Can we talk back to God (Romans 8:19-29)?
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, July 25, 2021
When I was training for my second marathon there were some days when I would get up at 4 am and go out to try to run long distance. I was trying to run close to twenty miles before 7 am. There were times that I was running away from the city and I would look up in the sky and notice the stars. Do you ever look at the stars? Do you ever notice how many stars are up there?
The vastness of our universe allows us a glimpse of the might and majesty of our Creator. Philip Yancey gives the following description to help us appreciate the scale of that universe:
If the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For almost three decades they have been speeding away from Earth, approaching a distance of 9 billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their minions in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.
Isn’t that amazing? When I think of how big the universe is, it makes me realize how small I am, and yet I question God. I think we all do at some time or another, but we really must realize who we are versus who God is. We really must realize our place.
It would be easy to be discouraged thinking we are small and that leads to more depression, but I want to encourage you that God does care about you. So, realize 2 things: Firstly, God is God and we are not. Secondly, God does care about you. God does love you. God does want a relationship with you (2 Peter 3:8-9).
That is my theme today. We are going to continue our trek through Romans and I want you to notice:
Firstly, God is God and we are not. Secondly, God does care about you. God does love you. God does want a relationship with you (2 Peter 3:8-9).
- As a potter creates vessels, God creates nations (19–22).
- How did we get to this place in Romans 9?
- Paul has been writing about God’s sovereignty over nations. Some think this chapter is about how God can predestine some individuals for salvation and others not for salvation, that may be an indirect conclusion, but I think the main theme is God’s sovereignty over nations.
- Paul has been writing why the Jewish people have had a hardness of heart for the Gospel.
- In verse 14 Paul began to defend God’s justice. Paul started with the example of Pharaoh in the Old Testament.
- Now, Paul will build on that example with more examples of God’s sovereignty.
- Verse 19: You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
- This verse is a rhetorical question.
- This verse is asking about how we can question God. Who can resist God’s will?
- In other words, how can God find fault with Pharoah if God was governing Pharoah.
- Paul is alluding to Jeremiah 18:1-12 and the example of a potter with clay.
- Look at Paul’s response in verse 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?”
- This is a very basic analogy and a good analogy.
- God created us. God knit us together in the womb (Psalm 139).
- How can we question God the creator?
- John Piper shares these differences between God and man:
- God is the creator, and man is the created.
- God is infinite, and man is finite.
- God is utterly self-sufficient, and man is totally dependent on God for everything.
- God is all-knowing, and man is little-knowing.
- God is never erring, and man is often erring.
- Therefore, how can we, mere men, presume to object to that God and his will.
- Look at verse 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?
- The potter can do what he wants with the clay, correct? Of course.
- Paul is comparing God’s work with us like a potter with clay.
- Bobby murphy’s message on this passage is helpful:
- Paul’s analogy of the potter and clay in verses 20-21 is the hermeneutical key. I said he’s alluding here to Jeremiah 18:1-12. In that context, God is speaking of nations not persons. He teaches in verse 6 that He can deal with Israel, and by implications all nations, however He pleases, just as a potter can deal with the clay however he pleases.
- God goes on in verses 7-10, to explain how He pleases to deal with nations. He might declare to destroy a nation but relents if that nation turns from evil. Or He might declare to build up a nation but will change His mind and not build it up if it turns to evil.
- The pattern is clear. God can do with nations whatever He wills. What He wills is to build those up that turn from evil and not build those up that turn to evil. He can justly do whatever He wills with nations and this, consistently with His nature, is what He wills.
- Paul does apply this to individuals as well, again from Bobby Murphy: God is sovereign. Individuals deserve nothing from Him and thus He can do with them whatever He wills. Well, the Bible, in verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, tells us what He wills. It’s that none should perish. Or to use Paul’s terminology in verses 22-23, it’s to have mercy on all individuals and prepare them for glory. It’s not to bring His wrath against them and prepare them for destruction.
- Look at verse 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…
- “What if…” so this is an example.
- Does God have a right to create people, things, or nations to be used for destruction? He is God, right?
- Remember, in context he is talking about Pharoah and Egypt.
- As a potter controls those vessels, God controls nations (9:23–24).
- In light of this, is man responsible? Yes! (9:19–20): As the vessels have no right to criticize the potter, the nations have no right to criticize the Lord.
- Now, these verses go along with the previous verse.
