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The Greatness of the Glory of GodFebruary 24, 2013
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Third in Series on Affirmations and Denials
I want you to walk with me this morning toward a certain place and I want you to know that place before we get there. We are moving toward Job 42 and Revelation 4 where together we see a splendid portrait of the greatness of the glory of God. And what I have been praying before today and am praying even now as we move along is that he pixels of this picture will so cohere that we will see the grandeur and greatness of our God in a way today that we have never seen before. I want to begin with where the vast majority of us are by birth, by nature and by cultural context that hinders our seeing the powerful picture of God in the way that is portrayed in the pages of the Bible.
If you are born in America or come here and stay long enough you will soon discover that the belief system upon which our behavior is based has two very clear stack poles around which everything else revolves. The firs stack pole is individualism. We believe in ourselves. We believe in the number one and that we are it. The pursuit of the American dream is done one by one and our favorite testimonies come from individuals who with no help from anybody raised themselves up out of the pain of poverty and the mess of messed up families to make something of themselves in this world, praise God. This way of seeing and shaping life has a huge impact on how we read the Bible and hear anything that comes to us from the Word of God: how does this affect me? What is the meaning of this message for me? How does this help me be a better me? And it leads to a perversion of what is so clearly proclaimed in the Bible at many places not the least of which is that most Americans believe sincerely and sincerely wrongly that our relationship with God is just between me and Him so that we can have a personal relationship with God without any participation at all with other believers in the body of Christ. Alexander de Tocqueville in Democracy in America a book that emerged out of his journeys here to discover the uniqueness of this country would write that what makes America great is our emphasis on the individual and his or her own pursuit of individual dreams and what makes America good is that we never see the individual apart from the larger community so that the pursuit of individual dreams is never done in a way that would bring harm or injury to the community. He would add as you know that we would cease to be great when we ceased to be good which would happen the individual and his desires superseded everything else.
The second stack pole for good American theology is freedom of choice or freedom of the will. I can do whatever I will to do; I can become whatever I will to become. The two together are known in the vocabulary of what defines us as the sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty or rights. I am the main person that matters in life and I can do whatever I will to do. That is our context. And it is directly antithetical to what is so clearly proclaimed in the Bible about the greatness of the grandeur and glory of our God. It is so foreign to what is found in the Bible that it can only be included in our way of thinking and believing by changing our view of who God is and how God does his work in the world. It is thus more than critical that we see more clearly than we have ever seen before what the Bible says about who God is.
The Bible makes much of God in the greatness of His glory. Listen to these words from Isaiah 43:10-14 and know that they come in a context where God is making it plain that He does not make much of either humans or nations. The world is His and it exists to serve and submit to Him so as to bring Him glory. God is jealous for His glory and He will not give it to another(Isaiah 48:11). In fact, when the great king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon began to glory in the greatness of His Kingdom and refused to repent and give glory to God, God brought him lower than any animal and left him eating grass from the field until this king would say, Daniel 4:34-37. Jesus also made much of God making it clear that He came to secure the redemption through His blood of all those that the Father had given Him and that from before the foundation of the world and that He came to do that only which God gave Him to do, John 6:37ff. And God makes much of the greatness of His grandeur at every place and through every pore of Scripture but none more plainly than when He makes Himself known to Moses, Exodus 3. God is. God is and will always be. He is who He is and He will always be who will always be. He is Yahweh so that He makes Himself known to people in a very personal way and He is Elohim which is a plural term that speaks to the greatness of the glory of God in His essence as one in three and three in one. He is the God who is and who was and who will always be. He is the God without beginning and without ending. He is the God who is and by whom and before whom and for whom all things exist. He is the God who rules and reigns over all things and all people for His great glory. And though we could go to many places to fill in the lines of this great picture of our glorious God, no place is more suited for seeing more clearly than this passage of praise that ends Romans 9-11.
Many Bible scholars see Romans 9-11 as three of the most important chapters that Paul ever wrote. These three chapters address the greatness of the glory of God in the display of both His judgment and mercy in relationship to sinners. All three chapters show us whom God saves as sinners, how God saves sinners, what must be done for sinners to be saved, and what is ultimately at stake in the saving of sinners. These three chapters address far more than God’s work in relationship to nations as some would suggest and these three chapters are about far more than how God relates to Israel. These three chapters are about the glory of God in the greatest way we see it and that is in the salvation of sinners whom He saves soveriegnly, showing His mercy upon whom He wills by sending His sons and daughters into the world to declare the good news of the Gospel so that those who believe are saved and come together in local bodies of believers made up of Jews and Gentiles to form all Israel or the Israel of God whose worship, work and witness then give glory to God. When Paul gets to the end of this powerful portrait of what God does in saving sinners and how God does it, He can only be stunned into silence out of which He erupts into glorious praise. Now look with me piece by piece at this powerful picture of the greatness of the glory of our God.
Oh. It is a “groan” word. It is the kind of word that we use when so overwhelmed by something that we do not know what to say. Oh my. Oh my stars. It is that moment when a man just stares and women scream. Overwhelmed by the greatness of it all. And what is overwhelming here is the depth of God. The marvel of His majesty displayed in the manifestation of His mercy and even that so full of mystery, Deut. 29:29. And from those first three words Paul shows us several realties about the depth of the wealth of God all the while pushing us toward the pinnacle of praise.
