Romans – Week 33 Sermon Notes

By August 27, 2017Sermon Notes

Manitou Incline

Is a hiking trail up the old Cog railway line up Pikes peak in Manitou Springs, Co

The trail is only .88 miles but it gains over 2000 feet of elevation in that short distance.

It takes about 2800 steps to get the top.

On the way up the view is largely that of your own feet and the railroad tie they are currently stepping on.

Around you is the majesty of the Rockies…and you can stop and look…but to reach the summit you have to keep stepping and in order to step safely you have to look down at your feet, not around at the view.

Then when you reach the real summit (after a disappointing false summit about 3/4 of the way up)…you turn around and take in the full view.

The climb takes your breath away literally; the view takes your breath away figuratively.

This illustrates how I see Romans 11:33-36.

For 11 chapters Paul has given us the most comprehensive account of the gospel ever written.

He does this step by step.

He has shown how God revealed his way of putting broken humanity right with himself.

How Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification.

How we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.

How the Christian life is not lived under the law but in the Spirit.

It is tiring, mind stretching…step by step…then he summits and turns and looks at all of it from the perspective of worship.

This is his summary of what he sees after this gospel climb.

11:33 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

The first 11 chapters give us the theology of the gospel: the knowledge, the facts.


He is not telling us what he believes and therefore we can decide if we want to join him in that believe or not.

He is telling us what he knows to be true (real)…and if we decide to not join him in that knowledge, we will do so at the cost of attempting to live outside of reality.

Last week a Hip Hop artist (Joey Scott) stared at the sun during the eclipse.

He said “This aint the first solar eclipse and I’m pretty sure our ancestors aint have no fancy eyewear. Also pretty sure they aint all go blind.”

He had to cancel the next weeks performances without explanation…possibly he has damaged his eyes.

In fact our ancestors did sometimes hurt themselves for lack of knowledge about the sun.

Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards and president of Yale in 1900 was a brilliant man…taught himself Greek, Hebrew, Latin by age 12…could remember most of what he read.

Throughout his life he chopped wood to increase the strength of his muscles

As a young man he decided he wanted to improve the strength of his eyes.

So he reasoned that he should push his eyes, like his pushed his arms in exercise.

He thought he could do this by staring at the sun.

He was not dumb, he was brilliant…but he lacked knowledge, information about the nature of the sun and his eyes.

He lived all of his adult life with impaired vision (burned out his center vision) and with eye pain.

It is important that what we believe about things (including the sun and God) lines up with what is real.

However, theology (information about God) is often thought to be mostly about opinion, and sincerity rather than actual knowledge.

In the world of “faith” it only matters if I am sincere and if it helps me feel a certain way.

But in the the real world…it matters if I actually put gas in my car, or take the right medicine, or get on the right plane.

This is what has happened to the world you and I live in…its why I talk so often about single-story living.

If we don’t understand this…we will find our faith (our confidence in God, knowledge) relegated to the world of feelings rather than actual facts.

This is damages our ability to actually live our faith.

Paul is presenting what can be known about God…and in fact what must be known about God…essential knowledge.

Its not like choosing a flavor of ice cream…its like choosing to accept whether you should stare at the sun or not.

What I feel or prefer won’t protect my retinas from the facts.

And it is always costly in the real world to not have knowledge of what is real.

So Paul has first presented the facts of the faith.

Then in these four verses he gives the response to these facts…worship.

Then in the final 5 chapters he will outline the practice of gospel…how do you live with this knowledge of what is real.

Read together:

11:33 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

“Oh” is a word called an “interjection”

Interjections are often used to describe an emotion.

“Oh, wow”

“Oh, my”

“Oh, no”

On a day, in a real place, years ago…Paul sat in a room, contemplating the gospel…and wrote a letter and at this point in his letter he wrote…”Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.”

He has given us true truth…knowledge of God…now he is properly amazed by that knowledge…that reality.

“Oh, wow…look at the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.”

Paul has walked us up the incline now he says…”Turn around and Look”

He has asked and answered lots of questions, confusing issues, difficult things to understand…but now he says “look”

Look at what? The Greatness of God.


11:33a Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

Paul looks at what God has done in stitching together all of human history into a single plan and he is in awe of God’s rich wisdom.

Part of God being great is the fact that he is really, really smart…all that can be known…he knows.

Its important to hold this in your mind when you think about God.

Chris Hitchens disagreed that God is great…he wrote a book before he died called “God is not great: how religions poisons everything” 

Hitchens wrote his book from the protected place of a civilization built by people who largely believed in God.

Hitchens was smart but he was blinded by his own misconceptions…he lacked knowledge, of God…or at least he refused to submit to it.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet military officer in WWII and a philosopher and writer.