- Paul is comparing God to a potter and so what if a potter creates some vessels for wrath and destruction and then the purpose is here in verses 23-24:
- Look now at verses 23-24: in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
- In verse 24 Paul connects this with the people he is writing to. God called them, both Jewish people and gentiles. God called them to be saved in order to show His glory and His mercy.
- The example from Hosea (9:25–26):
- This Old Testament prophet predicted that God would not limit his grace to Israel but would save repenting Gentile peoples; Hosea called these Gentiles “children of the living God” (Hos. 2:23; 1:10).
- Look at verses 25-26: 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.’ ” “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.’ ”
- Verse 25 comes from Hosea 2:23.
- One source shares: Drawing from Hosea’s marriage, Paul compares Gentile salvation to mercy bestowed on an undeserving adulterous wife (see the book of Hosea).
- Verse 26 is from Hosea 1:10.
- This is an example of God having mercy on who He wants to have mercy.
- The example from Isaiah (9:27–29): Paul quotes from Isaiah to demonstrate God’s sovereignty concerning Israel.
- Out of the millions of Israelites, only a small remnant will be saved (Isa. 10:22–23) (9:27–28).
- Even the remnant would perish apart from the grace of God (Isa. 1:9) (9:29).
- Let’s read verses 27-29:
- 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, 28for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”
- The first quote in verse 27 is from Isaiah 10:22. This is God saying that there are many Israelites. Israel is like the sand of the sea, BUT most won’t be saved. Only a remnant will be saved.
- Remember the context, from the beginning of Romans 9 Paul has been answering the question of why the Jewish people are not responding to the Gospel.
- In Romans 11:5 Paul will say that it is true in this time that only a remnant will be chosen by grace.
- Verse 28 is also a quote from Isaiah and in this case Isaiah 10:23. In that passage, in Isaiah, God was talking about judgment from the Assyrians which was judgment on Israel.
- Verse 29 comes from Isaiah 1:9 and the point is that if the Lord did not intervene to preserve a remnant there would have been no Israel. They would have been like Sodom and been destroyed.
- Some translations say: “Lord of Sabaoth” which means: Traditionally, “Lord of hosts”; Grk “Lord Sabaoth,” which means “Lord of the [heavenly] armies,” sometimes translated more generally as “Lord Almighty.”
- So, what is the point of all of this.
- In verses 1-5 Paul began answering the question of Israel’s unbelief. Paul said that he would be accursed for the sake of his brethren, the Israelites being saved.
- Paul is building his case that God can have his way with nations.
- God hardened Pharoah’s heart in order to bring judgment on Egypt and glorify His name in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.
- God is like a potter working with clay. The nations are the clay.
- However, God preserved a remnant of Israelites and He still has a remnant.
- We must know our place (verses 20-21).
- God is the Lord, He is the creator and we are the creation (verses 20-21).
- We must submit to Him as God.
- This means that He sets the rules of right and wrong which are revealed in His word.
- This means that we must submit to His ways.
- We must submit to His plan of salvation (John 14:6), though we do not really have a choice.
- We must submit to His Ten Commandments (Ex 20).
- We must worship Him as God.
- We must understand that it is God’s right to do with His creation as He pleases (verse 21-22).
- We must understand that God is to be glorified and exalted (verse 23 and 1 Cor. 10:31).
- We must worship God for preserving a remnant and grafting the gentiles in (verses 24-29).
On September 5, 1977, the Voyager I space probe was launched from Cape Canaveral aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket. It has been speeding through space at an average speed of thirty-eight thousand miles per hour ever since, almost a million miles per day. Voyager I is the first spacecraft to travel beyond the heliopause into interstellar space, and NASA continuously calculates its distance from Earth. As of this writing, Voyager I is 13,490,006,617 miles from Earth and counting.
That is pretty amazing, isn’t it? But not as amazing as you. The Voyager 1 will run out of gas, so to speak, around the year 2025. At that point, it will have traveled more than fifteen billion miles! But guess what? That is less than half the length of the DNA strand(s) in your body if (they) were stretched end to end. The cumulative length of DNA in all the cells in your body is about twice the diameter of the solar system (over 32 billion miles)! In the words of the psalmist, you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
So, don’t be discouraged. Be encouraged. In this amazingly big universe God cares about us. God cares about us so much that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again.
 Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Zondervan, 2006), p. 20
Excerpted from Double Blessing: Don’t Settle for Less Than You’re Called to Bless Copyright © 2019 by Mark Batterson, page 87. Used by permission of Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.