Advent: waiting and watching
*taken from the Advent Study Guide published by the Villiage Church
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Week 4 / RESURRECTION AND RETURN
DECEMBER 18 – DECEMBER 24
The 1996 movie “Jerry McGuire” climaxed when Tom Cruise burst into his wife’s home, looked into her eyes and said the famous words, “You complete me.” He had just experienced the height of his professional career only to find out it was not what he had expected. He expected joy and found loneliness. He expected fulfillment and found emptiness. He was a man in the throes of finding out that what he had always pursued was not what he truly needed or desired.
Maguire was right about one thing: Incompleteness marks our current life. No matter how hard we try, fulfillment is always just out of reach. For unbelievers, the pursuit of fulfillment will feel like eternally chasing a moving target until Jesus becomes the object of their longing. However, even for the believer, there is a real sense that we have not found what we are looking for.
Completion is only found in Christ, through His death for our sin and resurrection from the grave, but it’s not a complete reality until we stand in our resurrected bodies in the presence of our Savior. This won’t happen until Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 come to pass: “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The return of Jesus and final restoration are the human hope, nothing less. Paul knew this well when he sat down to write Romans 8.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. 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. ROMANS 8:18-25
The central theme of this passage is what all of us long for: glory. The climactic theme of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is that we are born and reborn to share fully in the glory of God. As history marches on, we inch ever closer to the day when the heavenly city will have “no need for the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). There will be a day when we physically and fully partake in the glory of God, but until that day gets here, we groan.
According to Romans 8, the children of God groan amidst suffering. This suffering is not only referring to imprisonment or martyrdom but also the daily sufferings we walk through, from disease to financial reversals, difficult marriages to loneliness. The pains of our fallen world are violently depicted as a mother giving birth to child. At this point, we might expect Paul to say the Spirit in our lives eases the pain, but instead he does something completely unexpected. In a passage on suffering and glory, Paul links our groaning to having the “firstfruits of the Spirit.”
He says there is an aspect of our groaning that is strengthened because the Spirit has revealed to us Who Jesus is and that He will return to decisively defeat sin and death. Our living under the weight of sin today is felt to a greater degree because we know it will not always be this way; thus, our groaning is heightened by our longing. This is the “already but not yet” our pastors talk about. The penalty of sin has already been paid for, but the impact of sin has not yet ended. We are a church family who knows this all too well. Tumors, miscarriages and deaths have made our local community aware of the suffering that comes with a world still groaning for the return of Christ, but by the grace of God, that’s not all Paul said.
Paul’s hope is that, when these sufferings are held up to the infinite light of the glory of God, they are “not worth comparing.” Paul was not speaking out of ignorance. As we are a body aware of suffering, Paul was a man aware of suffering. From beatings, to prison, to shipwrecks, to eventual death, he knew suffering firsthand. So what could cause a man who walked through that amount of pain to speak with such confidence? Paul answers that with one word: “present.”
Suffering is not eternal, but the glory upon which we wait is. Jesus is going to return, and when He does, we will share in the fullness of His glory. When we do, the text says we will experience two things: adoption as sons, which is the redemption of our bodies, and a new earth free from the weight of sin. Since the text says creation is waiting to “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” these are not separate statements but one united reality that will take place when the glorious trumpets sound and the Servant returns as King.
As we wait for this day, incompleteness defines our lives because we live as adopted children who have not yet been picked up by our parents. We know our parents’ names, know they have paid for our adoption, know the adoption has been approved but stand on the curb with bags packed waiting on them to come and tell us, “You’re home.” This is true for all believers from all centuries. Those living today and those who have entered the presence of the Lord await the completion of our adoption in the redemption of our bodies.
This is the Christian hope into which we were saved. We know that Jesus has already paid for our adoption, but we wait for the Father to send Him for us to renew our home and dwell among us eternally as we experience our resurrected bodies and the fullness of His glory. This is a salvation about so much more than just “going to heaven when we die.” This is restoration, redemption and renewal. This is going from enemies of God to sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ. This is living fully in the image of God the way He intended. Oh what a day that will be. Come Lord Jesus, come.
Until Christ’s return, Paul gives us an example of how to groan in view of eternity. He exemplifies how to view the hardships of a fallen world through the lens of the eternal glory we await. To live in light of eternity does not mean demotions and cancer are not painful. It means they are not crushing. Cancer is painful because death is the last enemy to be conquered, but it’s not crushing because it’s only a matter of time before our resurrection conquers all disease. It means that loneliness is not something only our single brothers and sisters experience. We all experience loneliness because marriage is not the solution to the human condition. It’s a gift and an image that represents the substance for which we all long.
The substance that brings fulfillment and ends loneliness is standing face to face with our beloved, Jesus Christ. To stand face to face, two things must take place: He must return, and our flesh must be the redeemed, resurrected body to come. When fully grasping our hope, we can endure any suffering because we know it is temporary, and the glory to come is eternal. Until that day, we strive for a steadfast hope, we wait with patience, and we stand confident that our Savior will appear to bring completion to the adoption we long for.
QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION
- How would you explain the hope we have in Romans 8?
- What suffering are you walking in right now? How are you trying to keep it in perspective of eternity?
- If our future resurrection is true, how does it shape the way you see singleness, family, business and missions?
- Are you in gospel-centered community? If so, how does living in community help keep your suffering in perspective? How are you helping others see suffering through an eternal lens?
As a family, share what you know about the promise that Jesus will return. What will it be like? When will it happen? Why is it important?
The return of Jesus will mark the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth, a time in which will be free from sin and all the effects of sin. What are some of the effects of sin you see in our world? What are things in your life that you would consider “sufferings?” If you could imagine a world with no sin or suffering, what would it be like?
As a family, spend time with God. Read Revelation 21:1-5 and talk about the following questions.
- Are there any unfamiliar or confusing words in this passage?
- What will be true about death and pain once Jesus comes back?
- Verse 3 tells us what the best part of eternity will be. What is it? Do you believe that is true?
- What does the return of Jesus show us about the nature and character of God?
- How does the first coming of Jesus give us confidence in His second coming?
Close your time by praying as a family. Parents, ask your kids how you can be praying for them. Kids, ask your parents the same thing. Think about people in your life who might be facing great hardship or suffering. Pray for them as a family.
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