He saw the brutality of the atheistic state and became an outspoken critic of it.

This landed him in the soviet gulag (prison).

He survived years of punishment in the labor camps…later wrote a book that helped the rest of the world wake up to the horror that was the Soviet Union…the “Gulag Archipelago”

He wrote (and was imprisoned for writing such things) as this: (remember this is not an academic sitting in a coffee shop…he is sitting in a horrific prison cell)

“Those of us who have experienced and witnessed first-hand the atrocities and terror of communism understand fully why such evil takes root, how it grows and deceives, and the kind of hell it will ultimately unleash…Godlessness is always the first step towards tyranny and oppression.”

Hitchens believed the very false notion that religion poisons everything.

Solzhenitsyn knew first hand that the opposite is in fact true.

This is the irony of human wisdom…it sees what God says as folly and in the place of the wisdom of God speaks and believes what is truly foolishness.

1Cor. 1:18   For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.                                                                      

Christ is the wisdom of God…some see the gospel as foolishness…but we see it as the power and wisdom that it is.

Let’s go on with verse 33…

33b How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

What God thinks and decides are beyond our capacity to keep up with

We cannot track him, discover him, predict him, control him.

This doesn’t mean he is unknowable…it does mean that he must make himself known…if we are to know him.

The Christian philosopher Francis Schaffer entitled his key works:

  1. The God who is there
  2. He is there and he is not silent

He did this because the fact that God exists is the most important reality a human can understand.

Then the fact that God has spoken to us (telling who he is and how we are to live) is practically speaking just as important.

Because unless he tells us who he is, why we are here, what is wrong with us, and how we can be saved…we could never know.

Our conclusions apart from him speaking to us…are going to be wrong.

God told Isaiah…

Is 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “ 

But he didn’t then say…”So, I’m not going to bother because you will never understand.”

Instead he said

“55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”

What was the point?…”My ways are too far above you to ever understand on your own…so don’t try to figure me out…listen to me…Trust my words, believe what I say.”

You will never figure all this stuff out on your own

But you will be able to understand and do what I tell you…and I will tell you…if you are willing to listen, if you really want to know.

And what I tell…you can believe.

Because it is going to happen exactly as I tell you it will happen.

Just as the rain falls and the crops grow…so to you can trust that what I say…Just pay attention.

So as Paul surveys the majesty of God, he begins with two exclamation marks:

“Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

“How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Then he continues with some question marks…actually rhetorical questions (questions where the answer is so obvious it a statement more than a real question)

  1. The exclamation marks tell us that GOD IS GREAT…the question marks tell us that WE ARE NOT.

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?”

It sounds absurd to think anyone would believe they could teach or give God anything.

Its pretty subtle or can be…but it might look like this.

“I know God has said I should do and be this, and I should not do and not be that.

“However, (and this is in essence where we turn into God’s advisor) I’m not going to do that or be that…I’m going to do what makes more sense to me.”

It’s kind of a roundabout way of assuming we can counsel God.

For the most part, how we are to live as God’s people is pretty straight forward.

We eagerly search for the will of God in the details of life (jobs, relationships, etc)…but in the overall scheme of our lives his will is clear.

We are to relate to him in faith, relate to others in love.

But we often decide we will not live in faith and love…we decide to live how we want to live.

What is disobedience other than disagreeing with God?

And what is disagreeing with someone other than believing you are right, they are wrong?

This in essence sums up our culture…people believe (for the most part) that there is a God. (90%)

And that he is pretty smart…but even really smart people can be wrong.

And God is also old… so he is not quite up with current trends…he’s sort of a grandfather figure who hasn’t made it into the high tech, low morality world of today.

He needs help using his Iphone…he’s wise in a “grandfatherly” sort of way…handing down some sage (albeit “dated”) advice.

I’m presenting this in a light hearted way…but the implications are very, very dark and devastating for human lives.

People demonstrate with their choices that they believe God needs to be instructed…the devastation includes broken sexuality, morality, loss of meaning, perpetually empty relationships.

This is our attempt to instruct God, to be his counselor…we do this by living life our way on our terms and believing somehow this will lead to the good life rather than the empty and broken life.

The results of this, are of course, disastrous.

What about the second question?

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”

Most don’t believe God literally needs something from them.

But again in subtle ways we can live as if God does need something from us.

*If I am good (obey), God will bless me, give me things I want.

Now clearly, it matters what we do and it is important to live in a way that pleases God.

But to live as if what we do somehow puts God into our debt is wrong.

When our relationship with God turns into transactions…we can become bitter when we believe God doesn’t keep his end of the deal.

I spent last week in a children’s hospital in Chicago…I prayed often for my granddaughter during that time and for others we saw and met who are suffering in terrible ways.

