Thursday, July 11, 2019

In This Hope We Are Saved

Romans 8:18-24a It is so very easy--living in this world that is broken by sin and death--to become depressed and discouraged—to lose hope. 
With each election cycle we hear candidates promise that they are different than those who came before—that this time things will be different for our nation. 
Many people find themselves in marriages and families where the future holds out the promise of the same old painful past. 
Those of us who have lived more than just a few years on earth discover that we are not becoming stronger, but weaker, with the passing years. 
It is difficult to be people of hope when it seems as if the future is simply an endless repeat of the same old cycle of brokenness and death that has come before. 
And yet, we are called to be people of hope!  The Bible says:  that love always hopes-- and that there is a hope that is an anchor for our souls—a hope that will not disappoint us.  And so what is that hope for the future that we Christians have?  God the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
            Do you see that word “consider” there in your bible?  The Greek word that Paul used there comes from the ancient business world and it means to count up and enumerate and weigh things out carefully.  And so then…
In one column are all the things that tempt us to lose hope:  a nation in moral decline, difficult relationships, frail health, economic difficulties-- and in the other column are the good things of God that are still to come:  an eternal home where sorrow and suffering have no part, relief from the burden of our flesh, a reunion with those we love who have gone before, and a new life in the very presence of God. 
Add up both of those columns and you will very quickly discover that even the most broken earthly life that is full of hardships-- still does not come close to outweighing the wonderful life that God has in store for those who are his children and heirs of all of the blessings Christ has earned for us on the cross.
Many of these blessings are still in the future—they are objects of hope—but they are no less certain than the accomplished facts of salvation history.  We just have to wait for them in hope, looking forward to the day when they will be our own.  And so…
When will, what we hope for as Christians, become our own?  The Bible says:  The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
As we look at the world around us, it is often difficult to distinguish between those who are God’s children from those who are not God’s children.  As the bible says, it rains on the just and the unjust. 
In other words, earthly blessings and hardships are no indicator of those who are God’s children and those who are not.  Sometimes Christians suffer while the evil flourish.
But it will not always be this way.  There is coming a day—the Last Day—when there will be a distinct division between those who are God’s—and those who are not.  There will be reward and punishment on that day—and what we have hoped for and prayed for and longed for as Christian people—what has always been in the future—will become our present possession for eternity. 
And not only do WE long for that day—but even creation longs for that day-- for it too will be restored.  The Bible says:
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.
            When evil entered into our world—all of creation was affected.  Satan took upon himself the form of a serpent.  Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit.  And their sin not only ruined their lives—but it ruined creation as well.  God said that:
No longer would work be a delight--but creation would work against man every step of the way with thorns and thistles and every other kind of earthly hardship. 
No longer would man and woman dwell in perfect delight with one another but there would be animosity between them. 
Every generation that followed them would come forth into the world through pain. 
And death would enter into the world—beginning with the animals that God used to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.  A broken creation.
So it still is today.  The world that was created to support our life-- takes our life through earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and disease and drought and famine.  Men commit every kind of evil against their fellow man and bitterness and anger extend into even our closest human relationships.  And death is still the end of every living thing.
That was true even for our Lord.  His blessed mother brought him forth in painful labor.  The knife of the priest on his eighth day of life cause him to cry out in pain.  He labored by the sweat of his brow.  His family struggled to understand him and his friends rejected him.  He too breathed a last earthly breath just like every other person who came before him.
But three days later Jesus did something that no one had ever done before—he rose up from the dead.  His resurrection is God’s promise that the curse of creation that brings death to us and ruins this beautiful world will not endure forever—that the downward spiral of the world -and mankind with it- has been reversed by God and is now moving in a different direction—towards freedom and life.  The Bible says:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
            When Adam and Even sinned, one of the consequences of that sin was that children would be brought forth in pain.  And yet despite the pain, children are brought forth. 
The love and courage of women and their hope for their children’s future is greater than their fear of pain and new life comes forth into the world.  That is the way that Paul describes the world itself—filled with pain-- but not futility—looking forward to the future and a new life to come.
This image radically changes how we view the brokenness of this world and the terrible tragedies of the natural order. 
No longer do we see an endless cycle of pain and misery and suffering that have no meaning or purpose or end—but we see them as the birth pains of a new world to come—a new creation redeemed by the blood of its Creator and renewed by his resurrection so that the whole world can live again without the stain and punishment of sin—just as we will one day live.  The Bible says:
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. For in this hope we were saved.
            The children of Israel offered up the first part of every harvest to the LORD—as a tangible sign that the LORD had provided for them just as he promised-- and that having begun the harvest he would bring in the rest of the promised crop.  That firstfruit gift connected the past and present and the future.
So it is with the firstfruits of the Spirit.  We have been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit—we confess that Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit dwells in our life—and the Holy Spirit gives us his good gifts. 
The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a promise from God—a guarantee, a down payment, on every other blessing of body and soul that he has promised to his children-- culminating in our physical resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.
Now, when we die, our souls go to be with the Lord—and the Bible says that is better by far than what we experience here on earth. 
But that is not all there is to the restoration and renewal of our lives by any means!  We are both body and soul and Jesus Christ has redeemed both body and soul and rose up from his grave—body and soul—glorified, never to die again.  So will we! 
That day is still in the future—it is an object of hope—and until that day we suffer the hardships of the broken human condition.  We age.  We get sick.  We become frail.  And we die. 
But Christians do not see that as simply our own small part in an endless cycle of birth, life and death that has no meaning or purpose or fulfillment. 
Instead, we know that we are moving towards something—that life, real life, life as God intends is getting closer and closer and that knowledge helps us to wait patiently for the day of resurrection that God has promised will come for his children.  Amen.

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