Telescopes are designed to look out at huge panoramas, gather in all the light they can, and then concentrate it down into a manageable size.
And the basic goal in DESIGNING telescopes is to gather in the greatest amount of light you can. It doesn’t just give you the greatest magnification, but the sharpest image.
And the way to gather the greatest amount of light, all other things being equal, is simply to make the telescope as BIG as you possibly can.
Which means MIRRORS, rather than lenses. And the largest telescope at the moment is on the Canary Islands in Spain. It’s principal mirror, its objective mirror is 10.4m in diameter.
It’s appropriately called the Gran Telescopio Canarias. Which I’m assuming translates to Big telescope of the Canaries. No one ever accused astronomers of being the most CREATIVE people around!
But they ARE like MOST men. And they always want things BIGGER. With MORE POWER. So there’s a telescope on the drawing board that’s going to be built in Chile, and it’s going to be 42m in diameter.
And, rather unimaginatively, it’s going by the name of the ELT Which stands for … extremely large telescope. You’d think they could have come up with something better wouldn’t you? Like Gigantor, or Hercules, or Brutus!
But, despite the boring name, the ELT will be able to do some incredible things. It will not only see across the inconceivable DISTANCES of the Universe. But, in a sense, it will LOOK BACK THROUGH TIME. Light takes so long to travel across the Universe that the snapshot we receive of stars and galaxies is sometimes HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD.
And the little passage we’re looking at today is like a huge telescope. It stands at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Perhaps the best effort of any human author to capture THE HUGE SCOPE of God’s purposes in history and in Jesus. Across the world, and across time itself. And then concentrate that immense panorama down into a size we can begin to get our minds around.
And then we come to these FINAL THREE VERSES of Romans. And they concentrate the whole of the argument of Romans down even FURTHER. Pick up the big ideas, summarise them, bring the whole thing to a conclusion. Reducing it into a few hugely significant phrases.
If you like, the night sky represents God’s plans in history. The Book of Romans is the objective mirror on our ELT – extremely large telescope. And this closing doxology is the eyepiece. The tiny but indispensable part that brings the whole lot into perspective. That helps us to see the big picture.
First thing to point out, these verses are sometimes called a DOXOLOGY. Doxa means glory. Logos means word. A word of glory. A word that ascribes glory. See it there at the start of v25. “Now to him…” Now jump down to v27. “To the only wise God BE GLORY FOREVER.
In other words, “May God receive RECOGNITION and ADORATION for his power and holiness and strength and love.
And what we’ll see is that God RECEIVES that glory through the working out of WHAT’S IN BETWEEN the start and the finish of the doxology. As we RECOGNISE what he’s doing, and as we RESPOND to it.
And that’s really the goal for TODAY. That at the end of these few minutes you might recognise something of the praiseworthiness of God because of what’s he doing in these two verses.
To the God who strengthens
God’s doing A NUMBER of things in these verses (he’s HIDDEN things, REVEALED things, COMMANDED things). But the one Paul wants us to take notice of is there at the start. “Now to him who is able to ESTABLISH you. Or STRENGTHEN you.”
Paul’s never met the Christians in Rome, but the thing he wants for them above ANYTHING. In light of the pressures from society. From the government. Pressures to give ground, to blend in, to fade away. Is to be ESTABLISHED. To remain GROUNDED. To be STRONG.
Australian culture today wants to applaud STRONG people. We’ve just celebrated Jessica Watson sailing solo around the world. We respect, and try to develop STRONG young women. Women who stand up for themselves. Who value themselves. Who won’t take no for an answer. Who’ll lead and achieve and persevere.
And then there’s STRONG MEN. Probably even MORE highly recognised, valued and imitated. It might be PHYSICAL strength. We LOVE STATE OF ORIGIN as a display of strength. Or strength of CHARACTER that can dominate competitors, knock down barriers.
But God’s not interested in THAT sort of strength. Instead it’s an established FAITH he wants to develop. A rock-solid trust whatever the external circumstances. A trust in God’s goodness and purposes that can cheerfully and confidently cope with all manner of discouragements and put downs, opposition and failures.
Back in Ch 1 v11 Paul uses the SAME WORD.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you STRONG- 12 that is, that you and I may be MUTUALLY ENCOURAGED BY EACH OTHER’S FAITH.
Paul WRITES, and wants to MEET them LATER, so they can all be encouraged in their FAITH. Established, strengthened.
The thing Paul’s focussing on in this doxology is that what God wants above everything is STRENTHENED, ESTABLISHED followers.
And notice that it’s GOD who does the strengthening. It’s NOT a command to HIS READERS to be strong, a final exhortation to pull their socks up and keep striving. But a reminder that GOD will keep them strong.
Which is great news for us, like Paul, who seek to encourage others. As well as for those BEING encouraged. On the RECEIVING end. GOD is the one who does it, irrespective of how well we play our part. We can till the ground, plant the seed, water it, fertilise it, weed it. Protect it. But in the end, only GOD can make it grow.
