The Three Groans of Suffering

The Three Groans of Suffering

Text: Romans 8:18-27

Opening: I’m feeling a little funny this morning, so I think I’ll try out a few jokes on you. Are you ready? (1) My son and I were driving in a car recently when a big bug suddenly splattered all over the windshield. Without missing a beat he said, “I bet he won’t have the guts to do that again.” (2) A neighbor stopped by the house and asked if I heard about the kid–napping in a physics class at the high school. I said, “No, that’s terrible!” He responded, “It turned out okay. They woke him up.” (3) A friend calls up his buddy and asks, “Hey do you want to go see that new movie, “Constipation?” “We can’t” says the other man. “It hasn’t come out yet.” (4)  What do you call a nose that is twelve inches long? A foot. (5) I asked my son if he’d seen the newspaper. He told me newspapers are old school. He said that people today use IPads and then handed me his. Man, that fly didn’t know what hit him!

Don’t worry, I’m done. Believe it or not, I shared those jokes with you for a reason. I actually wanted to hear you groan because, well, that’s what this morning’s message is all about…groaning. A groan is an inarticulate sound in response to pain. It’s what you do when I tell a joke that isn’t funny, but you feel like you owe me some kind of response instead of embarrassing silence. It’s what your children do, when you’re driving toward your vacation destination and they ask, “When are we going to get there?” and you break the news that you’re only a half hour into the trip. It’s what a person suffering from a bad tooth ache does while he waits to see the dentist. It’s what a woman about to deliver a baby does (unless she has had an epidural) as her body is racked with labor pains. They all groan. It’s a form of communication that recognizes your present suffering and the hope that your circumstances will take a turn for the better soon. In our text for this message from Romans 8:18-27, the Apostle Paul mentions three groans that indicate all is not as it should be in the worldthat God has something better in store for us. Let’s see what we can learn from each one.

The Groanings of God’s Creation (Romans 8:19-22 — 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 decay 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). It may surprise some of us to hear this, but the created order is not trending upward, but spiraling downward. It is in the process of dying. The Bible confirms this in passages like Psalm 102:25Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment and again in 2 Peter 3:10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. And if you’ve read your Bible, then you already know the cause. Creation was  “subjected to futility” (rendered unable to fulfill its purpose) because of what happened in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve rebelled against God when they ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result, God cursed the physical world. Genesis 3:17-19And to Adam God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;  for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Notice that we’re not told how the curse impacted the world, except to say that it made life much harder for mankind. In my opinion, things like droughts, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, hailstorms, tsunamis, deadly pestilence, dangerous lightning storms and even swarms of insects devouring everything in their paths are a direct result of the curse. And this is the world in which we live. I think most of us would admit that It’s not easy to make your way in it. The good news is that this will not always be the case. In the future, creation will be set free from the bondage to decay into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. In fact, it waits with “eager longing” for that day. The word depicts someone standing on his tiptoes, craning his neck in order to see what’s coming. God’s creation knows that the day of redemption is drawing near and can’t wait to see it. On that day, two good things will happen: (1) The sons of God will be revealed. For now, there’s no way for everyone to know for sure who God’s children are. But on the last day, that will no longer be the case. Everyone will be able to identify the sheep from the goats. (2) Creation will be set free from bondage to decay. It will be liberated from the curse and made anew. That’s when the endless cycle of conception, birth, growth, decline, decay and death will finally come to an end. God will create a new earth that no longer suffers from His curse (Isaiah 65:17 — Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth; the former things will not be remembered). Until that day, just as it always has, creation continues to groan together in the pains of child-birth. Something far better is coming, but until then, pain will be this world’s constant companion. That’s the groanings of creation.

