Futility & Hope – Romans 8

Good morning! It’s so good to see each of you and it’s such a privilege to celebrate the gospel this morning with the family of The Gathering. If you have a Bible with you this morning, I’d invite you to turn to Romans chapter 8 (Read).

You are probably thinking, “Romans is not The Gospel of Mark.” And that’s true, Romans is not The Gospel of Mark. We are actually taking a one week break from our study of Mark so that we can stay on pace with our churches in St. Louis (Red Tree & Mid-cities).

They are breaking this weekend to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Red Tree. Which is great because it gives us the opportunity to talk about something that I believe sets us up well as we move into a season of re-launching the church.

We will end that discussion in Romans chapter 8, but we’ll get started in Zechariah chapter 9. So, go ahead and mark your place in Romans 8, and turn to Zechariah 9.

As you’re turning there, let me tell you what I’d like to do this morning. I want to highlight two words that I think will help us understand the story of God’s redemption, not just in an overall sense, but how it plays out in our individual lives. Those two words are: FUTILITY & HOPE.

I’m going to suggest that every one of our stories has those two themes in them. That God has used both of those things in our lives to awaken us to the truth of Who He Is & to show us how desperately we need Him.

That, no matter your story, there has been futility, and tension, and frustration caused by the problem of sin. That every one of us, no matter where we are spiritually right now, knows what it feels like to long for something greater. We all know what it feels like to be in bondage, to be prisoners, and to long for freedom.

And when we come to know Christ — where He’s revealed Himself to us, and He’s breathed life back into our souls, and He’s captured our worship & affections — that’s where we find freedom because it only comes from Him!

We see this dynamic play out in our individual lives, but there’s also a global outworking of this in the world, isn’t there? Yeah, because all of creation has been subjected to this curse, this death, this prison. The whole of creation (as we’ll see in just a moment) is longing to be set free.

I think it’s really easy to just look at our story (of how God is working in our lives to redeem and restore) and, as beautiful as our stories are, it’s easy to forget that we’re part of the larger story that God is playing out on a global stage. The same narrative (creation, fall, redemption and new creation) is being played out, not just in our lives, but in the entire world.

When we remember that, it causes us to come alive (even more) to the the mission of God. It helps us lay down our lives and live fully surrendered to Him because we realize that we’re a part of something infinitely greater than ourselves. We realize that futility and pain isn’t unique to us. We realize that everyone, throughout the world & throughout history, has experienced those same feelings.

We realize that God is working all these things together, for His glory and for the good of those who love Him. Those reminders do something to the soul. And, my hope this morning is that we would see that, that we would be stirred up by that, and that it would propel us into our relaunch as a church body.

So, let’s look at this short passage in Zechariah chapter 9. These verses are meant to point us to the salvation that would be ushered into the world with the coming of the Messiah — Jesus Christ. As we read these verses, I want you to keep in mind the FUTILITY that the people of God have experienced over the course of centuries. Keep in mind the longing, the frustration, the constant rebellion, the hope for something greater as we read this text.

[9] “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [10] I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. [11] As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. [12] Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” – Zechariah 9:9-12

Did you catch that phrase in in verse 12? I was overwhelmed by how beautiful a phrase it is when I read it — “Return to your stronghold… … O prisoners of hope.” When I read that phrase, “prisoners of hope”, it did something to my soul. It stirred, in a fresh way, the conversation about what Jesus’ coming into the world has done for us. I want us to think about this, first, on the global level and then how this plays out in our individual lives. Because the implications of this speak to both.

When you read the Old Testament, and you start with the account of the fall in the garden (sin entering the picture and separating us from God). And you move through God forming a people through Abraham; through their 400 year captivity in Egypt; through the freedom that God secured for them; through the forty years of wandering in the desert; up until they take possession of the Promised Land.

When you read about the cycle that kept repeating through all of the judges (the pattern of rebellion & return to the Lord); through the kings and all of the prophets; woven throughout the giving of the law and the sacrificial system that God established for His people.

When you look at all of it, t was all intended by God to build anticipation of the coming Christ. It was designed to build anticipation and hope that God would do something that permanently dealt with the problem of sin and separation from Him. It was all intended to create the hope of redemption, to set the stage for permanence through Christ.

Everything that God gave His people in the Old Testament was meant to be temporary: From the judges, to the sacrificial system, to the temple, to kings, to the promised land, it was all just pointing to and preparing God’s people for what He would do, permanently, in Jesus Christ.

We don’t need the type of judges we see in the Old Testament because Christ will judge the living & the dead. There’s no longer a need to offer sacrifices for sin because Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for all sin. We don’t worship in Temples because we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is our prophet, priest & king. And, we certainly aren’t tied to any piece of land because our promised land is in Heaven with Him (that’s where our citizenship lies).

