There are two things that I want to do. The first is very brief, namely to say out loud that I love Matt Chandler. I think I speak for thousands that are beyond this church, and just know that my presence here is a statement about my affection for your pastor, one of your pastors, so I told him that. He was sitting right over there last night, and I said that to him.
The second thing is I am asked to preach, and so I will. As I reflected on what I might do that other pastors might be slower to do, it’s this. Since I come from outside and sort of represent the bigger picture of the impact of the ministry of the Village, it might be good for me to bring a bigger picture to bear on the issue of suffering. There are two things that you do when somebody’s suffering. The first thing is you hug a lot, and you don’t talk a lot. You just hug a lot. You’re just there. That’s the first and very, very crucial thing to do.
Solid Ground for Sufferers
But you know, if you live any length of time and suffered much or thought much about it, you have to have a place to stand when you’re hugging. If the ground starts to give way underneath, all the hugging in the world doesn’t help. Hugging can get very thin, very shallow, and very sentimental. It doesn’t work over the long haul, only to hug. There has to be a place to stand. I mean a solid, biblical, rock-solid ground. And one of the ways the Bible gives that is by putting suffering, Matt’s, yours, mine, the globe’s, in a global context, and that’s what I’m going to do.
There’s a passage of Scripture that does this. I didn’t decide that this should be done. God decided that this should be done, and he put it in his book. If you like to look at it with me, it’s Romans chapter eight, verses 18-25. Romans 8:18-25 is one of my favorite passages. I think Romans is the greatest book in the Bible. I think Romans eight, is the greatest chapter and the greatest book in the Bible. I won’t argue that this is the greatest paragraph, and the greatest chapter, and the greatest book in the Bible, but it comes close.
Cosmic Heirs Must Suffer
I’m going to read Romans 8:18-25. The question you should be asking as you read it is, “How does the Apostle Paul help me suffer well, by putting suffering in a global, eternal, even universal context?” We often ask the question, “Okay, if I’m going to suffer, what’s the meaning of my suffering right now in this moment? What might it do for me in this moment to help me or whatever?” And I’m stepping back from that question, to the much bigger question of, “Why is it in the world? Why is this history of ours a conveyor belt of corpses?” Yesterday, we celebrated. We marked the fifth anniversary of the tsunami. What? Two-hundred and fifty thousand in a few hours, gone. There’s a tsunami every five days.
This is the world, and Paul knows that, and Gods knows that, and they’re not silent about that. We don’t have to be silent, and I’m not going to be silent about it because that’s what this paragraph is about. That’s what you’re listening for, “How are you going to help me, us, the church suffer? Help Matt suffer?” By putting it in a global context. Romans 8:18–25:
^For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will 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 first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for our 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.”
The verse just preceding this paragraph, verse 17, says to you Christians:
“Those who believe in Christ, trust Jesus as your Lord and embrace him as your treasure in life, above all treasures, that you are going to inherit with Jesus Christ whatever he inherits.”
You’re going to inherit the universe. It’s going to be yours. This is your universe “provided you suffer with him.”
You see that in verse 17? Provided we suffer with him, we will be glorified with him.
Having said that, the pathway to your glory beyond this life is suffering, Romans 8:17. Now, Romans 8:18–25 tell you it’s worth it. That’s the point. It’s worth it, and the way he shows you it’s worth it is by putting it in this creation-oriented global context. It is so crucial that you have a head and a heart that can embrace this teaching, because you will bail on Christianity in the moment of your suffering if you don’t. I mean, how many people when they lose a child, they get cancer, mom gets killed in a car wreck, they lose their job, their marriage breaks up, look up and say, “If that’s the way you treat these years of faithfulness, I’m out of here.” Nobody suffers more than the most devoted disciples. Paul was just a lifetime of suffering. Jesus was a lifetime of suffering. Jesus says to Peter,
‘When you’re old, they will take you by the hands and guide you where you do not want to go.’ This he said in order to show him by what death he would glorify God. (John 21:18-19)
“God’s got a death plan for you, Peter, by being crucified upside down, and I’m giving you a hint that it’s coming.” You’re going to bail on that unless you have a theology, unless you have a biblical perspective from this paragraph and others that help you come to terms with why is this world is the way it is? Not just Matt, Matt’s one of millions! This church is one of hundreds where leaders suffer, and one of millions, probably, around the world, where everybody suffers at some time or another!
