Let’s face it – we all suffer in one form or another. We all complain about something in our lives, whether it be our health or finances or any number of things. As much as we hate what it is we complain about, we love to complain about something. We compare our complaints with the complaints of someone else, all to show that our life is worse off than the next person in order to gain sympathy, or we see how our life isn’t nearly as bad as the other person, that even though our life is bad, it’s not as bad as that person’s life.
Paul talks about suffering to the Romans in our text. If anyone knew suffering, it was Paul. He knew how to cause great suffering for the Christian and for the Church as a whole. Following his conversion, he knew suffering as a Christian. He is painfully aware of the troubled state of the present world. He looks about him and sees decay, the violence, and the broken relationships of life.
The Church at Rome had everything backwards. They were looking backwards rather than looking forwards. But ask yourself this question: how often do you and I look backwards rather than look forwards? How often do we dwell on the things of the past, rather than look to the joys that God has placed in our lives? How often do we beat ourselves up for the sins that we have committed rather than take comfort in knowing that our sins of past, present and future have been forgiven us through Jesus Christ?
Paul paints a graphic picture here of the longing for a different new day – a day where “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.” When the Hebrew people were enslaved and oppressed, they too dreamed their dreams of the new earth and that reconstructed world with their worship centered in Zion. Suffering comes to everyone. It often seems like it is so unevenly and unfairly distributed. It falls on the good and the bad, upon the innocent and the guilty. The magnitude of human suffering which sits on the doorstep of the world is impossible to imagine. The Christian has a God who knows all about suffering. He suffered the suffering of rejection, the suffering of loneliness, the suffering that always accompanies evil, the suffering of goodness being trampled into the dust. He knows all about it. That is why he can so eagerly identify with our suffering. Here in our text we are reminded that the believers’ suffering and distress in life is only temporary.
For a moment he sounds very pessimistic about a dying world, but then he remembers who he is and who God is. Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Why focus on the sufferings that you face when instead you can focus on the great glory that your heavenly Father has given to you through His Son?
Paul knew that there is more to our existence than the here and now. God has a glorious plan for the future of all believers. God had the plan before the creation of the world. The plan was for God and man to exist forever in eternal bliss, but all of that changed when man sinned. God still desired for He and man to exist forever in eternal bliss, but it would now come at the cost of His Son. Jesus tells the disciples in John 14, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” What a promise that Jesus makes! Because of the work of Jesus, the gates of heaven have been opened to us, a place where suffering and death cannot reach; a place where we leave behind our failures, our tears, our regrets, our sinfulness, and live with God the Father in the perfect and eternal bliss which God had ordained for His creation.
Our text speaks of the Christian hope, hope that is a gift of God. It is a hope which reminds us that our suffering is temporary. Hope in the Biblical sense of the word is that knowledge which has no clear support in the experience of life, just the attestation of God’s Word. It is the possession of realities which are not fully sensed or experienced here, but are guaranteed to us and will be fully revealed – and experienced – in the future. Hope is confident expectation of something God promises which you cannot empirically prove to be so. It is precisely what the writer to the Hebrews called faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ spells out hope for all believers. It says that nothing can finally stop God – not even crucifixion and death. Because Christ rose from the tomb and defeated death, we have a final answer. The tomb which could not hold the Lord of life cannot hold those who share in His eternal life.
This hope that we have is not a hope in ourselves, but it is a hope of the promise that God made so long ago for a Savior. That Savior has come and has won for us everlasting life given to us when our sins were forgiven. In that moment, all suffering that we would experience is now foreshadowed by that heavenly joy we inherited through Jesus’ saving work for us. Does that mean that we will no longer face suffering in this life? Of course not. But it does mean that the suffering we face is only temporary. As the psalmist says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” For you, that joy came when the pastor sprinkled your head with water and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There, you became a child of God. There, you received all the heavenly gifts that were meant for you at creation. The Spirit gave to you faith and through that faith, you received and continue to receive everything that God has to give you: forgiveness of your sins, salvation from death and damnation, and the gift of everlasting life in His name.
God has always been aware of the already and not yet nature of the salvation He was pouring out on us. He understood long ago the suffering we would have to endure in order to still remain faithful, and He did not leave us utterly without that which we could see and hear and taste and touch. He left us His Word. He pours out His Spirit through the Word, that we who hear might believe. He tells us, in His Word, that what He has prepared for us is so wonderful that “the sufferings of this present age are not even worth comparing” to it.
And while we are here, enduring, He has also given us the Sacraments. Baptism allows us to “see” the pouring out of the Spirit on us and on our children, and to hear God speak our names and claim us as His own. And in the Lord’s Supper Christ gives us His body, once given on the cross, to eat — and His blood, once shed for us and for our forgiveness and salvation, to drink. He has arranged for His salvation to be given to us personally and individually so that we cannot ignore that this good will and love is meant for us, personally, individually.
This hope and promise have been given to you. Because of the promise that God made, you know that the sufferings that you face are merely temporary and that heaven awaits you, because God has said so. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.