by William Klock
Have you ever had to speak in front a group—a speech or some kind of presentation—and you wrote your thoughts down in advance? Maybe you wrote out everything you were going to say? You had what you thought was a masterfully constructed conclusion. And then you delivered the speech or made the presentation, you got to the end, you said those well-crafted words—and they weren’t enough. Maybe you could see from the audience’s reaction that it wasn’t clicking. Maybe what you thought was masterfully written didn’t come across the same way you actually said it. Maybe you realised a key something was missing. Whatever the case, you had to keep going for another few words or another few sentences…maybe even another few paragraphs and it felt like it came out in a jumble. That happens to me as a preacher quite often. You can ask June. As I preach she follows along with my manuscripts. I don’t hold slavishly to them, but I often see her putting them down when I’ve finished my last written thought only to continue on because the ending just didn’t go the way I planned. Sometimes I forget where I am in my sermon and end up powering right through the conclusion when I shouldbe slowing down. Other times I realise, as I’ve preached, that there was something really important that failed to include in my concluding thoughts.
Although Paul was dictating to a secretary, something like that seems to have happened to him at the very end of Romans. He finished the main body of the letter in Chapter 15, then he gave some closing personal thoughts and plans. In Chapter 16 he commended Phoebe, his messenger, to them, sent his greetings to the different congregations in Rome, and finally sent greetings from the companions who were with him in Corinth. And now, in verses 25-27 he ends with a doxology. It’s an unusual thing for Paul to do. In fact, some New Testament scholars have argued that it wasn’t written by Paul at all, but was added by someone who thought it was needed and tried to duplicate Paul’s style. It’s unlikely that’s what happened. But here at the end, just as he’s about to put down his pen, Paul takes a firmer grip on it (well, though his secretary he does), and writes this closing doxology. It’s masterfully crafted. And yet it’s still not enough. Sometimes it’s hard to contain our praise of God. And the great theologian’s carefully crafted doxology ends in a jumble as he realizes that simply giving glory to God isn’t enough.
So let’s look at this doxology that closes the greatest letter in history and caps off one of the great mountain peaks of the New Testament. Let’s start out by reading through the whole short doxology. Again, this is verses 25-27.
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 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—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Do you know what a “doxology” is? “Doxa” is the Greek word for “glory”, so a doxology is a song or a hymn of praise meant to give glory to God. Most of you, I think, are familiar with what we call The Doxology sung to “Old Hundredth”:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
It doesn’t seem to be used much in this part of the world, at least not anymore, but in every church I’ve been a part of before coming to Vancouver Island we sang it every Sunday as the collection was walked up the aisle and presented to the minister. (That’s the usual practice in Episcopal and Reformed Episcopal churches.) “Praise God”. That’s what a doxology is about. Paul sings out, “To God be glory forever!”
But why does God deserve to be glorified? That’s the first part of Paul’s song:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…
That’s the first part of verse 25. God’s power has been an important theme all the way through Romans. Remember back to the very beginning, in 1:16: “the gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. And just a few verses later, in verse 20, Paul stresses why humanity and all of Creation needs God’s salvation: “His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made”, but despite the power of God being so obvious, we human beings have chosen to rebel against our Creator. We’ve taken the glory that is due him and given it instead to all sorts of false gods and even claimed it for ourselves. And yet, God has the power to change our hearts, to restore us, and to renew his Creation. He has promised to do just that and he has the power to do it (4:21). He has shown his power to those who resist, like Pharaoh (9:17, 22). And even when he displays his power in judgement—cutting off Israel, the natural born children of Abraham, for their unbelief—Paul also stressed that God has the power to graft those severed branches back into the tree (11:23). God is able. Paul knew that persecution was coming and so he wrote these brothers and sisters saying, back in Chapter 1, that he wanted to impart some spiritual gift to strengthen them. Here it is: the good news about Jesus, that he died, that God raised him from the dead and, in doing that, declared him to be not just Israel’s Messiah, but Lord of Creation. Jesus is Lord. That’s the gospel. The good news that God’s king has come and that his kingdom is breaking into this world. It’s the royal summons to repent—to turn aside from everything else—and to kneel in faith before Jesus, giving him our total allegiance. Paul was a royal herald. This was the message entrusted to him by the King himself.
Now, it’s one thing to talk about God’s power. It’s one thing to say that he is able. Talk is cheap. This is why Paul’s theme through Romans has been that the gospel—the good news about Jesus—reveals the righteousness of God. It reveals that what he promises he does; it reveals that God is powerful and abel. This is what Paul’s getting at as he continues:
…according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations…
The cross and resurrection have revealed what was hidden in plain sight all along. The mystery revealed in Jesus was there in the prophets of the Old Testament. It was there, hidden in the story right from the beginning, going back to Genesis 3, going back to God’s calling of Abraham. It was there in the exodus. It was there in God’s promise to David of a throne that would last forever. It was there in the prophets as God promised deliverance from exile. God created human beings to serve as his image-bearers. Time and again we rejected him and time and again he sent mediators to renew and restore his people to their mission. The story itself points to and promises a final, once-for all mediator. And we see that story reach its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Brothers and Sisters, this is the mystery we proclaim. This is the story we tell. Why aren’t Christians maturing in the faith? Why are Christians failing to evangelise our nation? Why are our churches dying? Because we are preaching and proclaiming everything but this mystery. We are preaching and proclaiming everything but faithful allegiance to Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord. We’re preaching on how to be happy. We’re preaching on how to be successful. We’re preaching on how to be married. We’re preaching on how to raise kids. We’re preaching on how to be fulfilled. We’re preaching on how to have better relationships. But we’re not preaching Jesus. We’re not preaching the story. We’re not preaching the cross. We’re not preaching the empty tomb. We’re not preaching repentance. We’re not preaching allegiance to the King. And even when we do preach Jesus, we’re too often presenting the gospel as if it were just another option on the smorgasbord of ideas. “Try Jesus,” we say, “and see if you like him.” No! The gospel is the royal summons to allegiance to Creation’s true Lord. You don’t “share” it—as we’ve been saying for the last seventy or eighty years. No, you proclaim it. You declare it. It is the declaration that every other item on the ideological smorgasbord has passed its prime. There is only one option: the Lord Jesus.
