Words of Hope

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 8:18-25

When you think about the future of the world, are you optimistic or pessimistic? Let me tell you today why Christians have an unconquerable hope.

May I share just a bit of the history of our program with you today? Words of Hope is rapidly approaching its fiftieth year of broadcasting the Christian gospel by radio. We began in the summer of 1945 over just two radio stations in western Michigan, and today the program can be heard almost everywhere on the face of the earth in more than forty different languages. But what I really want to tell you about is our name. When we first began, and for many years after, the program was called Temple Time. That name was chosen because of its associations with worship in the Bible; the temple in Jerusalem was the place in both Old Testament and New Testament times where God’s people gathered to praise him, and the founders of our program wanted to encourage people in our world to continue to do that by radio.

But about twenty years ago a significant change occurred. As the primary focus of our ministry increasingly began to shift beyond the boundaries of North America to the unreached peoples of the world, the leadership realized that the name Temple Time could be misleading. In many places “temple” suggests non-Christian religion rather than the worship of the biblical God. A new name for the program was needed, one that accurately reflected its message and mission, and the name that was eventually decided upon was Words of Hope. I think that was a wonderful choice! It’s a wonderfully appropriate choice, for the gospel is about hope as much as anything. It’s a wonderfully attractive choice. Here’s something everybody longs to hear! We hear plenty of words of discouragement; all the news broadcasts are full of them. But genuine words of hope will always attract an audience.

I’ve also chosen Words of Hope as the title of today’s message because I have come to one of the greatest passages on hope in the whole New Testament:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25, NRSV

CRIES OF PAIN

“The whole created universe,” writes the apostle, “groans as if in the pangs of childbirth” (v. 22, reb). Can you hear creation’s groans? Paul personifies nature here by saying that it is groaning or crying out in its suffering. The fact is, the world of nature has been caught in the consequences that have come from human sin, not by its own choice but as a result of ours. Sin, the original sin of our first parents Adam and Eve, had terrible consequences for the whole human race. It caused our inward nature – our mind and will – to change, so that we no longer know God or are able to live in the way that we still know deep down is right. Sin brought guilt and corruption and judgment and death to us. But human sin has also had dire consequences for the rest of creation. The suffering that follows from human disobedience has spilled over into the world of nature, causing it in the Bible’s words to be “subjected to futility” (v. 20) and “in bondage to decay” (v. 21). And so nature is filled with pain. You can actually hear it. You can listen to its groans in the dreadful screams of a wounded animal, in the shriek of the destroying wind or the roar of the flood waters, in the crack of the splintering tree, or the rumble of the earth as it heaves and buckles. Creation’s groans are the myriad noises of destruction and death throughout nature.

The worst cries of pain, though, are the ones we make ourselves: “. . . not only the creation, but we ourselves . . . groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23). Eventually suffering comes to us all, and the groans of pain become our own. But even apart from that, we can’t help crying out in the awareness just of suffering in general, whether it’s our own or that of others. I don’t know whether there’s more or less suffering in the world today than there used to be, but I do know this: we’re more aware of suffering than previous generations were. Pictures of pain are constantly before us. Scenes of suffering from halfway round the world, that former generations were blissfully ignorant of are now brought into our homes in graphic, living color. If we have any humanity at all, we can’t help but groan along with the rest of creation.

CRIES OF FRUSTRATION

The worst pain that fills the world, though, is one that only human beings can fully appreciate. The deepest kind of suffering isn’t physical; it’s spiritual. Our fellow creatures, at least the higher animals, can feel physical pain as we do, but physical pain is usually only temporary. It’s humans alone who feel the lasting soul pain of our mortality. It’s not just that we have to suffer; it’s knowing we have to suffer. It’s not only that we’re going to die; it’s realizing this truth ahead of time, and living with it always. The particular pain Paul writes of here is the pain of frustration or the sense of futility that comes from knowing we are dying, along with everything else around us. The prophet Isaiah spoke eloquently of the mortality of life:

A voice says, `Cry out!’

And I said, `What shall I cry?’

All people are grass,

and their constancy is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;

surely the people are grass

Isaiah 40:6-7

A modern poet said it like this:

Nature’s first green is gold-

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower,

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf;

So Eden sank in grief,

So dawn turns into day-

Nothing gold can stay.