The Big Picture
So, what I want to do is give you that bigger picture. Here’s the way we do it. We’re going to walk through the text once by pointing out three ways that Paul puts our suffering in a global context and gives meaning to it. Then we’ll walk through it again and look at six promises that are given to us in that global context, so that we won’t bail out on the faith in view of the fact that God is so unbelievably realistic with us about telling us it isn’t going to get better in this life.
1. All Creation Groans
Number one, from the first pass through, he says, “The whole creation groans.” Mark the creation. It’s the spatial, global, universal scope of the thing that clobbers me here. Look at a couple of verses. Verse 22, “We know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth.” The whole creation is groaning; picture it. Verse 21, “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption.” So from now anyway until that freedom is coming, the way he describes creation is slavery or bondage to corruption, decay, breaking down, things go wrong, entropy. Just, things break, bodies break, minds break, marriages break; things are corrupt.
Verse 20, “For the creation was subjected to futility.” There’s another word. You have futility; you have corruption; you have groaning; you have suffering. All these words Paul is piling up to describe the whole creation. That’s number one. The first way he puts suffering in a global context is by using this term, whole creation, whole creation, creation, creation, four times to say, “There is no place in this universe where there is not groaning, if there was somebody there to groan.”
2. All History Groans
Number two, it’s not just spatially or geographically extensive; it’s the whole history. Look at these time references. Verse 18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that has been revealed.” What is that referring to? “This present time.” Well, maybe we can get an idea by looking at the temporal references in verses 20 and 21. Look at verse 20,
“For the creation was subjected to futility.”
So it happened; this thing we see, this world, this suffering, this decay, this corruption, this bondage, this groaning happened in the past. There was a point where it happened, and then look at verse 21 in the future,
“The creation itself will be set free.”
There’s a point in the future coming where it won’t look like this anymore. It won’t be devastation; it won’t be disease; it won’t be mental illness; it won’t be depression; it won’t be brain tumors anymore. That will be over. There’s coming a point where this time, this present time, stops.
From whenever that beginning was—and we’ll get there, that beginning—it started, and it ends out there at the second coming. This is the present time where we live, Matt lives, this church lives, everybody lives, so that’s number two. All of creation, number one. All of history, number two.
3. God Ordains Groaning
Now, number three is kind of a qualification of number two, because not quite all of history. If it had a beginning, then there was something on the other side back here. I don’t know how long that was, where it wasn’t this way. And over here, it’s this horrible groaning, corrupt, slavery, suffering way, and over there it wasn’t. What was that? When did that happen? What went wrong? The third thing Paul does here is tell us what happened.
Now there’s several places in the book of Romans where he talks about this, like chapter five in particular. But here, let’s look at verse 20, and then I’ll give you the general point.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.”
Who is that? Who did that subjecting? We have three candidates it seems to me: Adam, Satan, or God because we know what he’s talking about. He’s talking about Genesis 3, where everything came down. Beautiful, glorious, everything is good. God looks at his creation and said, “Very good.” Very good — no groaning, no corruption, no futility, no suffering, very good! After chapter three, this. This disease, these tornadoes, these floods, these epidemics, this sin, this wickedness, this war, that’s after. Who did that?
Well, you can rule two those out by the little phrase at the end of the verse, “In hope.” Let’s try Adam. Adam subjected the world to futility in hope? He didn’t. That was not his plan at all or Eve’s. They weren’t calculating a glorious future on the other side where this creation would be set free. No, no, no, that wasn’t their idea.
And try Satan. That doesn’t work either. He didn’t do this tempting; he didn’t try to bring the whole thing down “in hope.” One person did it in hope; God did it in hope.
My third point here is that what this text teaches is God didn’t just ordain some kind of natural law; he judicially sentenced the world to what it is today. It was a judgment on the world in response to sin. I’m calling you to this. It takes years sometimes to get people to this. You have to have a very high view of God’s holiness, and justice, and glory, and deserving-ness, and worth, and a very clear view of the outrage and the horror of sin and rebellion against that in order to keep this world from looking like an overreaction to Adam and Eve.
