I want to begin with what I might call clarifications and expansions on the third and closing point last time, namely that suffering in the universe is judicial. And to that end, I would direct your attention again to Romans 8:20.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope…
So somebody did this. Somebody subjected the creation to futility, slavery to corruption, and the miseries that we see, not willingly. It wasn’t the creation’s will. And I argued that the only person that could have done that in hope that the creation would be set free from its bondage to decay is, in fact, God himself. And so we interpreted the miseries of our lives as the subjection of the creation by God to futility. I have three clarifications and expansions upon that truth.
Three Clarifications on Suffering Being Judicial
First, though all suffering is judicial, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Therefore, suffering and pain for Christians is never punishment, but purification.
Every time you see a natural horror, you should say, “That is a display of God’s judgment; his assessment of moral reality in the universe.” Or another way to say it is that the agony of pain is God’s witness to the outrage of God belittling sin. The subjection of the world to futility in Genesis 3:20 is God’s judgment. It’s his condemnation. It’s his sentence spoken over the world in response to the reality of the outrage of sin. Genesis 3:16 says:
[Because you have done this] I will multiply your pain.
Verse 17 says:
…in pain you shall eat of [the ground].
And then Genesis 3:19 says:
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.
So this is all response from God to sin. What we see in the world today is God’s subjecting the universe to futility. And here’s the clarification:
According to Romans 8:1, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And the reason is due to Romans 8:3, which says that God did what the law could not do. He sent his Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, and in that sinful flesh, he condemned your sin, if you are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, no suffering and no pain of any person who is in Christ is condemnation, or is a sentence of law, or is judgment.
There is no condemnation, there is no judgment, there is no curse of the law for those who are in Christ Jesus, which means that all of the suffering and all of the pain of all God’s people is something else. It has been, by virtue of our curse being borne by Christ, our condemnation being borne by Christ, our wrath being absorbed by Christ, our suffering is never the wrath of God, it’s never condemnation, it’s never judgment. It is always something else.
And it is many things, though I will name them all. I would just say the easiest way perhaps to remember it, is that it is never punishment; it is always purifying. It has shifted. It has been transformed. We suffer just like the world does. We all get sick. Things go wrong in our lives. We are subject, under this overarching plan of God for this fallen age, to all the same things that fallen, unredeemed people experience.
But for us, they mean something radically different. And they will mean something radically different for them if they ever come to faith, because all of those sufferings will have been God’s way of bringing them to faith, which is not a judgment, but a mercy. The only people for whom judgment remains judgment are those who resist the offer of salvation. And their judgment is forever. And the pain continues and we call it hell.
If you’re a believer, all the pain in your life is never condemnation, or punishment, or judgment from God. And the best chapter on that perhaps would be Hebrews 12 if you want to go read it, where the explanation of discipline is given; that is, purifying, sanctifying, and transforming discipline. Any of you who have walked on the planet for some decades and have tasted enough pain, you know exactly why you have never heard anybody bear witness to the fact that they got closest to God on their sunny days.
Never in my life have I heard, in 62 years, a single human being bear witness and say, “If I compare the nearness to God in my hard times and my easy times, it was the easy times when I got very close to God.” No one ever says that. That’s a very strange thing. So it means something else like, “Come near to me. Learn from me. I will show myself to you. I will be precious to you as never before in this.”
Designing the World for His Glory
Second, in God’s judgment on sin and the subjection of the world to futility in Romans 8:20, he was doing more than responding to sin.
God is always doing more than responding. There is always design and purpose in what God does, whether he does it by active agency or by permission. An infinitely-wise God permits what he permits for reasons, and he does what he does actively for reasons. So whatever happens, whether by permission or by activity, is designed in God’s mind. Nothing is willy-nilly. Nothing in the universe is happenstance. All is providence and all is purposeful.
