God’s future Glory
Brothers and Sisters,
How often do we think about the future. And how often do you talk about it with your friends or loved ones, with your husband perhaps, or your wife?
And how, do we think, about the future?
Of course we do talk about the future sometimes.
It might even seem like we are living in an age where all may be experts on the future…at least as far as we generally understand the word “future” to mean,
us as citizens of this earth, this earthly kingdom of the now and the here.
We think and talk about the future when we consider
whether we have provided for old age;
for our children’s education
and when we have done this, we may think we have “the future” all worked out.
Off course this is important… but is that all there is to the “future.”
Paul, in our passage, seems to say that the real future lies beyond the time and space of this world,
and that it will be those who look forward to a future world, an up to now yet unseen world, who really have it all under control.
In preparation for this sermon, I spent some time talking to Leo about it,
and he related a story to me that I thought was a wonderful illustration of the strength of hope,
hope as you see it in people of deep faith
and hope, as I believe Paul understands the word in his letters and teachings to the first Christians in Rome and elsewhere:
The story goes like this:
A young boy lay gravely ill in hospital.
Everyone, including the doctors, had given up on him and resigned themselves to the fact that he was going to die.
And then, after a visit from a school teacher, for no apparent reason, the boy started to recover.
The doctors thought it was a miracle, for they could find no medical explanation for his return to health.
Then they remembered that he had received the visit and wanting to understand what it was that had resulted in his recovery and exploring every avenue to get to the bottom of it all, as scientists do, the doctors contacted the teacher and asked her what it was that she had said or done to result in the boy’s healing.
But she said that she didn’t do anything she didn’t normally do; all I did, she said, was to teach the boy about adjectives and the way they work in language.
And so the doctors asked the boy personally what had happened in his life for him to get better.
This was his explanation: “When the teacher came to visit me and started teaching me about adjectives, I thought to myself that no one would teach anyone adjectives if they thought he was going to die, so I didn’t and I got better.”
You see, this boy had picked up on the vision of purpose that the teacher had and had made it his own….and therefore he could look forward to living life to the fullest.
This boy had discovered hope, and not only that, he had believed in that which he was hoping for, that it would happen – as Christians we can say…he had discovered faith!
When Paul writes to the suffering Christians in Rome, who are living in trying times, perilous times, he assures them of a future so glorious, that for all those who believe, their present sufferings by comparison, matter nothing.
And this is what this passage is all about,
that glorious future that awaits the children of God,
that wonderful future that makes even this life, with its suffering, all worth living, because we may look forward to a life beyond this life,
an excellent life in the Kingdom of God almighty at the feet of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.
Let me ask again then: How often do you think and speak to others about this future, the future of the Kingdom and the glory of God?
Of course we speak do about this future at least sometimes.
Here in church, as we will again towards the end of our service, when we say the words of the Apostles creed, we refer to the future:
we say, “we believe in “the resurrection of the body and life ever lasting.”
But when we leave here on a Sunday and travel towards Monday and Tuesday and all the other days until next Sunday, do we then still remember… and think and talk about this future?
Or does all our thoughts and energy return to shorter term future, the future as being the days that we will spend on this earth?
The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is this:
Paul is probably in Corinth when he writes this letter, possibly in the Spring of the year of our Lord 57.
Paul was on his third missionary journey, on his way back to Jerusalem, and he is feeling disappointed that he has not been able to visit the young church in Jerusalem yet.
Ever since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, congregations have formed all over the empire, and in Rome, it is no different.
But these are early days for the young Church, and Paul is mindful that they need instruction and encouragement in their faith.
The Roman believers are being persecuted and are being avoided by many, even by once close friends, simply because even association with the Christian believers may result in persecution.
The Christians were in the minority, surrounded by the idol-worshipping Romans.
In all of this, the believers were trying to live their lives by the directions of the apostles, as their faith under the instruction of Jesus required it, but they were living in a world where personal freedom and rights far outweighed the doctrine of love and responsibility… the life that Christ asked his followers to exercise.
Homosexuality, for one, was rife (you can read all about it in Chapter one verse 24). And also in Chapter one, from verse 28, Paul lists some characteristics of a fallen world the way he must have observed it… and in a way we today may still observe the current world.