Most people, if they try to come to terms with the problem of suffering this way, will say, “That’s an overreaction!” Because it just doesn’t make any sense if you don’t know how great God is. It doesn’t make any sense if God is not the most important reality in the universe, so that if you put him in the scales and six billion people in the scales, it goes like this. “They’re like dust,” Isaiah 40 says, “the nations are like drippings from a bucket. They’re like dust in the scales.” Until God is that central for you and that massive for you, God’s response to sin makes no sense. It’s simply an overreaction. It’s just like a judge telling the guy who stole a loaf of bread, “Your head’s coming off!” And everybody’s, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute! Maybe a fine.” Maybe a fine, but not in this world.
Paul says that God subjected the creation to futility, not because we wanted it, but because it was right. To do this to the creation that had rebelled against him, and this room right now is filled with rebellion against God, starting right here. All I mean by that is I don’t love God at this very moment the way I ought to love God. I love him, but the Bible says, “John Piper, love God with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind, all your soul, one hundred percent, all the time!” How are you doing? Bad, that’s how you’re doing!
Therefore, not only is Adam and Eve there at the beginning with their, “We want to do it our way. We’ll eat what we want to eat, and you can just get out of our face with your rules!” We do the same thing, just more sophisticated, more subtle, sometimes.
The Ultimate Global Meaning of Suffering
This world seethes with rebellion against God in nice, squeaky clean suburban forms; and then gross, difficult, criminal forms and all kinds of ways; and it is not an overreaction for God to say,
“This world will stay what it is until my Son comes, and it will be experienced as pain and suffering and groaning and corruption and bondage to decay, because that’s how serious sin is.”
The ultimate global meaning of all suffering is that sin is ghastly. Sin is ghastly. Every time you look at some horrific suffering—and there is suffering that is so horrific you faint when you see it—you should think that’s how serious sin is.
In one of the sermons I listened to, I wrote this quote down, which said, “Physical evil is rooted in spiritual evil. Brain tumors exist because of my rebellion against God.” He didn’t say, “Brain tumors exist because of Matt’s rebellion against God.” Very important. He said, “Because of mine.” And he didn’t mean when he said, “Because of mine, I did a bad thing two years ago, and God zapped Matt for it He didn’t mean that.” He meant something like Romans 8. He was touching on what I’m trying to unpack here.
All Suffering Evidences Sinfulness
Mainly, our sin is the corporate reality from Adam and Eve, until we’re perfected at the last day. Our sin is the corporate reality that is being documented as horrible by all disease. All disease in the world, all tornadoes and floods and epidemics in the world is a dramatic statement from the judge of the universe. That’s how horrific sin is. That’s what he meant, and that’s right.
Instead of getting in God’s face with your fist when you suffer, you should be broken by all suffering. Instead of my saying what you should say, let me say what Jesus said. Do you remember the time in Luke 13, where they came to Jesus and said, “Hey, the tower fell on eighteen people and killed them. They were just standing there, and the tower of Siloam fell on them and killed them. What about it?” And Jesus said, “Do you think that those people were any worse sinners than the rest of the people in Jerusalem? Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Okay, “That’s not what I asked. I wanted an explanation to the suffering, I don’t want you tell me I’m going to die.” And he said, “Well, that’s what you need to be told.” You should have been under the tower, and so should I. I should be the one with a brain tumor. I should be dead a thousand times today. That I’m breathing at sixty-three after my teenage years is amazing.
I’m ending this first half now, and we’re going to shift over to promises. The point is that God has, in Romans eight, put suffering in a global perspective so that we have some sense. I’m not saying all the problems are solved. I’m just saying God has not left us without some sense of why the world is the way it is, including our own suffering.
Maybe one more verse before I shift over, Romans 8:23 –
“Not only this,”
that is not only all this global suffering of creation,
“but also we ourselves have the first fruits of the Spirit. Even we ourselves, groan within ourselves.”
Isn’t that amazing? Why does he talk like that? “Even we, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we ourselves groan within ourselves.” Why that stress on even us, even us, even us?
