Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Son of Man

Part 3 of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:9



When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps. 8:3-4).


Star Gazing

I have preached on Psalm 8 in the past—but never at Christmastime. The author of Hebrews makes a connection between Psalm 8 and the coming of the Christ into the world. Of course, we who are Christians believe that the Christ (i.e., the Messiah) is Jesus—Jesus Christ.

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise written by David. In the psalm, David mentions looking up at the stars. In his younger days, David was a shepherd. And I’m sure there were many nights when David would lie on his back and gaze at the stars.

Today we know much more about the stars than David ever did. How many stars do you think there are? There are many more stars that the naked eye can see. In our galaxy alone, there are about 400 billion stars. And according to one recent estimate, there are at least 2 trillion galaxies.

We live in an immense universe. It’s not surprising that David begins and end Psalm 8 the same way: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1a, 9).


God's Awesomeness and Our Insignificance

Verse 1 goes on to say, “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1b). Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The apostle Paul writes, “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). The heavens are glorious, but God is more glorious.

Listen to Isaiah 40:25-26: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see: who created these [the stars]? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”

David writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (vv. 3-4). God is big; we are little. We are nothing in comparison to God.

Psalm 8 was written to encourage God’s people to praise God. Why should we praise God? Here’s one reason: We are so little, but God has done big things for us! The God who made the stars is the same God who cares about us! But how much does God care about us?


We See Jesus

Psalm 8:5 says, “You have made him [the son of man] a little lower than the heavenly beings [i.e., the angels].” In Hebrews 2, the author quotes Psalm 8. He sees “the son of man” as the Son of Man: “We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus” (v. 9). In the Gospels, Jesus often refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” What does this title mean?

In Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel describes a vision in which he sees “one like a son of man” (v. 13). In other words, he sees a person who looks like a man. But the “one like a son of man” is obviously more than just a man. In Daniel’s vision, the “one like a son of man” comes “with the clouds of heaven.” In the OT, God is the one who rides on the clouds. “[The LORD] makes the clouds his chariot” (Ps. 104:3). “Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud” (Isa. 19:1). “The clouds are the dust of [the LORD’s] feet” (Nah. 1:3).

When Jesus questioned by Caiaphas the high priest regarding his true identity, Jesus declares, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was saying, “I am the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision!” What was the high priest’s reaction? He accuses Jesus of blasphemy (v. 65). By calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus was claiming to be both man (“one like a son of man”) and God (“with the clouds of heaven”).

“We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Ponder what this means! Think about who that baby lying in a manger really was! Think about God's humility and love! And then ponder our own lack of humility and love.

The God-man died for us! That’s how much God cares about us!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hope's Peace

Part of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Micah 5:1-5a; 7:18-20




But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…. And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 5a). 


What We Really Need

It’s not uncommon to receive a Christmas gift that we don’t really need—or that we don’t even want. 

There’s something that we all need this Christmas. We all need hope. What happens if we have no hope? If we have no hope, we are filled with despair. We have no reason to live. We need to have good things to look forward to. If we are going through a difficult time, we need the expectation that things are going to get better.


Israel's Great Hope

The people of Judah need hope because they’re about to be attacked by the Assyrian army. So God, through the prophet Micah, gives them a message of hope: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (5:2).

The interpretation of both Christianity and Judaism is that Micah 5:2 is about the Messiah (i.e., the Christ). When Herod asks the chief priest and scribes “where the Christ was to be born,” they answer, “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and then they quote Micah 5:2: “ (cf. John 7:42).

The great hope of Israel was the coming of the Messiah. And God says it’s going to happen, and he’ll be born in Bethlehem.


God Keeps His Promises

The prophecy of Micah 5:2 was given in 701 B.C. Centuries pass, and the Messiah still hasn’t arrived. Is the Messiah ever going to come?

When waiting, if you wait long enough, you begin to wonder if what you’re waiting for will ever happen.

Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem until 700 years after the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was given—but he was born! “The hopes and dreams of all the years are met in thee [Bethlehem] tonight.” God keeps his promises. And believing God’s promises produces hope.

Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah’s “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” “From ancient times” probably points back to the ancient line of David. (Micah 5:2 and 4 certainly make us think of David: he was from Bethlehem—“the city of David,” Luke 2:4—and he was a shepherd.)

