Hope In What We Do Not See
Topic: Hope Passage: Romans 8:18–25
The point of this text is hope. It is all driving at hope. I think we all understand that the word hope is often misused in our culture in a whole host of ways that don’t really get at the reality of biblical, Christian hope. We say things like, “I hope it cools down this week, I hope I get that promotion, I hope my favorite team has a good season” and so forth. That’s not Christian hope. Christian hope is much more certain and durable than that. Hebrews 6 speaks of hope being “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”.
Not only that, but Christian hope is life-giving. Peter says we have been born again to a “living hope”. In other words, hope is not just something we are glad to have when we die; it is for our life. And so hope is something that can carry us through our entire lives, even though we don’t see or fully possess the thing we ultimately hope for (read Hebrews 11). There is one mor thing about hope that I think gets to the point of our passage today. Hope goes against all human, natural odds. We see things with our eyes, feel things with our bodies, and hope pushes back against those things. It was said of Abraham,
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” (Romans 4:18)
That’s a strange phrase. In hope he believed against hope. But when we are reminded of the context, it makes sense. This is referring to Genesis 15:5 when God told Abraham to look to heaven and count the stars if he even could (of course he couldn’t!). Then God said, “So shall your offspring be”. There was a problem though. Abraham and Sarah were childless and very old, far past the time that they could produce children together. So in the natural course of events, Sarah could never give birth to a child - she was barren, and his body was as good as dead - being 100 years old. But Abraham had a promise from God and so he believed. That’s why it says, “In hope he believed against hope.” Everything in the natural screamed “You will be childless!” But God said, “You will be the father of many nations!” Christian hope shines “against hope”. Charles Spurgeon the following about hope:
Hope itself is like a star - not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.
I think that is what Paul is saying here. In present suffering, we have the hope of future glory. This takes us back to two weeks ago. We live in the present time which is a time in which we suffer trials, adversity, natural disasters, sickness, disease, pain, loss, and death. And this is because God has subjected creation (of which we are a part) to futility - corruption and decay. But he did this in hope. And his hope is our hope. We need this hope.
BIG IDEA: In this present time of suffering, the dominant Christian attitude is to be one of hope.
There are three things I want you to see from this text that will help give shape and contours to our hope. Hope is more than a slogan - like hope and change or something like that. Verses 24-25 give shape to Christian hope. Notice three things:
- The Object of Our Hope: Resurrection
- The Substance of our Hope: Things not seen
- The Manner In Which We Hope: With eagerness and fortitude
The Object of Our Hope: Resurrection (v. 24)
For in this hope we were saved…
It begs the question, “In what hope?” Well it takes us back to verse 23 where Paul says that not only does the created order groan, but we ourselves groan. We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit… we groan as we eagerly wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Now this is really interesting. We have been adopted. Paul said we have received the Spirit of adoption. It is by the Spirit that we cry out “Abba! Father!” But here he says that we are waiting for something related to our adoption that hasn’t happened yet.
Our adoption, our salvation is completed when our bodies are redeemed. It is while we live in these bodies, currently unredeemed, that we are in the “present time” - a time of suffering and futility and corruption. This is so important to remember. It is not when our bodies go into the ground that our salvation is complete, but when they are raised up again in resurrection. Sometimes I think Christians romanticize death. As though that is the goal. I understand that for the Christian death is the gateway into the presence of God. I understand that God has defanged this enemy for the Christian and so we can breathe our last breath in peace that we will be ushered into the presence of God. But as long as death is in the world, our adoption is incomplete. God’s final purposes remain undone.
In John 11, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, twice it says Jesus was deeply moved. Once when he saw Mary and Jews weeping and once when he came to the tomb. The word translated “deeply moved” means indignant. Jesus was angry. What was he angry about? Death. Death is the great enemy. But it will be the final, defeated enemy which will be put under the feet of Jesus Christ as his footstool. And so what is the object of our hope?
Resurrection at the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). The redemption of our bodies, when we receive bodies that will not be subject to futility, decay, corruption, sickness, disease, and death and experience the fullness of our adoption as sons. And there is one more thing. All of the created order will also be resurrected. It will be renewed, restored, renovated. This is the glory that is to be revealed to us that far surpasses present suffering (v. 18).
The Substance of Our Hope: Things Not Seen (v. 24-25)
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.
I would like to set the record straight up front here. We hope for things we cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they are unreal or immaterial. If our bodies are going to be redeemed, that is very much material, real, and physical. If this happens at the return of Christ, that will very much be real. He will return bodily, just as he ascended. The point is that we are hoping for what is out in the future. Every generation of Christians from when Paul wrote this down to our present day, who died with this hope, died hoping in things that they did not see. And we will too, unless the Lord returns in our lifetime.
