Reading Sermon by Rev. Ronald Hanko
Sermon Theme: THE GROANING CREATION
I. Groaning in Pain
II. Groaning in Longing
III. Groaning in Hope
Text: Romans 8:19-22
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:18-39
263; 1 3, 5, 6
The radio, the newspapers and the television bring us reports nearly every day of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts and famines, and other such catastrophes. There was a report not so long ago that one and a half million people died in such natural disasters from the year 1950 to the turn of the century and the beginning of the new millennium. There is evidence as well that such disasters are increasing. According to one newspaper there was a three-fold increase in the number of earthquakes from the 1960's to the 1990's. Scientists and those who are supposed to know speak of great changes in weather patterns, of global warming, of holes in the ozone layer, of El Nino, of the melting of the polar ice caps, things that concern not only the climate but the whole future of the planet on which we live. We cannot help but take notice of such things.
But, beloved people of God, do you hear in such things the creation groaning? Do you hear the groaning of which our text speaks - the creation groaning and travailing in pain as it waits for the manifestation of the sons of God? The Word of God in our text makes sure that we do not only notice what is happening in the creation, but also that we understand it. And we must understand especially that the things that are happening in the creation are a reason for us to hope for the coming of Christ and for our own glory with Him. Even the creation speaks of the coming of Christ and of the end and to those who will listen it does so loudly and clearly, and more and more loudly as the end approaches.
Romans 8 does not, however, speak only of the groaning of the creation. It actually speaks of three groanings, the groaning of the creation, our own groaning, and the groaning of the Holy Spirit as He makes intercession for us according to the will of God. Our own groaning as people of God is mentioned in verses 23-25 and the groaning of the Spirit is described in verses 26 and 27. Our text speaks of the groaning creation.
These three groanings are proof - three proofs - that the amazing statement of verse 18 is true. That verse tells us that all the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Think of it. Think of all the suffering of Gods people through the ages. Think of all the those who are suffering and dying in hospitals, on battlefields, and as result of Gods judgments in the creation. Think of all the suffering that ever has been and ever will be. Thats the suffering of this present time, all of which cannot even be compared to the glory that awaits us.
Do you believe that glory is as great as the Word of God says? Do you believe that when you yourselves are suffering? When you are in the hospital, crippled with pain, or living every day with pain that sometimes seems unbearable, when your heart is all but overwhelmed with the troubles of this present life, do you believe that all your suffering is nothing in comparison to the glory that will someday be yours? You will believe if you listen to this three-fold groaning. The glory that awaits us is so great that even the Spirit groans as makes intercession for God's people in relation to that glory. It is so great that we ourselves groan for it without having ever seen it. It is so great that even the creation groans for it.
It is to that groaning of the creation as it waits for the glory that will someday be ours that I call you attention today. Remembering that the graoning of the creation is part of the proof that our glory in heaven will indeed by very great we take as our theme:
The Groaning Creation
We should notice from the text that this groaning of the creation is first of all a groaning in pain. Verse 22 says that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now. We should notice in the second place that this groaning is a groan of longing. Verse 19 says that the creature is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God and waiting because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of God's children. In the third place we must notice that this groaning is also a groan of hope. According to verse 22 the creature not only waits but earnestly expects earnestly the coming glory of the sons of God. That earnest expectation is hope and ity is the hope of the creature which awakens hope within our own hearts as we too wait for and desire the coming of eternal glory.
First of all then, we look at this groaning as:
I. A GROAN OF PAIN
We must understand that when Paul, under the inspiration of God's Spirit speaks of the creature, he is talking about what is sometimes called the brute creation. It is called the creature three times in verses 19-21 and then is called the whole creation in verse 22. It is the whole creation excluding mankind that is referred to. We know that we are not included in the word creature here because the Word of God talks about us separately in verses 23-25, where the Word says, not only they, but ourselves also....
The brute creation, you understand, is the world of beasts and plants, seas and mountains, planets and suns, weather and natural disasters, polar ice-caps and atmosphere, clouds, rain, wind and sunshine, all the things that are part of the world on which we live. The brute creation includes also the whole vast universe to which we belong and which God has created. The name "creature" here then means created thing but does not include us, even though we are also creatures of God.