God kept the promise he made to David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

Micah 7:20 says, “You have shown faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

We too are waiting for the coming of the Christ. We’re waiting for his second advent. It’s been 2,700 years, and we’re waiting for the day when “he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (5:3). Is Jesus ever going to return?

God always keeps his promises, but the when and how of their fulfillment often don’t meet our expectations (e.g., small and insignificant Bethlehem).


Hope and Peace

Micah 5:5 says, “And he [the Messiah] shall be their peace.” There’s a connection between hope and peace. If we have hope that things will get better, we can have peace—even during extremely difficult times. Hope gives us peace. 

We all need hope. What is your hope in?

There are little hopes—good things we look forward to. But is life nothing more than looking forward to a few good things before we die? There are little hopes, and there is ultimate hope.

The people of Judah were waiting for a Messiah to trample their enemies underfoot. But what does Micah 7:19 say? “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.” God’s plan was to trample their sins underfoot. How would he accomplish this? By allowing his Son to be trampled underfoot, to be crucified. “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).

We can have ultimate hope because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Do you have hope—ultimate hope, hope that extends beyond this life? Is your hope in Jesus? Do you have the peace of hope?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Offspring of the Woman

Part 1 of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Genesis 3:15



“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).


What Do We Really Need?

We’re counting down the days until Christmas.

We call Christmas “the most wonderful time of the year,” but Christmas always leaves us wanting more. We look forward to the gifts, the music, the food—all the Christmas traditions—but they’re never enough.

We long for something more because we were made for something more.

What do we really need? We need hope—not a finger crossing type of hope, but a confident expectation of good things to come.


Protoevangelium

Genesis 3:15 is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.” This verse contains the first hint about the gospel.

God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity [i.e., hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” This prophecy could merely be foretelling the natural hostility between humans and snakes.

But God is saying much more that that. “Offspring” is a collective noun (cf. Gal. 3:16). It can refer to one person or many people (i.e., one descendant or many descendants). I believe that the “offspring” of the woman points forward to one particular descendant of Eve: Jesus, who is described as “born of woman” (Gal. 4:4), “offspring of the Virgin’s womb” (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing).

Mary’s baby boy was born to put a thrill of hope in our hearts. 


More Than Just a Baby Boy

Mary’s baby boy—the baby lying in a manger—was more than just a baby boy.

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). 
  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). 
  • “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). 
  • “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; / Hail th’incarnate Deity” (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing).

The Serpent's Defeat

The serpent’s true identity is revealed in the NT. In Revelation 12, the apostle John is given a vision of “a great red dragon” (v. 3). And the dragon is identified as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (v. 9).

Satan would like to extinguish humanity’s hope. In John’s vision, the dragon is seen waiting for the child to be born so that “he might devour it” (v. 4). Satan made many attempts to kill Jesus (e.g., Herod, religious leaders of the Jews, etc.).

Finally, Satan succeeds. Jesus is crucified. But what he didn’t realize is that he would be defeated by the blood of Jesus. The serpent had bruised the heel of Jesus, but Jesus had crushed the head of the serpent. Satan is an accuser. He accuses God of not being good (e.g., his temptation of Eve). He accuses us of sin (cf. Rom. 8:33). But “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).


Hope

Think about the excitement and magic of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

But it doesn’t last long. Soon we’re thinking, “What’s next?”

People sometimes say, “I wish every day could be just like Christmas.” I’m convinced that eternity for the child of God will be like one continuous Christmas day—but even better!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

If God Is For Us, We Should Never Be Afraid

Part 1 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:31-32




What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (vv. 31-32).


New Series

We are starting a new series of sermons based on Romans 8:31-39. The series is called “God Is For Us.”

  1. If God is for us, we should never be afraid (vv. 31-32) 
  2. If God is for us, we will never be condemned (vv. 33-34) 
  3. If God is for us, we will never be abandoned (vv. 35-39) 

The apostle Paul asks, “What then shall we say to these things?” (v. 31). “These things” probably refers to all that he’s written in chapters 5-8. Paul answers his question with five rhetorical questions. Let’s read what says about “these things.”


God Is on Our Side

When my high school basketball team would go to a tournament, the first thing we’d do was look at the tournament schedule. Who would our first opponent be? Imagine if we could insert into our starting lineup a player like Lebron James. We wouldn’t care who we were playing against. It wouldn’t matter. That’s what Paul means when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31).