The Groanings of God’s Children (Romans 8:23-25 — 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). Note that Paul says we have the first fruits of the Spirit. This phrase calls to mind the Feast of Weeks, a celebration by the Jews of the beginning of the harvest. As they enjoyed the first portions of their labors, they did so knowing that the rest of the crop would follow in due time.  It’s interesting that the Greek translation for this feast was Pentecost. In Acts 2, we know that it was on the day of Pentecost that believers were first indwelt and filled with the Holy Spirit on a permanent basis. The Bible tells us that He is the deposit (firstfruit) guaranteeing our inheritance until the day of redemption. Until that day, however, just like creation, Christians will also be frustrated, living in the bondage of decay and pain. That’s right…we will groan inwardly as we wind down to our eventual deaths. Illustration: Listen…when I was a young man, I didn’t worry about any of that. I felt like I could do anything. I can remember thinking that my only limitations were the ones I imposed on myself. That’s why, in my late teens, I set a goal to win a championship trophy in four sports. I know that seems silly now, but I wanted to prove to everyone that I was well-rounded athlete. Eventually I was able to do it. I won several baseball trophies because that was my best sport, a football trophy or two, a volleyball trophy and, believe it or not, a golf trophy. I actually won a golf tournament in a sudden death playoff with another guy when I chipped in for par! If you’ve ever played golf with me I’m sure that seems hard to believe now. And do you know what I eventually did with those trophies? Sometime in my thirties I threw them all away. Today, I know that I’m no longer a young man. I see the effect that decay has on me almost every day. Sometimes I lose my balance when I’m just standing in a crowd. My body aches more than it should, my eyesight will never be 20/20 again and I can only dream of throwing a fastball with any real velocity in a game that means something. I see that the clock is winding down for me. I suspect that I’m probably in the last quarter of my life, and that’s okay…really it is. A while back, I asked a man in his late 80s how old he was when he really began to feel his age. He laughed and said, “Inside, I’ve never felt old. But a day doesn’t go by when my body fails to tell me that I am.” I think I’m beginning to understand what he meant. The aging process is clearly a part of the fall, but it also may be a gracious gift from God that reminds us that we do not want to live in a fallen world corrupted by sin and feel its effects upon us every minute, every hour, every day for eternity. Not when God has something so much better in mind. And so, with Paul, we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. We groan for the day when this mortal shall put on immortality. When our bodies will, like the earth, be made anew and no longer susceptible to decay and death. And how are we to approach the end of our lives? With hope and patience. Hope is the expectation of a certain future. You would do well to memorize that definition. It is never wishful thinking in the Bible. It is the settled assurance that what God has promised, He will do. We only hope for what has not yet come to be. In heaven, we won’t need hope, but now we do. This is where hope and patience come together. The word for patience means “to suffer long.”  It’s the mental attitude that God wants for us as we serve Him in this world that doesn’t work according to His original design. We’re told to hang in there even though at times our suffering may feel like it’s more than we can bear. Illustration: It’s not hard too be patient when we’re filled with hope that something really good is coming at the end. In his book, Making Sense of God, Tim Keller challenges his readers to imagine this scenario: You have two women of the same age, the same socioeconomic status, the same educational level, and even the same temperament. You hire both of them and say to each, “You are part of an assembly line, and I want you to put part A into slot B and then hand what you have assembled to someone else. I want you to do that over and over for eight hours a day.” You put them in identical rooms with identical lighting, temperature, and ventilation. You give them the very same number of breaks in a day. It is very boring work. Their conditions are the same in every way—except for one difference. You tell the first woman that at the end of the year you will pay her thirty thousand dollars, and you tell the second woman that at the end of the year you will pay her thirty million. After a couple of weeks the first woman will be saying, “Isn’t this tedious? Isn’t it driving you insane? Aren’t you thinking about quitting?” And the second woman will say. “No. This is perfectly acceptable. In fact, I whistle while I work.” What is going on? You have two human beings who are experiencing identical circumstances in radically different ways. What makes the difference? It is their expectation of the future. This illustration is not intended to say that all we need is a good income. It does, however, show that what we believe about our future completely controls how we are experiencing our present. We are irreducibly hope-based creatures. We’ve talked about the groanings of creation and God’s children, but there’s still one more.