What was he doing when he subjected the world to futility in verse 20 in hope that the whole creation might be set free from its bondage to decay? Here’s what he was doing. I’m going to try to give you a picture here of the ultimate reason that the universe exists, and fit suffering into that. These are the weightiest and the biggest things I could think of to say, and I’m only saying them because this paragraph happens to be the biggest, most global, universal, sweeping paragraph in the Bible, as far as I can tell. And so, we’re driven to think this way as we meditate on these verses in Romans 8:18-25.
When he subjected the world to futility, he was fulfilling an eternal plan that the revelation of his glory would be seen supremely in the revelation of his grace in the appearance of Christ in his death on the cross. Let me say that again and rearrange the word order so it might be a little more helpful. When he subjected the world to futility, he was fulfilling, or putting in place, the necessary realities for the revelation of his glory supremely in Christ, who would manifest it supremely in his grace, and that, supremely in his death.
So it’s moving from glory, to grace, to Christ, and to death. Which implies, if you’re thinking with me, that in order for Christ to die, there had to be death. In order for him to be killed, there had to be killers. If God planned, from eternity, that the revelation of his glory would reach its apex in grace, in Christ, and in his death. If that was the plan, then everything had to be put in place. There had to be a subjection to futility.
I want to give you a flavor of the weight of this and the biblical foundation of it. I’m not being driven by logic here. To hell with logic, as far as I’m concerned, when the Bible stands. The Bible says:
In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons according to his will unto the praise of the glory of his grace (Ephesians 1:5–6).
He predestined us unto sonship according to his will, unto the praise of the glory of his grace, means that the ultimate reason for all things is the praising of the glory of the grace of God. That is the ultimate reason, and it was predestined before the world was. God’s design, when he contemplated a universe and creation, was, “I will perform in this universe, such a universe that the apex of its meaning will be the praising of the glory of my grace.” That’s the meaning of the universe. If you embrace that, it isn’t logic; it's other texts that drive you to a few other conclusions.
Let me read you another verse. This is 2 Timothy 1:9, which says:
[He] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
When did you receive grace in Christ Jesus? Before the ages began. Grace means treating people better than they deserve. Before you were created, or the universe was created, Christ was the source of the grace that would come to you. And it was made over to you in Christ before the foundation of the world, which means everything was planned that was required for Christ to purchase the grace that saved your soul by his blood.
I want to share one more verse from Revelation 13:8. It’s about the beast and who worships him and who doesn’t worship him. It would be worth a sermon or 10 on its own. And it goes like this:
and all who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Everyone will worship the beast whose name was not written before the foundation of the world in the book, and here’s the name of the book: The book of the life of the Lamb who was slain. That’s the name of the book before creation. And the only thing I want to draw your attention to, among all the 10 sermons that can be preached on that verse, is the Lamb who was slain.
We don’t use the word slain very often. There’s a Greek word, sphazō, and it means slaughter. It’s what you do to lambs, you don’t use that word for much else. You cut their throat, and they die. It’s cleaned up in English with the word slain. We hardly ever talk about the Lamb who was slaughtered; it just sounds a little too gross. It was gross. It ought to be gross. The crucifixion was gross. It was horrific. If you’d been there, you would have thrown up and screamed. That was the plan.
So now I’m going to go back and say it again. What’s the meaning of the universe? What was the design of this subjection? Why did it come to this, that the whole universe would be brought into subjection so that there would be liars, betrayers, deniers, expedient governors, and things like crosses, nails, hammers, spears, mockery, beard pulling, and spitting? Where did that come from? And why did it come?
It came because God’s design in the universe was this ultimate reality, weaving together Ephesians 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:9, Revelation 13:8, and Romans 8. Weaving that all together, God’s design in the universe from eternity was that his glory would be praised. That’s why we were made. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:
…bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
Everything was created that his glory might be praised, but then it gets more specific in Ephesians 1:6. Everything was made so that the glory of his grace might be praised. And then it gets more specific than that in 2 Timothy 1:9 because it is the glory in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world that will be praised. And then it gets even more specific than that in Revelation 13:8. It is the glory of the grace of the Lord Jesus slaughtered.
