It was a balmy October afternoon in 1982. Badger Stadium in Madison Wisconsin was packed out. That day there were more than 60,000 die-hard University of Wisconsin football fans watching their team take on the Michigan State Spartans. It didn’t take long to determine who the better team was. Michigan State was moping up the field with the Badgers. But what seemed odd was that even as the score became increasingly lopsided against their team, there were bursts of applause and shouts of joy from the Wisconsin fans. How could they cheer when their team was getting trounced so decisively? It turns out that 70 miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game 3 of the 1982 World Series. Many of the fans in the stands were listening to portable radios and responding to what was going on in another game, in another sport, in another place.
There is something to be said for being plugged into what is going on elsewhere. Sometimes, the things that are going on where you are become extremely difficult. So as Paul writes the words we are about to read in Romans 8, He wants to make sure that our faith in God affects the perspective in which we view our circumstances. No matter how difficult or even desperate our situation seems, Paul says we can face it with hope. (Read Romans 8:18-25)
For three weeks now we have been focusing on the Good News about being a Christian. The first week we highlighted that we live our lives in the middle of God’s grace, that there is no condemnation for our sin. Last week we focused on the fact that God gives us a companion in the Holy Spirit that helps us to live life to the fullest. This week, it is the gift of hope that Paul is pointing to. The fact that "we always have hope" is a tre-mendous benefit of knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
You don’t have to be a very astute observer to notice that we live in a world that struggles against hopelessness. If you talk to people at all, you are going to get in a conversation with someone who is going to tell you that they are discouraged. Listen to any of the radio talk shows or watch the news and you are going to hear people who are cynical about life. They think the world is going down the tubes. On a world scale, it seems that we go from crisis to crisis. In many or your lifetimes there has been W.W.II, Korea, Vietnam, Iran hostages, Iraq, and Bosnia, just to name a few of the highest profile conflicts. And in spite of our best efforts, we know there will be more conflicts. There has been economic crises. Today in our country we are faced with an ongoing crisis in leadership. But not all the struggles are on a national and international scale.
In our personal lives there is pain. We have physical problems that afflict our bodies. We endure emotional turmoil that comes with losing a loved one or that comes when we are disappointed by someone we love. If we are honest, we have to admit that we have spiritual struggles as we find ourselves disappointed with God.
As Paul talks about life, he does not want to candy coat the pain and struggles that we go through. But what he wants to do is to put them into perspective. Look again at what he says in 8:18 (Read). Paul uses language that helps us see life as an eternal proposition. We live here on earth for a little while, but we live forever. What Paul wants to make sure of is that we don’t get so discouraged with the difficulties of this life that we lose sight of the big picture of eternity. He says, "Don’t forget, there will be a time when there won’t be any more struggles, pain, death or tears. For those who are in Christ, there will be only joy and happiness."
Now look at what Paul says next. (Read vv. 19-21) But the truth of the matter is, that right now we live in a world that is less than perfect. This world is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. That law states that everything in this universe is decaying. What seems fresh and new one day will some day be old and broken down. Something that is growing and vibrant will some day shrivel up and die. To use Paul’s language, this world is in "bondage to decay."
So the plant that pops up through the soil and looks so alive and fresh will one day die and rot away. If you want to speed that process along, pot that plant up and put it in our house. The ultimate death sentence for a plant is to put it into our home. But seriously, the reality of the situation is that everything on earth is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. Even those of you with green thumbs can’t make a plant live forever! Every living thing will eventually die and decay. That includes me and that includes you. The second law of thermodynamics doesn’t offer any hope for anything on this earth. And when you run smack dab into the unyielding wall of that truth, it is sobering.
A philosopher of earlier in this century, Bertrand Russell was an outspoken atheist. He even wrote a book called Why I Am Not A Christian. When Russell was 81 years old, he was interviewed on a British Broadcasting Corporation radio talk show. The interviewer asked him what he had to hang onto when death was obviously so close. Russell responded, "I have nothing to hang onto but grim, unyielding despair." What an honest yet hopeless response. You see, when you live only for this life, when you invest your life in the flesh, when you think that this is all there is, you can’t help but live in despair.
But for those of us who are in Christ Jesus there is hope, because we anticipate a time when death and decay will no longer exist. In verse 19 Paul says "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." That phrase "eager expectation" is a picturesque word that means "to stretch the neck in anticipation." Have you ever waited for someone to come home on a plane? As the people come off the ramp you stretch and strain to see them as soon as possible. Paul says creation is in that type of existence, longing to see what God is going to do. I believe it. Look at what Paul goes on to say next. (Read vv. 22-23)
I have been around people who groan outwardly because of the pain their bodies are racked with. It is difficult to hear. But I have been around more people who groan inwardly too. It might not be an audible groan, but more of an internal groan. It’s a sense longing for perfection. In Paul’s mind, the groan occurs when we recognize that there is a huge gap between what is and what ought to be.