Everything was meant to point to our great need for Jesus. That’s true on the global stage, but it’s also true of our individual lives. Just think about your life. From birth, you are subjected to futility, you are held captive by the corruption of sin. And, as you grow, you feel that tension increase. There’s something in your soul that knows that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. It’s like Ecclesiastes 3:11“God put eternity in the heart of man, but an inability to grasp it.” There’s this tension, this futility, that has been ordained by God to create a longing for something more.

If you’re in Christ, you understand exactly how this works because, at some point, the futility and the pain pushed you to an end of yourself. It pushed you to the point where you were awakened to the truth of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done to rescue us. If you are in Christ that understanding is real to you because you lived in that futility and because God used it to produce something beautiful in you. That’s what God does! He’s in the business of bringing beauty from the ashes.

Church, that’s why it’s so important that we remember the story of how God rescued us. We must remember what life was like when we were separated from Him, because it fuels gratitude and an increasing desire to be used by God in His mission.

That’s all about having the right perspective. Can I just say, as an aside, how amazing it is for us to have the perspective that we do? We are living in the end times (between Christ’s ascension & His 2nd coming), and we get to see a much fuller picture of what God has done in the world than anyone else before.

This is what Peter talks about in chapter 1 of his 1st letter. He writes, [10] “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, [11] inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. [12] It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”1 Peter 1:10-12

That’s incredible when you think about it. It means that we have some pretty significant advantages over the prophets (if you can imagine that). We have all the writings of the prophets so we can actually compare those things. We also have the New Testament use of those prophecies. And, we have 2,700 years of perspective to see what God has done and what has transpired in His church.

We live in amazing times! And, it’s such a beautiful privilege that God has given us to have the perspective on His redemptive work that we have. But, if we’re going to be honest, I think we take that for granted some of the time. We get so caught up in our own comfort, or entertainment, or our own agenda, or any number of other things, that we forget about the fact that we get to be a part of God’s Redemptive Work in history. We get to be a part of that work as recipients of His Grace.

We tend to forget about the fact that the thing into which angels long to look has been bestowed upon us. If you really want to really consider how beautiful the gospel is, consider how the angels react to all of this. Because their knowledge of the gospel isn’t practical, it’s based on observation. They see it happening to us and Peter says that they long to look at it. I believe that’s true because they are astounded by it.

You see — the angels have an accurate picture of the holiness, and the glory, and the majesty, and the goodness, and the wrath, and the justice, and everything else of God. They see it right now. And I think it astounds them that our response to God’s love is to rebel against Him.

Which is exactly what sin is. It says to God, “I don’t trust you, I don’t need you. I don’t love you.” It says, “I don’t want anything to do with you!” I think the angels probably look at God like, You’re going to instantly destroy them, right? Not only does He not instantly destroy us for our rebellion, He has given us His Son to pay the price for that rebellion. And, not only that, but He credited us His righteousness in return. He bought us back from death! That’s the magnitude of the gospel. And, I think that angels just stare at that like, “WOW!!!!!” And yet, as recipients, we tend to be dismissive of the gospel.

We have the gift of perspective living in these times. We don’t sit here and wonder what these things mean, as Zechariah’s audience did. We see the work of Christ and the glory of the gospel!

Now, let’s look at this dynamic from the perspective of the New Testament. Go ahead and jump over to where I had you mark your place in Romans chapter 8.

What I’d like to do is simply read this text and point out a couple of things that we’ve already talked about. But, this will allow us to see it from the perspective of Christ’s finished work. This is what Paul writes in Romans chapter 8:

[18] “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] 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. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] 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. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

[28] “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:18-25; 28

Here’s what I want to do. Keeping this phrase from Zechariah, “Prisoners of Hope”, on the forefront of our hearts & minds, I want to point to 3 truths that Paul points to in this text. These are 3 things that we’ve already touched on and explained, but I want to repeat them in light of the fuller perspective of this text.

  1. Creation has been subjected to futility in hope
  2. The pain that futility brings is like the pains of childbirth
  3. God is in absolute & total Sovereign control over the entire thing.

If you are here and you are not a Christian, here’s my encouragement to you: Understand that the futility, the emptiness, the frustration that you feel in your life is not mean to drive you to try harder to find fulfillment and satisfaction in the things of the world. The futility and pain is meant to bring you to an end of yourself so that you realize that life is only found in Jesus Christ.

If you are here and you are a Christian, here’s my encouragement for you: Live with the story of God’s redemption on the forefront of your heart and realize that God’s desire is to use you to accomplish His mission of restoration in the world.

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