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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:God is Incomprehensible (Attributes of God Series)
Text:Psalms Psalm 139; Belgic Confession Art (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* Song of Praise: “I Will Extol You, O My God” # 145C
God’s Holy Law (see insert for Responsive Reading: God’s Law as a Rule of Gratitude)
Assurance of Pardon
Song of Response: “Teach Me, O LORD, Your Way of Truth” # 119E
Congregational Prayer
* Song of Preparation: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” # 224

Service of God’s Holy Word

Scripture Reading: Psalm 38; Belgic Confession Article 1
Sermon: The Attributes of God: God is Incomprehensible
Prayer of Application
* Song of Response: “How Great Thou Art” # 227:1,3,4
Offering: M.A.R.S.
* Benediction
* Doxology: “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” # 568

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you stop to think about it, the attribute of God’s incomprehensibility seems somewhat puzzling, almost contradictory in nature. The very definition of the word suggests that God is beyond human comprehension; and yet as Christians we strongly reject the teachings of the skeptics and the agnostics who argue that God simply cannot be known.


The agnostics believe that it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of a divine and infinite being—a being who is without beginning or end, who is infinitely more powerful than we are.


So, one of the questions that we must answer as we come to this particular doctrine is this: “What’s the difference then between what the agnostics and skeptics confess, ‘God cannot be known,’ and what we confess, ‘God is incomprehensible?’”  Is there a difference? If so, what is it?


In his volume on Reformed Systematic Theology, Dr. Joel Beeke addresses this question in a very helpful way. He writes that our knowledge of God is grounded upon God’s will to be known. Simply put our God wants to be known. He has willed it. Therefore, to say that God cannot be known is to defy God; it is to say that God cannot do what God wills to do. Beeke observes that Agnosticism, then, which pretends to show humility, is actually “an insult to God.


Beeke also wrote: “Certainly if theology (our study of God) were simply man’s quest to discover God, we could never break free from agnosticism.” It would be a fool’s errand. How can man – on his own, a mere creature, endeavor to discover, to understand or comprehend anything about the almighty? It would be the intellectual equivalent to what happened in Genesis 11, where man builds a tower to reach to the heavens, in order that man might finally climb up there and meet God and discover who God is. But that’s not the way this works; that’s not the way theology works.


Theology is not something that starts here below, it is not initiated by man. Rather, theology starts above and it is initiated by God as our Creator God reveals Himself to man, He gives Himself to be known by us.


Again, Beeke writes: Christin theology arises not from man’s pursuit of God, but from God’s pursuit of man. And that, beloved, is the key. That approach, that perspective makes all the difference. Christian theology differs from agnosticism because Christian theology is rooted in the Good News of the Gospel: that Good News proclaims that our almighty, infinite, eternal, holy God has invited us, He has called us, He has willed us to know Him – even though we are finite, small, insignificant, fallen sinners.


And it is through His written Word (the Bible) and His Incarnate Word (The Word made Flesh, God’s Son Jesus Christ), that God has invited us, He has called us, He has willed us to know Him, to love him, and to worship Him as our God, as our Lord and Redeemer and Savior.


See, that difference is everything. That’s not just the difference between Christian theology and agnosticism. No. That’s the difference between light and darkness; between life and death; between heaven and hell. If we reject God’s will to be known, we are rejecting God Himself and the Savior He sent. We are rejecting the Gospel – the gift of eternal life.


Here in the Belgic Confession, we believers confess that God is Incomprehensible, and today we seek to comprehend, to understand what this means. To do that we will consider Psalm 139.    

1. The Psalmist’s Humble Observations about God 

2. The Psalmist’s Worshipful Response to God 


1. The Psalmist’s Humble Observations about God 

Psalm 139 should be fairly familiar to us. We often sing this Psalm in our preparation for the Lord’s Supper. David calls for the Lord God to examine him, to test him, to make a thorough search of his heart, his mind, his soul, his motives – to see if there is any offensive way in him, to see if there is any unrighteousness in him and then to lead him in the way everlasting.


Then we apply that to ourselves. We make this our prayer as we examine ourselves. We say, “Lord, search us! Search out our hearts, our souls, our minds, in your sacred Light! Expose the darkness of our sin and iniquity. Expose what lies hidden in the darkness; sins that we either cannot see, or that we have intentionally, willfully denied or hidden – in order that we might confess them, repent of them, ask for God to forgive us for the sake of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, His Son.”  


Besides self-examination, we are also familiar with this Psalm because of the deeply personal and intimate way that the Psalmist describes God’s knowledge of him, as well as God’s supervision and superintendence over every aspect and moment and activity of his life.


Verse 1: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” He’s saying: Lord, you know everything about me. You know me better than anyone else – better than my parents know me; better than my close friends know me – or even my own spouse. Lord, you know me better than I know myself.


You know what is bothering me even when I can’t quite put my finger on it. You know all my doubts and fears and worries. You know all my secrets, my temptations, my desires. You know how I struggle with feelings of anxiety, sadness, despair and disappointment -- hide them as I might from others, you know them full well.


