Close your eyes for a moment and think of the most spectacular scene in nature you’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the first time you saw the ocean with the waves crashing into the shore. Perhaps you’re thinking of mountains or fields full of wildflowers. Maybe you’ve seen the spectacular colors of the Northern Lights. Picture it. Let your mind go back to that place and that time for a moment. When you experienced that scene, whatever it may be, how did you feel? It might be difficult to find the right words, or enough words, to describe your feelings about that experience. When we come across those sorts of situations we sometimes use the word, “awe,” to label the feeling we can’t really describe. Awe is total admiration and astonishment at the magnificence, beauty, and power of something.
Now, keep that scene in your mind for just a minute longer. When you felt that sense of awe what did you feel the need to do? When you saw the ocean waves crashing in, or the mountains towering above your head, did you feel a need to somehow repay the mountains or the ocean? Did you feel like you deserved some credit for the great feeling you were experiencing because you made the trip out to see it? That sounds strange, doesn’t it? When you have one of those awe-inspiring experiences in nature we tend to feel content and thankful that we got to witness such an awesome thing. The thought of paying a mountain back for being beautiful and awesome seems really odd.
It seems that, for the most part, we understand that those natural wonders are there to be appreciated. They don’t demand that we repay them or do anything for them. They exist to be appreciated for what they are. So, if we understand that principle in regard to things that were created why do we sometimes have trouble applying it also to the creator? God makes it clear that he doesn’t need us to do anything for him—he doesn’t need or demand that we pay him back for the things he does for us. God simply wants us to recognize who he is and appreciate him for that—just for who he is. He doesn’t demand elaborate sacrifices or huge offerings of money, but instead he wants your trust and heartfelt worship. God wants his people to see who he is and what he does and then respond by looking at him in awe—by worshiping him with heartfelt and genuine praise and thanksgiving.
Our gospel reading today told us about the wrong kind of attitude to have toward God. Jesus went in to the temple and he saw all kinds of people engaged in attempts to pay God back. There were people buying and selling all kinds of things to offer as sacrifices to God. Jesus quickly points them to scripture—to Psalm 8 and Isaiah 56—where God makes it clear that he desires the praise and worship of his people and not their material belongings.
Our Old Testament lesson also showed us what happens when a person has a wrong attitude toward God. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to be in awe of God. He thought of himself as a great king who had built this grand empire for himself all on his own. So, God saw that it was necessary to humble Nebuchadnezzar and show him who the one true God truly is. God made Nebuchadnezzar live like an animal for a period of time. He lived out in the fields and he even began to look like an animal. God did that to demonstrate who he was, and then after the time of the king’s humiliation had ended he did acknowledge God. There was no great sacrifice offered or any sum of money paid to God. Nebuchadnezzar simply acknowledged the Lord and stood in awe of his mighty power.
Now, we’ve got two examples of what not to do and a basic principle for what God does want us to do to worship him. He does not want us to try to repay him and he does not want to be ignored. God does want for us to acknowledge who he is and be filled with awe. Some more specifics on how God wants to be worshiped would be helpful though. That’s where our second lesson for the day, from Romans 11, comes in.
In those verse we read earlier from Romans 11 Paul gives an example of God-pleasing worship. Again, God simply desires that we acknowledge who he truly is. Paul says,
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
This is a simple acknowledgement and confession that we stand in awe of God’s wisdom. So often we want try to explain God’s motives. We hear unbelievers demand that we explain why God would do the things he does or why he goes about his business the way he does. That is not our job. It is not our place to try to explain why God does the things he does or why he does them the way that he does. We can’t do that anymore than we would be able to explain why the ocean waves are so magnificent. Our proper response to God’s wisdom and knowledge is to simply recognize it for what it is—that it is beyond our understanding—and stand in awe of it.
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
This is what that means. If you are teaching someone how to do something and they disregard your instructions. Then, when they fail, the instructor has a reason to be upset. If you were teaching someone how to fish, for example, and you taught them how to tie a lure on to the line, but then they decided to tie a different kind of knot and ended up losing your favorite lure you would be justified to be upset with them. But, what Paul is saying is that we have no right to question God because we weren’t the one there giving him advice or acting as his counselor. God is bigger than any of us and when we question God’s wisdom we forget that. When we act as though we would know better than God how to do something we are making ourselves bigger than God. That’s the very same attitude that got Nebuchadnezzar sent out to pasture in Daniel 4.
To drive the point home Paul asks another rhetorical question in the next verse. He asks,
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
That’s a rephrasing of the same principle. If you loan someone money and then see them squander it you have a right to be upset. If you invest in a business and see them misusing your investment then, again, you have a right to be upset. The fact remains, though, that is not the relationship we have with God. He doesn’t need our money, he doesn’t need to borrow from us, or receive an investment of money from us. God is totally justified to act how he chooses simply by virtue of who he is—the almighty creator, sustainer, and savior of the world. He does not require repayment, but simply desires our worship.
The final verse of Romans 11 is an excellent concise statement on the proper attitude for us to have toward God. Paul says,
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
God is the source of all things, to him be the glory forever, Amen. It is as simple as that. Any form of worship—whether it be sitting in pews singing hymns accompanied by an organ or any thing else—is pleasing in God’s sight as long as it abides by that principle. God is in control. It is not our job to explain his actions or justify them to anyone, but rather to simply acknowledge and confess the one true Lord while standing in awe of his mighty power and infinite wisdom.
We truly do have an awesome God—a God that commands awe from his people. Our human nature tells us that when we receive something so great as the gifts that our Lord gives we ought to pay back the one who gives us such good things. The truth is, though, that God doesn’t need anything we can give. He doesn’t lack anything and what we have to give in return pales in comparison to the greatness of the gifts we have already received. God made this world for us. He made us and gave us life. He gives us everything we need to sustain our lives. Most importantly, he sent his own Son Jesus to be the savior of the world and guarantee eternal life in heaven for everyone who believes in him as their Savior from sin. We simply do not have anything that could compare to those gifts.
What God does desire from us is simple—worship. Not worship that tries to do something for God or buy more of his grace, but God desires worship that simply acknowledges what he has done and who he is. He wants your awe, your wonder, your amazement, your love, and your trust. Trust God to be whom he says he is. Confess who your Lord is boldly and without apology. Stand in awe of the awesome power which created and sustains this universe and one day will bring you to your eternal home in heaven. To the one true God be all praise and thanks now and forevermore.