In speaking of the creation Paul uses a figure of speech called personification. Personification is the figure of speech which ascribes the characteristics of persons to other things. We do that when we treat a pet as though it is able to think and reason and will act as a person does and not just act instinctively. Paul does that here with respect to the whole brute creation. Paul personifies that brute creation, and describes it as though it were not only alive, but able to think and speak and feel and desire and hope as a man does.
He speaks as though that creation is a human slave in the worst kind of bondage a slave that knows its own sad condition and groans in longing for something better. He speaks of the creation travailing in pain like a woman about to be delivered of a child. He speaks as though it is consciously expecting and waiting for the new heavens and earth. Paul, then, personifies the rocks and trees and skies and seas and beasts and birds by describing them as though they feel and suffer and think and know like we do. And so, first of all he describes the creation groaning in pain.
That pain which the creation suffers and which causes it to groan is explained in the text by two phrases. The creation groans in pain, first of all, because it was made subject of vanity (verse 20), and, second, because it is in the bondage of corruption (verse 21).
What does that all mean, and to what is Paul referring?
These two phrases in verses 20 and 21 refer to the same thing, though from slightly different points of view. They are references to the fall of man and to the consequences of man's fall for the creation.
Did you know that that your sin in Adam had consequences not only for yourself and your children and for the whole human race, but even for the creation? Thats one way in which we see the horror of sin and especially of the first sin of our father, Adam. By his sin he did not only bring himself and his descendants into horrible bondage, but also the creation in which he lived. Man, as king of creation under God dragged the creation down with him when he fell.
We find the proof of that in verse 20, which says that the creation was made subject to vanity, but not willingly. It was not the creation which chose sin and rebelled against God. Its groaning is proof that even now it does not want to serve sin, but rather wants to show the glory of God. But man sinned and that had consequences for the creation. God cursed the creation when man fell. It is as a result of that curse that the creation is in bondage and subject to vanity, but our sin is the cause.
To be subject to vanity is a terrible thing. Vanity is emptiness and uselessness being without purpose. Vanity, having no purpose in life, is the lot of the wicked. Without God they are also without purpose or hope. But Scripture says here that creation is subject to vanity. That means that as a result of man's sin, the creation no longer serves the purpose for which it was created that if the creation could speak it would tell us that it feels empty and useless.
Perhaps some examples will help us to understand this. We learn from Genesis 1 that the sun and moon were created to govern day and night. They govern day and night so that during the day man might serve his Creator and during the night take his rest. But now the night is time in which men work their deeds of darkness, and the sun shines upon men, giving light and heat and life to those who will not glorify God or be thankful. It is not difficult, then to think of the sun and moon groaning as they rise and set in their appointed courses in the service of godless mankind.
Nor is it difficult to imagine that the earth, which was created for the glory and honor of God, and given to man to use in Gods service groans as wicked man spends his evil days on it, fills the whole earth with his wickedness and wicked works, and uses the creation for his own sinful purposes. Meant to bring forth its fruits in the service of man that man might serve his God, it is now exploited by man and forced to bring forth its fruits to be used by man in the service of sin and Satan. No wonder it is described as groaning!
When Paul says that the creature is in the bondage of corruption he is referring to the fruits of sin in the creation that the creation which was originally so beautiful and perfect, is now full of death, barrenness, thorns and thistles. Death and suffering have come into the creation as well as into the life of man. All this death and suffering is referred to as the bondage of corruption because nothing in the creation can escape it and because it is a reminder in the creation of Gods curse which will not be lifted from the creation until the creation is renewed in the new heavens and earth.
In these circumstances Paul says, the creation can be heard, as it were, groaning with pain. He is referring to all the troubles and disasters and changes that take place in the creation around us so-called natural disasters, famine, drought, pestilence, quakes, floods and all the rest. They are the voice of creation and they are universally a voice of groaning and pain.
We read of this in other passages. Joel in Joel 1:16-18 says: Is not the meat cut off before our eye, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down, for the corn is withered. How do the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. Famine and pestilence and drought cause the cattle to groan and are themselves part of the groaning of the creation.
We read the same in Jeremiah and Isaiah. Jeremiah 12:4 makes it clear that the groaning of the creation is the result of mans wickedness: How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they (thats wicked men) said, He shall not see our latter end.