In other words, the apex, the high point — nothing will ever go higher — is the display of the glory of the grace of God in the slaughter of his Son for sinners. We will sing that song forever. I’ve heard people say, “We won’t remember horrible things in heaven.” You will. You will remember the most horrible thing in heaven. You will sing of the most horrible thing in heaven forever. The slaughter of the Lamb of God for sinners who deserved nothing, you will sing about forever. That’s the apex, and that’s why the universe exists.
I was talking with David this afternoon, a young man who travels with me, and I’ve just been overwhelmed with these thoughts. I hope you go away, not with big thoughts about suffering, but big thoughts about Jesus. It’s all — the universe, history, suffering, and everything — it’s all about magnifying Jesus. I hope you can realize he made the universe (Colossians 1:17). It was made for him. He upholds it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). It’s his grace in which we find salvation. It’s his slaughter on Calvary, which is the end point, the middle point, and the high point of the revelation of all that history is about.
If you think the heavens are telling the glory of God, go to Calvary. So that’s my second expansion in clarification upon yesterday by way of introduction to tonight’s message.
Suffering to Glory
Third, in Christ dying as the revelation of the apex of God’s glorious grace, he manifests his glory and God’s glory in two very different ways in regard to suffering.
I hope this gets very practically helpful for you at this point. First, he purchased, in his dying, deliverance from all pain.
By his wounds, we are healed (1 Peter 2:24).
It’s only a matter of time. Charismatics and noncharismatics disagree about the timing here, and a little bit about the proportion of how much of that comes into this age, but there’s no disagreement ultimately on the meaning of that verse. By his wounds, we are healed.
So one thing that he did is reveal a majestic power that everybody in Christ gets healed someday. That’s what he bought. So his glory as a healer and his glory as majestic in power over all suffering and all sickness is lifted up at the cross, saying, “I purchased all wellness here.” That’s the first thing.
Second, he purchased the persevering faith of his suffering followers and became their supremely satisfying treasure on the cross. I’ll say that again. He purchased the persevering, satisfied resting, contented faith of his suffering followers, and in doing it, he became their supremely satisfying treasure.
Now here’s what we’re faced with. If those are both true, that on the cross his wounds healed all his people, and on the cross his wounds secured their persevering faith through suffering and became their all satisfying treasure as they suffer so that they may continue to suffer without throwing away their faith; if both of those were purchased at the cross, and he should be glorified in both ways as our healer and our sustainer, then how do they relate to each other? In your personal life, how do they relate to each other?
We should glorify him the first way, glorify the first achievement by praying for and experiencing healing. Yes, we should. With all our heart, we should pray for people who come to us that are sick. I am not afraid to lay my hand on any sick person and simply ask God to heal them. I don’t even say if it’s your will. Everybody knows that’s my theology for goodness sake. I think sometimes we just stick that on because we’re just afraid he might not do it and want to cover our tail. Well, relax. Miracles show up. Just be bold and be childlike. If you ask your Father for bread, he won’t give you a stone (Matthew 7:9). He may not give you bread. He knows what you need, but you have not because you ask not (James 4:2).
So that’s one reality. I just want to make sure I don’t minimize it. We should honor the achievement of the cross by praying that God would heal sick people.
Secondly, we should glorify the crucified Savior by suffering with satisfaction, and praying for those who are in suffering that they experience profound restfulness in Christ. He is honored both ways. Mightily honored both ways. But we were having lunch together today, a couple of brothers, and lights were going on everywhere for me as we were having this conversation. I’ve learned so much coming to this unpronounceable town.
Lights were going on everywhere for me because we were just talking over why God might ordain that in this present time, as Romans 8:18 says:
…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
It sounds to me like this present time is appointed for that. Which means that, if I take these two — glorifying him as a healer, and glorifying him as a sustainer and an all-satisfying treasure — I think the proportion for the present time is that healing is exceptional and sustaining grace with him as our treasure is normative.
