what is happening in the world. As you know, this is a series of eight messages on the eighth chapter of the book of Romans—eight messages on Romans chapter 8. Last time we talked about what it is like to rule with Jesus Christ, to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. What it is to be a child of an awesome God is the title of the series.
But today we pick it up in verse 18, and you need to look at the text, because if you don’t look at the text, you might think that what I’m saying isn’t actually there because some of the things that are said are so unbelievable. In this passage of Scripture beginning at verse 18 we have three groans. We are going to discover that nature groans. We are going to discover that we groan (and don’t we all, even if we don’t have cystic fibrosis?), and then we’re going to notice that even the Holy Spirit groans, but we’re going to see that it all is wrapped up in coming glory.
Romans 8:18-22 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing 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 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
When Paul speaks about creation he’s talking about the inanimate world. He’s talking about stars and rivers and earthquakes and tsunamis and floods and all of the things that happen upon this planet every single day. We notice when there is a tsunami, but actually in small ways that’s happening a hundred times throughout the world killing people. Nature is in a state that it’s not supposed to be in. God did not create it that way. He’s also talking about the animal world. I think one of the best channels on television is the animal channel because you see the way in which animals live, the way they hunt, who they really are. But you also see a tremendous amount of cruelty with all kinds of terrible things happening—little animals being ridded of their parents, and wandering around and dying. You see lions jumping on small deer and eating them without a twinge of conscience and no weeping afterwards.
And all of nature is in this state and you’ll notice that it is not because it made the choice to be. Notice verse 20 says, “For nature was subjected to futility, not willingly.” It didn’t make any decisions. Why was nature subjected to futility? Why the curse on the earth? Well, the answer is very clear. When man fell, God said, “There’s no way that you can have a fallen cursed man and woman unless all of nature is cursed along with it.” So we have the curse there in the book of Genesis, but the curse was bigger than simply this earth. In some way the entire universe was permeated by sin when man fell. That’s what happened, and as a result of this, creation had to follow man’s lead. We fell as a human race, and God says the whole creation falls and is subjected to futility and the curse. But now notice that the Apostle Paul says in verse 19 that “nature waits with eager longing for the revealing (the apocalypse, if you please) of the sons of God.”
Have I been going too fast? Let’s think about this more carefully. What Paul is saying is that nature followed man in the curse, and now the curse cannot be lifted from nature until mankind himself has been redeemed and Jesus Christ has come and we receive our new bodies, and the curse then can be lifted from nature. But nature is cursed until we are fully restored. Until that time, nature is subjected by God to futility. The imagery that Paul uses— the personification here of nature—is very interesting when he says, “For the creation waits with eager longing.” It really means strained expectation. One translation says that all of nature is on tiptoe because nature is waiting for the redemption of mankind so that its curse then can be lifted.
Think of attending the Kentucky Derby, and your horse is in the race, and you are there straining in the stands to see whether or not he is going to win. That’s the way nature is, and Paul says right here that nature is in childbirth. He speaks of nature’s hope of being set free from its bondage to decay to obtain the freedom of the glory of God, and he says in verse 22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” There are some aspects of childbirth that are very painful. In some sense it’s very ugly, very much filled with anticipation and wonder—and from our standpoint, anxiety. That’s the way creation is, and Paul says that in creation, as in childbirth, the child will be born, and redemption is on its way.
Remember C.S. Lewis who wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (a book which, if you’ve never read it, you really ought to read)? He said in the book that as long as the witch was ruling in Narnia it was always winter and never spring, and then when Aslan the lion gives himself up and dies and is resurrected, what you find then is that all of nature is renewed and restored. That’s the imagery here. Nature is waiting for the children of God. Remember that we are number one on God’s list of things to take care of in the universe. His people are so important, and nature can’t be renewed until we are.
So first of all, notice that nature is groaning. Now somebody reading this might think, “Well, that’s nature,” but of course, we are redeemed, aren’t we? “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it.” So we don’t have to groan, somebody might say. Well, look at what the text says here in Romans 8. Notice the way in which Paul says it in verse 23. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves groan inwardly.” Oh, we are redeemed, yes, we have the Holy Spirit, “but we ourselves,” Paul says, “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption of sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We also groan. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit.
