Download or listen to The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, “Real Hope” (Romans 8:18-27)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If there’s one thing we all should have learned by now, it’s that things don’t just “get better.” Things don’t improve on their own. Things don’t naturally evolve to a higher state. Think of pretty much anything: Take the things people make with their own hands. Eventually, they break, decay, quit working. Or the things in creation, as a whole. Animals all die, plants grow for a while, but they eventually wither and die, also. Or our own bodies. There are a lot of things that we can do to make our bodies look and feel better, and we do seem to be living longer and longer all the time; but eventually, no matter what you eat, no matter what you do, your body will quit working. Your mind will quit working. Our bodies and minds, along with the whole creation are subject to futility and enslaved to decay and dissolution. They have been ever since Genesis 3, when the curse was laid on all creation because of Adam. God said to Adam, whom He had commanded not to eat from that one tree, “Cursed is the ground because of you. In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it will bring forth for you.” No longer will it naturally produce what God blessed it to produce. No longer will it naturally do what God blessed it to do. Now it will be difficult and hard. And if you have a garden, you know it’s true: you never have to cultivate weeds. Doesn’t matter what kind of soil, how much water, how much sun. Weeds come naturally. It’s the good things, the things you want, that you have to work hard to make grow.
Everything is subject to the curse of sin, and so the whole creation groans with longing, with eager expectation, for the revealing of the sons of God. Just as the curse of Adam was the curse of the creation, so the redemption of Adam is the redemption of creation. So the whole creation labors as in birth pains until the day when that labor will be over, and the creation itself will be made new again. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, also groan inwardly as we wait for our sonship, the redemption of our bodies. The same Holy Spirit by whom Jesus was raised from the dead causes us to long for the day when our bodies will be raised. It is, Paul says, in this hope that we were saved. The resurrection is the thing to which our entire hope points. Christian hope is entirely bound to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. And it certainly makes a lot of sense: you all know people who struggle in their bodies. I see it again and again. Sickness, cancer, injury, diabetes; bodies that cease to work the way that they’re supposed. And minds that don’t work right anymore. Dementia, Alzheimer’s. All of it is the beginning of death, which is the result of sin in us. We have a hope that is concrete and physical. We do not hope that these bodies, created by God, would get shucked off so that we could be free of them. We hope that everything that has gone wrong, in ourselves and in creation, would be put right again.
We do not see it yet. But no one hopes for something he sees. Then it’s right there in front of him. We hope for what we do not see, and so we wait with patience. We can do that because Christian hope is not like the way we usually use the word “hope.” We normally say, “I hope something happens.” But that is uncertain. It may or may not happen. Christian hope, on the other hand, is absolutely certain. We wait with eager expectation. Paul uses that word three times in these verses. Christian hope, like Christian faith, has a particular object: Jesus. Christian hope is like an unbreakable rope connecting Jesus to you. He’s on that side of the resurrection, and you’re on this side, but He hangs on to you with this promise: what happens to Him will happen to you. Paul says it: we await a Savior from heaven who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the same power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4). John says it: we are not yet what we will be. But when Christ appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is: in His resurrected and glorified body (1 John 3:1-3). The body that is laid in the ground perishable will be raised from the dead imperishable. Then we will say, Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is the certain hope in which you are saved, by which Christ sustains you here and now. Here we see only the death and decay, only the weakness. But Christ doesn’t leave us here alone in our weakness. He Himself is with us, in our bodies, as those bodies are baptized and fed with the life of Christ. But we also have the Holy Spirit, who comes to help us in our weakness. He intercedes for us with groans unspeakable. Three times Paul mentions “groans” in this passage, as well. The creation groans; we ourselves groan; and the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf as long as we live in the weakness of our flesh. He prays for us according to the will of God, which is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. The same Spirit who called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and keeps you in the one true faith has also called and gathered the whole Church and made you a part of it. Then, in this Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers in Christ. On the last day, He will raise up you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. While we are here, we struggle, we suffer, we are subject to our own weakness. We struggle in our bodies; we struggle with our minds. We suffer the mockery of the world; we suffer as the Spirit puts our flesh to death. Though we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood (and only God knows whether that will be the case here), the Body of Christ suffers with its members around the world who are put to death and run out of their homes by the enemies of the Gospel. But with the hope of resurrection in mind, Paul says that He is convinced that the suffering of this present time is not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in and to us. As he said in the previous verse, we suffer with Christ so that we may be glorified with Christ. Jesus lived in a body like ours, suffered in the body, died in the body, and was raised and glorified in the body. In this context, the glory which we will have with Christ is the glory of the resurrection, the glory of a body free from sin, death, decay, in the glory of a creation free from decay and death.
So we do not lose heart, Paul says. We do not lose heart even as we see our outer nature wasting away—and we know it is—because our inner nature, according to the image of Christ, is being renewed day by day. This light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen—the dissolution and decay of creation, and our own death—but to the things that are unseen: the resurrected Christ here and now behind water, words, bread and wine; and the glory of the new creation. The things that are seen are temporary and passing away. The things that are unseen are eternal, because they are things of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). We do not lose heart. We are convinced that anything that we might possibly suffer now can’t be compared with the glory of Christ in a new heaven and a new earth. Thisis our hope, and it is as certain as Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/19/14