“Hope is borrowing the joy of tomorrow, today.”
Jason Cook delivered a message at The Gospel Coalition Carolinas Regional Conference called “Groaning til Glory.” From Romans 8:18–25, Cook addressed the manner in which Christians must anchor themselves through storms and suffering, building from the thesis, “Suffering exists as a divine tool to wean us off the lower pleasures of this world and to encourage us to persevere, because we have hope.”
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Jason Cook: Romans chapter eight, we’ll be in verses 18 through 25. When you get there, say, “Oh yeah.”
And if you need a minute, say, “Hold up brother.” Fantastic. Verse 18 reads, “So 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 first fruits 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.” This is the word of the Lord. This morning I’d like to preach a sermon entitled, Groaning To Glory.
Last year, my grandmother died and there in a small country church in Leeds, Alabama, the home of Charles Barkley, we laid her to rest. She was a woman who was larger than life, had carried a singing career on the Chitlin’ Circuit, back in the forties and fifties and sixties. She was a woman who would play football with us in the yard, well into her fifties, she cooked three meals a day for 70 years, and she was one of the strongest women I had ever known.
I’m sitting in my house there in Memphis, Tennessee, and I get a phone call, but she’s in the hospital and that she’s not got along. So I hop in my car and I drive over and I walk into the hospital room and there in this bed attached to many tubes and wires is an 85 pound body. Shriveled version of this strong woman I once knew, and every breath was being breathed for her by a respirator. And there in my pastor titled hat on, I could not help, but to ask the question, why had she had to suffer?
In our church, there’s a young woman who has a chronic illness and there’s no doctor who’s been able to solve her illness. She’s been to doctor after doctor, she’s been on medicine after medicine, and yet her body continues to hurt. Quite often, she comes to me and asks me, “What’s the point? Why am I continuing to do this? Why should I get out of bed every morning, when every step I take hurts, when even my teeth hurt, why should I continue to go on?” And I ask, why does she have to suffer? Questions our people wrestle with, audibly, the most often, inwardly.
Just here a week ago, a hurricane hit the shores. Widespread destruction, I’m hearing will cost billions of dollars. In 2010, we witnessed one of the most catastrophic events in all of human history when almost half a million people in Haiti were killed by an earthquake. It’s easy for many of us in the states to keep some distance from, because we’re not there, many of us don’t have ties to Haiti and yet almost 400,000 people lost their lives in an earthquake. Why do they have to suffer?
An old Navy captain once gave some sage advice concerning the loss of property during a storm. He once witnessed the man trying to tie his boat to a pier, to save his vessel from the impending storm surge. The Navy captain ran out to this man as he’s lashing his boat to the pier and he says, “You fool, in a storm you never anchor your boat to a pier. You always anchor it and tie it to the land. The pier moves, the land doesn’t.”
And it’s with that in mind as we, over the last three days have walked through and discussed the difficult issues, as we deal with our own mess, as we’re constantly praying for and caring for our flock, there is a truth that all of us are either in a storm, about to go in one or coming out of one. And the question is, will we anchor our lives to a pier or the shore.
Now, when we think about suffering, it’s important to define suffering, and I want to define suffering in this way, suffering is the experience of extraordinary physical or emotional distress due to the consequences of living in a fallen world, including the consequences of one’s disobedience to God. I’m going to say that again, the experience of extraordinary physical and/or emotional distress due to the consequences of living in a fallen world, including the consequences of one’s disobedience to God.
When we consider Romans 8, there is in the background of Paul’s words, a suffering that this church is experiencing for the sake of Christ. It’s there that I’d like to anchor the next 25 to 30 minutes in the following statements. I believe that suffering exists as a divine tool to wean us off of the lower pleasures of this world and encourages us to persevere because we have hope. Once again, suffering exists as a divine tool to wean us off of the lower pleasures of the world and encourages us to persevere because we have hope.
So when we look in verses 18 through 19, we find not only that suffering exists, but that suffering exists to allow us to be cognizant of the fact that there is a greater glory to come. I came from a Southern Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. And I’ll never forget having a conversation with a sweet old church lady. And she said, “Pastor Cook, I was persecuted this week.” And in my mind, I began to think “Wow, did you lose your job because you were telling people about Jesus, or did you have your pay docked? Or were you physically assaulted?” And then she proceeds to tell me that, “I walked into Walmart and they told me, Happy Holidays, instead of Merry Christmas” I almost laughed in her face to be honest with you.
