The Glory We Await
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The Glory We Await

Romans 8:18–25  (ID: 3515)

When sin entered the garden, all of creation became subject to frustration and futility—and the corruption was not isolated to humanity. Now, together, earth and mankind groan as we endure suffering, which is a result of the fall. But our present state is not the end of the story, explains Alistair Begg. One day, all of creation will be set free from its bondage and will receive its glory, which we wait for eagerly and patiently.

Series Containing This Sermon

Dangers, Toils, and Snares

How to Find Peace amid Life’s Greatest Trials Selected Scriptures Series ID: 22702

Sermon Transcript: Print

Let’s remain standing.

Father, we stand in your presence and acknowledge that you’re God and that there is no other,[1] that you are the creator of the ends of the earth; you do not faint or grow weary.[2] There’s no way that we can fathom the depths of your being. We are the beneficiaries of your revelation in the world that you have made, in the conscience that you have set within us, in your Word the Bible, and in the person of your only begotten Son. We gather in his presence. We do not come together to revere his memory but to acknowledge that he moves among us; that ultimately, he is the one who teaches the Bible to us; that he is the one who leads us in our praise. For it is from him and through him and to him that all things are.[3] And so bless us now, and help us, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please be seated.

Now, you’ve probably almost forgotten that we were studying Romans 8. And I have had to refresh things myself. And we’re going to read from the eighteenth verse. I’m going to read… People have been asking what version of the Bible I’m using; I’m using the English Standard Version. I was brought up in the King James Version, in the late ’60s moved to the NIV, was in the NIV all the way through to the point where Zondervan were not going to publish the Bibles that we were using as our church Bibles—the NIV of their particular edition—because they wanted to move to a more gender-neutral translation. And we didn’t want to have that as our Bible, and so we were kind of stuck, and so we moved to the ESV. And so here we are. It’s little variations you’ll find. For example, in your text it may say “frustration”; here in the ESV, I think it says “futility.”

Anyway, 8:18:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And 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. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

And we’ll leave it there. I had to make a tactical decision: Do we try and go all the way to verse 30, or do we try tomorrow night to make a dash for the end—from verse 26 to the end? So, I’ve already crossed that Rubicon, made that decision. So we’re just trying to understand verses 18–25.

An Incomparable, Cosmic Salvation

A number of you, I know, are C. S. Lewis fans. You will know his book The Weight of Glory. And in it he makes an observation—not the observation to which I was referring last evening when I decided not to use it but actually a similar observation. And he observes that when we consider what he refers to as “the unblushing promises” of all that God has in store for his children, he says, “we,” in response, “are half-hearted creatures … like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday [by] the [ocean].”[4]

It’s quite a graphic picture—the fact that we may live in a certain way, unaware of the fact that God gives us all things richly to enjoy.[5] I suppose it would be like coming on a cruise like this, and not fully understanding how things work, and sitting up on the outdoor deck in the morning when everybody was going to breakfast, and then at lunchtime you were sitting there as well, and then in the evening as everyone was going to dinner, and somebody said to you, “Why do you sit out here? Are you fasting, or what are you doing?” “Oh, no, no, no, no. I paid for the ticket, but I didn’t have enough money for the food.” And you say, “Oh, you don’t realize: it all comes with the cost of the ticket.” And the picture of God’s overwhelming generosity and goodness is all wrapped up, ultimately, in the person of his Son.

In other words, it’s a reminder to us of what J. B. Phillips was referring to when he wrote a little book called Your God Is Too Small. And he was saying we have to make sure that when we go to the Bible, we realize the vastness and goodness and faithfulness of God.

The picture of God’s overwhelming generosity and goodness is all wrapped up, ultimately, in the person of his Son.

And when we think in terms of salvation and all that precedes us here, not only in chapter 8 but from the beginning of Romans, we realize that our understanding of salvation is in accord with the vastness and with the grandeur of what that means not just for us as individuals, and not just what it means for us in terms of our church families, but actually what it means cosmically—what it means in relationship to the entire created order. And it’s possible, again, that the immediacy and the importance of our understanding of our own individual story of God’s goodness to us may in some ways divert us from recognizing the grandeur of all of this.

Now, what is so vitally important for us is to realize that in coming to a passage like this, we recognize that sin has actually fractured all the relationships. All the relationships in the world are broken as a result of sin. The only relationship that is intact is the Trinity—is the Trinity—that that could not be broken. But mankind’s relationship to God is broken, and that impacts the rest of man’s relationship with his environment and with the created order. And that is why he’s pointing out here that “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,” and that the creation—creation itself, about which we’ve been observing, living in it and through it, and singing about just now—that that creation is actually waiting for the final redemption of the bodies of the sons and daughters of God.