Lord, you know my potential, my strengths and my capabilities. But you also know my limitations, my weaknesses and my breaking point. Only you know exactly what I can endure.


Just think of the life of David and consider how the Lord made him endure hardship, injustice and persecution from king Saul. Yet, the Lord knew exactly what He was doing. The Lord was testing David, preparing David; readying His servant for the day when he would serve as king.


And in the same way, the Lord was also using David’s sufferings and trials and isolation and feelings of forsakenness to foreshadow the sufferings of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Remember the voice of the Psalmist is also the voice of our Lord Himself – and in his earthly ministry and especially in his sufferings on the cross, Jesus took the Psalms upon his lips.

Verses 2-3, David speaks of God’s knowledge over his every action and every thought -- whether sitting down or walking; whether asleep or awake: “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”


Then in verse 3, the Psalmist says Lord, you know me so well, you even know what I am going to say before I say it. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord. That’s quite remarkable when you think about it, because sometimes we start speaking before we even know what we’re going to say. And sometimes words come out that should never have been spoken, and we grieve God’s Holy Spirit. So, this should give us pause to carefully consider what we say.


Going on, vs 5, God also protects us from harm and danger – He hems us in behind and before. The Hebrew word used here is often used in the context of an enemy laying siege to a city, they surround it and let nothing in or out in the hope of forcing it to surrender or destroying it.


But here, this word is used in a positive sense in that the Lord surrounds and besieges his people in his love, for their safety, so that nothing may befall them. Think of Israel after they were led out of Egypt, and Pharoah chased after them with a vengeance – with his chariots of iron and his army.


Pharoah finally caught up to them as they were standing at the banks of the Red Sea. It seemed as if Israel was trapped, with nowhere to go. But when we read the opening verses of chapter 14, we discover that it is not Pharoah who was Israel trapped, it is not Pharoah who has Israel right where he wants them, but it is the other way around. God has Pharoah right where he wants Him. God has lured Pharoah and all his hosts into a trap – and he’s about to destroy them.  


Then in Exodus 14: 19-20 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.


The Lord safely hemmed his people in and no attacking foe could touch them. During that same night, the Lord parted the waters of the Red Sea, letting Israel pass safely through, and then when Pharoah attempted to pursue them, God brought those waters down upon his head and destroyed him and his army. Such is God’s love and care and protection -- nothing can get to us. Nothing can harm us or happen to us outside of God’s divine will, power, protection and permission.


David also confesses that God is present with him wherever he goes. He even identifies God’s presence in the person of the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity. With all confidence and certainty, David confesses that God will be with him no matter where he goes on earth, whether high in heavens or in the deepest depths of the earth. Even if he makes his bed in the depth, God is there.


This sounds a lot like David is confessing what we do in Lord’s Day 1: “I am not my own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, in waking or sleeping, in my coming in and going out, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ!”


One last observation from these opening verses – look at vv. 13-16. These verses prove what we said earlier – that the knowledge David had about God, about who God is, what God knows and what God does –that knowledge did not come from David. No. It was revealed to David by God.


David makes this incredible testimony that God knew him from the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb. Even then, even in the womb of his mother, before David was conscious, even there and then God knew him. God was with him. God saw his unformed body.


Even there, God was hemming him in, protecting him and providing for him. And even then, already, God knew all the days that were ordained for him – from the day of his conception to the day of his death. I’m going to stop there with these humble observations and go on to the second point and talk about the response of the Psalmist. Here we consider …




2. The Psalmist’s Worshipful Response to God 

To start this second point, I want to ask a question. What do we call these observations which the Psalmist has made about God? What is the correct technical or theological term for what he is doing here? David is doing theology.


David has studied, he has observed, he has reflected upon, he has meditated upon who God is, how God works, how God has made himself known in his life and in the world around him (as we said even in the womb); he has reflected upon how God operates, how God manifests his presence and power and purposes – and we call that reverent reflection and meditation, theology.


But as I just said - the only way David can do this is because God made himself known to David. God willed for David to know him. God in his grace and mercy pursued David, and the Lord God saved David because he believed the precious promises of God, David had faith in God and God credited that faith to him as righteousness, just like all rest of the Old Testament saints.


Thus far, I have refrained from using all the theological terminology for what David has been describing in these verses – words like God’s omni-presence (every present), God’s omniscience (all knowing), all seeing, and all wise and omnipotent -- all powerful. In that way, Psalm 139 is a veritable treasure trove of theology when it comes to identifying various attributes of God.


It’s great if we know all those theological terms, but for us Christians, the most important thing is not knowing the correct terminology or making sure we identity which doctrine is which. No. The most important thing of course, is knowing this amazing God who has made himself known to us.

Or, as JI Packer would argue, the most important thing is that He knows us. “All our knowledge of God depends on his sustained initiative in knowing us.” (book -- Knowing God).