“If” means “since.” For God to be “for us” means that he’s on our side. Since God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who our enemies are. We can say with the psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Paul isn’t saying that God’s children won’t experience any opposition. He’s not saying we won’t ever go through times of trouble. [Talk about things that could make us afraid.] What he’s saying is that nothing can cause us ultimate harm—undo all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us. “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified” we are sure that he will glorify.

[Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.] In the end, all of the opposition and trouble we face in this life, will produce “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”


God Gave Up His Son for Us

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). This is the clearest demonstration of God being “for us.” Octavius Winslow said, “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy;—but the Father, for love!”

Paul could be thinking of the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22. God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him…as a burnt offering” (v. 2). In the end, Isaac was spared. But Jesus was not spared. What Abraham was told to do, God did. He “gave [his own Son] for us all.”

There could be no greater gift than the gift of God’s Son to die for us. Since God has already given us the greatest gift, he will certainly give us everything else we need. If someone has already graciously purchased a new car for you, will they mind giving you a piece of gum? [Read Philippians 4:19, then verses 11-13.] Remember: sometimes we don't actually need what we think we need.


Fear Not

What causes you to fear? If God is for us—and he is!—we should never be afraid. God—who if he were a basketball player would make Lebron James look like me—is on our side!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Glorified!

Part 5 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:29-30




For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (vv. 29-30). 


God Is Not Indifferent to Our Suffering

In this life we groan. It’s normal to ask, “Why, God?” But one question we should never ask is “Do you care, God?”

In John 11, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus informing him that their brother Lazarus is dying. Jesus doesn’t leave until two days later, and by the time he arrives at their house, Lazarus has died. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21). I think what she really wants to say was, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” Did Jesus not care?

When Jesus sees Mary weeping, he becomes “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (v. 33). The KJV says that Jesus groans. [1]  And then when he arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus cries. [2]

God is not indifferent to our suffering. When we groan, God groans. When we cry, God cries.


The Coming Day of Glory

There is no greater proof that God cares about us than the cross. On that cross, Jesus groaned so that one day our groaning would cease. On that cross, Jesus suffered so that one day our suffering would end.

There is coming a day so glorious that the suffering of this life will seem like nothing in comparison. [3] That’s not making light of our suffering. That’s making much of the glory of that day!

How can we be sure that we will experience this day of glory? 


An Unbreakable Chain

The “purpose” of God (v. 28) is outlined in verses 29 and 30. There is an unbreakable chain of five links (i.e., five acts of God) that guarantee the completion of a believer’s salvation: “those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). There’s been a lot of debate about what “foreknew” means.

There are two interpretations:

  • “Foreknew” means that God knew ahead of time who would put their faith in Christ. 
  • “Foreknew” means that God foreloved the elect (i.e., those whom he chose to be saved). “In Scripture God’s knowing often refers to his entering into relationship with someone.” [4] For example, in Amos 3:2 God says, “You [Israel] only have I known [5] of all the families of the earth.”

I agree with the second interpretation—though I also believe that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Our destiny is to be like Jesus in his glorified state. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

“Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified.” “Calling” is not a general gospel invitation. It is God’s effective summoning of us into relationship with himself through Christ.” [6]

“Those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” Our glorification hasn’t happened yet. Why does Paul talk about it in the past tense? Because it’s as good as done from God’s perspective.


Grace Alone

How can we be sure that we will experience the day of glory? We can be sure because of God’s grace and God’s grace alone. It’s not up to us. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). “Every justified believer will be saved in the end.” [7]

____________________

[1] “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33, KJV).
[2] “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
[3] “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
[4] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[5] The NIV says, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.”
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[7] Ibid., p. 279.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

God Works All Things for Our Good

Part 4 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:28




And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (v. 28). 


An Amazing Promise

The promise of Romans 8:28 is one of the greatest promises in the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Nothing will come into our lives that God doesn’t allow and use for our good. What this promise tells us is that “God is for us” (v. 31).

But maybe you don’t feel like God is for you. Maybe your life—or the life of someone you know—seems to contradict Romans 8:28. Let’s make sure we understand what the apostle Paul is really saying in Romans 8:28.


A Promise for Every Believer

This promise isn’t for everyone. This promise is “for those who love God.” This promise is “for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul isn’t talking about two kinds of people; he’s talking about one kind of person. He’s talking about believers.