Now, just to say that and allow it to settle in our mind for a moment is quite remarkable, isn’t it? And it’s vitally important that we have an understanding of how the story of the Bible impacts these things. Let me pause, and let’s just see if we can do this.

Adam and Eve were created by God with a sense of having been made by a loving God. They lived in the world that God had made, a world that expressed God’s character, and they themselves were invaded by a deep consciousness of the fact that they were made by God and they belonged to God. Or, if you like, they were made by him, and they were made for him.[6] So far so good.

Then you come to Genesis chapter 3. And in Genesis chapter 3, we discover that they who have been made by him and for him doubted his goodness, rejected his wisdom, rebelled against his authority, and found themselves banished from his presence.

Then God in his mercy continues to reveal himself to them, continues to seek after those who doubt his goodness, reject his authority, and do not live in his presence. And he does this throughout the whole story of the Bible, throughout the whole story of human history, in a whole series of dramatic revelations and magnificent representations of himself, which is finally revealed to us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When men and women—and it’s happened this week as I’ve listened to some of the stuff that came over the thing in Glacier Bay—when men and women actually repudiate God’s goodness and essentially claim that there is no light in the universe, what the Bible says is the darkness is not on the outside; the darkness is on the inside; and that the fact of our rebellion against God and rejection of him actually closes down the light, so that “the people” who are “walking in darkness have” now “seen a great light.”[7] “I,” said Jesus, “am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness,” which is where we are by nature walking, “but will have the light of life.”[8]

Now, I pause on that because I think it’s very, very important. And I’m going say more about it as we go along. All the facts—all the facts—of the universe, including the facts of the Bible in relationship to what it says about creation, must be interpreted in light of God’s revelation of himself in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s why if we take our eyes off Jesus, we lose our way around the Bible. Because the whole Bible is about Jesus. The whole Bible is pointing us to Jesus, sending us in that direction, to the cross, and from the cross reminding us that that is the pivotal event of human history.

Now, what he’s doing here, of course, is not simply giving a comment on ecology, but he is actually making a huge contrast between the suffering that is part and parcel of our experience in a fallen world and the glory that is going to be revealed in us. It’s very important we recognize that: that he’s not suggesting for a moment that “Hey, suffering comes, suffering goes.” He’s not saying that. He’s saying the very reality of suffering is not worth comparing with the reality of God’s purpose for us and his goodness to us. The glory which will be one day ours outdoes any sufferings that we ourselves experience now.

And, of course, it’s Paul who’s writing this, and he knew what he was talking about. In 2 Corinthians 11, remember, he says—maybe he sounds a little bit boastful—he says, “But if you want to talk about suffering, I’ve got a handle on suffering. There’s nobody been in prison more than me. There’s nobody had a beating more than me. There’s nobody who’s been on the point of death more than me. I know this. I know this to be true.”[9] And here he is writing to these people. In the depths of human suffering, he says, the reality of God’s fatherly presence may be known. And as it is known, then it is transformative.

Now, again, it is knowing God as Abba, as Father, not simply God as Creator. I was with a couple of my buddies, and we ended up in Sitka the other day. And the couple of ladies were outside one of the churches. And I said, “What do you do here?” And they said, “Well, we tell you all the things that you need to know.” Or, no, “We…” Something like that. It was some strange response. She said, “We’re here to let you know everything about everything.”

I said, “Well, why don’t you just tell me the most important thing that you know that I need to know?”

And she said, “Well, the most important thing is that we are all God’s children.”

I said, “Really?” I said, “Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure.”

I said, “Well, you know, God is our Father by way of creation. But when God as ‘God the Father’ is used the vast majority of times in the New Testament, it is not a reference to God as Creator but as the God who redeems us in and through the work of Jesus Christ.” So I said, “In one sense, by creation, sure, we’re all God’s children. He’s the creator of all. But when the Bible’s talking about ‘We’re all God’s children,’ he’s talking about something very different. And that is that, you know, ‘He came to his own. His own received him not. To as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the children of God, even to those that believe in his name.”[10] I said, “So there’s some kind of transaction involved in that.”

Well, it just collapsed from that point. I think she said, “Well, would you like to buy a jar of jelly for two bucks?” or something like that—which was basically like “Get out of here.” So there we have it.

Sufferings and Groanings

Now, here is… Let’s just pause on this for a moment: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing.” Christian people ought to be able to show the world how to suffer, how to be sad. The New Testament is not suggesting at any point that we’re operating on the basis of, you know, like, Tony Bennett songs:

Smile though your heart is aching;
Smile even though it’s breaking;
When there are clouds in the sky,
You’ll get by.[11]

“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay,”[12] you know. No. And not even a Christianized version of that. No.