Gloriously Good News
The reason is because when the gospel comes to us, it comes with spectacularly good news. Your sins are forgiven because of Christ. Righteousness is provided, that you can never live out, in Christ. By faith alone, you can be justified; by faith alone, you can have eternal life; by faith alone, you can have fellowship with the living God. This is glorious news, and the natural response of us would be to say,
“Yes, and all my suffering is gone in Christ! Because he’s my curse, the curse is lifted. As far as the curse is found, he came to bare my load.”
And verse 23 is there to say, “No. No, even we, even we who have the Holy Spirit, even we who are united to Jesus, even we whose sins are forgiven, even we who will have eternal life, even we who are totally justified, even we who are so loved by God—he works absolutely everything for our good— even we groan waiting for the redemption of this thing. This old, wrinkled, glasses-needing, balding, aching thing called body, even we.”
That’s the point of verse 23, because so many people — I mean the prosperity gospel, the name it and claim it folks — don’t get it that the already of the kingdom doesn’t include everything. We have to wait, verse 23, is we have to wait with patience, verse 25.
Six Promises for Sufferers
Let me shift gears now for you. That’s the global context that provides a tremendous place to stand. Alright, God’s not out of control. He has a plan. He knows what he’s doing. This all has some judicial just sense about it. You have some promises for us, God? You have something to help us here in this? If you appointed for us to live here, you’re going to say something helpful to us about what you’re up to? There are six magnificent promises, and I’ll move through them quickly.
1. God Will Show Me True Greatness
Number one, God promises that after this time, this present time, our life and this history, after this, we are going to see an all-satisfying beauty. Romans 8:18 –
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory,” mark that word, “that will be revealed to us.”
All beautiful, overwhelming, powerful greatness out there, glory will be revealed to me. I wonder if that even lands on you with good news. I mean if that makes you say,
“Yes, it’s worth it! Yes, it’s worth it!”
Why do human beings all over the world want to see greatness? Not everybody defines it the same way. They want to go to the big tall mountains. They like to go to the Alps, or the Himalayas, or the Rockies, or canyons, the Grand Canyon, or oceans. Take an ocean cruise through some deep fjord in Norway and take pictures and make a book and put it on your coffee table, so you can feel some of the greatness when you get home. Why do we do that? Or if you’re a teenager, you just do it with movies like Avatar. Why is there Lord of the Rings? Why are there these huge, multi-million dollar, take 10 years to make them cinematic productions? Why? It’s because there’s something in here that wants bigness, that wants greatness, wants to see it, wants to get drawn in to it.
The meaning of that is God. This is God’s form, written. This is made for God, this longing inside, this aching,
“I want greatness. I want to see greatness. I want to be among greatness. I want to be surrounded by something great without being crushed and destroyed by it.”
That’s all about the image of God in you, so this text is saying,
“That’s coming, and it’s coming in a way that will absolutely blow you away.”
The best statement of it is in Jesus’ prayer in John 17:24. It goes like this,
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am to see my glory.”
That is an amazing prayer. I would be absolutely vain to pray that, “I want this whole church to be able to see my glory.” But when Jesus says it, it’s love, because he is the most glorious being in the universe.
We all like to be around great sports people, or great scientists, or great intellects, or great whatever. We love greatness, and there isn’t any human greatness compared to Jesus. The first promise we have in verse 18 is glory, namely, the glory of Christ will be revealed to you.
2. God Will Reveal My Greatness
Number two. I don’t know if you get frustrated like I do, when you hear promises like that, and you say, “I know that I’m supposed to be profoundly, fully, deeply satisfied with that promise, but I don’t even have the power to be satisfied with my birthday for a day and a half.” I mean my capacities for enjoyment have been so stunted, maybe my parents never celebrated, never rejoiced in anything, never approved, never modeled for me any kind of capacities to enjoy. It was just negative and anger and brokenness, and “here I am given this promise, and I’m supposed to be excited and satisfied with what’s coming my way, to see glory.” So, we’re not left with our present capacities.