(pause) In 1953 China Inland Mission was expelled from China. A thousand foreign missionaries left behind a relatively small band of half a million Chinese Christians. Their future seemed shaky and endangered under the black clouds of communism and the cultural revolution. How would these baby Christians survive without the wisdom, guidance, and evangelism of the Western missionaries?
However, when Western Christians were allowed back in many years later, they were astounded. The House Church movement had exploded in numbers.. Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist of the New York Times wrote on June 25, 2006, “Although China bans foreign missionaries and sometimes harasses and imprisons Christians, especially in rural areas, Christianity is booming in China.” ON a human level, that sort of observation just DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.
Independent surveys estimate there are 40 million protestant Christians in China today. All done without official Christian missionaries.
Because, as Paul says here, it’s GOD who establishes Christians. Who makes their faith STRONG.
By my gospel…
But that’s not to say God works completely independently of us. That we can just sit back and put our feet up. His normal method of strengthening believers is using OTHER BELIEVERS. Notice how v25 continues.
25 Now to him who is able to establish you BY MY GOSPEL AND THE PROCLAMATION OF JESUS CHRIST,
That’s really what’s happening in this letter. God establishing people by the hearing of Paul’s gospel. Romans is a summary of the gospel Paul preaches. He says in 1:15
15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
He can’t do it IN PERSON, so he does it in the LETTER. Spelling out, step by step, what it means for those who believe to be saved.
That’s the gospel. And then God STRENGTHENS THE FAITH of the Romans as they listen to Paul outline the message about Jesus he proclaims.
If the FIRST part of the verse is a COMFORT to us (that it’s GOD who strengthens), the SECOND part is a CHALLENGE. We’ve got extraordinary, earth-shattering, life-changing news to declare. And God calls us to be PART of his strengthening and establishing work in the world as we DECLARE it.
Paul goes on. It’s a message that’s NOW REVEALED. Follow from halfway through v25.
my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God,
The news about Jesus was HIDDEN, but now it’s BEEN REVEALED. Proclaimed. The curtain flung open.
It was there in the Old Testament. Not OBVIOUS, but STILL THERE. Written in shadows and pictures and promises. HINTED at by the prophets. By the leaders and kings. Even by the LAW ITSELF.
For all the nations
And what’s of particular interest to Paul that’s been HINTED at but NOW REVEALED. Is that it’s a message that’s FOR ALL THE NATIONS. See it there at the end of v26? “So that ALL NATIONS might believe and obey him.”
It’s HINTED at in the Old Testament. That Abraham was blessed by God so that he might be A BLESSING TO THE NATIONS (that’s Genesis 12). And then Israel was to be a light among the nations (that’s Isaiah). That the surrounding peoples might recognise how good God was to call a nation for himself like Israel.
But Israel never WAS the blessing to the nations they were designed for. It took the coming of Jesus to bring that blessing to the whole world.
And it’s the basis for Paul’s whole ministry. Taking that message to the WHOLE WORLD. And he’s sprinkled that idea all through Romans. From start to finish. Like 1:5.
1:5: Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among ALL THE NATIONS to the obedience that comes from faith.
1:13 I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, JUST AS I HAVE HAD AMONG THE OTHER NATIONS. 14 I am obligated both to GREEKS AND NON-GREEKS, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: FIRST FOR THE JEW, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.
And then the whole of chapters 2 and 3 is about how the whole world is guilty before God. Until we get to 3:22
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who believe (Jew or Gentile). THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE, 23 for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Then jump down to v29.
29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith (ie the Jews) and the uncircumcised (ie Gentiles) through that same faith.
That’s the earth-shattering news that once was HIDDEN, HINTED AT, in the Old Testament. But that Paul, the JEW, is revealing to NON-Jews all over his world. That God puts ANYBODY, irrespective of ethnicity, right with himself through their trusting the work of Jesus on their behalf.
For the obedience of faith to all nations
And it’s here right at the END of the whole letter as well. Verse 26. “Revealed so that ALL NATIONS might believe and obey him”.
It literally says something like “for the OBEDIENCE OF FAITH for all nations.” That’s what God’s interested in. Not simply the airy-fairy faith that’s intellectual assent. It’s DOING faith. ACTIVE faith. Faith that LOOKS DIFFERENT in someone’s LIFE. That’s the goal. That’s really what the Christian life IS. The obedience of faith.
It’s an idea Paul’s been on about through the whole letter. Way back in his introduction, he describes his ministry. 1:5. We just read it.
To call people from among all the nations to the OBEDIENCE THAT COMES FROM FAITH.
And then in chapters 1-3 we see what FAITH looks like. To trust the righteousness God offers us freely through the of Jesus in our place. And OBEDIENCE means responding to God’s offer of righteousness by ACCEPTING the gift.
