SI: This Sunday and next we are going to study portions of Romans 8.
Many consider this to be the greatest chapter in all of Paul’s writings—
and certainly a contender for one of the greatest chapters in the Bible.
It’s a magnificent description of the Christian life.
And throughout this chapter the theme of resurrection.
Paul mentions specifically twice and refers to once more.
So it’s a great passage for all times, but especially during this Easter season.
INTRO: The week between Palm Sunday and Easter has been traditionally called
Holy Week or Passion Week.
Passion is one of those English words that has a number of nuances.
People often use passion to mean an intense, consuming feeling or conviction.
Someone might say:
That doctor has a passion for cancer research, that judge has a passion for justice.
It’s also sometimes used to mean strong sexual desire.
Passion perfume, for example. Apparently if you use it, it will improve love life.
But the oldest meaning of the word passion (not used anymore) is suffering.
The Passion of Christ simply means his suffering.
Passion Week was his week of suffering.
It began on Palm Sunday as he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt.
Luke tells us that when Jesus saw Jerusalem, he began to weep.
Why was he weeping? Because he was suffering.
He was grieved in his spirit for his people who had rejected him.
His suffering intensified through the week with the attacks of his enemies.
The leaders of his church, the priests, teachers, and elders of Israel conspired
against him. They tried over and over through that week to trip him up
so that he would incriminate himself with is words.
And then there was the suffering of the Last Supper with the disciples.
The poignancy of that meal was that Jesus knew it was his last with them.
But they were still clueless about what he was going to go through,
even though he tried to tell them over and over.
Then there was his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where the whole weight
of what he was going to face came upon him and almost crushed him.
Then came his betrayal by Judas, and his arrest, and the desertion of his disciples,
and his denial by Peter, his trial, his flogging, his carrying the cross
to Golgotha, and finally his crucifixion and the three hours of darkness.
It’s a story we all know well. We know it by heart.
Christ’s sufferings are inseparable from who we are as Christians.
His suffering are our identity.
We glory in the sufferings of Christ.
Suffering is a major theme of the Christian faith.
It was by the suffering of Jesus Christ that we are redeemed and delivered
from sin and death.
The link between Christ’s suffering and our suffering is often made in Scripture.
It is by suffering that our hearts are purified and the grip of the world is broken.
Christians, of all people, ought to be experts in suffering.
We ought to be able to suffer well.
In some parts of the world, Christians and their children suffer daily
just for being Christians. We’ve never known that kind of suffering.
They are experts in suffering in ways we will never be.
Even so, many of you have suffered in profound ways—losses and hurts,
illnesses, untimely deaths, divorces, disappointments of many kinds.
And so it’s very important that we immerse ourselves in the Bible’s teaching
on this subject. It’s only going to be through Scripture and the Holy Spirit
applying it to our lives, that we are equipped to face suffering and glory in it.
Among the many things that Paul is teaching the Roman Christians in this chapter
is how to suffer. He’s equipping them.
What better time to look at Paul’s teaching than this week as the church
around the world focus on the suffering of Christ.
Let’s look at these verses under three headings:
1. The reality of suffering
2. The resource in suffering
3. The redemption of suffering
MP#1 The reality of suffering
The Bible equips you for suffering by starting in a very basic place.
It says something wrong with life. This world is not the way it’s supposed to be.
We live in a world that is filled with many good and wonderful things.
But sin came into the world through Adam and as a result, the world is cursed.
Because it is cursed there is suffering.
Look at the vivid way Paul describes it. He says creation is subjected to frustration.
It’s in bondage to decay. And because of that, it’s groaning.
What is groaning? It’s the universal language of suffering.
In Stephen Ambrose’s famous WWII book, Band of Brothers,
he tells of an incident that happened to Easy Company on the banks of the
Moder River, which is a tributary of the Rhine.
The US Army was on one side of the river, the Germans on the other.
One night Easy Company crossed over to capture some Germans for interrogation.
