Exegetical Statement: In this section of the epistle, Paul continues with his concluding statement in v. 17, that we are heirs of Christ “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Paul does not leave his hearers sitting on this dark note; he continues with good news. The good news is that even though we must suffer as Christ has suffered, still these sufferings will be inconsequential compared to the future glory that is to come to us. We will not be merely spectators of this future glory; the glory of Christ will become ours in the new creation. Even creation itself waits eagerly for this revelation. Just as we wait to be released from suffering, so creation waits to be released from its bondage to corruption. As the creation groans for this revelation of God’s children, we also groan inwardly as we await our final redemption. We hope for this because we have not yet seen it, which is a sure hope since no one can hope for what he has seen. In the meantime, the Spirit helps us in our weakness during this suffering and intercedes for us when our groaning is too deep for words.
Focus Statement: Your current suffering, though it may seem great right now, is nothing compared to the glory you will receive from Christ.
Function Statement: That my hearers will wait patiently in their suffering as they hope and wait for Christ’s glory to come to us.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: Obvious Suffering
It’ll probably come as no surprise to you when I say the world is suffering. Today, it might be more obvious than ever. I mean, you’re all wearing masks. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic that has drastically altered the way we shop, work, go to school, socialise, and even worship. Even before this pandemic started, suffering was still obvious. From mass shootings, to racial justice, to wars, we have been causing one another to suffer since the dawn of man. And there is even suffering amongst the rest of creation: forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and extinction.
Why Must We Suffer?
Many come to the Christian faith hoping to find not only an answer to all this suffering, but also an end to suffering. If they are being taught right, they will find that Christianity does not provide an answer or an end to suffering… at least not the answer and end we want. We want an answer that makes sense and is easy to accept. We want suffering to end now. Yet not only does our suffering not end right now, God’s answer to our suffering is also not easy to accept.
The question of God’s permitting our suffering is not a new one; it’s an ancient question. For example, when Job demanded an answer to his suffering from God, God gave a long reply that can be summed up as, “Who are you to question Me? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth and set the course of the universe into place? Tell Me, since you understand.”
The prophet Habakkuk asks the same question, to which God gives a more gracious answer, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” [Habakkuk 2:10]. In other words, “The end of suffering and evil still waits its appointed time for which I have set it. It might seem slow, but wait for it; it will surely come.” Or, in a single word, “Wait.”
So, God gives us a twofold answer to our suffering, “Don’t question Me,” and, “Wait.” Not the answer we want, is it? Not easy to accept, is it? Certainly, waiting patiently is not the end or answer we want. Like the child who wants that candy bar right now, we want it now!
Paul’s answer to our suffering is no different. In fact, just before our pericope today, Paul wrote that we have to suffer with Christ in order that we may also be glorified with Him! Wait, so we’re not only supposed to refrain from questioning God, and we not only have to keep waiting for suffering’s end, but suffering is even necessary and inevitable as we follow Jesus? What kind of crazy person would want that?
Well, nobody really wants it because no one can decide on their own to become a Christian. Rather, Christian conversion is much as Jesus called the disciples: We hear His Word, He invites us to follow Him, and we cannot help but follow Him, suffering along the way because no servant is greater than his master [John 13:16; 15:20].
Our Glory and Hope
If Paul stopped there, the Christian faith would seem hopeless, but he doesn’t stop there. He continues, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” [v. 18]. Yes, you suffer for now, especially on account of Christ, and you might consider your present suffering to be great, but you have something even greater to come: the glory of Christ.
You and I will not be merely spectators of this glory; you will actually be partakers of Christ’s glory! That is, Christ is going to give you His own glory in the future resurrection! When you receive His glory, your present suffering—even the greatest ones—will be nothing compared to this glory you will receive.
That is the hope we have, which Paul says we wait for with patience. No one hopes for what they have already seen or already have but for what they have not seen and do not yet have. This is vastly different than the world’s hope.
People express their insipid and false hopes of this world. “I hope my political candidate will win… I hope the weather will be nice tomorrow… I hope the Cardinals will win their next game…”
We also express deeper hopes that are uncertain, “I hope my loved one will recover from her illness… I hope they find a cure for the coronavirus… I hope the war in the Middle East will end… I hope I’ll stop sinning in this or that manner… I hope the infirmities of old age will end soon.”
The world’s hope comes with uncertainty; it is at the whim of the flip of a coin. Our Christian hope, however, comes with absolute certainty. The author of Hebrews writes of faith that it is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” [11:1]. Your Christian hope is not that of the world’s that relies on the unpredictable statistics of a coin flip; your hope relies on the certain, stable, and immovable Rock that is our God in Jesus Christ.
As the psalmist writes in Psalm 18, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn [or the strength] of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” [vv. 2-3].
