J. Gordon Duncan

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A God who Meets His Own Expectations: Romans 9:19-29 sermon notes

potterCoping with problems ultimately comes down to our perspective.  Granted, if someone has no hope in Jesus Christ and their only hope rests in their own strengths and abilities, despair seems pretty appropriate.  But knowing the promises of God and the fulfillment of those promises in Jesus Christ, despair for the believer is a matter of perspective.

 

With Christ, all things are possible.  Without Christ, all hope is gone.  When we lose that perspective (all hope because of Christ), we fall into despair – a state in which many people are living in at this moment.

 

Francis Chan in his book “Crazy/Love” does a good job of helping us find that perspective.  Imagine that you are an extra in a movie.  There is a crowded scene where you stand with about a hundred other folks, and once your day day of shooting is done, the back of your head accounts for about 2 seconds of screen time.  Now, this is not a huge debut for your movie career, but the back of your head makes 2 seconds of screen time among another 100 folks, so I guess you are in showbiz.  So in light of your debut, you rent out a local movie theater and invite all of your friends and family.  You tell them that they are invited to see the movie made about your life.  Of course everyone shows up excited, but once they realize that the back of your head makes up about two seconds of screen time and you have billed the movie as the movie of your life, they all think your crazy.  Obviously your perspective is skewed at the least and you are crazy at the worst.

 

Unfortunately, as Chan notes, this perspective most of us take before God.  In the grand scheme of God’s work and the unfurling of His plan and character, we make up about 2 seconds of head time, yet we yell and scream that this world and this life is about us.  We shake our fists and God and yell, “How dare you do this!”  We yell, “Why have you done this to me?  I’ve been faithful.”  Most folks lose perspective that this world is the unfurling of God’s eternal plan to bring glory to Himself and not to cater to our whims.  The hope though in the midst of that is that God is pledged Himself to you in love so much so that He gave His only son, Jesus Christ, so that you might be with Him both now and in eternity.

 

So in light of that, our perspective should change.  Yes, God cares about you and is about your well-being, but it is His plan at work, it is His glory, and His movie if you will.  Finding our selves in it instead of trying to make God fit into ours corrects our perspective.  When it comes down to it, God is only going to meet His expectations and not going to conform to yours, mine, or anyone else’s.  The question is, can you worship that God?

 

Big Picture Question:  How is a God who meets His own expectations more worthy of praise than a god that meets your expectations?

9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

 

I know it may be difficult for us to remember where we left off a few weeks ago in the book of Romans, so let me see if I can give us a quick refresher.  At the beginning of Romans 9, Paul reminds us that if people do not believe in Jesus, even if Jewish people do not believe in Christ, it is not because the word of God failed.  The word of God is true.  It accomplishes its purposes.  The only that accounts for whether people believe in Jesus or not is God’s election.

 

Verse 15 God declares, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whom I will have compassion.”  God declares Himself alone as the one who chooses salvation for individuals.  To illustrate that, Paul points out God’s choosing of seemingly wicked Jacob and overlooking seemingly righteous Esau.  To top that off, Paul then highlights that God raised Pharaoh up to oppose Moses for the express purpose of displaying God’s mercy to the children of Israel and displaying His wrath to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

 

Now there is no other way really to frame Paul’s argument here.  It is as shocking as it sounds.  If your interpretation is anything other than God sovereignly choosing who will believe and who will not, you will find the following verses are unnecessary.  But understanding how shocking these statements are, Paul anticipates people’s problems with these truths.  He asks the questions that are on everybody’s minds.  If God chooses who will be saved, how can God fault anyone if they don’t believe?   And, who can resist God’s will if He chooses people to be saved?

 

Now those seem like logical arguments and questions.  If God chooses some for salvation then how can He blame the other folks who do not believe?  And this is Paul’s answer.  He answers a questions with a question.  Who are you to question God?  The molded clay does not get to ask the potter, “Hey, why did you make me this way?”

 

Now, in today’s world, that does not sound like the nicest or the most enlightened of responses.  Our hearts want to be treated more respectfully.  We want to feel like we have rights and no one, not even God, can takes those rights away from us.  Any one telling who tells us we don’t have the right to know something is going yelled at, blogged about, smeared in the media, or just flat out bad-talked.  We think, “How dare someone tell me I don’t have the right to know something?”  But that’s Paul’s argument.  God does as He wills and He wills what He wants.  God does not consult His creation nor is He dependant upon His creation to do what He wants.