That’s the great benefit of the fact that we’ve got 150 poems in the Old Testament that give us essentially the hymnody of the church. And they’re not all jingles and jangles. Many of them are laments, aren’t they? Psalm 13: “Why do you forget me, O God? Forever? How long must I have sorrow in my heart all the day?”[13] “Why are things as rotten as they are, God? Why is that when I wake up in the night, I’m troubled, I’m distressed, and all these things?” This is the reality of the psalmist. And by the time he gets to the sixth verse—’cause it’s only a short psalm—he says, “I will praise God. I will trust God. I will do this.” But it is all volitional. It’s not emotional. In other words, he has to wait for his heart to catch up with his head; or his heart is revealing what he’s really feeling, and then he has to remind himself of what is true.

The glory which will be one day ours outdoes any sufferings that we ourselves experience now.

The Puritans are really helpful in this, and the ones that followed after them. If you read the letters of Samuel Rutherford, you will find some really wonderful illustrations of this. He’s writing to a member of his congregation who is deeply troubled—a lady. And he’s wanting to suggest to her that, in the words of the psalmist, “the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”[14] And this is what he says to her: “I am now expecting to see, and that with joy and comfort, … that [you] defy troubles, and that your soul is a castle that may be besieged, but cannot be taken.”[15]

Now, not only is the individual aware of these sufferings, but you will notice in verse 19, he goes on to point out that the creation itself is in trouble and is waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God.” When Adam and Eve sinned, the entire universe fell with them. And now it awaits a day when it will be liberated.

And again, we’ve got to learn to read our newspapers and our science journals through the prism of the Bible and not the other way around. It is the Bible that… Without a Bible, you really can’t understand human history. Because you got to say—because even today, the people say, “Well, it’s got to get better. It’ll be better in a while.” I mean, it’s like the Beatles are establishing—“[You]’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the…”[16] Well, I’ve only lived sixty-nine years, but it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better just at the moment, does it? Man with all of his technology, all of his power, all of his ability, all of his scientific abilities, and so on, and where are we? Husbands can’t live with wives, children abuse their parents, drugs consume a generation, lostness and hardness and emptiness, and the world goes on and says, “Oh, but I think tomorrow…” or “When we turn the corner…” or “When we get the new group in, then we’ll fix it!” “The answer is capitalism.” “The answer is socialism.” “The answer is this; the answer this that.” It is a fallen, broken world. And it’s the Bible that helps us understand this, so we can say, “Well, we’re not giving up to it. But we recognize what’s going on: the creation itself is waiting, wondering.”

Three times, you will notice, in the little section that we read, Paul talks about “groaning.” To groan is “to utter a deep, mournful sound”[17] either of pain or desire. And that sound, he says, is heard in creation, it is heard in the Christian, and he will go on to say it is heard in God. Groaning.

First of all, in 20–22: “The whole creation has been groaning,” “subjected to futility” or “subjected to frustration.” This is, again, a reference to what has happened in the garden following the disobedience of Adam. And that is why, for example—you know, Shakespeare’s plays, his comedies, are good. They’re fun. You know, Love’s Labour’s Lost, or the one with Puck in it, and all of that stuff. But it’s like having a milkshake: it’s gone. It’s his tragedies that really grip you. It’s his tragedies that you remember: “What is a man if the chief good and action of his time be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. Sure he that made us with such great ability of reason put this in us not to fust unused.”[18] And he goes on, and he marvels at it all. Macbeth: “Out, out, brief candle!” you know? What are you? Like “a poor player

that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” It’s “a tale told by an idiot.” It’s “full of sound and fury.” It “signif[ies] [absolutely] nothing.” Where does this come from? Why are you groaning like this? “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”[19] Really?

Einstein: “Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore[s].”[20] This is Einstein! No wonder Einstein said, “I’ve discovered that the men who know the most are the most gloomy.”[21] He’s so clever! The theory of relativity—which I don’t really understand except, you know, “If you put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, it seems like an hour; but if you sit with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute.” That’s relativity. That’s as much as I can do with it. I didn’t invent that. Einstein himself said it. That’s what he said.

Woody Allen: “The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. It’s absolutely stupefying in its terror, and it renders [every]one’s accomplishments meaningless.”[22] Have a good day!

See, that doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. Nobody can live a fulfilled life on that basis. Why is this? Because creation is subjected to futility, to frustration.