But in her mind, persecution was the lack of access or acknowledgement of a Christ centered worldview. Meanwhile, the Christians that Paul was writing to, are experiencing true persecution, they’re being harassed, killed, loss of family, even perhaps jobs. And Paul speaks of these present sufferings as they’re presently experiencing them. But it is in these extraordinary times, that the seemingly extraordinary things are happening to them. And Paul is calling them to cast their gaze away from their present sufferings and on to something greater. He wants them to know that what’s coming will make what’s happening now pale in comparison.
Suffering here seems to be the path we tread as we move toward a blessing and glory. There was an old former slave who was talking with a anthropologist in the early twenties. And he had come to faith after reconstruction during the early years of the historic Jim Crow. And he said, “When I became a Christian, is when I realized that for us as slaves, for us, this present suffering would pale into comparison with what lie over the Jordan. You see, we were living in hell now to receive heaven later, but the slave master was living in heaven now to receive hell later.”
Now, I don’t believe thoroughly his exegesis, but there is a sense that there are many movements within Christianity that would seek to have an over realized eschatology. And I’ll want to see heaven here on earth now, experiencing heaven now. Can we have comfort? Can we have peace? Can we experience pieces, slight representations of God’s glory here? Yes we can. But will we be in heaven on earth? No. And in fact, if we find ourselves in a place where it seems like we’re living in heaven, enthralled by comfort, we should be aware that our gospel is not real.
But Paul here encourages them because of their faithfulness, to remember that there is a glory that is coming, and this glory, and I like, this glory is to be revealed, which means this glory exists already, it exists right now, we cannot yet, right now take hold of it. It’s not quite apparent. And see what Paul I think is trying to get them to see is that there is a already and not yet aspect of our faith. For us as believers, we have the hope that there is a glory that is coming. And the glory that’s going to be revealed to us that in that revelation, we might find not only that our suffering had purpose, but we might find God to be even more glorious because of our hardship. The glory that Paul has in mind here is the fullness of the glory of God.
And when I think about the glory of God, I’m reminded that my thoughts about God are sometimes too human. My thoughts about God or insufficient, I think him to be incomparable now, I think him to be beautiful now, I think him to be grander than a thousand sunrises and sunsets. And yet when his glory is revealed to us, how much will we realize that our own imaginations could not come close to his grandeur and majesty.
And our people, they’re trying to find heaven now, not in unity with Christ, not in a piece that makes no earthly sense. As my grandma would say, “Don’t make a lick of sense, that Philippians 4 tells us.” Not trying to find heaven in the spirits empowering of us for healthy, faithful ministry. No, they’re trying to find heaven in stuff, in status that ultimately is refuse. And yet here’s this God, who despite our hardship, has stored up for us, a revelation that will blow our minds. Friends, we should persevere for no other reason than what’s coming is the revelation of the fullness of God.
I sometimes get jealous when I read about Moses up on that mountain. And when Moses asks what may be the most presumptuous and bold question in all of scripture, “Show me your glory.” See, I like that because what Moses is asking is he’s not asking or some partial remnant of glory. Moses is asking, “God, I want to see the true you. I want to see your true self.” And God is like, “Brother, you can’t see the true me, because if you did, you die. So let me hide you in this cliff. Let me pass the residual nature of my glory past you.” And that lit my man up for days on end. And if that is what Moses saw, a residual passing of the glory of God, how much more when he’s revealed to us. When we with faces, behold the beauty and the majesty of God in Christ.
One aspect of our present suffering is the painful reality that we have yet to see God for who he fully is. He is beyond words. And when we understand suffering against that backdrop, and the fullness of God that awaits us, we can begin to see earthly pleasures and pain for what they are, as Paul says, not worth comparing.
