AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH April 10, 2011
Presbyterian Church following the Bible without Qualification
and the Lord Jesus Christ without Compromise,
through Grace by Faith
Sermon Notes Romans 11:33-36
OH THE DEPTHS OF WISDOM
AND THE HEIGHTS OF SUBLIMITY
IN THE GOD WHO SAVES
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things:
to whom be glory for ever. Amen."
What then is the source of Paul's dramatic exclamation in Romans 8:33-36. Immediately it is this. He is protesting that God has not cast away His people, just because there is current a highly inflamed and foolish heresy in Israel, focussed away from Jesus Christ. There is a remnant of grace, those divinely chosen from beyond the evil appetites of the many. From the day of Noah and before, God has always chosen His people: for while He has lovingly desired all, He has deliberately from the first, in love found some, foreknown; and these are His. Saved by grace, not works, they are with those Gentiles who follow the same Christ, in the tree of life and salvation, from which alas, the Jewish nation is at this time still hewn, pruned, cut off.
However, highminded, haughty, imperious and self-congratulatory Gentiles need not be absorbed in some imaginary greatness of their own. If they want to become self-righteous as did some of Israel (Romans 10:1-14), self-centred and buoyant in sanctified-seeming rebellion against the Lord, then they too may qualify to be pruned off the tree of salvation and life, as the nation of Israel was for a time, but for a time only. Fall and restoration were both clearly predicted from Moses on (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28-32, Hosea), just as the restoration of the redeemed from every nation is predicted, the Gentile contingent, all having been included in the fall from the first. That is how we are placed.
We do not face a nice god dealing with ever so nice people, each one of which expects a spiritual security check and careful analysis to see if god is approved. That is mere illusion. A cursory glance at history shows that. We are facing final judgment as a lost race in a maelstrom of evil, from which only divine mercy can snatch us (cf. Hebrews 2:1-3, 6:19, 12:28ff.). Grace sustains the world at all; sin unbalances it continually; Satan savages it because it is largely uninsured and unwilling to be so; woes arise because man's spirit rises like steam, and reaches no good thing.
How does this apply to the tree and the cutting out and grafting in to it ? It is in this way. If Gentiles could be added to the tree by grace, as millions evidently were, so may many a nation or church, once more secure, now over time recidivist, be removed as was Israel: no longer is that nation used as a teaching body for the Lord, or a central site for the obtaining of salvation.
In short, just as Israel's removal in this domain for a time, led to the Gentile addition to the tree, and the Gentiles themselves are on notice not to be so carried away with themselves that they merely join Israel as a pruning fallen to the ground, so Israel's restoration will lead to a new glory. It is then not only an addition, duly itself pruned, but a restoration: their fall was like a vacuum drawing in Gentiles; but their return when it comes (as in Romans 11:25ff.) means this. Just as they were served with exclusion through disobedience in Israel, Gentiles finding place, this leading to a continuation in this tree of life on the part of many Gentile believers, so back to the living tree Israel may come, a large remnant in fact to arrive in one season, like Spring, making a giant burden of foliage, one faith, one people, lost in one way, found in one way, coming from two sources to one salvation, each in its day. You see vast oaks like that, giant branches thrust abroad, but of all one tree.
It is then, in the light of this glorious and comprehensive plan, that Paul makes his acclamation concerning the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God, that He should have such plans, patience and control, compassion and determination. This is just like God, with creativity to the uttermost, sagacity and always joy abounding as He brings His goodness to the place where He may be found, in Jesus Christ, and there alone, securely and forever (Romans 5:1-12).
2) General ...
We are looking still a t Paul's song of praise to God, and its grounds in Romans. Before this Ch. 11 of the Epistle to the Romans, where our text is, indeed right from its beginning, in this epistle, Paul has been providing an extended spiritual perspective on creation, reason and revelation. Romans 1:17ff. is a vast revelation, giving perspective for man. Here, in the creation by God and the desecration through man and then of man by man, in this domain also, there is vast wisdom in the manner of the divine strategy. It moves through Romans 1-3, is applied in Romans 4-8. His oratorical statement in Romans 8:33-36 has a long background, both original and immediate. Let us look back, then, also.