You might be thinking, “But what if I don’t love God enough?” Paul isn’t saying that this promise applies only to believers who love God to a certain degree. This promise is for every believer. “Those who love God” is a description of all believers.


All Things?

All things work together for good.” “All things” means all things—both the good things and the bad things. But this doesn’t mean that bad things are good things.

Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate example of God using a bad thing to bring about good. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). “In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).

Was the crucifixion of Jesus a good thing? That’s a tricky question. The cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened.


"Good" Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

“All things work together for good.” Romans 8:28 is not promising that life will always be easy for a believer. Consider Paul’s life. He certainly didn’t live a life of ease. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.] 

We shouldn’t interpret “good” from the world’s perspective. For example, if a believer loses his or her job, we shouldn’t automatically say, "Don’t be upset. God must have an even better job for you because 'all things work together for good.'" Maybe that is the plan of God. But maybe it isn’t. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.] “Good” includes our conformity to Christ—which begins in this life—and our glorification. [Read verses 29-30.] 


The Benefit of Hindsight

Paul says, “We know that…all things work together for good.” “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 12:8). In the present, we “know” by faith. We trust God to cause everything to work together for our good. We trust God—an all-wise God, an all-powerful God, a faithful God, a good God. One day, we will “know” by sight.

We live this life not having all the answers, not understanding why things happen the way they do. We ask, “Why would God allow [something bad] to happen?”

Think again about the crucifixion of Jesus. As his mother and friends were standing there watching him suffer and die, what were they thinking? They were probably thinking, “This is the most horrible thing that could have ever happened.” They were probably asking, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

We now have the benefit of hindsight. We now see that the cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened. In the end, we’ll have the benefit of hindsight. We’ll be able to look back at some awful times in our lives and see how God was working for our good. The promise of Romans 8:28 gives us hope when everything seems pointless and painful.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Holy Spirit's Groaning

Part 3 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:26-27




Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. 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 (v. 26). 


It's Not Easy to Pray

It’s not easy to pray. Anyone who says it’s easy to pray is either lying or isn’t normal. Why isn’t it easy to pray?

  • Prayer requires time. 
  • Prayer requires discipline. No one accidentally falls into the habit of daily prayer.
  • Prayer requires focus. 
  • We often don’t know what to pray for. The Bible tells us to pray “according to the will of God,” but what do we do when we’re not sure what God’s will is? Should we pray for deliverance from our troubles or for strength to endure them? 

Why should we bother to pray when we don’t know what to pray for?


The Spirit Helps Us

When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us. “The Spirit [who “dwells in” believers (v. 11)] helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). [1]

Notice that Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He doesn’t say “you.” Paul is admitting that even he didn’t always know what to pray for. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells about a time when he asked for something that wasn’t the will of God. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.]

How does the Spirit help us? He “intercedes [i.e., prays] for us” (v. 26). And how does he intercede for us? He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). One way to understand these “groanings” is that they are our groanings. “They are inexpressible longings that arise in every believer’s heart to do and know the will of God.” [2] But our groanings also become the Spirit’s groanings. He takes them to the Father and “translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will.” [3]


Your Will Be Done

The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is the model for our prayers. We naturally want the easier path (deliverance from the trouble rather than strength through the trouble). It’s not wrong to pray for deliverance. Jesus prayed—while being “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33)—that the “cup” (a metaphor for the wrath of God) would be removed from him. But in the end, he said, “Yet not I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

 Is that your desire? Do you desire to do the will of the God who endured the cross?


Hope in Prayer

Verse 26 begins with the word “Likewise.” As our hope helps us in times of trouble, the Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray for.

If we truly desire to do the will of God, we don’t have to fear that we might ask for the wrong thing. The Spirit intercedes for us.

___________________

[1] The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. There is only one God, but each Person of the Trinity is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Should we not believe in the Trinity because we can’t understand it? No! We shouldn’t expect to understand with our finite minds everything about God. God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Even the most brilliant human mind is finite.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 446.
[3] Ibid.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Our Groaning

Part 2 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:23-25




And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (v. 23). 


Groaning

The apostle Paul says that we (i.e., believers) “groan inwardly” (v. 23). Did you groan about something this past week?

  • We groan about the never-ending tasks of life.
  • We groan about our physical struggles (e.g., tiredness, weight gain, sickness, pain).
  • We groan about our relational problems (e.g., failed marriages).
  • We groan about our spiritual failures (e.g., not loving others as ourselves). 

