Pastor Gary Wong August 23, 2020
32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" 35 "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Who is the smartest man who ever lived? Some say it was the great astronomer, Galileo, whose discoveries expanded our knowledge of the universe; others favor the great physicist, Albert Einstein, who mined the mysteries of the atom. Others, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton, are also worthy candidates. There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer, or is there? For you and me, the Bible ends the debate. God’s Word says that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. The writer of the Book of Kings says that “God gave Solomon wisdom and insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kgs. 4:29). Yet, as wise and knowledgeable as Solomon was, did he know it all? What if we could put the intellect of the greatest minds in history into one brain; would that person know it all? Today’s lesson answers the question of who is smartest and wisest. The only one who knows all is our all-knowing God. In his wisdom that surpasses all human understanding, God devised the plan to rescue mankind from the consequences of sin; and he carried out that plan through his Son, Jesus Christ, who is wisdom personified.
Our text is a portion of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Any time that we study Scripture, it is helpful to look at the context. When we take the time to learn about the author, his audience, and the situation that the writer is addressing, we gain a better understanding of those particular verses and can then apply that truth to our lives. Today’s text is an excellent example of how context is important. As we read these verses, it’s pretty clear that Paul is praising God’s wisdom and knowledge. But what prompted Paul to break out in this doxology of praise? The words of the doxology itself don’t readily reveal the reason; context gives us the answer.
Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome. That assembly of believers, like many other congregations, was experiencing growing pains. Even though the congregation had probably been established by Jewish converts, the majority of the members were now Gentiles. Frankly, these two groups were not getting along. They were like sibling rivals, arguing over which parent liked them better. The Jewish Christians thought that they had the inside track with our heavenly Father because God had chosen them, above all other nations, to be his people. God promised that the Messiah would be one of their own, a descendant of Abraham and David. The Bible says, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jhn. 4:22). On the other hand, the Gentile Christians claimed that while God had favored the Jews in the past, he was no longer so favorably inclined toward them. As proof of how God was turning away from the Jews, the Gentiles pointed to the growth of the church among non-Jews.
So, who was right? Was God smiling more on the Jews or on the Gentiles? Paul’s surprising answer was yes! God loved the Jews and Gentiles equally. In the previous chapter of this letter, Paul proclaimed, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord over all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Rom. 10:12). God was graciously welcoming both Jewish converts and unbelieving Gentiles into his church. At the same time, Paul pointed out that neither the Jews nor the Gentiles were deserving of God’s favor. To the contrary, they both deserved God’s wrath and punishment. In this same letter, Paul took both the Jewish and Gentile Christians to task, telling them, “there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22, 23).
Because they had sinned against our holy God, both Jews and Gentiles deserved to die and suffer in hell for all eternity, forever separated from God’s love. Paul devoted three chapters of this letter correcting both the Jews’ and Gentiles’ misguided notions that they deserved to be members of God’s kingdom and heirs of eternal life. Addressing his fellow Jews, Paul basically said, “God had given you countless blessings such as the law, the patriarchs and the prophets; but you threw all of those blessings away by rejecting Jesus as the promised Savior. You are not righteous because you are descendants of Abraham. Righteousness does not come from observing the law, as many of you arrogantly claim you are doing. Being right with God comes by faith in Jesus. Since you have rejected the gospel, God has turned to the Gentiles.” Paul then turned to the Gentile Christians and said, in effect, “You Gentiles don’t have anything to brag about, either. Before God came to you with the gospel, you had been completely disobedient, earning God’s wrath with your every sinful thought, word, and action. There was nothing in you or about you that would prompt God to save you from the consequences of your sin. You weren’t looking for God; God sought you out, found you, and saved you simply because he loves you.”
Concluding his line of thought, Paul pointed out that both the Jewish and Gentile Christians had been disobedient and were deserving of God’s wrath. That was the bad news. The good news is that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Moved by his love for sinners, God turned mankind’s disobedience into an opportunity for our gracious God to show mercy on all people. God’s mercy to Jew and Gentile alike—in other words, to all people—is the reason Paul breaks out in this doxology.
God’s amazing love prompts Paul to praise God for his wisdom and knowledge: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!” (11:35). Context tells us that Paul was specifically praising God for his plan of salvation. Let me ask you a question. Could human beings have come up with that plan? If we could, it stands to reason that we would have to be at least as smart as God. So, how wise are we compared to God? In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares, “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25). In other words, there is no way that we could have devised this plan. First, in our ignorance, many don’t think they even need a plan because they don’t think that God is going to punish them for their sins. In our arrogance, we mistakenly think that we can make up for our sins by doing good works.
It is clear that only God could have come up with the plan to send his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from the consequences of sin. Only a wise and loving Savior would willingly carry out that plan. Jesus knew that only he could live the perfect life that God demands. He also knew that only his death would be an acceptable payment for the sins of the world. So, Jesus became one of us, lived a perfect life, and then gave up his life on the cross to reconcile us to God. God’s plan was a wise plan; it was a perfect plan. If our salvation depended on us, all would be lost. Thank God that he devised and carried out his plan! Not only did our wise God devise and carry out his plan of salvation, he revealed it in his gospel. The Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word, created faith in our hearts so that we would believe that Jesus is our Savior. Through faith in Christ, we know that God forgives us. Because of Jesus, we are members of God’s family and heirs of eternal life. Truly, our all-knowing God and his love are far beyond what our puny human intellects can even begin to understand. The Lord himself declares, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).
Paul makes it clear that God alone is wise. Yet, if anyone might still be holding on to the notion that we might have a part in God’s plan of salvation, Paul asks three rhetorical questions that make it clear that we owe our salvation to God and only God. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” The answer, of course, is no one. Our knowledge is finite; God’s knowledge is infinite. While we can’t get into God’s mind, God knows our innermost thoughts. He knows our doubts and fears. He knows our every sin. Yet, for Jesus’ sake, he forgives our sins and remembers them no more.
Paul then asks, “Who has been God’s counselor?” and “who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” The answers to these questions are the same as the first: no one. These questions bring to mind the beautiful discourse between the Lord and Job. Throughout much of this prophetic book, Job persistently pleaded for a face to face meeting with the Lord so that God could show him his fault. God finally answers Job, but not in the way Job expected. God said to Job, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me” (Job 40:7). In effect, God was saying,”Who are you to question me? I am God, the maker of heaven and earth. Where were you when I created the world out of nothing? I am the potter and you are the clay. Just as the clay can’t tell the potter what to do, mere human beings cannot give advice to God.” As far as Paul’s third question, it is obvious that God doesn’t owe us anything; rather, we owe him everything. He’s given us physical life and our daily bread that richly supplies our needs; most importantly, God has given us forgiveness, life, and a home in heaven. We owe God a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.
As we consider God’s wisdom and love in devising and carrying out his plan to save us, our grateful response is to praise him. Not only is God infinitely wise, he reveals his wisdom in his Word. The Scriptures testify that Jesus is our Savior, and they are able to make us wise for salvation. God’s Word is an infallible guide for us in this life and it lights the path that leads to eternal life. Read, study, and meditate on God’s Word. Apply it to your life. Along with St. Paul, let’s praise God for his wisdom and knowledge, “for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”
Text: Edward Hopper, 1818-1888, abr.
Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal.
Chart and compass come from thee:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild.
Boist’rous waves obey thy will
When thou say’st to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sov’reign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
When at last I near the shore
And the fearful breakers roar
‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on thy breast,
May I hear thee say to me, “Fear not! I will pilot thee.”