And then the time will change, when the Lord comes and we rise from the dead to meet him. There will be total change. And then it will be totally normative to give him all glory as a healer. Your body in the resurrection will forever bear witness to the power of the cross that this happened there. Now you’ve got 50 to 80 years here with your wheelchairs, which may or may not be where you stay, to say, “For this time, this is the witness. I will give him glory for this assignment as he satisfies my soul.”
And what was going on at the dinner table was that we were contemplating why God might set it up in this present time, not just so that his Son could perish and be exalted in his resurrection and in the cross. Might there not be ways to glorify God in our sufferings that are superior than in our healing? And we articulated several. I’m not even sure I could remember them all, but one would be that if you’re healed, and immediately your cancer is gone, or your eyes are no longer blind, at that moment, there’s this large outcry of glorifying God. Remember reading that in the Bible? They glorified God saying, “We’ve never seen such a thing!” (Mark 2:12).
And here are a couple things to think about: First, it doesn’t tend to last. Two or three years later, you’re just taking it for granted again, saying, “I’m healthy and I’m whole,” and you’re watching TV, goofing off, and wasting your life instead of living in the power of that moment. It doesn’t last. Suffering lasts. Every day, we either do or don’t magnify him in our pain.
Second, it's ambiguous. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the person is praising because Christ is glorious or they love health. That’s a little bit ambiguous. And so who’s getting the glory here? Is health getting the glory or is Jesus getting the glory? So you can see that the present experience of the miraculous in healing is a little bit different in its qualitative ability to magnify the Lord long-term and with the same depth as some of the harder ways. That’s the end of clarification number three.
Six Promises to Sustain Sufferers
I have six promises because the big question is, does Paul help us here? I’m going to blaze through these. Does Paul help us endure verse 23? It says:
…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Hear that, suffering saint. Your groaning is shared by all the saints of all time. And Paul is utterly realistic about this. We groan waiting for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. So can you help us with this, Paul? Can you help us survive this? If we have to do this for another 20 or 30 years, can you help? There are twelve, but I’m just going to go through six of these promises.
These are all here to help us suffer. They’re all here tonight as a gift to you to help you get ready. If you’re not suffering, you will. And I want you to be ready. And if you are, I hope they help.
First, God promises that after this time of suffering, we will see an all-satisfying beauty and greatness.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
He promises that someday, you’re going to see his glory, which Christ prayed in John 17:24 that we would see:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory…
We all know that even though it’s not the sum total of joy, seeing glorious things is a huge part of part of joy. You go to the seaside, you go to mountain ranges, you go to big movies, you look at little babies, and you see things. You want to see greatness. You want to see beauty. Seeing beauty satisfies the soul. And we are going to see the maker of all things, the designer of all things. The one who loved and died and rose; we’re going to see him. Oh Lord, hasten the day.
Second, God promises that the children of God will be revealed with glory of their own, which fits them to see him and enjoy him as they never could in their present condition.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).
The anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. What will be revealed about the sons of God at the last day? The answer comes in Romans 8:21, which says:
…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
That’s what will be revealed about us — the freedom of the glory of the children of God. So this glory here was already referred to back in Romans 8:17, which says, “if we suffer with him, we will be glorified with him.” And now he’s calling it the freedom of the glory of the children of God. That is what creation waits for the revealing of. What does that little word freedom signify?
I think it signifies there is coming a day when all the human hindrances to joy will cease. There is coming a day when this soul; this crippled, emotionally-wounded, soul that wants to delight in God, wants to know God, wants to enjoy God 10,000 times more than I can will be freed from every hindrance.
So if you hear me say we’re going to be able to see him and enjoy him, and given your capacity to enjoy what you see right now, you say, “That wouldn’t be very great.” Well, it wouldn’t be. I admit that. If you saw Jesus right now, you’d probably be incinerated, but if you were spared from that your capacities in the present condition for enjoying him the way he should be enjoyed would be small. But they won’t stay small. That’s the meaning of the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
We will be freed from everything that stands in the way of our capacities for an almost infinite pleasure in God. That’s what I see as the second promise. So don’t worry about whether you’re Swedish, or English, or Latino, or whatever. Don’t worry that your present capacities for emotional engagement with beauty will limit you then. They won’t.