The second promise is Romans 8:19,
For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
What does that mean? Now, verse 18 says the glory is going to be revealed to us. Verse 19 says we’re going to be revealed. What does that mean? Are you ready to be revealed? What does that mean? I think it means you don’t look like sons of God now. You look like Texans.
Really, you look like ordinary human beings. I mean, if somebody walked in here and said, “Look at the sons of God.” They’re just ordinary people. They dress like everybody else. They get sick like everybody else. They die like everybody else. What’s with this sons of God stuff? Sons of God are supposed to be Titans. You will be. That’s what it means. You’re right now walking through Texas as sons of God incognito, and hopefully, there’s enough of God in here that it’s coming out in beautiful ways.
People have to get to know you a little bit, get to know you and see, “Oh, there’s a connection with deity here. There’s some love here. There’s some worship here. There’s some kindness here. There’s some patience here. There’s some gentleness here. There’s fruit here that I can’t explain any other way than connection, so maybe I’m dealing with a son or a daughter of God here.” There will be no question in those days.
Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 13:43? “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” And picture yourself looking at me now. Okay, I’m totally ordinary, right? Hair is falling out, 5 feet 8, used to be 5 feet 9.
One day, you will look at me, and I, my countenance, will be so bright you won’t be able to look at me. It will be like the sun. Which means you have to be changed as well, so we don’t look at each other. You have to have capacities for the glory of Christ, and capacities for my glory, and I for your glory, so that in this world that’s coming, we could enjoy one another because we don’t have the capacities right now to enjoy what we’re promised. We enjoy them a little bit, but there’s coming a day when all of you broken people who grew up in homes that were totally ill-equipped to help you get ready to enjoy beauty, enjoy greatness, enjoy righteousness, just enjoy period, that’ll all be fixed. You will have emotional capacities in you that will send you flying because of what you will see in Christ mainly and reflected from him in each other, we will be revealed. That’s number two. Here’s number three.
3. God Will Fulfill Hope
The ultimate design of this futility that we’re in right now is hope. Verse 20, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of him who subjected it in hope.” In hope. So, whenever you feel overwhelmed by the futility of whatever. My job seems futile. My marriage isn’t going where I thought it would go. My kids haven’t turned out the way I thought they would turn out. My body is now giving out on me. This whole thing seems so futile. Don’t let those two words go at the end. We’re here in hope. We’ve been forgiven; we’ve been accepted; we’ve been loved; we’ve been justified; we’ve been promised eternal life, but right now, so much futility, so much breaks, so much goes wrong, even when you’re walking in obedience.
I don’t have the slightest doubt that Matt Chandler is smack dab in the center of God’s will for his life right here, and he gets this, and so will you, in one form or another. Maybe I better put in a little parentheses here, just to make my assumptions crystal clear. When it says that Christ became a curse for us in Galatians 3:13, you might think, “Well then the curse is lifted, and we shouldn’t die, because death was what God promised in response to sin. My sins have been covered by Jesus, and, therefore, I don’t die. So what’s with death?”
My answer to that really good, difficult question is my death and my suffering, your death as a Christian and your suffering as a Christian is no longer God’s curse. God is no longer punishing. God is no longer in wrath. God is no longer opposed to you. God is 100 percent for everyone who is in Christ by faith alone. One hundred percent, not 99.9 percent and 0.1 percent he’s mad at you, and he’ll give you a disease with that 0.1%. That’s not the way to think.
In Christ Jesus, we are justified, accepted, forgiven, loved, so that God never has wrath for us. He never is punitive; he is only purifying. Death and suffering become purifying, and a passageway unto glory. How easy it is to think, “God’s cursing me.” I had a man come up to me one New Year’s Eve, when his baby had just died, and his wife was holding him there in the hospital room, and I walked in and prayed with them and cried with them. Went out in the hall, and he said, “Can I just ask you a question? Is it possible for a family to be cursed?” So much stuff had happened. Dying was originally given by God on the earth as a curse.
Now, what I’m saying is that in Christ, he pulls the stinger out of that thing, pulls the stinger out of it, and it is no longer a curse. It is now doorway to paradise, and the suffering becomes used by God in fatherly care and discipline to purify, Hebrews 12. I hope you can make that distinction in your own experience and for Matt.