And the story backs it up. People will ask, “How can I know that Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life?” Brothers and Sisters, the answer is there in the story: Over and over God promised and then he made good. Over and over God not only declared that the gods of the nations were false, he demonstrated it. From sending plagues on Egypt to show that their gods were powerless, to the great idol of Dagon falling on its face with shattered hands before God’s ark when it was captured by the Philistines, to Israel’s own defeat when she relied on pagan gods…and on to the day that Paul envisioned: when mighty Caesar, instead of claiming godhood for himself, would kneel before Jesus in faith and the gods of the Greeks and the Romans, the Gauls, and the Britons, and the Goths would be forgotten and churches would be built across a once-pagan empire. God is able. Jesus is Lord. In the proclamation of God’s word and God’s gospel is the power transform hearts and minds and to change the world.
The good news has gone out to all the nations, Paul says:
…according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith…
Again, God is able. God is sovereign. The coming of the nations to Jesus is not an accident. It’s according to God’s plan. No one would ever have imagined that this would have happened. They should have. It was hidden in plain sight right there in the story. God told Abraham that his purposes were aimed at the entire world and all of humanity. But Israel didn’t understand. And yet, in Jesus, Israel’s God is declared finally to be the God of the nations. Paul says something similar in Ephesians 3:2-6.
You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
This is what Paul’s been on about throughout Romans. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. Jesus died for the sins of Israel. But the amazing thing is that in Jesus Israel herself has been reconstituted and recreated around the Messiah himself and, because of that, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs and partakers of God’s promises. Paul says something similar in Colossians 1:24-27, but there he zeros in on a key point:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Again, the mystery of Israel’s God made known in the death and resurrection of Jesus, making the riches and glory of God known to the Gentiles, not this time in judgement—think of Pharaoh and the Egyptians again—but also in redemption. And Paul points at the Colossians—and we can imagine him pointing to us—this is Christ in you. This is what it means be united with Jesus. We grab hold of him in faith in our baptism, he pours his Spirit into us and makes us part of his new people, and in doing that, like Israel passing through the Red Sea, leaving Egypt’s slavery behind and heading to the promised land, Jesus gives us the hope of glory. Jesus has won. The old age is passing away. The old gods are dead. The new age is breaking in and we live in hope. God did the hard part at the cross when he gave his own Son as a sacrifice for sin. We can trust that he is able to complete what he has finished. Everything this side of the cross is the easy part. His people proclaim his good news. His people preach his word. And the world changes.
Now, at this point it looks like Paul’s going to end his doxology with those words:
…to the only wise God be glory forevermore...
Paul certainly could have stopped at that point. That’s a fine ending. But something’s missing. This is where the carefully crafted sermon ending just isn’t quite enough. The only wise God isdeserving of glory forevermore. But now Paul throws his good Greek grammar out the window and goes for broke. This isn’t just a hymn of praise to God as so many people see him. He adds:
…through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Some people—unbelieving Jews, for example, but even many people today—might ask Paul: “Wait. What did you just do there? Are you giving glory to God? Or are you giving glory to Jesus? To give glory to God—that’s pretty uncontroversial. But to give glory to Jesus, well, that’s to put him on an equal footing. And in answer Paul simply says “Yes”. That’s what “Amen” means.
Brothers and Sisters, all the talk of God in the world falls short if it doesn’t bring us eventually to Jesus the Messiah. All the praise we can give to God, all the glory we can give to God is nothing unless we lift up Jesus the Messiah as Lord and offer our praise to God through him. Of course, that’s the problem. It’s easy to acknowledge God. To acknowledge God costs us little or even nothing. But to acknowledge God without Jesus falls short and gets us nothing. Long before the Creeds were ever written defining the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, Paul lifted Jesus up and put him on an equal footing with God the Father right here. Jesus is worthy of the same glory and praise that the Father is. And, more important for us, it is through him and him alone that we have access to the Father, to his kingdom, and to the forgiveness and life he offers through his Son. But to acknowledge Jesus costs us something. To acknowledge Jesus requires repentance. It requires we turn from everything else, let go of everything else, stop trusting in everything else and, instead, to grab hold of Jesus with both hands and to cling to him and him alone in faith for forgiveness, for renewal, for regeneration, for life, and for hope.
Let us pray: Father, you are powerful and able. You have strengthened us by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah and you have revealed your righteousness in his incarnation, in his death, in his resurrection, and in his ascension. By your word, you have forgiven us, you have given us life, and you have made us new. We give you the glory you are due, through Jesus our Lord. And we ask for strength—for grace, for regeneration, and for renewal—to give you glory each day: proclaiming your goodness, living in faith, and preaching your gospel until your word has done its work and all things are made new. Through Jesus our Lord we pray, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.