Has anyone seen The Postman. It’s a bit old now, it was released a few years ago. And while it comes from a good book, the movie does boil down to a new setting for Kevin Costner to play the same character he played in every other movie he’s ever been in. But in this movie, the self-centred guy who cares nothing for anyone else until he finds a cause worth fight for, at which point he becomes the hero, is in a post-apocalyptic America. He finds a old post truck. He is accepted into villages and get food and shelter by pretending to be a representative of the restored United States Postal service by delivering some of the old letters and wearing the uniform. But as he continues his charade and more and more people believe in the restored united states. Meanwhile, an evil dictator with a forced army is on the loose. The villages decide to stand against them because the restored united states will protect them. Some of them are slaughtered and Kevin Costner runs away because he gave them hope, something to believe in but it wasn’t true. They couldn’t get a better condition than what they were in but at least before they were content. I’m not going to let tell you how the film ends. But hope, it can dangerous if its false. Yet it can be vital. People without hope can give up, abandon the good they have or even commit suicide because they have no hope. Yet if it is falsely given then it can be the most dangerous thing in the world. The question is which is Christian hope.
Continue the imagery of the early part of the chapter which talks about Christians as those who are lead by the Spirit and not by the flesh. It talks about how those who are lead by the Spirit have freedom from the power of sin. Now Romans 8:12-25 goes on to tell us what else we have if we live by the power of the Spirit, what else we have if we are Christians.
Verses 16-17 give us a list. We are children and heirs of God, suffering and glory. The interesting thing is that they are linked with a concept that is stated explicitly in 24-25, hope. Yes, we are children and heirs now, but an heir is someone who will inherent. An heir talks not about something we receive now, but which we will inherent in the future. It also talks about enduring suffering in the present so that we will receive glory with Christ in the future.
In the past when this kind of passage was preached on Christianity was been accused of being all pie in the sky when you die. This phrase comes from a protest song from America which was started from groups of lumber and construction workers who when between jobs had no money or food and got upset at the Salvation Army of all people for preaching about all this heaven stuff and enduring stuff here while all they wanted was food to eat. In response a guy called Joe Hill wrote a song called the Preacher and the Slave to the tune of the Sweet Bye and Bye. The first verse and chorus of which went like this
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
In other words its talking about something that meets none of the real needs of the community but rather is just a made up lie to get you to be cooperative and put up with suffering now. What good is pie in the sky when you die if you need food now.
In reaction against this view we have tended to shy away from talking about eternal rewards sometimes and emphasise the NOW of Christianity. While not wanting to disagree with this idea, the NOW of Christianity, this passage does talk more about the future. So what about these pie in the sky claims. Paul doesn’t seem to view it that way and the picture he gives of hope is not the modern one we are more familiar with. We do view hope most often as a kind of airy fairy idea about the future that we would like to come true but many times either don’t expect it too or if there is a fair chance that it might there’s a also a good chance that it won’t. I hope that Scotland is going to win the world cup. I hope that Scotland is going to qualify for the world cup. Or I hope to have house paid for by the time I retire. I hope I don’t have a car accident. All my ideas about things that I would like to happen in the future all with varying degrees of whether they are likely to happen or not. But I can guarantee none of them.
For Paul, hope is not like this. Hope is not about things that may or may not come to pass but which we would like. Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is the patient wait for what we are guaranteed but don’t yet see. 8:24-25. It is the calm assurance that no matter how the world may look right at this moment there is a God in control who will bring about his purposes. It can give meaning to life.
Paul starts his talk about hope by listing what we have in Christ, not only freedom from sin, but adoption into the family of God, all these wonderful things, yet he recognises or anticipates the response. “Well that’s all very well Paul but right here and now my business has been shut down, my family has walked out me and I’m facing imprisonment and death, so don’t talk to me about all the privileges of being in the Spirit.” And Paul responds to his own question by saying that we need to put it in context. Yes, you are suffering now but look what you are going to get.
It may have escaped your notice or not if your observant, that the commonwealth games were held in Manchester earlier this year. However, preparations have been going on for years. Stadiums being built, roads being done up, pavements replaced. And then theres the athletes. Putting in hard work, training. All the months and years of pain, sweat and tears will be worth it when they get to compete in a world class field, win the gold or get the record. They are willing to put up with the pain and hard work because they know the outcome. Now for athletes we know a favorite can can lose, there’s only one gold medal for each event, so nothing is certain. But Christianity is different. If we stick with it we are guaranteed the outcome.
Or we might talk about Jacob from the Old Testament. God appears to Jacob and promises to make him into a great nation. He might have thought yeah right, I’m a singly guy on the run from my brother who wants to kill me. I have nothing. You made the same promise to my father and grandfather and look where it got them. I’m not seeing much in the way of evidence here, just a fancy dream. Yet he trusted. Not fully and not without conditions but God meets us where we are and only makes requires what he knows we can do. However, God is the judge of what we can or cannot manage, not us. Yet Jacob trusted.