Creation is not a by-product of human thought but of divine action. Salvation from the sin which blurs, mars, distorts and contorts itself on this earth is not a purchasable item for man, but a given focus from God. If it is not taken, what you get is what God said would be the case, the dizzying dramas of contemporary man; and very assuredly, this which would be, has now come. In Romans 1:17ff., the diagnosis and prognosis for human rebellion and the seeking to avoid the truth, is seen as a vast pandemic in the human race and the dis-assemblage charter of sin and its results is read out to a largely disdainful, and increasingly disjointed mankind. The obsession with natural things, 'mother nature' and so forth, is there seen merely an idolatrous interlude for a fallen race, and it leads on to futility of thought and immorality on a vast scale. The end of this rebellion is concentrated at the end of the Chapter, 1 of the epistle, and it is PRECISELY as we find now, with various symptoms of the disorientation, such as sexual perversion, social disruptions and spiritual horrors, the result still bearing some resemblance to man! So man becomes his own parody.
In avoiding this, if such a heart is found in you, it is necessary to find the basis of salvation, and in seeking it, not to imagine it a matter for idle roaming, or spitting hostility, but reconciliation with God before man (Romans 3:23ff., II Corinthians 5:17ff.), in precedence to man. The disease needs killing at its source, and only when the divine is received, is the human restored. Indeed, without God, human relations are like attempting to breathe in a vacuum, while longing for air, without quite wanting to acknowledge this fact, and seeking to grab increasingly polluted oxygen cylinders, amid gaspings and the rattle of change-overs.
Thus, whatever man's faults before man may be, those before the Creator of that very equipment which is found in man are vastly more horrid, torrid and fundamental (Psalm 51:1-3): the befouling being elemental and devastating at the very source, even of what is given to him. Does he thank God for His continued patience ? does he find the mercy in the manual provided for escape and deliverance ? does he use the cure for his distempers, find pardon for his sin ? Some do; the many do not. Rather do those move away, scurrying, flurrying or hurrying off with the precious life they are given, like a dog with a desired bone, barking possessively if not obsessively, as he runs.
With man, there is scope for the heart and mind, the body and it includes power to blight amid the members of this race, including for each one, his own soul, spirit and mind. Indifference to God is not reciprocal. It brings rising costs for the omission, as if an engine ran without oil. Until this debt is covered, vain are efforts to finance the universe with dissolute and impalpable, freakish and ill-founded founderings and clownings from the heart of man. It is, then, high time to seek the Lord in His sublimities, and to realise that anything less will never do for man, if any of this race are to continue.
The Gospel of divine grace is immutable (Galatians 1), and its ways and words continue as always, both effectual and fulfilled on all sides. This is the escape hatch, and as in a submarine, there is no other (Hebrews 6:19, Acts 4:11-12, I John 2:22-23).
Meanwhile, there is a particularity, concerning Israel, which it would be ridiculous to call sublime, in the internecine, devious, morally delinquent and increasingly renewed anti-Semitic passion which is being aroused in a way for which the slither that seeks to remove the holocaust of Hitler from history, has been an apt preparation. It would be far wiser to look to remove the hatred from the hearts of man; yet just as futile. It is only God who can do that.
Let us now see further into the sublimity of the patience and wisdom of God, such as led Paul in Romans 11:33-36 to speak as he did. Just as man has dived into the murk, so God has arisen to deliver, in patience unspeakable and wonder in mercy.
ALOFT ...Sublimity is here.
It is found in the extent of the still offered mercy of God; for to have One come incarnate, God in flesh, to save by enduring the savagery of theological misfits with their misled minions, who acting as priests, denied the God who was their employer, when He came, and then decried this, His salvation, after He left, and not be lost forever, at once, is a prodigy. That Israel yet has hope is a sublime, divine grace. What could be Hiroshima is rather blossoming like the rose, and while wars abound, as forecast in Zechariah 12 for their return, the Bible is still making its impact and is predicted to prevail nationally in this, that to Christ masses in that land are soon to return to the sublime salvation God has provided. But HOW is this possible ? It is because God has prevented Israel from being wiped out, a thing that Mark Twain famously marvelled at. But that is not all.
After this, to retain an undying interest in such a nation, even to have it kept precisely in mind till the time of their deliverance is a truly prodigious mercy on the part of Him who calls. It is not just having a time for deliverance, but constantly having in mind the mode of mercy, that same Cross of Christ, for Israel that is all but stunning. As the nation has constantly provoked God in its persistent unbelief in its own Messiah, so He has consistently refused to let the royal result of divine mercy slip from mind.
To continue to offer even unalloyed salvation to a disloyal people, even now, still adhering to its denials, this surpasses even that. There is nothing second rate about the offer. As it was, so it is. It has the marks of magnitude which soars beyond the earth, as if the sky has become its habitat; yet its root is still in the ground, that ground of salvation which came when Christ came to this earth.