For Paul, our Christian suffering is not merely a result of following Christ; our suffering also makes our hope certain. How can this be? Because our suffering reminds us of the certain glory of Christ that is to come. So, whether you suffer illness, a virus, old age, or stub your toe, you are reminded of the future glory that is to come—that is to be given to you—in Christ.
Our Groaning and Help as We Wait
Surely, we groan inwardly as we hope and wait in the Lord. Creation groans with us too, apparently. Just as we have been subjected to the corruption of sin and the suffering it brings, creation has also been subjected to sin’s corruption. Creation, too, is groaning as it waits for the revelation of Christ to come to God’s children. The earth groans through tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. As the earth groans through disasters and its shouts of thunder, we groan with prayers resembling, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Sometimes, our groaning is too deep for words to express. When suffering becomes too great as we wait for the Lord, we don’t know how to pray. Even though Jesus has given us the words to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, at times we cannot bring ourselves to pray these words. The good news is that God doesn’t hear you only when you pray; He even hears your groaning, especially those that are too deep for words to express.
He hears you because when this happens, the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for you; He prays on your behalf. Who knows what the words of these prayers are? I do not know, but what I do know is that the Holy Spirit prays and intercedes for you when you and I are too weak to utter words.
He even waits when our waiting is weak. We’re not very good at waiting, are we? Sure, we’ll wait in line for 2-5 hours for a movie premiere or the latest smartphone, but we can’t wait in line at a stoplight for 5 minutes. Hey, I’m the same way! I sometimes call myself the champion of waiting because of the Army’s infamous “hurry up and wait” mindset that it places on its soldiers before we even start basic combat training. Because of this, I can patiently wait in line at the DMV, but as soon as my Wi-Fi slows down a bit, boy do I get mad and impatient!
If our waiting on earthly things is so weak, our waiting on the Lord becomes even weaker. Yet even then, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. How might He help us in our weakness? Well, that is why you are here today. The Spirit strengthens you with the Word of the Lord; and as often as you receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist, He uses the that holy meal to strengthen your faith. When you come to Bible study, the Holy Spirit uses the Word to strengthen you as well. Even when you do daily devotions at home.
That is why we come to church not only on a weekly basis but also feed on the Word on a daily basis, so that the Spirit may continue to give us strength in our weakness as we patiently wait on the Lord to deliver us into His future glory. It might seem slow, but it shall surely come.
Have you ever thought back to a time that seemed slow while you were going through it, but as you reflect it now you think, “Wow, that went quick!” I get that all the time. The first time I experienced this was when I graduated high school 11 years ago. When high school started, I thought, “Man, this is gonna’ be slow! Four years is a long time!” But after I graduated, I thought, “Wow, those four years went by quick!”
I think the same thing when I reflect on my time in the Army, on vicarage that just ended two weeks ago, and I know I’ll experience the same thing when I graduate seminary and receive my first call, and again when I’m on my deathbed. In retrospect, the time spent during past events of our lives are inconsequential compared to the future that lies ahead of us.
It’s comforting to know that our present suffering will be just like that. When you and I are raised from the dead and enter the new creation with Christ’s glory upon us, truly, as St. Paul says, our suffering will be inconsequential compared to the future glory that you and I are to receive from Christ in the new creation.
Because the Scriptures say there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain in the new creation [Revelation 21:4], we probably won’t even remember our present suffering. In fact, God spoke through Isaiah, “‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind‘” [65:17]. Yet even if we can remember them in this future glory, it will seem like nothing, because they will be nothing since these things will be no more.
Suffering’s True End: Christ on the Cross
Ultimately, God answered the question to suffering in Jesus, particularly as Jesus hung on the cross. Many people today think God is indifferent to our suffering, but God has not ignored your suffering. Rather, He has answered it directly in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, God drove a nail through the problem of suffering. God directly confronted evil and suffering in the blood of Jesus. In Jesus, death and evil have died.
We don’t know exactly what Jesus did when He descended into Hell, but I like to think that Jesus threw all our pain and suffering on the Devil as He proclaimed His victory over sin, death, and the Devil. And when He rose from the grave, He exited the tomb not with sin and suffering upon His shoulders, but glory and life.
In Romans 6, Paul writes that we have died to sin and live to Christ through Baptism. Brothers and sisters, though it may not seem like it now, you have died to suffering. Even though you suffer now, your suffering has already met its end in Jesus on the cross. As St. Peter writes, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal joy in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” [1 Peter 5:10].
We don’t know why God decided to deal with our pain and suffering by taking all of it upon Himself in Jesus on the cross, but what you do know is that whenever you look upon the cross, there you also see your suffering’s total end; and there you also see the hope of the glory of Jesus that is to come upon you in the new creation.
Let us pray: May the peace and glory of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds throughout this present suffering until the future glory that is to come in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.