Paul reminds his readers that Christ himself suffered, when he says “suffer with him” and reminds them that as a result of Christ’s death and suffering he was glorified: in context read resurrected and ascended to heaven. And then says that if we are joining with him in suffering then we will also join with him in being glorified. We also will be resurrected with a new body, not subject to disease, death, decay and join Christ in heaven. To Paul this wasn’t an wishful thinking, a hedged bet against the remote possibility that it might just turn out to be true after all (as in Pascal’s wager: you know the one, if Christianity is wrong and I believe what have I lost – not much, lived a good life, enjoyed it [wasn’t much oppression for Christians in Pascal’s day]; if Christianity is right and I don’t believe what have I lost – everything) or even just something he was fairly sure was going to happen. It was much more than this. Paul had met the risen Christ. He was full of the Holy Spirit, in a vibrant relationship with God. His encounter with the risen Christ was the guarantee of his resurrection. It wasn’t an academic philosophy. A resurrection had happened in history Jesus Christ and Paul had met the resurrected one. Paul was absolutely convinced that the resurrection was going to happen. And it was going to be for eternity. When put it this context, it seemed silly to Paul, to emphasise this life most of all. In fact towards the end of his life, Paul writes that it would be much better for him to die and to get all that was promised. To Paul it simply a matter of weighing up options. The fact that he couldn’t see one of the options yet was simply irrelevant, he was so convinced of its reality.
But lest we forget for a minute what happened to Paul and think that this was all very well for one of the leaders of the church but what about the people who had real suffering, lets remind ourselves about the life of Paul. In his own words taken from 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 [read it]. Paul knew what he was talking about when it came to suffering.
So what about us. It’s all very well for Paul who saw the resurrected Christ and was absolutely convinced about the reality of the resurrection. What about us, who have never physically seen the resurrected Christ, who sometimes have doubts and sometimes wonder is it really true or even ponder deep down where we don’t tell anyone else what if it is all false have I thrown my life away for nothing? Hebrews 11:39-40 is quite instructive on this point. [read it] It says that all the saints of the Old Testament did what they did with an attitude of hope. God promised and they trusted that God would fulfill that promise even although they all died without receiving that promise. Then we are given a challenge. Firstly is the idea that we (along with them) have now received some of what they were promised. Jesus has come and died for us. We have the Holy Spirit living in us. There are times where that is just so real to us, I remember as a teenager after one of my friends had left the church thinking how on earth was it was possible for anybody to know this and then falling away. And yet there are also times when God seems further away and we entertain our worst fears. It’s important to remember the other times and to pray and ask God to make his presence felt.
Secondly there is still part of it that we have not yet received, the things we still hope for. To be resurrected, to be free of decay and death, to live in a perfectly restored world with no suffering, to be perfected. Things that we will claim along with those who went before in the future. We are encouraged that we are not unique. We all must trust and hope in the things that God has promised yet which we do not yet see. We have the added benefit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, who gives us a relationship with God. To convince us of the reality of God.
Paul is encouraging us to look at things from an eternal perspective. When we get to know God, when our prayer lives are so dynamic that we cannot possibly conceive of the idea that God is not real, then we are utterly convince of his promises, then look at things from an eternal perspective. The psalmist from Psalm 86 complained that his enemies were all around him seeking his life, yet he remained convinced of God’s power and victory. When we look from the perspective of eternity, from eternal life with God, then suddenly our present position doesn’t look so bad. That’s not to say it isn’t bad, or that we have to stay where we are and do nothing to change it. Rather it means that we can endure because we know what awaits us if we do.
I was watching the Tour De France earlier this year. They were cycling through the Piranese mountains. The end of the stage was at the top of an extreme climb. There are 5 categories of climbs, 4-1 and then extreme. He had just be cycling for 6 hours up 5 climbs all category 1 or extreme. His legs must have been killing him, yet he knew if he could just hang on and win the stage then he would take the lead in the Tour de France. He was going through agony, yet because he could see it from the end perspective, he was willing to endure to win the prize.
So what am I saying. Am I saying that God doesn’t care about now or your suffering? NO. He does. Am I saying that there is nothing Christianity can offer us now? NO. It does. Am I saying that you can’t enjoy being a Christ now? NO. You can. Am I saying it’s all pie in the sky when you die, that the benefits of Christianity are intangible and I’ll never have to deliver on my promises because they only take place after you die so if I’m wrong you can’t sue me? NO! NO! NO!
I am saying that some us along with Paul are so convinced of the reality of God through the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that we are convinced of the reality of the resurrection. And that it is not enough that we sit in comfort and tell those who are suffering don’t worry it’ll be better when you die. But rather that we bet our lives on that that truth. That sometimes we make decisions that would be detrimental to us if there was no resurrection. That we do help others here and now. And that we encourage you to look at things from an eternal perspective. Not to con people into being satisfied with being abused or taken advantage of, not so that they don’t better themselves, not so that we end up on the top of the heap. But we encourage you to look at things from an eternal perspective because we are utterly convinced of its reality.
And so I bring you a message of hope this morning. Not that I hope that my car has been nicked during the service. But rather that if you feel you are suffering if you feel it might not be worth it. I bring hope. We have been told the end. We win. No more suffering, no more pain. The end is glorious. Keep going. The prize is assured.
If you are going through one of those periods where God seems distant and it does all seem like Pie in the Sky, hold on to God. The end is still glorious. The prize is still assured. Remember the times of certainty. Ask God to come close, to point out any problems on your side. Share the faith of others. One of the advantages of the church, is that while we are weak others are strong. Ask them to share their strength with you. Then in time you may share your strength with them.
But hope, because we know the end and it is glorious.