June 3, 2012
“Knowing the True God”
Oh, 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 has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?" For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36
We are taught to fear God. The explanation in the Catechism to the First Commandment is, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Each subsequent explanation begins: “We should fear and love God that we may . . .” The fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom, as Solomon says. When people no longer fear God, they are capable of every kind of atrocity imaginable. When St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans lists the sins of which both Jew and Greek are guilty he concludes his universal condemnation of the human race by saying, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18) Where there is no fear of God the standard of right and wrong becomes the sinful and selfish will of man. Where there is no fear of God all hell breaks loose.
In Martin Luther’s great hymn on the Ten Commandments, he concludes each stanza with the words, “Have mercy, Lord.” True fear of God relies on mercy, trusts in it, and lives from it. The second stanza of Luther’s hymn on confession and absolution sums up quite well our need for mercy. He writes:
Thy love and grace alone avail
To blot out my transgression;
The best and holiest deeds must fail
To break sin’s dread oppression.
Before Thee none can boasting stand,
But all must fear Thy strict demand
And live alone by mercy.
The inspired words that are before us today form the conclusion of St. Paul’s masterful treatment of the doctrine of grace, also known as the doctrine of election. To elect is to choose. Grace is God’s choice. God chooses to be merciful and everything depends on that gracious choice. If you have God’s mercy you are rescued from every danger to body and soul and you are relieved from all of life’s troubles and given a home in heaven. If you do not have God’s mercy you are under his judgment, you are lost and condemned, and you don’t have a prayer. Everything depends on God’s grace.
This goes against the grain. That is, it goes against our grain. We want to be God’s boss, telling him the way it must be, giving him instructions on how to be God and do the things of God. Oh, we’ll piously assert that we want instruction, but as soon as the divine instruction challenges us at our very core we resist and start telling God what’s what.
Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a faithful teacher. He didn’t yet understand that Jesus was the eternal Son of God. He was ready to be taught, but not openly where his colleagues could see him. He went to Jesus at night in search of wisdom. Jesus told him he had to undergo a new birth. He had to be born again, from above, by the power of the Holy Spirit or he would never see the kingdom of God.
When we meet God it must be on his terms. We don’t make our own rules and require God to follow them. We don’t negotiate with God as to how he and we will relate. God decides. He’s God and that’s what God does. He judges unbelievers and he is gracious to penitent sinners. He owes you no explanation for what he does and how he does it. God doesn’t need to justify himself to you. You need God to justify you by grace alone through faith alone. Anyone who doesn’t know that cannot know God.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
God knows better than you. God is smarter than you. God’s judgments are fair because God is fair and he certainly isn’t obliged to answer to you or to anyone else.
There’s a lot we can figure out by using the brains God gave us. We can figure out how to raise a better crop, make a better car, build a better boat, bring about greater employment, and improve technology to save on labor. The advances the human race has made during the past century are simply astounding. But there is one thing that no human being has ever figured out: the mind of God.
"For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?"
God is not a machine that you figure out. He’s not a tool you use. He’s not a problem you solve. He’s not your student to teach. As Isaiah writes:
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40, 13-14)
Answer: Nobody. Nobody directs God, counsels God, instructs God, teaches God, or shows God the way things are. It is God who directs, counsels, instructs, teaches, and shows. God owes nothing to anyone. As he said to Job:
Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him?
Everything under heaven is Mine. (Job 41, 11)
Still, sinful humanity presumes to put God on trial. The hungry children, the vicious war, the blatant injustice, the ongoing suffering, these are all raised up to God as solemn charges of neglect, as if he is responsible for the evils produced by those who hate him.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Who cares about the Holy Trinity? Who cares that God is triune? Who cares that God is one in essence and three in persons? Christians care. Christians who fear, love, and trust in God care. Christians who have been born again by the washing of Holy Baptism care. Christians who have seen the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit where Jesus was lifted up on the cross care. But nobody else cares. They don’t want to know whether God is triune. How will that feed their bellies, fill their bank accounts, provide them with a decent job, or fix their personal problems? So the Holy Trinity is tossed aside in favor of God as the heavenly aspirin tablet.
But we know better. We won’t put God in trial because we know that the source of all misery, injustice, pain, and sorrow in this world is our own sin and that sin lies deep inside of our hearts. It is our doing; not God’s. It is our fault; not God’s. We are to blame for whatever it is that ails us and the world around us and we know better than to question God’s ways and judgments and paths – we know instead to throw ourselves before him as guilty sinners pleading to God for mercy.
And how merciful he is! How gracious he is! “Of him and through him and to him are all things.” Everything good is of him, from the Father of all lights, the source of all goodness, mercy, love, and truth. He who in eternity is of him is none other than Jesus Christ our God and Lord who was begotten of the Father before all worlds. Before time began, before there was a world, the Son, the Word and Wisdom of the Father, existed in love with the Father. Listen to what Wisdom says in Proverbs 8:22-23,
The Lord possessed Me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
In time Wisdom was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. He joined the human race. Divine Wisdom was made flesh. He spoke of God’s judgments. He revealed his ways. He taught his mind. What the world couldn’t find by its ingenuity, hard work, and cleverness Wisdom incarnate revealed. He said to Nicodemus:
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Look where the Son of Man is lifted up. Look where the Father’s eternal Son who has become our brother is nailed to the cross. Look at him. Israel rebelled and put God on trial. They stood in judgment of their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. God sent poisonous snakes to punish them. They were dying in the desert of the poisonous venom. They confessed their sins and begged Moses to intercede. He did. God told him to put a bronze serpent on a pole and lift it up for Israel to see. Everyone who looked at the serpent on the pole would live. The poison would not kill them.
This was a sign for us. God says that everyone who believes in Jesus lifted up on the cross will not perish but have eternal life. Don’t try to figure out how God can be and do what he is and does. Instead, look to Jesus on the cross. See him suffering the punishment for your sins, paying the debt that you owed to God, and by his holy death taking away all of your sins.
Look to the cross and live. There is your God. There is the Father, of whom all that is good in this world comes. There is the Son, through whose obedience and suffering we are forgiven of all our sins and made fit for heaven. There is the Holy Spirit, to whom all credit for our faith must be given, for without his gracious power we would remain dead and blind and helpless in our sins. There as Jesus is lifted up for us all, is the revelation of the true and only God. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”