Robert Jeffress - From Hurts To Hallelujahs
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In a recent survey, a cross-section of Americans was asked this question, "If you could ask God one thing, what would it be"? The number one response? "Why does God allow suffering in the world"? Well, there's no quick or easy answer to that question. It's one that people have been wrestling with for thousands of years. But in Romans chapter 8, we discover how the apostle Paul dealt with that very same question. My message today is called, "From hurts to hallelujahs" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
I don't have any hard data with which to prove this statement empirically, but I still believe it's true. From where I sit as pastor, it seems to me that an increasing number of our members are suffering more heartache and tragedies than ever before. Hardly a week goes by that I don't hear of a marriage that is in trouble. Like me, you can probably name right now two, three, a half a dozen people who have been recently diagnosed with cancer. It seems like I'm doing more and more funerals not just for senior adults who have lived out their allotted time, but from those that at least we seem to think had been taken prematurely in death.
It really doesn't matter whether suffering is precipitated by disease, or divorce, or death - the question that always comes with suffering is the question of: why? There are some of you right now who know what I'm talking about when I speak about suffering and trials in your life. And if you're asking the question why, I believe today's message from Romans 8 will not only give you some answers to the why question, but more importantly, it'll provide you with some reassuring hope. Don't we all need a dose of hope right now? Well, we're going to get that today in Romans chapter 8. If you have your Bibles, turn to Romans chapter 8 as we discover how God will one day take our hurts and turn them into hallelujahs.
Romans chapter 8. Suffering's not an option if you're a believer. It's going to happen in your life. And what Paul is saying here is: yes, there's an inheritance that is coming, but before that there is suffering that comes. And that leads Paul in verse 18 into this discussion of suffering, from verses 18 to verse 27. Look at what he says, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us". Isn't it interesting Paul doesn't go into a lengthy defense of the reality of suffering? He doesn't say: let me prove to you that we suffer. He doesn't have to. We all understand that. So instead of defending the concept of suffering, what Paul does is he explains, beginning in verse 19, the three different realms in which suffering takes place. First of all, he begins talking about in verse 19: the suffering of the created world.
Now if I had been Paul, I think I would have started talking about the suffering we're experiencing. But he doesn't start there, he starts with the suffering of creation. He does it for a reason, because the suffering of creation is in some ways the reason that we suffer in our own lives. Look at verse 19, "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now". Paul is saying all of creation is suffering, it's groaning, looking for something better. Underline that phrase "Waits eagerly". That word in Greek that is translated "Waits eagerly", literally means "To stand with your head outstretched". It's like you're looking for something that is better.
I like the way the Phillips paraphrases this verse. Romans 8:19, "For the whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own". All of creation is straining, it's on tiptoe, looking for something better. Now he's not suggesting that the plants and the trees all have feelings. The idea is they are under a burden, a strain, and they are looking for something that is yet to come. Now I think it'd be good to stop here for just a moment: and talk about what the Bible says about the natural world, about nature. And one reason it's important to understand what the Bible says about the created world is what the Bible says is completely different from what you students in high school and college are being taught about the natural world.
Let's see what the Bible says about the created world. Three statements I want you to write down. First of all, God created the world perfectly. He created a perfect world. This world did not evolve over a long period of time into something better - it started out perfect. In Isaiah 45:18, God says that he did not create the world a waste place. He created this world absolutely perfectly. When Adam and Even inherited the garden, there were no polluted rivers, no polluted oceans, there were no thorns, and thistles, and weeds. Adam and Eve never had to call PermaGreen to come, you know, come spruce up the lawn: everything was absolutely perfect. That's how God created it.
But secondly, sin is what corrupted the world. When Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, they not only suffered for it individually - spiritual death came to all men, Romans 5:12 said because of Adam's sin. The environment also had a curse placed against it because of sin. Look at Genesis 3:17. After Adam and Eve's rebellion against God, God said, "Cursed is the ground because of you: thorns and thistles it shall grow for you". Suddenly what was very easy earlier - the harvesting of fruit became very, very difficult because all of the creation was cursed. Now this is important to understand because this is different from what the environmentalists will tell you.