 

God takes the exclusive right of the potter.  The potter looks at a piece of clay (that’s you and me in this analogy) and God the potter decides exactly what He wants that piece of clay to be.  He can make the clay become something of honorable use like a cistern full of water that provides refreshment to all who drink from it or He can make the clay become something intended for dishonorable use which in that day would have been the equivalent of 1st century toilet.  God makes clay into basins of water or toilet bowls and He says the clay has no right to complain to the potter which ever one the clay becomes.

Now, why would God do this?  It sounds like to our ears that He is just a big bully burning ants in the sand with a magnifying glass.  Paul explains in verse 22 why God justifies Himself in this way.

 

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

 

Paul asks this question, “What if God is not actually mean or harsh but patient?”  What if what God is doing is patiently enduring the sin of those who are prepared for destruction because in being patient with them, He can in a greater fashion, pour out the riches of His glory on those that He has chosen to be vessels of mercy?  This has been God’s plan from the foundation of the world.

 

There is a lot in that statement, so let’s see what we can make of it.  God desires to show or make known two things:  His wrath in verse 22 and the riches of His glory in verse 23.  God’s wrath is shown to the objects prepared for destruction.  Who are they?  They are the people who are unrepentant and will spend eternity in Hell.  The riches of God’s glory are made known to the vessels of mercy.  Who are they?  They are the people who God has chosen to walk in repentance, newness of life, and will spend eternity in Heaven.  You see, God has poured out the riches of His glory because He is merciful on those to whom He has chosen to be vessels of mercy.  And God has also poured out His wrath on those to whom He has chosen to be vessels of destruction.  Again, my argument is that this sounds so harsh that folks often just choose a different interpretation than the plain reading of the text.  Because of that, people come up with some pretty awkward applications of these truths.

 

So it is fair to ask what kind of application should there be from grappling with these kinds of truths?   To be honest, many folks don’t embrace these truths as the clearly read because they just don’t know what to do if they are true.  They assume that if God is this Sovereign then the only application is apathy and laziness.  Many assume these truths if taken as they plainly read will lead to nihilism or the end of any meaning to life.  Because there is a lack of understanding about what good these truths might present, most folks choose poor interpretation.  There is no place closer to God than understanding how He has displayed His character without apology or justification.  As soon as we explain His character with either apology or justification, we have missed Him.  Because of this, descriptions of God or theological terms like predestination often get redefined in ways that they were never intended.

 

CS Lewis in his book “Studies in Words” calls this “verbicide” or the murder of a word.  He says, “The greatest cause of verbicide is the fact that most people are obviously far more eager to express their approval or disapproval of things than to describe them.”  When applied to study of God and scripture, that means that often we encounter difficult truths about God and the initial response is to either instantly like them because it fits our system or dislike because it does not.  Unfortunately, rarely can we give a detailed explanation of what we don’t like, only why we don’t like it.  Please don’t make that mistake here with this wonderful truth.  It’s my job to present to you why this is a wonderful truth, so let me do just that.  Let me give you a few examples – Borrowing from Robert Peterson’s wonderful book, “Election and Free Will” we see 6 wonderful applications.  (6 points his; commentary mine)

 

  • This wonderful truth should lead you to a greater praise of God.  The truths of God’s sovereignty means that there is no a single human being on the face of the planet who should glory in themselves.  If there is glory to be given, it should be given to God.

 

  • This wonderful truth should also lead each and every believer in God to thanksgiving and humility.  If we can must even the smallest thankfulness and love to those that show love to us (mom, dad, wife, husband, friend), how much more should we pour out thanksgiving and affection to a God that would choose to show his mercy to us.?

 

  • This wonderful truth should be an incentive for evangelism.  Spurgeon – “This is why we preach!  If there are so many fish to be taken in the net, I will go and catch some of them.  Because many are ordained to be caught, I spread my nets with eager expectation.  I never could see why that should repress our zealous efforts.  It seems to me to be the very thing that should awaken us with energy – that God has a people, and that these people should be brought in.

 

  • This wonderful truth should be the very motivation we need for perseverance and service.  This is the exact opposite of the supposed application of lazy Christian living.  Folks this is why we do what we do.  This is why love each other and create community and we do it with passion because we are motivated knowing the secure work of Jesus will cause us to persevere.  This is why we love and engage our community because the work of Christ is so secure in our lives we can run this race with perseverance.