4. Creation Will Be Gloriously Freed
Promise number four, we’re almost done. All creation, not just the children of God will be freed from this misery in which the creation presently finds itself. Verse 21,
The creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
This is amazing. The creation itself will be freed and brought into your glory.
Don’t think because this world, this creation, this universe is so big, “I was made for it.” You weren’t. It was made for you. God will first redeem his children, give them new bodies, new emotions, new capacities for sensing pleasures a thousand times greater than the biggest sexual pleasure you’ve ever thought possible, and then he will make the world new in a suitable way to make us belong there.
It doesn’t work the other way around. Like, he has this new world and now, “What can I do with my humans to make this work?” No, no, no, you are his focus, and the creation is going to come into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. That is staggering, especially when you think of the Hubble Telescope, and what it’s delivering to us, and what’s out there for us. It will be our playground.
Heavenly Minded, Planetary Servants
What God has planned for you believers is coming very soon, very soon, and it’s beyond anything you can dream. I get really mad when I hear people say, “You’re so heavenly minded, you’ve no earthly good.” And I’ll say, “Nobody has ever been too heavenly minded.” You can be of no earthly good, that’s for sure, but it’s not because you’re too heavenly minded. When you have that kind of hope, 2 Peter says, “You purify yourself as he is pure, and you become dangerous, radical, holy, loving, self-sacrificing servants on the planet until it comes, because you have nothing to lose.”
The people that are wasting their lives, the people that are bad for this world, are the people who think because they don’t believe in heaven, don’t believe in the age to come, don’t believe in new heaven and new earth, that they have to have it now. It’s called retirement, or it’s called an iPod, or it’s called fifty-two inch screen, or it’s called surround sound, or it’s called new car, or it’s called figures and body building, and whatever your idol happens to be to make heaven come now. “Please, come now heaven, because I don’t believe you exist out there.”
But if you believe it’s out there, if you really are sold on this picture of the future, you will become so humble, so sacrificial, you will go to the hardest places in the world, the hardest places in Texas, the hardest relationships in this church, and you’ll throw yourself into that mess for healing and for redemption and for service, because you’ve got an inheritance coming. That was number four.
5. Present Sufferings Are Only Birth Pains
Here’s number five, and we’ll tick these off real fast. Number five, the mysteries of the universe are not death throws but birth pangs. Look at that, verse 22,
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
Paul looks out at volcanoes and tsunamis and cancer and tumors and groaning and screaming and pain everywhere, and he says, “Like a mom in labor.” If you’re in the hospital and hear a scream across the hall, it makes a huge difference whether you know you’re in the maternity unit or the oncology unit. You might say, “Well no, it doesn’t really, because pain is pain.” Well, that’s true. In one sense, pain is pain, but every mom and every dying cancer patient knows pain is not just pain. There’s pain that brings life, and there’s pain that issues in death.
Paul is looking at the whole world here in verse 22, and he’s saying, “I’ll give you an interpretation of what I see: birth pangs.” God is going somewhere with this. God is going to bring a new heavens and a new earth, and this present suffering, he says is like a woman in labor, and what she’s going to give birth to is that. That’s what he says. Here’s the catcher. This is true. All of your sufferings, including your death, is birth pangs. You’re going right into life. That’s number five.
6. Our Bodies Will Be Redeemed
The last one, number six. God cares about your body, big time. It may not feel like it in times of terrible pain. I haven’t known a lot in my life, so I’d rather read to you stories of people who’ve walked through much deeper waters than I have and how they bore witness to the faithfulness of God and how he met them in it. But, I have to testify to what I see. As Romans 8:23 says,
Not only this, but 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 bodies.
When I came to Bethlehem thirty years ago 1980, summer of 1980, I think it was about the fourth or fifth sermon that I preached to my new flock, about three hundred folks. I preached a sermon called, “Christ and Cancer”. I’ll take it from that verse right there, verse 23 which says, “We groan waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” I just said, “Folks,” and I’m saying this to you now for how you should think about each other. “I’m preaching this sermon to you now for how you should think about each other when I walk into the hospital room, and you’ve been told by the doctor hard news.”
