If the condition of our world could be summarized in a single word, that word would be 'broken.' Beneath the drumming sound of a rushing waterfall and the trill of a nightingale's song is an inaudible cry of desperation. Every part of creation feels it
The Groaning of Creation
If there ever was a word that could characterize the human condition on earth . . . the condition of our planet from non-rational plant and animal life up to and through the human experience . . . it could be that word – trouble!
Every one listening to me has this in common – you have all experienced and even now are experiencing and will continue to experience some sort of trouble.
We live in a world filled with it . . . consumed with it . . . and even enamored by it.
A few days ago I received World Magazines year end edition in which they summarized the major news stories and events of this past year that have riveted the attention of the world.
World Magazine, December 27, 2003/January 3, 2004
It referred, of course, first to trouble with Iraq and the war effort; a picture of a disheveled, captured Saddam Hussein, graced the cover of the magazine.
Additional articles and pictures reminded me of some of this past years tragedies and troubles:
- A picture of the Space Shuttle Columbia’s crew which was killed when their space shuttle disintegrated, raining down charred debris from Texas to Louisiana.
- A picture of Elizabeth Smart who was rescued from her abductor, who claimed to be the Messiah
- Several articles dealt with hurricanes, forest fires and floods and earthquakes that have claimed the lives of thousands world-wide.
- One picture recalled the largest blackout in U.S. history; a power loss that affected 50 million people;
- Murder trials made headlines as husbands were accused and/or found guilty of brutally murdering their families.
Without a doubt, there was trouble in our country!
This was the year when trouble surfaced in the already confused arena of moral and medical ethics.
- One husband was successful in ordering his wife’s feeding tube removed. His wife had suffered a heart attack and, through mishandling, was left brain damaged – for the most part, comatose; yet able to smile, respond to touch and recognize the voices of her loved ones. Her husband won a 2 million dollar malpractice suit on her behalf. He then moved in with another woman, used some of the money to hire an attorney who turned around and argued for his wife’s right to die. In reality, what that meant was this – she had the right to be starved to death. Her feeding tube was removed and for 6 days was left without food until state legislators and the governor ordered her feeding tube reinserted.
- This past summer, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a devastating decision to our country’s moral foundation when they ruled to allow sodomy as a constitutional right for homosexuals. One Justice was so incensed by the ruling that he read aloud his dissent from the bench, declaring that this ruling marked the “end of moral legislation.”
- At the same time the highest court revealed how far from Judeo-Christian ethics it had fallen, the church revealed how far it had plunged as well. One mainline Protestant denomination ordained for the first time in history a practicing homosexual to the office of bishop – voting as well to bless same-sex unions as, quote, “within the bounds of church life and belief.”
- While this battle was taking place within the Protestant world, the Catholic church was reeling from the public exposure of many of its priests who were nothing more than pedophiles . . . moved from parish to parish to outrun their victims. Victims who had been betrayed by the worst predator of all – a predator who came in the name of God.
- Additional articles reminded me of how the world was held captive this year by fear, not only of terrorists, but by an infection named SARS which has claimed the lives of nearly 900 people world-wide.
- The irony of our world toward SARS however is that AIDS which is killing and will kill millions of people, remains an untouchable disease simply because it is primarily the result of sexual promiscuity.
- There is at least one African country where half its population is infected with HIV and will be wiped out in 10 years or less. I was in that country not too long ago. A country that is riddled with poverty and illiteracy and a sense of despair. One African pastor told me that the young people of his country didn’t care to even protect themselves from AIDS – they have said to him, “What do we have to look forward to as we grow to become your age . . . we might as well enjoy whatever pleasures we have and then die . . . there is no good reason to live.”
There is trouble in our world.
And I haven’t gone half-way through this summary of world events yet . . . I haven’t gotten to the stories of professional athletes and media stars accused or indicted of drug abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, murder and rape. Mothers who killed their children and children who killed their parents.
The continual glorification of sin and the growing hatred for anything representing God and His commands.
- One MTV special this past year in mocking tones, of course, recorded a special 2 hour program, profiling what superstars thought of sin – or what the church has considered to be sin.
- They asked Queen Latiffa what she thought about pride. She said, “Pride is a sin? I wasn’t aware of that.” They asked Kirstie Alley about pride and she said, “I don’t think pride is a sin, I think some idiot made that up.” They asked a member of Aerosmith if he thought lust was a sin and he said quote, “Lust is what I live for, it’s what I got into the band for . . .” When Ice Tea, that well known theologian, was asked about anger, he said, “Anger is no sin . . anger’s necessary! You have to release this tension because life brings tension.” When asked about pride he responded, “Pride is mandatory.”
The MTV program concluded that there isn’t any absolute right or wrong. The 10 commandments are not absolute standards. You can do whatever you want. And then they ended the two hour program with this unbelievable statement, quote, “The most evil sin in the world is the killjoy attitude of those who think sin is offensive to God.”