He first shows us the dynamics of the wealth of God demonstrated in His wisdom and His knowledge. Look at the phrase “of God.” It is written in such a way that God is both the object of our knowledge and the subject of our knowledge. In other words, one of the riches of God is that we can know Him and He wants to be known so He makes Himself known. He does not want us to know Him in just in terms of facts about Him. He wants us to know Him in the kind of intimacy that exceeds the intimacy we know with anyone else in the whole world. He wants us as close to Him as the breathe we breathe and the words we speak. Knowledge has to do with information that leads to transformation that leads to a life lived in the world in increasing devotion and dedication to God. Wisdom has to do with how that life is to be lived and in the book that God gave us wisdom is equated first with the Word of God as it is written and then the Word of God as it is lived out in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus and then as it becomes flesh in us as we by the work of the Holy Spirit are more and more conformed to the image of Jesus. That is depth and it comes from a God who wants you to know Him. He makes Himself known. Now this does not stun you and me until we know something of who this God really is.
One writer says that outside of God coming to us in Christ, He would be a terror to be dreaded not a God in which to be delighted. He would not be One to whom we would want to come and even could come in our sin. We can only come to Him because He has come to us to take away our sin. He is the God who is in the words of James Boice, “self-existent, self-sufficient, and eternal.” Theologians speak of the incommunicable attributes and the communicable attributes of God. These three would be incommunicable. God is. He is self-existent. God as far back as you want to go and there is God. He is before the world and He will be after the world. He is self-sufficient. He does not need us and He made us not to fulfill any lack in Him but so as to use us to bring Him glory both in judgment and in mercy. Both are necessary to the display of the glory of God. And there are other attributes of God that we do not share with Him: Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscience, and Omnisapient. Yet, this God of such greatness and grandeur has chosen to relate to us in ways that bring to us through His grace some of what He is: love, grace, mercy, justice, creativity etc. Oh the depth of the wealth of God displayed in His Knowledge and His Wisdom.
But then notice the dimensions of this wealth of God. Paul gives us two dynamics and two dimensions; We see the dimensions of God in His judgments or decrees and in His ways or the design of His purposes to bring Him glory. The word “unsearchable” means simply that it is impossible for a human being to search out the exactness of the design of the decrees of God. We are not smart enough or savy enough or strong enough to fathom the work of God in His world. How can you figure out how God is absolutely sovereign in His saving of sinners and yet every sinner is fully responsible before this great God to choose to submit and surrender to Him. Or tell me how it is that God is the origin of all that is but cannot be the origin of anything that is evil so I am left to look at Genesis 3 and say, “well, God did not see this coming since He cannot design evil,” or I have to come up with some theologically contrived explanation to explain what I cannot explain or I just bow my heart before the greatness of such a glorious God. Your decrees are eternal and I can know that which you reveal which is enough to save my soul from your wrath and to show me how I must live in Your World. And His ways are so far beyond us. The word for “inscrutable” means that the ways of God in His work in the world are beyond our ability to understand. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Do you see this picture expanding in its intention to make God bigger and bigger and ourselves smaller and smaller.
Then Paul turns to the dilemma of every human being. He asks three questions the answers to which are very plain and the reason for which is very simple: to reduce us to silence. You will see in just a moment that it is a peculiar kind of silence. Question one: Who has known the mind of the Lord? The Lord. And He makes known what He desires to make known. Our Lord the Psalmist says is in heaven and He does whatever He pleases to do. This question comes from Isaiah 40. Listen to the larger context, 40:9-17. Second Question: who can give any kind of advice to God? The word for “counselor” is really vivid; it means to come alongside God to assist Him in discerning and doing His will; the assumption is that we would know what to say to God about what He ought to do. The assumption is that we would be so bold and brazen as to tell God what we need or what we even want. The deeper question is about how we see our God and ourselves, is He so low in our view and we so high that we would dare do anything other than what Paul tells us in Romans 9:19-23. Third Question: do we think that God owes us anything at all; such thinking would assume that we have done something for Him or given something to Him and He needs neither from us. We have nothing to give Him. We have nothing that He needs. He owes us nothing at all. Yet, if our thinking of God begins with the context in which most of live we think in terms of what we do for God that in turn should pay benefits in terms of what He should do for us. Such a notion is far more than perverse; it is pagan. It is in fact idolatry. The whole idea of what is happening here is to bring us to silence before this God just before we erupt into glorious praise.
For from Him. He is the origin of all things. He is the God who is who creates all that is and rules and reigns over it for His glory. For through Him. He is the orientation of all that is so that there is nothing that does not exist by Him and for Him to serve His purposes in the world. For to Him. He is the outcome of all things so that all the world will bow before Him and worship Him as the God of Just Judgment and glorious grace. So that God brings us to the place where our praise of Him is exclusive. To Him and to Him alone. He is to be exalted and the only one in whom we exult. And that praise of Him is eternal and everlasting and it comes with an exclamation: Amen. When we see he majesty of this God in this glimpse we are brought to a place like Job 42 and Revelation. I want to read the first one for us and then I want you to take the bulleting insert and let’s read together what I do believe one day with the angels all the saints will say together to God.