“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways!” (Romans 11:33 HCSB)
Today is a day of contemplation. Unfortunately, I don’t get many of those in a normal week. Too busy with work, family responsibilities, church ministry and sermon prep. Last Sunday, I woke up with a slight cough and quickly recognized that I needed to exercise extreme caution and go get a Covid test. I didn’t have time to get someone to cover for me at church, so I masked up and kept my distance from others explaining that I wanted to be careful and not chance exposing them. After church, Tina made an appointment for me at the local urgent care clinic and I went in for the test. The rapid test was negative, but by then my symptoms were increasing and both of us, the doctor and I, were certain that I was sick. She ordered the longer test, which included the deep probe swab – gag, cough, yuck – and sent it off to the lab. I was now under quarantine orders. As expected, the results came back positive. I had COVID-19. Fortunately, I had also had the vaccine. My symptoms were mild by comparison. That’s the source of my “day of contemplation.” I can write a sermon, but I won’t be preaching it to my congregation. At least, not in person.
Instead, I’ve decided to just spend some time considering the Glory of God. We’ve reached a point in our study of Romans that brings us face-to-face with His glory, so to speak. Paul has spent the first eleven chapters of this beautiful treatise getting us ready for this encounter. We’d be foolish to miss it now. He has taken us through a very stark and emotional confrontation with sin but not just sin in general, we’ve had to stare down at the ugliness of our own sin. When things get that dark the stark contrast to God’s glory can be intense and overwhelming and that’s a good thing. The blinding glory of God should cause us to stumble back, covering our faces even while we blink, squint and try to see how glorious and beautiful it really is.
If you aren’t yet convinced of the ugliness and darkness of your own sin, you aren’t yet ready to behold His glory. What you may have missed or overlooked is that Paul even describes sin as “falling short of God’s glory.” (Rom 3:23) Let that sit on your mind and in your thoughts for a moment. If sin is falling short of God’s glory, then living in Christ’s resurrection power and walking with His Spirit’s guidance must be the fulfillment of the Christian faith and the display of God’s glory through our lives (see Romans 8). So, anything short of that goal is sin and is abhorrent to God – darkness and ugliness – nothing less. But why? Why would it be so dark and abhorrent? Because God knows what we were made for and capable of becoming, children of God. Fruitful branches on His olive tree. Visible displays of His glory for men to see.
A little earlier, I was lying on the sofa under my Snoopy blanket while I coughed, and contemplated these thoughts about the glory of God. I’m not sure there could have been a much starker contrast between what I am and what He is. I am weak, wracked by coughing and sickness, weak and wanting to go back to sleep… but He is NONE of that. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! I wanted to understand better. God, help me to grasp the wonder and awe of Your glory. Help me to see the contrast that Paul is presenting in these verses. And then it struck me that Paul has been presenting this contrast the entire time, not just in these final verses of chapter eleven but from the very beginning. Sin is falling short of His glory and living in obedience and surrender to the Spirit is putting His glory on display in our lives and chapter seven and eight are the black and white versions – chapter seven shows us steeped in our sin and ugly to the core (Oh, wretched man who will deliver me from this body of death?), but chapter eight shows us redeemed and washed clean by His blood and living in full submission to His Spirit (there is no condemnation to those who are IN Christ) and Paul brings us face-to-face with this contrast as he closes out chapter eleven and prepares us to be blinded by its glory!
One of the dangers of the incarnation is that we lose sight of the divinity of Christ in the midst of His humanity. God among us, walking with us, teaching us, showing us, healing us and calling us to a higher aim. He becomes familiar, common but in the process of bringing God down to us, we tend to remake Him into our image instead of being remade into His. That’s the essence of sin and the core of idolatry. That’s the core source of our culture’s idolatry. They love Christ in his humanity, but they hate Him in His divinity. He’s a great man, wonderful teacher, incredible miracle worker, but not God. To equate Him to god is to forfeit authority and control over myself, my choices, my identity and my future. We love Jesus, until He disagrees with us and calls our actions, thoughts, intentions and motives sinful.
You might be wondering where all that came from… Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! The riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge. How deep they are. Deeper than you and me. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. His ways are deeper than my ways – and yours, too. When we are willing to acknowledge the divinity of Christ then we are struck by the depth of His wisdom and knowledge. He’s no longer just a good man and a great teacher He’s God and, as such, His wisdom and ways are what we desperately need. It’s not just about living what we consider a morally good and pleasant life. Paul wants us to see the contrast between living a life of sinful disobedience and Spirit-led obedience, the difference between life and death. It is no longer about pursuing “love” in some manner as defined by you and me but pursuing the very source of love – God’s love gift to humanity – Jesus, God with us.
When we come to the realization that God does know better than we do what is needed for life, then things begin to change. We recognize that our own attempts are not only feeble, but ultimately incompetent. Not only is it eye opening it is also very humbling. It’s a bit like having a dream that we spend our entire lives pursuing only to realize on our death bed that our efforts were in vain and the very thing we dismissed initially was the direction for true success. So, I want to encourage you this week to consider carefully the glory of God. Paul doesn’t tell us how deep its riches are to cause us to shrink away in fear, but to beckon us to approach with the proper perspective. An attitude of humility, gratitude, longing, awe, wonder and worship. To stare into the depths of His rich wisdom, unfathomable knowledge, unsearchable judgment and untraceable ways and to know that He laid it all down to come searching for you and for me, the lost sheep. We cannot trace His ways, but He knows the way – we just need to walk alongside Him.
“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 HCSB)