02 Jun 2024


Passage Romans 11:22-36

Speaker Chris Musther

Series None Like Him


Passage: Romans 11:22-36

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
    he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27 And this is my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

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 them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

New International Version (NIV)

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Transcript (Auto-generated)

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On page 1139 of your bibles.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor. Who has ever given to God that God should repay them for from him and through him and for him are all things to him. Be the glory forever. Amen.

This is the word of the Lord.

Well, good morning, everybody. Thanks again for coming out on this wonderful morning. It's a very tempting. Stay outside. I know.

My name's Chris. For those of you who might not have met me before, one of the many Chris's here at all saints. If you do meet somebody, not sure what their name is, go with Chris. You've got a good chance of getting it right. Okay?

And this morning, as we've already thought, we're going to be looking at the idea of omniscience, the all encompassing knowledge of God. And I can't help thinking because of that, that maybe I've been stitched up, or maybe it's that Ben is actually wanting to be helpful to me and make me realise, actually I need to be a bit more humble. I don't know. But as we go through today, then hopefully it will be enriching for us all as we just consider what it means when we talk. Talk about God being omniscient.

And it's following on from our current series. We've been thinking about who God is and we've been thinking that there is none like him. As we've already thought. We are made as human beings in the image of God. But God is other in so many ways.

God is different to how we are. And when we think of omniscience, when we think of the infinite awareness of God, the fact that God knows everything, his knowledge is complete and universal, then that really sets him apart from us, doesn't it? And all these kind of characteristics, they tie into this idea of God being infinite. If God is infinite, then he is by definition, self sufficient. There's nothing out with God.

If God is infinite, then God is unchanging. Nothing can affect him. He's already complete. And if God is infinite, then God by his very nature has to be all knowing. They all tie back and lock into each other these characteristics of our wonderful, amazing God.

Unlike many of the terms that we've been using to describe God, when we've talked about his self sufficiency, we will talk about his omnipotence, we talk about his unchangeability not many of these terms necessarily appear directly in the Bible. Omniscience came around from mediaeval latin omniscience, where science means knowledge literally. So all knowledge or all understanding is where the word comes from. It doesn't appear itself in the Bible, but it is alluded to in many parts of scripture. So if we looked at job, one of my favourite books, where job and all his friends, they're talking, they're trying to explain what's happening to job and trying to give good advice and ultimately screwing it up quite badly.

And ultimately, God comes and challenges job on what's been said by him and his friends. And in Job 37, we have these words. Listen to this job, stop and consider God's wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?

We can turn to the psalms. Psalm 139, a well known psalm. You have searched me, O Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out, my lying down. You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

So throughout scripture, this idea of God knowing everything of his omniscience is woven in there and our verses today, a response by the apostle Paul to some things he said earlier in the book of Romans. And he has this outpouring of praise in the verses that we read. It's centred on God knowing everything. It's centred on God's omniscience. But what's the basis for this?

What causes Paul to pour out this praise to God? Let's just. If you've got your bibles open still, we'll open up Romans chapter eleven again, just so you've got it in front of you as we kind of go through. So, Book of Romans, Paul writing to a mixed church church of gentile Christians and jewish Christians. And what Paul's trying to do in the book of Romans is get down all these thoughts in a systematic way about salvation, about God's plan for bringing humanity back to himself.

And this exposition that Paul goes through is centred on this idea of being in Christ. It's a phrase that Paul uses time and time again, being in Christ. And he uses it as a shorthand. The idea is, being in Christ is being in that wonderful spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That brings us into relationship with God.

That brings us to a point where all the things that we've done wrong, all the things that prevent us knowing God, are put aside, we're clothed in the righteousness of Christ and we can come before God. So that's where we kind of go in with the book of Romans, if you like. And Paul in chapter eight of Romans, in verse one, says, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It's a verse that we all know very well, or perhaps you've heard, or it's certainly a verse that many will know. So this relationship with God is available for all those who are in Christ Jesus.

For those people, there is no condemnation. But what Paul then starts to do is kind of take on the. The corollary of that. What's the outpouring of that? What happens when Paul makes that statement?

Because what it means is that those outside of Christ will face condemnation. And specifically the people of God, the Jews of the Old Testament, how do they fit into this? Because they're not necessarily in Christ. So where do they fit into God's plan? And Paul starts to wrestle with these ideas towards the end of Romans, from chapter 8910.

And he starts to explain in chapter nine how his people, his kinsmen wrote, Paul was a jew himself. These people have received so much favour from God. If we look at the Old Testament, we see the story of God with the jewish people. We see how they're brought out of slavery in Egypt. They're made a nation and a people, and they have this whole journey with God throughout the Old Testament.