We don’t groan because we have no hope. We groan because we do have hope. How can hope cause us to groan?


Our Hope

Paul writes, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23).

We “have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” The “firstfruits” are the beginning of the harvest, and they also cause the farmer to anticipate a greater harvest. Paul is saying that because we’ve received the Holy Spirit, we now look forward to even greater blessings. And since we are looking forward to a life that is so much better, we groan when we go through the struggles of this life.

An elderly person who was once a great athlete must inwardly groan when he struggles to walk up the stairs. He groans when he looks back. We groan when we look forward—not because we don’t have hope, but because we do have hope.

When Paul talks about our “hope,” he’s not talking about the normal kind of hope (i.e., wishful thinking)—“I hope I win a million dollars.” Our hope isn’t wishful thinking because it’s guaranteed by the word and power of God.

What’s our hope? “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” But didn’t Paul say in verse 15 that we already children of God? Yes, we have already been adopted into God’s family, but we do not yet enjoy all of the blessings of adoption. We are living in the period between justification and glorification (v. 30).

Paul is thinking specifically about “the redemption of our bodies.” [Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.] When Christ returns our bodies will raised (if he comes after we die) and transformed. “The redemption of our bodies” is not only freedom from our physical struggles, but also freedom from our spiritual struggles. (Do we groan about both?) “In this hope we were saved” (v. 24a).

There needs to be a balance in our lives between thankfulness (for our present blessings) and groaning (as we look forward to our future blessings).


How Should We Wait?

“Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (v. 24b). “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

We are waiting for a day when we will no longer groan. This is our hope. How should we wait for the day when our groaning will cease?

1. We are to wait with excitement (“we wait eagerly,” v. 23). 

Are you waiting for some big event, counting down the days? My kids often ask, “How many days until…?” We count down the days when were excited. What God has planned for our future is something to get excited about!

2. We are to wait with endurance (“we wait for it with patience,” v. 25). 

Paul isn’t talking about just killing time. He’s talking about holding on to hope despite suffering and difficulties. It’s not like waiting to see the dentist for a checkup. It’s like waiting to see the dentist because you have a terrible toothache. But remember, we’re not just waiting for the end of all our problems. We’re waiting for a future so glorious that we can’t even begin to imagine it.


We Are Far Too Easily Pleased

Are we really longing for this day?

C. S. Lewis writes,
…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory, p. 26).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Creation's Groaning

Part 1 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:18-30




For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (v. 18). 


Series Introduction

For the remainder of our journey through the book of Romans, I’m going to do things a bit differently. From here on out, I’m going to make each section of Romans into its own little series of sermons. So I’m beginning a four-part series on Romans 8:18-30. And I’m calling this series From Groaning to Glory.

Notice the word “groaning” in verse 22, the word “groan” in verse 23, and the word “groanings” in verse 26. And also notice the word “glorified” at the end of verse 30. From groaning to glory.


Present Suffering, Future Glory

Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). Is Paul saying that our suffering is insignificant?

Paul isn’t saying that people don’t experience great suffering. I'm sure you can think of someone (maybe it's yourself) who is going through a time of great suffering. And we know that there are many others who are going through similar kinds of suffering--or even worse.

Notice that verse 18 begins with the word “For.” What Paul says in verse 18 is connected to what he said in verse 17: we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

In verse 17, Paul is talking about persecution. In verse 18, he’s talking about all kinds of suffering. We suffer because of our “human frailty,” which includes both our physical and moral frailty. [1]

Paul doesn’t pretend that a person’s problems disappear when he or she becomes a follower of Christ. Actually, he often writes in his letters about how following Christ caused him to experience suffering. [2]

Paul suffered greatly. People today suffer greatly. Paul isn’t saying that our suffering is insignificant. What he is saying is that the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. So if our suffering is great, imagine how great the glory will be!


Eager Longing

Paul says that the glory will be so great that even “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19). Paul personifies [3] creation. [4]

He says, “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 corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (vv. 20-21).

Who subjected creation to futility? It was God. Creation was “subjected to futility” because of humanity’s sin. [Read Genesis 3:17-19.] This world is not what it was made to be. But notice that he subjected creation to futility “in hope”—in hope that one day creation will “be set free from its bondage to corruption.” God says that he will “create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isa. 57:17; cf. Rev. 21:1).