By the way, there is a good Christian case for environmentalism, of taking care of the world that God has given us - that is good stewardship. But the environmentalist, the hyper-environmentalists will tell you: well, the reason we've got this awful environment in which we live is because of man's sin against the environment. No, it's not man's sin against the environment, it was man's sin against God that has produced the curse of the created world today. And that's what he's talking about in verse 20 of Romans 8, "For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of him", that is God, "who subjected it".
After Adam and Eve sinned, God put into effect the law of degradation. Now we call it in physics the law of entropy. You know what the law of entropy is? It basically talks about the degradation of matter. It says everything in the environment is moving from order to disorder. One writer says it this way, he says: we see that every year in nature: how things are going downward not upward. Every spring, creation tries to renew itself. It begins to bud, and growth occurs in the spring time. And there's all this excitement: spring has come! But spring is followed by summer: summer's followed by fall: and fall is followed by winter: and it all dies. And once again in the spring, nature once again tries to renew itself into something permanent: but it can't pull it off. And it won't pull it off because of the curse of sin.
But thirdly, the Bible promises that one day God will redeem the world. One day this curse he has placed on the environment, one day it will be lifted. Look again at verse 19 of Romans 8, "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God". That is you and I, "for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of him (God) who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God". Just as you and I are looking forward to the day that we are set free from these bodies, from the curse of sin and death, one day creation is going to be set free as well. And when is that going to happen? It's when God himself destroys this present heaven and earth, and creates a new heaven and earth. And all of creation will rejoice on that day.
Now you may be thinking: well, Robert, this is all interesting, but what in the world does it have to do with me? Here's the application: don't be surprised when you run into problems in this world. The fact that everything is spiraling downward instead of ascending upward, this law of entropy, this law of degradation explains why everything in your life seems to break down: whether it's the air conditioning in your car, whether it's the friendships in your life, or whether it's the cells in your body, the spiral is downward because of this curse of sin we're living under. But there's a second realm of suffering, not only the realm of creation, but also beginning in verse 23, Paul talks about the suffering of Christians. Look at verse 23, "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body".
See how he's distinguishing creation and then he talks about those of us who are sons or children of God? We suffer as well. This phrase in verse 23 "Having the first fruits of the Spirit", that's just simply a way of talking about a Christian. The evidence that you're a Christian is you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit of God. He's saying even those of us who have received the Holy Spirit of God, we too, groan from our suffering. That word "Groan" is the word stenazo in Greek. It's used nine times in the New Testament: three of those times is right here in this passage from Romans chapter 8. And while this groaning and suffering is something that every person, regardless of their faith, experiences, interestingly Christians, Paul says, suffer more in this life than non-Christians. Why is that?
Well three reasons Christians suffer more than non-Christians in this world. First of all, because of our sensitivity to sin. Unlike a non-Christian, Christians are especially sensitive to sin in this world, to sin in other people, to sin within themselves. David talked about this in Psalm 38 verses 4 and 9 and 10. He said, "My iniquities are gone over my head: as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. Lord, all of my desire is before thee: and my sighing is not hidden from thee. My heart throbs, my strength fails me: and the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me". A non-Christian doesn't feel that way about sin. But those who have the first Fruit of the Spirit, they feel that suffering that comes from their own sin. Remember what Paul said in Romans chapter 7? In that climactic statement he said, "Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death"?
Second reason we suffer more than unbelievers is because of a persecution for our faith. Christians living in an ungodly world suffer for standing up for their faith. We don't have time to look at 1 Peter 4, but remember Peter said, "Beloved, don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you, but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that you may rejoice at his exultation".
Thirdly, one reason we suffer more than non-Christians is because of an expectation of something better. Part of our groaning is an expectation of something better. Have you ever said on a Monday morning: I can't wait for Friday to get here? Or in the middle of the year: I can't wait for my vacation? It's a groaning, it's a sign, but it's a groaning in expectation of something better that awaits you. Non-Christians don't groan that way. They don't have anything better to look forward to - not in the next life. Do you realize if you're not a Christian today, your life, your eternity is as good right now as it will ever be? From here on through eternity, it only gets worse, and worse, and worse. Non-Christians don't have a hope of anything better. Not in the long run, but we do.