And notice what he tells us: that God is responsible for this. God is responsible for this. You see that it is right there: for God himself “subjected it.” The reason it’s like that—he subjected it in hope. But nevertheless, he subjected it.

In other words, the present state of things is not the end of the story. Eventually, no longer will there be anything that is cursed, anything that is left in this sorry state. Because, he goes on to point out, creation is going to be “set free”: “that the creation itself”—verse 21—“will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Change and decay
In all around I see;
O thou who changest not,
Abide with me![23]

God has cursed his own creation. He has imposed upon his awesome creation a temporary restraining order, if we put it that way. He’s put a restraining order on it. And that is why those who do not have a Bible or do not read their Bible or do not believe their Bible are now the proponents of apocalyptic anxiety. It used to be that people in the media pooh-poohed the evangelical believing church for the idea that there was ever going to come a day that would threaten to undo us and which we ought to be concerned about and which we ought to get it figured out for ourselves. “Oh,” they said, “what a silly idea that there is a Creator in the universe who is returning in power and glory and that we will stand before him in judgment! We don’t believe in that kind of apocalyptic nonsense.” And yet every single day of your life right now, you are subjected by climate theology (for it is theology, climate nonsense) to a great apocalyptic drama which is about to unfold on us—not before we finish the cruise, admittedly, and not in any of our lifetimes, and not in the lifetime of our great-grandchildren. But nevertheless, this is the great issue! We must be concerned by this!

Now, I say to you, you can have your own views on ecology, and you can share those concerns. And I share the concerns about pollution and about destruction. I don’t want nice beagle dogs smoking cigarettes. I don’t think that’s very nice to do that to a dog. I share those concerns. But I don’t share the explanation for the predicament, and I don’t share the conclusion or the solution to the predicament. Why not? “Well, you’re not a scientist, Begg. Clearly you’re not.” It’s got nothing to do with science. It’s got to do with my Bible.

And this climate stuff has got very little to do with science as well. It is an ideology. It is a cosmology. It is a theology. It is a religion! And it is part and parcel of a total rejection of God himself. Don’t for a minute think that the questions of the choice of your own gender is a separate story to the issues that I’m referring to now.

And the Bible comes to us and says, “Here’s the deal. Here’s the deal. The whole predicament is there for you, and this is how it’s going to come out. And the freedom that is going to come is the freedom that is found in the glory of God’s children.”

Now, we need to read this, then, in light of the entire Bible—that the prophet Isaiah, when he was writing, I imagine he’d get up in the morning and write, and his wife would ask him, “What did you write today?”

And he told her, “Well, I was writing today, ‘Behold, I will create a new heaven and a new earth.’”[24]

And his wife said to him, “Well, I wonder what that’s about?”

And he said, “The Creator is going to do… The restraining order’s going to be lifted, and he’s going to make a whole new deal.”

“Oh,” she must have said.

“It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?”

She said to him, “It’s not as good as what you wrote last week. I mean, I like it. But I mean, that stuff you did last week—‘Behold, the virgin will conceive and bring forth a son’[25]—that was heavy stuff.”

You say, “Well, how do you know this about the prophets?” Because Peter says that the prophets searched and inquired about the things they were writing about without seeing the end of their own story, in the same way that the angels stand on their tiptoes from the parapet of heaven and look down and see the unfolding drama of redemption.[26] The prophets look forward, the angels look down, and we, by God’s grace, live in a world that is going to be restored. Restored.

In fact, when Peter gets filled with the Holy Spirit, gets his head on square in Acts chapter 3, and delivers that amazing sermon—amazing sermon—he says about Jesus, he says, “He must reign in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything.”[27] That was his sermon—not the totality of his sermon, because, remember, he says, “And it is in this Jesus, whom you crucified…”[28] Amazing stuff. Amazing! Because he’s got a comprehensive grasp of what’s going on.

Eager and Patient Hope

Now, the groaning that is taking place in the believer is not a groaning of despair. It is a groaning of expectation. And he’s pointing out that the suffering is “not worth comparing.”

You know, if I suppose one moment… In fact, the hymn writer’s got it: it’s “One glimpse of his dear face all sorrow will erase; so bravely run the race till we see Christ.”[29] I can’t remember how it starts. But, I mean, one moment of eternity will take care of a lifetime of suffering. Just one. Just one moment.

Now, if creation groans, the Christian also groans—groans with sighs of anticipation, longing for all that God has promised. And you will notice, if your Bible is open there, in verse 23, that “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we [eagerly await our] adoption as sons” and daughters. “Well,” you may say, “but I thought we already dealt with adoption back in verse 15—that we are God’s children, that we have been adopted as his sons. So what does he mean, ‘the adoption,’ when he’s already assured his readers of the reality of their relationship with God?” Well, I think it’s straightforward, isn’t it? That this present reality which is ours has a future dimension.

