Sermon: Romans 8:18-25
Pentecost 8 - July 30, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Bill Gates, as most of you know, is one of the founders of Microsoft. He’s worth billions of dollars. He could buy or do just about anything if he desires. Someone once asked him what was on his bucket list, his list of things he still wants to do before he dies. And kind of ironically at the top of his list of things to do before he dies is, in fact, not to die.
We might chuckle a little at the aspiration not to die, but for Bill Gates there probably is some real seriousness to his endeavor not to die. He certainly has the money to live a very healthy life, to receive the finest of medical care, and to make use of any scientific and medical discoveries that promise to prolong life, even for a very long period of time.
But you and I, and everyone else, and Bill Gates too, are going to die. It’s a certainty because the wages of sin is death. That curse of sin and death is in everyone’s body.
In our text today the Apostle Paul takes a very different perspective on death. While death is the curse of sin, he also looks upon death as the opportunity to be freed from this sinful body and this sinful world to await the resurrection when we will have a new and sinless body in a new and sinless world. Paul even says that we groan with longing for that new body and new world.
Today we consider that we are
GROANING TO BE FREE
Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Are you suffering anything in your life? Or perhaps you’ve suffered something in your past. And there are certainly many people around the world who are presently suffering from illness, poverty, oppression, and other ills.
Sin causes suffering in this world, and some kind of suffering will eventually enter our lives. But Paul’s words give us and everyone else a great deal of hope. No matter what we might suffer in this life, whatever may lie ahead in this life, there is the glory of heaven awaiting us. The glory and joy of heaven will make us forget about anything we suffered in this life. There will be no comparison.
But note that Paul, while he is referring to our life in heaven, he’s not specifically talking about the glory of heaven. He’s talking about the “glory that will be revealed in us.” Apart from the glory of heaven there’s also a glory that will be connected very personally to us, literally to our beings, our bodies. Paul is talking about the glory of our resurrected bodies.
When we die our bodies will be buried and return to the dust. But our souls will go to be with God in heaven. On the last day when Jesus comes back again he will bring the souls of Christians who have died and reunite those souls with new, sinless, resurrected bodies. In the Apostles’ Creed we confess our belief in this truth when we say, “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
So do you look forward to that day when Jesus returns? Do you look forward to that day when you will be raised with a new and glorious body? Are you groaning to be free? Those are interesting questions. Christians will generally all answer those questions yes, partly because they know that’s the right answer. But the truth is the level of eagerness to die and be set free from this body and this life varies depending on the person, and often it depends on the age of the person. Not everyone is groaning to be free.
Christians who have lived long lives, Christians who may be suffering some physical ailment, Christians who may have endured troubles and too much of the darker side of life may be groaning a great deal to be set free from this body and life. When I ask this question of young people in school they’re not so eager to leave this life yet. They want to live their lives, grow up, get married, and have careers and families. And I would say in general we all know by faith that a resurrected body and heaven are going to be far better than anything we have in this life, but we still desire to enjoy whatever time God has given us in this life.
And there’s nothing wrong with that attitude. God did create this world. He gave us life in this world. And we are to give him glory with our lives in this world. We do groan to be free from this life, but we groan by faith. We know that life in heaven will be better by far, and we look forward to that new life which God will give us in his own time.
Paul has a very interesting way of describing how we groan to be set free. He says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” Paul is using personification. He’s describing creation, the earth, the world with human characteristics. And he says that creation, the earth, is looking forward to that day when Jesus comes again, that day when all true believers in Jesus, the sons and daughters of God, will be revealed.
He says creation just can’t wait for that day. Creation, the earth and the world, are just groaning in expectation for that day when Jesus comes back. Creation is groaning because it also is under God’s curse due to sin. Remember God’s words to Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, . . .”
The earth suffers from the ill effects of sinful human beings. I don’t know what side of the global warming or climate change debate you’re on or whether man’s activities are affecting the climate in some negative way. But I do know our earth suffers pollution. We spew toxins into the air. We spill oil into pristine waters and on beautiful beaches. Animals suffer and die, and they’re not the ones who sinned. Animals turn on one another as a result of God’s curse. We cover productive and fertile farm land with concrete and houses. We consume the natural resources of the earth and sometimes waste them. We throw garbage into our oceans and dump sewage into the Great Lakes.
The earth is ready to scream. The earth, all of creation, is groaning to be free from sin and its results. Paul puts it this way: “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Paul is not calling on us to become environmentalists marching in the streets. Rather he’s comparing us to creation. Just as creation is groaning to be free, so we Christians by faith are also groaning to be free from these sinful bodies and this sinful world. We look forward to that day when our spirits will live in holy, resurrected bodies in a new world where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”
Paul puts it this way: “No only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
In about two weeks I’m going to pick the firstfruits of my tomato plants. Any of you who raise tomatoes or some other kind of vegetable or fruit know what it’s like to pick that first red tomato or that first strawberry or the first few green beans. They are the firstfruits. They are the assurance that there are lots more tomatoes, fruits, and vegetables to come.
The firstfruits of the Spirit are the evidences to us that the Holy Spirit has begun his work in us. And those evidences of the Spirit’s work are the assurance that there’s something much better coming. So what are the firstfruits of the Spirit in your life? Your faith in Jesus Christ is evidence that the Holy Spirit has begun to work in your heart. You wouldn’t genuinely say that Jesus is your Savior unless the Holy Spirit caused you to say it. When you feel comfort and relief from the word of God that says your sins are forgiven that’s a firstfruit of the Holy Spirit. When you have the desire and strength to say no to a sin, to do what God says in his law, that’s a firstfruit of the Holy Spirit. When you look forward to being with Christ in heaven, when you groan to be free from this body and this world, that’s a firstfruit of the Holy Spirit.
We have those firstfruits of the Spirit, and they are evidence of the rest of the harvest, of something much greater, much better, to come. We are eagerly waiting for our adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies. But haven’t we already been adopted as children of God? We have. At our baptism God adopted us as his children. But we only know and experience our adoption by faith. When Jesus comes again we will know and experience and feel and see exactly what it’s like to be a child of God.
And haven’t we already been redeemed? Then why does Paul say that we eagerly wait for the redemption of our bodies? Yes, we certainly do confess that we have been redeemed, and Jesus has redeemed us. By his perfect life and his innocent death on the cross he has redeemed us. He has set us free from the curse of sin. But we only know that redemption now by faith. We just believe it. When Jesus comes again and reunites our souls with resurrected and glorious bodes we will know and experience and feel and see exactly what it’s like to have our souls and bodies redeemed. We will forever know and experience exactly what it’s like to live in a physical body with no sin, a physical body that will live forever.
I hope someone lets Bill Gates know that there’s something far better than living on forever in his current body wracked with sin and its curse. Jesus offers us full and free redemption of soul and body. And no matter how much we might want to enjoy life in this world for some time yet, there’s a part in every Christian’s heart that’s longing, even groaning, to be free from this body and decaying world. There is something much better to come.
So Paul says, “For in this hope we are saved.” And he says, “We wait for it patiently.” Groan to be free. Live with hope. And be patient. Amen.