When you believe in Jesus Christ and you receive the Holy Spirit, it is a down payment. The Bible says the Spirit is an earnest. It’s a down payment and there’s more to come. You’ve got the drop, but the ocean is on its way. You have the flower and the garden is still future. It’s like an engagement ring. That’s a good illustration of the Holy Spirit. The engagement ring is a promise of marriage. Now you never meet a woman, at least I don’t think that you ever have, who says, “Do you know what I’ve always wanted? I’ve always wanted an engagement ring, and now that I have this diamond I don’t care whether or not I marry the guy. I just am glad that I have the ring.” No, remember the ring is a promise that there’s more to follow. The ring is a promise. There’s a wedding coming. There’s a husband who’s going to be there as part of the experience. There may be family. It’s a promise of the future.
Now candidly maybe in five years’ time she will wish that she had just stayed with the ring. I understand that, but it’s a promise that there’s more to follow, and Paul says that we ourselves groan within ourselves inwardly, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. We are waiting for that redemption when we can be rid of hospitals and cancer and cystic fibrosis.
You know that there are faith healers today, and they understand very clearly that when Jesus died on the cross He died for us body, soul, and spirit. There’s no question that redemption is total. What they miss is that we do not enter into the benefits of Jesus’ death for us in the physical realm or the spiritual realm. We do not enter into those benefits until we die and our souls go to heaven. When Jesus Christ returns, we are restored and renewed, and finally the curse is gone forever. When Jesus was on earth, so far as we know He only raised three people from the dead. He left thousands in the tombs because, you see, that was not the consummation of redemption. It was the down payment. It was the proof that redemption is coming, but it is not here. It isn’t here.
You’ll notice in verse 24 that Paul says, “For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Don’t think that word hope is the way in which we use the word hope, as I hope it’s going to be nice on Saturday. It’s not that kind of hope. What Paul is saying is that hope is the certainty and the confident expectation with which we look forward. And even though we don’t see it, but we know that it is there, and it’s coming. That is the confident hope, but meanwhile we groan, because we know that this life can’t go on forever. We groan.
This morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and then stayed in bed to pray for a half hour, and then I got out of bed. I mean, even at my young age I felt stiff. I thought, “I can groan and be thoroughly Biblical.”
This past week Rebecca and I were at the Billy Graham Cove and I taught four one-hour lectures on the subject of “One Minute After You Die.” Some of you might know that I have written a book on that topic, and I redid the lecture so even though the content was to some extent the same, they were still different. I added some material and one of the things I was impressed to add was at least ten minutes more on the subject of infant salvation, and also the salvation of those who are mentally impaired. You know oftentimes we say babies go to heaven, and we all agree, but theologically why do we agree? It’s not because they’re innocent, because they are born under the curse of sin, so I gave Biblical and theological reasons about why I believe that indeed they will be in heaven.
There was a woman there who later on told us this story. She said, “Fifty-three years ago I gave birth to twin girls. One of them died at birth and the other is mentally impaired, and we have been her parents for fifty-three years, and she knows about her sister, and about all that she can do is to ask about her sister. She said, “When you were talking about this, I cried the whole way through, because I knew in my heart that someday we’d all be in heaven—both of my daughters would be along with me,” but she said, “I never had anyone open the Bible and give theological and Scriptural reasons for it.” That dear mother, God bless her, groans, but she knows that spring is coming. She groans but she knows that redemption of the body is still future, and she is confident of it.
My friend, groaning is Biblical. There is suffering all over. There is more suffering that we can possibly endure. Young people are coming down with terrible diseases. There is much groaning and we groan, but that’s not the end of it. Nature groans, we groan, and now, of all things, the Holy Spirit Himself groans also waiting for our redemption.
You’ll notice in verse 26 the Apostle Paul says these words: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He’s not implying that every once in a while we are weak. We’re always weak if we know ourselves well. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Wow! We receive the Spirit, and why does the Spirit help us? It is because we don’t know how to pray. Have you ever been in a situation where you are so emotionally numb that you don’t even really know what to say to God? His will is confusing. You’ve been disappointed in what He has done. He hasn’t come through for you like you thought a good God should, and so you’ve backed off, and you’ve thought to yourself, “Surely, surely there is no way out of this. I don’t even know what to say.” The Spirit of God in you as a believer begins to instruct you and actually begins to intercede on your behalf with groanings, and those groanings may be our groanings but also the Spirit’s groanings that are too deep for words. Some of you here maybe experienced a tragedy that you can’t even talk about. It is too deep for words, and yet the Holy Spirit of God is there to help us in our weakness. The Greek text says in effect, “It is to help us carry our load.” So the Holy Spirit of God is there to enable us to get through what we normally on our own cannot get through. He is there to work in us.
