In this sermon, Greg paints a picture of what God is doing now and what God will do at the end of history. He does this by providing three snapshots found in three passages that describe what the end will look like and how God will redeem all things by the power of his love. This gives us a reason for hope in the midst of any current suffering and pain.
How does the story of God’s work in the world end and how does the way the story ends impact the way we understand suffering? To answer these two questions, Greg addresses three passages that act like postcards from the end of time to show us what the future holds. These verses show us what God’s end will look like and give us hope in the midst of what we face on a day-to-day basis.
Postcard #1: Colossians 1:19-20
“For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
The blood of his cross is a reference to Christ’s self-sacrificial love. Through this love, Paul speaks proleptically of things that are in process as though they are already a completed, accomplished fact. Through the cross, he brings “peace,” God’s perfect shalom, harmony and unity. This is what God is doing in the present, and what he has always been doing. God does this because this is who God is. God is cross-like love and therefore this is the way that God works.
As illustrated in Acts 17:26-28, from the beginning God has been working with the rise and fall of nations to get people to search for him and possibly find him, though he is not far from any of us. Whenever humans adopt in any way an other-oriented loving mindset to others, this is evidence of the Holy Spirit succeeding in getting people to search for God.
Our job is to partner with God’s work of self-sacrificial love by working to reconcile all things to God and to one another and to thereby spread God’s shalom in the world. The only thing that sets followers of Jesus apart from others is that we happen to know that this is what is going on in creation.
Postcard #1 teaches us that, when offered up to God, our worst pains become expressions of worship that take on an eternal meaning as God in his perfect love uses them and everything else to bring his shalom to the whole creation. God is in the pain surrendered over to him.
Postcard# 2: Ephesians 1:8b-10
“With all wisdom and insight [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up (anakephalaioõ) all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
The words “to gather up” are a translation of the Greek word anakephalaioõ, which means everything is brought together in harmony and summed up under one head, Jesus Christ. The Message version reads: “He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.” Somehow, the love of God revealed on Calvary is going to bring redemptive value out of everything throughout all of history. The promise of God is that everything—every single thing—will in the end be integrated into a harmonious whole in Christ.
This means that even evil will be turned in such a way to be used for good. God is a genius at this. What others meant for harm or even things that we have chosen to do that were harmful, God will turn it in some way to use for good. This postcard means that we can surrender all to him because he is going to gather all into his redemptive whole.
Postcard #3: Romans 8:18-23
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its enslavement to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
The sufferings that we face now cannot be compared to the radiance of God’s love that we will experience at the end of all things. The degree of awful darkness that we face now cannot measure up to the infinite glory of what we will see in God. The whole earth longs for this because this was the original plan for creation. It’s what we and the earth were made to experience.
God set up creation such that rebellion against him results in enslavement to futility and decay. If humans had walked with God, it would have kept corruption at bay. If humans reject God, it now opens floodgates to corruption of the evil powers. God subjected the creation to futility in hope that creation would eventually get free from bondage to decay. Through the process of experiencing the pain of futility and decay, we can finally be set free from our enslavement to decay and “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
The Message paraphrases this passage like this: “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.”
God promises that the end glory will be incomparably more than worth all of life’s present suffering. All will be reconciled and made to share in the shalom of God by means of the blood of the cross. All will be harmonized into a beautiful tapestry and summed up into one head, the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s love will finally free us from all deception. God will heal all wounds, forgive all wrongs, and serve all justice. It’s unimaginable, but this is our hope.
These are postcards from the end, encouraging us to surrender all of our pain, and everything else, over to God to trust that God will use this pain for our good and the good of others.
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