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Romans (Series 2)

Christ and Creation

Romans 8:18-27

Lesson audio

Maurus Rabanus, a ninth century Christian writer, pointed out an interesting reaction in Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats; specifically:

Matthew 25:37-39 NIV "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

It appears at first as if the righteous don’t believe what their Lord is telling them! As these are the righteous, this cannot be distrust of our Lord’s words. So what is it? Rabanus gives us two reasons they would react this way:

  • First, these are the righteous after the resurrection. They are in such a glorified state, so exalted that they are stunned.
  • Second, in that state they realize just how small their righteous acts are compared to the glory they have been given.

Do you see it? Their righteous acts were so small, their suffering so little, that the connection seems to them to be easily overlooked; it is as nothing.

Paul makes much the same point.

Romans 8:18-27 NIV I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (19) The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. (20) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope (21) that[9] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (23) Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (24) For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? (25) But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (26) In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (27) And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

Christ and Creation

If we are to understand this passage, we must first condition our minds with some facts about Christ and creation.

  • Christ is the author of creation. He is not just its agent of creation, but the author. That is to say, he designed it as well as implemented it. (Civil engineer vs. bulldozer operator – by way of comparison.)
  • Christ is the sustainer of creation. He did not just wind up the universe and set it spinning – he actively sustains it.
  • He is, in a sense we shall see, the first born of creation. This includes the thought that he is the first to be raised from the dead to life in the new creation. Lazarus was raised to die again; Christ lives forever.
First Fruits

In some sense we share that property of being “first born” – to the extent that we are an imitation of Christ, disciples. Paul puts it here that we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. A little refresher course on firstfruits:

  • Firstfruits were just that: the first things you harvested every year. At the point where you were the most tired of last year’s apples you gave the first of this year’s crop to God. It is a sacrifice; it is also an act of faith.
  • If the firstfruits are holy, the rest of the crop is holy.[1] By giving the firstfruits, you secure the blessing of God on the whole crop.

Now we can see the sequence as it applies to us: Christ is the firstfruits of the new creation.[2] But we are also told that we are a kind of firstfruits:

James 1:16-18 NIV Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. (17) Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (18) He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

It is not our doing – but he gave us that privilege.

The nature of power

Of course, all this leads up to a discussion of the events of the end times; in particular, the resurrection of the dead and the new heaven and earth. Such events are beyond our normal experience, and we might well wonder whether or not the descriptions in the Bible should be interpreted not literally but as some sort of parable that proclaims, “the good guys always win.”

This comes from the concept that either God does not have the power to cause this to happen, or the will. As to the will, it is his clearly expressed intent, no matter how you interpret the Scriptures. But for power, we need a little background.

Students of physics will recall the difference between “kinetic” and “potential.” Kinetic means that we see it in motion; Wile E. Coyote falling to the bottom of the cliff is kinetic. But if he’s tied a rope to a rock on the cliff above, that rock’s power is potential – until Wile E. pulls on the rope and sends it screaming down on his own head. But Chuck Jones – the cartoonist – has a greater set of options. All those physically impossible happenings in a Roadrunner cartoon are possible to him; he is the creator of Wile E’s world. Similarly, we see only the kinetic but not the potential of the universe; resurrection and regeneration are beyond us. But not beyond the creator who devised the universe in which we live. We, like Wile E., are “in the box.” God is not.

End Times

The order of events – indeed, some of the events themselves – are in debate. We shall confine ourselves today to three concepts of first importance.

Resurrection

It is very clear that the dead will rise – and beyond that there is debate. First, there is the question of how many resurrections are there? The answer is at least two – Christ’s and ours. Hal Lindsay sees six; any other number is your choice.

The debate comes from this: the dead rise – to what purpose? Some hold to one resurrection with the judgment. Others see a resurrection to life, not facing a judgment, with a separate resurrection (at varying times) for those not in Christ. Still others see separate resurrections for those in the Old Testament period. Who can say? But one thing we do know:

1 Corinthians 15:35-49 NIV (35) But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" (36) How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (37) When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. (38) But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. (39) All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. (40) There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. (41) The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. (42) So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; (43) it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; (44) it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (45) So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"[5]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (46) The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. (47) The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. (48) As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. (49) And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we[6] bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

Which introduces us to the concept of glory.

Glory

If you were to meet a risen saint at this moment, your first reaction would be to worship. It seems that we shall appear in the same glory that Christ had after his resurrection.[3] This is not something we earn – but it is something that is given to us in the here and now:

1 Corinthians 2:6-7 NIV (6) We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (7) No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

As Romans 8:23 puts it, we are up for adoption as sons of God. This has been God’s intention from before the beginning of time. We will be like Christ. More than that I cannot really say; more than that needs not be said.

New Heavens, New Earth

The universe, it seems, is to be redeemed; we are promised a new heaven and new earth.[4] Other than “new” – in what sense we don’t really know – we know that this universe is radically different: this is the one in which the lion and the lamb get along.[5] Laws of physics? Don’t I wish I knew!

But there is one thing about this new universe which should cause us to act now. Specifically:

Mark 13:32-37 NIV "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (33) Be on guard! Be alert[6]! You do not know when that time will come. (34) It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. (35) "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back--whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. (36) If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. (37) What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' "

The warning for the here and now – is clear.

What to do today

All this is well and good; but Paul recognizes that we need instructions for the here and now if we are to endure to see those good days.

Patience

It’s no use telling people to be patient if they don’t understand the nature of patience. It is not simple waiting; it is an active thing:

  • Patience has an objective. We are patiently working our way into the kingdom of God, not just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Because it is God’s doing, we don’t know the timing – but we do know our tasks.
  • Patience denies weariness. Those whose lives are run by emotions may not understand this. Patience looks down the road; today’s weariness will pass – but the eternal nature of the kingdom causes us to press on.
  • Patience – perseverance in some translations – brings the Christian to maturity.[6] It has its benefits here and now as well as then.
Prayer

It is of great comfort that the Holy Spirit intercedes in our prayers. We see here three characteristics of that intercession, which we may imitate:

  • Intercession comes from the righteous for the wicked.[7] Which means that we do not have to be perfect to be heard.
  • Intercession is made by the wise for the ignorant – ever wondered just how you should pray for a certain situation? Just what should you ask for when someone is dying painfully?
  • The Spirit’s intercession is always done within God’s will. Even if you have no idea what that might be. God will do no evil accidentally on your behalf.
The virtue of hope

Hope sounds sort of “pie in the sky.” Christian hope is not.

  • Christian hope is not a vague wish that God will do nice things. It specifically refers to the return of our Lord, the resurrection and the new heaven and earth. Unfathomable, perhaps – but not vague.
  • Hope is supported by fact and reason.[8] The fact is the resurrection of Christ; the reasoning comes from the words of God.
  • Hope needs a mechanism to be implemented; that mechanism is faith. Without faith, there is no real hope. In every meaning of that sentence.

What is our hope? Our hope is in Christ, of eternal life, by the resurrection of the dead into the new heaven and earth. And nothing less.



[1] See Romans 11:16

[2] See 1st Corinthians 15:23

[3] Colossians 3:4

[4] 2nd Peter 3:3-14

[5] Isaiah 11:6-9

[6] James 1:3-4

[7] For example, see Abigail’s intercession with David for Nabal in 1st Samuel 23:25-35

[8] Hoping the Dodgers win the pennant is hope supported by fact (2009). Hoping the Clippers win the NBA title is wishful thinking.

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