Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE POWER OF THE POTTER”

Romans 9.14-24 

Paul’s letter to the Christians in the ancient city of Rome is a missionary’s inspired effort to enlist the prayer support, the financial support, and the worker support, for his efforts to reach Spain for Christ. However, it is more than that, also being a revelation of profoundly important doctrines related to God’s sovereignty, God’s righteousness, and God’s dealings with His people.

To enlist the support of the Christians in Rome, the apostle embarked upon the awesome task of describing the great Biblical doctrine of justification. And he does this for several reasons: First, to put into concise terminology what had happened to them when they became Christians. Second, to convince his audience that others needed to be justified in the sight of God just like they had been or face the terrible eternal consequences of being lost. And third, to explain the puzzling opposition of the Jewish people to the Christian faith, which Paul and other apostles had maintained was the predicted and logical follow-on to what God had begun to do through the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.

Here’s the rub. The doctrine of justification has as its main feature the concept of having a righteous standing before a holy God using faith alone.[1] But almost as prominent as that is the second feature of Biblical justification. That the justified person has not yet received and experienced all that God has in store for him but will receive the full complement of blessings in the future. And this is based upon God’s promise.

That’s all fine and good, except for two things: First, if the Christian faith is the logical follow-on to the faith of the patriarchs and the Judaism established by God in the Law of Moses, why did the Jewish people of Paul’s day, by and large, reject Christianity? You’d think if Christianity was the concluding compliment to Judaism they would have responded. Second, if this justification that Paul emphasizes so much will not be fully realized until I get to heaven, and if I must rely upon God’s faithfulness to His promises in the meantime, why does it not look to me at first glance as though God has bothered to keep His promises to Israel? After all, if He hasn’t seemed to have kept His promises to Israel in the recent past, why should I think He will keep His promises to Christians in the future?

Last week we saw the answer to the second question. In Romans 9.6-13 we saw that not all are Israel who are of Israel. That is, not every physical descendent of Jacob has a rightful claim to the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Israel of promise. God keeps His promises to those to whom His promises are made. But He is under no self-imposed obligation to keep promises not made to anyone else. And since we are in no position to be able to discern which Jewish person is a chosen recipient of the promise and which is not, we have no way to evaluate the faithfulness of God to keep those promises currently. We’ll simply have to trust Him in the future, based upon His faithfulness to His Word in the past. Amen?

Today’s text addresses the first of the two questions that I asked. If Biblical Christianity really is the logical follow-on to Old Testament Judaism, not the perverted first-century Judaism of Christ’s day, but the Judaism of the Mosaic Law, the Judaism of the patriarchs, and the Judaism of the prophets, why have so few Jewish people responded to the Gospel and trusted the Messiah as their Savior? If not answered, that question is at least addressed in the text we look at this evening, which is Romans 9.14-24. Please turn there and prepare to read responsively with me, with me reading the even verses and you read the odd verses.

I invite you to stand and read along with me: 

14  What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

15  For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

16  So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

17  For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

18  Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

19  Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20  Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

22  What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

23  And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

24  Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 

Last week’s message on Romans 9.6-13 dealt with election, with this week’s message dealing with sovereignty. Election, which is selection, relates to what God has done. God did choose Isaac instead of Ishmael. God did choose Jacob instead of Esau. Today’s message deals with God’s right to do what He has done. Three parts are seen in Paul’s presentation: 

THE FIRST PART IS THE PROPOSITION 

Verse 14: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” 

Much of what we see in this verse is familiar from previous portions of this letter.

The phrase “What shall we say then” has already been used at least twice by Paul, so far. And both times, in Romans 3.5 and Romans 6.1, he uses the phrase to mark a turn in his discussion. What follows is related to what’s gone on before, but with Paul now headed in a slightly different direction.

The phrase “God forbid” here is seen for the 8th time in Romans, and Paul will use the phrase twice more before he’s finished. It’s a favorite expression with Paul. He uses it to express outrage and indignation. He also uses the phrase much the same way the phrase “perish the thought” used to be used. And it invariably follows some phrase or some sentence that Paul has mentioned for consideration, but which turns out to be unthinkable for the reasons he so often lists.

And what is the “God forbid” statement, the “perish the thought” declaration this time? 

“Is there unrighteousness with God?” 

Almost everyone I have ever known would answer this question with a resounding “No!” But that which in principle is obvious is not always so obvious in everyday life, in practical terms, or when it affects you personally. Paul is wisely reversing the direction that he usually travels when he teaches. Usually, his logical or instructive journey is from specific occurrences to general truths. This time, however, he begins with the lofty and noble truth and traces it down to where individual people live. His goal? To show that the exercise of rights is righteous. That is, Paul is seeking to show us that God is not unrighteous when He manifests, or when He puts on display, His sovereignty. 