In other words, “the worst sin is the sin of feeling bad about doing something bad, because God isn’t really offended by sinful things.” How twisted is that?! They concluded that anybody who thinks God is offended by sin, is committing the worst of all sins because you’re gonna ruin the party!
Cited on Bible Believers Basics.com/files/MAC/FORGIVES.HTM; 11/6/2003
By the way, this is not just the attitude of superstars and public figures; it is the attitude of our land – what is morally wrong for you can be morally right for someone else.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is trouble in the land.
What is the believer to do?
What is the Christian supposed to think of all this . . . how are we to respond?
I am here today to deliver the message of God from the book of Romans which speaks to these issues. – and to ours!
You see, about the time the Christian in Rome or in Rwanda; the believer living in Corinth or living in Cary . . . about the time you’d think the believer is driven to despair and discouragement over the condition of his world, the Apostle Paul comes and delivers a surprising message.
He begins by saying in effect, “This is all to be expected; I expected the unbelieving world to act like unbelievers! I expected pagans to act like pagans.”
Paul has already described the digression of a society in Romans chapter 1 – where sin is applauded and the Creator is replaced with a worship of nature.
In a very real sense, the growing Christian becomes more and more aware that he doesn’t belong. Paul writes that our true citizenship is not on earth, but in heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
The growing believer accepts the Bible’s promise that in the world you have the guarantee, not of health and wealth and prosperity, but tribulation (2 Timothy 3:12).
The true believer expects that evil in a society that rejects God will go from bad to worse (2 Timothy 3:13).
He recognizes that the gospel divides families as well as unites others (Matthew 10:34 & 35).
That’s the true effect of the gospel.
I want to say something that isn’t politically correct – and I don’t mean to the world – I mean within the Evangelical church . . . but it needs to be said;
- The goal of the church is not conservative politics, though Christians can be called by God to the political arena where they can exert a holy influence. But the goal of the church is not realized with a Republican majority. Am I bothering you yet?
- In addition, the mission of the church is not the elimination of poverty and disease – though Christians can find their calling from God in fighting against both.
- The hope of the church in this country is not heterosexual marriage being constitutionalized; I read one well known Christian leader saying a few months ago to his vast constituency that the only hope for marriage is a constitutional amendment. Our hope is not in Washington.
- Furthermore, the purpose of the church is not making life safe and prosperous for all the peoples of the earth; even though the gospel changes a person, a family, a culture and a nation for the better – while that may be the byproduct of the gospel, it is not the purpose of the gospel.
- The goal of the church is the glory of God (Philippians 1:10, 11)
- The mission of the church is the making of disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)
- The hope of the church is the coming of Christ (Romans 8:23-25)
- The purpose of the church, in the meantime, is to act as the agency of God in declaring the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth (Romans 16:25-27)
- The function of the church is to so love the word of God and so love one another that the world will know we must belong to God (John 13:35).
The church today is as confused as the world, because it has lost it’s: Goal
So what do we do about it?!
We have to go back to the perspective of God revealed in scripture in order to clear the fog away.
Otherwise it will become all too easy to either become
discouraged in the world, or distracted by the world.
Either one can be deadly.
Paul addresses the troubles of his Christian friends in Rome by re-ordering their perspective.
He begins in verse 19 by writing, “For the anxious longing of eh creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 25. And not only this, but also 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 body . . . 26. And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Three times you read in this text, the word groan.
You ought to circle all three.
The groaning of creation in verse 22; the groaning of the Christian in verse 23b; and the groaning of the Holy Spirit in verse 26b.
The solution for the believer to be neither discouraged in the world, or distracted by the world is found in a biblical understanding of what it means to groan!
What does it mean for the Christian to groan? What does it mean for the Spirit of God to groan?
We have time this morning to begin looking at the meaning of the first groan – which is the groaning of creation.
As this section begins in verse 19, the Apostle Paul tells us two things about creation.
1. First, that creation is eager about something.
Notice again verse 19. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
There is an anxious longing about creation.
Now when Paul refers to creation, just what is he referring to?
He can’t be referring to angels, since they are not enslaved to corruption (v. 21).
He can’t be referring to the fallen angels – or demons because they do not long for the revelation of the sons of God.
He can’t be referring to believers, because they are addressed separately in the next verses.
Furthermore, he can’t be referring to unbelievers since they have no desire to see the glory of God.
The only remaining part of creation would be the non-rational creation – plants and animals and all inanimate things like rivers and mountains and heavenly bodies.
Paul is using what is called personification. He is giving to non-rational elements of creation the attributes of human personality.
As you know, it is not unusual for the Bible to uses personification: Isaiah talks about:
Trees clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12)
The wilderness and desert rejoicing (Isaiah 35:1)
The mountains and the hills breaking forth into shouts of joy (Isaiah 55:12)
So Paul says that creation longs for – the Greek word literally means to “stand on it’s tiptoes – to watch with outstretched head.”
Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker Book House, 1989), p. 179
And what is it longing for? Paul says in verse 19, the revealing of the sons of God.
The word revealing translates the Greek word apokalupsis (or apocalypse), which refers to an uncovering, an unveiling, a revelation. This is the same word from which the Book of Revelation gets its name.
John MacArthur Jr. Romans: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1991), p. 453
It is the book of the Apocalypse . . . it is the Book of the Unveiling of the future of the world.
Creation is longing for that future time when Christ returns to earth – when the glory of His bride is revealed to the universe.
Creation is eagerly awaiting this revelation.
2. But Paul also tells us that creation is enslaved to something.
Paul gives us several hints as to what he means as he continues in verse 20. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption.
Creation is enslaved to corruption. Now, plants don’t sin. Trees don’t battle temptation. Rivers and mountains don’t struggle with pride and envy and greed.
Corruption here refers to the fallen state of nature. Most commentators referred to the law of entropy – the law that things move toward disorder and disharmony and decay.
Travel back to Genesis and you are reminded that after the fall of mankind into sin, God indeed cursed His creation with this law of corruption and decay.
He told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. The earth will [now] produce thorns and thistles for you . . .” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Since the fall of man, decay and disease and was built into the fabric of nature.
Kent Hughes writes, “Even now the animal world is filled with fear and violence. Even the loveliest scenes in nature, while remaining beautiful, are also witness to bloody and violent horrors. Floods, hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, blights, avalanches, and earthquakes stalk the earth.”
R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 160
These are the sounds of earth’s groanings.
The curse of plant disease decimates crops year after year. The loss is estimated in the millions of dollars for each separate disease. Plant pathologists spend their days developing disease prevention and reduction.
Paul says in verse 22, For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
Before the fall of man, no weeds or poisonous plants, no thorns or thistles or anything else existed that could cause misery or harm. There are those who cry out today for living in harmony with nature. But the truth is obvious; when people were supposedly living closer to nature, without the benefits of civilization and medicine and invention and resources, the less comfort, the more pain, the more disease, and people died younger. This is not a friendly earth but a violent and dangerous one.
MacArthur, p. 455
But God has a plan – He will lift the curse and create a new heaven and a new earth.
Isaiah prophecy’s of that new earth that is no longer bound to decay and violence and fear . . . listen,
The wolf will dwell with the lamb;
And the leopard will lie down with the goat,
And the calf and the young lion together . . .
And a little child will lead them
The cow and the bear will graze,
The nursing child will play near the hole of the cobra
And the child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.
Imagine that! Creation will return to God’s earliest design – it will produce, free from pestilence and danger; animals will dwell with mankind without fear on either side; the beauty of God’s creation is wonderful in part now, but in total then.
Paul’s message is this – things are bad now . . . but they’re gonna get better!
That’s why he uses the illustration of childbirth – did you notice in verse 22. Creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth.
The groaning and the pain won’t last forever. In fact, it will soon be all but forgotten.
For those men who are married and have children, have you ever noticed that none of us carry around pictures of our wives in labor. Here she is in the middle of a contraction! Look at that expression! What’s she saying? I can’t repeat it! We don’t have pictures of that!
Frankly, I don’t care to see any of the pictures around that time. What were we thinking?
Guys today set up video cameras . . . record the whole thing! Who’s gonna come over and watch it?! Even your wife doesn’t want to remember!
Then the baby’s born . . . but even in the first few days, those pictures are somewhat questionable. I know I’m a pastor and I’m supposed to say, “Oh what a beautiful baby . . . that’s what I’m paid to say, right?”
I don’t particularly think newborn babies, around the time of their birth are all that, well, beautiful – even my own were somewhat . . . troubling.
I’m sorry, I cannot tell a lie.
If I see your newborn I’m probably just gonna say, “Wow!” And you can fill in the blanks. You can tell your family, “Hey, the pastor was speechless!” I was.
J. Vernon McGee let his congregation in on his secret by telling them that his standard line when seeing a newborn was simply, “Now that’s a baby.” The parents could interpret it any way they wanted.
I like “wow” better.
Actually, there are so many things about the birthing process that are agonizing and painful and unattractive . . . and there are some things about it that are precious and unforgettable and miraculous.
So, in that same manner, creation is marked by both wonder and beauty and the revelation of God’s creative glory (Romans chapter 1). But creation is also bound to decay and pain and violence and fear and agony (Romans chapter 8).
But there is coming a day when the agony will be over . . . not by nature’s own hand, nor because of something mankind did to rescue it – but God Himself will end the groaning of creation, by renewing it.
We cannot even imagine the pictures we will take of this new heaven and new earth. John’s revelation described it, and it is beyond comprehension.
All we can know is that Paul says here that the groaning of creation, will one day give way to the glory and beauty of God’s new creation.