See, the purpose of our study of God, the purpose for making all these observations about God, it not simply to know more, or to gain knowledge. The truth is, knowledge for the sake of knowledge puffs up; it becomes an occasion for pride.


But theology, properly done, and theology properly applied leads not to pride – rather, it leads to humility. It leads to worship! It leads us to see the glory and the beauty and majesty of our Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer – and as a result, we fall down at the feet of our Lord and we worship! We stand in holy reverence and awe at who God is.


And that is exactly what David’s response is to all of this! Look at verse 7: Such knowledge, he says – the knowledge which God has revealed about Himself, of how the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them – that God is intimately concerned and involved and connected to his everyday affairs – even knowing his thoughts, his words, his coming in and going out – and knowing that this is true not just for him, but for each and every person who has ever been conceived and born, such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain!


In other words -- this blows his mind. It is unthinkable. It is unbelievable. See, David is confessing that God is incomprehensible.  


God’s Being, God’s wisdom, His power, sovereignty, knowledge, foresight, and presence etc. etc. – God is infinitely and immeasurably above and beyond David’s ability and our ability to comprehend.  


So, you see, God’s incomprehensibility is not about our inability to know God; nor is it about God’s refusal to make himself known to man. No – it is simply about God being so great, so far above His creation, so far above the creatures that He has made in his image, and especially so far above sinners like us whose knowledge of God is warped and distorted and limited by sin.


God glory and greatness and majesty and power is so great that we cannot take it all in. But out of all that God has done, far greater than His act of creating and sustaining the universe and all things – it is God’s act of redeeming sinners, it is God’s work of salvation that is the most incomprehensible and unfathomable of all. Think of that great stanza in the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”


The first two stanzas are all about God’s power and majesty and wisdom that is seen from what God has made with his hands -- the beauty and glory of God in creation:  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.



That’s theology! The hymn writer reflects on the wonders of God’s creative wisdom and majesty and glory – and Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art… Theology leads to Doxology!! We see the same pattern repeat itself in the next stanza:


When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.

When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.     

He’s describing something we’ve all seen and done and experienced – we see the Father’s Hand and marvel at His glory in all that He has made – and that theology leads to doxology: Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art…


But what is it that moves the heart of the hymn writer – the heart of the child of God -- more than anything else? It is the mind-blowing thought that this same almighty, eternal, incomprehensible, all-knowing, all-seeing, everywhere present God has stooped to save a wretch like me.


To think that God Himself came down from heaven to earth in the flesh, to take on our human nature, and more than that, to take on our sin and guilt, and to be made sin, to be made to suffer and die on the cross for our sake – all so that we, unworthy sinners, nothing more than dust and ashes – that we could be saved and be called children of God – that, beloved, is the greatest theology, the great mystery, and the most incomprehensible thing of all!    


“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.” Theology leads to Doxology: Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art.


David is expressing the same truth when he writes: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain!


And yet, God, in Christ, has done the unthinkable – He has done the incomprehensible!


God has called you and me and all sinners to repent of our sin, and come to Christ, to believe in Him, and to be saved. And while God will always be God, God will always be incomprehensible, in Jesus Christ God’s Son, God humbled Himself, God made Himself know to us. And all throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus testified to this: that he has come to make the Father known. The Son has come to reveal the Incomprehensible God to us, so that we might be saved.


At the outset of the sermon, I gave you that quote by Dr. Beeke: Christin theology arises not from man’s pursuit of God, but from God’s pursuit of man. And nowhere is that pursuit more clearly seen, and more personally experienced than in Christ’s pursuit of you and me as fallen sinners –


What should our response be? Very quickly, these four things:  

  1. Our response should be one of astonishment and awe: The child of God should never cease to be amazed at who our God is – we will ever and always be overwhelmed by the wonder of who God is and what He has done.   
  2. Our response should be one of Praise and Worship: all true theology leads to doxology. Our sincere and Biblical thought, reflection and meditation upon God should lead us to prayer and song. It should compel us to worship God in our personal and family worship at home, and it should compel us to come to church on Sunday, where we, both morning and evening, seek to know God more and more and worship him in the splendor of His holiness.
  3. Our response should be one of Humility: Who are we that God would make himself known to us? Who are we that Christ would die for us? We are no-one, and we deserve nothing.  And so, our entire life should be lived in selfless service and humble obedience to Christ our Lord, seeking to love and to treat others as God, in Christ, has loved and treated us.
  4. Our response should be one of Hope: (Awe, worship, humility and hope). Since we know that this is the God we serve, that He is beyond all things, and nothing is beyond Him, then we can know and trust without a doubt that all of God’s promises are true. What better way to summarize this hope than with these words, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, and then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!" Amen.    


Closing Prayer: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! O Lord, how unsearchable are your judgments, and your paths beyond tracing out! For, “Who has known your mind, O Lord? Or who has been your counselor?” And “Who has ever given to you, O God, that you should repay them?” For from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be the glory forever and ever! Amen."

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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