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE SECOND PART OF THE PRESENTATION, WHICH IS THE PERSUASION 

To persuade, first, those initial listeners in Rome, and, later, we who are the readers of the letter to the Romans, Paul refers to two extremely prominent figures in the most outstanding event of Israel’s past, the Exodus:

First, there is the case of Moses. In verse 15 we see the declaration Paul cites: 

“For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 

Go back and read Exodus 33 to get the proper context of what Paul is referring to in this citation. He referred to the occasion when Moses was placed in the cleft of a rock and God showed Moses His back parts. That event, folks, was the greatest revelation of God to a man that had ever occurred until Jesus Christ was born of the virgin named Mary. It was a truly significant event. In verse 16 we see the deduction of Paul: 

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” 

This revelation of Himself to Moses, which was an act of divine mercy and compassion, was sovereign. As God revealed Himself to Moses, He told Moses that He did this for those of His choosing. Not that there is anything wrong with running or willing. Just understand, the running and the willing have no bearing whatsoever on the exercise of God’s mercy. God sovereignly shows mercy independently of man’s will or man’s efforts, meaning He does what He chooses without being answerable to anyone.

Then, there is the case of Pharaoh. If the doctrine of sovereign election is likened to the moon, then the case of Moses can be compared to the bright and radiant side of the moon, and the case of Pharaoh can be compared to the dark side of the moon. The declaration is in verse 17: 

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” 

It is obvious that God was glorified in Pharaoh. Further, Paul indicates that what happened with Pharaoh was “for this same purpose” as what happened with Moses. Amen? And what is declared here? What is declared is what happened. The deduction is presented in verse 18: 

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” 

Being always careful to never go farther than Scripture goes, here we must likewise be careful to not fall short of what Scripture has stated. Does God exercise election in a sovereign and merciful way in the life of Moses? Well, in like manner God exercises election in a sovereign way by hardening another man. As sovereign as He is in His exercise of mercy, so sovereign is He in hardening whom He will harden. But notice that the deduction brings on a dilemma. Don’t think you are the first person ever to be troubled by what Paul has written here. The dilemma is anticipated in verse 19 and then answered in verses 20 and 21. Let’s read: 

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 

“How in the world can God hold a man responsible for something that God did to Him? Has anyone ever successfully resisted God’s will?” Notice what those two questions admit. First, that those who do wickedly, as Pharaoh did, are held accountable for their actions by God, if not by local, state, and the federal government. Second, no one has ever successfully resisted God’s will. How foolish we are, then, to try. Many foolish individuals continually do just that, resist God. But if you will notice, in verses 20 and 21, Paul does not answer the questions he anticipates in verse 19. He simply points out that, #1, you have no right to ask God such questions, since He is the Creator and you and I are His creatures, and #2, if you liken God to a potter and human beings to pieces of clay, He has every right to form us as He will. That which is created has no rights. The Creator has the right to do what He will. He is sovereign if you will. What do we learn from the examples of Moses and Pharaoh? With Moses, we learn that God is sovereign in His exercise of mercy. With Pharaoh, we learn that God is sovereign in not exercising His mercy. And in both instances, we have examples of the general principle that Paul started with: God is righteous in the exercising of His rights. He is sovereign, and He is not wrong for acting that way. He was not wrong with Moses. He was not wrong with Pharaoh. And anyone who attempts to question the morality of God’s sovereignty is way out of line. 

BECAUSE OF THE INTENSITY OF THE SUBJECT MATTER, PAUL BACKED INTO HIS PROPOSITION. BUT THEN HE USED CONCLUSIVE ARGUMENTS RELATED TO TWO HISTORICAL FIGURES OF THE PAST TO PERSUADE HIS READERS. NOW, IN CONCLUSION, PAUL GETS TO THE POINT WITH HIS PRESENT AUDIENCE. 

In verses 22-24 Paul begins one of his famous first-class conditional statements, but, as we often do in our conversations, doesn’t finish. What we do know is this: The statements of verses 22, 23, and 24, are true. In a conditional statement of the first class the word “if” has the impact of “since.” Let’s consider these three statements:

First, Paul’s statement regarding those who are vessels of wrath, verse 22: 

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” 

There are three phrases appended to this “what if God,” this “what since God” phrase, that have to do with vessels of wrath: First, God is willing to show His wrath. Make no mistake about that. That said, Isaiah 28.21 states very clearly that the pouring out of His wrath is God’s “strange work”: 

“For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” 

If it accomplishes His grand and over-arching purpose of glorifying His name and judging sin, God is willing to show His wrath. Second, God is willing to make His “power” known. Understand that the word “power” here is not the same Greek word as in verse 21. The word in verse 21 translates a word that means “right” or “authority.” This word, on the other hand, refers to “might” and “ability.” God is willing to show the universe His awesome power and might. Third, God has “endured with much long-suffering” the wickedness of unsaved people, “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” He has waited and waited as the unregenerate and the reprobate continue to pile up God’s wrath against the Day of Judgment. And is God willing to give them slack as they commit their sins? Yes. In part, so He can rain down His wrath upon them in a great demonstration of His infinite power.