Isaiah 24:4, 5 says: The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
Do you hear that agonized groaning of the creation? It is heard more and more loudly as the end approaches and the pain expressed in that groaning is the result of our sins, yours and mine.
II. A GROAN OF LONGING
Yet, if we may speak of the creation as conscious and knowing its sad condition, as Paul does here, then it is also true that creation, though it groans and travails in pain, also expects something better. That better thing is our own final redemption, in which the creation itself shall have a place and a part. Just as it was dragged down by our fall, so it shall rise again with us into glory and peace.
Paul says that the creation knows that there is something better in store for it and for us. He is speaking again as though the brute creation is able to think like a man. Speaking that way, the question is: How does the creation know that something better is coming?
In the first place, the creation knows of something better because all things earthly were created as pictures of the heavenly. In that sense creation knows about the heavenly kingdom of Christ, and knew about it from the very beginning.
Not only that but even now this present creation, in many different ways, points to and testifies of the glory of Christ's kingdom that is coming. It does so in the sunrise, in the coming of spring, in the lovely colors in which it clothes autumn's death, in the transformation of a butterfly all of which speak of the resurrection and renewal of creation in the new heavens and the new earth. In that way, too, it knows that its present bondage is not forever.
In the third place, the creation knows the hand of its Creator. It knows something of the faithfulness and the purpose and the everlasting covenant of God. It knows that God will not abandon the works of His own hands that He is forever and eternally faithful to Himself. It testifies of these things in the changing of the seasons, in the rising and setting of the sun, and in a many other things which picture His unchanging faithfulness.
What the creation knows and expects and waits for is described in our text in two ways. It is described as the manifestation of the sons of God, and as the glorious liberty of the children of God.
When Scripture speaks of the manifestation of the sons of God, it is speaking especially of the judgment day and of what happens to us in the judgment as children of God. Now, in large measure, our sonship is hidden, sometimes even from ourselves, so that we sometimes doubt our own sonship. Our sonship is completely hidden from the ungodly world. Both because of our own sin and because of their own unbelief they do not think that we are any different from themselves. John speaks of this in I John 3:2; Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as is.
Only in the last day will our sonship be fully manifested. Then we shall appear in our resurrection bodies, already delivered fully from the bondage of sin and death. Then we shall stand before God and be publicly justified, and claimed by Him as His own. Then we, too, will know perfectly that we are Gods children, His sons and daughters, for then the work of grace shall be finished and even our bodies will be changed into the likeness of Christs glorious body. That's the manifestation of the sons of God, one description of what the creation is waiting for.
The passage, however, also speaks of the glorious liberty of the children of God. With those words it is describing the same heavenly glory, but from this viewpoint, that it will be a full deliverance from sin and a finishing and completing of our salvation. We shall be free free not only from tears and sorrow and pain and death, but from sin itself as the cause of all these. In the day of our glorious liberty there will be no more sin and not even the possibility of sin! That will be liberty indeed!
Our liberty now is that we are delivered from the bondage and slavery of sin, but we are not yet delivered from sins presence. Our hearts are regenerated, but our flesh is still with us. Then, when Christ returns, our vile bodies also shall be changed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body and we shall have our sinful nature no longer, nor shall we have to struggle any longer with our own flesh and its lusts. That is the liberty of the children of God.
The creation longs for all this because it will have a part in that coming glory of God's children. Of this the Word of God speaks in Ephesians 1:10. There we read; That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he (God) might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him. In Colossians 1:20 the Word even says that Christ reconciles all things in heaven and on earth to Himself by the blood of His cross. As a result creation shares and participates in our heavenly glory.
We have a hint of this in Revelation 4 where all creatures are gathered about the throne singing praise to God Almighty. They sing together and praise God with the words: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
But why is that important for us? The creation as it groans in longing for these things testifies to us of the reality and of the glory of what is yet to come. It is our glory for which it groans, though the creation too has a part in that glory. When we doubt that glory or doubt that it cannot be compared with the sufferings we now endure, then the creation speaks to us of that glory and tells us by its own groan of longing that it is indeed very great and worth waiting and suffering for.