Chapter 1 ….from verse 28:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
That was the Rome Paul was writing to.
It is every man and every woman for himself or herself,….and they are living…
with no hope for any kind of future. In fact, they are not even thinking about it.
What is quite remarkable, brothers and sisters, if one thinks about it, is that Rome then, did not look all that different to Sydney, or Johannesburg or New York today.
Sure there were no Mobile phones, or cars or busses, no electricity, but Rome was a vibrant city with a bustling trade and a city
that offered all the hedonistic temptations and pleasures that the modern world does even now.
((Pause)) Dare we do the exercise…?
Here we are, 2000 plus years later, how much of what was written about Rome and the Romans, remains true for Sydney and Sydneysiders, today?
And does that say something about our faith in God’s future glory?
The creation as Paul observes it, was (and we may add…”is”) indeed “groaning” … right up to the present time,
and the Christians were not spared the suffering.
But Christians, believers, Paul says, may suffer differently:
They suffer with the full knowledge of …hope!
Hope for a new heaven and a new earth,
a new creation in which the joy and harmony will far outweigh the present day sufferings.
And not only are the believers suffering, the very creation is groaning in its fallen, sinful state…(verse 22 and 23: “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 first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly,” but… “as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
When Paul writes in verse 22 “the whole creation has been groaning,” he purposely puts it alongside “but we ourselves” referring then to the Roman believers, the first Christians of that time…those who shared either directly or indirectly on the grounds of their faith in Jesus the Saviour, in receiving the Holy Spirit, first at Pentecost as related to us in Acts, and later, all who believe.
Why does Paul draw this distinction between the creation and the believers?
He does it brothers and sisters because he wants to demonstrate that everything that is, everything that ever has been, everything that has ever happened, the whole world and every person that he has made,
is in God’s plan,
even those and that which right up to the present day in this fallen world, is suffering.
And we know it has been that way ever since the fall.
And if they wanted to revisit a record of this truth, all they had to do was read the Scriptures.
They may know it, if they want to. They may of course also know it in their own sufferings as we may do, and in the sufferings of the world... but the world’s suffering is even in Paul’s time already well documented in Scripture, just as the once wonderful Garden of Eden was well documented.
And by the grace of God, Paul has come to understand that the future hope has been and is being proclaimed in scripture, from the very beginning, as the story of God’s plan unfolds.
Paul, in this sense, becomes the instrument God uses to help write, so to speak the final chapters of the Gospel…and we are doubly blessed that we may have God’s whole word to show us that which will surely be.
So, if we know now that God’s word is accurate, as far as the beginning and unfolding of God’s plan is concerned, we may also know that God’s word is good as far as His promises go
– and God promises throughout his word that we, His heirs, His Sons and daughters in the faith, will partake of His new heaven and His new earth. As believers we can bank on this 100 persent!
But the pagan Romans and the unbelievers miss this glorious truth.
They are too caught up in the present world.
They have no hope for a future.
Their vision does not reach that far.
And amidst these circumstances, Paul, in the latter part of verse 22 and 23 of his letter to the Roman believers, spells out that they should hang in there,
that a far better life, an everlasting life, awaits those who cling to the hope that they, by the grace of God, have in their hearts:
Why? Because when Christ comes again - as He surely will – we, the children of God (verse 21) we who have “the first fruits of the Spirit” (verse 23), we “the saints (verse 27) “those who God foreknew” (verse 29)
you and I …us, “He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”. Then, finally, we will be like Christ in all of life!
Who? “those who love Him” (verse 28);
who are they? “those who have been called according to His purpose.
It is them…us… who will be renewed in body and spirit to become the inheritors of the Kingdom of Christ, heirs of a new world.
And it does not end here:
Not only us, but indeed God’s physical creation, our world, too, that will be renewed.
Verse 19: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…to be liberated from its bondage to decay (verse 21).
Yes, our physical world, too, is currently still groaning… We see it all around us. We just have to watch the news, or read the newspapers to see how our present world, our physical cosmos, also groans in the present sufferings of the fall of mankind.