Look at verses 23 to 25. He says, "And not only this, but we also ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body". Just like creation is standing on its tiptoes looking for something better - he said we who are the children of God, we are looking for something better. What are we looking for? The redemption of your body. That day is going to come when you get to trade in this sin-filled, disease-ridden body that is prone to suffering, and sin, and disease, and death, and one day you're going to trade this in for the brand new body from God: a God that will never know sin: a body that will never know sickness: a body that will never for an instant displease God - that is your inheritance, and it's forever.
And the Bible says we are waiting eagerly for that day. Notice he not only compares our suffering to unbelievers, but he also compares our suffering to eternity. Go back to verse 18 for just a moment. Here is a great dose of hope beginning in verse 18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us". James Boice notes two contrasts between our suffering in this world, and the glory of the next world. First of all, compare them according to their intensity.
You know this word translated "Glory" - it's a word that means "Heavy" or "Substantive". Paul is talking about what awaits us in the future. And it's hard for us to explain what awaits us in the future. We get an inkling of it in the scripture. For example, in Revelation 21 verse 4 it says in that new world God will wipe away every tear from our eyes: and there shall no longer be any death, or mourning, or crying, or pain: for the first things will have passed away. That's just one thing that awaits us. But the best thing about heaven is going to be we're going to be in the presence of God forever. The glory that is yet to be ours, that glory is sharing in the presence of God forever and ever. But he said the suffering of this world - he said it cannot be compared: it's not worthy to be compared with a glory that awaits us in the future.
Notice the comparison of our suffering and what awaits in the future not only by its intensity, but also by its duration. In verse 18 of Romans 8 Paul confines our suffering to this present time. Notice what he says, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time". In 2 Corinthians 4:17 he says, "For this momentary, light affliction is nothing compared to eternity". See, that's another way suffering and glory contrast with one another. Suffering, as real as it is, and as an unending as it seems is really momentary compared to eternity. Suffering lasts like this. The glorious experience of heaven will be forever. As hard as the suffering you're experiencing is right now, it is light and it is momentary compared to what God has planned for you for eternity.
Notice, number three, there's not only a suffering of creation and even of Christians, there's a suffering experienced by the Holy Spirit. Look at verses 26 and 27, "And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words: and he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the spirit is, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God".
Now I want you to notice, first of all, who does the groaning in this verse? It's not us. It's the Holy Spirit of God. And not only that, it's an inaudible groaning. It's a groaning that's so deep it can't be expressed in words. I believe what Paul is saying here is that one of the limitations of being in our present bodies, and possessing our limited understanding is sometimes we don't know what to pray for. When that happens, Paul says, you have a friend, you have a helper, you have a paraclete, the Holy Spirit of God who comes alongside you, and he prays for you to the Father. He doesn't just come alongside of us when we're going through suffering, he bears the weight with us. He prays for us in ways we can't even begin to understand. That's what he's talking about when he speaks about the groaning of the Holy Spirit of God.
Now let me give you, in closing today, two practical principles from this message that I hope will be an encouragement to you this week. Number one, principle number one. Write it down. Present suffering enhances future joy. Present suffering enhances future joy. Those who suffer most in this world are going to be those who enjoy heaven most in the next world. I think that's what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5:6 when he said, "Blessed are those who hunger and what? Thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied". Present suffering enhances future joy.
Number two, present suffering is real, but it's also temporary. Present suffering is real, but it's also temporary. Did you notice in this passage how Paul compared the suffering in this world to the pains of childbirth? The suffering you're experiencing is very real, and the only thing that makes it tolerable is the knowledge that it's temporary, and that it's going to produce something better - a child. It's the same way with suffering. Look at what he says in Romans 8:25, "But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it".
Make no mistake about it, the suffering you're experiencing right now is very real: and when you go alongside a friend or a family member who is suffering, don't diminish the reality of that suffering. Don't tell them if they had more faith they wouldn't suffer as much as they do. No, the suffering they feel is real. The word of hope you can offer is: it's also temporary. Some of my favorite words about suffering were written by Philip Yancey. He said, "The Bible never belittles human disappointment, or suffering, but it does add one key word: temporary. What we feel now, we will not always feel. Our disappointment, our suffering is itself a sign, an aching, a hunger for something better: and faith is, in the end a kind of homesickness - for a home we have never yet visited, but have never once stopped longing for".