I got to think about this like Christmas morning, my kids are too young to do Christmas, but I remember Christmas morning. There was an aspect of excitement, and anticipation the night before Christmas, you couldn’t sleep. And I remember the night that I actually snuck down the steps and watched my parents put presents under the tree. If there’re you who still believe in Santa Claus at Christmas, I’m sorry, I just ruined it for you. But I remember being let down because there was a part of that that I’d seen behind the curtain. I’d seen the wizard as it were, and the wizard weren’t real. But when it comes to our faith, we do not worship a charlatan, we worship the living God of all creation.
Suffering exists because there is a greater glory to come, but suffering also exists verses 20 through 22 revealed, because of the cosmic implications of the fall. When we think about the fall of Adam and Eve, they defied a clear directive from God. They looked a pure and sovereign, holy God in the face and essentially declared, “You God, I am disinterested in. So I will go my way.” And in so doing, thrust of the cosmos into this alley.
I think about the separation between us and God. I think about the separation between us and one another. I think about work is hard and sometimes not enjoyable. Some of you don’t like your jobs, but you’re a pastor so you can’t admit that. Many of your people are working jobs they hate, hard jobs. Many women staying at home with children, dislike their estate in life. And childbirth itself, I imagine as God originally intended would have been a great act of worship, a pleasurable experience whereby we would render all accolade and accolade to the father for his creative hand. And yet now it is often the declarations from the delivery room that, “You did this to me. And I hate you and never again.”
But not only was man cursed, but also the ground cursed. As one of my favorite Hip Hoppers says, that God cursed the ground, we call this ground beef. You don’t get that, that’s okay. But beef is a colloquialism that means we have animosity between one another. Ground beef, he cursed the ground, whatever. But when he cursed the ground, this created, it’s a reference to the cursing of soil, right? But it’s also a reference to the cursing of all nonhuman creation. This is the cosmic reality of the fall. All of the universe objected to futility. We had last week here, hurricanes, earthquakes, in Haiti, tornadoes, drought, tsunamis, famine, all of these because of one act of disobedience.
I think about this, that creation who declares the praises of God, creation. Created to reflect the great creativity and the beauty of God, creation. I imagine that if you could hear in the vacuum of space, what you would hear is all of creation, singing celestial soliloquies to saving sovereign, creation. Now relegated to futility and longing, creation.
But Paul tells us that creation has hope. And the hope that creation has is that it won’t be freed from its futility, no longer being a slave to disorder, no longer being in frustration and futility, but back to its beauty and not only free, but that it might obtain the freedom that the sons and daughters of God will experience. This is interesting. The same reasons that we long to be with God, similar reasons for why creation itself, eagerly waits and longs to be with God, even now, creation, sighs and throbs with pain.
And not just any pain, but the pain of childbirth, the pain that comes from birthing a child is meaningful pain. It may not feel like that at the time. And I can say that because I’ve never birthed a child, but the pain of childbirth is meaningful, with every contraction, you know you’re closer. So too, with creation, with every moment, with every extraordinary act, it is a contraction, pushing creation along, until the pain itself reveals its ultimate purpose in the glory of God. And it’s with this suffering of creation and our own that we realize that life in a fallen world means that we too will long to be presented back to God. Suffering exists to wean us off of the lower pleasures of this world.
The third and finally, I would argue that suffering exists to lead us to hope. Verses 23 through 25, Paul says that, “Not only creation, but we ourselves having the first fruits of the spirit, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly before the adoption of sons.” You see, I like this. Paul has a, but wait, there’s more, moment here. You thought that it was just creation, sighing and throbbing. But Paul is like, “Nah, that’s us too. We grown as well.” I think about the grown of my grandmother lying in that hotel in the hospital bed as her body is throbbing and sighing and slowly dying. And I can’t help but to think, if you could hear her singing in that beautiful alto that she had, she would be groaning for glory.
My dear sister with a chronic illness, constantly groaning. Every time her body hurts, groaning to be presented back to God, groaning for the redemption of their body. I think about those in our churches that are wrapped up in the throws of abuse, groaning from that, the groaning of terrorism, the groaning of death. Verse 21 tells us that creation groans to be set free. But we ourselves also are groaning. For what? The adoption and the redemption of our bodies.
Both of these things, adoption and redemption are quite close to my heart. Particularly the redemption of our bodies. And I don’t want to go too much into that because I think pastor Davis has some things for us there, but let me just say, as someone who’s broken, multiple bones, lives daily with pain in knees and hips and ankles, someone with multiple concussions, one concussion so bad, I almost died. As someone who has titanium and screws all throughout my body, I long for a new body. And cannot wait to be presented with that body in the new heavens and the new earth.