This is a remarkable passage. You’ll notice Paul speaks in verse 27 about “he who searches hearts.” Who is that? That’s God. “He knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” so here you have the whole Trinity. You’ve got God the Father who searches our hearts. You have the Spirit who is interceding, and of course, the Father knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit is also God. But just like Jesus intercedes for us, so the Spirit is there to also help us, to also intercede, and what you have is this: I forget the long term, but you have this inter-Trinitarian connection here where Jesus intercedes for us, the Spirit intercedes for us, the Father understands both because He of course is God, and every member of the Trinity is God. There are not three spirits that permeate the whole universe, but one God. And yet notice (and we’ll see this more clearly as the sermon series continues) that all members of the Trinity are rooting for us. They are all on our side, and that’s why Paul is going to come to say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
So the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit participates in our groans. Now let me clarify that I don’t think that the Holy Spirit prays instead of us so that we can say, “I don’t have pray because the Spirit is praying.” I think that the Holy Spirit of God prays through us, but He helps us to pray, and He Himself is groaning for our redemption, for our release from the bondage of decay, and for the glorious liberty of the children of God.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, why should our lives be changed forever because of this message? What is there that we are going to take home with us that we will say that because of this we are going to have an entirely different perspective of suffering, and therefore we will be changed?”
Let me give you three transforming statements, and I’ll tell you all of them are dont’s, (don’t, don’t, don’t) and if you do these dont’s (if I can put it that way) I can promise you that life is going to be different, and your life is going to be blessed. Let me give them to you.
Number one, don’t minimize the value of suffering. You see, what some of our television preachers want to tell us (not all of them but many of them) is that if you are not healed it’s because you don’t have real faith. Mind you, if you are healed, and I am the television preacher, I take the credit for your healing. If you are not healed, you lack faith. It will always be your fault, but if you had the real deal, you’d be healed. The only faith they speak about is the kind that sees the miracles. Well, there’s plenty of Scripture that shows us that there’s also a kind of faith that sees no miracles at all but goes on believing God no matter what.
I am old enough to know that there are some Christians who, when they suffer, become cynical, angry, and filled with self-pity, and all of their sorrows are wasted. There’s no benefit to them. God gave them a test and they are failing miserably. Suffering is for those for whom it is appointed. Ultimately, if you trace it all back, even if it comes through your parents (a certain disease) I agree with John Piper who says that, “It is God who decides who gets cancer.” It is God who decides who gets these various diseases. Oh you say, “But it’s the devil.” Yes, of course the devil may be used by God, but even the use of the devil and the devil’s attacks are given to us by God as a test. And what happens is that we groan within because of physical disabilities, because of emotional and spiritual attacks, because of our loneliness, because a loved one has died, and when that happens we begin to groan and we groan for glory. It makes us look forward to the redemption that we have in Jesus and the culmination of all that we have in Christ.
When our three daughters were young we’d go to Canada every year. Well, you know we’d still be on the I-90 just outside of O’Hare Airport when they’d be asking, “Daddy, are we there yet?” “No, but we’re closer than we were when you asked the same question three minutes ago.” You know, we are closer. That’s what groaning does. Are we there yet?
You know I often refer to my parents because they are a unique story, and I spoke to my mother last night. Her mind is perfectly fine. She is going to be 100 in November, and remember my father was 106 this past summer. So I talked with Mother, and I said, “How’s Dad doing?” and she said, “Well, he doesn’t say much anymore.” That’s legal when you get 106. You don’t have to say much anymore. (laughter) She said, “About the only think Dad asks (and he asks it in German) is ‘How much longer is it going to be?’” Wow, I love my dad. You know, he’s been asking that since he was 103 (laughter) and my mother is asking it and she’s so much younger. She’s only 100 and she’s asking how much longer is it going to be. Oh, both of them are groaning for glory. My mother always says, “Please pray we’ll die the same evening.” I’m serious. A year ago when she was in the hospital she was absolutely jubilant when she thought she was going to die. When they said, “You’re going to live,” she was so disappointed. (laughter) Seriously. Old age will do it. Sickness will do it. Migraines will do it. Groaning for glory. But there’s something else that is even more important. We see it in this text and more explicitly in 2 Corinthians.
What the Apostle Paul seems to be saying is that the more suffering, the more glory. You’ll notice even in verse 18 here he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” and by the way, I should have pointed out that verse 17 says, “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him.” Don’t ever minimize the value of suffering that we should be glorified together.
