March 3, 2019
Natural science seeks to determine how the world and universe around us work through observation and experimentation. The natural scientist uses his senses to observe and test nature in order to come to conclusions. When I was a young student my science teacher told our class that we were all scientists, because we all made observations in order to obtain knowledge. And of course, using the scientific method and employing the senses, which God has given you to learn about creation is a good and useful task. We live in the most scientifically advanced civilization in history, because of the well-cultivated pursuit of scientific observation.
Science is very useful for learning about the creation, but what about the Creator? What can you know about God through observation and experimentation and gathering of information through the senses? I’ve recently been following the lectures of some prominent scientists, who argue in favor of intelligent design. They argue that through what we can observe in the natural world, we can conclude that an intelligent designer designed life and other phenomena in the universe. One scientist said that you could see the designer’s signature in the DNA of each cell. We of course, would call this designer, God, the Creator.
And even Scripture tells us that we can know something about God through natural observation. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 1, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (vss. 19-20) This learning about God through nature is called natural theology. Yet, it is important to note that although one can learn somethings about God through observing the universe, the universe will not reveal to you the way of salvation or the truth of the holy Trinity. Natural theology will not teach you the Gospel. Rather, St. Paul uses the argument that God’s invisible attributes are clearly perceived in the things that have been made to show that the ungodly are without excuse. We can find evidence of God’s wrath in the natural world, but we cannot find God’s grace.
God’s grace and the glory of the holy Trinity can only be known through revelation of God’s word. Yet, God’s word must not be treated the same way as we do science with testing and experimentation, trying to understand something before we say that it is true. That is the stumbling block that Jesus’ disciples stumbled across when they did not understand his plain words. Jesus spoke clearly that he would be delivered over to the Gentiles to be mocked, mistreated, and killed, and on the third day rise again in order to fulfill the Scriptures.
Yet, his disciples did not understand. This is because the revelation of God’s word is not understood through the scrutiny of our senses, but as a gift from the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 states, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
You will not learn the truth of the one true God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by observing nature. You will only learn of the true glory and mercy of the Triune God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In John chapter 14 his disciple Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” God the Father will not be seen apart from his Son, Jesus Christ. We see God the Father when we see Jesus crucified on the cross for our sins.
On the cross we see the Father’s righteousness, love, and mercy. The Father is righteous. Sin cannot dwell with him. In Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, we see the Father’s righteous wrath against sin as Jesus suffers the turmoil of our sin. We see the Father’s wonderous love, who loved us so much that he did not spare his own Son, but made him to be the propitiation for our sins. In the crucifixion of Jesus, we see the will of God the Father carried out on account of his deep love for us. God the Father will not be known and cannot be known apart from Christ’s crucifixion for us.
Christ Jesus, the Son of God, will not and cannot be known apart from his crucifixion. In John chapter 12 our Lord in great anticipation for his crucifixion said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (vss. 27-28) The crucifixion of Christ was the purpose for which he became a human being and was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus did this to save us. And in saving us through his crucifixion, the Father glorified his name in Christ.
It was necessary for Jesus to be crucified, so that we could be saved. Isaiah 53 articulates the necessity of Christ’s passion some seven centuries before it took place, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one --to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (vss. 5-6) In Christ’s crucifixion he gathered all people to himself by removing that which separates us from our holy and righteous God. This is why Christ Jesus will not be seen as our victor as we see him on Easter Sunday, unless he is first seen in his passion on Good Friday.
God the Father will not be known apart from Christ and his cross and Christ Jesus will not be known apart from the Holy Spirit, who delivers the revelation of Christ crucified to us. Natural science cannot explain the value of Jesus’ crucifixion nor can it convince us that it takes away our sins. According to scientific scrutiny the crucifixion of Christ is of no value. This is because only the Holy Spirit can grant faith in Christ. 1 Corinthians 1 states, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (vss. 22-24) The Holy Spirit teaches us what we need to know about the Triune God by first teaching us of Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection. And he calls us to believe these truths without seeing them or feeling them or testing them.
The blind man in our lesson is a great example to us. He is blind, which demonstrates a lack of the senses. But he doesn’t trust in his senses. He trusts in the promise of Scripture. That is why he calls Jesus, the Son of David, the title of the promised Christ, who would give sight to the blind (1 Chronicles 17; 35:5). Jesus tells the man that his faith has saved him before he receives his sight. The man believed that Jesus would heal him of his blindness before he could see any evidence of it. This is how faith works. Faith trusts in the promise. The Holy Spirit does not give you something for your senses to scrutinize, but for your faith to receive with hope.
To truly know God, you do not start by searching the stars or examining microorganisms under a microscope. To know God, you must look to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is the greatest manifestation of the divine essence. In the historical event where God saves sinners, who God is, is most clearly revealed to us. And this event and its meaning are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in the holy Scriptures.
The crucifixion of Christ identifies for you who God truly is. The crucifixion of Christ also identifies who you really are. The cross of Christ defines you as a Christian. There you see God’s wrath against your sin and the tremendous distance between the righteous God and your sinful self, closed only by the blood of Christ. There you see God’s mercy and love for you, the extreme measure he goes to save you. There you recognize your worth purely through God’s grace. Through faith the Holy Spirit has joined your identity inextricably with the crucifixion of Christ. You are forgiven by Jesus’ suffering and death. You are joined to his death and resurrection. You are a recipient of God’s boundless grace revealed in Christ’s cross. When you call yourself a Christian or baptized you are saying that you are one redeemed by the blood of Christ. You cannot know yourself for the rest of eternity without knowing yourself in connection to Christ and his cross. Forever you are a recipient of God’s boundless grace.
And you can’t know your neighbor apart from Christ’s crucifixion; especially your fellow Christians, who put their faith in it. Jesus shed his blood for everyone here. This should draw us to treat each other with love and patience and forgiveness. When you look at your fellow Christian you see someone, for whom Christ shed his precious blood, whose identity is inseparable from the same event in which you set your hope.
Faith is different from scientific knowledge, because it is dependent on revelation, not observation. The revelation of Christ’s death and resurrection determines what our faith believes is true, not the observations of our senses. This is indeed comforting, because what we experience in this world often hides God’s grace from us, as we suffer pain, doubt, and guilt. But the revelation of Christ’s suffering and death for your sins remains the same. Your Baptism remains the same. The Sacrament, which gives you the risen body and blood of Christ to eat and to drink for your forgiveness remains the same. And by this you know that your God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remains the same, as does his forgiveness and love for you. This Wednesday we will begin to pay special devotion to the passion of Christ and to examine ourselves according to it as we begin the season of Lent. May our eyes be fixed on Christ and his passion beyond these forty days and into eternity. Amen.