Sometimes I meet somebody, and I say, “Well, have you graduated?” And they say, “Oh, yes, I graduated, but I haven’t walked.” The first time I heard that, I didn’t know what they were talking about. The two things are together in the UK. I mean, if you haven’t walked, you haven’t graduated. And so apparently, here you can graduate without walking. And so here we are. In Christ, if you like, we have graduated, but there is a ceremony that has yet to take place: “Now [we are] the sons of God, and it [does] not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when [we see him], we shall be like him.”[30]

That’s what he’s referring to here—not only the creation but we ourselves. Our mortal body—frail, fallen—is going to be changed into his glorious body.[31] When I pronounce the words of committal at the graveside, I do so… I mean,

Forasmuch as it has pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to receive unto himself the soul of our dear brother (our dear sister) here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ; who will change our earthly body, that it may be likened unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.[32]

This is the reality, you see. This is it. And the grounding of this is in the very work of God in Christ, for the tent that we dwell in, that we groan in, we groan in because we long to put on our heavenly dwelling[33]—not, says Paul, that we would like to be unclothed but rather that we would be clothed in this way.[34] Camping is fine. I’ve done it from time to time. But it’s nothing like your own bed. It’s nothing like your own permanent dwelling. And that is why Paul has been saying, “Who will deliver [us] from this body of death?”[35]

Ah, there’s a question. When you’re talking with people, and they want to talk about all kinds of things, you say to them, “What have you planned for your exit strategy? What’s your exit strategy?” And they’ll say to you, “Well, you know, I’ve got a number of investments. I think my wife or my spouse will be looked after. My children, they’re going to be able to do okay,” and so on. I say, “I didn’t ask you about your investments. I asked you about what your exit strategy is. How do you plan to face God? On what basis do you have any hope at all?”

You see, because the Bible makes it clear to us that outside of Christ, we are without God, and we are without hope.[36] So life is hopeless. That’s why people say, “Party on! Let’s go on a cruise! Let’s do something! Let’s fill in the gaps!” Only in Christ… I mean, it’s Lewis again, isn’t it? If I find in myself a desire for which nothing in this life is able to satisfy, the problem is not in this life; the problem is that I was made for another life.[37] I’m a chrysalis. I’m going to be a butterfly. We’re on a journey.

Relationships mattered beyond the tomb for Jesus, and relationships will matter beyond the grave for us. I don’t know how it’s going to work, but I know it will be fantastic.

And, of course, the answer comes in Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, [even] though he die, yet shall he live, and who[so]ever lives and believes in me [will] never die.”[38] And then he says to her, he says, “Hey, by the way, do you believe this? Martha, do you believe this?” “Oh yeah. I believe Jesus. I believe there will be a resurrection in the last day.”[39] He said, “No, no, no, no. You’re not getting it. No, I am the resurrection.”

Do we have proof of this? Yeah: his resurrection. He didn’t emerge from the tomb as a phantom. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? There we see him, lighting fires and cooking breakfast and eating fish,[40] recognizable at one moment, unrecognizable in another moment,[41] apparently able to walk in through the normal passageway into a room and able to arrive by means of another passageway altogether.[42] Somehow or another, the physical boundaries that were part and parcel of his pre-resurrected body are no longer confinements to him.

And furthermore, relationships matter to him—absolutely matter to him. Goodness gracious, if you think about that, it’s amazing, isn’t it? Peter: “I’ll tell you what, Jesus—you know, I know you’ve picked us all, but you got some duds on your team. And even if they all give up on you, I’m your man. I’ll never give up on you.”[43] Pride. And Jesus came to him, walking on the beach. Oh, how gracious! How kind!

Was there ever kinder shepherd,
Half so [tender], half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather [round] his feet?[44]

“Peter, do you love me?” “I do.” “Going to ask you a second time and a third time. You may be able to figure that out, ’cause you’re bright.”[45] What a wonder it is!

Relationships mattered beyond the tomb for Jesus, and relationships will matter beyond the grave for us. I don’t know how it’s going to work, but I know it will be fantastic. Chris Wright of the Langham Group, Stotty’s place that he left behind, in a very nice little paragraph, he says,

We can rest assured that, for those who are in Christ, anything that has blessed and enriched us in this life will not be lost but rather … infinitely enhanced in the resurrection, and anything that we have not been able to enjoy in this life (because of disability, disease, or premature death—or simply through the natural [limits] of [space] and [time]) will be amply restored or compensated for in [the] resurrection life.[46]

I think that’s fantastic, isn’t it?

