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January 12, 2020

Sermon Romans 1:20 . ..“Paul said:  ‘They are without excuse’”

“Paul said:  ‘They are without excuse’”

Romans 1:20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

A little over ten years ago, back in 2007, an anonymous Swiss art collector bought a portrait of a young, aristocratic, Milanese woman, the daughter of the Duke of Milan, from a gallery in New York, for about $19,000.  Called, La Bella Principessa, it’s done in pen, chalk, and ink.

Now at the time, no one knew for sure who made it.  As far as anyone could tell, it came from the hand of an unknown German artist who studied in Italy.  When Christie’s auctioned it off back in 1998, they listed it as, “German, from early in the 19th century.”

But Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Vinci, Italy, and noted da Vinci scholar, wasn’t so sure.  He said, “Just looking at it, you know it isn’t German.”

That’s when an art-forensics specialist from Montreal, Peter Biro, was asked to take a closer look.  And using state-of-the-art multispectral infrared technology, he discovered something no one else had ever seen.  There at the top left corner, invisible to the naked eye, was a fingerprint.  And when they compared that fingerprint to another fingerprint found on a painting in Rome, they discovered that it was a match--from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci himself!

Later, Vezzosi said:  “The fingerprint is simply a confirmation of what we believed to be true.  Like at a crime scene, it is often the sum of the clues that are gathered to arrive at what I call reasonable certainty.”

And though it was bought for $19,000 back in 2007, experts now say it’s worth $150 million!  And it was all because of a fingerprint.

Speaking of fingerprints, did you know that some artists paint with only their hands?  Take Judith Ann Braun, for example.  Now seventy-two years old, she paints only with her fingers covered in charcoal.  

Another artist named Chuck Close uses only his hands too.  Seen from a distance, his painting looks like a giant, silver-toned photograph of every crack and crevice of a subject’s face.  Look a little closer, and you’ll see it’s all done by fingerprint.

If you’d take a moment to look at the beautiful world around you, you can’t help but see God’s handiwork, God’s fingerprint.  That is, after all, what David wrote in the words of Psalm 8:  “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”

Please turn in your Bible to page 1195 as I read the words of our text.  Romans chapter 1, beginning at verse 18.  Paul writes:  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  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.  So they are without excuse.”

If you were here last week, you might remember that the book of Romans is said to be Paul’s most beautiful and powerful book of all, for it’s here that we find words like these, in chapter 3:  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Chapter 8:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”  And chapter 12:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

It was of this book that Martin Luther once said, “This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.”

So it is here in the words of chapter 1.  For just as soon as Paul greets them and thanks them, He encourages them with the word of the Lord.  Verse 16:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

Now beginning in verse 18, He speaks another word of the Lord:  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

And how do they suppress the truth?  Verse 20:  “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.  So they are without excuse.”

In April of 1961, Soviet air force pilot and cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was the first human being to travel into outer space.  Immediately, he became an international celebrity, and a hero of the Soviet Union.

But after he completed his single orbit and returned to planet earth, it was Nikita Krushchev who said, “Why are you clinging to God?  Here Gagarin flew into space and didn’t see God.”

Fifty years ago, popular television host, Carl Sagan, taught a generation that the cosmos was all there was, and all there ever would be.  He wrote, “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.  We are alone in our obscurity, in all this vastness.”

Another said that we’re nothing more than booster rockets designed to send the genetic payload into the next level of orbit, and then we quietly drop off into the sea.

Is that all we are?  Meaningless, senseless specks of dust?

In his commentary on the book of Psalms, James Montgomery Boice wrote that God has revealed Himself in two Books.  He called them a big book, and a little book.  The big book he called the universe--all of creation that surrounds us.  The little book, he said, the Bible, is the one we hold in our hands--the revealed Word of God that fills in the blanks.  And he said, while creation reveals what God did, the Bible reveals why He did it.

Suppose, for a moment, that you were to visit someone’s house when they weren’t there.  How much could you learn about them and their family just by looking around?