Third, God promises that all creation, not just the children of God, will be freed from this present futility.
Again, Romans 8:21 says:
…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The creation is coming into our experience of this freedom. The creation is waiting for us. When it happens to us, the creation will join us. And this will happen that all of creation will become a suitable place for these newly designed human beings, who have an almost infinite capacity to enjoy God. We have to have a new universe for that. This present universe with that ocean and these mountains, and our beauties, this has to go up about 10 million degrees in order for it to be enough propriate reflection and habitation for these new people who mean to enjoy God here forever. That’s what has to happen. And it will happen according to Romans 8:21, the creation itself will be set free. Not just you, creation itself.
Fourth, God promises that the miseries of the universe are not the death throes, but they are the pains of childbirth. Romans 8:22 says:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
Imagine that you go to a hospital and you hear a woman cry out. It will make a huge difference when you hear that if you’re on the oncology ward or the maternity ward. If you’re on the maternity ward, you’ll hear that totally differently than if you heard it on the other part of the hospital.
And you might say, “Why? Pain is pain.” No, pain is not pain. Pain is either leading to destruction or pain is leading to glory. And the two are very different. And this says God’s way of hearing the pain is labor pains. That’s an amazing statement. If you are in the kingdom by faith in Jesus, every ache you ever have is a labor pain leading to glory, not leading to destruction.
Fifth, God promises that our bodies will be redeemed from all groaning.
We’ve already spent time on that from Romans 8:23, so let me just go to the last one and end here.
Sixth, God promises that death itself will serve his purposes and our good.
Romans 8:33–37 says:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
What does that mean? More than conquerors as you are slaughtered. We are being killed all day long. That’s happening somewhere in the world today. I don’t think that’s an overstatement. It just might mean it’s not happening here now. We are being killed all day long. That happens somewhere in the world all the time. We are being killed all day long. In this, we are more than conquerors.
How can you be more than a conqueror? A conquer is a conqueror. Here’s my stab at it. If you conquer death, it lies dead at your feet, saying. “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? You’re dead at my feet.” That’s a conqueror. More than a conqueror is if you say, “Death, get up and serve me well.” More than conquerors take things captive; they don’t just kill them. They take them captive and they put them to good use.
So when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:21, “…all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,” he means death is now your servant. It has been transformed.
We’re all heading there if Jesus doesn’t come back, but we’re heading not to an enemy. You look death in the face, you see, “Where is your sting? Where is your victory?” Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57), as death becomes a pathway to paradise and a quick preview of the King that we will see in all of his glory — in the fullest sense when he raises us from the dead.
Where Are the Finishers?
The book Sacrifice was promoted last night, so I asked that David would get it for me and he did. And I opened it to read “the call to sacrifice.” I’m going to close by reading a paragraph here. And I think that is what God wants to do in this room. I know I’m talking to students in about 25 minutes or so. In this room there are young people, but there are also lots and lots of people between their 40s and 60s. One of the effects of this my little two messages and all the others combined is that God is shaking your life, he’s shaking the roots of your life.
Here you are, 40, 50, or 62, and he’s shaking it like this saying, “I might have something else for you.” He’s doing that all over this room, saying, “I don’t want you to be afraid of it. I don’t want you to look at the scary parts of it and back away from it.” It might be that you’ve made your bundle. It’s in the bank. You could retire at 50 and do another thing, but he’s saying, “I want you to do another thing,” and you’ll know who you are.
And I’ll close by reading this. It’s a quote from Howard Guinness’s book. This is from the passage regarding us shining like the stars. He says:
Where are the young men and women [we call them finishers in America]? The 50 and 60 somethings, who have another good 20 years maybe? Where are the finishers of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even to death? Who will lose their lives for Christ, flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless for his service?
And I’ll tell you where they are. They’re in this room.