– Robert Frost

“Nothing gold can stay.” That’s the thing that gives such a sense of emptiness to life. “Vanity of vanities!” cries the Old Testament, “All is vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2). Nature, including our nature, is in bondage to decay. It all grows old, runs down, wears out, dies. Even the universe is dying, as is everything in it from the tiniest gnat to the greatest star. The cries and groans around us ought to remind us that we’re living in a world subjected to futility. Visit a place, for example, where old people are gathered to die. To see men and women who were once strong and beautiful, capable and intelligent, now reduced to pitiful shells, their bodies wrinkled and shrunken and trembling, their eyes vacant, their minds wandering along paths we’re unable to follow; to hear the air filled with their cries and groans and screams and curses – this is truly to understand that nature is in bondage to decay. And we feel it, the futility, the vanity, the emptiness. That’s what makes our pain so painful. It’s the frustration of knowing we must lose everything we love because nothing lasts.

Now think carefully about that last point. Why do we feel this pain at the futility of life? Where does the sense of frustration come from? Other creatures don’t feel it; how did we come to have it if we’re nothing more than animals who live for a while and then forever cease to be? A fish living in the sea doesn’t feel wet. Why then do we humans, living in time, feel so out of place? Why do we feel so much pain at being caught in the process of loss which time necessarily involves? The only possible reason I can think of is that our life wasn’t meant to be this way, that in some way we were meant to live forever. We have eternity in our hearts. We know we weren’t meant to die, and knowing this, we groan at all the death in our world.

CRIES OF HOPE

But now we come to the words of hope. You know, if all we had to talk about was the pain and futility of existence, we Christians would join the ranks of the cynics and pessimists. But we’ve got something more to say. We don’t deny the reality of suffering. We don’t say that pain is only an illusion, or that the way to escape the feeling of futility is to just stop caring about everything. No, we groan with the rest of creation. But here’s the difference: Our cries are cries of hope as well as hurt. “We know,” Paul says, “that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (v. 22, nrsv). You see the analogy he’s using? The pain at which we cry out is real, but it’s pain of a specific kind. It’s the pain of childbirth. It’s not blind, pointless agony, but it’s a suffering which leads to something wonderful. The pain becomes endurable because we know it’s bringing new life into the world and so we hope even while we groan, because we know that a new world is coming.

We’re told three wonderful things about this new world. First, in it suffering will be replaced with glory (v. 18). In fact, the suffering now isn’t worth comparing with the glory that will be then. There’s no comparison between them; no matter how much suffering we may experience here – and life can be excruciating – it can’t begin to measure up to the glory that will be ours in just a little while. Paul says elsewhere that this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure (2 Cor. 4:17). Suffering is temporary, glory is forever; suffering is insubstantial, glory is solid and massive. So they don’t compare. Second, in the coming world futility will give way to freedom (v. 21). The creation itself will share in final redemption, just as it was affected by original sin. It will be set free, transformed, glorified, renewed, recreated. Creation itself, says Paul, “is waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (v. 19), as if it knows what’s coming. And what that will be, I can’t begin to imagine. The Bible uses words like “imperishable” and “unfading” (1 Peter 1:4) to describe the world that is coming. It says that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9, niv). Whatever it will be like, this glorious liberty of the children of God will mean the end of all the things that frustrate us and mar our happiness now. The third thing we learn about the world to come is that there our adoption will be completed by full redemption (v. 23). In a sense, we’re only half-saved now. We’re saved spiritually; we’ve been forgiven and adopted as God’s children, but we don’t yet experience the full blessings of salvation. Something yet remains, namely, the redemption of our bodies. Our physical nature is going to be saved just as surely as our spiritual nature has been. These bodies of ours, weak and frail, aging, decaying, prone to accident and sickness, still given to sin, subject to death, will be transformed and glorified along with the rest of creation. I sometimes try to picture how it’s going to be: a beauty that never fades, strength that never diminishes, blooms that never wither, bodies that never die, and I’m at a loss. But that is the world that’s coming. We can be sure.

And so, Paul concludes, we’re saved in hope. Sometimes we forget this, and think we can have it all now, but we can’t. Salvation is always going to be something to hope for, and to wait for patiently, until the final day when God makes all things new. But don’t forget to hope, either. The day is coming. Nothing can stop it. And if you know Christ, these words of hope are for you.