 

  • This wonderful truth should give us confidence in God and assurance in God’s love.  Jesus promises that whatever the Father has entrusted into His keeping will be safe.”  John 10.  As Spurgeon said, “For I am persuaded that the doctrine of predestination – the blessed truth of providence – is one of the softest pillows upon which the Christian can lays his head, and one of the strongest staffs upon which he may lean in his pilgrimage along this rough road.  Cheer up, Christian!  Things are not left to chance:  no blind fate rules the world.  God had purposes, and those purposes are fulfilled.  God hath plans, and those plans are wise, and never can be dislocated.  Oh trust in Him and thou shalt have each fruit in its season, the mercy in its time, the trial in its period, and the deliverance in its needed moment.”

 

Now maybe I have convinced you just yet that God’s absolute sovereignty is wonderful, so in case, I haven’t, let’s allow Paul to convince us yet again.  Look at verse 25.

 

25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”  26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”  27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

 

Now Paul is not justifying who God chooses or chooses not to choose; don’t get that impression.  What Paul is highlighting is a characteristic of God’s in addition to His sovereignty:  His love and compassion.  His thinking looks like this.  God sovereignly chose to create a people for Himself from the descendants of Abraham.  He chose to save them from slavery, give them the law, and move them into the physical land of Israel.  Yet, despite all of these things, many in Israel still did not believe.  But God in His grace always protects and insures that a remnant will believe.  When there were not enough righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah God destroyed the city, but God has promised that there will always be a remnant of righteous people from the physical nation of Israel.

 

But there is something more going on here than just God’s promises shown to Israel.  At first reading, it would appear in the Old Testament that God only had a heart for those people and not for those who born outside of the 12 tribes of Israel.  You would almost think, and it seems many first century Jews thought exactly that way, that if you were a Gentile or not born into a Jewish family, you were out of luck.  If that were the case, most of us in this room would have no hope of every being saved, forgiven, and we would essentially be pots fashioned for ignoble and dishonorable purposes.

 

Yet look at verse 25.  Even promised way back in the book of Hosea, God desired to make a people His own that did not come from Israel.  He wanted to go, once again, outside the expectations of others, and be faithful only to Himself and create a people and create a bride that was His own.  And the folks expecting and presuming upon God, He said, “You are not my people.”  You see, here is the hope in this passage.  If God can defy all human expectations and choose for Himself a people who were not His people and choose for Himself a bunch of folks that were essentially pagans (that’s you and me by the way), then there is hope that God can choose anyone.

 

Think about it:  Right now, the incredibly arrogant and selfish co-worker of yours might very well find grace and experience the mercies of God.  Right now, the family member who is absolutely and hopelessly addicted to drugs or alcohol might very well find grace and experience the mercies of God.  Right now, the angry at God parent who refuses to even talk about Jesus might very well find grace and experience the mercies of God.  Why?  Because you were chosen.  You were outside the people of God, and you now have faith and you have been forgiven.  Again, God reserves the right only to meet His expectations and not anyone else’s.  The question is, “Are you comfortable serving a God like that?”  Look at how merciful God is even in His sovereignty.  Look at verses 27-28.

 

“27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”

 

Thought cryptic, let me explain what is happening here.  God has always been faithful, sovereign and merciful.  He chose to create a people of God out of the physical descendents of Abraham.  Out of those physical descendents, He chose some for salvation; He calls them a remnant.  Everyone else will be judged and found guilty.  But because God has always promised a remnant, there will always be someone to proclaim the mercies of Jesus and to live out God’s command on this earth.  If this wasn’t the case, then the conditions here would be so bad they would be like Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

What hope this should be for us.  Even when we don’t understand God, He is forever merciful.  God promises that no matter how bad things get, now matter how awful and sinful this world is, He will forever be choosing and making disciples into His image.  He will protect His people and created Godliness no matter how sinful things seem.  God will always be represented here by God’s people.  Folks, That. Is. You.

 

Here is your mission and your motivation.  I want you to say to yourself:  I am God’s remnant.  I will represent God to an ungodly world.  I will be as an offspring is to ensure that God’s people will continue on and on.  You want to know the biggest surprise, the biggest expectation that God meets that is beyond any that you might imagine?  God has chosen to use you on this earth to fulfill His purposes.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

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November 8, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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