Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Comprehending the Incomprehensible
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There are those things which are just plain beyond our comprehension. Some things require that we know more than we do. The four-stroke internal combustion engine is like that for some people, and computers are like that for others. They cannot wrap their minds around how it works. They can use them, but they cannot really comprehend them. Some incomprehensible are incomprehensible to certain individuals because they have no explanation, like Murphy’s Law. How something can work perfectly a dozen times in tests and then fail to work properly the one time it really matters - is one of life’s more frustrating mysteries. I am sure it has to do with sin in the world, but I cannot explain it – I just suffer it like everyone else.
Now and then, there are those things which we cannot comprehend due to size. The size of the universe is one such thing. The heat of the sun is another. The intricate and tiny world of microscopic things, the structure of sub-atomic particles and such are other examples. We cannot comprehend them because they are too large or too small, too hot or too cold, or just too many. We cannot really comprehend a trillion. We can understand ten, and we can imagine a hundred. A thousand is getting troubling to actually conceive of, but when we get to trillions, we can write it and talk about it, but we cannot actually comprehend such a number. We picture it as groups of groups of groups – like a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousands of something.
If you doubt me, try to imagine a dozen marbles like little boys like to play with. Not too hard, is it? Now imagine a hundred. Now try to imagine a trillion. How much room do you think they would take up? Could we fit them in our worship area? I did some math. If each marble is ½ inch in diameter, to circle the globe would require 3,041,280,000 marbles. In other words we could wrap that chain of a trillion marbles around our planet 328.8 times. A chain 7,872,000 miles long, give or take. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
The Love which God has for us, and the power that He brings to bear on our behalf each day is, likewise, incomprehensible. It is incomprehensible to us because we do not know enough, because it defies any explanation that we would understand, and because of its size. Paul addresses that love, and the power of God, the very power that works in us who believe, in our text this morning. He prays that we might comprehend the incomprehensible. That is our theme and our goal this morning, comprehending the incomprehensible.
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Paul is praying that you might comprehend the incomprehensible.
He speaks of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ. He pictures the love of God as a physical thing, like a river or an ocean, and pictures himself, and us, in the center, and points up and down and left and right to give directions. It’s not a bad image, for we live and move and have our being in God, according to Acts 17:28. We exist because of His love and are daily preserved and protected by His love. Like an ocean, it envelopes us and we cannot conceive of its dimensions.
Our only hope of comprehending this in the least is the work of God within us. It is the product of the strengthening with power by the Holy Spirit, as Paul mentions in our text. It comes only through Christ dwelling within us. It flows out of our being rooted and grounded in love – God’s love, agape love. Any hope we have of comprehending God’s love is His gift. And if we wish to comprehend it, we must look to the cross of Jesus Christ. That is where the magnitude of the love of God for us is most clearly seen.
In order to understand the magnitude of the love of God – to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge – you first have to comprehend sin, its nature, its magnitude, and its consequences. Our text says nothing directly about the issue of sin, but you can no more comprehend the love of God without comprehending something about sin, than you could understand the difference between Navajo White and Bone White without comparing them closely. You need to think about sin for a moment. It is, in a sense, the measuring stick for the love of God.
Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is rejection of God and of His will and, therefore, of life itself. It doesn’t feel that way to us, but that is its reality as revealed by God. The very fact that we don’t perceive sin that way tells us that sin is deception. And sin is death. Simply stated, those descriptions of sin tell us why we should be concerned about sin. But we are blinded to the truth by our sinful flesh, and by the relative comfort and wealth of our daily existence in this most wealthy of ages, in this most favored of nations. Life doesn’t hurt for us the way it does for many. Life isn’t a struggle for us, generally, the way it has been a struggle for most people throughout history. We can afford to ignore reality and live life in destructive and foolish ways, and there is always someone or something around to pick up the pieces. Let me be clear. Mankind has always ignored sin and been comfortable with it, and denied its power and evil. That is part of what sin does to us. Every age of man and every condition of man has been blind to sin because we are slaves to sin.
Besides, because sin appeals to us, we have trouble imagining its true nature, perversion and power. Sin is an utter offense to God. You cannot even imagine. I could stand here in this pulpit and curse you in the most vulgar language and despicable terms and throw rotting garbage and sewage at you and not be as offensive to you as sin is to God. Such is sin.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That is the magnitude of the love of God for us. In the face of such rejection and perversity which was so unappealing and offensive to God, He loved us so greatly that He took on human flesh and human nature and became man. Sin made us enemies of God, deliberate enemies, and yet, while we were still enemies, Christ came to redeem us. He lived and walked among men, enduring not just their sinfulness, but their antipathy and animosity toward Himself, toward the man who was righteous and holy and honest and true. He faced their schemes. He endured their attempts to trap Him and embarrass Him. He patiently endured their open hostility as He taught and prepared His Disciples for what would follow His great sacrifice. He endured betrayal, abandonment, beatings and mocking, torture and injustice, and then He died for those who were doing such horrible things to Him. He had the power to stop it, and did not. He wasn’t killed, but He laid down His life – – for us. He bore it all patiently so that we might be set free from sin and death. That is the love of God.
He sustains us, and sends His Word among us. He protects us and blesses our endeavors. He daily forgives us and pours out His Spirit anew into us. We still sin. We fight among ourselves – even as His chosen people. His love for us is greater than would be required of us to volunteer to bear the penalty for those terrorists who took down the World Trade Center, and we were to give our wealth and our families to them without regard to the great evil that they have done. His love for us is so large and deep as to be beyond our conceiving of it clearly – beyond any simple comparison. The cross tells us of His love, and we struggle to comprehend even that much.
This is the love of God, that Christ died for you. That your sins, though they are great and deep and awful, are forgiven because of Jesus Christ. His love is seen in that you shall rise from the grave on the last day to everlasting life with Him in holiness and glory. And His love is so great that even now, He has plans for you to serve Him and help Him share the news of His great love. Ephesians 2:8-9 is familiar to most of us, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. What we often forget, don’t hear quoted with the other verses nearly as frequently, is verse 10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. God’s love is so vast He has a place for us sinful refugees in His plan for saving the lost and dying. Even such as we are beloved and precious, and rescued and redeemed, and brought into the holy service of our God.
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. His power to help us is as inconceivable and incomprehensible as His love. He is able to do more than we are able to ask. He is willing to more than we are able to imagine. His incomprehensible love moves Him to use His exceedingly abundantly unthinkable power on our behalf and in our service. And it is not a power that is far off. It is the power that works within us, causing us to believe, moving us to pray, helping us to walk in faith to His glory.
So no part of our lives should move us to fear. Nothing should cause us to despair. The incomprehensible power is guided by the incomprehensible love to bless, protect and prosper us in all that we do in faith. Our lives are not out of control. Our world is not out of control. Nothing has gone awry. “Do not be afraid, little flock, Jesus said in Luke 12:32, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” That is the incomprehensible love of God.
Luther responded to these truths in the Small Catechism in much the same way as Paul did in our text. Luther wrote, for all of this it is our duty to thank and praise Him, to serve and obey Him. Paul wrote, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. We give Him that glory by trusting Him, by giving Him thanks, and by living in the light of that incomprehensible love. Anything else is insufficient. We owe Him that much, and more. To quote Luther, This is most certainly true!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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