Some years ago, we had a funeral and said goodbye to a pillar of the community. Bob Brown had taught at Crown Point schools for years and he was a football coach. Even after retirement, he rarely missed a Crown Point Bulldogs football game.
A lot of people showed up for the viewing and funeral. That was not unexpected, but what was a bit unusual, was that in the casket, per Bob’s request, between his folded hands, was a fork. Bob was known for his object lessons. He requested the fork because if at the end of a meal the hostess says to you, keep your fork, it means dessert is on the way. The best is yet to come. Keep your fork. Bob’s fork in his hands was a silent witness to his personal belief that, for him, the best was yet to come. Not dessert, but glory.
Where would such a thought come from? All over the Bible, the prophecies, the words of Jesus, the New Testament. All of them urge Christians to keep their forks. Few passages say it like the one before us.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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 corruption 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. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits 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.” (Romans 8:18–24 ESV)
This suffer/glory theme is applied to creation in verses 18-22 and then to Christians in verse 23-24. Creation groans now but will be freed someday. We groan now but anticipate glory and eternal life someday. From groans to glory.
This is all set up with verse 18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Our Future is Far More Wonderful Than Our Present
Paul wanted to encourage these Roman Christians. In Rome, Christianity was already viewed very negatively. In a few years, Paul himself would be under arrest in Rome. Christianity wouldn’t enjoy favorable status in the Roman empire for nearly three centuries. To be a Christian at that time and in that place was hard. It meant suffering. Paul is a pastor and he wants to encourage these Roman Christians, and us as well. It’s suffering now but glory is coming. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Do you hear the theme? Keep your fork. The afflictions described here are not just persecution, but any sufferings associated with life in this broken world. It’s a comparison; the glory to come is so wonderful that all the suffering and affliction will be worth it.
Verses 18-22 focus on the redemption of the created world. This touches on a theme that God has used immensely in my life; the stunning beauty in the world around us. I’ve only written one book in my life and it is on the beauty of God as seen in the creation around us. As beautiful as this world is, it’s not what it used to be and not what it will be again someday.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Romans 8:19) Does this mean the deer and squirrels are privately discussing God’s plan for the future, like a Far Side cartoon? No. Paul does here what the Bible does elsewhere, especially the Psalms—personify creation; give creation human characteristics. The Psalms include trees clapping their hands and the mountains skipping like rams. Jesus said at his triumphal entry that the rocks might just sing out in joy. Trees don’t have hands and the only music rocks like is of course rock music…which they play at the Hard Rock Café…which with bread is called Rock ‘n’ Roll. But I’m digressing into music theory.
In Romans 8, the cosmos, the world, is said to be waiting and eagerly longing. It’s a wonderful Greek word; it means standing on tip-toe or craning the neck. Think of that moment right before the bride comes down the aisle. Everybody knows it’s about to be the moment. People are looking backwards, straining to see, waiting for the revealing of the bride.
That is the sense of it here. All creation is straining their necks, up on their tip-toes, eagerly awaiting the doors to be opened and for the children of God to be revealed for who they really are. This harkens back to the previous passage which describes all true Christians as adopted sons and daughters of God. By adoption, God places us in his family and promises us an inheritance with Christ. The revealing of God’s children is the future consummation, judgment of the world, and new heaven and new earth.
But why is creation eagerly longing? Paul explains:
The Big Story of Creation
“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 corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20)
This may seem obvious, but what creation is he talking about? Since this creation is waiting for our redemption, it is referring to all non-human creation. The material world. Everything created except Adam and Eve. This includes the inanimate world and the animal world. The inter-galactic and the atomic. All of this was “subjected to futility.”
When was creation “subjected to futility”? The big moments in the big story, which we call the Christian worldview, are:
- Creation – God made everything, including us.
- Fall – Adam and Eve sinned against God.
- Redemption – Jesus’ death and resurrection
- Consummation – Jesus’ return, judgment, new heaven and earth
This is the truth grid through which we understand all other truths and philosophies as well as history and future destiny. Our kids need to get this, so they understand math and biology and world civilization as components of this story. Adult Christians need it as well to understand our own small life stories in this grand divine narrative.
Consummation – Creation renewed by God/new earth
Someday it will all be right again. The King will come. Creation will be renewed and restored. Let this settle in, no more winter. During spring break no one has anywhere to go; they are already where everybody wants to be.
The greatest beauty and wonder on the new earth is not that lions lay down with lambs or the weather or the food or no more death. The greatest wonder on the new earth will be Jesus. God makes his dwelling with us. God comes down. Redemption is accomplished, and renewal takes place throughout the galaxies.
Will you be there? Jesus takes the curse from the earth and he will take the curse from you, but there is a condition. You must repent of your sins and believe in him as your Savior. The new earth is only for people who love and treasure Christ. Are you one of them?
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here