One German they snatched was badly wounded so they left him on the river bank,
then crossed back to the American side.
When they got back, and everything had quieted down they heard a sound
from the other side—they heard the wounded German groaning.
Somehow the acoustics of the river amplified his groans.
After several hours the groaning bothered the Americans so much three soldiers
went to the river bank and threw grenades over to put the man out of his misery.
One American soldier, David Webster, later wrote:
“I pitied him, dying all alone far from home, dying slowly without hope or love
on the bank of a dirty little river, helpless.”
That’s terrible story that illustrates how groaning is universally understood.
Even if you don’t speak the same language, when you hear a person groan
you know that he or she is saying—I’m in pain, I’m suffering, or even, I’m dying.
It’s a way of speaking that is deeper than words to express the wrongness
of what you are going through. That this is not the way things ought to be.
Paul says that we live in a groaning world.
Everything is falling apart, it’s wearing down, subject to decay.
That’s the big reason there is suffering in the world and in your life.
This is certainly not the only thing the Bible says about suffering.
It says a lot about how God uses suffering in the lives of his people.
How it is necessary for spiritual maturity and how suffering was even helpful
for Jesus himself to learn obedience and become a perfect high priest.
But here in Romans 8, Paul more interested in fundamental reason for its existence.
He says, like it or not, you live in a groaning world.
That is a very important part of the working theology of Christian man or woman.
It goes a long way in helping you gain an understanding of your suffering.
If you were dropped into the middle of a desert, with no water or shade for 1000
miles, you would understand that your suffering had everything to do with where
you were. That’s the world you live in.
God made the world good. The world is still wonderful and beautiful and fruitful.
But the world is also broken by Adam’s sin, and God’s judgment on that sin.
So the world not only gives us an unending stream of beautiful things to look at,
and wonderful things to eat and drink, and raw material for building and making.
It also gives us tornados and tsunamis that crush buildings and people.
It gives us diseases that kill babies in the womb and people of all ages.
And this world has become a habitation for sinful people.
People add even more woe and suffering to an already fallen world.
Think of the groaning of that soldier and how much terrible suffering is caused in
the world by what people do to other people.
Consider what this world looks like to a person who doesn’t believe in the Fall.
If there is no Fall, then suffering isn’t real. It’s just the way things are.
Whether your child is well and healthy or dying of cancer—it’s all the same.
Whether your spouse is true or unfaithful—it’s just the way things are.
There is no explanation, no real comfort.
But Paul reminds us that this world is a wonder because God made it.
And it’s a mess because God cursed it. But because the curse was God’s doing,
then it is serving a good and holy purpose.
Do you have a realistic, biblical view of life? Have you taken the fall and curse
into account. If so, you shouldn’t be surprised.
Paul says that creation was subjected to frustration in hope.
And creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
Point is that God is in the business of undoing the curse, undoing suffering.
We’ll get there in a moment. But next let’s consider . . . .
MP#2 The resource in suffering
What does the Lord give you for life in the fallen world?
What resource to help you in the midst of your suffering?
Paul says that the great resource is prayer.
When you suffer, you can process your suffering through prayer.
In one sense, almost everybody prays when they are suffering.
The old saying is that even atheists pray in foxholes.
But Paul is not talking about the emergency flares that people send up
when suffering comes into their lives. He says that the prayers of God’s
people in suffering are much more profound.
First, he says that as a believer, you have received the Spirit of sonship,
and by that Spirit you are enable to cry, Abba, Father.
What is that word Abba? It’s a child’s first, instinctive name for his father.
In many languages, children make first sounds like that—dada, mama, papa.
When I was in India, I heard a little child call out—appa.
Paul is saying that as believers, we are enabled to cry out to God in our suffering
as a child cries out to his or her mother or father.
And in Christ, God the Father hears your cry as a parent hears his or her child.
I remember when our children were little, how I had an instinctive parental ability
to distinguish their cries. There was the I’m-mad cry.
