The Sovereign Mercy of the Lord

The Sovereign Mercy of the Lord

Today, we ask that you would make us hungry for this heavenly food that would nourish us in the ways of eternal life. And this we pray and ask through Jesus Christ, who indeed is the bread of heaven. Amen. Beginning with just the first six verses. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means. For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I’ve raised you up, that I might show my power in you, that my name might be claimed in all the earth. So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whoever he wills. You will say to me then, Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Well, what is molded say to its molder, why have you made me like this? The word of the Lord. There’s no doubt, Romans 9 is one of those poke you in the eye chapters.

There are many who have taken offense with what the apostle says here. Now, to say the obvious but the unobvious, the Bible is a radically God-centered book. Now, you think that’s obvious, but living as we do in such a me-centered culture, it’s easy for us still to make the Bible all about us, to have an indifference towards the things of God other than a little bit of religion sprinkled in here or there. Jesus can become that spare tire that I take out When things in my life aren’t going well, I’m in a tough spot. Or God becomes the concierge who’s supposed to arrange my life and assist me along the way. And prayer then becomes a means of getting my best life now. Years ago, a man came to me because his wife was about to divorce him and she had biblical reasons to do so. And he became very religious for a few weeks. He was sure that Jesus’s call to ask, seek, and knock meant that God would keep his wife from leaving him. It didn’t. And he gave up on God because God didn’t give him what he prayed for. Coming to worship was just a way to get God to answer his prayers.

Of course, we’re reminded in James, he says, You do not have, you do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your own passions. So even in our prayers and directed towards ourselves. And here Where in Romans 9, Paul performs a self-ectomy on all of us, reminding us of who we are and who God is. The very opening lines of Genesis 1, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And then you go all the way to the closing remarks to the very last book, Revelation in 22. There I am, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Book cover to book cover about God. The Bible is a self-revelation of our Triune God, the Father, showcasing his Son in human history through the power of the Holy spirit. Paul, he tells us as plain as day, salvation is a gift from God. It’s not a birth That’s right. It’s not something you earn. It’s not something you deserve. It is entirely a gift from God. And knowing human nature, Paul anticipates the objection, which is it’s not fair. God is unjust. And In this objection, it seems that almost all the time, those who object, they do so with an objection that comes out of the abstract or for someone else.

Once in a while, you’ll run into a shylock who demands that God gives them what they deserve, and everybody else who knows better looks at that and think that’s a very crazy thing to ask. We know we shouldn’t be asking God to give us what we deserve. However, we demand that God give us his grace and mercy. God acts consistently according to his righteous character. And all those that he has chosen in his son receive the fullness of the Son’s redemption. Those who reject the Son, they get what they deserve. And as we saw last week, once more in display is the intiname, the seeming paradox of bringing together God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. And once again, we see that God is more than able to bring these things about. Even if we don’t fully understand them, it is beyond us, but it’s not beyond God. And looking then through two objections that Paul addresses here first is God unjust. What shall we say then? Is there an injustice on God? By no means. Answers immediately. No hesitation. God acts faithfully. And then he quotes from the Book of Exodus. He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.

Now, this comes after Israel’s completely blown it with the whole golden calf fiasca, where they’re coming to receive the covenant God has brought them out of Egypt. It’s a wonderful time. They should be celebrating God, and instead, they’re in open rebellion against him, creating this golden calf. They’re not innocents minding their own business, and God just comes along, decides to mop them upside the head. No, they’re in open rebellion against him, and then God is granting mercy in the midst of this. And Paul goes on. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy. It’s really clear no sinner earns or deserves mercy. It is a gift. And Paul then brings another scripture from Exodus. And in the Book of Romans, the most Old Testament quotes are in this letter of Paul’s, particularly from chapters 9 to 11. It’s close to over half of all the quotations. And when Paul is addressing, particularly the Jewish audience, he’s very quick to go to Scripture as he does here. And then he quotes Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very purpose, I’ve raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be claimed in all the earth.