So we hope not in what we see, but in what we do not see. Even though we may all say amen to this, I think we are affected by what we see and hear and feel in this present time more than we might realize. We all suffer disappointments and hardships and suffering. But remember our hope is durable and certain and life giving and therefore can never be completely eclipsed by present suffering. By saying we hope in things that are not seen, Paul is not merely describing the nature of hope. He is describing how focusing on what is unseen actually strengthens our endurance to wait with fortitude. Which means that our hope can actually outweigh present suffering. I think that is the point of our text. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 is a really helpful parallel passage to our text, and perhaps helps us to see how this works.
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18 uses the word “look”. We look “to the” things that are unseen. But if they are unseen, there must be another way to see than with our physical eyes. And I think what Paul is saying is that we set our minds and hearts on things that are unseen. So our hope is not a leap in the dark. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a kind of visualizing and actualizing sort of thing. Ours is an informed hope. And so our hope, even though it cannot be seen now, has substance. It is rooted and grounded on some important things. It’s informed by history, the bible, and even experience.
Christian hope is historical. What I mean is that our hope in what we believe God will do in the future, but don’t currently see, is based on what God has done in history. We believe that on the third day, the stone was rolled away and Christ walked out of the tomb. It happened. Of course, we believe it primarily through the biblical account. But the point I want to make is that it happened. And this is to inform our hope for resurrection. Because Jesus was raised, we too will be raised. Not just spiritually. That happens when we are born again. We will be raised bodily.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
The word firstfruits is an agricultural term. The firstfruits of a harvest was the first portion which then anticipated the fullness of the harvest to come in. In the language of our salvation. Christ’s bodily resurrection was the firstfruits, which anticipates and guarantees our bodily resurrection. Christian hope is historical. On the first day of the week about 1990 years ago, Jesus walked out of the tomb with a glorified body. We will receive a body like his at his coming. Christian hope is historical.
Christian hope is biblical. Our hope in what we do not see is based on what God has said. Remember in hope against hope Abraham believed. What did he have to go on? What God said. We have so much more to go on than Abraham. But how often do we question whether or not God can or will keep his word. God is not like a father who makes idle promises. We understand that there are times we say we will do things which later we are unable to do or choose to not do. Not so with God.
He has the ability to do what he says and would never go back on a promise. He is the ultimate Father. The father all of us fathers should aspire to be like. Has God spoken about our resurrection? Of course! Can he lie? No! Is he able to keep his word? Yes, a million times yes!
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
Christian hope is historical. It is biblical. But Christian hope is experiential. Our hope in our final adoption when our bodies are redeemed is strengthened by a present experience of it. This is ground on which good bible people want to tread carefully. And I agree. But we do want to tread there because the context takes us there. And I think it may be the missing link for many which keeps Chrstian hope far less potent than it can and ought to be. Our hope is in the redemption of our bodies, which Paul connects with our final adoption as sons. But we not only wait for that but have a present taste or experience of adoption don’t we? Look back to 8:15-16:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by Whom we cry “Abba! Father!” The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
And then Paul also refers Christians as those who have “received the firstfruits of the Spirit”. We talked about firstfruits as a kind of initial crop in lieu of the full harvest. Here it is referring to the Spirit as an initial installment in anticipation of full adoption. If God had simply given us his word of promise and a reminder of what he has done in history to inform our hope, I think there would be a key element missing. But God has also given us Himself - though the Spirit of adoption - to dwell in our hearts. And we ignore Him to our own harm… and the weakening of our hope.
The manner in which we hope: With eagerness and fortitude
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (v. 25)
There are two words we need to look at. The words “wait” and patience. We wait for resurrection with patience. A few translations (NKJ, NASB, LSB) add a word to wait (eagerly). If we hope for what we do not see, we wait eagerly for it. The second word is patience. We wait eagerly with patience or fortitude. What I find so interesting is that we are not being exhorted to wait for this hope with patience. It is not a command. This is a statement of fact. Charles Spurgeon said, “Those who do not hope cannot wait.”
This is why it is so key to hope in what we do not see. When we hope for something to happen tomorrow and we expect to see it tomorrow, and three days later it still hasn’t happened, how do we respond? Discouragement! Hope deferred makes the heart sick. We’ve all experienced that. “I was so hopeful that would happen!”
But if the big hope that overshadows or engulfs our life is the resurrection which we do not see - but is rooted in history, biblical, and we even have a present, partial experience of it, then it gives us the ability to wait eagerly with patience. And so, in this present time, which is a time of suffering and futility, we keep plodding forward, longing, eagerly waiting, with patience, endurance. And we do this “in hope” of our full adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. This is how verse 18 works. “For I consider the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Samuel Rutherford said, “Our little inch of time-suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.”
Story of Blandina.
There is a prayer that I think is worth our remembrance and prayer in connection with this.
remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
Let’s pray this… right now.