by Roger McCay
16 February 2020
Sermon Passage: Romans 9:22-24
Link to Audio Version
The story is told of an imagined day when the sun did not rise.
Six o’clock came and there was no sign of dawn. At seven o’clock, there was still no ray of light. At noon, it was as black as midnight. No birds sang and only the hoot of an owl broke the silence. Then came the long black hours of the afternoon. Finally, evening arrived, but no one slept that night. Some wept, some wrung their hands in anguish. Every church was thronged with people on their knees. Thus they remained the whole night through. After that long night of terror and agony, millions of eager, tear-streaked faces were turned toward the east. When the sky began to grow red and the sun rose, there was a loud shout of joy. Millions of lips said, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” because the sun had risen after one day of darkness.
Might the consistency and familiarity of God’s blessings dull our gratitude? Indeed. Additionally, such might have us come to think that we are entitled to God’s blessing, whether it’s the sun shining in the sky, or, more to the point, our salvation.
Ingratitude, due to an attitude of entitlement, is a serious problem, especially when it comes to pew sitters. Ingratitude inspires no worship, no fear of the Lord, no following of Jesus, no incentive to love God, no incentive to love our neighbor, no incentive to evangelize. Ingratitude extinguishes any possibility of rest in God’s work. It is the child of unbelief, failing to grasp and believe the magnitude of what God actually did to save his people.
Last week we looked at Rom. 9:14-21, honing in on the Scripture’s teaching of God’s sovereign justice and mercy. A particular aspect of this is in what is called double-predestination, the doctrine that God chose some to eternal life (the elect) and some to eternal perdition (the reprobate). It is undeniably a hard teaching, one that many people shy away from. However, following Paul’s example, it is important we look at reality, and not linger in the realm of wishful thinking.
Accordingly, in v. 21, Paul asks a rhetorical question in order to make his point concerning the elect/reprobate, and God’s sovereign justice and mercy:
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?
Paul’s point was this: God is the Creator. He is sovereign. We are his creatures, made from the same clay. We have all sinned against God. We all deserve his wrathful judgment.
The main issue is not that the Creator made some people for “dishonorable use.” The real question is, “Why did God select some people for honorable use?” As we saw, the answer lies in God’s sovereign will. He saves who he wants to save because those are the people he wants to save. Like I mentioned last week, that’s all we really need to know.
Nonetheless, Paul continues to elaborate on this point. He wants to make sure that not only do we really understand it, but that we really, really, really, really understand it and can’t wiggle out of it. In the process, God provides a counter to ingratitude and a motivation for grateful worship.
Hence, Paul gives a reason why some people are chosen by God for honorable use (the elect), and others are chosen for dishonorable use (the reprobate). Posing the reason as a question, he first asks in vv. 22-23:
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?
Some see this as only a hypothetical question. However, context shows that Paul is emphasizing that this is exactly what is going on. The question is consistent with Paul’s rhetorical style. He uses questions as a rhetorical device over and over throughout the letter to the Romans as a method of highlighting his various points. Is it not true that a rhetorical question makes a point much stronger than just stating it outright? Further, his point here in vv. 22-23 makes complete sense, as the contextual logic is absolutely consistent with how God used the situation of Pharaoh to display his power and name in all the earth (vv. 17-18), and how Paul continues on in the passage.