And yet many of them don't recognise Jesus, but who he is. What about them? Paul says some are elect by God. He says some will come to know Jesus, some won't. So what happens to them?

He touches on this idea of predestination. If some people are predestined not to know Christ, then they're destined towards condemnation. Why does he still find fault? Asks Paul, for who can resist the will of God? And he wrestles with all these difficult ideas as he develops his theme in Romans.

And Paul, then in chapter eleven, spends a lot of time pursuing this argument that God has this wonderful, rich plan that we don't fully understand. We don't know exactly how God is going to deal with these people and those people. But he does have a plan. Bother me. He has a plan for the people, the Jews, the people that he met in the old testament.

He has a plan for the people, the Christians, that are following the Lord Jesus Christ, and at some point they are going to be woven together. And he gets to the end of chapter eleven, having tried to explain all this, having wrestled with all these ideas, having put this picture together of what God's plan looks like. And Paul falls down in praise and worship, and he worships God precisely because his ways are inscrutable, precisely because Paul doesn't have a full understanding of who God is for who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor. And ultimately, in realising the shortcomings of his own knowledge, he falls down in praise and worship to God. He gives us this map, if you like this picture, this sketch, this diagram of roughly how things hang together, recognising that those things point to just like a map does, points to a reality, a place, but it doesn't describe it in its entirety, it doesn't describe it fully.

And in that gap, Paul finds reason to praise God. He falls short of actually being able to fully explain the mind of God, the one who is omniscient, but he falls down humbly in praise and worship.

Now, we have a phrase where I work. It's a phrase that goes like, the map is not the terrain, the map is not the terrain. And we use it to describe the difference between the code that we write and the systems that it produces. Okay? And the idea is just like a map attempts to describe a place or a location, but isn't that location.

Our code attempts to describe a system, but that's not how it ends up. So if you had a map in front of you, it would have contour lines on there, it would have roads, it would have rivers, it would have icons on there that showed you places of interest and all these kinds of things. But that isn't the place that it's describing. You wouldn't take a map, you wouldn't get out a map today with the sun shining like that. Take a look at a map of the Peak District and say, great, don't need to go there now.

Seen it, done it. That's not what a map is. A map tries to describe a terrain, but it is not the terrain. We as human beings use all sorts of systems and models to try and describe the world around us. We try to understand the way things work, the rules of the universe.

We try and understand many things about ourselves. We have whole sciences dedicated to different areas of the world in which we try to grasp them, try to understand them, try to get hold of them and harness them. My wife works in town and she works at a company that spun out at the University of Sheffield. What they do for a living is build models. So they build these complex mathematical models that describe molecular interactions, how those molecules interact in a cell, how those cells build up organs, how those organs form people, how those people form populations.

And they try to describe, from that molecular level right to the end, how drugs might affect a person and a population right from the bottom there at the molecular level right up to the population level, and how drugs would interact with people and populations. But the map is not the terrain. The models fall short. They don't have all the data to feed into the models. They don't have all the math to describe how a human being works.

The map is not the terrain.

Now, the search for knowledge is something that human beings have done throughout history. It's something human beings just do innately. We see, as children grow that they learn. We teach them. We teach them the well, we try to teach them the difference between right and wrong.

We teach them how to interact with other people. We teach them about the world around them. The search for knowledge and the search for understanding is intrinsic to human beings. We see it right back. If we looked at the book of Genesis and the Garden of Eden and the tree of knowledge there.

What happens in the Garden of Eden is as much about knowledge as it is anything else. And in our modern world, we've kind of received the thinking of previous generations. We've kind of gone through, especially in the western world, the enlightenment. We've gone through the modern period and the postmodern period. We are obsessed with accruing and acquiring knowledge.

And we've got this idea that accruing knowledge and development and progress is somehow inherently good. That if we learn more, if we know more, if only we can grasp more, then somehow that is inherently by itself good. We're always seeking to remove the anxiety of not knowing when we don't understand things and trying to plug the gap so that we don't feel there's anything that might sneak up on us, don't feel anything that we don't understand and grasp. And more than any other point in human history, we live in a knowledge, in a data, in an information rich world, don't we? My background is in biochemistry.

And when I was studying biochemistry initially, it was at a time where biology was quite a data poor science. But it was about the time where Dolly the sheep, some of you might know Dolly the sheep, was kind of coming to fruition. The human genome project was coming to an end, and suddenly the scientific area that I was working in became massively data rich, and it changed the shape of biology. We went from having biology, biology, to splitting out the various different fields and all the rest. But the world around us has seen a data explosion in recent years as well.

I mean, how many of us have got supercomputers in our pockets right now? Things that would be unimaginable a few years ago? It gives us access, instant access to information across the world. Every one of us is constantly being bombarded by information from radio, from television, from newspapers, from our phones, from our computers, from our, whatever it might be, the sensors that we wear, for various different reasons. Data, data, data, data, information and knowledge all around us, all the time.