We see it in the recent earth quakes in India and Pakistan; we see it in the Tsunami that killed close on a half million people; we see it in floods and mud slides and in global warming
…and on a human level, we see it in the ageing, illness, the deaths (the bondage of decay, Paul calls it) of so many people –
This world is suffering, for God’s plan has not come to its final glory.
But, just like we can look forward to a better future, our physical world, too, can look forward to that which will surely be
– a time when there will no longer be heartache and pain, death and destruction.
How wonderful it will be for us…and for all of creation, when this new heaven and this new earth comes.
How wonderful that we can live in the knowledge of certainty of this future.
If we have this hope, our whole attitude to life, this life, changes, too:
We don't just work for money and our super for the three score and ten years on we may have on this earth, no
we strive for justice and love for all beings; for look after God’s creation; for long to discover how the work we do can be done for God's glory …
all as a foretaste of life on the New earth.
We live for one another, honing our skills and talents, and we enjoy life and all it has to offer to the fullest extent…
Brothers and sisters see it described. See what it will look like as the earth will prepare for the coming of the Lord. We are offered a wonderful glimpse of that glorious future in
Psalm 98, I read from verse 7:
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
That is the way the world will react, as it is described in the Psalms.
And we too, even now, should join in in the joyful preparation for God’s future glory. Our lives should reflect our hope in what surely, truthfully, will be.
But for the full unravelling of the story as we travel towards God’s future glory, let’s return to God’s word, let’s consider an overview of the Bible.
From the beginning, the Bible, the word of God as we have it in the Old Testament and the New Testament, is all about God’s supreme power and glory, about God’s plan for His creation and His creatures to bring glory to Him, in spite of their recurring rebellion against Him.
The Bible is the unfolding story of how, ultimately, as Paul puts it in verse 28:
“…that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
All for His glory, right up to the end in this life, and in all eternity hereafter.
We see God’s promise in the beginning, in the middle, everywhere else in the Bible…
and if that is true, we should be able to find a reference at the end of the Bible too, shouldn’t we?
Revelation 22: (read from Bible)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
That, brothers and sisters, is what it will be like when, as Paul says, the glory of God will be revealed.
And as the Psalmist says: The mountains, the rivers, the ocean the trees will leap and clap in joy and applaud the God of all mercy that has made us and them for Himself.
And nothing, in this world, none of our sufferings, our groaning - verse 39: “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
One last reference as I finish:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
How often do we think about the future, this future, the future of the glory of God?
Do we get bogged down in the not so very distant future of this world, at the cost of the wonderful hope that we may have in the true future of the glory of God?
Will we be part of that future?
Paul says we will. Isn’t it time then that we started talking about this future more often, to each other, to our husband and wife, our children, our neighbour… and especially those who have no vision, no hope of this glorious future?
Brothers and sisters your future and my future is assured.
Jesus loves you and me, and because He does, we will share in His Kingdom on that day when the mountains and the seas and rivers rejoice at His coming again, as surely as we are alive and living in this world by God’s grace.
All of creation, the here and the now and the new heaven and the new earth is God’s world, and we, by His grace is part of it.
Isn’t it time we started living all of our lives in faith and hope and trust of this?
We will surely be part of God’s new, glorious Kingdom!
How do I know, how can you know?
……..I recall a Cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem,
and the words of a song comes into my mind…
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong….”
…I hope the refrain… echoes in your hearts and in your mind as we walk out of Church this morning and into the world…God’s wonderful world. …. Let’s pray
Heavenly Father, God of mercy and of love,
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
Father God, thank you that we may look up to you, and recall the cross, and know that we are truly loved.
And thank you that we may know also that not only did Jesus die on that cross, but that He rose again and that we may know that like Jesus, we too will be risen from the dead to partake in your Heavenly Kingdom.
Help us now Lord to live our lives here on earth with a fervour to bring glory to Your Kingdom, to live our lives in love for you and for our brothers and sisters in the faith – and in ways also that will show those who do not yet believe, that Your way is the only way to everlasting participation in Your glory.
Forgive us Lord for not always showing that love.
And through it all, help us father God, to keep our hope firmly set on You alone.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Please turn with me to the book of forms, page 11, and let’s confess as encouragement for our daily lives and in faith to almighty God as we speak the words of the Apostles creed…