Will my pastor say, “You know, if you had enough faith, you wouldn’t be here?”
Or will he say,
“I’m with you in your groaning, as long as it takes, to help you keep the faith, trust Jesus and either be healed by his miracle now or enter into the final healing in the age to come. I’m with you. And you’re groaning, and I’m going to groan with you. I’m going to weep with those who weep, and I just want you to know, before you get cancer, that’s what I think about you.”
1. God’s Sovereignty Motivates Bold Prayers
Let me close with a couple of practical words to you as a church. Number one, pray for Matt’s healing. I’m a lover of the sovereignty of God. I believe God rules everything, governs everything. I don’t know how I could find meaning in the horrors of my and other’s lives if I didn’t believe God had purposes in what he was doing. Some people take that to an extreme and say, “So, Matt’s got cancer; that’s that. Que sera, sera, God is sovereign. Deal with it.” Instead of saying, “How about we gather together, fast, pray, and ask God to take it away.” I’m saying that’s no compromise of the sovereignty of God. Like, “God, heal him!” That’s also what I’m praying, and I invite you to pray that way.
I told Matt yesterday I’m going to say that to you, and I said,
“Now here’s what I’m going to say. I’m going to invite your church now that you’ve had the thing out, and they’re going to go in there to try to kill everything else that shouldn’t be there. We’d like you be around forty years, so I’m going to tell the people that they should pray for healing until you tell them to stop.”
I’m basing that on 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul has the thorn in the flesh, remember? He prays, “God, please take it away. It hurts. The thorns hurt.” He prays again, “Please, take it away.” It doesn’t happen. “Please take it away.” And Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” I said, “Matt, when God says that to you, you tell your people to stop, and until then, don’t stop.” That’s what I’m saying.
Ask God for enough faith. I mean in a group this size, Matt believes, I believe, that there’s such a thing as a gift of faith, such a thing as a gift of miracles, a gift of healings. These exist, and some of you may have that gift for him. Don’t badger him with it, okay? I had cancer one time, and it wasn’t nearly as serious as his. Oh man, people come out of the woodwork with how you’re supposed to get well. Don’t do that to him. He’s surrounded by wise people who know how to counsel him. But love him like crazy in praying, “God, take it away. Keep him on the planet, ministering with power, increasingly, greater humility through his brokenness as long as possible, like forty years is what we’d like, maybe.”
He’s the age of one of my sons. That’s one of the reasons I feel affection for him, I think. That’s what I would pray for a son of mine.
2. Christ’s Cross Redeems Suffering
Let me see, one or two other things before I stop. Keep your eyes on the cross. I’ve talked for forty-five minutes now about the big global picture of suffering. Whatever else you know about suffering or understand or don’t understand about suffering, you know this: God in Christ took it on, didn’t he? God in Christ suffered more than you will ever suffer. The meaning of the cross, the meaning of the lashes, the pulling of the beard, the spitting on his face, the spearing in the side, the laughter, the mockery, the meaning of all that was to say, “You don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with your weaknesses.” That’s the point. He’s right there, right there, so keep your eye square on the redemptive work of Christ for you on the cross, because right there, sovereignty and suffering meet like nowhere else.
3. God Breaks Us to Prepare Us
The last thing I would say, and this is very, very exciting to me. When God undertakes to do a great thing, he breaks people. You remember Gideon? He had ten thousand soldiers to go up against the enemy, and God said, “Too many. Too many.” And he whittled it down to three hundred. Your pastor is too healthy; things are going too well here; I have a great work to do here. I’m going to use broken people, you, use broken people. You have a broken pastor now. He’s a wounded pastor. We pray he gets well, but he’s wounded. That’s no accident. I will be praying for you that as remarkable as the growth of this church is, and as remarkable as the faithfulness of this church seems to be at a distance, I will pray for you that through this and because of this, spectacular impact for the glory of our great Christ will come. Come on this area, come around the world, just keep yourself very humble in that, or I’ll have to break you again. Somebody else will have to be broken because that’s the way God does it. A wounded shepherd is the best shepherd. A wounded shepherd can’t be uppity. He can’t stride around and swagger and say, “I have this thing under control here, and we’re building a great church.”