Christ and Creation (Romans 1:18-20)

One of the privileges of being a missionary on home assignment is the opportunity to preach from time to time. I have given this message on two occasions recently: at Elim Evangelical Free Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and at Rockport Baptist Church in Arnold, Missouri. I don’t read directly from my typewritten notes—I tend to elaborate and change a few things on the fly—so the message never comes out exactly as I write it. But here it is. I hope it communicates my passion not only for the creation, but even more, my passion for Jesus Christ and the gospel.

I had a PowerPoint presentation while I spoke. You will have to imaging the Hubble Space Telescope images for yourself.

Grace and Peace

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When we were at one of the first training sessions for our mission, there were a number of us new missionaries at a conference table with the director of our mission. He asked us to go around the table and share with the group what our passions were. Most of the missionaries, naturally, shared about their passion for evangelism, for the Word of God, or for planting churches cross-culturally. Now I share a passion for those things—I love my Lord Jesus Christ, I love being in his Word, and desire to see the gospel proclaimed in other cultures. When it got to me, however, I said that I have a passion for science. Sometimes in the science classroom I get really excited about something we are doing—whether it is the laws of quantum mechanics that govern how electrons are arranged around the nucleus of the atom, the intricacies of processes that occur inside of cells, or the overwhelming power of a volcanic eruption.

Sometimes my students will roll their eyes when I get really enthusiastic about something, and they’ll ask me why. I tell them that I hope they find some things in their lives that they can be really passionate about; it doesn’t have to be all the same things that I get excited about: it may be art or music or computer programming or writing or helping people—I don’t want them to just drift through life being entertained by this thing or that thing, but to develop the gifts and interests that God has placed in them to the fullest and for his glory. And as a teacher, I know that if my enthusiasm for the subject shows through, I can draw my students in a bit. I’ve had students say to me, at the end of the year, “You know, Mr. Nelstead, I didn’t really like chemistry at the beginning of the year, but you know, it’s sort of okay.” Sometimes I take “it’s sort of okay” as a great compliment.

I have been interested in this passion of mine—science—for as long as I can remember. One of the reasons I get so ardent about this is that I believe strongly that the Creation points to the Creator, that we can look, for example, at the stars and say with the Psalmist in Psalm 19—

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth
their words to the ends of the world.”

I can picture David out in the fields at night with his flocks. It is a moonless night, and his view of the heavens is not dimmed by the bright lights that lessen the glory of the sky at night in our cities—astronomers call this light pollution—and the stars are spread across the sky from horizon to horizon. Have you ever been out in the country on a dark, dark night, and seen this? Thousands of stars are visible, the faint swath of stars we know as the Milky Way spans the sky, and occasional meteors glow as they burn up in the atmosphere of the earth. It is truly an amazing sight to behold. I’ve been in the Rocky Mountains at night, not only far from city lights, but in air that is thinner and dryer than it is here in the Midwest, and burst into song upon viewing the majesty of the heavens…

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul my savior God to Thee
How great thou art, how great thou art.
Then sings my soul my savior God to Thee
How great thou art, how great thou art.

Let me tell you, however, that David had only a glimpse of what is out there. Today we have a host of instruments with which we can probe the distant reaches of the universe. For example, there is the Hubble Space Telescope, which is in orbit high above the atmosphere that distorts the light coming to the earth, giving us much clearer view of the universe than we ever have had before. These have revealed wonders and beauties in space that were unimaginable a generation ago. Glowing clouds of gas—this is a nebula, or cloud of interstellar gas and dust, where astronomers think new stars are forming. We can see the details of distant galaxies, which themselves number in the hundreds of billions. We see other places where places where other stars undergoing violent deaths.

The universe, as we understand it, is incredibly vast. I like what John Piper says about this, in his book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. Piper writes:

“Sometimes people stumble over this vastness in relation to the apparent insignificance of man. It does seem to make us infinitesimally small. But the meaning of this magnitude is not mainly about us. It’s about God. The reason for ‘wasting’ so much space on a universe to house a speck of humanity is to make a point about our maker, not us.”

The heavens declare the glory of God. We are small, the universe is almost infinitely larger, but it is nothing compared to the God who created it. God is to the universe as the universe is to man, or even more so.

The main passage I want to look at this morning is Romans 1:18-20. The theme of the book of Romans is the gospel—the bad news of our sin, the Good News of forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ that is for all the nations, and the outworking of that in our lives. Paul takes much of the first three chapters of Romans building a case that all humans, from the most depraved to the most saintly, are in need of a savior.

Let’s take a look at verses 18-20 of chapter one, which is the beginning of this section of Romans:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

I want to bring out three points from this passage.

First, the creation proclaims the existence of a Creator. Paul writes, “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” I have already spoken about this in terms of the glories of the universe.Does the universe really proclaim God’s existence? Many scientists and philosophers will say “no”—that’s what the whole debate over Intelligent Design is about. They acknowledge that many things in the living world look like they were designed, but then they say that there had to be some natural process rather than a supernatural one that led to that appearance of design. They take especially long leaps of faith when it comes to issues such as the origin of the universe and the origin of life.

I believe that if one objectively looks at nature, with all of the ways the universe seems to be fine-tuned for the existence of life, and the extreme complexity of even the most simple life-forms, such as bacteria, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that the universe was created by a supernatural being. Someone who would agree with me on this is a man named Antony Flew. Flew is in his 80s now. From the 1950s until just a few years ago he was one of the world’s foremost atheist philosophers—he was the guy writing the textbooks on atheism. Just in this past year, Flew announced that he was wrong. He always said that he would follow the evidence wherever it led, and he has become convinced by the basic arguments of the Intelligent Design community.

