Over the past few days we’ve seen some welcome signs of Summer, haven’t we? There has been a very welcome increase in temperature, and the Sun has made an occasional appearance through the cloud!
It seems like winter has lasted an awfully long time this year. For month after month we’ve had to face grey skies and cold weather. We did get a foretaste of summer during April, didn’t we, with some sunny days after Easter – but apart from that, hot weather has been a long time coming.
But I haven’t succumbed to despair, and I hope you haven’t either. I always knew Summer would arrive eventually. I knew that if we all waited long enough the weather would one day improve and temperatures would rise. I knew that one morning I would open my curtains to see blue skies and bright sunlight!
And in anticipation of Summer, I have made some preparations. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a new pair of sunglasses – in faith and hope that I would soon have the chance to use them! And Helen and I have even bought a new paddling pool for our children. Something we hope they can splash around in when the Summer sun comes out. So with patience and preparation, we’ve got ready for Summer – and I expect you have too.
Our Bible passage this morning tells us that the anticipation we have for Summer is a small-scale version of the anticipation that every Christian should have for the world to come. It tells us that our excitement about the arrival of Summer is a miniature edition of the excitement that the natural world has for the new creation. The new creation that God will one day make.
Because in Romans chapter 8, the apostle Paul tells us that our present world is frustrated, inhibited and imperfect. But one day it will be transformed, liberated and glorified. A great day that every Christian should eagerly await and prepare ourselves for.
So as we look at this passage today:
• we will look at Creation’s current Frustration;
• we will look forward to Creation’s future Liberation; and, thirdly
• we will consider a Christian’s hope - how we should wait for the world to come.
Let’s begin by looking at Creation’s current frustration.
1. Creation’s frustration…includes death and decay
I spent three hours on Thursday at the NHS Walk-In Centre at Harold Wood. I knew I was in for a long wait, so I took some books on Romans with me help to pass the time and to help prepare for this sermon today. And as I read Romans 8, especially verses 20 and 21, I saw a strong correlation between the words on the page and what was going on around me in that clinic.
Because in our passage today Paul tells us that Creation is “frustrated”, and in “bondage to decay”. In other words, our present world isn’t perfect. It has many attractive features, but also includes futility, imperfection and disorder. We are presently living in a world of much beauty, but also one that includes much suffering as well.
That was certainly clear to me as I looked around the Walk-In centre, seeing people of every age with various injuries and ailments. And its certainly clear as we see news reports of earthquakes in Nepal, floods and fires in Ghana – plus the persecution of Christians all around the world.
You see, for all the world’s many qualities, we can’t overlook the signs of frustration, chaos and unfulfilled potential we see around us. For example:
• Disease, death and decay are seen in the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as in our own human bodies as the years go by.
• No individual plant or animal lasts forever - those flowers in our gardens or on our mantelpiece will soon be on the compost heap.
• All germination, growth and maturity in nature is eventually always followed by decline, degradation and death. It’s what biologists call the ‘cycle of life’, and what a physicist calls ‘entropy’ - the inevitability of decay and disintegration.
Of course, many of the ugly features of nature are very visibly caused by human beings. Pollution of the air and water, desecration of natural landscapes, and contamination of the seas can all be clearly ascribed to human malevolence and neglect. Things that the Bible consistently calls ‘sin’.
Indeed, right back in Genesis chapter 3, we are told that one of the first consequences of human sin was its effect on nature. The first man and woman had a God-given responsibility to obey him by caring for his creation. But by rejecting God and disobeying his commands, the natural order was thrown out of kilter.
People were not prepared to care for God’s creation, and the land was actually “cursed” by God as part of his punishment on Adam and Eve. Cultivating the earth would no longer be a pleasant pastime, but hard work, a painful battle with “thorns and thistles” (Gen 3:18). The natural world is not all as it should be, its potential has been frustrated, put on hold.
2. Creation’s liberation…includes glory for God’s children
Given the condition it’s in, it is no surprise that Romans 8 says Creation desperately needs redemption. It desperately needs to be liberated “from its bondage to decay” and free to be the glorious world God wants it to be (v.21).