And it highlights a bit of a gap and an issue for us as people. As humans, we're always searching for more knowledge, always trying to seek to understand more and more. We're trying to remove the gap between our understanding and reality, trying to close the gap between our map, if you like, and what the reality of the terrain is. We're trying to chase that clarity of ultimate divine knowledge. And when we think about God, that problem of chasing knowledge all the time, of believing it's inherently good, can become even more of a problem.

As we've gone through our series, as we've thought about these characteristics of God, sometimes our ideas about God, the illusions that we get in scripture, the models and the frameworks that we build up when we describe with God's characteristics and attributes, sometimes they can get in the way, because, again, they are maps, they are not the terrain. They are tools for pointing us to what God is like, but they are not what God is really like. God is infinite, God is omniscient, God is other.

And like Paul, that should lead us to the realisation of the majesty of God. As we've already thought, you would never look at a map and decide that you didn't need to visit the terrain. We wouldn't go today and look at that map and say, I don't need to go to the peak District, I don't need to go to the top of mamtor, because I know exactly from the map how steep the contours are and exactly how tall it is. I'm done. When we think about God, when we learn about him, we are learning the things that he has revealed to us.

But the things that he has revealed to us are finite, and he is wonderfully more than the things we know about him. We need to rest sometimes in that space of not knowing and not be anxious about it. We need to realise our limited capacity, recognise it, but then purposefully use it as well. We need to understand what God has revealed to us. Absolutely.

God reveals himself in his word. And over the years the church has built creeds and has built doctrines and theologies based on scripture. And those are really helpful to understand God and his plan and to help us in our daily lives. But they are not who God is. The map is not the terrain.

When we accept what God has revealed and accept the boundaries of it, we can use that to determine how best to employ our skills, the skills that God has given us in our lives. For the best benefit of God's plans for our spiritual nourishment, we need to recognise our limits sometimes our limits in knowing God and what is revealed to us. Going back to Job and his friends who get things a bit wrong when they're trying to describe God's plan, one of God's responses to job is, who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? It's important that as we seek to understand God, as we seek to understand the things that he's revealed to us, that we don't obscure his plans with our words, with our limited knowledge, but that we seek his plans and we seek the reality of them, and then rest in those plans, both large and small.

God doesn't need our wisdom.

God is all wise and all knowing. God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants us to be involved in his plans and his work. But he doesn't need our wisdom. He doesn't need us to work out his plans.

He needs us to faithfully step out in them. We need to be, as Paul says to Timothy, a worker approved, one who handles the word of God correctly, a worker handling the word of God to achieve a goal. God is omniscient. God knows everything. So that also means that God is incapable of forgetting.

His knowledge is complete. And that's a good thing in one sense, a good thing that God doesn't forget, because that means God remembers his promises to us, that God has sent the Lord Jesus Christ, he's begun a new covenant in Christ, and he's redeemed us and he won't forget us, he won't ever let us go. But as we thought about earlier on in our service, there are things in our lives that aren't right. There are things in our lives that we need to bring before God and to give up. He knows that already.

When we come to confess things to God, there's no pretence, there's no hiding. We can be completely honest with him because he knows where we stumbled and fall. He knows our hearts and our motivations. He knows the guilt and the embarrassment that we bring and we feel when we talk to him and we bring these things that are imperfect before him. That should both temper us in the ways that we live.

But it should also encourage us to be people who are honest and open with God and with one another.

Our response, though, ultimately should be like Paul. Our response to the omniscience of God should be like that of Paul. That yes, we seek to understand God. We, in our creatureliness and our, our finite human understanding, seek to understand as best we can what God has revealed to us. And yet at the same time realise that the map is not the terrain, that our understanding points towards the reality of God, but isn't what God is like.

It falls far short of his amazing glory, his wondrous ways. We should be amazed at what God has revealed to us in the way he's done it and the gifts that we have so that we have the ability to understand it. But we should also be praising and worshipping the one who understands all things and has all knowledge. Behold our king. Let us stand before him and adore him.

Our right response to God's omniscience must be to turn back, praise and worship to him. Shall we just pray together? Our Lord God and heavenly Father, we thank you for the ways in which you reveal yourself to us. We thank you for the ways in which we can approach an understanding of you. We thank you, Lord God, that you condescend to humanity and you give us revelation of who you are, what you are like and your desire to know and love each and every one of us.

We thank you also, Lord God, that you are far beyond all that we could possibly know or imagine. And we just ask that as we hold these things in tension this morning, that it might cause an outpouring of praise and worship from our hearts. As we stand in awe and wonder before you, we ask it in and through the precious and worthy name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.