For those who have eyes to see, the universe declares the existence of God. In fact, I think that, with all we have learned about the creation in the past 100 years, we may have less of an excuse to believe in God than any generation in history. We have been educated to not see God when we look at nature, but in reality the stars, the bacteria, the stones all cry out, proclaiming the existence of the Creator.

The second truth statement that I want to make from our passage in Romans is that the universe declares something about the attributes and power of God. “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” In terms of how this relates to us, I think we can say that the creation reveals God’s care for us. I think his power is revealed in that he created the universe, from nothing, just by speaking, and it was so. But God could have created any kind of universe and been glorified by it. He could have created a universe that is dominated by high-energy events: supernovas, black holes, x-ray stars, gamma ray bursts—things that exist and would be deadly to any human being close by, that is, within a few tens of trillions of miles. But a universe dominated by these things, think how that would proclaim the awesome power of the one who created it!

But God has created a universe that also has protected places—or at least one protected place—the earth. On earth we are protected from extremes of hot and cold by the fact that the earth is just the right distance from the sun—not too close, not too far away. The earth has a stable spin on its axis—it doesn’t wobble all over the place—because of the presence of the moon. We are protected from ultra-violet radiation by the thin ozone layer in the stratosphere, 15 to 40 miles above us. We are mostly protected from being hit by asteroid-sized meteorites by the presence of Jupiter 400 million miles away. The list of conditions like these that make the earth a comfortable place to live is actually quite long, leading some secular astronomers to come to the conclusion that even though there may be 200 billion stars in our galaxy, there may be only one planet, ours, that has the right conditions for people like you and I to be discussing such things.

The human writers of the Bible did not know all of these things we have learned through modern science, but they could still see God’s care for us in his creation. Jesus, who knows all things, spoke of how God takes care of the birds of the air: “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.” Also in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Paul, when preaching in the city of Lystra, said “He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:17-18) Whether in these simple ways, or in the ways that we only know through modern science, God reveals that he not only has created us, but that he daily cares about what he has created. He is not the God of the deists, such as Jefferson and Franklin, who believed that the Supreme Being set the world in motion like a finely-tuned machine, and is now letting it run its course. His care for us is expressed on an ongoing basis. He is not only the creator, he is the sustainer of the universe.

My third point is this: we are accountable to the Creator. “God’s invisible qualities… have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” I once took a Philosophy of Science course at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. What it came down to was this: the professor admitted that my presentation of the evidence for the need for a Creator was philosophically, and therefore scientifically, valid, but she then came right out and said she didn’t want to be accountable to God. That kind of honesty is rare, but I think it is widespread. People want to live their lives without a God telling them what they can and cannot do.

Paul spends the next two chapters developing this idea of accountability to God. In chapter one we have the deadly spiral into deeper and deeper sin that happens when we leave God out of the picture. In chapter two Paul writes about the conscience that all people possess, even those without the Law. Later in chapter two and into chapter three, Paul exposes the sin of the religious person as well, those who have the Law. The conclusion of this part of Romans is found in 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

We all have no excuse, for we should all see the existence of God and some of the truths about God in creation. We also have no excuse for our disobedience to his commandments; we have all fallen short of God’s righteous standards, whether we know them through the Law presented in the Bible, or by the conscience that is planted in every human being.

To sum up: God has revealed his existence in the creation, some of his character in the creation, and as his creatures we are accountable to our creator.

This accountability to God, and the fact that we have all failed in this accountability, are what we can call the Bad News. In order to understand the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to first understand the Bad News. God created us, but in Adam we have all sinned, and on our own we’ve done a good job of messing things up as well. We have lied, we have stolen in one way or another, we have hated, we have neglected others’ needs, we have failed to honor God, we have lusted, we have coveted and envied.

You know now that I have a passion for science. But there is something far, far more amazing and wonderful than anything in all of creation, and that is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If I ended this message here, you would be left with something incomplete.

What do I mean? One could believe from the creation that God exists, that humans are unrighteous, and that there is going to be a day of judgment, and be a Moslem. The religion of Islam believes all of these things, yet does not offer a solution to the sin problem.

God has revealed himself in the Creation, and we are therefore accountable to him. But the revelation in Scripture is only a partial revelation. We can learn some things about God in the Creation, but God has revealed much about himself in a much deeper way: he has revealed himself in the Word of God, and in his son, Jesus Christ.

Just before Romans 1:18-20, which I read earlier, Paul wrote briefly about the gospel:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

To me, this is really exciting stuff. We are accountable to God for how we live our lives, but we have fallen and continue to fall short of God’s righteous standards. Jesus lived up to those standards in every way and every day of his life—he is the only one who has—and his righteousness is transferred to us when we trust in Christ.

I sang earlier from “How Great Thou Art.” That great hymn begins with praising God as revealed in Creation, but the crescendo of the song, in my mind, is verse three:

And when I think that God his son not sparing
Sent him to die I scarce can take it in
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin
Then sings my soul my savior God to Thee
How great thou art, how great thou art.
Then sings my soul my savior God to Thee
How great thou art, how great thou art.

So I conclude this message with the good news of the Gospel. Not just because there could be non-Christians out there who need to hear of the savior’s love for them, but because we as Christians need to be reminded of the grace and forgiveness of God every day as well. So I am here this morning, not only to proclaim God’s existence, God’s attributes, and the fact that we are accountable to God. I am here to proclaim God’s grace and forgiveness, poured out to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Father, we praise you for what you have created. Looking at nature, we can stand in awe of you, just like David did 3000 years ago. Only the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Thank you for your care for us—you not only created the universe but you lovingly sustain it. Thank you most of all for redeeming us from our slavery into sin, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

[All scripture quotations from the NIV]

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