You know, I understand the little boy in the Sunday school who, when the teacher said to him, you know, said to the group, “How many of you are looking forward to going to heaven?” and all the hands showed up except the one wee boy. And she said to him, “You know, Tommy, do you not want to go to heaven?” He says, “Yeah, I want to go to heaven, but I thought we were going now.” And so, you get that, don’t you? Of course! We’re not… I mean, I guess there are some people that want to go now, but I want to go to Cleveland first. ’Cause I miss my wife. I want to see her, at least one more time. And that thing about, you know, there’s no marrying in heaven[47]—that’s a real kicker, isn’t it? But I told her I’m going to meet her behind a shed somewhere. We did it before; we can do it again, you know. So… I’m not sure there’s a theology for that, but…

But what I mean is my hope in the resurrection is not something that says nothing matters around here. Everything matters around here—every friendship, every hello, every goodbye. Everything matters! History matters. Geography matters. Science matters. Art matters. Life matters. And in the midst of the suffering that comes, he says the suffering, the reality of living in a fallen world, we do not deny it. We embrace it. We live through it in the assurance that it is actually not worth comparing. It is incomparable in relationship to this.

Now, of course, it’s already obvious to us that when we use the word hope, or when the New Testament uses hope, it’s not like “I hope that something doesn’t happen,” but rather, it is the certainty of something that will happen. Hence, in the words of committal again, “in the sure and certain hope”—the certainty of that. And hope is one of the distinguishing features of the believer’s life. Because we’re “born again to a living hope [by] the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”[48] And that’s why we’re waiting keenly, “for in this hope we were saved.” Well, we were saved, but we’re not completely saved.

“Oh,” you say, “well, wait a minute. That sounds like that’s wrong.” Well, no. Let me explain what I mean by that. Bishop Westcott, who was a New Testament scholar, was a bishop. He dressed up in bishop’s clothes. Well, I shouldn’t say “dressed up” in them, but he would travel to, like, consecrations on transportation in Britain in all of his bishop finery. And he’s on the train; he’s got his hat and—what do you call that thing on that the bishop wears? A miter? A miter? Okay, so he has his miter up, you know, above, where people put their bowler hats. And he’s sitting there, and he’s heading on his direction, and onto the train comes a Salvation Army girl. She’s in her Salvation Army uniform. She sits down opposite the bishop, and she immediately assumes there is no way that this guy can know anything about what it means in terms of the gospel. And so she says to him, “Excuse me, Bishop, is you saved? Is you saved?” And he said to her, “Young lady, do you mean have I been saved, am I being saved, or will I be saved?”[49]

We don’t have her reply, but I would imagine she just sat very quietly from that point on. Because what he was pointing out was what we said yesterday: “Since, now, having been justified,” he says back in Romans chapter 5—“since, then, having been justified, having been put right with God, how much more shall we now be saved?”[50] So it’s not a question of the finished work of Jesus. It is the ongoing reality of it.

And so, verse 24 is really pretty straightforward: “In this hope we were saved. … Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, [then] we wait for it with patience.”

I haven’t traveled very much. Every so often you get to the airport, and you’re hoping desperately for an upgrade. And you sit there and hope and hope and hope. If you get it and they announce your name, you no longer have to hope for it, because you’ve got it. You don’t hope for what you already see. And so the picture is clear, isn’t it? That we wait for it eagerly, and yet we wait for it patiently. For “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”—verse 25. We “wait eagerly” for it. So, we wait eagerly, and we wait, at the same time, patiently. John Stott: “We are to wait neither so eagerly that we lose our patience, nor so patiently that we lose our expectation.”[51]

Well, it’s a vital part, isn’t it? And the great concern, I think, for us is that we learn to live in this way, with an eager anticipation of what is before us and yet engaged in the world around us, aware of the fact that creation groans, that we as Christians also groan. And what we’ll see when we come back is that God groans too. Verse 26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness” but “intercedes for us with groanings.” What a mystery! The groaning of God praying to God.

The God Who Crosses the Boundary

Well, I think that is as much as we should do. But I do want to say one further thing about trying to… And this is outside of this. I really need to help people with this. And if I can help you, you can help your children and your grandchildren. And we’ve got to get this right. And it comes out of this passage, but let me just deal with it separately for a moment.

