Turning Information into Adoration
Romans – A Gospel Shaped Life Turning Information into Adoration Romans 11:33-36 Pastor Pat Damiani January 27, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. Last weekend, Mary and I went hiking in Oracle State Park and we hiked the Granite Overlook trail which took us from the parking lot up nearly 300 feet to the highest point in the park. That trail was rather steep and rugged in places, but it afforded us this view when we got to the top. [Photo of view from Granite Overlook] After all the effort it took to get to the summit, we didn’t want to immediately head back for the parking lot, but instead we wanted to linger there for a while and enjoy those magnificent views. I get the feeling that is essentially what the apostle Paul did as he came to the end of chapter 11 of his letter to the churches in Rome. For eleven chapters he had been doing the “heavy lifting” of explaining the gospel. He has written about the pervasiveness of man’s sin and his inability to do anything about it. He has explained how the death and resurrection of Jesus makes it possible to be righteous before a holy God through faith in Jesus. He has taught about how we are to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. And he has revealed how God plans to incorporate both the Jews and the Gentiles into His kingdom. And now that he has completed all of that, he just wants to pause to contemplate the greatness of God who could accomplish all that for a few moments before he moves on to the last part of his letter where he will explain how the gospel ought to impact the way we live our day to day lives. And I believe that Paul invites us to join him in and to take some time to just sit back and marvel at the magnificence that same God. I think that is rapidly becoming a lost art in the church. Sometimes in an effort to be relevant and to attract others to Jesus, we have been guilty of making Christianity just another form of self-help that will result in happy marriages, obedient children, contentment in our jobs, and a healthy bank account. No doubt, living out our faith in Jesus can help accomplish all those things. But, as we’ll see this morning, that is not its primary purpose. And fortunately for us, Paul’s words at the end of chapter 11 are an important reminder that the gospel is not primarily about us at all. It is about giving glory to the amazing, incomprehensible God who created us and who loves us. So we’re going to take a radically different approach to the message this morning. Although I will take a little time to explain some important aspects of this morning’s passage, I think what this passage requires most is just some time to read it and meditate on it. So let’s begin by reading it out loud together. And as we do that, let’s do it slowly, taking some time to really listen as we read. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36 ESV) I am going to borrow from theologian William Barclay in developing our main idea this morning. Much of Barclay’s theology is quite suspect so his writings must always be evaluated carefully in light of Scripture. But he also provides us with invaluable information about the culture of Bible times and occasionally, he comes up with some nuggets like this one regarding this last section of Romans 11: Paul never wrote a more characteristic passage than this. Here, theology turns to poetry. Here, the searching of the mind turns to the adoration of the heart. That quote was my inspiration in developing today’s main idea: We first began our journey through the book of Romans back in September of 2014 and have been working our way through the book intermittently since then. And we have certainly learned a lot of information during that time. But my prayer is that, like Paul, we would allow God to transform all that information into adoration this morning. Paul begins this last section of the chapter with the little two letter word “oh”. The underlying Greek word there is a note of exclamation that is almost untranslatable into English. It is Paul’s way that he is awestruck with God. And then he proceeds with what is essentially a nine-line hymn that is constructed as a series of threes, with one of those lines further broken down into another set of three. With that in mind, let me take you through the passage one more time: 1 Oh, the depth of the 1) riches and 2) wisdom and 3) knowledge of God! 2 How unsearchable are his judgments and 3 how inscrutable his ways! Paul begins his hymn by focusing on three attributes of God – He is deep and unsearchable and inscrutable. And he further breaks down the idea of God’s depth and reveals that God is deep when it comes to his riches, his wisdom and his knowledge. Let me make just a few explanatory comments here: • While we can know God to the extent that He has revealed himself to us, the idea of His depth means that He is far greater than we can comprehend. His riches and wisdom and knowledge are so deep that we can never get to the bottom of them. • God’s judgments refer to the decisions that He makes, including the decision to make salvation available to mankind. Those decisions that God makes are unsearchable in the sense that they are