In our passage Paul personifies the natural world, and says it “waits in eager expectation” of its liberation and transformation (v.19). Like an excited child on Christmas Eve or a bride on the day before her wedding, the creation can’t wait for what is to come. Look at verse 22, because it tells us that the whole world is ‘groaning’ in anticipation of what lies ahead - like a woman’s groans in childbirth anticipate a new life about to begin.
The Creation’s confidence and excitement is well-placed, because God has promised to put things right. As far back as Old Testament times, God had made promises to one day rejuvenate and renew this world he has made. This world of death, disease and decay will be transformed into one of uninhibited beauty, order and harmony. A world where flowers will never wilt, and where the lion will lay down with the lamb.
But the best feature of this new creation - the characteristic that should make us most excited - is that this world to come will include glory for God’s people. As Paul explains in verse 19 today, in the world to come Christians will be visibly revealed to be God’s sons and daughters.
In our current world Christians are camouflaged. We look just the same as everyone else. But in the world to come we Christians will be glorious to behold. Our bodies will have redeemed and transformed. They will be impervious to decay and destined to live forever. No wonder verse 19 says the rest of Creation “waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed”.
So if we are Christians here today, this is our destiny beyond the grave – eternal life ruling over a renewed world as God’s beloved sons and daughters. In verse 18 Paul says it is a future so great and glorious that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing”.
Scripture is clear, however, that only Christians can expect a place in the world to come. We do need to keep telling our family, friends and colleagues about the forgiveness and future glory that only Jesus can give them. In fact, the Bible says that the only reason why God hasn’t renewed the world yet is that he is being patient. He wants as many people as possible to come to repentance and faith in Christ. Can I challenge us all to share our Christian hope with someone we know this week.
But how can we know that our Christian hope is certain? In our sceptical age, why should anyone believe that Christian’s bodies and the whole natural world will one day be glorified by God?
The reason we can have such confidence is the resurrection of Jesus. As the apostle Paul stresses repeatedly in Romans, the resurrection of Christ was the first fruit and foretaste of what God will one day do on a global scale. As Paul writes in verse 11 of Romans 8 (just before our passage today): “the Spirit of God who….raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”. Jesus’ glorious, resurrected, body is no longer subject to death or decay, and one day neither will ours.
This Easter we had a foretaste of the summer that is to come. But on the very first Easter Sunday all God’s people were given a foretaste of the everlasting glory that one-day will be theirs.
3. Christian hope…includes patience and prayer
So how do we wait for the glorious day when our bodies will be renewed and all Creation will be restored? What does Christian hope include in practice?
Well, firstly, like our anticipation of Summer this year, we need to be patient. That’s what Romans tells us in verse 25 today – “we hope for what we do not yet have, and we wait for it patiently.” We need to wait patiently for our redemption and restoration. We need to keep reading God’s great promises in Scripture, and we need to keep reminding ourselves that Christ has been raised. God’s promises are far more reliable than the British weather. Our hope and faith will not be in vain – God always does what he’s said he will do.
Paul makes this point in verses 28 to 30 of our passage today. He reminds us that it was in eternity past that God first knew us and predestined Christians to be his children. Paul reminds us that despite all the twists and turns of life – despite all the things that happen to us – God keeps on working for our good. He has called Christians to faith in his Son and is constantly working to conform us to his likeness. One wonderful day in the world to come that likeness will be complete, when he gives us the same glorified body that Jesus already has.
I love the fact that in verse 30 Paul says we are already glorified - past tense! Christians’ future glory is so secure and certain that Paul can write as if it has already happened! It is a ‘done deal’. It is a future fact, not a flight of fantasy. Our Christian hope is certain. We can wait with patience.
Secondly, we can also wait in prayer. God knows that in this fallen world Christians will experience times of physical and spiritual weakness. Times of pain and of doubt as we wait for future glory. Thankfully we have God’s Spirit within us to help us. As Paul says in verse 26 today, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.
Sometimes we may be lost for words, we may not know what we should pray for, but God’s Spirit does. As we make our own faltering attempts at prayer, the Spirit silently intercedes for us, asking our Heavenly Father for the faith, courage, confidence and perseverance we need to carry on.
As I finish, I hope Romans 8 has taught that the world’s long winter of sin, death and decay is drawing to a close. Summer is coming. Christians can have hope. So let’s keep the faith. Let’s wait patiently and let’s persevere prayerfully.