3rd Sunday After Epiphany January 27, 2013
1 Timothy 2:1-7
8, 514, 126, 38
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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!
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s only Son:
Curiosity is a wonderful mark of intelligence in man and animals. But curiosity killed the cat when it tried too hard to see into the depths of the well! So also people drown themselves spiritually when they try too hard to search the unsearchable depths of God’s judgments and His ways with man.
A woman whose 7-year old son died of cancer, wanted to know why God took her only son from her at such a young age. On the other hand, when a Jewish Rabbi lost his young son through death, he wrote a book in which he concluded that God had no power to prevent his son’s death. Drowning in His own human reason, this Rabbi preferred a make-believe God with limited power, rather than the only true and Almighty God of the Bible.
The Bible teaches that it is God who raises up the rulers of the nations and also brings them down. So we might be led to ask: “How then, could God permit cruel men to rule the nations, such as the Roman Emperors Nero, Caligula, or Julian, or modern rulers like Hitler, Stalin, or Assad of Syria?”
John Calvin struggled with the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” Calvin knew from Holy Scripture that man is saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone. But human reason led him to the conclusion that since God is all-powerful, if he really wanted all people to be saved, then they would be. Therefore, God does not want all to be saved, but chose some to be damned. Thus Calvin and those who follow his beliefs plunge into the depths of God’s mysterious ways. They end up contradicting many passages of the Bible which teach that God truly “loved the world” (John 3:16) and “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
John Calvin concluded that God’s choice is the reason all people will not be in Heaven. Others who relied on human reason to solve this question, concluded that the problem is man’s because he makes the wrong choice! They think that every man has the free-will to make the right decision by his own moral power. But this theory also drowns man in the depths of God’s mysterious wisdom and contradicts His Word to us. For God says, “The carnal (fleshly/natural) mind is enmity against God. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44).
There’s nothing wrong with asking why God does this or that. When we ask God “why?” we are speaking as little children who ask their parents “why?” because they want to understand. But I would never have dared ask my father, “How can you do such a thing” as if to question his judgment on any matter. It is far worse to question God’s ways as if our human reason must be made to accept His ways in order for Him to continue as the God of our lives.
Whenever the whys and wherefores of God’s ways trouble you, remember our text. Paul was astounded at the way God works. In Romans chapter 11 he reveals how God finally hardened the hearts of the unbelieving nation of Israel so that He might show mercy in Christ also to the Gentile nations, and so that they, in turn, would proclaim God’s mercy in Christ to the Jews! The Gentiles, who were once disobedient to God, received mercy through the disobedience of Israel. In other words, “God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32). No wonder Paul breaks forth in praise to our 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!” [v.33]
Surely God’s ways would no longer be “past finding out,” if we were always able to see how they were right. So I ask you: “BY WHAT LIGHT IS GOD RIGHT?”
By the light of man’s natural reason, God may certainly appear to be unfair, and even cruel in His ways and judgments. Look how the wicked often enjoy good health and great riches, while the Christian often suffers and struggles to get by in this world. In Psalm 73 Asaph speaks of how the wicked seem to thrive on this earth, while the believing child of God suffers pain and trouble. Job, Jeremiah, David, and other Old Testament believers noticed this same “injustice,” according to the light of man’s natural reason.
We have seen the dishonest and the back-stabbing unbeliever receive a promotion before the honest and hard-working Christian. Many years ago I watched a wicked and self-seeking husband get his way in a divorce case that left his Christian wife devastated. By the light of natural reason, we don’t see how God could let these things happen. This is very troubling to us as Christians since we want our God to be in the right. We want to speak to others about the God whose ways are always right. But the light of nature is really the cloud of human reason.
This cloud is cleared away only by the light of grace, which shines in our hearts through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The light of natural human reason tells us only that the God of Heaven punishes sin. The light of grace in God’s Word reveals His love and mercy toward sinners.
By the light of nature, we think God demands that we earn acceptance with Him by our works. The light of grace shows us that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8).
By the light of natural reason it seems right to us that each person should suffer for his own sins and earn his own acceptance before the holy God. But the light of grace shows Christ suffering in our places and God declaring the whole world of sinners acceptable to Him on account of Jesus alone! The light of grace reveals that the children of God may suffer in this body and life, but for them there is a glorified body and eternal life through Christ!
By the light of God’s Word we see that God will deal with the unbelieving wicked. He will punish and repay everything that is not punished and repaid in this life. Acts 17:31 tells us that God will judge the world on the basis of that one Man, Jesus Christ. No longer shall the unbelieving wicked of this world dine in luxury, but believing Lazaruses shall take their places and enjoy the good things spread for them in Heaven (cf. Luke 16:19ff).
The natural light of our human reason is severely limited in regard to God’s ways. It’s like looking out the windows of our homes at night. We strain to see the true shape of an object by the light inside our homes, but the light of day makes everything clear. The higher, more perfect light of grace is like the light of the noonday sun. This light, like the light of the sun, does not come from us, but to us from above; and it reveals to us the way things really are! Thanks be to our Lord and Savior God for His light of grace!
However, not even this wonderful light of grace is able to completely reveal God as right before men. Under the light of nature and the light of grace, the question of why God graces some people with faith and life in Christ and not all, remains unsolvable. We must not let this question, or others like it, trouble us to the point of denying the clear Word of God by our poor human reasoning.
Let us wait for the revelation of the truth in the perfect light of glory. Already, the light of grace in Christ has begun to chase away the cloudy thinking of our human reason. Already the Word of grace has begun to reveal to us the right way in which God deals with the wicked and with His believing children in this life and hereafter. Surely the perfect light of glory in Heaven will show us in all other matters which are not clear to us that our God is right!
This is the promise of His Word to us right now! “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:9-13). For the present time, may God grant that each one of us be content to know His righteousness by the light of His grace in Christ, our Savior. It shall be enough for His true children until the light of glory. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.