In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks about “this light affliction which is but for a moment.” Oh, it seems so long, but it’s “but for a moment” and it works in us an exceeding great eternal weight of glory. Paul says in effect, “Take a scale. Put on one side all of your suffering. It would be like taking a human hair and putting it on the one side of the scale, and on the other side of the scale you put an elephant, and the scale goes plunk. Don’t even compare it.
Listen, my dear friend who is suffering. Listen, those of you who are working and struggling with a terminal disease, as if some of us aren’t terminal. I’ve got news for you. We’re all terminal. Listen to me. God will make it up to you a hundred million times. Don’t even compare it with the glory that’s going to be revealed in us. Your groans are leading to glory. Groan, but know that you are longing for something better—the redemption of the body. Don’t minimize the value of suffering.
And second, don’t you dare minimize the glory that awaits us—the glory of the Son of God, the revealing (the apocalypse) of the Son of God. When I was at the Billy Graham Cove teaching, my last session was on heaven, and I redid my notes on heaven and I also read the book on heaven by Randy Alcorn. It’s a very interesting book. You know normally we say, “I can’t visualize what heaven is going to be like,” but if you read that book you can. We always stress the differences between earth and heaven, and he stresses the similarities. We’re surprised at how much is going to carry over, and that we’re going to be the same people but with the curse gone, our bodies no longer subject to decay, and with no need to sleep. But we’re going to interact, and we’re going to pick up where we left off. There are going to be animals in heaven because you know the Bible says in the book of Revelation that there were beasts that fell down, and of course, in Isaiah the millennial kingdom is full of animals. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, do you think that my pet will be resurrected?” There’s no evidence. If good animals are resurrected I had a dog out on the farm that I expect to see again, but do I need to say that we had two cats. Uh uh. (laughter) No way. No way.
More seriously, heaven is going to be so unbelievably long and beautiful and satisfying and rewarding. I myself, after giving a lecture on heaven, felt, “Lord, the sooner the better.” Really, don’t ever underestimate what God has planned for those who love Him. “Eye hath not seen it, ear hath not heard it. It has not entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him.” Keep going. Keep believing. Redemption is on its way. (applause)
And by the way, if you weren’t able to hear the second message in this series when I talked about ruling with Jesus and being an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ, you need to hear it because all of these things help us to understand. It’s going to be okay.
Third, don’t minimize what God did to save us and to redeem us. Don’t ever minimize it. Don’t ever say, “Well, you know there’s somebody else over here, some other teacher who can do it too.” No, no, no, but let me ask you this question: How did Jesus redeem us? Was it through His miracles? No, He resurrected Lazarus, but Lazarus had to die again. The people who ate the bread and the fish miraculously given got hungry the next day. They were hungry again. No, I’ll tell you how Jesus redeemed us. He did it through suffering, and it was the value of His suffering that provided a way by which God could return good in the place of our evil, and that was no small task. He gave the best He had. We were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the blood of Christ, who came, who suffered, who submitted Himself to Satan and to evil people, and died on a cross, and was raised again and says, “Someday you shall see me,” and we shall be like Him, the Bible says, because we shall see Him as He is. Don’t ever take for granted the grace of God in Jesus.
Some of you who are listening to this who are in the sanctuary of Moody Church or by way of Internet, radio or other means, you know in your heart that you’ve never believed in Jesus. You have no assurance that you belong to Him. Not everyone is going to participate in the redemption that we are talking about here. It’s limited to those who trust the Christ who will resurrect them into the same likeness that He Himself has. There’s nobody else out there like Jesus. The Bible says, “As many as received him to those he gives the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on his name.”
Today, if the Holy Spirit is working in your heart, believe. Say, “Jesus, I receive you as my Savior, and then I’ll continue to groan, but I’ll be groaning for future glory.”
When I was younger we used to sing songs like, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. One glimpse at his dear face, all sorrow will erase, so gladly run the race till we see him.” Until that time, we groan for glory.
Father, we ask in the name of Jesus that Your Holy Spirit who is here may do His work. May there be encouragement for those who have found out that they have a terminal disease. May there be encouragement for those who go to doctors, but they see no hope for their ailing body.
And then, Father, we pray for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. Even at this moment where they are seated or where they are listening to this message we ask that you will create the faith within their hearts that says, “I, too, trust Christ and receive Him.”
And if you’ve never received Him, you can pray and say, “Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I can’t save myself but I do receive you and the work of the cross and the resurrection. I receive it for myself.” Would you tell Him that?
Oh Father, thank you for reminding us that we are clay. We bring to the table nothing but our great need. Everything is grace. Thank you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.