First of all, we have to make perfectly clear to our children and our grandchildren that the creation is not coeternal with God. The creation is not coeternal with God. Before there was time, before there was anything, there was God. The Bible explains to us that the universe was made by him, the universe is sustained by him, and the universe is utterly dependent upon him. Colossians 1: that “in him”—in Christ, the creator of the universe—“in him all things hold together.”[52]

What that means is that God is not in any way dependent on his created universe. And what it also means is that God dare not be confused with created reality. You say, “Well, why are you so concerned about it? Because pantheism reigns in contemporary Western culture. If you listen to people talk, you will realize that they actually think somehow or another that God is contained within the universe. And since we are part of the universe… And you’ll get this in radical environmentalism. You’ll get it in Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical stuff. You’ll get it, actually, in every self-made spirituality that is out there for opportunity for us. And what all of these ideas have in common is that they are pantheistic. They’re pantheistic. All of them assume in one way or another that nature encloses and contains the sacred—that nature contains and encloses the sacred. And the assumption, then, is that the way we make contact with God is by finding him within creation and ultimately, then, finding him within ourselves.

The Bible says, “Not even for a nanosecond. Not for a moment or two.” What the Bible says is that “there is an invisible boundary” between God the Creator and man as his creation. And furthermore, that boundary exists on two fronts: it exists on account of God’s wrath toward sin and, on our side, our rebellion towards God—that we cannot cross that “invisible boundary” by ourselves on our own auspices; that God is, if you like, to quote David Wells, beyond the realm of “our intuitive radar.”[53] We cannot access him on our own time, in our own way, and on our own basis. The only way that God is accessible to us is because God has made himself accessible to us, and as we began in prayer: in his world, in conscience, in his Word, and finally and savingly in his Son. We cannot cross the invisible boundary. We need somebody to cross the invisible boundary for us.

The only way that God is accessible to us is because God has made himself accessible to us.

I was meeting some people on the first night here, and I said how thankful I am for my Campus Crusade friends when I was, you know, in my late teens and early twenties, because they taught me how to share my faith. And I mean, the Four Laws had that. You know, “God made you for himself.”

Number one: “Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?”

“No, I never heard that.”

“Well, let me tell you about it.” And then you give them John 3:16 and a few other bits and pieces. And then it says, you know, “But man is sinful, and he’s separated from God, and he can’t know this.”

“Well, I didn’t know that either.”

“But here’s the wonderful thing: that God has done what we cannot do for ourselves.”[54] And you had that little diagram there, and the cross, and the chasm. And you said, you know, “You can’t jump over it this way, and you can’t do it in philosophy.” Because philosophy, no matter how brilliant it is, is marked by futility. ’Cause it can’t get to the answer to its own questions! Because the answer is found in God as revealed in Jesus. And so we told them, “And look what Jesus has done: he’s come and crossed over the boundary.”

And then we got the pen out, if we were doing it by memory as I’m trying to do now, and we drew the circles. There we drew one, and then another. We put the chair in the middle. And in one of them we had an S on the chair, and Jesus was outside the circle—JC was over here. And another one over here: we had JC on the chair, and then we had an S inside the circle, so we could remind them that he didn’t come to eradicate our personality, but he knows us as individuals. And then we said to them, “And which circle represents your life?”

I still do this. There’s a guy in my neighborhood. He used to stop me as I went down. We lived in a cul-de-sac at that time. He would stop me in the summers so he could tell me dirty jokes. He loved to do it, ’cause he knew I was a pastor, so he’d see if he could get me. So he said, “It was this and that,” and I would have to muscle my way through it and drive off. One day, he asked if he could meet with me, and he told me he was thinking of adding spirituality to his life. And he’d been listening to that big, tall guy with the self-help stuff, whatever his name is. And he explained to me everything that was going on with him. And he asked me, “What do you think about it?”

I said, “Well, I think it’s amazing that you’re interested in these things, and it’s an indication of the fact that God is a seeking God.” I said, “But you’re completely upside-down.” And so I did just what I’ve done with you now, and I took a napkin in the restaurant, and I drew on it.” And I said, “And which circle represents your life?”

And he said, “Well, it’s this one. It’s a shambles.”

And I said, “Which circle would you like to represent your life?”

He said, “Well, I would like this one to represent my life.”

And I led him to Christ, and he said, “What do I do now?”

I said, “You go to the men’s Bible study.”

And then he said, “What do I do now?”

And I said, “You get baptized.”

Then he said, “What do I do now?”

And he’s there every single Sunday. And that is ten or twelve years ago. Because we had a story. We have an adventure. We have the answer. We have good news. And we’re not walking around like a bunch of dimwits. We recognize the whole creation groans. We groan. But the suffering we experience—and some of your lives are marked by physical suffering. ’Cause I know; I’ve met you. And some of us are marked by emotional suffering. And some of us are tyrannized by all kinds of things. And we wake up in the middle of the night, and it feels like the Matterhorn is at the end of our bed and that we will never, ever be able to climb over it again. But we say to ourselves, “But listen, the sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed.” For the God who made the universe sustains the universe. And one day it will be “a land that is fairer than day.”[55] And there’s not a cruise you could take that will be comparable to what will happen on that day, when Christ in glory comes.