We won’t forget about the old heavens and earth, but we won’t miss it (like my parents miss their old washing machine, even though they now have a new and “better” one). [Read Revelation 21:1-5; 22:3.] Paul is talking about the world we want to live in—a world where “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3), a world free from futility and frustration.

In The House at Pooh Corner, Winnie the Pooh is asked, “What do you like doing best in the world?” Pooh starts to answer, and then he stops and thinks because “although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you begin to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” That’s true. Usually the anticipation is better than the experience. The experience often doesn’t live up to our expectations. And, of course, every experience is only temporary.

What do you long for? What we really long for, we won’t find in this world. C. S. Lewis once said that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” [5] We were made for another world.


Do You Have Hope? 

In verse 22, Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I haven’t experienced childbirth (obviously), but I’ve observed it. I was present for the birth of my four children. What I know is that the pain of childbirth is great, but it’s nothing compared to the joy of having a newborn baby. That’s what keeps a woman going during the pain of childbirth.

In this world, there is great suffering. But the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. Imagine how great the glory will be!

One thing we need during times of suffering is hope. Do you have hope?

____________________

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 237.
[2] In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Once I was stoned” (2 Cor. 11:25; cf. Acts 14:19).
[3] This is common in the Bible. For example, Psalm 65:13 says that the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys “shout and sing together for joy.”
[4] “Creation” refers to “all of subhuman creation: plants, animals, rocks, and so on” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 266).
[5] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 136-137.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What's So Great About Being a Child of God?

Part 26 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:14-17




For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (v. 15). 


My Dad! 

There’s a viral video in which a group of girls are bragging about their dads.

One girl says, “My daddy has a gold tooth!”

One of the girls is impressed: “Wow, a gold tooth?”

Not to be outdone, another girl turns to the first girl and says, “My dad has diabetes.”

We who are Christians say that God is our Father. And the Bible actually encourages us to boast about “our Father in heaven”: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). So what’s so great about being a child of God?


What It Means to Be a Child of God

In these verses, Paul gives us two reasons why it’s an amazing privilege to be a child of God—to have God as our Father.

1. A child of God has been adopted by God. 

In verse 14, Paul says, “All who led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Later, he writes, “We have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” To be adopted by God means to be chosen by God. God has chosen us to be his children.

Why do verses 14 and 15 say that we are “sons,” not “sons and daughters”? Is Paul excluding women? No! The reason why Paul uses the word “sons” has to do with the culture of his day. In that culture, a childless adult would adopt a male child to be his heir. So an adopted child would have been a son.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26). And then he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). In other words, all of us—both male and female—are equal in God’s family. No one is more or less a child of God than anyone else!

To be adopted by God also means to be loved by God. In verses 15 and 16, Paul writes, “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (cf. Gal. 4:6). Our relationship with God is not a relationship of fear; it’s a relationship of love.

Paul says that we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Paul’s original letter would have read Abba! Pater! The word Abba—which, by the way, has nothing to do with a Swedish pop group—is Aramaic, and the word Pater is Greek. Both words mean “Father.”

Jesus spoke Aramaic, so “Abba” is what Jesus called God. In Mark 14:36, Jesus address God as “Abba, Father.” When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he taught them to address God in the same way: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).

Once God adopts us, we never have to fear that God will one day return us to the orphanage. He will never disown us. He will never kick us out of his family. We are permanently in God’s family. Nothing can or will change that. As Paul says later in Romans 8, “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

2. A child of God is an heir of God. 

In verse 17, Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

What does it mean to be “an heir of God”? What is our inheritance? Our inheritance includes many things, but the greatest treasure of our inheritance is God himself. “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6). We were made for God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the “chief end of man” is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

We are “fellow heirs with Christ.” Jesus became like us (v. 3) so that we could become like him (v. 29). The Son died on a cross so that I could become a son! “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 8:10).


Am I Really God's Child?

How do I know if I’m really a child of God? Am I really God’s child? Is God really my Father? If God is my Father, I will resemble him. How can I resemble God?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells them, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1-2). To be an imitator of God is to be like him in our character and in our actions.

Jesus “loved us and gave himself up for us.” The Father “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Look at 17: “if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We aren’t to desire suffering, but are you willing to suffer in order to remain faithful to God? God was willing to suffer for us.