December 18 2011 Sermon
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith–
27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Rom 16:25-27 ESV)
Soli Deo Gloria. That’s Latin for “To God alone be glory.” That was a powerful message during the Reformation. The reformers wanted to make sure that God received all the glory for the work of the Gospel. We see this same idea expressed in Paul‘s concluding doxology in his letter to the Romans. A fitting response, certainly, to the revelation of the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. And a fitting word for the final Sunday of Advent as we look ahead to the mystery of centuries that was revealed in the event we will celebrate one week from today on Christmas morning.
TO GOD ALONE BE GLORY—BOTH FOR HIS MYSTERY AND FOR REVEALING HIS MYSTERY.
Paul says the gospel is the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages. There is a reason God’s glory was a mystery for long ages.
First of all because human beings cannot understand God’s glory. We envision glory as something very different from what it really is. We think of glory as might, power, and honor. Glory, in our minds, is all about the one who has it and always makes others look weak, humble, inferior. For example: It’s an athlete’s glory to win—which means he beats someone else. It’s an entrepreneur’s glory to make the cover of Fortune magazine—which calls further attention to himself. An actor glories when he goes onstage at the Oscars and thanks all the “little people,” who helped him get there.
Therefore, left to our own to understand God’s glory we would understand it in the way of the world. It would humiliate us to give him glory and honor because it would mean we were the “little people.” We would do it grudgingly, gritting our teeth.
With our human concept of glory, we would look for God in all the wrong places. We would want to find him in the majestic beauty of nature; or see him at work in spectacular and miraculous ways, such as curing a dying cancer patient overnight, or making us suddenly wealthy and successful by some unexpected turn of events, or to rescue us from our problems in some spectacular way.
If that’s the way we understand God’s glory, it would still be a mystery to us, because we would not understand God’s glory at all. God’s glory is of an entirely different kind. God’s glory is an attitude toward us that we could never fathom on our own. Figure this out:
Our natural attitude toward God is rebellion, resentment, revulsion. We humans reject God by nature. We don’t want him or anyone else having authority over us. We don’t want to do what he says. We want to do what is twisted, dishonorable, trash. So by nature we resent God and even hate him for his Commandments which limit us and take the fun out of life. We are naturally self-centered and don’t want to love others or sacrifice ourselves to serve someone else. We are turned inward into ourselves. Our hearts are turned in ourselves, not turned to others in love and concern. We lack compassion, lack mercy. We are mostly concerned with our own well-being and self. Our heart is turned inward, not outward. And this is complete rebellion against God. For this we are not pleasing or acceptable to God. For this we deserve eternal fire and weeping.
But in spited of what we deserve, God delights to favor us. His glory is to honor his rebellious creatures and save us from our sin. We break God’s Commandments and go our own sinful ways. Our thoughts and desires are loathsome and vile. We deserve the punishment and condemnation of his wrath and judgment. But God’s glory is to take action for us, on our behalf. Who could guess? He takes the punishment that we deserve for us—death and the pains of hell. Really? Yes. That is his glory. His glory is to suffer for us. His glory is to die for us. His glory was to take our shame and ugliness. His glory was to hang naked on a shameful cross like a common criminal with blood pouring from his head, his lashes, and his hands and feet and side. His glory is to take our guilt onto himself and suffer our punishment in hell, and to declare us righteous.
Does that make any sense? We shame him by ignoring him, cheating on him, acting as though he doesn’t matter, and he declares us innocent because Jesus was declared guilty in our place. Go figure!
God considers it glory to give us a gift. We are credited with a righteousness from outside ourselves—namely, Christ’s righteousness. It is a gift and we receive this gift merely by believing that he has given it to us. That is the “obedience of faith” which Paul talks about in our text.
Who would ever know all this was God’s idea of glory? Who would ever guess that God’s glory was to suffer for us despicable creatures in order to declare us righteous and set us free from his wrath and eternal punishment. To raise us poor, needy people up from the ash heap. Psalm 113 states: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory is above the heavens! 5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. (Psa 113:4-8 ESV)
To God alone by the glory: because he did not keep it a secret from us. God’s glory became clear when he sent his Son. The mystery of God’s glory is revealed in Jesus. This is what we’re about to celebrate. This is what Advent has been looking forward to all along. “Now in these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son.”
Jesus is the full and final revelation of the mystery because he is the mystery made flesh. The mystery is now made manifest for all the world to see. Jesus is, “God made manifest in man.” Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. The mystery of God’s glory was manifest in the suffering and death of his Son. Jesus, on a cross, declaring, “It is finished!” is the greatest glory of God. His glory is revealed in a humble baby born in a stable, in a homeless, itinerate preacher in a remote and despised region of Galilee. In a man arrested and charged with treason, whipped, lashed, ridiculed, spat upon and executed on a Roman cross. That is where we look to see the glory of God. God taking our sin upon himself and dying to set us free and declare us righteous. That is the glory of God.
And now 2000 years later, God has revealed the mystery of his glory in Christ through the written word and the Sacraments. The prophetic writings of the Old Testament spoke of Christ long before he came. The writings of the Old Testament are the texts that Jesus and the Apostles used in their preaching. And the Apostles carried the message to distant lands and it is still being carried to all nations in the written and spoken word and in the Sacraments. The mystery revealed of God’s glory; his salvation through Christ Jesus. It is no secret anymore!
So today we sing: to God alone be glory. This is the praise we bring. Here Paul concludes his entire letter to the Roman believers with thanksgiving “to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” This whole letter from Paul unveils the plan of the gospel. Paul has taken us from a clear declaration of what we were—helpless, hopeless sinners, enemies of God—to what God has declared us to be—forgiven, justified saints, who live with him and live for him. A plan so gracious, so loving, it would always have been a mystery to us. But now that Paul has revealed the mystery, what can we do but say thanks?
Now that we know it, now that we have been brought to that faith, now that God’s gracious glory is no longer a mystery to us, how can we not pour out thanks and praise. The all glorious God has made it his glory to save us sinners. The all glorious God has made it his glory to suffer and die for us. The all glorious God has made it his glory to declare us righteous. The all glorious God has made it his glory to give us eternal life. Thank God!
Soli deo gloria! To God alone be glory. Let us say it over and over. In worship, in thanksgiving, in praise “to God alone be glory.” At home, at work, at school, at play, “to God alone be glory.” In good times and bad; in sickness and suffering; in affliction and pain; “to God alone be glory.” It is God’s glory to save us. It is God’s glory to lift us out of sin and the lives we have ruined by our sin. It is God’s glory to raise us up and restore us when we have made a mess of life and it is all falling apart.
To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Because of Jesus, his glorious death, his glorious resurrection, this is what we’ll say forevermore. Glory be to God! Amen.
For long ages it was a secret. God’s people waited. Now our much sorter wait is nearly over. God has revealed the mystery of the Gospel in the incarnation of his Son, and very soon, we celebrate. The mystery has been revealed so that we might be saved and so that we might give hi glory. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.”