impossible for us to understand with our finite human minds. Perhaps Paul had this Scripture in mind as he wrote those words: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28 ESV) • God’s ways refer to the actions that He takes as a result of His judgments. Those actions are inscrutable. The word that Paul uses there means that it is unable to be tracked like a hunter who is unable to follow the tracks of an animal he is pursuing. Next Paul poses three rhetorical questions that reinforce the idea of our inability to fully understand God. 1 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or 2 who has been his counselor? Or 3 who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Like many of the questions we have seen in Romans, these questions are worded in way that expects a negative answer. The first two questions draw from Isaiah 40:13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? (Isaiah 40:13 ESV) Isaiah wrote those word during a time when Israel’s rescue seemed impossible, but God was reminding His people to trust Him and not to question His actions. Paul seems to be drawing a parallel to his day in which salvation also seemed impossible and is reminding his readers that God knows what He is doing, even if they can’t understand it all. The third question comes from Job: Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:11 ESV) The idea here is that there is nothing that anyone could give to God that would indebt Him to us in any way. God owes us nothing! Finally, Paul ends with a three-line doxology that points to God as the source, the sustainer and the significance of all things: For 1 from him and 2 through him and 3 to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Here, Paul once again reaffirms the sovereignty of God by reminding us that: • God is the source of all things – they are from Him. • God is the sustainer of all things – they are through Him. • God is the significance of all things – they are to Him. This doxology certainly rebukes us for thinking that our faith is all about us. Far too often, the most important question about our faith is “Does it work?”. But Paul doesn’t even address that question until he first spends 11 chapters telling us about God’s magnificent work that is rooted and maintained in God Himself and which is primarily for the purpose of bringing glory to God. That is why… When I was working on this message earlier this week, I came up with a number of applications that we could draw from this passage. But the more I thought about that, the more I felt like that focusing on application would actually hinder us from experiencing the essence of Paul’s words here. What is really needed here is not more information or even more application, but rather just some time for adoration. So here is what we are going to do. I’ve printed out the entire passage in your bulletin inserts today so that we all have the passage in front of us. So what I am going to ask all of us to do is to just take 5-10 minutes to read through the passage several times and meditate on it. I know that sometimes the word “meditation” carries kind of a negative connotation among Christians, and when it’s used in the way we traditionally think of it in this culture, we should be wary. But the Bible does command us to meditate on the Word of God in several different places. So since you may not really know how to do that, I’ve provided you with several ways to do that. Let me just explain each of them briefly and then we’ll let you have some time to actually do it. WAYS TO MEDITATE ON GOD’S WORD 1. Read the passage through several times, emphasizing a different word or phrase each time. Let’s work through the first sentence together: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! 2. Pray God’s Word back to Him. In this passage, this is a great opportunity to thank God for each of His attributes that are described in this passage. 3. Make some notes. As you read, jot down any thoughts that God brings to mind. 4. Personalize it This is a difficult passage to do this with, but it is sometimes helpful to replace names or pronouns with I, me, or your name. You could do that here with the three rhetorical questions that Paul asks. 5. Draw a picture I’m going to ask all the kids to do that and to draw a picture that will help remind them of this passage, but the adults can feel free to do that as well. [Mediation time – slide with Psalm 1:2] Sing the Doxology J.B. Philipps is best known for his translation of the Bible, but I think he really summed up this passage when he wrote these words: If God was small enough to figure out, He wouldn't be big enough to worship. Is your God big enough to worship? Discussion questions for Bible Roundtable 1. Why do you think we have a tendency to focus on the “practical” aspects of the gospel and sometimes lose our awe of God? How do we guard against that? 2. What are the “riches” of God that Paul is writing about in verse 33? 3. What are some attitudes or thoughts that might indicate I’ve gone too far in questioning the ways of God? 4. How should this passage impact how I think about my circumstances? how I pray? 5. Share some of the things God impressed on you as you meditated on this passage.