Second, regarding those individuals who are vessels of mercy, verse 23: 

“And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” 

Here we have the flip side of God’s willingness to endure the vessels of wrath with much long-suffering. While those Christ rejecters Paul labels vessels of wrath are storing up wrath, the vessels of mercy, those of us who know Jesus Christ, are showcases of the riches of God’s glory. Isn’t that marvelous? The fact that God puts up with us is a testimony to His grace. But I want you to notice something again. Remembering that it is just as wrong to stop short of what the Bible declares as to go beyond what the Bible declares, Paul concludes this verse by describing believers as “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” Those are people God decided ahead of time to prepare for glory, which is the doctrine of election.

Vessels of wrath, vessels of mercy, and now regarding we who are called, Jews and Gentiles, verse 24: 

“Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” 

Four brief statements to make and then I conclude: The verse begins “Even us.” Here Paul makes sure there is no mistaking the fact that he and his audience, you and I who are Christians, are the vessels of mercy that God has before prepared unto glory and who are now showcases of His boundless grace. The verse continues “Whom he hath called.” Remember, everyone who is justified is someone who was called. And it’s the same call that brought Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees and eventually to believe in the LORD, Genesis 15.6. That same call has been extended to believers in Christ and results in the salvation of our souls. The third phrase is “Not of the Jews only.” In fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, God’s salvation call is not limited to physical descendants of Jacob. God’s election is broader in scope than any national boundaries. The verse ends with the words “But also of Gentiles.” That includes us, folks. Unless you are a physical descendant of Jacob, you, like me, are a Gentile. And God has sovereignly exercised His mercy in the election of even Gentiles like you and me to be the beneficiaries of the Gospel through faith in Christ. 

God is righteous in the exercise of His rights. Which is to say, God is righteous in making sovereign decisions. No one has the right to make the decisions He makes. Neither does anyone have the wisdom to make the decisions He makes. Therefore, it is a good thing that He makes such decrees. Amen?

Is there persuasion to convince us of this proposition? Yes. There is the example of Moses. God was well within His rights to extend His hand of mercy to Moses. That choice was God’s and God’s alone and was not based upon any goodness or righteousness that Moses possessed. Okay? Then there is Pharaoh. God was well within His rights when He chose to take steps to see His name declared throughout all the earth. He was right to see Himself glorified. And how did He choose to see His name spread abroad? In part by hardening Pharaoh. If God is righteous in His extension mercy to the undeserving, is He not also righteous in hardening the heart of a wicked man?

When that is considered a question is raised. How can God hold a man responsible whose heart He has hardened? Allow me two responses to that honest question: First, what right does a created being have to question the Creator in such matters? And second, does not the potter have the absolute right to determine how he shall form a lump of clay?

Having achieved his goal with persuasion Paul turns to his point: As God accomplishes His purpose with both the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy, He does so by exercising His sovereignty. And it’s in the exercising of God’s sovereignty that the question before us is answered.

Why is it that so many Jewish people have rejected the Gospel? The answer can only be found in the mind of God. Like Paul, you witness to as many people as you can. But the fact that more Gentiles will respond than Jewish people is a matter that can only be resolved by God.

What about you? After having lived on the pabulum of imagining a God Who did anything you wanted Him to do, or so you thought, does it shock and surprise you that God is sovereign? I suggest you get used to it. Contrary to the pap that comes from so many pulpits and radio and television shows today, and contrary to the consensus in our society, God is on the throne. He is in charge. And He is not the responder. He is the Initiator.

What is He initiating in your life this evening? Does the fact that God controls the destiny of every man suddenly concern and worry you just a little bit? Have you always thought that, in the final analysis, you were in control of your fate?

Think again. It is God Who controls your fate and mine. And Who better to control a person’s fate and eternal destiny than God? Amen? Who is more qualified? Who is more powerful? Who is wiser? Who is more moral and upright to make such decisions? Does that thought trouble you?

Is the Holy Spirit convincing you that you are a sinner in desperate need of God’s salvation? Would you like to be saved from your sins, now that you realize such matters are in God’s hands and not your own? Then perhaps you and I should talk about your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

__________

[1] “Augustine spoke with great authority without having any facility in the original languages. His nature tongue was Latin. The Koine Greek of the NT had been out of vogue for more than a century. When he tried to explain the meaning of the Greek verb dikaioo, he said it meant ‘to make righteous.’” writes David R. Anderson, Free Grace Soteriology - Revised Edition, edited by James S. Reitman, (Grace Theology Press, 2012), page 96. In Nicene And Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5, page 102 Augustine writes, ‘For what else does the phrase ‘being justified’ signify than ‘being made righteous,’ by Him, of course, who justifies the ungodly man, that he may become a godly one instead?’ Augustine was mistaken and the ramifications of his error are felt by the Roman Catholic Church to this day. Dikaioo does not mean to make righteous. To justify is to declare righteous. This is born out by such Greek language authorities as Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 352 and 359, Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 249, and Gerhard Kittel, Editor, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Vol II, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), pages 214-219. Crucial to understanding justification to being an event and not a process is recognizing that it refers to a righteousness that is imputed not infused and is therefore instantaneous, being based on the finished work of Jesus Christ by the instrumental means of faith.

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