170917 Romans 11:33-36

Last Updated on Monday, 18 September 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 11:33-36
Theme: A Doxology Rooted In Theology

Since you are worshipping in a Lutheran church today, I am guessing that most of you know who Martin Luther is. Most famously, Luther was the monk who posted ninety-five theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. But unless you are a church history buff, you probably don't know a whole lot about the history of the Lutheran Church beyond Martin Luther.

After Luther's death a number of his followers championed his cause. They clarified and codified Lutheran biblical teaching. They wrote hymns that allowed the people to praise God in their own language. They preached sermons that pointed out error and proclaimed the truth.

Sometimes called the Age of Orthodoxy, the century after Luther's death in 1546 was critical for the survival and spread of the truth Luther had rediscovered. But there was a downside. Over time this quest for the truth became (at least for some) an obsession with "being right." Sermons were aimed at the head, not the heart. Faith was reduced to a system of proof passages and dogmatic formulas.

Pietism was a religious movement that sprang up in the 1700s as a reaction to this heavy emphasis on doctrine. Pietism elevated subjective feelings over objective truth. Pietism can be summarized by the simple phrase: "Deeds, not creeds." In other words, how you live is just as important as (and maybe even more important than) what you believe.

So who was right, the people who stressed the importance of believing the right things or the people who stressed the importance of doing the right things? The correct answer, and Paul's answer, is both.

The first eleven chapters of Romans read more like a dogmatics text book than a personal letter. Paul tackles heavy subjects like justification and sanctification and election. And so it might come as a surprise that this part of the book ends the way it does. Instead of summarizing his argument, instead of drawing a logical conclusion, Paul bursts into a song of praise.

This doxology teaches us a valuable lesson, and the lesson is this. Christian teaching and Christian living are not incompatible. They are inseparable. Paul's words demonstrate that the Word of God naturally leads the people of God to respond. Simply put, Paul's song of praise is...

A DOXOLOGY ROOTED IN THEOLOGY

Theology is the study of God, and today we will focus our attention on three of his attributes...

I. God's wisdom
II. God's justice
III. God's mercy

Omniscience is the theological term that is often used to describe God's wisdom. The fact that God is omniscient means that he knows everything. And it wouldn't be too difficult to come up with a number of Bible passages that prove it. We could refer to David's words in Psalm 139: "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD" (4). We could point to Jesus' assurance that even the hairs on our heads are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). Or we could quote Peter's beautiful confession of Christ: "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you" (John 21:17).

Paul was a Bible scholar. Paul knew all the proof passages, but his understanding of God's omniscience went beyond that. The man who declared, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (33)" saw the wisdom of God at work in his own life. Who but God could have chosen Paul, a sworn enemy of Jesus and his followers, to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles? "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor" (34)? Paul didn't answer his own questions, but you can almost hear him saying: "Certainly not me."

Paul knew God's wisdom. Paul experienced God's wisdom. Paul praised God for his wisdom. The question is: Do we? Is God's omniscience a source of personal comfort for us, or is it just some dry and dusty doctrine? Do we always trust that God knows what he is doing? Or are there times when we question God's wisdom? Have we ever thought that no matter how much God knows we know better?

This is where God's omniscience can be a scary thing. Since God knows everything, that means God knows everything about you. He knows every secret thought, every forbidden desire, every sin you have ever committed in your entire life. And he knows that you deserve to be punished for your disobedience.

So what is the solution? What is the all-knowing God's remedy for the problem of sin? Would you believe "foolishness?" Paul says in 1 Corinthians: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1:18).

In his infinite wisdom God sent his Son to die to take away the sins of the world. If we look at it logically, it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense that God paid the ultimate price to save sinners like us, but he did. It doesn't make sense that Jesus willingly gave up his life for us, but he did. It doesn't make sense that Jesus rose from the dead, but he did.

Isaiah was right. God's ways are higher than our ways. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts (55:9). And Paul praised him because of it. Paul praised God for his divine wisdom, but he also recognized that God's omniscience doesn't stand by itself. The Lord uses his knowledge to dispense divine justice.