There was the I-want-attention cry. There was the I’m-tired cry.
When I heard those cries, I usually ignored them.
But then there were the I’m-afraid and I’m-in-pain cries.
When I heard those cries, I was compelled to respond.
It’s not that you love your child more when they cry that way—
but your parental love and concern is stirred, and you are compelled to respond.
I remember once we were on a trip and we stopped for a picnic.
We got back in the van—Adrienne and Eliza were very little, Will wasn’t born.
Strapped them both in their car seats.
I was just pulling out when Adrienne let out a blood-curdling scream.
My parental warning system went off and I knew something was terribly wrong.
She was never a screamer and this said either pain or fear, I wasn’t sure.
I slammed on the brakes and jerked my head around.
And there, perched on Adrienne’s fat little knee was a big brown beetle.
It had somehow joined us after the picnic.
Before I could react, Eliza began screaming.
Not because she had seen the beetle, but simply because she had heard the tone of
Adrienne’s scream, and knew that certain death was approaching.
I did what dads do. Picked up the beetle and flicked it out the window.
When your Father in heaven hears you cry out in pain, his love for you is stirred.
He responds to your suffering.
And then Paul says something else remarkable about prayer.
He says that in our weakness, we don’t even know what we ought to pray for.
But the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us.
Some people say that this verse is about speaking in tongues, how the Holy Spirit
helps you speak in tongues when don’t know what to pray for.
But Paul does not say this is about sounds that we make, but something
the Holy Spirit does. He lays out our petitions before God and presents to him
what we really need.
In all of our prayers there is a core of the petition, the thing we really need—
and then there is the stupid part. There is the groan, the cry—help me, Lord.
And then there is often our idea of how the Lord has to do it.
Holy Spirit takes our prayers and presents to God what we really need.
The way Tim Keller put it is that God either gives us what we ask for,
or he gives us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knew.
When never know the whole picture. We never know everything God knows.
Especially when we are suffering and in pain.
But the Holy Spirit hears the core of our prayers and intercedes for us.
One famous example of this is from the life of Monica, mother of St. Augustine.
Monica walked the path that a great many Christian mothers have walked.
She became a believer, her husband remained a pagan.
She was the only Christian in the marriage and worried greatly about her son’s
spiritual condition. Augustine told his mother that he was planning to leave
North Africa, where they lived, and move to Italy to pursue study and teaching.
Monica as very troubled because of the bad influences there.
She began to beg the Lord not to let Augustine move to Italy.
Tried to sabotage his plans. Her prayer was not answered, her fears were realized,
he moved to Italy. But it was in Italy that Augustine came to faith in Christ.
So you see that he really did answer her prayer. He answered her real prayer—
her deepest prayer. She did not know how to pray—the Spirit interceded for her.
You have the very same resource. Process your suffering through prayer.
You live in a fallen world, your heavenly Father hears your prayers,
the Holy Spirit intercedes for you. Those truths alone help you in suffering.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He takes us to another level.
MP#3 The redemption of suffering
Paul understands that when a person is suffering, what he needs is hope.
He needs to know that there is a bright future, there will be an end to the pain,
there will be a resolution that is so happy, all sadness will be washed away.
And he needs patience to wait until that hope is realized.
Look at verse 18 again:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that
will be revealed in us.”
That first verb, “I consider” is sometimes translated “I reckon.”
It’s an accounting term. Has the idea of looking at the ledger, adding things up.
Paul says that this is what he does when he suffers (and Paul suffered a lot)
he reckoned, he considered the future glory—that gave him hope and patience.
Everybody last week was talking about the Mega Millions lottery.
Imagining what you would do if you won that prize.
How many motorcycles you would buy, and which ones—that sort of thing.
Imagine something with me. Imagine two identical rooms.
Two people are put into those rooms, one person in each.
In those rooms they are both given the same hard, menial job.
They have to work long hours each day, basically just work and sleep—
no days off, no vacation.