How many of those parents, grandparents of suffering children are praying, begging God to heal, to take the pain of their child? Probably most of them.

That’s not wrong…but what if he doesn’t?

In the real world of children’s hospitals (and everywhere else) it is important to understand what God has actually promised and what he has not promised…and it is equally important to remember who he is.

Because verse 36 rings true in a children’s hospital room, a battlefield, your high school or college classroom, or in your car.

Because it is true knowledge of what is real.

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen

Three prepositions that show God in relationship to all things:

1.”ek”=all things come from him

  1. “dia”=all things are sustained through him
  2. “eis”=all things are to (for) him

Here’s why he needs nothing from us…all things are from him, sustained through him, and exist for him.

All things…The entire physical universe…solar systems, galaxies

Earth and all that is on it.

You, me…everyone.

He made us, he sustains us, he is the rightful owner of us.

This realty of God as creator, sustainer, owner of everything…is the basic building block for all knowledge related to a life that is “good” in the ultimate sense.

Our knowledge of God(theology) and our worship of God(doxology) must not be separated.

When theology (true knowledge about God) is lived in doxology (true worship of God) then the result is a life that increasingly reflects Christ…it is the good life.


Nothing is more practical for the human life than a correct knowledge of who God is.

A worldview based on who he has revealed himself to be is essential to everything important about our lives.

Since: All things are from him, through him and to him.

Clearly a correct knowledge of who He is vital for us.

This knowledge is enormously practical because it determines the orientation of everything we think and do.

To thrive in any endeavor…we need knowledge…facts, truth.

Paul laid out the truth of the gospel, God’s plan to rescue humans…then he gives this transitional doxology…

Then he will give practical considerations for how we are to live our lives in relationship to God and others.

A Worldview is inevitable…everyone single human has one.

A worldview tells us what we believe real and what is valuable.

Not all worldviews are correct.

In the real world you can’t stare at the sun…it doesn’t matter what you believe…it only matters if you have real knowledge of real things.

It is commonly believed that religion is about belief and science is about knowledge.

This of course is nonsense.

All of our lives are to be about knowing what is real and getting in line with that reality:

It doesn’t matter if it is a spreadsheet, a fact of your health, the leak in your plumbing, or who God is.

What we believe needs to align with what is real.

Sometimes, in an attempt to not insult others…people will say all religions are essentially the same:

To say “all religions are the same” is the insult all religions…because it is to fail to take their distinctives seriously.

If you tell me that (as some friends with other worldviews have)…”We believe basically the same things.”

It means you don’t know what I believe or maybe what you believe.

Or it could mean, and probably does…that you think it doesn’t matter what a person believes…because “belief” is about sincerity and knowledge is about reality.

But faith is about knowledge of God (not leaping into the dark)…it is about starring at the sun or not starring at the sun.

Sincerity will not protect your retina…from the facts of the sun.

I have not been offended when my friends have told me that my faith is the same as theirs.

I have tried to help them see how because of the distinctives of every worldview they cannot possibly all be the same.

It is at the worldview level that humans most need true truth…knowledge of what is real.

The issues there are bigger than staring at the sun…all of life hinges on getting the facts of God right.

Someone might say “Don’t push your opinions on me” but you probably wouldn’t hear someone say “Don’t push your knowledge on me.”

Paul is giving us knowledge of God…the God who is the source of all truth…all knowledge.

11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

Let’s finish with one of Paul’s personal stories regarding clashing worldviews and true truth.

Acts 17:16   While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (lack of knowledge, truth…and the implications of that) 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean (atheists) and Stoic (Pantheists) philosophers (the two main competing streams of philosophical thought at the time) began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” (seed picker, stupid little bird, chirping nonsense) Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. (They didn’t understand the continuity of Jesus and Judaism) 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus (the place where new ideas were judged to be allowed or disallowed in the public forum), where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 22   Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

Paul doesn’t launch into a description of OT theology and prophets…this would have meant nothing to these folks.

He starts where they were…”I saw you have many gods (worldviews)…even an altar to an unknown God.”

He wasn’t saying that the true God was just one of many (their unknown God)…he was saying he had true knowledge of God.

He doesn’t insult them…but he also doesn’t try to imply that all beliefs are the same.

He tells them “what you see as unknown…I know”

Acts 17:24   “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

That sounds similar to what we read in Rom 11 doesn’t it?

Then he personalizes that knowledge.

26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

The response was a normal one:

-Some sneered

-Some were curious, and wanted to hear more

-Some became followers of Christ.

These three things happen whenever the gospel is presented.

Lets combine what he wrote to the Romans and what he said to the Greeks in Athens…

Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God…from one man he made every nation of men…he has determined the times and places that you and the person you live next to, go to school with, work with…would live.

He did this so you and they would find him…even though he not far from you right now.

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