Paul stood in awe of God and said: "How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out" (33b). God's "judgments" are more than verdicts handed down by a stern judge. God's "judgments" include all of his decrees and decisions as the Master of the universe.

God's justice goes beyond human reason. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are. It doesn't matter how many diplomas are hanging on your wall. The human mind will never be able to understand the ways of God. If you want an example, how about the plan God devised to save the world? In the verse that comes right before our text, Paul wrote: "God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (32).

God gave the law to show people their sin so that they might see their need for a Savior and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. This is the message of the Bible: If you want to get to heaven, Jesus is the way. Jesus is the only way.

One possible way to react is to say: "That's not fair. If God knew that people would sin, why did he create the world in the first place? Why did God make it possible for people to sin? And how can a God who claims to be just hold people accountable for sin if they are born that way?"

Paul didn't call God's fairness into question. He didn't make any excuses. He didn't curse God for making him a sinner. Instead, he praised God. He praised God for rescuing him from the punishment his conscience told him he deserved.

What can we learn from Paul's example? We don't understand why everything happens, but we have to remember that we can only see a few pixels of the entire picture. God sees everything. His judgments are unsearchable. His paths are untraceable. And he is always just.

Wisdom and justice are important attributes of God, but they don't tell us everything we need to know about him. A person can recognize that God is wise and powerful, but that knowledge will not bring him any closer to God. You don't have to be a Christian to believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, but that belief will not take away a single sin. Only the gospel reveals that our God is a God of mercy.

Paul already asked two rhetorical questions in this text. He borrowed from the Old Testament book of Job to ask one more: "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him" (35)? Originally this was a question that God himself asked Job (41:11). Job was a believer who had fallen on hard times. In fact, he had lost everything. His family had been killed. His wealth had been destroyed. Even his health was gone. All Job had left was this question: Why?

God didn't give him an answer, at least not the answer Job was looking for. Instead he answered Job's question with some questions of his own: "Job, what gives you the right to question me? What have you ever done for me? What do I owe you? Job, the question you should be asking isn't: What have you done to deserve this? The real question is: What have you done to NOT deserve this?"

Paul uses the same question to give us the same reminder. We have done nothing for God. We can do nothing for God. Therefore, God owes us nothing. In fact, we owe God everything because..."from him and through him and to him are all things" (36).

When you read this verse, God's mercy doesn't exactly jump off the page. There is no specific mention of God's mercy or grace or love. But it's there. And if you look carefully, a merciful God comes into clear focus.

God knows people. God knows that people have a long history of screwing up everything they get their hands on. And so in his mercy God took matters into his own hands. In his mercy God carried out a fool proof salvation plan that was 100% his doing. He is the author of our faith. He is the protector of our faith. He is the Alpha and the Omega and every Greek letter in between. From him and through him and to him are all things, including our salvation.

From creation to conception to crucifixion to resurrection, God has done absolutely everything for us. He even gives us the faith to believe. With a Savior like that on his side, can you blame Paul for bursting into a song of praise? Can you think of any reasons to join him?

There are so many reasons for us to praise God, but perhaps there is one that rises to the top today. The members of St. Matthew's have been on a long journey, and there is still much work to be done. But today we pause to praise God...not just for allowing us to break ground on a new building...not just for opening the hearts of his people to support this effort with their prayers and offerings. First and foremost, we thank and praise God for this undeserved privilege, for this unique opportunity to lift high the cross of Christ, to share the love of Jesus, to let our lights shine.

A wise man once said that when it comes to matters of faith Christians must "beware of an undevotional theology and an untheological devotion." As we struggle to avoid these extremes, Paul's song of praise can be very helpful because it is a doxology rooted in theology.

Paul didn't avoid doctrine. He embraced it. His letter to the Romans is filled with it. But immersing himself in the deep things of God didn't turn Paul's faith into a purely intellectual exercise. As his knowledge of God increased, his love for God also grew.

God's Word has the same effect on us. It penetrates our heads. It softens our hearts. And the more we know about our Savior God, the more we will want to praise him. We praise him for his wisdom. We praise him for his justice. We praise him for his mercy. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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