Every one of us has been there. When we experience the fallenness of this world, we let out a groan. Maybe it’s when a friend or a child or a parent or someone we love who does something we wish they wouldn’t have or we know they shouldn’t have. And out of frustration we groan. Maybe it’s when circumstances arise that cause us or someone we love pain. And out of pity we groan. But Paul says that groaning is a sign of our hope. We are longing for something better. And if we are in Christ, we have the promise that there is something better. So as we groan, we remember our hope. Some day things will be better. We have hope! And that hope for the future can and should affect our present disposition. (Pause)
You see, the Biblical worldview points us to a hope that is greater than the world we live in. Just as Paul said earlier in Romans 8 that we need to live in the Spirit rather than the flesh, he reminds us in these verses we need to be in touch with an eternal perspective on life that is greater than this world. If we are in Christ, we have been infused with an eternal sense of hopefulness. For the Christian, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation. (Read vv. 24-25)
Paul expands on this idea a little more in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Now make sure you understand what God is teaching us here through Paul’s words. He’s not saying like Christian Scientists would say, that we should just deny the reality of pain and trouble in this world because it’s not real. That’s not it at all. This world does hurt, it is frustrated and painful, and we shouldn’t deny the pain. But we cannot let the hopelessness of this creation get us down. For the Christian, who has entrusted God with his/her life, there is always reason for hope, both in this life and in the life to come.
Now, given that eternal perspective that there is more to life than the physical world, let me show you two ways that the Christian’s hope for the future will change our present.
1. Our hope keeps us from settling for the things of this world.
We live in a society that has bought the lie that "stuff" will provide happiness. In the late 20th century United States, we live in unprecedented prosperity. There is this idea floating around that if you can just gather enough stuff, you will experience fulfillment. That stuff might be power, or prestige, or possessions, or relationships. But if you are astute enough to look around at the people that have those things you will notice a trend. Fulfillment doesn’t come from that stuff. Scott Dudley put it this way: "Never in history have so many had so much for so long and been so depressed about it."
But when we adopt an eternal mindset, stuff looses it’s significance. When we recognize that the things of this world aren’t going to last forever, we realize that there is no fulfillment in collecting it. We come to recognize what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 2:26
To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.
When we place our hope in God, we don’t try to satisfy our groanings with the things of this world. In hope, we anticipate that God will satisfy us in ways that cannot be understood in this lifetime. (Read vv. 24-25 again)
2. Our hope turns our eyes away from our pain to God’s glory.
Last year our family went through a very difficult time. Early in 1998 we were informed that we were expecting our third child. We hadn’t anticipated another child, and honestly the idea took a little getting used to for both Pam and I. But after the shock wore off, our excitement and anticipation of another baby grew.
Seven months into the pregnancy, during a routine check-up Pam’s doctor informed her that the baby had died in her womb. After the baby was delivered it was obvious that a malformation in the umbilical cord had kept the baby from getting the nourishment she needed. Now that was a difficult time for our family, but I have to say that it was especially tough for Pam. She had already spent 7 months getting to know our child in a way that I could not. The tears and the heartache were profound. Our family, individually and collectively groaned over the fact that we didn’t get to know Elizabeth Grace like we had anticipated.
But as is always the case, God has even used that tragedy for His glory. During the time following our baby’s death we were overwhelmed by the people who reached out to comfort us. Above our couch in the living room of our home hangs a portrait that was given us by some friends. It is a picture of a little girl reaching out expectantly to a lamb. The picture is entitled "God’s Of Grace." Scores of cards and words of comfort filled our experience of grief with hope.
But we also learned something else. A truth that Paul expressed in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
God filled us up through the comfort of others and then we found ourselves in situations where we could comfort others. Within weeks Pam was sitting in the waiting room at University hospital with a family from our church who were going through difficulty. While there she encountered at least 2 families going through the loss of an unborn child. Nobody could understand quite the way she could. She had the opportunity to groan with them about a frustrated creation that is in bondage to decay. But because she has placed her faith in Christ, she also to share with them the hope of verse 21, "that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."
You see, the good news is that in Christ we live in a constant state of hope that the pain of this world will give way to the painless reality of heaven. The promise from the Bible is that in that time Christ will dry all our tears. But that hope isn’t just "Pie in the sky in the sweet by and by." That hope infuses us now with the ability to turn our eyes away from our pain to God’s glory. One day, in a place that is unseen now, the hope of our family is that we will have the opportunity to get to know Elizabeth Grace. Hear the words of Romans 8:18-25 again. (Read)
The good news for those who are in Christ Jesus is that
YOU ALWAYS HAVE HOPE.