The Groanings of God’s Spirit (Romans 8:26-27 — Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God). We’re weak. We suffer and groan in this life and each time it reveals just how helpless we really are. But thank the Lord that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid when we are most desperate. In those times when we’re so confused and befuddled by what’s going on that we don’t even know what we should ask of God in prayer, He takes over. The Holy Spirit prays for us with speechless groans! He prays to the Father in the name of the Son for us in our moments of weakness. Think of it this way. It’s God praying to God on behalf of His children. And hears the really good news. The Holy Spirit always prays according to the will of God. In 1 John 5:14-15, we’re told that if we ask anything according to God’s will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him. In other words, whenever someone asks God for something He longs to give them, He will always do it. Isn’t it good to know that when we’re suffering in this world, when our hope and patience are growing thin, the Holy Spirit is praying for you and you can be  absolutely assured that His prayers will be answered. The outcome may not always be what you want, but the answer you receive will always be what God wants.

Applications: We groan because we suffer and long for heaven which Paul described as “very much better.” It’s was distinguishes Christians from everyone else. We who suffer with Christ will be the ones who are also glorified with Him. The logic goes like this: Christ suffered in His incarnation, humiliation and crucifixion. We are His disciples. We should expect to suffer as well in a world that is dying and a body that is also dying. Here’s some advice as you wait patiently on earth for that day when you’ll finally be liberated from all that is decaying.

Don’t spend all your time worrying about saving the earth. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take care of it…that it’s wrong to care about the environment, or the ozone or the polar icecaps. God gave mankind dominion over the earth and everything in it, and we ought to be good stewards of it. But you need to remember that when it’s all said and done, this earth will not be saved. It will perish according to the plan of God and He will fashion a brand new and incorruptible  one to be our permanent home in heaven. This one will burn.

Don’t put too much time and money into trying to keep your body looking young. It’s decaying and there really isn’t that much that you are going to be able to do about it anyway. Scientists are constantly seeking ways to make man immortal, but that is never going to happen. Far better that we should maintain an eternal mindset and hope and wait patiently for the redemption of our bodies when our salvation will be completed in heaven.

Don’t worry if you have no idea what to pray for yourself or someone else. The Holy Spirit knows what to ask the Father on your behalf. His intercession will make all the difference as the Spirit seeks the Father’s will for all His sons and daughters. Just get on your knees in the presence of the Lord and trust in the good, perfect and acceptable will of the Father.

Conclusion: Since October, 2016, American pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been held in Turkey as a political hostage. Pastor Brunson is accused of having links with an organization involved in a failed 2016 coup attempt, as well the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. But most observers contend that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keeping him imprisoned for diplomatic leverage. (In July, 2018), after optimistic reports that Brunson would be released at the end of his third hearing in Turkey, the court continued the trial, this time to October 12. The judge sent the North Carolina pastor back to prison for another three months. At the time of his fourth hearing, Pastor Brunson will have spent more than two years of his life in a Turkish prison. Although the trial has not gone well for Brunson, at this hearing he still had an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. In the courtroom he forgave those who had testified falsely against him. Brunson said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.” Another American pastor who was present at the trial said, “As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew. His testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.” In a Facebook post, Andrew’s wife, Norine, posted that “The Lord was absolutely glorified!!! He explained why he was here, he gave the gospel. He publicly forgave all those who have come against him, forgiving as he has been forgiven.” She continued: “He said, ‘It is a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ. Blessed am I, as I suffer for him. Blessed am I, as I am slandered. Blessed am I, as I am being lied about. Blessed am I, as I am imprisoned. Blessed am I, as I share his suffering.’ I am incredibly proud of him as I am quite sure he doesn’t feel that blessing at this point.” Lindy Lowry, “U.S. Pastor Brunson Publicly Forgives His Persecutors— as Turkey Calls for Fourth Hearing,” Open Doors (7-18-18) No, I bet he doesn’t feel very blessed at all. In fact, I would guess that his situation has produced some sincere groaning on his part as Andrew hopes and waits patiently for his deliverance. I’m also betting that the Holy Spirit is uttering a few groans too deep for words as He intercedes according to the will of God for our brother in Christ. What should our message be to him? “Andrew, You’re not alone and this won’t last. Don’t give up. God’s will is still being done. His purposes are still being served in and you, who suffers with Christ, will also be glorified with Him. The best is yet to come.”