The moment you walked in, you might suspect they’ve visited other countries.  On the mantle, you’d see a painted egg from Russia and olive wood from Israel.  In the dining room, there’s a Bible and a book of devotions.  You might suspect someone makes quilts because of all the fabric samples laid out on a table.

When you see gloves and bats and balls, you assume the family has boys.  If you see makeup, brushes, and mirrors, you know there’s at least one girl.

You can learn a lot about a family just by looking around someone’s home.

So it is with God’s house.  He’s left clues everywhere as to what kind of God He is.  Stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and you can’t help but be overwhelmed at the mighty power of God.  He’s as infinite as the dark recesses of the Pacific Ocean.  Each snowflake testifies to His uniqueness.  The changing colors of the Great Smoky Mountains proclaim His creativity.

In December of 1995, five years after the Hubble Space telescope was placed into orbit, astronomers dreamed up the idea of pointing it at an empty patch in the sky, close to the Big Dipper, in hopes that they might see something.

It was a little risky, since the demands for using the telescope were so high.  What if they didn’t see anything and wasted very expensive time?

So on December 18th of 1995, they pointed the telescope toward a tiny dark spot in the night sky.  And over the course of ten consecutive days, it gathered light from a region so small that it was comparable to the amount of sky seen through the eye of a needle held at arm’s length.

Do you know what they saw?  They didn’t see dark space like some expected.  Instead, they saw thousands and thousands of, not stars, but galaxies, of all shapes and sizes and kinds.

Or think of our own planet Earth.  While you’re sitting here so quietly this morning, you’re actually spinning at right around a thousand miles an hour.  Every 24 hours, we do a perfect 360.

But as we spin at a thousand miles an hour, we’re also hurtling through space at an average speed of 67,000 miles an hour, 87 times faster than the speed of sound.

And while you might think you’re not getting much done today, you’re actually travelling 1.5 million miles through space.  No wonder you feel so tired!

The stars shout, “He is there!”  The wildflowers sing, “He is there!”  The rippling brooks join in, “He is there!”  The birds sing it, the lions roar it, the fish swim it in the oceans.  The wind whispers it, the heavens declare it, and the earth repeats it.  “He is there!”  All creation joins to sing His praise.

Isaac Newton once wrote, “The arrangement and harmony of the universe could only have come from the plan of an omniscient and omnipotent Being.”  And Bible commentator Eugene Petersen once wrote, “God’s glory is on tour in the skies.  It’s on exhibit across the horizon.  Every morning, Madame Day holds classes, and every evening, Professor Night lectures.”

All around us is the fingerprint of God.

One more thing--in June of 1982, a British Airways Boeing 747 bound for Australia out of Indonesia was cruising along at seven miles above the Indian Ocean when, all of a sudden, without any warning, all four of its engines failed.  For the next twelve minutes, the pilots fought desperately to restart them, as the plane plummeted five miles.  For the 263 passengers and crew, it was the longest twelve minutes of their lives.  They were sure they were going to die.

It all began with an announcement over the cabin speakers:  “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  We have a small problem.  All four engines have stopped.  We are doing our best to get them going again.  I trust you are not in too much distress.”

Some of the passengers got their passports out of their overhead luggage and put them in their coat pockets, so their bodies could be properly identified.  Several women put on stilettos, just in case they survived, so they could kick the sharks with their heels.

Thankfully, the pilots were able to restart the engines, and the plane landed safely back in Indonesia.

Later, the Discovery Channel made a documentary about the incident.  And when they interviewed passengers who said they were atheists or agnostics, when the crunch came, they said they prayed.

In the words of a hymn:  “I sing the goodness of the Lord that filled the earth with food.  He formed the creatures with His word, and then pronounced them good.  Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed where’er I turn my eye.  If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.”


We pray for ourselves, dear Father, and for those who do not yet know You.  Through the work of Your Spirit, open our minds and hearts to turn to Christ in faith and repentance.  Help each and every one of us to find hope and help in the cross, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen


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