In May 1921 the first western expedition to Everest was undertaken. The goal of the reconnaissance expedition was to ascertain possible routes for summiting the world’s highest peak. While they did not reach the pinnacle of Earth’s crust, they set the stage for Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent in 1953. Since then less than 6,000 people have looked down from the peak at 8,848 meters.
I have long been fascinated by high-altitude climbing. There is perhaps no more appealing prize to the masses than Everest. But as thrilling as a trip to the top of the world may be, there are loftier peaks to reach.
The book of Romans is in many respects the pinnacle of New Testament theology. While the gospels form the foundation of our faith in the life of Jesus, and the Acts of the Apostles recounts the establishment of the church, it is Romans that demonstrates God’s righteousness and reveals how he can make men righteous.
Sin is the great enemy, and all people – both Jew and Gentile – have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But God, who is rich in mercy, put forward Christ Jesus as a propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:24, 25). This explains how God was able to be both just and the justifier (Romans 3:25, 26).
Just as Abraham accessed God’s mercies through faith, we too can be “counted” as righteous (Romans 4). Adam changed the world by introducing sin, but Jesus also changed the world through grace. The sin of Adam brought physical death, and our individual sin produces spiritual death (separation from God). But the death of Jesus provides the solution to spiritual death, and his resurrection offers the hope of life eternal (Romans 5).
We reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus through baptism. It is here that we put to death the old person and rise to walk anew. Having been set free from our sins we must no longer allow it to reign over us. We submit ourselves as slaves to God (Romans 6). Those who once lived in the law given by Moses found it a great struggle. While the law was good it was not designed to be the end (Galatians 3). Rather it helped men to see their own weaknesses. But in Christ, men are freed from the law and married to Christ (Romans 7).
Living this new life is beautiful when we submit to the ordinances of God. But life can be hard. Should we give up? No!
“The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)
Death is not defeat for Christians. Despite what may transpire, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). God’s love is strong, and nothing in this world can separate a faithful Christian from his God.
Some Jews might have thought that all these promises were just for them. Why did God create the nation of Israel, give them the prophets and the promises if not for their exclusive salvation? God is sovereign. He used men like Abraham, and people like Israel to accomplish his purpose. While individuals always had the freedom to choose, most in Israel failed in their pursuit of righteousness because they did not pursue it by faith (Romans 9).
While salvation is available to the Gentiles (Romans 10), God has not forgotten Israel. All along he has been pleading with them. It is not impossible for Jews to be saved, for Paul is a physical descendant of Abraham. In fact, all Israel will be saved. That is, spiritual Israel (see Romans 9:6, 7), which is made up of the faithful, Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 11:26). All those who live in faith in Jesus are partakers of the blessings of the tree of God (Romans 11).
It is at this moment that Paul has reached the apogee of God’s revelation to him. Just as those explorers, who after strenuous effort, look upon the wonder of what God has created, so Paul takes a moment to admire the Divine and praise God for his greatness.
Who among us could have drawn such a plan? How could we have understood how the Omniscient One would weave this magnificent tapestry of salvation throughout history? His merciful riches, his great wisdom, and his knowledge cannot be plumbed. God has not had one misstep, not one unintended consequence throughout all human history. Surely he and he alone is sufficient for this task (Romans 11:33-35). /1
And so, as Paul is about to descend from the apex to give us the practical instruction demanded by such wonders, he speaks of God in one last proclamation of inspired devotion:
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36)
1/ Romans 11:33-35 is in the form of a chiasmus. This chiastic structure (see below) emphasizes God’s unsearchable judgments and untraceable ways.
A Oh, the depth of the riches
B and wisdom
C and knowledge of God!
D How unsearchable are His judgments
D’ and how untraceable His ways!
C’ For who has known the mind or the Lord,
B’ or who has been his counselor?
A’ Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?