To have had this scenario in mind from the very first, till Israel responds at last as a nation in vast numbers to that same Messiah, crucified and risen, declares a God of passion, grace, longsuffering and glory of heart. Seeing past murder of the Messiah, the very acme of revolt and arrogance, God from the first as often expressed, has the key to restoration firmly in hand, in mind, in heart (Genesis 12, 17, Psalm 22, 72).
To use this to find many more, who are not of that nation, sprinkled widely throughout the world (cf. Isaiah 52:13), as He has done and foretold (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6) is to focus on a wisdom to match an incomparable passion, seated in purity, outstretched in love. Indeed, "so shall He sprinkle many nations," says Isaiah. There is the redeeming sacrifice that counts, even for people who had hitherto discounted it! Default produced dynamic.
There is sublimity. Then to mingle both remnants of the same grace, Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3) as one, in the same Christ, treated so savagely by so many in both domains, in body, in mind, in heart, this is a magnificence of both wisdom and justice, mercy and compassion, glory and quietly humble continuance, no less than sudden triumph.
THE PROFUNDITY OF THE GOD OF GLORY
Yet there is more. God's thoughts are said in our text in Romans 8:33-36, to be unsearchable. So great is His plan, His program, His personal interest, His grandeur, that while you can follow reason to His word, without that word you cannot predict His plan, or find with precision the fulfilment of what He predicts. As man, you need instruction, and from Him you find the glories as He tells them. It is all written, testable, identifiable, verification shaking its hand, authentication smiling and validation victorious (cf. SMR). No one is His counsellor; and to none is He indebted for help in formulation or formation. Such is the pith in verse 34-35. There are no privileged advisers to God.
"OF HIM, and THROUGH HIM, and TO HIM, are ALL THINGS," we read. HIS is glory not only because of this, but because there is nothing great the seed of which is not found in Him, nothing provocative the solution for which is not available in Him, nothing worthy of judgment and unyielding that finds not its disaster at length in His judgment. There is nothing too bad to be found that yet seeks Him with all the heart, nothing too good to fail to need redemption amid the masses of mankind. Whether it be creation, or invitation, or salvation, or confirmation, or sanctification, or justification, or glory, it is all to be found in ONE SOURCE and it is of Him, through Him and to Him.
Nor is it an abstraction. It is NOT any one, this all-sufficient God of all grace. It is He, the I AM of John 8:58, the One before Abraham, and before therefore the transmission of salvation through the Israel-born Christ to the Gentiles. Nor is it any christ (Luke 2:25ff.), but the One who came at the date appointed in Daniel 9 (Christ the Citadel Ch. 2), with the commissions found from Genesis 3:15 and right up through the Psalms, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi and Hosea, Ezekiel and Zephaniah, yes and Micah. He is the ONLY ONE in all religions and history, in whom no fault could be nailed.
Much more, through Him, though faultless, there is vicariously provided, what He died to give: nailed for His goodness, nailed for our sin (Isaiah 53;4-10) . He received physical nails in physical flesh, despite the confusion of centuries later on the part of Muhammad (Tender Times for Timely Truth Ch. 8, which includes divergent stories concerning Christ's death), and the wanton rejection of many others, each in his or her own way: all of which brings more spiritual smog to a suffering earth.
It is all from Him and to Him:
the commission and the condemnation,
the salvation and the grace, the goodness and the severity,
the knowledge and the certainties of each one,
none missing from salvation whose desire is for the Lord, nor any found whose desire is not so: for in HIS desire for all, He has found His own from the first (Ephesians 1:4).
It is all through Him: the plan to come, the coming, the sacrificially based salvation, the exhibit of this world as doomed and of His rescue ship in suffering the just for the unjust, storm-proof amid the storm. Bearing the cross and baring the resurrection, the coming again to rescue once and for all His people, and the scene of the day of judgment, with exemptions for those possessing the salvation through Him, there is Jesus Christ. To Him, Paul announces, be glory for ever.
It is good to have forever. Eternity is as fitting to man as wind to the trees, as it soughs and cleanses, air to man, as he breathes first in and then out, dependent in time, that he might be eternal past its sanctions. No wonder the Psalmist declares that he will praise God while he has his being (Psalm 146:2). No puzzle that David has this (Psalm 145:2-3):
day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and His greatness is unsearchable."
Let this then be our praise, our daily delight, secure in His salvation and rejoicing in heart; but if anyone lacks Christ, the Lord's Christ, then here He is, and through Him is your salvation to hand, if you but stretch out the hand of faith to receive it! (cf. Matthew 23:37, John 6:50ff.). If you have not done so, then so do now, for then you yourself will have something great for which to praise Him, beyond the present, and possess reason abundant to delight in Him, beyond the mind of man, at rest in the might of God.