And then Paul summarizes, So then his mercy is on whomever he wills, and he hardens whoever he wills. Now, the first mention of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, it comes in chapter 4 of Exodus. And there God called Moses out. He’s telling him, You’re going to go, and I’m going to do tremendous miracles through you. And he I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not let the people go. Now, this sends a lot of people into a tailspin. And they’re searching all over, finding out in scripture, will the Pharaoh harden his heart first or did God harden his heart? How did it all work out? Well, sorry, handshot first. It’s God. God starts in Exodus 4. I appreciate New Testament scholar, Christopher Asch, he reminds us, When God hardens someone. He does not change them from neutral or innocent to guilty. He hands them over to the consequences of their own sin. Pharaoh is not a neutral character. He’s a wicked man killing Israelite babies. He’s oppressing them into tyrannical slavery. And as Paul has already told us, all of humanity has fallen. There is none righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And that’s what we see before us. Nobody is innocent. And God is operating from the pool he’s working with. I really appreciate Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian. He brought a great understanding to the understanding of how the human will works. Human free will, according to Edwards, is that you get what you want. And if you do, you’re free. Freedom is not whether I get choice A or choice B. That’s really complex. People try to make choice a super simple thing, A or B, A or B. It’s like that. It’s got so many layers to it of how and why we do what we do and what influences us. And Edwards basically just says, Did you get what you wanted? If you did, you’re free. Pharaoh got what he wanted. He wasn’t this nice guy trying to bless Israel, but God forced him be mean. No one compels you to sin. If you’re behind a car that won’t turn right on red, nobody compels you to get mad about it. And how you know that it’s a choice? Because if that car in front of you that won’t turn is a police cruiser, you’re not laying on the horn, you’re not giving him friendly gestures.

He’s completely under control. And you know that. If you’re in control of your actions. There’s no one compelling you. You have a choice in the matter. Paul is telling us, Mercy is a gift given by God, a good and gracious God. Some have this idea then when you think about who God is and how he gives his mercy to his people. In life, they look at God like he’s some the Batman supervillant, Harvey Dent, who’s It’s called two-face. One side normal and one side all scarred up. They had this idea that two-face has a double-sided coin. He would flip and he’d check, and he would decide, based on which is that, which part of his personality would emerge. Would he be the nice guy or would he be the villain by an arbitrary flip of the coin? That’s not our Holy God. He’s not there, too bad for you. That’s not who he is at all. He acts according to his faithful and righteous nature. He’s not arbitrary, he’s not abstract. He’s faithful to his character. He’s consistent with who he has revealed himself to be. So many want to be hypothetically upset with God.

They always think about, what about this and what about this and what about all these other conditions? It’s like if someone told you, if they dammed up the end of Flathead Lake, our property be all underwater, it wouldn’t be worth anything. I don’t understand why we’re paying these high land prices. Sure, but it’s not dammed up. And that’s got nothing to do with real estate prices right now. So who cares? And people, they do that. These hypothetical thought experiments, and sometimes they’re interesting to consider, but they’re hypothetical. And many treat Romans 9 in the same way. They’re objecting to things that Paul’s not saying or things that are just not the case. You’re to consider yourself, not the person around the world who you think might not have ever had a chance to hear about Jesus. The judge of all the earth will do right. You will stand before God for you, not for them. The question is, have you rejected God’s free offer of Jesus? If so, there’s no complaining about getting the consequences of that. We see repeatedly in scripture, the Lord extending great patience that he does not turn away anyone who seeks him.

And Paul then anticipates the next objection. Why am I accountable? Verse 19, You will say to me, Why does he still find fault for who can resist his will? So this objector, rather than in humility, repenting for his sins, he’s blaming God for them. Notice that Paul, he does not pull out some defense using human free will. That’s where you think a lot of people would do this, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t go there at all. He goes in actually the opposite direction. And Paul, he quotes from Job and then from the prophet Isaiah, Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Well, what does molded say to the molder? Why did you make me this way? Has not the potter the right over the clay to make out of the same lump one vessel for honor and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepare for destruction in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy which he prepared beforehand. Again, there is no one neutral here. There are no innocent people.

