Even if Not, No Matter What - Part 5

Series: My Preaching Bucket List

August 05, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

We are now well into our series Even if Not, No Matter what. It’s about one of the most difficult concepts to understand: the sovereignty of God.

The ancient Jews and early Christians embraced the idea that God is SOVEREIGN and he works PROVIDENTIALLY in all things to accomplish his will.

That’s why our three men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) allowed for God to not save them from the fiery furnace (hence our series title) and why the early church was satisfied with God saving Peter and not James.

Just so you know, when we finish, you may be left with more questions than answers. And that may mean I did a good job because tackling it takes us into the deepest depths of who God is.

One well-known pastor helps us by explaining God’s sovereignty this way: 

“God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means, God plans and governs all things.

When he says, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” he means, “Nothing happens except what is my purpose.” … nothing has ever happened, or will ever happen, that God did not purpose to happen. Or to put it positively: Everything that happened or will happen is purposed by God to happen.”

Last week we saw how God is sovereign over random things, daily things, powerful things, life and death things, bad things, evil things, and ultimately all things.

Which led us to a verse we’ve probably quoted often but never realized sums up the sovereignty of God in a big way:

Romans 8:28 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

“All things” here includes random things, daily things, powerful things, life and death things, bad things, evil things. Christians are exposed to the same things, good and bad, as everyone else; the difference is we are promised that God in his sovereignty works them all out for good in some way.

Understanding (I use that term loosely) God’s sovereignty not only gives us great comfort, it helps us cope with a number of really hard things in the Bible, things that when we first encounter them seem either to not make sense or scare us to death, or both. One chapter in the Bible holds the record for including a bunch of these seemingly senseless and scary things. 

Not surprisingly it’s found in a letter written by Paul to the Romans and appropriately follows right on the heels of our Romans 8:28 verse.

Look with me at Romans chapter 9…

Romans 9 (ESV) — 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 

We really see the heart of Paul here. 

He was a Jew’s Jew. He was, and I’m quoting him, “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” He was one of the most zealous and God-fearing Hebrews ever to live. That’s why God chose him as a missionary to the Gentiles (God loves irony).

For the Pharisees and Jews he left behind, it was treason. But for Paul, following Christ was the absolute fulfilment of being a Hebrew. All the law and prophets and promises of God were summed up in Jesus.

Paul so loved his people, though, that he said he’d forfeit his place in God’s kingdom for the sake of those Jews who rejected Jesus. And the number of Jews who rejected Jesus was far greater than those who didn’t. In fact, by the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, Gentile converts far outnumbered Jewish. They still do to this day.

If the success of God’s plan and promises summed up in Jesus were measured by how many Jews believed in him, we might conclude it was a failure. Paul said…

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

God’s plan extended beyond the Jews to include anyone, Jew or Gentile, who believes his promises. All those who come to God through Jesus with faith and repentance are sons and daughters in his forever family. God has not failed by a long shot!

God, in his sovereignty, chose Isaac over Ishmael, and he chose to include the Gentiles in his redemption plans.

Isaac, if you remember, met and married Rebekah (the story of which is more or less the making of a Hallmark movie itself). They had twins: Jacob and Esau.

Neither Jacob or Esau were boy scouts. Jacob was a trickster, a downright liar, and Esau was a hairy fool who sold his inheritance for a bowl of stew.

But it was from Jacob that the nation of Israel, and one day the Messiah, would arise.

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 

Before these twin boys were born, before they had ever told a lie or had done something foolish, God chose, elected, to keep his promises going through Jacob. 

That’s God’s sovereignty, that’s God purposing what happens.

Hold on. Verse 13 at first read gives us a jolt.

13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 

Paul is quoting Malachi 1:2-3. How do we process that?

Luke at Luke 14 with me. Jesus said something very similar…

Luke 14:25–26 (ESV) — 25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

That may be even harder to accept! But not to a Jew. They understood the use of hyperbole or exaggeration in teaching, like when Jesus said if your eye offends you pluck it out.

Jesus was saying that our love for and devotion to him should be way, way greater than our love for and devotion to anyone or anything else, so much so that there’s no comparison, and if you try it looks like you hate even your own family.

Paul was saying God’s sovereignly choosing Jacob to carry on the blessings and promises that end up fulfilled in Christ way overshadowed his plans and purposes for Esau. In looking at it from our earthly perspective it seems God loved one and hated the other.

Paul anticipated the question that naturally arises from this…

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 

Someone might say that’s not fair! A just God should choose one over the other based on merit, on performance. Because he’s God he could look ahead and see which one was worthier and choose him. 

That’s how it works with all the other gods. Mighty Thor was chosen to wield the mighty hammer Mjolnir because was worthy.

That’s not how it works with the one true God. And I am so glad for that. You don’t want that. Trust me.

Get ready for another tough one…

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 

In the account, the Scripture says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart about as many times as it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which is it? Both.

Warren Wiersbe says…

“Moses was a Jew, Pharaoh was a Gentile; yet both were sinners. In fact, both were murderers! Both saw God’s wonders. Yet Moses was saved and Pharaoh was lost. God raised up Pharaoh that He might reveal His glory and power; and He had mercy on Moses that He might use him to deliver the people of Israel. Pharaoh was a ruler, and Moses was a slave; yet it was Moses who experienced the mercy and compassion of God—because God willed it that way. God is sovereign in His work and acts according to His own will and purposes. So it was not a matter of righteousness but of the sovereign will of God.”

Paul addressed what obviously goes through our minds as we wrestle with this…

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 

One scholar writes…

“Most of us tend to have this general notion of cosmic justice in which all of us are repaid according to our own actions. Yet we have no control over countless factors that affect our lives, such as the circumstances into which we are born. But Paul goes well beyond this general kind of sovereign decision to God actively, divinely intervening in someone’s life—directing someone’s will with His own. If God is making decisions that are beyond my control, then why am I accountable for them?”

Paul’s answer?

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? 

Just to show you how messed up I am, when I read this my mind races to the movie Ghost. I can’t believe I ever watched that! I looked it up and it came out in 1990, which is about the time Angie and I started dating. That explains it.

Now let’s get that out of minds and think about potters and the clay. The potter is in sovereign control over the clay. The clay doesn’t get to decide what it wants to be. Who ever heard of the clay getting mad at the potter for making it an ashtray or a bowl? Or crumpling it up and starting it over? Or even throwing it away?

We are clay. God is the sovereign potter/creator and does what he wants with us. He is accountable to no one. We are accountable ultimately only to him. 

Somehow, God purposes all things and yet we are still held accountable for our actions. It doesn’t make sense. But it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense if we’re talking about God.

This is not a cop-out by the way. It’s just the way it is. And when you are on the suffering side of this truth, it hurts and stings and makes you wonder if God really loves you, even if you believe in his sovereignty with all your heart. Like Job. And that’s okay.

Conclusion: Let’s swim out of these deep waters for now (before we drown) and go back to where we ended last week and started today: Romans 8:28. Except this time let’s read what follows, which most don’t.

Romans 8:28–30 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Paul revealed another thing God is sovereign over: salvation. You see, that’s what prompted everything Paul wrote in chapter 9. God was sovereign in choosing Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then the nation of Israel, and Gentiles, and all of us who come to him.

We’ll look at that in more detail next week.

This isn’t in your Today’s Texts, but listen to the last verse of Roman 9…

Romans 9:33 (ESV) — 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

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