That glory is so great that even the creation longs for it. It is so great that the creation also shall be delivered into that glorious liberty. Can you then doubt that glory is coming and that when it comes it will exceed all your expectations and make all your present sufferings seem like nothing in comparison?
III. A GROAN OF HOPE
That groaning of creation, however, is not only a groan of pain and of longing, but of hope. It expresses the hope of every child of God, the hope we each feel in our hearts.
You must understand that hope in Scripture is much more than longing. When we say, I hope for good weather tomorrow, we only mean, I wish we would have good weather, and I want the weather to be nice, but I do not know what the weather will be." But when we say as Christians, I hope for eternal glory, then we not only mean, "I wish for it and want it with all my heart," but we mean, too, I am absolutely certain that it is coming. God has told me so in His Word.
That certainty of hope is expressed in verses 24 and 25 where Scripture says that hoping for what we see not (in other words, being certain of it), we wait patiently for it. By hope and its certainty, therefore, we are saved. By its certainty it supports us and provides a foundation in this evil and changing world and functions as an anchor for our souls. It does this because it is the absolute certainty that all things shall be made new when Christ comes again and that He will come as He has promised. It is the certainty that all this present suffering and sin is not forever.
That certainty of hope is founded on the cross and resurrection of our Savior on the knowledge of what He has done by His suffering and death. It is the certainty that His death really has paid for the sins of His people, and that by His resurrection from the dead He ever lives to make us partakers of Himself and of His resurrection.
That hope of God's people is expressed also by the creation. The creation has that hope and shows that it has hope by its groaning. We see that first of all in verse 19, where Scripture speaks of the earnest expectation of the creature. Expectation is more than longing - it is the certainty that what is hoped for shall come.
Do you understand that? The creation is certain, one hundred percent certain that that what we hope for shall come! It is more certain than we ourselves sometimes are, and that is the reason, of course, why we are called in the text to listen to the groaning of the creation.
The hope of the creation is expressed especially and most beautifully in our text by the word "travaileth" in verse 22. You know what travail is. It is the pain that attends childbirth, and it is, therefore, a pain like no other. Every other kind of pain says that something is wrong, but not travail. The pain of travail say that everything is right as right as it can possibly be! As intense as the pain of childbirth is, it is nevertheless a pain and anguish in which there is always hope the hope of the birth of a child. The pain of childbirth is itself the proof that the child is in the process of being born and will soon arrive.
It is not like the pain that comes with sickness or disability. In such circumstances the pain only speaks of the fact that the sickness is not yet cured or the disability removed. There is no hope in such pain, only the prospect of further suffering. But in the pain of childbirth mothers know that best there is not only the hope of an end to pain, but the hope of something that will make the pain itself seem worthwhile, the birth of another covenant child.
This is the word Scripture uses to describe the groaning and pain of the creation. That groaning and pain, as we have seen, is expressed in all the disasters and troubles that are part of life in this world, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, changes in the weather, global warming. In all these the creation groans and suffers pain. Yet that groaning is like the groaning of a woman in travail for it is the assurance that the child, in this case the new creation, will soon be born. All the things that make ungodly men lose hope are to us the birth pangs that will bring in the everlasting kingdom of Christ, a kingdom in which even the brute creation will have a place.
That groaning of the creation is not, then, only the prospect of further suffering and trouble, but the proof that it shall all soon be over and that then something shall happen which will make all the suffering of this present time worthwhile - that will make it seems as nothing.
Do you believe that? Do you hear the groaning of the creation around you? Do you hear in it, first of all, a testimony concerning your sin and mine? But do you hear in it, too, the testimony that the day of the birth of the everlasting kingdom of Christ is near? Do you believe, as a result of that groaning that the glory that is coming is so great that all your present sufferings are not worthy to compared with it that all the suffering that has ever been endured by God's people is not worthy to be compared with that everlasting glory that will be ours when Christ returns?
Do you remember Luke 21:25-28? And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Thats what lies ahead.
What will we do then? Will our hearts fail us? Will we despair and lose all hope? Not at all, but remember the words of Jesus in verse 28 and listening to the voice of the creation as it groans in pain, in longing and in hope we will then look up, and lift up our heads; for we will know that our redemption draws nigh.