First man is told that at the end of one year his work will be over and he will
receive $100. The other man is told that at the end of the year his work will
be over and will receive $100,000,000.
Those two men would experience their circumstances in radically different ways.
The first man would focus on his suffering. He would say, it’s too hard.
I can’t take it. What’s the point of this. This is just crazy and cruel.
The other man would be whistling in his work.
His suffering, just as real as the other man’s, would not begin to compare
in his mind to the glory awaiting him.
The way you experience your present is completely shaped by what you believe
your ultimate future to be.
If you rest your deepest hopes in anything but God—if it’s your work, your success,
your standard of living, even your family or your marriage—
those are all things of this world and subject to decay.
No matter how strong you are, no matter how stoic, suffering will take you out.
Anxiety or depression will be the dominate note of your life.
But, if you believe that God has a future for you, and it’s the future hinted at in
the Bible, then your present sufferings are not worth comparing.
Paul says that not only will we be redeemed—not only will we be resurrected.
God’s plan is to redeem the earth and make all things new.
The world will be re-born as it was at the beginning, only better.
Trees will sing. Mountains will dance.
Harvests will be continuous, new wine will abound.
The Bible describes it in glorious language. And who will live there? We will.
We will be raised with glorified bodies like Christ—
and with hearts and souls made perfect, we will enjoy the prosperity
of life in that new creation.
We live in a fallen world. And yet think of all the wonderful things we still
enjoy, think of the goodness and richness that is still present in the world.
How much more that will be when the curse of sin is removed and the earth
is filled with glorified and perfected people. It will be magnificent.
And the picture of the new creation is not another Garden of Eden—
it’s Canaan, it’s the Promised Land—a land of vineyards and farms and cities.
In other words, it’s the earth as it should be under the stewardship and
creativity of mankind. Dominion-bearers as God intended at the first.
All of us, every one of you, have memories of good things.
Snapshots of times and experiences when you are happy, when things were right.
I was talking to someone this week whose children and grown and gone and
he said that he remembered those times when his children were away at college,
and they would all come home for the holidays.
The joy of those reunions, and the joy of those conversations, seeing his children
growing up and spreading their wings—but gathered together for a special and
brief moment in time—he treasures that memory.
What do you say about something like that? It’s heavenly.
It’s a taste of life in the new heavens and new earth where there will be no
good-byes, no partings, but feasting and fellowship.
To the degree that future captures you, you will handle your present suffering.
CONC: Perhaps your are saying—I believe all this.
I know I’m living in a fallen world, I know God sees me and hears my prayers,
I know that there is a resurrection and a glorious future.
But when I suffer, I don’t feel those things.
How do these things come home to me?
Perhaps the most amazing thing Paul says is that not only does creation groan,
and not only do we groan, but the Holy Spirit also groans for us.
How can that be possible. Groan means suffering, it means things aren’t right.
How can the Spirit of God—immoral, eternal, omnipotent—possibly groan?
How can there be groaning in the Godhead in the perfection of heaven?
How can he know what it feels like to be lying on a riverbank, watching
lifeblood pour out for country?
How could the Spirit know? The answer is the Passion of Christ.
At the pinnacle of his suffering Jesus cried out,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He was quoting from Psalm 22. Do you know what the next line is?
“Why are you so far from the words of my groaning?”
His groaning for you is now taken up by the Holy Spirit
Here’s how you can know. Here’s how all these great things the Bible
says about suffering comes home to your heart—Jesus groaned on the cross.
Willingly. He was abandoned so you never will be.
He suffered rejection so you will always be God’s child.
And his Spirit which now lives in you enters so deeply into your suffering,
that he groans for you, even as he presents to your heavenly Father
exactly what you need.
Believe that. Think it through. Consider it. Reckon it.
And then call out to Christ and to his Spirit.
And the one who groans for you will meet you in your suffering,
and you will know, really know that this is true, and you will be filled with hope.