And that is our conviction. That is our hope. And it is a living hope. And it is time for us to get bold. It is time for us to get out. It’s a time for us to start saying to some of our friends, “Well, judging by you, you’ve only got a couple more exits on the freeway of life. And I want to talk to you, because I love you and I care about you. And I’m prepared to risk my friendship with you by telling you what the Bible has to say.” And it’s not a story that we need to hide under, because it is the greatest story ever told.

And that is enough for this evening, and then we’ll go to dinner.

Let us pray:

O God our Father, out of an abundance of words, may we hear your voice. Some of us may be here right now, and their lives are in the wrong circle—well-meaning people like Jonathan Edwards, challenging people for just moral excellency, but no reality of a life turned over to Jesus. Lord, I pray that in your own gracious, wonderful, sweet way, that you will so work in each of our hearts that you might woo us and win us to yourself and then that you might assure us of the things that we speak of and that we then in turn may shine as lights in a dark place.

We thank you for these moments. We thank you for your Word. We thank you for the immense privilege of spending these days in each other’s company. And we commend our night to you now. In Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] See Isaiah 45:5.

[2] See Isaiah 40:28.

[3] See Romans 11:36.

[4] C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1949), 1–2.

[5] See 1 Timothy 6:17.

[6] See Colossians 1:16.

[7] Isaiah 9:2 (NIV). See also Matthew 4:15–16.

[8] John 8:12 (RSV).

[9] 2 Corinthians 11:23–33 (paraphrased).

[10] John 1:11–12 (paraphrased).

[11] John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, “Smile” (1954).

[12] Ray Gilbert, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” (1945).

[13] Psalm 13:1–2 (paraphrased).

[14] Proverbs 18:10 (paraphrased).

[15] Rutherford to Lady Kenmure, Anwoth, September 14, 1634, in Selected Letters of Samuel Rutherford, ed. Hugh Martin, A Treasury of Christian Books (London: SCM, 1957), 29.

[16] Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “Getting Better” (1967).

[17] Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed. (2001), s.v. “groan.”

[18] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 4.4. Paraphrased.

[19] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.5.

[20] Albert Einstein, “Mein Glaubensbekenntnis” [My Credo] (speech, German League of Human Rights, Berlin, 1932), quoted in Michael White and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science (New York: Dutton, 1994), 262.

[21] Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, et al., “The Russell-Einstein Manifesto,” Paraphrased.

[22] Woody Allen, quoted in Lee Guthrie, Woody Allen: A Biography (New York: Drake, 1978), 173.

[23] Henry Francis Lyte, “Abide with Me” (1847).

[24] Isaiah 65:17 (paraphrased).

[25] Isaiah 7:14 (paraphrased).

[26] See 1 Peter 1:10–12.

[27] Acts 3:21 (paraphrased).

[28] Acts 3:14–16 (paraphrased). See also Acts 2:36.

[29] Esther Kerr Rusthoi, “When We See Christ” (1941).

[30] 1 John 3:2 (KJV).

[31] See Philippians 3:21.

[32] The Book of Common Prayer. Paraphrased.

[33] See 2 Corinthians 5:2.

[34] See 2 Corinthians 5:3.

[35] Romans 7:24 (ESV).

[36] See Ephesians 2:12.

[37] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 3, chap. 10.

[38] John 11:25–26 (RSV).

[39] John 11:24, 26–27 (paraphrased).

[40] See Luke 24:42–43; John 21:9–13.

[41] See Luke 24:16, 31; John 21:4, 7.

[42] See John 20:19.

[43] Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; Luke 22:33 (paraphrased).

[44] Frederick William Faber, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (1862).

[45] John 21:15–17 (paraphrased).

[46] Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 211.

[47] See Matthew 22:30.

[48] 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV).

[49] Joseph Clayton, Bishop Westcott, Leaders of the Church 1800–1900, ed. George W. E. Russell (London: Mowbray, 1906), 110–11. Paraphrased.

[50] Romans 5:10 (paraphrased).

[51] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), 243.

[52] Colossians 1:17 (ESV).

[53] David F. Wells, What Is the Trinity? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R, 2012), 11.

[54] Bill Bright, Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? (1965). Paraphrased.

[55] Sanford Fillmore Bennett, “In the Sweet By and By” (1868).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.