And then adoption. I’m never adopted, but I understand what it means to be in a world where many don’t want you. I understand what it means to be in a world where you’re different and yet welcomed into a family where you’re loved completely and totally for who you are. Galatians 4:6 says, “And because you aren’t sons, God has sent the spirit of the son into our hearts, crying “Abba father,” so that you are no longer a slave, but a son. And if a son, then an heir through God. In adoption, when we are presented before God that we, though once slaves to sin, have now been transferred to sons.”
Colossians 1 says that we’ve been transferred from the domain of darkness, into the kingdom of his marvelous son. But if we read Galatians 6 and we see that we’re adopted into the family of God, and yet in Romans 8, we say we have the first fruits of the spirit, is our adoption not complete? No, on the contrary.
You see, again, I got to bring in an element from my own culture. I’ve been told that black people play spades, white people play hearts. And in spades, if you’re playing in spades, one of the way we play spades is in spades, there’s four trump cards, big joker, little joker deuce and the ace, right? The big joker is the one with the guarantee on it. The little joker is the big joker on the face. The deuce is the two of spades. So we use it two of spades as a trump card, we take out the two of hearts. And then the ace of spades creates the fourth trump card. So you’ve got four trump cards. And they move up in succession from ace, the two of clubs to the little joker, to the big joker.
When we’ve been received into the family of God and received the first fruits of the spirit, the spirit of God acts as a down payment that guarantees our sonship, our adoption. So the Holy Spirit is like God slamming the big joker on the table that trumps all of these things. And there in his adoption, we find a sense of home, a sense of belonging and a security that our heavenly father has never left us alone. And this understanding my friends, can sometimes only be intellectual and philosophical, but Paul moves from the theoretical, in theory, to that which is concrete.
And here’s where I want to land, in verse 24 “For in this hope we were saved.” Hope, what is hope? Hope my friends is borrowing the joy of tomorrow today. It is the faults, it is the hopes, it is the anticipation of the revealing of the glory of God. On that day, we borrow that joy and we pull it into our lives today. I was once asked, “Jason, how do you continue to spend so much time around white people who don’t get it?” And I said, “It’s because the joy that I’m borrowing today is not only joy present right now, but I see a new reality on the horizon. And it’s that reality that compels me to persevere, hope.”
And hope, this is not pie in the sky sentimentalism, this is concrete. Because on this day, my friends, when the Lord will make our faith site, when we will ultimately belong to the light, our groaning and suffering cease to exist. My body that really hurts a lot to ceases to hurt and ache, when mental illness is in the rear view, when heartache and heartbreak will be replaced with endless supply of contentment, we have hope and we draw strength from that day.
In the face of injustice, in the face of doubt, in the face of skepticism, we wait. And we wait, not because we’re idle, but we wait. And as we’re waiting, we borrow hope because my friends, I cannot wait until Jesus Christ cracks the sky like an egg shell and erupts into human history. Not erupt, erupt as an explosion from inside out, to erupt as a breaking in, he will break into the course of human history and he’s going to be seated there on a horse. And he’s going to be wearing robe is dipped in blood, with his name tattooed across his thigh. Yeah, Jesus got some ink. And there in the sky, he’s going to sound the [inaudible] when all the dead in Christ will rise. And they’re reign with him as he who came as a lamb first, comes as a lion next. And in the words of Dr. Spurgeon, you never, you can’t negotiate with a lion. And as our Lord appears in the sky and begins his reign in full, and the glory of God is revealed for all of creation and all of creation, not only groans, but now worships in its fullness that the Shalom that’s present. That’s my hope. That’s why I persevere. That’s why I experience slights. That’s why with mental illness, we can press on. That’s why with physical ailments we press on is because we have hope.
Don’t you see by friends? This whole life, it’s this crazy experiment in hope. And when the world, when the acts and schemes of Satan and even my own sinful nature would want to disqualify me, would want to discourage me from having hope, we persevere in hope because that hope is not now, but it’s in a world that’s coming. Let’s pray.