There’s no one wanting to do what’s right, and God’s, Now, I’m going to keep you from doing what’s right. All of sin and fall short of his glory. Paul, recognizing that in verse 24, he said, Even us who means called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles. He draws now all the strings of his argument together. God has been faithful to his promises. These promises were not for religious unbelievers, but for the remnants that he’s preserved, which included Jews and Gentiles. And he goes on here to speak from Hoseia. He recast Hosea to speak of a righteous remnant that includes more than just Israel’s remnant. He says, verse 25 from Hoseia, Those who are not my people, I will call my people. And her who is not beloved, I will call beloved. And in the very place where it was said to him, You are not my people, ‘ there they will be called sons of the living God. Here’s the good news of Jesus. I mentioned last week from Karl Barth, when we speak of election, we begin by acknowledging Jesus Christ as both the electing God and and the elected man, that it’s all focused and centered on Jesus.

And all of this selecting, all this choosing, it narrowed all the way down to one person, the God man, Jesus. All of it focused on him. And because of that, we see something now taking place where it narrowed out, now it’s widening back. All those who were overseen, who are not a part of the lineage of the Messiah, as he mentioned earlier, Ishmael, Esa, all the Gentiles. A remnant now from them has been included by the sovereign mercy of God. They are now a part of this electing purpose in Jesus. He’s widened it out. And so what that means, particularly as Paul is talking to the problems of the Roman Church, that there’s no room for a Jewish Christian thinking that anyone else is a second-class Christian citizen if they’re not Jewish. And there’s no room for a Gentile Christian looking down on a Jewish brother or sister as some has been who doesn’t matter anymore. Because both are a part of the Messiah’s remnant by his mercy. And Paul goes on, he finishes out with Isaiah. Isaiah cries out concerning Israel. Though they numbered the sons of Israel as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.

For the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay. Because that was part of the question, how is God faithful if there’s all these Jewish people who aren’t believing in the Messiah? For that matter, how come there’s a lot of Gentile people who aren’t believing in the Messiah? God is faithful to the remnant from both that he has called out. And it ends in verse 29, as Isaiah the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah. It’s all on God’s sovereign mercy. And no doubt, God’s sovereignty, it causes some uneasiness. That is very true. And yet Paul brings this to encourage and to strengthen our faith. He gives us great assurances. Now, you’ve heard me quote this before from Mike Mason. He’s the author of the gospel according to Job. And here he’s speaking specifically about suffering. He says, We Christians do not like to think about being absolutely helpless in the hands of our God. When difficulties arise, we like to think there are certain steps we can take, attitudes we can adopt to alleviate our anguish and be happy.

In fact, there’s absolutely nothing either we or someone else can do to better our situation. Only the Lord himself can do that. This helplessness is humbling, and it tests our faith. In the same way that suffering does, in the same way that some of these difficulties that we don’t fully understand, it causes us to lean into humility before the Lord. We have limited understanding. We trust in the God who is good, to be faithful to his character. And John Stott, he said, If therefore anybody is lost, the blame is theirs. But if anybody is saved, the credit is God’s. This antonymy contains a mystery which our present knowledge cannot solve, but it’s consistent with scripture, history, and our personal experience. That’s what we see. We see that the mercy of God extends to his people. We didn’t figure it out. He drew us to himself. And we see people walking in the hardness of their heart where they’re actively rejecting the good news of Jesus. A difficulty to be sure. I appreciate Scottish theologian, James Denny. He gave this personal account. He was lecturing on this very theme. And an impertinent student put up his and he asked the question, Professor Denny, there were some things in your lecture about divine purpose and divine sovereignty that I didn’t understand.

Denny said to him very quietly, Young man, since that lecture was about Almighty God and you were one of his very young and very small creatures, I’m not surprised that there were some things you didn’t understand. Immediately, like, yes, he put him in his place. Because that’s where we go, as if God owes us an explanation that we’ll understand. As if we can put him, as it were in CS Lewis language, God in the docks. We put him on trial, willing to graciously absolve him of any wrongdoing if he can do it in a way that I understand. Who are you, O man? Calvin, in his chapter on predestination, he summed up really well. He said, The best rule of sobriety is not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, but also when he makes an end of his teaching to cease also from wishing to be wise. Scripture speaks to things so much in any area, and then when it stops, we stop. The hypotheticals, the trying to figure out, going beyond, it will do you no good. And there’s humility in ceasing to learn when God has stopped teaching. And I think one of our great struggles with this is that we’re usually not profoundly aware of our own sinfulness in God’s Holiness.