And then in chapter 4 we see an EXAMPLE of faith. And the obedience that COMES from faith. Abraham. 4:18
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations,
That was LIVING faith. Faith when he left his homeland. Faith when he offered to sacrifice Isaac.
And then in chapters 5-8 we see what OBEDIENCE looks like. It’s peace and joy. It’s to sin, but life in Christ. It’s slavery to righteousness, it’s life in the Spirit, it’s the hope of glory.
Then 12-16 show us, in specifics, what the obedience of faith looks like. Down to the nitty-gritty of every day life. It means living sacrifices. It means using your gifts to serve others in love. It means submitting to all authorities. It means accepting each other in humility and unity.
That’s the picture of the obedience of faith Paul’s painted. It’s the sort of follower God LOVES to develop. It’s why he’s revealed the gospel through Paul. The gospel he uses to establish and strengthen believers from all nations.
(pause) But how does the gospel establish people? How does it strengthen our faith?
We sometimes think the gospel is something you only have to hear ONCE. When God first calls you, offers you his grace, and you repent and turn to him. And that’s TRUE. But it doesn’t stop there. God wants to CONTINUALLY establish you by the gospel. We need to KEEP proclaiming the gospel to each other to strengthen our faith. Let me give you some examples of how that might work.
- You’ve been a Christian for a while, but nothing much is happening. You take your eyes off Christ, and focus on yourself. YOU START TO WONDER WHETHER YOU’RE REALLY SAVED AFTER ALL. You lack assurance of salvation…You need someone to preach the gospel to you. That God offers everyone the free gift of righteousness. God demonstrated his love for you in this: it was WHILE YOU WERE STILL A SINNER Christ died for you. Now you’re his FRIEND. How much more will he save you from judgment? That’s the gospel that God strengthens you with.
- You’ve slipped back into some sin you just can’t seem to escape from. It all seems too hard… You need someone to preach the gospel to you. That your old re is gone, and the new re is here. Christ’s Spirit has washed you clean. He’s given you a new heart and new power. Victory over sin is possible in his strength. THAT’S the gospel that God strengthens you with.
- You’re tempted to boast. You reckon you’re doing better than others around you… You need someone to preach the gospel to you. We’re all sinners. No one deserves the gift God offers. That’s why it’s a gift. A gift you can’t earn or buy or repay. Not by works, so that no one can boast. You were created for good works, so get on with them. That’s the gospel that God strengthens you with.
- You’re being persecuted for Jesus’ sake. A boss at work, the authorities, your neighbour. You’re tempted to hide it, tempted to be bitter, and retaliate… You need someone to preach the gospel to you. Jesus has been crowned with glory and righteousness because of his obedience to . He reigns over every power and authority. One day he will judge perfectly, and bring in a new kingdom without injustice or pain. That’s the gospel God strengthens you with.
- A dark cloud hangs over you. Chronic illness, or poverty, or imminent … You need someone to preach the gospel to you. Jesus has defeated sin and . Your present sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in you. Even creation is waiting eagerly for the sons of God to be gloriously revealed. His kingdom of perfect righteousness has begun. You’re PART of that kingdom. Expectantly HOPE for it. That’s the gospel that God strengthens you with.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
To him be glory
One final point to make. “To him who strengthens you by the gospel BE GLORY FOREVER through Jesus Christ” says Paul.
What he’s saying is that God RECEIVES the glory/ WHEN people are strengthened in faith, and live out the obedience of faith.
That’s the way it worked with Abraham. Back in 4:20
20 Yet Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was STRENGTHENED IN HIS FAITH and GAVE GLORY TO GOD,
We GIVE glory to him as we show by our lives that he is WORTHY of it. As we TRUST him, we show him trustworthy. As we OBEY him, we show him wise and loving and mighty. As we PROCLAIM HIS GOOD NEWS, we show him to be infinitely GOOD and WORTHY of rejoicing in.
It’s so contrary to the way EARTHLY rulers work. They seek to make themselves glorious by making their people LITTLE. Keeping them WEAK and down-trodden. Look at Thailand, or Zimbabwe. Or China.
But God is glorified when he establishes HIS PEOPLE through the gospel. When he makes THEM strong.
- God is glorified when he puts his eternal plan into action. When he shows his great love for humanity in sending his only Son to die in our place.
- God is glorified when, at the cross, he demonstrate himself to be both JUST, and the one who JUSTIFIES.
- God is glorified when he calls people from EVERY NATION on EARTH to the obedience of faith.
And God is glorified when you and I LIVE OUT that obedience of faith joyfully and consistently and hopefully.
God is glorified when you and I are ESTABLISHED by the gospel. Solid,. Immovable. Trusting the trustworthy one. Following the faithful one..
God is glorified when you and I proclaim the gospel to each other to establish each other. When we give glory to the glorious one with our mouths and our hearts and our hands.
25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him- 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.