Probably if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you can look back on some time or maybe times where that’s happened. I don’t consider it to be the normal experience for most of us. All I can say is that in describing it is the Holy spirit in some way reveals to us an awareness of the Majesty, the Holiness of God that is completely overwhelming. And If you have experienced this, did it move you to revere God, to humility, to repent over your own sinfulness, to impress upon you how precious God’s grace is? Or did it to a deeper appreciation of the many right choices you’ve made and how good it was of you to figure out how you needed to follow after Jesus? I’ve never heard a sincere Christian answer it that way. This overwhelming sense of the Majesty, the Holiness of God, it just takes out our feet. And there’s this popular idea out there that God is in the business of forgiveness. That I can receive his mercy anytime I want, because that’s what God does. He forgives people. And it’s a mandatory gift that God is obligated to give me.

And most people don’t say it like that. When you say it like that, it sounds really stupid. But if you think that, well, God’s supposed to forgive me because that’s what he does. He must give me this gift of mercy. No, not at all. No one deserves grace or mercy. They’re divine gifts. That’s the point. You reject them at your peril. You receive them at the Lord’s initiative. There are many great and wonderful truths out there that are able to further understanding, particularly of this. But this is not about academic wrangling. We’re not interested in that. It’s about worship of our God for the sake of who he is. It’s to increase our capacity of awe and wonder at his unsurpassable glory and Majesty. On cosmic displays, the Father revealing the Son through the illumination of the Holy spirit. It’s in this place that we hear the Son call out to all. If anyone would hear my voice. We hear the Son also say, My sheep know my voice. I will lose none of those the Father has given to me. ‘ And both of those things come together in him. And only in him can these things happen.

And we then, as mere humans, learned to close our mouths, to know when to stop talking and to start bowing. I mentioned that guy who wanted to be in worship for a few weeks in order that he could get his wife back and got mad at God for not doing it. You cheated on her. Why are you upset about with this with God. You see, and that’s what we do. We justify our sin and demand mercy. God, in his kindness and his patience, has come alongside us, and he has given us far better than we deserve. And the other part of this that should encourage us, and some people, this takes away all motivation for evangelism. No, no, no. It should fill you with love and desire to communicate about this God because this God has chosen you and I as vessels of his message going out into the world, and it is his power behind it. It’s not my persuasiveness. How discouraging is that? Oh, my goodness. They would have made it into heaven if I only could figure out the four spiritual laws better. That’s terrible. Now, it doesn’t mean we’re sloppy about it, but it also takes the pressure off.

All you’re called to do is go tell people how great and good Jesus is to the best of your ability. Point them to an amazing and wonderful God, and God, through his spirit, is working in them through the words that you are because that’s what he’s chosen to do. And that is really good news for us. This is the God that we worship. He’s not arbitrary. He’s not capricious. He’s not flipping a coin, seeing who’s in and who’s out. He’s waiting with great patience and forbearance. That many sons and daughters who come to glory through the person and work of his son, Jesus, whom he has elected for the salvation of all people. Pray with me. Father, as we come before you this day, we thank you. We thank you that you have taken sinners like us, and you have opened our eyes to see the wonder and the Majesty of Jesus. And Father, we thank you that you have chosen to use sinners like us in the proclamation of this good news to the world. And we pray, Father, that you would continue to do so, that you would continue to proclaim the good name of Jesus, even through our faltering lips.

That many sons and daughters would come to a saving faith through you. And Father, I also pray, Lord, if there’s any here who do not know you in this way, Father, I pray that you would open their eyes to see their ears to hear the wonder of your son, Jesus, before them. We pray and ask this in his name. Amen. Please stand. There is one gospel.

Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.